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Friday, December 31, 2010

Looking Forward

I spent a good part of my day yesterday gathering up dates that have already been planned for next year and marking them down in my new 2011 Mary Engelbreit Engagement Calendar. It's been my calendar of choice for about 8 years running.

I'm not usually one for writing down resolutions (or even making resolutions), but I do seem to have a real hankering to start this year off with a few firmly held convictions, intentions, or plans. I still refuse to write down resolutions that I will break within the week, but I wanted to have some goals for the new year all the same.

Just this morning I happened upon my solution. My blogger friend Gretchen over at New Every Morning was thinking more clearly than me and came up with the perfect solution for those of us who want to start out on the right foot but don't necessarily want to map out the journey just yet. I encourage you to check out her post (and her blog!), but the jest of it is to come up with one word that describes how you intend to live 2011.

She chose the word Purposeful.

In an effort to out do Gretchen be my own woman , I came up with a list of equally ingenious words or themes from which to choose for myself:
  • Gentle
  • Yielded
  • Servant
  • Gracious
  • Grateful
All of these are words the Lord has been speaking to me about lately. For instance, I've felt a real call to slow down, speak more gently, touch more gently, be more gracious with my words. I've also thought of starting a sort of gratitude journal, naming something different every day that I'm grateful for. Of course, that would be one of those resolutions I'd break by February.

But in the long run, with the whole year in mind and my greatest need for change being to follow through with things, I've landed on...


Same as Gretchen. (Don't worry, I've already confessed this to her.)

Like Gretchen, I want to be purposeful in my relationship with the Lord, purposeful in my family life, purposeful in my writing (including this blog), purposeful in my relationships with others, and purposeful in my physical health and well-being.

"Arise, let us go hence." John 14:31

Sometimes, often times, it's time to stop thinking about, dreaming about, or scheming about a thing and it's time to do the thing. In fact, it's when we get busy diligently doing the thing with purpose and intent that God is glorified because people sit up and take notice. They see us purposefully throwing ourselves into whatever it is God has given us to do - mothering, serving, keeping house, working, loving - and they sit up and take notice of our enthusiasm, our fulfillment, our singlemindedness, and they ... get it. But when we just meddle at something, just piddle along as though we're lost and don't really know where we're heading, no one is interested in that. In fact, I believe that when we live purposefully, as our Lord did, we draw more attention to Him and than to ourselves. And that's what it's all about.

So that's my hope for 2011...to do the thing, with a sense of purpose, with plans that focus on those purposes, with a single-mindedness that says no to the things that don't contribute to those purposes.

What about you? Do you have a one word resolution for 2011? You're welcome to share mine (and Gretchen's). But what have you felt God calling you to set your mind on for the new year? I'd love to hear.

Happy New Year dear friends. Thanks for reading this year and I hope to see you around in 2011.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Toes Ache Much?

Last week I noticed a dark, purple spot on top of a couple of my toes on my left foot. Who knows how the bruise got there -- I'm constantly running into things, bumping into things, and even dropping things on my feet. My favorite thing to run into is the foot board of my bed which we've had for about 20 years now. It's in the same place it's been ever since we moved into this house, but I manage to bruise my legs or stump my toes on it at least once a week.

Getting that blue bruise on my toes made me think about the little saying, "you're stepping on my toes now." Of course when we say that to someone we're not usually referring to them clobbering our feet with their feet. We're talking about them wounding our egos, piercing our hearts, or messing in our business. We're saying that they're penetrating some cherished belief that we know to be wrong or they're exposing some poor behavior that we've tried to gloss over.

No one likes to have their toes stepped on, literally or figuratively. We prefer everyone keep a safe distance from our feet and our convictions alike. But a good toe bruising is sometimes necessary to get it through our thick skulls that we're repetitively heading in the wrong direction.

In 2 Timothy 4:3-4, Paul warns his young protege that a time will come when people will prefer to have their ears tickled rather than get their toes stepped on. He says people will even deliberately turn away from having to hear the truth and choose instead to listen to meaningless philosophies and ideologies that sound intriguing, enlightening, and deep, but are really just fluff.

I read this passage afresh today and got my own toes bruised. I must admit, every other time I've read these verses I've focused on the words "they", "themselves", and "people". I've thought to myself, "Shame on those people for turning away from the truth to listen to that which tickles their ears!"

But today I asked myself, "How often do you allow the Word of God to give you a good toe bruising, Kay?" The truth is, I often deflect the bruising that is meant for me and throw it on someone else instead. Aren't we all prone to sit in church and think to ourselves, "So-and-so ought to be here to hear this!" or "I sure hope what's-his-name is listening!" or "Amen! Preach it pastor! They need to hear this!"

Or other times we might hear the truth, see it getting awfully close to our toes, and take a deliberate step back rather than feel the pain of the impact.
  • We start thinking about what we're going to have for lunch rather than focus on the truth that's being preached.
  • Our minds wander to the day's agenda rather than meditate on the truth we're reading in the Bible.
  • In our sophistication we negotiate with the scripture by claiming that this particular passage no longer applies to our modern world.
  • We skip right over those bruising passages and move on ahead to the familiar and friendly ones instead.
  • Or we simply say we'll deal with that truth later. After all, tomorrow is another day!
When I read 2 Timothy 4:3-4 today I took it like a big girl instead of passing the buck. I said "ouch!" and I sat down and thought about how I've avoided a bruising too many times in the past. And I determined to let the Word of God bruise me sufficiently so that I could learn a few lessons along the way.

Let's decide together to let 2011 be the year of a good bruising. Let's not sit on our toes, but stick'em out there to be stepped on instead. And let's learn a few lessons that we might otherwise never learn.

Here's the good news. We can trust our God with the bruisings. He doesn't step on our toes to permanently cripple us, but to teach us to walk more closely to Him.

It was good for me that I was afflicted,
That I may learn Thy statutes.
Psalm 119:71


Before I was afflicted I went astray,
But now I keep Thy word.
Psalm 119:67

Sissies keep God at bay. But those who have learned to trust Him aren't afraid of a few bruises. 

Stick those toes out there friend. We'll celebrate the lessons learned with pedicures later on!

Monday, December 27, 2010

What to do with a Fool...

Have you encountered any fools lately?

I know, I know. The Bible teaches us to beware of calling other people fools. Unfortunately we either seem to ere on one side or another of that command.

Either we think that means we're going to be zapped immediately if we dare label anyone a fool and so we tiptoe around the fools in our lives or we completely ignore the admonition and just go around calling anyone and everyone who gets in our way a fool.

Neither is wise.

But it is wise to come to terms with the fact that there are indeed some fools out there. If there weren't, the Bible wouldn't have so much to say about them. And it does have a lot to say about fools -- how to keep from being one, how to spot one, how to deal with them.

Indeed, most of us have a fool or two in our lives. Some of us have the misfortune of being married to one, raising one, being raised by one, working for one, or having one work for us. In other words, some of us have to deal with a fool on a day-in-day-out basis. We love a fool...as crazy as that may sound.

I use the term "us" loosely here. So far, I have not loved a fool. That could change any day now, I suppose. But so far so good. (I did work for one once, but she is long gone and that is another story for another blog post.)

Recently my daughter had to contend with a fool in her life for quite a spell of time. Because my teenaged daughter was dealing with a fool, I was too. She's my daughter, hear me roar!

Dealing with a fool is unlike any other dilemma I've ever faced. You see, they don't play on a level playing field. They don't abide by the normal rules of etiquette, truthfulness, civility, or fair play. They don't think like normal people. And all the time they're behaving abnormally, they're telling you that you're the abnormal one and swearing up and down that they are as normal as it gets. Lord help!

And indeed He does.

The Bible really does tell us how to relate to fools. If you live with a fool, work with a fool, go to school with a fool, interact with a fool, I suggest you stop trying to treat your fool the same way you treat everyone else. It won't work. It just leads to frustration and defeat.

Instead, learn to deal with your fool the way the Bible says. Let me give you a little glimpse into what the Bible says to do about a fool:

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
   or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
   or he will be wise in his own eyes. 
Proverbs 26:4-5
At first that sounds like double talk. But here's what I think the wise writer of Proverbs is saying: Don't treat a fool the way he treats you or you'll end up being a fool. But once you've studied your fool, examined his or her actions and words carefully, prayed about your fool, and gained a little insight into your fool, respond to him according to who he really is -- a fool -- or he'll just end up getting the upper hand. 

Bottom line? You can't fool around with a fool. You've got to wise up to handle a fool.

Well here's where I'm going with this. Obviously I can't tell you exactly how to handle your fool in this blog post. But I can direct you to a mighty helpful resource that a friend passed on to me. Jan Silvious has written a handy little book for fool victims. It's called Fool-Proofing Your Life: How to Deal Effectively with the Impossible People in Your Life. I recommend it highly.

In our situation with our daughter's fool, we put some biblical principles into practice, prayed long and hard ( and I do mean long and hard -- my husband even fasted for a period of time), treated the fool with discernment and godly wisdom, and we've made some progress. I learned so much through this process. I wouldn't wish a fool on my worst enemy, but in the long run interacting with a fool made me a little wiser.

If you live with a fool, work closely with a fool, or love a fool, don't give up hope. I know it can be wearing. I totally get that. But instead of playing their games or banging your head against a wall, wise up. Check out what the Word of God has to say about relating to a fool. You'll find much of that summarized and nicely packaged in this book by Jan Silvious. 

Hey, I'd like to know: Do you deal with a fool on a continuous basis? Or have you in the past? What' one important thing you've learned from your relationship with a fool? I don't want us to be pious here. But I do want us to offer each other a word of helpful advice if we have it to give.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

He is Here!

I'm still amazed that God sent His Son Jesus into this world so many years ago. What a God! What a Savior! What a plan...for you and me.

Without Him we are hopeless, helpless, heading for hell. With Him we are full of hope, healed, and heading for eternity in Heaven...with Him.

Praise God! He has come into this world. And He will return.

Merry Christmas bloggy friends. You are special to me. Thank you for reading. I wish you a most blessed day!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Over the Years

Have you noticed how much your celebration of Christmas has changed over the years?

You go from hunting through your own stocking in search of chocolate and trinkets to filling your baby's stocking with a rattle and a pair of baby socks.

You progress from shopping at Toys R Us and Gap Kids to perusing the pricey goods at Best Buy and The Gap.

Eventually you do most of your holiday shopping on-line.

You jump from electronic gadgets and clothes to gift cards and cash so they can pick out their own.

You start out doing all the baking and decorating yourself, move on to helping little hands carefully hang ornaments and decorate cookies, progress on to begging the kids to turn off the t.v. so they can ice "just three cookies each please", and then revert back to doing it all by yourself again while everyone else comes and goes around you. (I did manage to get the man child to help me ice a couple dozen sugar cookies. Did a mother's heart good!)

You go from tucking pajama clad and freshly bathed cherubs into their car seats to go see Christmas lights to running through everyone's busy schedules to try to find some evening just to eat together.

You begin by cooking a delicious holiday feast of turkey and dressing and all the fixings and begging little children in high chairs to try just three bites. You move on to a few years of bliss when everyone just eats what is put in front of them. Then you suddenly have all adults in the home who want to vote on whether to have a traditional ham or fajitas or a pot of soup. (You, however, are still the head of the kitchen so you don't give in on this one!)

You go from watching the classics like It's a Wonderful Life and White Christmas in front of a romantic fire for two to viewing Frosty and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with giggling children to laughing at a boy who was left Home Alone with preteens who wish out loud that they too could be left home alone. Then eventually you're watching all of these movies plus the sappy ones on Lifetime and Hallmark channels alone while everyone else in your family goes to parties and basketball games and movies like Tron.

I hope I don't sound like I'm whining. I'm not. I love my family and the way we spend Christmas. It has definitely changed over the years, but it is still delightfully good. Yes, I have to arrange three days in advance to go see a family movie with my kids now that they are older. And yes, I do most of the decorating and baking by myself. But the house is still filled with noise and laughter and busyness and good aromas and yummy food and tender hugs...and shoes and clothes on the floor and laptops here and there...but I digress...

I just think it's interesting how much Christmas has changed over the years.

The lesson? If you're piling pajama clad kids into a mommy van to take them to see Christmas lights this year, enjoy. Breathe in and breathe out. Look at those squabbling children and thank God for that very moment. It is fleeting. It is precious.

But if, like me, you're stuffing the stockings with i-tune gift cards and giving tickets to bowl games under the tree, enjoy that too. It's different, but if you're still together and there's even a little love floating through the home, it's good. It's very good.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fear is No Friend

Sometimes I have irrational fears. Do you? I get afraid of things that could possibly happen, but probably won't. I don't fear aliens attacking or animals suddenly taking over the world. That would be silly. But I get anxious about things that, in my mind anyhow, could really happen...if worse came to worse.

So, even though the things I fear could happen, it is irrational of me to worry over them. The truth is, 99% of what I fear never happens. That's a lot of stress and worry and anxiety wasted on nothing!

 In fact, the Bible tells me not to be anxious about anything.

I find that to be a pretty tall order. Most every day I have at least a fleeting fear or two about something. In this world, with it's unpredictable economy, natural disasters and terrorists (not to mention all the other "little" sources of personal disaster), it's hard to be strong and courageous every minute. Life feels fragile and precious. And when something is easily broken or lost, it's natural to fear the worst. Right?

Natural, maybe. Productive and healthy, no.

Fear actually has the potential for causing more problems than the very things we fear the most.

In the Bible:
  • fear kept hundreds of thousands of Israelites from crossing into the Promised Land and left them to die in the wilderness instead (Numbers 13:31).
  • fear caused King Saul to act like an irrational idiot and lose his throne (1 Samuel 18:29).
  • fear robbed Barak of a newspaper clipping and a shining moment and gave the credit for a noble victory to a woman instead (Judges 4:9).
  • fear got Peter all wet (Matthew 14:30).
  • fear earned the idle servant a good tongue-lashing, the scorn of his Master, and eternity in the darkness, according to Jesus' parable about using one's talents or gifts (Matthew 25:25).
  • fear kept the disciples behind locked doors after Jesus' sacrificial death on the cross (John 29:38).
And less we think fear doesn't do the very same things in our lives, we should think again.

In our lives, fear:
  • keeps us out of our own Promised Lands.
  • causes us to act like idiots and lose what we have earned.
  • robs us of accomplishments
  • gets us all wet...in front of other people too!
  • earns us the distrust of our own Master
  • and keeps us locked behind doors that are meant to be wide opened to us.
The anecdote to fear? Courage.

Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:1:

You, therefore, my child,
be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

Courage isn't something we just muster up because we have to in order to get through an ordeal. Real courage, the kind that works, the kind that is effective, comes from trusting in the sufficient grace that is found in Christ Jesus.

We can trust that, by His grace, Jesus will either keep our worst nightmares from ever happening or He'll graciously walk through them with us, delivering us safely on the other side.

That still may not be a pretty enough picture for some of us, but on this side of heaven it's what we get. Jesus told His disciples that in this world we would indeed have trouble, turmoil, problems, difficulties. But He also told them to "take courage" because He has overcome the world. (John 16:33)

If you're trusting in your own abilities to cope with life's ordeals, it makes sense to fear. But if you're putting your trust in Jesus, you can let go, take courage, and move forward with confidence.

  • takes you to your Promised Land.
  • helps us see things clearly
  • gives us victory
  • keeps us above the stormy waves
  • earns the respect of our Master
  • and opens doors.
So which will it be today? Fear...or courage?

It's those little fears that can rob you the most, you know. Not the big ones about terrorists or global warming, but the little ones about your family's safety, someone else's opinion, your finances, your abilities to handle a certain task, the confrontation you have to have with a co-worker, etc.

Let's choose not to be railroaded by fear today. Let's be courageous.

I'm preaching to myself today, folks. But maybe this helped you a little too.

Monday, December 20, 2010

An Appropriate Prayer

In light of the fact that many of us will be spending more time than usual with family members over the next few days, I thought it'd be appropriate to post a simple but profound prayer I came across again recently. This prayer was written by an anonymous seventeenth-century nun, but it resonates with the predicaments faced by the 21st century housewife, working woman or student more than a woman who had secluded herself from the mundane and worldly. In fact, it's rather amazing to me just how timeless this prayer is.

It's my prayer for the holidays and should be the plea of our hearts every other day as well. See if it speaks the cries of your heart.

"Lord, you know better than I know myself that I am growing older and will someday be old. Keep me from getting talkative, particularly from the fatal habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

"Release me from craving to straighten out everybody's affairs. Make me thoughtful, but not moody; helpful, but not bossy. With my vast store of wisdom it seems a pity not to use it all, but you know, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end. Keep my mind from the recital of endless details -- give me wings to come to the point.

"I ask for grace enough to listen to the tales of others' pains. Seal my lips on my own aches and pains -- they are increasing, and my love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by. Help me to endure them with patience.

"I dare not ask for improved memory, but for a growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally it is possible that I may be mistaken.

"Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a saint -- some of them are so hard to live with -- but a sour old woman is one of the crowning works of the devil.

"Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places, and talents in unexpected people. And give me, O Lord, the grace to tell them so."

I guess it's never been easy to " get along" and prayer has always been a necessary ingredient for happy relationships. May we be blessings to those we encounter today instead of button-pushers!

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I Have a Recipe for You!

We had a nice little dinner party at our home last night so my house is nice and clean, I have some tasty leftovers to munch on today, and I'm still savoring the satisfaction of a good time had by all.

I'm not the kind of blogger that remembers to take pictures of my every moment. In fact I'm the kind that never seems to have my camera on me or it's rarely charged and ready to go. And when I do have the charged camera with me, I still forget to take any pictures. I like to think it's because I'm too engaged in the moment to think about taking pictures of it.

It's really probably because I'm losing my ability to multi-task as the years go by.

So while I have no photos of people, the food, or the games we played, I do have a few pics of the table settings. (Trust me; this isn't a sham. People did eventually sit at these places and eat.) I have these photos because at this point in preparing for my guests I was too exhausted to vacuum and chose to take pictures instead. (My husband vacuumed for me later.)

I thought for about 10 seconds about saving these photos for one of those "tablescape blog parties" that several blogs host each week. Have you seen those? The ones where you can visit dozens of different blogs and see one gorgeously decorated table after another? The ones where you drool over the colorful and cleverly stacked china and then look at your own Correll Ware with more disgust than ever? They are lovely and inspiring, but I couldn't hold a candle. So you won't find me participating in any tablescape  Thursday or whatever.

Still, I really enjoyed using my pretty things to set a nice table for my guests. Often I can really get caught up in the "trying to impress" trap. But I can say with 100% certainty that impressing my guests last night was the last thing on my mind. Instead, I just really wanted to do something nice for them. I wanted them to feel planned-for. I wanted them to feel relaxed and happy after a long day at work.

At any rate, I think everything looked lovely. I was pleased to be able to sit down with our friends and enjoy a good meal.

We had some simple appetizers, a wonderful green salad, frosted grapes, lasagna, bread sticks, and a cranberry and peach cobbler with ice cream or raspberry sherbet. Friends brought everything except the appetizers and lasagna.

Unfortunately I didn't have enough room to seat everyone at one table. I felt like the second table looked somewhat like the "kids' table" we all sat at when visiting grandma, but I my guests who sat there seemed to be equally pleased with their station.

I wish I had more photos to share with you -- ones where people are enjoying one another's company, ones of the delicious food we ate, and one of the games we played. But I do have a recipe for you.

This is one of my all-time favorite appetizers. I actually whipped it up at the last minute last night -- that's how easy it is. Everyone always likes it; even those who don't normally like green food!

Asparagus Roll-ups

1 loaf of white bread
1 can asparagus spears
1 carton soft spread cream cheese ( I use reduced fat)
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Cut the crusts from all the white bread slices. Roll out each bread slice with a rolling pin until very flat and dense. Spread bread with a thin layer of cream cheese (not too thin though!). Place an asparagus spear on each slice of bread and roll up into a tight roll. Cut each roll into three equal sections and place them on a large cookie sheet. After all roll-ups are made, brush them with the melted butter. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, until toasty and warm.

If these sound kind of simplistic or un-elegant, think again. No one can ever believe these were made from plain white bread. They always assume it's some kind of homemade dough or crust. I get raves on them every time I serve them.

We hosted a small dinner party last night... because I wanted to... and because I finally followed through with my good intentions. I'm so guilty of meaning to have people over and just not making it happen. But I'm so glad we did. It was worth the effort and a pure joy. Whether it's dinner, dessert, or just a cup of tea, I really encourage you to have someone over for a treat this Christmas season. You'll be so glad you did afterward.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

No More Paralysis

It recently occurred to me that I had become a giftaplegic.

What in the world? you say.

A giftaplegic is someone who has become paralyzed in their gifting and thus cannot give gifts with freedom, spontaneity, and enthusiasm as they should. Such crippling is not caused by being run over by a swarm of greedy shoppers on Black Friday or by falling from the top of the Macy's escalator under the weight of a bundle of packages. No, nothing so blatant or obvious leaves one a giftaplegic.

Instead, it's the subtle but equally wounding dangers of gift-giving that render one unable to give with joy.
  • the unreasonable desire to have a "picture perfect Christmas"
  • the equally unreasonable dream of every person swooning and jumping up and down with glee over the presents you have given them
  • the constant hope that you won't have to pull out and use any of those return receipts you stashed in the back of the junk drawer
  • and the ridiculous effort to not only get everyone something they will love, but for every gift to also be something they really need and long for.
  • In other words, that crazy, crippling effort to hit one out of the park with every gift you buy.
Let's face it; it's just not going to happen. But we keep on trying year after year to buy just the perfect gifts for those on our list.

Or I do, anyhow. It makes me feel better about myself to say "we," but maybe you still have full mobility when it comes to gift-giving and you're standing there scratching your head about now.

At first it sounds like a noble malady -- that desire to give the perfect gifts -- but in reality it's all about pride and control and perfectionism.

Oooh! What nasty words!

Year after year my desire to get my family the perfect gifts has left us with few surprises under the tree. By the time the presents have been wrapped and place under the green branches, I've already drilled my family members about what they need, talked them out of the things I don't think they really do need, surveyed them about what is most important on their list and what takes a lower priority, discussed coping mechanisms with them so they can handle the disappointment in case they don't get exactly what they wanted, and drilled them on favorite colors, sizes, and models. There's no surprise element left at all.

And why? All because I'm paralyzed over getting the "perfect" gifts.

Well, no more.

Yesterday I went Christmas shopping without having planned to go. I just walked through the mall and thought about my loved ones. I picked out things I thought they might get a kick out of and bought them. Sure, I still bought a couple of things I thought they might "need", but let's face it, most of us don't really need anything. So I didn't let a low registration on the need meter keep me from purchasing something I thought they might enjoy.

I saved the receipts and stashed them somewhere (I've already forgotten where, but I'm sure we'll find them if we need to) and I'm not going to be insulted or bothered if we need to pull those receipts out and head back to the store for do-overs. Big deal.

I've purchased surprises and surprised they will be. They may be delightfully surprised or shocked with dismay, but by golly they're going to be surprised. Not that I ventured far from their comfort zones. I still got things that had their names all over them, so to speak, but I realize there are no guarantees and I'm ok with that.

So no more paralysis for me. I'm up and walking in gift-giving victory. It feels good not to be bound by the restraints of perfectionism and pride and control. Instead, I'm giving with a joyful heart and a spring in my step!

Anyone else need to be set free from the chains that bind? I highly recommend it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Getting All Spiffed Up

This weekend was the official beginning of Christmas for my family.

I attended our women's ministry Sharing Christmas Love Brunch, delivered a Christmas basket to a sweet little lady in a nursing home (now that is Christmas!), and turned on the Christmas music in our home.

James got the Christmas boxes out of the garage and brought the filthy things into the house, set up the Christmas tree, and watched football (he thinks that is Christmas!).

I decorated the tree and the house, sometimes with a good attitude and joyful spirit, sometimes with a sour attitude and resentment that I was getting little help. In the end, good triumphed over evil, but it's a real contest of the attitude every year. Oh, and James did eventually lend quite the helpful hand. Amazing how much joy that brought me...

Abigail danced the Macarena on the Student Council float in the Christmas parade and James and I watched while eating our burrito and tacos from Filiberto's.Evidently, shaking her groove thing all the way down Fry Boulevard is her idea of Christmas.

But for me, over the past several years, Christmas has come to mean one thing: work. It's really become more of a pain than a pleasure. Folks, that is sad.

Christmas can be a lot of work. Would you agree? And if I'm not careful, I can get so bogged down in the to-do list and the obligations that I neglect to really celebrate.

That's what Christmas is supposed to be, right? A celebration of Jesus' birth? And yet so often it feels more like a duty, like work. And then when you get the bill...well you know how that goes.

So this year, now that the house is decorated and Christmas is in full gear, I've determined to join in the celebration. Yes, I still have gifts to buy and wrap, Christmas speaking engagements to prepare for, fudge to make, and thank you notes to write, but I'm going to do my best to even do those little "chores" in the spirit of celebration.

How do you keep Christmas from becoming a chore instead of a celebration? How do you keep from being a party pooper? How do you make Christmas a time of personal joy and enthusiasm rather than a personal drain? I'd really like to know and I bet others would too. Please share your ideas, and let's all try to make Christmas a little more enjoyable this year -- for ourselves and our families.


PS. Here are a few pics of my favorite Christmas decorations. It's my dining room and it's such a joy to decorate because it's already full of red and has a picture of the three wise men on the wall. Plus, no one messes it up with shoes and kleenex and book bags and such. Glory!

Friday, December 3, 2010

What's the Big Deal About Hope?

I've often thought that the most ambiguous thing Christ offers us is hope. I'm just being honest. In fact, I'm probably putting in writing what many people think but would never say. It feels wrong to unwrap one of God's gifts to us, look at it, and set it aside with only a "gee, thanks...I don't know when I'll be able to use that and I'm not even quite sure what it is, but it's awfully pretty...thanks."

And yet, that's how I've often felt about hope. "It's pretty and shiny and lovely,... but what is it exactly?"

I'm in the process of doing a lot of study about hope in preparation for a new book. And as I've read the Scriptures that ring with hope, I've fallen in love with that word. Turns out hope is not nearly as trivial or sentimental a gift as I thought it was. In fact, it's just as necessary to godly living as it's counterparts--faith and love.

Hope isn't just the good feeling that accompanies the more substantial necessities of our Christian walk; it's more like the cane we must often lean on as we traverse a particularly difficult or daunting part of the path. It's that which makes it possible to even move forward. Sure, truth shines it's light on the path ahead, but hope sets us on our feet so we can walk forward in that light.

Think you don't need hope? Still think it's just one of those little extras that sounds nice but isn't really necessary? Think again.

Consider this passage from the depths of Jeremiah:

"But they will say: 
It's hopeless. 
We will continue to follow our plans,
and each of us will continue
to act according to the stubborness
of his evil heart."
Jeremiah 18:12

Do you see the potential danger of opting out of hope? Did you pick up on the vital role hope plays in obedience and successful living?

If we don't have hope, we are more prone to continue in our waywardness. We're quite likely to continue down the wrong path. When we mistakenly think there is no hope, the enemy has us right where he wants us.

To have hope is to believe that things can change, that I can change. To be without hope is to give in to the futility of our own thinking, our bad behavior, and our despondent emotions.

According to the Bible, our hope lies completely in Jesus Christ. He is the source of our hope. He is our walking cane when the path ahead seems totally unnavigable. He is the one who enables us, through that mysterious and and somewhat ethereal thing we call hope, to get up and walk forward in the right direction. 

Without hope in Christ we'll choose to continue on our "merry" way with our own plans, but with hope in Christ we can overcome addictions, break free from bondage, restore what has been lost, become someone new, and develop new and healthy habits. We can. We absolutely can.

So take a second look at the gift of hope. It's not just a sweet little gift with a lovely little name to be placed upon your shelf. It's more like a vital and useful piece of equipment that can make a huge difference in your life.

May your day be filled with hope!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

As It Truly Is...

Also, this is why we constantly thank God,
because when you received the message
about God that you heard from us, 
you welcomed it not as a human message,
but as it truly is, 
the message of God,
which also works effectively in you believers.
1 Thessalonians 2:13

This is one of those scriptures that we might be tempted to just breeze on by, seeing it as nothing more than introductory material, stage-setting stuff, but not worthy of any contemplation or study. But look at it again. Read it slowly, looking for the jewels tucked inside.

Ah, to recognize God's message to us for what it truly is... Whether we feel our toes being stepped on during the Sunday morning sermon, recognize a red flag as we head down a wrong path, receive a confirming message about a decision we've been wrestling with from an unsuspecting friend, or simply read the words straight from the Holy Bible, we need to be able to recognize a message straight from God for what it is...

life-changing wisdom

satisfying manna
thirst quenching refreshment

the sharp, discerning blade of a two-edged sword

powerful and pointed instruction

a matter of life and death

holy, holy, holy!

How often have I heard a word from the Lord and simply responded to it casually as I would a word from a friend or a newspaper columnist? How often have I considered a message from the Lord and tossed it about like some arbitrary piece of advice? And how often have I even clearly heard from the Lord but turned a deaf ear to the convicting words because I chose not to heed them?

Blessed are we when we, like the people in Thessalonica, receive the message of the Lord "as it truly is, the message of God," which has the capability of doing a mighty, astonishing, life-changing work in us!

Do I know God's Word to be what it truly is? Just something to think about...