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bth_MarywithBabyJesus[1]It’s 4:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve and I never expected to be so heavy on this day with the things that are weighing on my heart. I’m not the only one I know. So many are facing much greater burdens and much greater life challenges. This season of joy and love and peace doesn’t always live up to it’s reputation, does it?

Well – actually it does. The TV specials are sparkly and white and soft and beautiful. We are led to believe that for Christmas to be Christmas we need the perfect outfit, the perfectly decorated tree, the perfectly wrapped gifts and the perfect loving family around the table. But today I’m realizing again that although the birth of Christ was the climax of that Bethlehem night, there are so many subtle lessons surrounding the momentous event.

Stress, worry, pain, shock, disappointment, confusion – all the things we live with today were in existence then. I would guess that a few sharp words may have been exchanged between Mary and Joseph along their journey, brought on by exhaustion and the weight of responsibility. Stress does that to us – brings out the irritation in our voice, the too quick answer, the sharp word.

I suspect that as Mary and Joseph made their way through the streets of the city on their way to the stable they fought crowds that had flooded the city. You can’t tell me the merchants didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to expand their line of products and overflow their streetside stalls. To purchase a simple meal Joseph would have had to stand in a long line, with impatient shoppers,  wailing children, tired, cranky clerks. Been there?

And as gentle as Mary appears in scripture, there is no way she didn’t crinkle her nose and give Joseph that “You’ve got to be kidding me” look when they entered the barn. Eating isn’t the only thing animals do in a barn, people!

God sent His Son in an ordinary way because He wanted ordinary people to be able to relate and accept this incredible gift. He wanted the poorest to know poverty doesn’t keep us from Him. He wanted the rich to know you must bow not buy your way to Him. He wanted the clean freaks to know even filth and unpleasant smells can’t keep Him away. He wanted the simple to know it’s not complicated, and the wise to know it doesn’t take a masters degree to find Him.

And the gifts – if you are anything like me, you have been wracking your brain, scouring the stores, scanning the internet trying to find the right one for each person on your list. I know Christmas isn’t about the gifts – but then again, it is. If I stopped shopping and tried to explain to my family from the 5 year old on up that I didn’t do gifts this year because Christmas is about the birth of Christ – I don’t think that would go over well. They know that but it doesn’t mean they are willing to give up gift giving.

So how can we take all of the not so wonderful things of Christmas and make them a part of the wonder, the miracle and the message? Here’s what I’m trying to do.

First, I’m taking my burdens, stress. irritations, frustrations and worry and I’m putting them in a gift box lined with prayer as tissue paper. I’m not skimping on the tissue paper either. I’m stuffing that box full until it pretty much overflows. Tissue paper is cheap. Prayer costs even less. 

Next, I’m putting the lid on that box because I know if I don’t I’ll be reaching in and taking those burdens out again and again to rearrange and ponder and carry them around for a while before putting them back. I’m taping the lid down so it won’t come off.

Then I’m pulling out the most beautiful wrapping paper I can find and covering that box with it because I want it to be visibly worthy of laying at the feet of Jesus. I want Him to know I’m serious about handing it over.

And the next thing I’m doing, after I walk away from the box, is pulling out every bit of kindness and gentleness and generosity I can find in my clothes closet and that’s the outfit I’m wearing today and tomorrow and hopefully beyond this weekend so I can bring the missing joy, peace and love to those around me.

Because I’m learning the lesson of Christmas.  God knows the pressure. He is aware of the demands on my time. He understands the things that make my heart heavy and my tears flow. But He set the Star of Bethlehem in the sky to show me the way to the Son of God in the manger and allow me to discover the truth of Christmas. 

It’s putting my trust in the Baby who became the Savior,

so I could travel from the Manger to the Cross,

and let Him come from Heaven to my Heart,

to make peace where there is none, to bring joy where there is sadness, and to give hope when things appear bleak. He gave Himself to me and I’m paying it forward.

Praying a beautiful Christmas for all of you.

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She Reads Truth by Amanda Bible Williams and Raechel Myers

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The subtitle of this book, Holding Tight to Permanent in a World That’s Passing Away, truly describes the essence of the author’s theme. These two young women, Raechel Myers & Amanda Bible Williams, share some of their most challenging, tragic and discouraging experiences reaching all the way back to childhood and stretching to their present-day lives as wives and mothers.   They use these stories to emphasize our need to stay grounded in the solid truth of God’s Word if we are to survive the shaky, constantly changing reality of this world.

The book is easy to read and the life events are relatable. Life can be hard and we can lose hope if we don’t keep a firm grasp on the promises of God.

In one of the early chapters Amanda states “When I grip too tightly to the things I think I can control, I lose touch of the eternal truth that it is God who holds things together.” She beautifully illustrates this in the chapter with a personal story involving her daughter.

Later, Raechel talks about the false gospels and false truths we are handed daily and emphasizes why we read God’s Word “to find the Truth. We study and know and memorize God’s Word because we cannot waste any more of our precious time on this earth believing the lies. Even the lies that sound really good and entertaining and close enough.”

What touched me about the book is that these young women don’t profess to have all the answers, but they certainly have learned where to find all the answers.

I am passing this book on to a young friend who is early in her Christian walk because I believe she will fall in love with Raechel and Amanda and because I believe their stories will speak to her and help her find the solace and guidance in God’s Word that I wish for her.

I would highly recommend the book to anyone struggling to get into the Word on a regular basis, or to anyone who wants to bless a friend with some beautiful motivation to read the Word, study the Word, and memorize the Word.

I received this book from B&H Publishing in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

 

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euniceMy latest read, provided to me for review, was Sophie Hudson’s Giddy Up, Eunice. I have to say up front I tend toward more serious books and I am easily distracted and put off by parenthetical comments. I want to get to the meat of the story and those things just get in the way. Parenthetical comments abound in this book!

That being said, I did enjoy the book and though there were lots of cutsey comments for me to weed through, there were some wonderful nuggets that made it worth it. The book truly captures the value of mentoring and the richness of cross-generational relationships.

Hudson uses three such relationships from the Bible – Elizabeth and Mary, Naomi and Ruth and Eunice and Lois. I thought her perspective on these relationships was fresh and insightful. Where do we go when we find ourselves in a troubling situation? We seek the one who has experienced something similar. Mary ran to her cousin Elizabeth because a surprise pregnancy was right up her alley. Ruth, a broken widow, aligned herself with an experienced woman in the same boat, her mother in law, Naomi. And the beautiful relationship between Lois and Eunice spilled out on Timothy, setting his life path.

There is much humor between the pages and Hudson’s personal stories give practical examples of how strong relationships deepen us, carry us and help us survive. This would be a great gift book for a sister, a mother, a grandmother or a friend. Anyone on the receiving end would be touched by the message in the book, and the message in the gift – that they are special and that the relationship between the giver and the recipient is precious.

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51HG9Gv9bIL._SX385_BO1,204,203,200_[1]I belong to a book review group through B&H Bloggers and am able to acquire books to read at no charge and post reviews. When I saw the topic of the book Cherish by Vicki Courtney, I thought of my young granddaughters and was led to check it out. So glad I did.

What a wonderful down to earth and easy to read yet deep book on cultivating relationships for teen girls. Courtney addresses relationships with friends, family, self, guys and God in such a simple straightforward way. Courtney poses the question “instead of just surviving relationships, why not cherish them?”

In the opening chapter she addresses what makes up a good friend (someone who doesn’t ditch you on your worst days, keeps a secret when she should, makes right choices and helps point you to God) and then turns right around and poses the question, What about You? The reader is encouraged to take a moment and examine how they measure up to those four points. I love how she addresses Friendship Fixers – ways to strengthen yourself as a friend and so much more in this chapter from when it’s time to end a friendship, how to survive girl drama, gossip, how to balance out relationships with Christian and non-Christian friends, and my favorite – how to be a real friend in a digital world. Courtney dedicates the final part of the chapter to how to recognize when a friend needs help and when it’s critical that you talk to an adult about a friend’s issues.

Throughout each chapter she splashes scripture and quick quizzes that just really make the book personal. The scriptures are presented in such a way as to not be preachy but to bring that “wow” reaction for how there is a Word from God on every topic.

On her chapter for family relationships she starts off with a bang, addressing the trust issue. Her nine points are perfect – everything a parent would tell a teen and find it falling on deaf ears. Courtney doesn’t lecture, just lists the facts that make sense (follow the rules, associate with people of good character, admit mistakes, etc.)The 25 things that will make your parents smile are great. and the section E is for Embarrassing – yep, sometimes we embarrass our kids! Courtney balances respect for parents with sitting down and having a conversation about how the parent can avoid embarrassing you again in the same manner.

She talks about divorce and unsafe home situations, getting along with siblings and blended families and even dealing with non-Christian parents when you’ve become one.

The chapter on self is beautifully done, reminding the reader how to find God’s truth about beauty and value in a world that’s a bit twisted in these areas. She even gives a great chart on what other religions believe so a teen can understand the differences. So much more in this chapter that is pertinent and appropriate for what teens face every day right down to coping with the death of a friend or loved one.

The chapter on relationships with guys starts with a bang by listing the actual responses from boys when asked: Describe the perfect girl, What do girls do that send you running, and Why do some guys act like they like you one day and ignore you the next. (My favorite response to that last one, “I think you are overanalyzing this – we are really very simple.” Spot on – we as females tend to deeply overanalyze, they as males tend to be pretty on the surface with things.) The reader will find real answers to why it’s important to dress appropriately, what sexual purity really means, why we date and questions to ask before you date a guy. I loved that Courtney covered abuse in a relationship and lies about sex because our girls, in their need to be popular and be loved, are so vulnerable to the dangers.

Finally, in the chapter addressing the relationship with God, the author makes it clear it’s not just about streets of gold and angel wings. She lays out the plan for a personal, close relationship with the One who can truly guard and guide the young girls journey through this life.

The book is contemporary and frank, beautifully written and easy to read. I am passing on my copy to my granddaughters who are just entering their teens and praying that they will glean from this insights that will ground them in a well rounded, satisfying relationships.

I would recommend the book to any parent, grandparent, or friend of teen girls. It would make a wonderful gift. And handing it off to a young girl would be an expression of love, show that you care, you understand the challenges in the world today, and you want the best for her.

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OGIO-motorcycle-rides[1]First motorcycle outing of the year on Saturday and it was glorious. We managed to sandwich the ride in between rainstorms. The sun was out in full force, warming the air to a brisk 50 degrees when we took off. Of course, I had my miracle jacket on high so I was toasty. Bald eagles, deer and mountain sheep were all out in force taking advantage of the weather just like us.

After the long winter break, I kind of have to get back in biker mode and it takes a while. Remembering all the parts and pieces of being comfortable – the silk scarf, the hair pulled back and secured so it doesn’t tangle in the wind, the right gloves for the cool weather, the leathers and of course, the connector cord for my heated jacket.

But the biggest “Oh yeah” for me is the sense of power that radiates from that huge hunk of chrome and metal. The bike roars to life and I find myself grabbing tightly to my guy, taking a big breath and anticipating the soaring sensation that will come as we hit the highway.

And then there’s that lung-filling fresh air after being huddled inside all winter. The great feel of sunshine on my cheeks. Sky so blue it hurts your eyes. And the hope and promise singing from the trees that are covered with spring buds ready to burst into leafy glory. The peach fuzz covering of green on the hills that have been soaking up the rain. The rush of the river pushing at its banks, swollen from the spring thaw.

And so precious, sipping coffee and eating fresh baked pastries with my husband at the old bakery that is a favorite stop of ours. It’s rare, this relaxing, quiet time together – actually having a real conversation, uninterrupted by phones, grandkids, jobs, errands, and the over-zealous dog.

Sometimes I chaff at having to devote every good-weather Saturday to time on the motorcycle. There are many other things I love to do and can only fit into a Saturday. But I have to admit that once we’re on the road, I forget to wish I was elsewhere because I’m so loving being where I am.

Isn’t that just the way in this crazy busy life of ours? Our list is long, our time short. We have to double and triple book to get it all in and half the time we are too exhausted to actually enjoy ourselves. We don’t prioritize according to what we need, we scramble our schedules because of what we want.

Much as I hate to admit it, I need those kicked back Saturdays on the back of the bike, breathing deep, taking in the sights, and being close to my life partner. It brings balance and sanity to my otherwise topsy turvy world.

Life balance is key if we are to negotiate the journey from birth to death with any kind of success and satisfaction. And balance is not what the enemy wants for us. He will always introduce too many choices to keep us from being focused. He will paint unrealistic pictures of the things we desire and then try to convince us we deserve them, we need them, and we should go for them to the detriment of more important, less glittering activities.

Just as that first few minutes on the bike remind me of the power and pure enjoyment I will soon experience, the first few minutes in God’s word reminds of the same thing. His word is rich, bursting with wise instruction, filled with peace and hope. It is solid and sure, and satisfying to my mind, my heart and my soul.

I need those times of breathing deep and drawing close to the One who gives me breath.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Or as the message translation puts it, “I have told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”

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featured-pneumonia-thumb[1]Wow – when the flu turns into pneumonia it’s a whole new ball game. I’ve never had pneumonia before but I quickly discovered what a show stopper it is.  I thought I was on the downhill side of my illness, just feeling a little run down and still carrying a cough. I went about my usual activities, just a little slower than normal. Until the last shred of strength left  and I found I couldn’t get out of bed. I couldn’t breathe. And I certainly couldn’t go to work. For me – that was the convincer that something was desperately wrong. I never miss work.

A trip to the doctor and a bit of deliberation as to whether I should be admitted to the hospital or treated at home. I chose home and began a three day flat on my back, barely conscious, miserable course of sleep and medication. I dropped a bunch of weight, not good for me, lost track of day and night, missed my Bible study which was really the pits, and wondered if I’d ever be able to crawl out of bed again.

Once the antibiotics kicked in I began to pull out of the worst of the infection. But it was a slow, hard pull.  It is amazing how quickly your strength is depleted with an illness like this, equally surprising how slowly it comes back.  A walk from the bedroom to the living room was an epic journey. Panting and puffing and trying to sip fluids, I spent the next couple of days propped in my chair contemplating the long trip back to bed.

Being that sick is terrible. But recovering is the worst. You want to do the things you used to do, but just thinking about them wears you out. It just doesn’t feel worth the effort. You think you’re better until you try a simple task, like getting dressed, and you realize you’re not. You think you’re hungry but one bite fills you up. You can’t enjoy anything – a movie, a book, a conversation – because you mind won’t focus or stay on track. Weakness and illness consume you.

Finally on the mend, I’m realizing you don’t just bounce back. In fact, you don’t bounce period. You take a few more steps each day and feel triumphant if you don’t pass out! And, just because you’re a bit better doesn’t mean those nasty germs aren’t lurking everywhere ready to re-infect. You’d better lay in a supply of disinfectant and use it liberally, every where you’ve been, on everything you’ve touched.

It gives you a new understanding of the term “sin sick”. Most of us think we’re just a little under the weather when we dabble in sin. We know we’ll recover quickly so we don’t give it much thought. Until we find ourselves too weak to change our path.

We try to rise above the oppression, but sin holds us down, zaps our strength and makes it hard to breathe. We forget about the things that used to keep us on track – reading the Bible, praying, talking to Christian friends. Our infection takes over until we think there’s no hope.

Recovery is hard. Every step we take in the right direction takes super strength because the enemy is holding us back, keeping us down, speaking defeat. Until we begin to think it’s not worth effort. We start missing church, avoiding the Godly people we used to hang with, and letting the weight of our bible discourage us from picking it up.

Just like with pneumonia, a prescribed course of action must be followed if we are to ever be healthy again.

  1. Admit we are in trouble. We are sick. We need help.
  2. Go to the doctor, the minister, the trusted friend and seek a solution.
  3. Take the medicine prescribed (prayer, God’s word in massive doses, and commitment to a different path) and don’t skip a dose.
  4. Don’t think that because you’re better, sin isn’t lurking everywhere ready to drag you back down. Get out the sanitizer. Wash your hands of the temptation, the friends still walking the dark path, and anything else that exposes you to it again.

In this world, where exposure to sin-germs is constant, a healthy, steady diet of truth, lots of walking with the Savior, and surrounding yourself with robust Christian friends is the only way to survive.

Proverbs 4:20-22 My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart;  for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body.”

 

 

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Earlier this week I sat in my office looking out at a landscape shrouded in heavy7223162 mist. With fresh snow covering the ground and laying like heavy lace on the trees, I have to say the view was breathtaking. It hadn’t made for a fun drive to work, but it certainly gave a soft, gentle, peaceful presence to the landscape.

The impression a misty view gives is one of perfection – no scars, no sharp edges, no dirt or stains. Unpleasantness is hidden by a gauzy veil. But the truth behind that mist is reality. Once it clears, all of those blemishes will be exposed again.

It’s a good lesson in the struggle we have comparing ourselves to others. People can look flawless – but they never are.  Families can appear to be conflict free.  They seldom are.  Other journeys can look pothole free, but believe me, curves and bumps and roadblocks are part of everyone’s life drive.

God has a specific plan for each and every one of his children, all different and unique. He doesn’t want us to be the image of someone else. That would be like an artist creating works of art that never vary in color, shape or design. Part of our uniqueness comes from the battles we survive and the challenges we overcome.

No offense meant here, but there is a reason antiques are appreciated.  They show wear and tear, host a history of everyday life, and remind us of the passing of time.  It’s no different with God’s children. We are marked by the years and the journey.

I was touched by a point Beth Moore made in the final video our ladies group watched last night in our Esther bible study. Beth pointed out how society tends to look at an elderly woman and say “She was beautiful in her time” but God’s word says “He makes everything beautiful in His time.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)  In other words, the passing of time and the events that mark that passing are what create the beauty of a life.

Queen Esther’s early life was all about looking good.  She had to catch the eye of the king and the story makes it clear that this took a lot of primping and preening. And it worked. The misty veil of preparation covered every flaw on the outside until she was perfection to the eye.

It took the life events Esther conquered over the years of her reign to bring beauty to the core of who she was.  Her later life was marked by courage and leadership and obedience to the call of God. We admired her in the beginning but we loved and respected her in the end.

Our struggles are not meant to be hidden by a false covering of perfection. They are meant to be honestly shared in an effort to help others travel the same difficult path.  I don’t mean that we have to spill every dirty detail of our failures and poor decisions.  What I do mean is when a young mother is at the end of her patience with fussy toddlers, lack of sleep and a role that she doesn’t feel she can possibly live up to, we can risk sharing the day we locked ourselves in the bathroom and screamed into a towel to keep from harming the child who pushed us over the edge.  When a woman cries out her pain from a marriage that seems doomed to fail, we can admit that the strong partnership we have today saw it’s own seemingly hopeless moments along the way.

No one sees the whole picture of a life from the outside until it’s over and the bits and pieces are remembered and pooled together to make a completed work. The important thing is to remember – we are unique and God has a specific path for us to travel. Some have more hills than others so God gives them more stamina.  Some have deeper valleys, more roadblocks, sharper turns or rougher terrain.  In every situation, God has the roadside assistance ready to respond.

It’s nice to have days when there’s enough mist (or heavy fog for some of us) to cover the blemishes and give us that soft glow of perfection.  I love it when my mascara goes on well, my outfit coordinates beautifully and there’s not a hair out of place. Those days are treasured because they are rare.

But the more precious and meaningful days  are those when someone sees our soul of overcoming struggles which left their mark, of fighting battles that left us scarred but still standing, of meeting challenges that found us exhausted but exultant in our victory.

“He makes everything beautiful in His time” is the promise.  Our prayer every morning should be, “Lord, today lead me down the path that widens the crevice to allow Your light living in me to escape and bring beauty to the world.”

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” 1 Cor 10:31

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