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Lisa Harper’s book, The Sacrament of Happy, What a Smiling God Brings to a Wounded World, is aSacrifice fast but truly valuable read.

What I love about this book:  It’s not a textbook on how to be happy, it’s not a make-you-feel-guilty if you’re not happy book, and it’s not a super spiritual do this and you’ll be happy book. It’s practical, it’s amusing, it’s real. Sometimes life circumstances make us unhappy but happy isn’t about life circumstances. It’s about perspective.

I’m currently suffering through a few weeks of recovering from an injury that has me on crutches and – worst nightmare of all, unable to drive. This was the perfect book for me to review at this point in time.

Lisa opens with a chapter called Is Happy Even Holy? And – you’ll be happy to know it is. She points out that happy is “a covenant state of being for God’s people.” And then goes on to ask Is God Happy?

This was my favorite chapter because I’d never grasped before that a perfect God would have to be happy. And how that is proven in scripture when it says He takes great delight in us. A delighted God is a happy God.

Further on Lisa explains how we get happy, how we stay happy even in sad times, and how we regain happy when we’ve lost it. Some of her illustrations are eye opening, I never thought of that kinds of revelation. For instance, in her use of the Good Samaritan story in chapter four she points out that the priest, the very one who passed the injured Samaritan by, had probably been burning incense and offering sacrifices all week in pursuit of God’s guidance and favor.  Clearly God tells us how to be happy but so many times, like the priest, we walk right by the opportunity.

I loved her “momma, I lub your breasts” story and the reminder that God laughs (Ps 2:4a). I loved her emphasis on the outward expression of happy through dancing and arm waving.

Lisa ends this book with some great thoughts on cultivating happy by taking our thoughts captive and remembering it’s the pouring out of ourselves that bring the best return and builds the happiness that withstands the hard blows of life.

I highly recommend this book regardless of where you are on the happiness scale at the moment. If you are up, you’ll need the information contained between its pages to help you when you’re down.  And if you’re down, you will be inspired out of your dark place into a place of light where you can learn to laugh again.

I was provided a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

 

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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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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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Well, it’s over. The dHand of Goday we shopped for, planned for, cooked for, and pushed ourselves to the limit for – Christmas. How was it for you? Did it turn out to be the warm, wonderful, Kodak moment  you anticipated? I didn’t think so. Seems you have to be starring in a family sitcom to come even close to holiday perfection.

Example: My friend who was all prepared for the day with grandchildren plowing through gift wrap. Instead, they spent the day racing  over a snowy mountain pass to meet up with their littlest baby granddaughter who had been airlifted to a children’s hospital. (The baby is improving but it was a close call.)

Example: The lady who posted on facebook that her son decided to spend a couple of hours jeeping in the fresh snow before the big dinner. Instead, they spent 8 hours digging him out of a snowdrift. Dinner ruined and everyone pretty much too exhausted to open packages once they finally got home.

Example: My friend who prepared for a beautiful dinner to share with her  son who never made it over the snowy pass to join her. She picked up her husband from the nursing facility to spend Christmas day at home and discovered he’d been taken off his mental health meds by some clause in the infamous Obamacare program. A simple trip home for the day turned into a battle. But they made it and after getting him settled, she put the glaze on the ham and placed it in a 425 degree oven to finish a few more minutes of baking, took the twice baked potatoes out of the refrigerator and set them on the stove – on the burner she’d forgotten to turn off. Luckily her back was turned when the glass casserole dish exploded, spraying glass and potatoes all over the kitchen, melting big holes in the flooring, and making an unbelievable mess. And in the time it took her to clean up the mess the ham baked to a hard, dry ball of pork. I will spare you the ordeal of getting the husband back into the car to return to the care center.

My own day pales in comparison. All we had to do was babysit the dog who had major surgery on Christmas Eve due to a dog fight. Oh, I’ve had my share of Christmas days that would go down in history. Like the one where the dog shattered every ornament on my beautiful Victorian decorated tree, the year we spent the day at the hospital because of my little daughter’s inflamed appendix, the one where I forgot to put sugar in the pumpkin pies, or the one where all the needles fell off my tree by Christmas eve and my husband cut off the dry branches and wrapped the string of lights around the dry trunk. I could go on but I won’t.

Here’s the thing – there’s the Christmas day family gathering you see in pictures all aglow with candles, a clean house, a golden basted turkey and everyone down to the youngest child with head bowed patiently giving thanks before the gift exchange. And then there’s the one that happens at your house. If you’re lucky it’s just a little loud and messy and no one gets hurt.

When will we finally get it?  Only one thing makes a perfect Christmas – the birth of a perfect Savior. Everything else pales in comparison.

Because He came, the tragedy of sitting at the bedside of a dying loved one on a day that should be filled with fun and laughter is made bearable. Because He came, a ruined meal is just that – a ruined meal not a catastrophe. Because He came, relationships are reconciled and forgiveness happens and lives are restored and we more than survive this challenging, stress filled life.

So as you prepare for the new year – make your resolutions and set your goals, plan the diet and write out the carefully executed schedule – remember this. Just as there is no perfect holiday gathering, there is no perfect life on earth. Your year will not go as planned and that’s a promise you can stand on. Trials and triumphs, smooth sailing and tsunami sized waves, laughter and tears, losses and wins – they will come.  Only a few things are guaranteed to stay solid and sure.

The love of God. The sacrifice of a Savior. And the fact that on every new page of every day in 2016 He will be present. He will share the good times, carry you through the tough times, redirect your path when it takes a wrong turn, calm your fears and hold you close when you can’t seem to face another day.

“The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deut. 31:8

 

 

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light-of-the-world[1]It’s Mother’s Day 2014 and even though you’re gone you are here in so many ways.

You flash in the smile of a grandchild and flare in the beautiful sunrise you taught me to love.

You shine in the tough times when I hear you say again, “This too shall pass”, and you shimmer in memory moments spent with my child – moments you taught me to treasure.

Your memory sings to me when an old favorite comes on the radio and I hear again your story of the first time you kissed my dad,

And your love washes over me when I touch a shoulder in compassion exactly the same way I saw you do so many times.

So much of me is you that even when I ache for you, it still seems like you’re here in my everyday dance to the music that is a harmony of your wise words and gentle guidance.

Even though you’re gone, your precious shadow of influence stretches out before me every where I go.

I love you mom. I know heaven is the reward for the Godly path you walked when you were here, that and the pure joy of watching your children walk the same Christ guided journey.

Thank you. Every day, every moment I win the battle of life in this world – thank you.

“She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: Many woman do noble things, but you surpass them all.Proverbs 31:26-30

 

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imagesCAYQ3DZ0Any idea how Black Friday got it’s name?  Actually, it was first called Black Friday in 1966 by police because of the chaos, traffic jams and acts of violence associated with the day. It has become a very profitable day for retailers and certainly, a profitable day for bargain shoppers if you are willing to get up early, stand in line, fight the crowds and push and shove your way to the best buys of the day.

Are you a Black Friday shopper?  Then I’d like to bring to your mind a little scripture in Mark’s gospel (8:36) that goes like this, “For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”  The message Bible puts it this way, “What good would it do to get everything you want and lose the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”

In the me-version paraphrase, “Is that piece of electronic equipment or that great buy on name brand boots worth compromising your entire Christian list of principles?”

I heard on the news today that the Greater Sacramento Chapter of the Freedom From Religion Foundation is set to unveil 55 billboards touting atheism this Christmas season.  Frightening!

But even more frightening, the billboard Christian shoppers will be displaying on Black Friday if we fall into the trap of losing who we really are to the lure of being first, gaining a material advantage over displaying Christ, and worst of all – setting a poor, long lasting example for our children, friends and whoever else might be observing our actions.

Here are my Black Friday tips to assure that your billboard flashes a message of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness and self control. (Gal 5:22-23)

  1. Don’t leave the house on Black Friday if you think you won’t be able to display the Christ you want others to see.
  2. If you do go, at some point in the day, let someone go ahead of you in line and wish them a Merry Christmas (not a Happy Holiday or Seasons Greetings). This will shock some, bless some and make you feel great.
  3. Smile at everyone.  Smile at the young mother with few funds and a deep desire to make her children’s Christmas special. Smile at the elderly gentleman who can’t move as fast as everyone else. Smile at the husband who doesn’t have a clue and is just going where his wife points. Smile especially at the retail clerk who has answered the same question sixteen thousand times without gritting his teeth. Yes, even smile at the cranky woman who wants to argue and complain to everyone around her.
  4. Hold a door, give up a parking place, pick up a dropped package, do something nice at least once every half hour to remind yourself who you are and what you are trying to convey.
  5. Hum along with the Christmas music blaring throughout the mall.  You will be surprised how it will lift your spirit and take your mind off the inconvenience of the crowds.
  6. Look like Jesus to the weary, hungry crowd. People aren’t always looking for bargains. They are all too often looking for kindness, compassion, gentleness and hope. God’s gift is that with his empowerment you can be all of those things even on Black Friday!
  7. Arm yourself with the full armor. You will need it on this day more than you’ve ever needed it before.  Remember them?  Truth (when the harried clerk gives too much change back),  righteousness (the first shall be last kind of mentality in the midst of the shoving), the Gospel of peace (when everything around you is chaos),  faith (that God has a better plan when you miss out on the big deal of the day that you got up early and stood in line for), salvation (nothing is worth losing your salvation over) and the sword of the Spirit (the one you wield when you’ve been stabbed in the back, stomped into a corner, shoved out of the way and shoutedat).

And when you get home, pour yourself a hot cup of tea or chocolate. Sit down by the fire. Close our eyes and thank God that with His hand in yours you navigated Black Friday in a manner He would be proud of.

God bless you all this Thanksgiving week!

His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant!’  Matthew 25:21

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MP900390059[1]This past week I witnessed some beautiful examples of generosity and compassion, the kind that honestly bring tears to your eyes.

It started with my eight year old granddaughter who went to great lengths to surprise her mom with breakfast in bed, a first for my daughter. Brinkley’s teacher started it all with a list of seven suggestions for ways her class could honor their mothers. Brinkley chose the breakfast one and then plotted for several days to make it happen.  She shared her idea with me the day before and asked advice on what she should make. She questioned her mom the night before, prefacing her questions with “I really don’t know why I’m asking this but ….”  And then this precious little one who is a bear to get up in the morning set her alarm and jumped out of bed at 7:20, fixed peanut butter and jelly toast and juice and woke her mom with the surprise.

A generous act was exampled again by my sister who has taken to visiting an elderly woman in a nursing home – not a relative – and feeding her because she has gotten too shaky to feed herself.

It continued with my precious friend Bev who fights for the rights of her mother in law, who has dementia and can’t fight for herself. Bev visits often even though her mother in law usually doesn’t know her and the visit always leaves her sad and depressed. She works hard to encourage this woman’s sons to do the same. She makes sure her mother in law’s care is the best available and sorts through paperwork, deals with agencies and battles constantly taking care of every detail this kind of dedication requires.

And then I got a call from my daughter who took on two foster boys several years ago and has poured her heart and soul into providing an environment conducive to repairing the damage done to them in their early years. As in most foster situations, there is very little payback and not always much progress.  This past week she went through an especially difficult trial with the oldest boy – one that certainly would have justified a last straw reaction. Instead, my daughter’s compassion for this young man who has gone out of his way to make her life miserable broke my heart.

When I looked at the situation I saw an out of control teenager who has had every opportunity to turn his life around.

My daughter sees a broken child inside a teenage body, a child who is still redeemable, a child who makes really bad decisions and needs someone like my daughter and her husband to rescue him, guide him and keep pushing him in the right direction because he hasn’t figured out yet how to turn his life around. He can’t take advantage of the opportunities because the damage blinds him to them.

Today in my studies I came across this scripture in Revelation:   Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it. (Rev 2:17)

I love that Jesus has a new name picked out for each one of us and that it is specific, descriptive and private – just between him and me. I’ve wondered what name that might be but I have a feeling it will be based on the characteristic in my life that was most Godly and touched the heart of Jesus.

For people like the ones in my story above, I suspect their clear stone will have a name like Generosityor Kindness,  Unselfish or Compassionate Caretaker. Maybe one will have the name Mother spelled a new way to apply to one who has opened her heart to a child not her own. One might have the name Daughter in a hue that says not by birth but by love. There might even be one that says Child with a little drawing of  peanut butter and jelly toast.

What will my name be? Or yours? I think it bears pondering. I think my life calls for some examining to see what stands out. Is it something I want carved on my clear stone for all eternity? If not, I had better start doing something about that right now. How about you?

Psalms 19:14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.

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