Home For Christmas

For the first eight years of married life RPM, and I spent Christmas on the road.  So when we moved back to Southern California shortly after our eighth wedding anniversary, one of the first things that crossed my mind was:  “This is going to be great! I finally get to spend Christmas in my own home.”

Perhaps it was the stress and fatigue of moving a five year old and a baby, or maybe it was my “Wonder Woman” complex.  Whatever the reason, I decided that I would have both Christmas Eve with RPM’s parents and Christmas Day with my extended family at my house.  It was going to be the perfect Christmas.

Both money and time were tight that year but I worked hard to stretch both.  I came up with a plan that started even before Thanksgiving that allowed me to spread out my gift buying, decorating, baking, and wrapping so that I could really enjoy the season.  And for once everything went according to plan.  That is until Monday, December 22nd

Monday morning I woke up with a fever, chills and a terrible cough.  RPM was off that day and took care of the kids while I took cold medicine and tried to sleep.  Unfortunately my sleep seemed to be constantly interrupted by the phone ringing off the hook. In the back of my mind I knew that wasn’t normal, and that something must be wrong. But I was too sick to care.

Early in the evening I finally managed to make it into the kitchen.  I knew from the look on RPM’s face that there was a problem.  He gently explained that all the phone calls we’d been receiving were from people from our former church.  My best friend’s daughter, (my own daughter’s best friend) had been having some problems.  They suspected a brain tumor.  Tests were being run.  My friend would be calling as soon as they got the results. 

A few hours later the call came.  It was a brain tumor.  They weren’t sure what kind.  They would be going to San Francisco for more tests and would call on Wednesday, Christmas Eve with the results.  I was devastated.

The next day my daughter came down with the flu.  I spent a couple of hours in the doctor’s juggling a sick child and a tired baby.  On Wednesday (Christmas Eve) my 11 month old woke up crying.  Santa had decided to give him a couple of teeth for Christmas and he was miserable.  I was still tired and weak, my daughter was sick, and my son was fussy.  My in-laws showed up three hours early, just as I had gotten the kids to sleep and I was trying to lay down for a nap.  Most importantly my heart was heavy as I prayed for my friend and her dear daughter. Not quite the day I’d had in mind. 

It wasn’t until we sat down to open gifts with RPM’s folks that the call came. The news was not good.  Cancer.  Eighteen months at most to live.  She would be lucky to see her sixth birthday.  My spirit was crushed.   My perfect Christmas had turned into a bad dream.

For my birthday this year a dear friend gave me Liz Curtis Higgs new book The Women of Christmas.  It’s about Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna.  As I’ve been reading it I was reminded that the very first Christmas didn’t go as planned for hardly anyone we read about in the real Christmas story.  Mary didn’t plan on being pregnant before her official wedding.  Joseph didn’t plan on marrying a pregnant bride.  Elizabeth didn’t plan on being barren for all of those years. Anna didn’t plan on losing her husband at a young age and spending most of her life in the temple.  The shepherds didn’t plan on seeing an angel.  The wise men most certainly didn’t plan on finding a “king” in a stable.  But God did.  His plan was not man’s plan.  But it was the best plan.

As we prepare to celebrate Christ’s birth, I pray that all of you will once again be reminded that it’s not how the celebration goes, but Who we celebrate that really matters. 

Whether you are at home, or on the road.  Whether you are with family or on your own.  Whether you get what you want for Christmas or find yourself in the return line, God has a plan.  A plan just for you.  A plan of love that was put into place on that first Christmas. 

Thirteen months after that imperfect Christmas a beautiful six year old got to run into the arms of Jesus.  I still think about her every year at this time.  Someday I will see her again and, along with others I’ve lost, I will have the joy of celebrating a perfect Christmas around the throne of God.  Until then I’ll just have to accept life and Christmas in an imperfect world.

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The Power of One

As I sit writing this, the world is mourning the loss of an amazing leader.  Nelson Mandela’s message of forgiveness, rather than revenge, saved a divided nation from a bitter civil war. His leadership and intelligence helped birth a new country.  But his humble spirit kept him from taking all the credit. After one term as president, he stepped down because he felt it was time for someone else to lead rather than taking the spotlight for himself.  What he did, what he said, who he was, touched the lives of many all over the world.

As often happens when I read and hear about great men and women, I found myself reflecting on the fact that I will never have the scope of influence of a Nelson Mandela.  But what I do have is the power to touch the life of the people I come in contact in my little corner of the world.  I can choose to do small acts of kindness for both those I know personally and those I don’t. I can smile at the clerk behind the counter and tell her what a great job she is doing rather than complain about long lines and high prices this holiday season.  I can let someone go first as I exit the parking lot of a crowded mall. I can pay for the coffee of the person in line behind me at Starbucks.  Nothing big or earth shattering.  Just a simple act that helps make someone else’s day a little brighter.

One of the other things I’ve thought about this week is that Nelson Mandela did not become Nelson Mandela on his own.  He had parents and teachers, and friends, and other leaders who taught him, encouraged him, and stood beside him.  Each of those people had someone who taught them, encouraged them, and stood beside them.  In other words, behind Nelson Mandela is a long line of individuals who took the time to pass on a little bit of themselves to help someone else, who in turn helped someone else, who in turn helped Mandela become who he was.  If at any point that long line of mentoring had been broken, would the outcome in South African have been the same?

When I was a Children’s Director I use to say that I would never be a Billy Graham.  But who knew?  Maybe the next major world evangelist was sitting in one of my classes every Sunday, learning the basics from one my remarkable teachers.  It was a constant reminder to me that you never know how what you say or do will impact someone else. 

Giving to the local food bank may enable a budding leader to have breakfast each morning, which will make it easier for him or her to concentrate on their studies, which will allow them to get better grades and open new doors for them as they grow older.  Buying a book for a child who has none can open up the wonderful world of reading to an underprivileged child.  The possibilities are endless.

As we enter into the hectic holiday season I want to ask you this: What can you do in the next three weeks that will touch the life of someone in a meaningful way?  I’m not talking about finding the perfect gift or trying to give your family a perfect Christmas.  I’m talking about using your unique “power” to make a difference in the life of someone you may not even know.  It can be as small as thanking your mail carrier for braving the cold weather we’ve be having to deliver the mail, or as big as making a donation of a cow to a family in Africa.  Whatever it is, take the time to do something, anything, to reach out to someone as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the God-man who gave His all for us. 

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What I’m Thankful For This Year

Like most of you, my heart has been deeply moved by the headlines of the last few weeks.  Storms, loss and pain have been everywhere.  So this year I thought I’d put together a different kind of Thanksgiving list.  In light of the losses experienced by so many others this year, these are the things that I’m thankful for.

Every child and teacher that I personally know, returned home safe and sound on December 14, 2012.  Some of the parents who had children at Sandy Hook Elementary weren’t so lucky.

I did not lose my house to fire, flood, tornado, or typhoons. 

When I was thirsty I could go to the sink or refrigerator and get fresh clean water anytime I wanted.

Food was always available when I was hungry.

I had the right to vote.  To drive.  To an education.  Something many women around the world don’t have.

On the morning of April 15th I had two strong legs.  On the evening of April 15th I still had two strong legs. There are several people in Boston for whom that was not true.

I did not have to kiss my husband goodbye and send him off to war, wondering if that would be our last kiss. 

I did not have to beg for clothing or medical care for myself or others in my family.

When the temperature soared and I pushed a button, I had cool air.  When the temperature dropped and turned to freezing, I pushed a button and had heat.

When I walked somewhere, it was because I wanted to and not because I had to. 

I did not lose any body parts or die due to an IED.  Soldiers, civilians, and children in war torn countries did.

I slept in a bed and not on the street.

I had a Bible in my own language that I could read whenever I wanted.

I lived in a neighborhood and not a refugee camp.

I need absolutely nothing for Christmas.

As we sit down to overeat this Thanksgiving, I pray that all of us will have grateful hearts for the abundance that we have been given.  I also pray that we will find ways this holiday season to give to those who have lost so much.   Happy Thanksgiving

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I love the fall.  I love the cooler days and the crisp evenings.  I love the explosion of color on the trees that line our subdivision:  red, brown, yellow, and gold leaves fluttering to the ground as I drive by.  I love seeing front porches lined with bright orange pumpkins and funny looking scarecrows.  I love the smell of apples and cinnamon coming from the fresh apple crisp in the oven.  But after a few weeks the trees are all bare.  It’s starts getting dark at 4:30.  The temperature drops into the low 30’s, and fall isn’t nearly as fun as it was in late September.

When winter hits there is Christmas and the chance of snow.  I love sitting in the living room with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate as I watch giant flakes turn our back yard into a winter fairy land.  Snuggling under soft afghans I think; “I love winter.”  But then I have to go out to the store on roads slick with snow and ice and I think: “Enough of this cold, I can hardly wait until spring”.

Spring with it’s new life and daffodils and tulips would be perfect, if it wasn’t for the rain and the uncertain weather, and the fact that my allergies kick into high gear.  And summer with it’s long days and warm sunshine would be great, if it just didn’t get so hot and dry in our neck of the woods.  In the end there is something good and something bad about every season.  Something to look forward to and something that brings discomfort and sadness.

The same is true for the seasons of life.  We start out young and full of ideas.  Everything is new and exciting.  We get married, buy houses and have babies.  We may not have much money, but we have dreams and plans.  Life is good except for the lack of sleep and long hours trying to prove that you “have what it takes” at work.

In our next season we spend a good deal of time in the car taking kids to soccer and baseball and dance lessons.  We buy a bigger home. Get a promotion.  Become more responsible.  We start wondering how we are going to get the kids through college while putting money aside for retirement.  We feel stuck between rebellious teenagers and aging parents.

Before we know it, a new season has begun.  We are now grandparents with bodies that are slowing down.  We start losing parents, and then friends, to cancer and heart disease.  We move a little slower and spend more time at the doctors.  We have more wisdom but can’t seem to remember things as well. We know that our final season is just around the corner.

Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a time for everything, a season for every activity under the heavens.  I don’t know what season you are in right now.  Some of you may be in a time of weeping, some in a time of laughing.  Some of you are in a time of dancing while some are in a time of mourning.  It’s easy to get stuck looking backwards or forwards rather than being in the moment.  Looking at the bad rather than the good.  But no matter what season you are in, God says that everything will be made beautiful in His time.  So sit back and enjoy whatever season you are in, realizing that the best season is yet to come.

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Standing In Front of the Mirror

I decided the other day, that when I stand in front of the mirror in the downstairs bathroom with the light on and my glasses off, I look pretty good.  I’m not sure if it’s the lighting, or the fact that I have my glasses off and can’t see as well, or both. But standing in that spot makes me look at least five years younger.  Life is good in front of that mirror. 

And then I get in the car and see myself in the harsh daylight.  At that moment my dream world vanishes.  Every line and wrinkle shows and I realized that in the car mirror I look at least five years older than I really am.  I would say that the moral of the story is that I should always stand in front of the bathroom mirror with my glasses off and the light on, but I’m pretty sure that’s not going to work.

All of us want to be seen in our best light.  To look our best in front of others.  To control how others see us, think about us.

Recently I started to read a book that talked about how social media has given us more power than ever over the image we project to the world.  It was filled with studies and statistics and research, and I only made it through a few chapters before deciding this was not the right book for me. Too much data and too many studies for my brain to grasp.  But it did bring up an interesting  point.  With the help of technology it is easier than ever to project a picture of ourselves that may or may not even be real.

We take 25 pictures and post the very best one on our Facebook page.  Or, if we aren’t happy with any of them, we just take more until we find the perfect one. We edit and re-edit our emails until we are sure we are saying just the right thing in just the right way.  We post cute stories and tell about our great days. 

Occasionally we will put up a picture or post about days that have gone wrong.  Even then we try to put a funny or positive spin on it.  Yes I had a rough day, but really, everything in our neck of the woods is good.  I’m great. My husband is great.  My kids are great.  The dog is great.  Our jobs, financial situation, health … great, great, great. 

Somewhere I read that we can’t be fully loved until we are fully known.  Opening up and sharing our true hearts is tough.  I think in part because we are afraid that if people see the real us, they won’t feel we are worthy of their love and friendship. 

This week I’ve been thinking that there is someone who knows me fully and loves me anyway – God.  He doesn’t care how I look or what I’ve said or done on any given day.  He looks at me with delight and tells me I am His much loved child.  Whether I’m standing in front of the mirror or in full sunlight He sees me as being His masterpiece.  And viewing myself as having been created by an amazing artist who delights in His creation is even better than how I think I look in the downstairs mirror, lights on, and glasses off.  

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This past weekend RPM and I went to visit some friends down in Portland. When we first met this young couple their children were two and three. They are now twelve and thirteen.

The 12 year old is a delightful young man who loves giving and receiving hugs. He is full of life and enthusiasm, and must have thanked us at least 20 times for coming to see him. All I can say is, I love that boy to pieces.

The 13 year old is a beautiful young lady who has a tender heart and a love of cooking. On Saturday morning her mom and I got up early to take a walk. When we got home we discovered that our budding young cook had made Baked Oatmeal for breakfast. It was delicious. She had helped with dinner and dessert the night before and seemed to be developing a love of cooking. So, I did a very simple thing. I offered to buy her a cookbook of her very own. It was my way of saying, “I love you, I believe in you. You have a gift and I’d like to help you develop it.”

In my own life I have been very fortunate to have had several women who loved and encouraged me at key times in my life. Women who saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. That walked me through difficult situations. That challenged me to grow in my faith. They shared recipes and wrote notes of encouragement. They offered advice when asked and didn’t say, “I told you so,” when I didn‘t follow their advice and things didn‘t turn out well. It is because of these women that I am who I am today.

At some point I became the one reaching out to younger women. Doing for them what others had done for me. Sometimes in a more formal mentoring program, other times just an older friend helping a younger one by offering a listening ear or help in a time of need.

The interesting thing for me is that I have been blessed when I was the one being mentored and blessed when I was the one mentoring. There is something special about someone not related to you helping you find “you.” Being there not because they are family and have to be, but because they want to be. And there is something wonderful about being able to help someone else see what a truly incredible person they really are.

Everyone has a skill. Something that they’ve been doing for a long time. Something that they do really well. That includes those of you reading this blog. My question is: “What are you doing to pass on that knowledge and skill to someone else?” I’m not talking about teaching formal classes or even an in-depth mentoring program. I’m not saying that you should go around telling younger people what to do. I’m talking about keeping your eyes open for moments when you can help and encourage a younger person to become the amazing person that God meant for them to be.

As for the young lady with the new cookbook. I want you to know that I can hardly wait to see what you cook first. I know you are going to feed not only stomachs but also souls with your cooking skills.

But most of all I want you to know that you touched and blessed my heart in ways you will never know this last weekend. That I consider it a overwhelming privilege to have had a small part in helping you become the best you that you can be. And that I really want that Baked Oatmeal recipe!

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Why You Shouldn’t Follow Me on Pinterest

Every now and then I get an e-mail informing me that someone new is following me on Pinterest. I laugh every time I get one of those message. The reason is simple. I rarely go on Pinterest. And when I do, I don’t pin.

It’s not that I don’t like Pinterest. I do. That’s part of the problem. I sit down for a “few minutes” and before I know it two hours have gone by as I try and find just the right recipe, or something that will inspire me to get up and actually do something creative rather than sitting there looking at how creative everyone else is.

I get focused on pretty pictures and yummy desserts. I click on links to new websites and blogs and add them to the favorites list on my tool bar. Sometimes I’ll print out a recipe. But I never actually put anything on my boards. So if you want to follow someone with lots of really great pins, I’m not your girl.

I’ve thought a lot about following lately. I started a new Bible Study about the apostle John. Last week we studied the section where Jesus went up to James, John, Peter and Andrew and told them, “Follow Me.” I’ve been told that story since I was a very little girl, about a hundred years ago. But as I read it last week it hit me that Jesus simply said, “Follow Me.” He didn’t give them a “What You Need to Know to Follow Me” manual. He didn’t make them sign on the dotted line or complete an application. He just said: “Follow Me.”

For years, rather than actually following Jesus, I tried to follow all the “rules” that I had been taught as a child growing up in the church. I tried to be what others thought I should be. But it didn’t lead to the abundant life that God promised. It lead to depression. Why? Because just like I do with Pinterest I got off the main page and lost focus of what really mattered. Life became about filling in the blanks on the sermon notes, and putting on masks rather than about my relationship with the Lord and learning to be who HE wanted me to be.

Recently I started reading a new book by one of my favorite authors. It’s called A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live by Emily P. Freeman. Her other book, Grace for the Good Girl had made such an impact on my life that I couldn’t wait to see what her new writings would bring. I’m only on chapter two but it’s already inspired me to see myself in new ways and to stretch myself to try new things. It has freed me up to follow the path that God has for me. Just me. Not someone made on an assembly line that looks and acts and feels like everyone else. But a unique piece of artwork created by a Master Designer. The creator of sunsets, and flowers, and tall green trees, and twinkling stars. What He has created far surpasses anything I’ve seen on Pinterest. And for the record, you’d be much better off following Him than you are following me.

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