From the Archives: Friends In Unlikely Places

(I am taking a bit of a bloggy break this week. I am posting some of my all-time top 5 posts throughout this week. Enjoy)

Nine years ago, my home was flooded, I wasn't living in my house, I had a husband whose job required him to travel, two small children, we were being sued (I haven't told that captivating story on the blog), and I was keeping a baby 2-3 days a week. In short, I was a wreck.

I ran myself over to what would have been the closest gym if we lived in our house and signed up. I decided that I deserved just a little bit of me time and that was going to be it. I had no idea the significance that decision would play in the next 9 years of my life.

Soon I was attending classes there and met Laura, who had also recently joined that gym. Laura is a local preacher's wife who likes to not fit the preacher's wife mold. My earliest memory of her at the gym -- NO idea what we were discussing, but Laura laughed and said, "Honey, we've been married almost 15 years. If I shave my legs, that's foreplay." Yeah, I was going to like Laura.

I think Amy was there all along. Amy is a little more like me. Seemingly quiet... until she has an opinion. I know when the gym moved to "the new place" (where it's been for 7 years now) that Amy was there and that's when Amy and Laura and I all started going to some of the same classes regularly.

Before too long I got a job -- stinkin' income! -- and had to quit that regular class and sorely missed my friends. I would catch them on every other Friday, but it wasn't the same (of course). In time, I quit that job (theoretically to write, but we all know it was so I could work out with my friends! :-)

The class that we went to most often together was a weights class -- Body Pump if you know it. I'll be honest. We would talk all the way through it. Oh, we were working out (want to feel my biceps?) but we were catching up on life and diverting our attention from the pain in the mean time.

For the record -- we were frequently in trouble in class for our talking. We got talked to by the teacher -- and would stop talking for a while. Then the people on the other side of the class would start talking, inspiring us to continue our conversations. Until we got ugly looks from the front row. Or chewed out by the angry exerciser. And the cycle would start again. Truly, we had long conversations (at Starbucks -- not in class) about this.

Through class or at Starbucks we discussed it all, big and little. We talked our way through children's illnesses and surgeries, sports victories, defeats, and struggles, we've wrestled, prayed, and cried through two husband's unemployments, struggled over parenting decisions and children's heartbreaks, frequently coming to tears right there at the weight rack.

Muscles and bodies grew stronger, and so did the friendship. I honestly had NO IDEA how much those girls -- my "gym buddies" as they became known around my house -- meant to me. Until I needed someone to be strong. Or consistent. Or both. And they were.

(My two closest gym buddies, Amy, far left, and Laura, in yellow then me, and Rebekah our body pump instructor, far right, my last day at Body Pump the day I moved)


Holiday Hangover

originally on heartlight

Here it is just a few days after Christmas and I've done it again: I'm suffering from yet another holiday hangover. Not the kind that comes from indulging in too much alcohol, though the fit of my pants indicates that overindulgence of something needs to be addressed. I have the kind of holiday hangover you get from overspending, overeating, over-scheduling, and overdoing.

Every year I start the season with a deep resolve and an optimistic plan. I will budget for Christmas for several months so that my family will not be eating lint-covered Christmas candy from the bottom of our stockings as a meal by mid-January. I will deck the halls in manageable stages so that I am not getting out the last of the decorations on December 24 to put away on December 26. I will limit our family's activities so that when it comes time to distribute the gifts on Christmas morning we still recognize each other. Those are always the plans. Then I wake up, it's December 26, and this Christmas season has looked like all of the others.

It's the expense of Christmas that gets me every year. The postage for the Christmas cards, the "one last" decoration we need, the "little gifts" that add up and add up, even the food we consume this time of year seems to total a staggering amount. Then my children are out of school and expect to eat during the day. What's that about? I bought them Christmas gifts, they expect me to feed them, as well? And wouldn't it be a lovely Christmas outing for us to go to the movies together as a family? Kids, I hope you learned something, because we just spent your first year of college on a two hour movie and one tub of popcorn. Even with gasoline prices dropping, a 1,000 mile trip isn't cheap on the fuel tank!

I try not to resent the overwhelming total of this time of year. It is completely within my power to change what my family spends and every year I have grand intentions of doing just that. But I seem to simply take the path of least resistance and most expense, and then gripe about it.

So here it is the limbo-week between Christmas and New Year's — time to look back and look forward. I have a moment to slow down and evaluate. Financial folks will tell you it's time to make an end of year evaluation of your finances. Once I've found all the spare change in the couch, I'm through with that exercise. It's also a good time to take an overall life evaluation. Is what I'm living reflecting what I say I believe?

My thoughts turn to the expense of the season. I look back and count the outrageous cost of this holiday. I repent of my extravagance as I think about the original cost of this holiday: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son ..." (John 3:16 NIV). I sprinkle the financial blessings God has given me on various things throughout this season, but God gave all He had for the season. He allowed his only child to leave his heavenly home and come to this flawed world. He did that so "... that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Amazing.

I look toward 2012 with a grateful heart. Thankful for another day, possibly another year, to live a life of gratitude, possibly a life of moderation, and share His blessings with the people He puts in my path.


From the Archives: Considering Valentine's Day

(I am taking a bit of a bloggy break this week. I am posting some of my all-time top 5 posts throughout this week. Enjoy)

originally in Abilene Families

My family experienced some minor medical drama the week between Christmas and New Year's while traveling out of state. On one of my many trips to the drug store, I had to stop dead in my tracks. I was perusing the Christmas decorations and wrapping paper on clearance. I turned around to look for more, and was faced with a shelf full of boxes of Valentine's cards that children will use to declare love for classmates. Before the confetti of the New Year's holiday is swept up, the shelves in stores are fully stocked with hearts, balloons, and all manner of Valentine props and paraphernalia.

Maybe it's age, maybe it's motherhood, maybe it's global warming, but I don't think of Valentine's Day the same way that I did as a young, single woman or newlywed. Valentine's Day is a fun, light-hearted opportunity to lavish love on those around you, but life has shown me that love rarely looks like the front of a Hallmark card.

Love is not running along a beach hand in hand. Love holds the flashlight in the middle of the night, make-up long gone and tempers flaring, holding your tongue while your sweetie attempts an emergency home repair. Love isn't demonstrated by dewy eyes across a candlelit meal, but rather by one more run to the doctor or pharmacy when you are exhausted beyond reasonable or rational thought.

Valentine's Day lends itself to romance. Romance is wonderful and exciting, but won't take you very far when the stomach bug hits, or your "Love Shack" floods, or one of your parents is critically ill and/or dies. Romance will not be found in any of those situations, but love is there larger than life. Love brings the cool wash cloth again and again for the stomach bug, and mops and covertly repairs damaged keepsakes during the flood, and cries and holds and works and loves with an ill family member.

Love is not rose petals and champagne, but aching backs and work gloves. Love at my house never dances in an evening gown or tuxedo, but love supplies the elbow grease, the patience, the encouragement, and the clean clothes to face each day and, Lord willin' a comforting place to come home to when the day seems to come out on top. Love is holding tight when no words will fix it, and tears the only language uttered.

Love is not a polished, glimmery state. Love is messy, inconvenient, and frustrating. Love is giving up the last ounce of energy, sleep, time, or chocolate for the well-being of another. Love isn't found in romantic restaurants or destinations, but in hospital waiting rooms, the lobby of funeral homes, and kneeling in prayer next to race-car or princess beds in the middle of the night. Love is less about flowers and cartoon hearts, and everything about the value of another soul on this planet. I guess that's a little harder to put on the side of a coffee mug.

I will play along this Valentine's Day, like all the others, and I certainly hope for you to feel cherished on that day. But, later in the year when the toilet overflows while the drama at school comes to a boiling point and work causes too many demands to keep everyone civil, love will be there with a plunger, Kleenex for the tears, and hugs, pats, and kisses for all the things the plunger and Kleenex won't fix. Consider that your own Valentine's Day -- but don't look for Hallmark to make a card for it anytime soon.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)


Time Marches On -- A Little Too Quickly

originally in Abilene Families

Dirty clothes, graded papers, a video game cover, a roll of colored duct tape, part of a uniform that needed to be washed weeks ago, and a stuffed animal loved to the point of needing repair all litter the floor. I step over and around and pick my way through the teen detritus. Asked to bring something to school, I have entered the war zone.

I sigh and marvel.  I can’t resist sending a snarky comment via text: “Is there a religious reason the food wrappers are sitting on your dresser right next to your trash can? Are you morally opposed to trash cans?”

The truth is I am cherishing every bit of the hallowed mess. The broken pencils, movie stubs, football cleats, hair bands, ribbons for accomplishments, ripped papers indicating not-quite accomplished all sum up the essence of the child-metamorphosing-into-adult that lives here.

My teens are at a stage of life that has them swiftly heading away from me. Time is going entirely too fast. Before I know what has happened this room will fill with boxes then empty, save a few keepsakes and pieces of furniture. I want to see the joy in the mess and mayhem of life with them, because life without them will be far less colorful.

Every year as we prepare to usher in the new year, the word “TIME” gongs through my head like Big Ben’s chimes. Every year it seems the chimes come faster than they did the year before.

The alarm clock sounds, the school bell rings, the oven beeps that dinner is ready, all the sounds in one day, then another. GONG. The calendar pages flip, Christmas music is playing, now “Pomp and Circumstance,” soon it will be strains of “The Wedding March.” GONG.

Just short weeks ago we were in the thick of football, soccer, and marching band season. My daughter’s band had one movement that had the marchers form a clock. For the dream sequence it represented, though, the hands moved backward. As marching band gods would have it, the one I was there to watch on that field was positioned at precisely the midnight hour on the clock. GONG.

Oh, that I could turn back those hands on the clock just for a moment. We would have one more picnic in the front yard just because it’s Thursday. I would steal one more bony, squirmy pajama-clad cuddle after bath when everyone smelled soapy and fresh. I would read that Little Critter book one more time. Everyone would wear Superhero costumes to the grocery store -- even me -- because if we aren’t there to save the day, who will?

The clock isn’t turning back, though, and this day that I am standing in is the only one I have. Right here, right now, amidst an explosion of teen keepsakes, accessories, clothing, and, well, trash, this is what I have of these precious things, gifted to me by the universe. A whirlwind of comings, goings, late nights, early mornings, misunderstandings, apologies, and hugs that I have to reach up to receive.

So I find joy in the mess and the mayhem. And maybe, when I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll figure out what in heaven’s name that spot on the carpet is and tackle it.


From The Archives: A Peeve

(I am taking a bit of a bloggy break this week. I am posting some of my all-time top 5 posts throughout this week. Enjoy)

Ya know, I try to be Suzy Sunshine over here, which is annoying beyond all comprehension I'm sure.

But I read this today and decided to keep it real and share with you one of my peeves. I think I've even decided that the phrase "pet peeve" is one of my peeves, too, so I'm not going to call it that, either. (Seriously -- you have GOT to read that link! FAR more valuable than anything I will put over here!)

So. Facebook affords me far more insight into human nature than I need or want, though I simply cannot. tear. myself. away. (My addiction to social media can be YOUR peeve. I'm totally good with it.)

One thing that I have noticed is someone's proclamation of good news:

"I have awesome concert tickets!"

"Finally booked my cruise!"

"Sitting with my college roomie on the patio of a great restaurant!"

"Vacation starts now!"

Whatever it is - good news! Yay! Invariably, someone will comment with "No fair!" That simply crawls all over me.

One in particular that got me was a young, hard-working mom who got to go on a trip because of her husband's work. When she mentioned she was looking into some tickets for theater productions there, another "friend" of hers pouted in the comments, "No fair!" Pouty friend and her family could buy that trip and tickets to any show twelve times over -- this would likely be the first woman's only opportunity for such a trip. How is that not fair?

Denise mentioned something about leaving for her cruise. A friend I don't know pouted, "No fair!" Denise and her husband both have a job, Denise had been saving her dollars for the trip -- how is that not fair? Because she has something good and you don't? That is life, sister friend. Occasionally friends get good things. Get your happy britches on about it.

"I was jus' kiddin'!" those of you prone to pout "No fair!" may protest. Well, that is part of my peeve, I suppose. As a writer and a "word person", words mean something, and have weight. If you are truly happy for the person, say so. If you aren't, keep it to yourself.

As far as words having weight, while I'm bein' all open and honest here, I'll confess that just one hour ago, I let one little casually tossed phrase in my home hurt someone I love deeply. I didn't intend it the way it was taken, I have (and will continue to) apologize -- but it is impossible to unring that bell. Words have weight. "Oh be careful little mouth what you say."

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." Romans 12: 15,18

So. That is my confession. Feel free to share your own peeve or three. I don't want to feel alone over here in my peeves.


From the Archives: Four Words

(I am taking a bit of a bloggy break this week. I am posting some of my all-time top 5 posts throughout this week. Enjoy)

At the beginning of every year, I hear/ read on blogs some people say, "The Lord gave me my word for the year: xxxx" (no, no one actually uses xxxx. You know.) Anyway, some people spend a year focusing on 3 words.

Last week as 'words' kept cropping up on people's blogs and statuses (stati?) I started praying (remember, I'm going to hear from the Lord?):

"Lord do you have a word for me? I think I may need a word? What about a word? Aren't you going to give ME a word? Come ON already...!! A word!"

Surprisingly enough, the word: Patience ...
came to mind.

But so many other words came to mind over the next week, too. Actually, tomorrow is when I was going to give myself to come up with A word. And I have come up with 4 words. Not because I am an over-achiever, or think I'm better. But for two reasons: a) I really like all words. The more the merrier, I always say. and b) I have many more things to work on. Even if I live to be 100 (I still need to tell you the story of my 99 year old grandmother who wants to buy a Christmas sweater for next year) only working on one word a year is too few.

My 4 words and why they are important to me at this season of my life:
1) Patience: in everything. Listening to the Lord. Waiting on my husband. Waiting for the light to turn green. Waiting on the person with a bazillion groceries to check out. Waiting for the house to sell. Waiting for answers. Waiting on my children. Patience in all things.

2) Humility: This is one of those blessings that comes with the wrinkles and gray hair. Help me to be ready, nay eager to say: "you don't have to do it my way" "but I could be wrong" "what do you think?" "as long as it makes you happy".

3) Gentleness: This will come with humility, I suppose, since my non-gentleness seems to stem from my matter-of-fact-ness: "This is the way it is. Put your happy britches on about it. Move along." Part of that is my parenting gene (and it wouldn't kill me to pour some gentleness into that, either) and part of that is my logical gene. The Spirit needs to smooth out those rough edges in me.

4) Wisdom: So thankful scripture tells us that as we pray for wisdom it will be granted. For instance, if God also grants me humility, how will I know when to stand up with a solid backbone and speak Truth into someone at a difficult time? Wisdom (and love) will have to be over all and in all of these words.
I commissioned my dear (and talented) friend, Abby, to paint this piece.
I commissioned a dear and exceptionally talented friend, Abby, to paint this piece for me. It has survived staging, shuffling, and a move. It still doesn't have a permanent home, but rather is propped on my entry way table. The word I see most prominently as I walk by is "wisdom." Still working on all of those words, though.

Does anyone else use words in a year? I would love to hear yours!
I am currently pondering my 2012 word. I think I have it. Do you have one for 2012? Share!


Woman, Behold, Your Son

Same song, next verse, eight months later. Last night my 10 year old son and I experienced a feeling of deja vu as we traveled to the same emergency room to have the same foot x-rayed so a (different!) doctor could tell us that he had fractured his ankle the same way he did eight months ago. Same injury, different season.

Now, instead of trying to figure out how to keep toes warm in 40 degree weather, we have to figure out how to keep a cast dry in swimming pool season. This too shall pass. Of course our emergency room visit took a while and we got home at bedtime needing to eat dinner.

By the time we ate and medicated and propped the foot in bed, I just wanted to collapse in my own bed. Collapse I did, but sleep wouldn't come. I kept thinking of the injury. Even though we witnessed indescribable grief and pain at the hospital, I could only think of my own baby boy and his painful injury. I kept replaying the moment in my mind over and over. I didn't even see it happen — only heard the awful wails after the fact — but I pieced together in my mind what he relayed had happened and watched it like a movie stuck on the same loop.

I finally crawled out of bed to find a new image to put in my brain. I grabbed my Bible, curled up in my chair, and started reading. "Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother ..." (John 19:25). That's as far as I could go. I thought of the horrific images Mary must have had burned into her brain. I imagined the black days between Friday and Sunday. Her baby boy lay motionless behind the stone and she longed to think of him as the pink, squishy newborn she had nursed or as the precocious young man in the temple speaking wisdom.
'Mother Mary at Christ's feet' photo (c) 2009, Beatrice Murch - license:
But she couldn't shake the image of the broken body on the cross. Was her joy complete when she saw him whole again — or could she only think of the tortured body on the cross? He forgave me for my sin that kept him nailed there — I wonder if she ever did?

Mary probably never struggled to grasp the enormity of what it cost for her to have eternal life. There was likely never a communion meal of remembrance that Mary composed a shopping list in her head or counted the minutes until the restaurant opened. The image of her own baby boy broken and nailed to a cross was a picture in a locket forever in her brain. Each moment of remembrance was filled with agony of the memory combined with flooding gratitude for what it means for each of us.

May I be Mary-minded and walk in constant remembrance and gratitude of the precious lamb of God sacrificed so that I may be pure before the throne of God.

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14 NIV)


The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Oh, it's been a busy few days finishing up Christmas running (I just accidentally typed "funning" -- Freudian slip? I think NOT :-) and frolicking and such.

Yesterday I was gone ALL day -- trying to get my stuff done early in the day before the crowds got awful, then met a friend, then had just a few more things to do, then finally home at almost 5. Do you know what one of my kids had done out of sheer boredom? Cleaned my house!! Wow!

I am still figuring out how Christmas will look in my new house, and on a tight budget, so no additional decorations for us this year. I have just not felt like dragging out my Christmas China or much when I'm too overwhelmed to figure out where to put anything. In short -- Christmas, I'm just not that into you this year.

Maybe just the last 7 days have helped me get there. And for some reason, it has started with fall. Texas doesn't usually do fall. Brutal summer, then harsh winter -- but no fall. But for some reason this year we have had really beautiful color. We were so hot and SO dry for SO very long, but a few weeks ago (maybe 6 weeks ago) had a really rainy week and the trees went crazy with color. It's SO pretty and the temperatures have been nice and cool, but no hard freezes to make the leaves fall off. This lovely tree is in my backyard. The sun hits it in the morning and just makes it look like it's on fire.
Another thing to help me get in the Christmas spirit is simply time (and fun time, at that) with my family. I have asked for two things for Christmas: 1)to go to the Gaylord Texan and enjoy the ICE exhibit as a family and 2)to get our pictures taken as a family before the end of the year (still waiting). We went to the Gaylord last Saturday. It was wonderful and did not disappoint. Yes, they put a bajillion people a day through the hotel and the ICE exhibit. Yes, they bring in 18 bajillion dollars because of that. (I don't wanna know what they spend on cooling that place, though -- they keep it at NINE degrees and could only leave the door open for 25 seconds at a time to let people in and out). But let me put in a good word for it. The employees were all SO helpful and friendly. Everything was done VERY well.

"And Frosty and the Christmas Penguin watched over him by night."
The big blue suits are "one size fits all" parkas that everyone gets. They have adult parkas and child parkas. Look at my nose under Shrek. Quite red. For most of the time, I pulled my turtleneck over my nose. To which Ashley declared I "looked ridiculous..." (At what point do teenagers realize we DON'T CARE how we look??) My hands would have been okay -- since the sleeves of the parka were plenty long enough to keep them tucked inside, but I kept taking pictures with my (metal) camera, which I'm assuming was also 9*. Brrrrr. My hands were truly in pain by the time we were finished. But I still really enjoyed it, and just the time at the hotel, all done up for Christmas. You could see Santa, decorate gingerbread men, etc. So fun.
One more thing to get me in the Christmas Spirit is seeing all the Christmas decorations around our neighborhood -- and laughing at many of them. And, while I say this, please listen to my disclaimer: you know I love the Lord with all of my sinful and flawed heart. But if you are going to put a plastic representation of Him on your lawn next to a penguin, and/ or let the elements have their way with Him, then I am going to laugh. And I think that the Lord is laughing, too. That doesn't make me a horrible person that doesn't love Jesus. It makes me a person who knows good humor when I see it.
 These first people put every Christmas lawn ornament they could find in their lawn  -- right next to the nativity scene. And that makes me laugh.
"Mary and Joseph, blown over at parenting the God-child."
This one is just an unfortunate run-in of Joseph and Mary and some wind, I believe. Yet sweet baby Jesus is still so serene. Sleep in heavenly peace, sweet Jesus. Sleep in heavenly peace.
Riley and I saw this when we walked up to his middle school earlier this week to do some running on the track. Only 48*. Failed to notice that the wind was blowing 20 mph. We were both frozen popsicles by the time we got back. But we had a great picture of the Holy family, blown over.

One thing we haven't done that I would really like to do -- perhaps I should add it to my lame Christmas list? -- is to go look at Christmas lights! That is my favorite.

What about you? Did you have to work to find the Christmas spirit (like me?) Or are you full-bore holly jolly Christmas? What's up for you now?


Marriage Monday: Surviving the Holidays

It's HERE!! The week of Christmas is HERE! (Does that make anyone else's blood pressure spike? Yeah... more on that later...).

The holidays are stressful and can bring out all kinds of crazies in each of us. Women, especially, tend to set high expectations for ourselves about how the holiday should go: the decorations, the baking the school pageants and programs, the pictures, the gifts... can all weigh us down until we feel burdened by what should be a peaceful and joyful time of remembering and celebrating.
'GORGEOUS COUPLES IN SECOND LIFE' photo (c) 2008, rafeejewell - license:
You'll totally look like this on Christmas morning if you follow this blog post.

Even on the best holidays -- when all the loved ones are healthy and accounted for, when you can locate all of your Christmas decorations, etc. -- Christmas can be stressful if we let it. Here are some ways to let Christmas be more merry than madness in your marriage:

1) Clearly communicate your expectations: If a real tree, the brightest lights on the block, and a huge holiday open house are all important to you, let your spouse know, and clearly communicate his/ her role in all of that (understanding s/he may have an entirely different vision -- now is the time for early and clear communication). Discuss gifts ahead of time. If you think "he should just know" but past history tells you that he isn't going to, either change your expectations, help him out by giving him a list, or buy for yourself and wrap it yourself.  Sheila had a great article about gifts, Christmas, and marriage.

2) Decide what is a 'must' and let most of the rest go: Maybe spouse says, "No can do on the Griswold style Christmas lights. I'll help with the tree and Open house." You have to decide. What is that important to you. Also, of course, there will be band concerts to attend, office parties, church events, and on and on. Step back and see which is a must and which may have to be a casualty of the season.

3)Make time for yourself: Don't let your health be a casualty of the season. Get plenty of sleep when possible. Don't overindulge at the parties, and when you do drink plenty of water to clear out your system as soon as possible. Wash hands often. Exercise -- if even a brief stroll to clear your head -- when you can. Read. Do something for you, even if it is for as little as 20-30 minutes a day.

4) Make time for memories: Remember that the prettiest decorated cookies at the class party or the best decorated tree isn't the goal. Relax and let things go that don't really matter -- buy the cookies if you have to, and spend your time looking at Christmas lights as a family.

5) Expect the unexpected: Things will go wrong. It's bound to happen. Spouse forgot about the 40 gifts he needed for the office, or the party that is tonight. The kids need a costume for the musical that is tonight. Take deep breaths, find your flexibility, problem solve, and most importantly:

6) Laugh: The cookies caught on fire? Quick! Take a picture! You dropped a can of pumpkin on the floor that shot up to the ceiling and into your face? Take a picture AND laugh! (we have photographic evidence of me doing this -- and our house in Abilene probably still has orange stain on the ceiling). The lights only stay lit when someone holds the plug in? That is hilarious! Even in the stores, packed to the gills with shoppers, most of them completely devoid of holiday spirit, there are good times to be had. Find your laughter.

7) Remember why you're doing all of this: Christmas is to celebrate Christ's birth. I love the 1 Corinthians 13, Christmas Version -- if we aren't decorating, shopping, and cooking with love, all is meaningless. This holiday, that commemorates the birth of Christ, is a time for families to stop and enjoy each other.  With expectations too high and needs not communicated, disaster can befall.

I know this was more of personal surviving the holidays guide, but when you keep calm and clearly communicate with your spouse, your marriage will better absorb the stress of the season.

Buy some extra candy canes, spend a night by the fire, and enjoy the season!


I've Become 'The Other Woman'

I have frequently requested a weather forecast for my church. Not for the town the church is in — for the auditorium. I have suggested a running scroll on the website: "Current temp in the auditorium is 58° and breezy. Dress accordingly." or "High of 84° in the auditorium today." I have yet to be heeded.

This day it was 58° and breezy. On Easter Sunday. The children were precious in their Easter finery and blue lips. My daughter, Ashley, and I were in "spring-ish" type clothes, but not sleeveless. When I sat down, I got quite cool quickly.

I was sitting next to my husband, Troy, while Ashley was on the other side of him. He finally put his arm around her trying to warm her up a little. I sure would have liked that warm arm around me, but I made do tucking as much of myself under the other arm at his side trying to warm up. Eventually, he leaned forward to remove his jacket. "Good plan," I thought, "Leave your arm around Ashley, and give me the jacket — or vice-versa, whatever. I'm good." Oh, no. He handed Ashley the jacket so he could have both of his arms back.

Let me be honest — I sat there shivering. And beaming. It pleased me to sit by while Troy took care of his girl the way she needs to be taken care of. I want my daughter to know her daddy is crazy about her. As she seeks out a husband, I want her to know how she should be treated, and know what it's like to be the apple of a man's eye.

Having a loving parent helps a child understand the love of God — well, as much as we can understand it on this planet. Having loving parents helped me start to get an idea about the unconditional love of God. I want Ashley to know that as crazy as we both are about her, it's just a tiny drop compared to the abundant, never-ending, perfect love of her heavenly Father.

I spend plenty of time shivering for her while watching tennis, I don't mind a little more shivering while her daddy takes care of her. It's why I picked him.
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4:11-12 TNIV).


Book Review: The Book Thief

I will jump right in and tell you I loved this book, though it was difficult to read.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.

Set in Nazi Germany during World War II, it's a story about the have-nots. The Book Thief is technically a little girl, Liesel, who steals books (not a shock), but we learn so much about her whole street -- Himmel Street. The characters are so well developed (it is a LENGTHY book, so there is plenty of time to get to know everyone!) that I missed them in church this week, wondering what shenanigans they would get into once I got home and started reading again. Now that's a good book!

Some disclaimers: a) it's told from the viewpoint of death. Weird. You don't think about it that much, but Death does give away some critical pieces of information (evidently Death is a blabber mouth) before he actually tells the story. I, personally, liked that. You may not. b) it is also listed as a Young Adult (YA) book -- which can sometimes be for kids as young as 11 or 12. First, unless your child is VERY familiar with WWII Germany, s/he may not understand or be too into this type of literature. Also, it's very violent, as the time required, I think. I wouldn't recommend this for any younger than high school or for late middle school as part of a guided study.

If you go to the link I have for the book, you can see a video clip of an interview with author Markus Zusak. I loved hearing from him. He said once he got into writing it, he realized "It was about trying to find beautiful moments in an ugly time." I felt like that's what he does. Let's us see that a little girl considered her very difficult life to be a fairly normal childhood, playing soccer with friends in the summer and being terrorized by mean kids during the school year.

It has its slow moments, but I really liked it and found it a great (long) read with well developed characters. Hope you enjoy!

I guess this is the 2nd hard one I've mentioned reading. Do you do realistic fiction? Is there a genre you don't like? I can't do fantasy. What about you?


Celebrating Christmas, Poppa Max Style

published in today's Abilene Families

As I consider the upcoming holidays, I would love to write an article about slowing down, enjoying this time of year, and remembering the reason for the season. The reality is that by the time this article is published I will be eating Tums as a regular meal, darting from one activity to another as a crazed woman with her hair aflame, and I will probably be on my way to a party that I resent needing to attend and coughing up money for a gift I didn’t exactly agree to give but am expected to contribute to. The rut is too deep, the habits too engrained, and I know myself too well. This will be a season of running and rushing and spending. So, instead of trying to take some things OUT of the season, I have decided to add TO the season.

As my family gathers this year for Christmas, one person will be noticeably absent. My grandfather, who we referred to as Poppa Max, finished his 90 years on this earth this year and is celebrating around the throne of Him whose birth we celebrate. My grandfather was a big man, in stature as well as personality. His absence this season will be tangible. So, to honor his memory, I have decided to add some things into my holiday season to make it Christmas, Poppa Max style:

Poppa Max meeting my Riley for the first time.
1. I will take an active part in spreading some of the magic of the holidays. Not only was my grandfather a physically large man, he had an enormous bass voice. As our family gathered on Christmas Eve, he would make phone calls to some of our pre-school aged friends as Santa Claus. Many were left in speechless wonder. Maybe I will jingle some of Santa’s bells outside a doubting child’s bedroom window; maybe I will give some of my younger friends reindeer food for them to sprinkle on their lawn on Christmas Eve; maybe I will help Santa respond to some of his mail. I will do something to spread the magic of this season this year.

2. I will remember Christmas for “the least of these”. Under my grandparent’s tree, there was always a gift for a Down’s Syndrome gentleman that is my parents’ age that attends the same church. Sometimes a record, sometimes a new coloring book, it was always a very tiny something to let Mitchell know there was a family that loved him. I will look around and see folks that others may not notice and just let them know that there is someone that loves them.

Poppa Max with my Ashley.
3. I will give and give some more. Giving was not a holiday exercise for my grandfather, it was his attitude and way of life. I will give in secret throughout the year – just a little secret between my Poppa Max and me.

4. I will laugh and laugh loudly. With his enormous voice, Poppa Max also had a grand laugh that filled the room. During the holiday season, it came quite easily, so tickled was he to be surrounded by family. I will put aside spending concerns and scheduling conundrums at least once a day to laugh with my family. I will let them know that my joy in their presence cannot be contained and I must laugh.

I think we all look back at folks who have made Christmas magical and special for us in the past and are no longer with us to celebrate. May you find something in those memories to share with others, spreading the magic and laughing all the way.
My sweet Poppa Max and me, at his 90th birthday party, months before he died.
(I originally wrote this in 2007, the first year we celebrated Christmas without Poppa Max. I still miss him terribly, and know that his laughter fills the birthday party for Jesus. It will be wonderful to see him again when it's my turn. Some other memories of my Poppa Max.)


Marriage Monday: 5 Ways to Survive a Crisis With Your Marriage Intact

I have written about marriages in crisis before, but the reality is that many marriages (mine included) come to a time of crisis because the individuals in the marriage were going through a time of external crisis and failed to care for their marriage through the crisis.

In our marriage, we evidently don't do health issues, we do house issues. And, of course, we have had the health issues of our loved ones to contend with. But we have flooded, then five years later had a trench jackhammered through the middle of my home. We have been through unemployment and relocation in the last year alone -- okay, year and a half.  We know some stress.

You do, too, no doubt, and yours will be different from mine. One thing I have learned is we each have our own "freak out level." Don't judge people whose freak out level is 12 steps away from yours -- they are doing the best that they can with the tools they have been given. It doesn't mean they are weak, it means they haven't developed the same muscles that you have. All is grace.

Of course, this should apply to your spouse, as well.

5 Ways to Survive a Crisis With Your Marriage Intact
1) Start With a Firm Foundation: if you're in the middle of crisis now, this is like telling you that you should have learned to swim as you are slipping underwater in rough seas. I don't mean to do that, of course. But if you aren't in the middle of a life crisis, you know that eventually you will have one. A dear friend, Beverly Ross, says: "Prepare in the light for when the darkness comes." Yes, the darkness will come into your life. Learn to communicate with your spouse, know how you handle stress, hows/he handles stress. Have the best relationship with your spouse that you possibly can in the great times so that you will make it through the tough times.

2) Be the grown-up as much as possible: No doubt, crisis brings out the worst in all of us. Besides making us lose our temper and our cool, it can also bring about physical symptoms (headaches, sick stomach, achy muscles, etc.) that add to you wanting to lash out. (Some tricks to help you relax in times of stress.) But remember that whatever crisis you are in, your spouse is to some degree, even if only because s/he wants to help and take the load off as much as possible and may not know how. And sometimes your spouse will blow his/ her top. The words he is saying may be, "Can't you hold the flashlight still??" But the meaning behind it is: "I am stressed beyond belief about how we are going to pay for this." Understand that. Getting into a shouting match about how still you ARE holding the flashlight isn't going to help diffuse the situation. Along the same lines:

3) Bite your tongue as much as possible: One of the ways you may want to "prepare in the light for when the darkness comes" (that I confess I have not) is commit Philippians 4:8 to memory: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things." And then... only speak those things, as well. On the flip side:

4) Speak up as much as possible: Remind your spouse of the positives in the situation (do you have medical insurance? A 2nd car for while the first is in the shop? do you have each other?) Whatever you can think of. Also, as you can, step back and let your spouse know s/he is doing a great job of handling the situation or easing your load or whatever. Notice the little things... and speak up.

5) Take care of yourself and encourage your spouse to do the same: ESPECIALLY when you are in it for the long haul: caring for a sick parent or child, unemployment, whatever, each of you should see the necessity of taking care of yourself physically. It's the airplane analogy of putting the oxygen mask over your own face first before you put it over the person you are traveling with. Why? Because people who have passed out from lack of oxygen are unable to help the people around them get oxygen. Exercise. Get sleep. Eat right. All of those things you don't want to think about when it feels that your world is imploding. 

I know of one amazing mom who is currently going through her third year of chemo treatments for her 5 year old daughter. Due to medical facilities, etc., they decided this year --- in a few weeks' time -- to move 150 miles away, closer to better treatment options. Through ALL of this, she does all that she can to get out for a walk or run every day (it doesn't always happen). I so admire her for this and what it models to her family. She knows that a few minutes of exercise can hit the recharge button, clear the brain, and allow her to be the best mom possible to her girls. Of course, she also encourages her husband to go on his bike rides. They make quite a team.

Crisis will come, but it doesn't have to take your marriage with it. Some wise people allow crisis to forge their marriage into a stronger entity than before. May that be the case for you!

So many of you have great thoughts on this. Other ideas? What to do during times of crisis to make sure it doesn't hurt your marriage?


Watch Out for Number 3!

Originally at heartlight

At a youth basketball game, I found joy as a mother when I heard an opposing coach yell to his players, "Watch out for number 3! Watch out for number 3!" Since her first team as a 6 year old, my daughter has always requested to be number 3.

At age 12, God has blessed her with height and talent. She has become a force to be reckoned with on the court. To hear the other coach acknowledge it and warn his team about her made my heart swell.

Watch Out for Number 3Shortly after that game my daughter chose to claim Jesus as her savior and be buried with Christ in baptism. There are no words to describe that particular joy as a parent! Watching my daughter become my sister in Christ, I thought back to the coach's warning to his team: "Watch out for number 3!"

I pray that I have trained her to be a force to be reckoned with in His kingdom. I hope that Satan acknowledges her as a strong opponent to his evil. Above all, I pray that I model that for her: keeping my sword sharpened and ready for battle, ever kneeling at the throne to hear His word, knowing my "play book" better than my opponent does, and walking in the faith that will extinguish the enemy's flaming arrows. The Holy Spirit breathing fresh life into her has given her a tangible passion and fire for the Lord and His work.

As I send her off to school today, I know in my heart Satan is warning his team, "Watch out for number 3!" Wonder what Satan tells his team about me?
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints (Ephesians 6:10-18 NIV).


Book Review: The Glass Castle

Happy Thursday morning. Is anyone reading anything interesting right now? I'm still in the middle of my great Christmas Bible study, but I'm also reading a good book (a bit tough to read) that I can't wait to tell you about.

But, now, I'll tell you about one that I read a month or two ago.
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. 

Walls tells her own story of growing up with an alcoholic father and... adventurous (? irresponsible?) mother. As bleak as that sounds, her father, when sober, taught her siblings and her plenty about physics, geology, and, when bill collectors came, "how to do the skedaddle." Told in a very matter-of-fact manner, Walls tells of a life of poverty and dysfunction, but with affection for her family.

I liked this book. I probably wouldn't have if Walls wouldn't have been so even-keel in her tone of telling the story. She tells the story as if every family left half a stick of butter for 3 children to have for dinner, then nada for the next two days. It haunted me -- that people really live this way. Here. In America. Yet, it encouraged me -- that people move beyond it. On their own.

I have read memoirs of similar hard times that I couldn't get through because it was told in a less gracious tone, I think. Walls retained the adventure her parents instilled in her and led me to believe it was all just that -- a grand adventure.

As tough as it was to read, I highly recommend it.

Then, Walls went on to further explain her mother by telling her grandmother's story in Half-Broke Horses. Fascinating and another great read.

Would you want to read a book like this? That you know is going to be hard?


Seasons of Parenting

Originally published in Abilene Families

‘Tis the season ... for something. Always. Right now, considering you are a timely “Abilene Families” reader, it’s the season to be jolly. On demand. Because the song says so, complete with plenty of Fa’s and La’s to go with it. It’s really hard not to be jolly while singing Fa La La La La La La La, so you may as well sing along and give in.

In a few weeks, it will be the season for resolving. On demand. Because the calendar says so. Whether you want to or not, it will be time to look ahead and decide to be a better you in the upcoming year. If you are having a hard time thinking of a way that you need to improve, you obviously don’t live with a teenager.

Soon that season will evolve into another, then another, and we will be back here again next year, wondering what happened to 2010. Life is simply a rolling tide of seasons strung together by heartaches and celebrations.

As a parent, many seasons seem to flow from one to another, rarely with much fanfare.  I do remember with clarity the first time I walked into a store and didn’t immediately have to dump $40 worth of diapers into my shopping cart. I also remember first walking into a store and realizing that no one in my house fit into toddler clothes any more.

The relinquishing of the pacifier still requires time with a therapist -- for me, not the child -- and  I did take note of walking home from elementary school for the last time with my youngest last year. But many other milestones and landmarks are missed as the seasons fly by, one after another.

One of my children recently requested to be able to try an additional sport next year. Our family reserved elementary school mostly for unstructured play time for our kids, and each child played one sport. Now that we have moved to middle school it has become a time to spread wings and try different sports and find where each child’s gifts and skills lie.

I was picturing what our life would look like during the time of this dual-sport season and it wouldn’t be pretty. But I reminded myself that “it’s only for a season”. One very brief, eight weeks’ long season of quick dinners and rushed evenings. ‘Tis the season ... for hurrying through life to wait for the athletics bus.

Dorothy Evslin is quoted as saying, ““It will be gone before you know it. The fingerprints on the wall appear higher and higher. Then suddenly they disappear.”

I know that no matter the season I may be in life, it will change by the time I realize where I put my keys. There is no time to sweat the small stuff, only time to soak in the laughter and sweep the annoyances under the couch with the dog hair.

This season, whether it’s time to be jolly or time to be resolving, I will do both. I will joyfully resolve to look around through the madness. I will enjoy the season with my family, for there will never be another exactly like it. It truly is the season to be jolly -- no Fa La La’s required.


Glory to God In the Highest And Pass A Tissue, Please

'Tis the season and all that, I suppose. My halls are not decked, nor are my gifts wrapped (not even bought), and I don't think I'm even going to do any baking or anything. I'm not quite the scrooge I sound like -- just very, very busy chasing kids, etc.

One thing that is new to us (being new to our area/ church) that will easily become a holiday favorite for me happened this weekend: the children's Christmas musical. So very precious!

I believe it is an annual tradition now -- children, appearing to be in kindergarten through 5th grade -- on the stage. There are soloists, some tiny dancers, a little sign language, and of course we ended with some wise men, angels, Mary, Joseph, (I guess there was a baby Jesus though I was sitting pretty far back to give all the Mamas and Daddys with cameras the best seats) -- and Sarah bawling her eyes out.

I had already started the bawling early on. Turns out one little girl froze up -- one of the very few that I actually know and have visited with.  She stumbled her lines, the director got her going again, then she just. froze. No more was coming out of her mouth. Her little face crumpled, she hid her face in her hands and cried her way back to join the chorus. She would sing a bit, then cry a bit.

Y'all remember Truvy from "Steel Magnolias"? "I have a very strict policy that no one cries alone in my presence." That is totally me. Little girl totally ripped out my heart and I just cried right along with her. Ugh.

I was worried about her, but she seemed to finally be okay, and went off stage when some others did. Turns out, she was getting her gear on to be one of the dancers. She danced, then she even had another small part that she pulled off beautifully! Whew! Recovery!

Then, the grand finale: the angels, the shepherd, the holy family -- and Sarah just cries and cries.

I watched those babies (who all know how to fix my computer, operate and sync an iphone and install your DVD player -- and would be so offended to be called "babies" -- but they are such babies) and wept. My Lord was one of them at one time. Oh, he likely didn't wear a gold lame' little bathrobe looking thing to portray a shepherd, or a sequined encased robe to portray an angel -- but that was him.

And, honestly, those little guys are as close to as we’ll get to seeing Jesus here on earth. Sure, I’ve seen them in action -- I used to teach elementary school, remember? I know they can be little toots and lie straight through their little snaggle teeth. But the reality is, they -- especially the crowd I witnessed at my musical -- are largely untainted by the world yet. As a whole their parents have shielded them from the hard things of this earth.

At our morning worship, the wee ones filed in as we were singing our final song. They were going to sing one song for us as an "advertisement" of sorts. What struck me at the time was that we were singing "Blessed Be Your Name," a sweet song about praising God through the good and bad.

As we sang "Blessed be Your name/ On the road marked with suffering/ Though there's pain in the offering/ Blessed be Your name," I thought of how many friends I have that still sing that song with gusto -- and mean every word -- choosing to praise Him though life has dealt them some awful and unfair blows. I saw the babies joining in joyfully, not having walked too much of a road of suffering yet in their little life.

'The Angel Chorus' photo (c) 2007, Brian Leon - license: when I saw them in their little sequined and lame' robes last night, as the crowd heralded their sweet faces in, I wept. I wept that they are already being claimed for the Lord. I wept to think of my Lord, my Savior, with such a youthful face (my study of the name of Jesus this week is on 'Child' -- so hard to fathom). And... let's be real... I wept because I am just a big ol' sap and you march some adorable doodlebugs in front of me, sing a song about Jesus, and I am a puddle.
"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:8-14


Marriage Monday: Pray for Your Spouse

Hey y’all! I trust that everyone had a restful weekend.... I know. Rolling my eyes here, too. We don’t do those in early December, do we? Surely the Lord’s birth means flit to and fro like a crazy person to band concerts, shopping malls, football games (oh, stars... I am just now drying out... good season, Eagles), adorable pageants and the like. All memories to behold.

For marriage Monday today, I want to encourage each of us -- starting with me -- to be faithful in prayer for our spouses. Praying WITH your spouse is also a beautiful, intimate exercise that shouldn’t be overlooked. But praying for your spouse is a privilege I want to encourage each of us to take on.

If you have been to Marriage Monday a time or two, you may know that I speak to marriages in crisis, as well as marriages in better places. ALL marriages will benefit from a praying spouse.

If you are a marriage in crisis, sometimes it’s hard to pray for your spouse without praying for your spouse to be an entirely different person altogether. Last week in Bible class at church someone mentioned that their children like to use evening prayers to tattle to God about their siblings and try to get God to fix them:

“And, Lord, please remind Caitlyn to ask me before she uses any of my stuff... even though I will probably say ‘no’...”

“Dear God, please help Holly not to be so mean and bossy all the time...”

When Troy and I have been in the worst places of our marriage, I prayed to know how to love him more purely. I prayed that our marriage would be healed. I prayed to forgive past hurts so that I could see when he was making honest efforts toward our marriage.

I’m sure I have prayed for Troy to be someone he’s not -- but my pride is preventing me from remembering it right now. :-)

I wrote an article about a time that I drew a line in the sand with the Lord and told him I wasn’t going to forgive Troy -- and the Lord pretty much crawled ALL up in my grill ‘bout that. (Note to self: don’t do that to the Lord.)

Now that we are at least on a somewhat even keel around here, I try to remember that it is my honor and my privilege to pray for my husband. There are SO many things I can pray for on a daily basis - too many to list here.

If I truly listen to him when he comes home from work, that is a huge pile of concerns and burdens on his heart that I can pray peace over for him. I pray over his friendships, that he would be led to godly men that would encourage him in his walk of faith. I do pray for him as a father, not to “fix” him, as mentioned before, but to strengthen him and guide him (pity’s sake -- who couldn’t use a little strength and guidance as a parent these days??)

If you are thankful for your husband, a) TELL HIM REGULARLY and b) thank God for him regularly. But also remember to ask him what you can be praying for for him. He may just give voice to that which you already know, or he may pour out a concern that you had no idea he was struggling with.

I found this list that includes ways to pray for your spouse.

And, many of you are probably familiar with the “Power of a Praying” series by Stormie O’Martian. Those are good -- but you need a full hour of prayer time if you are going to be a powerfully praying wife, parent, daughter, friend, pet-owner, and citizen. But I do believe she has a great guideline to pray over those that you love on a daily basis.

Whether you fell like you need a guide or simply want to be consistent in your prayer life for your spouse, just be sure you are praying. And I will join you in being more faithful. And we can revolutionize the world with prayed over spouses and marriages!

What about you? Do you have great resources or words of encouragement for praying for your spouse?


The Glamorous Life of a Work-At-Home Writer

I am in exercise clothes, with my hair in a ponytail. However, because I had Bible class at church earlier in the day, I am wearing make-up and earrings.

Child: "You're all gussied up!"

There ya have it. Wearing make-up and earrings constitutes "gussied up."

Sad? Yes.

True? Absolutely.


Safety and Beauty

originally posted on heartlight
It had been a hot, difficult week of work for the teens on the mission trip. The other sponsors and I were just as eager as the teens for a fun day — an excursion to a water park in a nearby coastal town. The park wasn't large, but was a well-planned water amusement park.
We enjoyed the rides, slides, and boogie boards. There was no need to leave your inner tube to stand in line — you could float while waiting for the various rides. Rapids and a conveyor belt hauled park-goers the circumference of the park as they enjoyed enormous buckets of water dumped at random times and various waterfall spots. It was a good way to relax after a long week of hot mission work for the teens and sponsors.

When we gathered for lunch, almost as an afterthought, several of us made plans to venture out to the beach. With admission to the park came access to the adjacent beach. We cleaned up our area, left the shady picnic spot of the park, making our way toward the beach.

Up a flight of stairs and across a lengthy, narrow, rickety, wooden bridge we trudged through the heat of the glaring sun. The bridge seemed forever long as it stretched across sand overgrown with weeds. Finally the bridge emptied the group onto crystal white sands with the thunderous ocean beating down at our feet, still steaming from the trek over the bridge. The air was cooler here as the wind blew in off the ocean.

As the teens began to play like toddlers in the surf, shedding the cloak of ambivalence they try to maintain at all times, I surveyed the scene. With all respect to the architects of the water park, it simply couldn't compare. If it had been a photograph I would have claimed it to be photoshopped, with too-perfect tinting of blue-green water rolling in on the white sand. The brilliant azure of the sky was punctuated with soft puffs of white. The picture was perfectly accented by a lone ship floating regally on the horizon.

As my eyes took in the beauty, the rest of my senses were overwhelmed with this awe-inspiring scene. The faint smell of salt rolled in on the cool breeze that refreshed my sun-warmed skin. The call of the gulls could be heard sporadically over the faithful roar of the waves.

The whole of the scene filled my heart, as well as my eyes with tears, as I considered the One who created it all. How could any of this compare to the man-made park we had just left? The beauty was breathtaking; the peace that the scene brought was beyond compare.

My eyes continued to survey the wonder while watching the teens and enjoying the sound of their laughter. I began to notice another enormous contrast to the water park: where were all the people? A couple of love birds holding hands in the surf, a young girl with a scorched back building a sandcastle, and a small family seemed to be the only people at that section of beach. Where were all the people?

Back at the water park floating the lazy river, I suppose.

I grieved over how many people were missing this breathtaking sight, just feet from where they played in man-made fun. 

Of course, there were no lifeguards on the beach, and warnings were posted about a dangerous current. With the majesty of the ocean came amazing power, dangerous if not respected.

When we finally wearied of jumping and playing in the surf we began the long walk across the footbridge back to the park. I glanced back at the beach, wondering how many times I have missed a scene so majestic by playing it safe. Majesty may be waiting just beyond a long, lonely walkway, through thorns and weeds.

Have I ever traded a walk with the Lord on His breathtaking beach for the safety of a go-nowhere lazy river, overcrowded with other safety seekers?

I recalled a scene in the book "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe," by C.S. Lewis where Mr. and Mrs. Beaver are trying to explain Aslan the lion to the children:
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
Is walking with my Lord safe? No, not always. Like the beach, there may be danger and trials my earthly eyes can't see or understand. I've certainly suffered my share of scrapes and bruises. But he is always very, very good.


Top Posts for November

December 1st. Get out! I know, right? The Christmas decorations are mocking me from their boxes in the attic -- just as my sad little pumpkin from the front porch (and the little ones on the entry table).  *sigh* I simply cannot keep up with the passage of time, and I certainly can't decorate for it.
No, I didn't scour the Internet for pictures of lame decorating. I walked out my front door...
 My Top Posts for November are a little skewed, but that's okay. If you follow me on any social media, you know that I periodically post links to old blogs. Yesterday (last day of November) I posted a link to one of my favorites, partly because it is mostly written by someone else. When Matt (the someone else) saw it, he linked to it on his Facebook, and since he has about 4,000 FB friends, I got more hits on that post than on any other post for the month.

If you havent read Amazing Love it's worth a click over. Like I said -- mostly because I didn't write the majority of it.

Top Posts for November:

1)Amazing Love (originally posted: 9/29/2005)

2)Happy Birthday to Riley! (originally posted: 11/18/2011)

3)Please Tell Me You Can Relate (originally posted 10/26/2011)

4)Finding Me (originally posted 11/10/2011)

5)Moving On (originally posted 11/30/2011)

If you don't already, I hope that you will 'Like' The Cleft of the Rock's page on Facebook. This month be looking for some fun Christmas videos over there.

Follow me on Twitter at SarahSt.

Book Review: Immanuel: A Daily Guide to Reclaiming the True Meaning of Christmas

I mentioned a few days ago that I am tackling my Twelve by 2012 goals -- a few of them, anyway. One that I am doing is reading quite a few books. I can't wait to review them all for you! (Hope you like a good book, too -- I've read some really good ones!)

This book has become an annual favorite. It is more of a devotional book than a read-through, but I am still going to review it and HIGHLY recommend it anyway.

Immanuel: A Daily Guide to Reclaiming Christmas is a six week devotional guide that focuses on praying through the names of Jesus (Lord, Immanuel, Jesus, King of Kings, Child, Bright Morning Star).

The weeks are five day studies, provide introductory scriptures, a (relevant -- not overly fluffy) thought that coincides with those scriptures or the meaning of the name of Christ, and a prayer focus for the day. Depending on how long I spend in prayer, the devotional can take me anywhere from 10-20 minutes. It is not a lengthy study, but it has been deeply meaningful to me.

I think this is my third year to do this study. I have always counted back six weeks from Christmas to do the study to finish the week of Christmas. It has made Christmas deeply meaningful and a precious reminder of the greatest Christmas gift ever, and has been a peaceful reminder through the season to keep my focus on that which matters, not the glittery pull of the world's interpretation.

For several reasons -- one of them being a book I have decided that I want to read every year during the Thanksgiving season (to review soon) -- I am considering making it the 4 weeks before Christmas (the true Advent season) and the two weeks following, starting my new year focusing on Christ.

This was a book that I bought on impulse walking into a Christian book store a few years ago -- and I have never been more pleased with an impulse purchase in my life. I recommend this book as a gift or for your own personal use every Christmas season.

"The Bible is nothing if not the persistent story of God's desire to dwell with His people."
Ann Spangler

What about you? What are you reading now? Anything I need to read?
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