Are you ready?

 

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Here we are: December 16th. Nine days away from Christmas!

“Are you ready?”

I’ve been hearing this question asked at the bank, at my work potluck, in line at the stores…It CRACKS me up!

Christmas comes the same time and date each year. Not like Easter, that one can mess you up. Christmas has been December 25th for about 2000 years. So, it’s not like we weren’t told about it in advance. How come people aren’t ready?

ANTICIPATION

One of the most tantalizing feelings this time of year is the anticipation leading up to this special day. I remember it well as a child.–The inability to get to sleep on December 24th. My heart beating so rapidly as the agonizing wait for 6 am (this was the absolute earliest my parents would allow for us to awake them!) and we had to bring them with us when we went downstairs to find out if all that “being good” in the weeks prior had put us on Santa’s NICE list —

SURPRISE-What did Santa bring you?

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Unfortunately, one of the biggest surprises this time of year is the VOID.

Some face the VOID of celebrating their first (or second, or third…) Christmas without their loved one.

For others there’s the VOID felt in the bank account, leaving nothing for gifts.

Amidst all the beautiful lights, wreath adorned doors, the hustle and bustle and gatherings, there are those for whom this is NOT the most wonderful time of the year. 

I’ll never forget the surprise of my very first out of state Christmas working at Phoenix Police Department. I swallowed the lump in my throat after wishing “Merry Christmas” to family and friends far away as I clocked in for my overnight shift working the holiday. I fully expected the night to be filled with bookings from partying: DUI’s and noise violations from all the celebrating…

Surprise!

The most common arrests I saw that night were the domestic violence and family assaults.

Not everyone has a family they enjoy celebrating the holiday with. That Christmas felt like a “Reverse Grinch” moment happened to me as my heart cinched up and threatened to break.

My heart has these moments when I hear a parent threaten their overly rambunctious child, “Christmas is canceled this year!”

My heart breaks every Black Friday when I watch humanity crawl and punch their way to the front line for the door-busting deals.

My heart breaks when I see the VOID left in this world.

The only cure for this heart break and void is the VERY reason why I love this season and this time of the year.

No matter how dysfunctional your family may be, no matter how misbehaved your children are, no matter how empty your bank account is, you have available a reason to celebrate–the same reason the shepherds, three wise men and a young couple with nothing celebrated in a manger  2000 years ago.

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Every year, I picture Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special telling Charlie the TRUE meaning of Christmas:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Luke 2:8-14 (KJV)

He came to heal the brokenhearted.  He fills the void. He is the very reason for the season. So, the real question is:

Are you ready for Him?

 

 

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THANKSGIVING, FOOTBALL and THE GREATEST FAN!

Best Fans EVER!

Best Fans EVER!

Nothing says Thanksgiving like….FOOTBALL!!!!
(Except maybe Turkey, and Black Friday, and food coma, and family, and stuffing, and pumpkin pie…) But still, what better to do than to plop down in front of the t.v. after being stuffed with turkey, shopping ‘til you dropped and just “chillax” in front of a great football game?!
Love football?
I believe Denver Bronco’s fans are some of the VERY BEST FANS of all time.
Are you a fan? What does this look like?
How about:
You’ve had season tickets for 17 years.
You attend EVERY home game, rain, snow, sleet or shine (and sometimes all of the above on the same day—it is Colorado!.
You bleed orange and blue.
The original bronco emblem is tattooed on your left ankle.
The new bronco symbol is tattooed on your right shoulder.
Every game day you are fully decked out: the orange and blue jersey, orange face paint, foam finger, etc.
You cite Bronco’s stats like a wall street ticker.
Your dog’s name is Elway.
You serve only blue and orange foods at your house party for the away games.
You cried and fell into a depression for weeks after Dan Reeves was let go.
Game day you are cheering and screaming for each pass completion, touchdown, extra point and interception. You yell at the television like you were there. You have been known to invent words in your tirades against the ref’s poor calls.

Now picture being that same Bronco fan (fully decked out and on one of your historic rants) in a stadium of the most avid, amped up (and also fully decked out) Raider’s fans (or Patriots!;)). Black and white tattooed arms thicker than tree trunks surround you. You are all by yourself. And the score is 52 to 3. Broncos are losing.

Still a fan?

I think this is where that saying about “where the rubber meets the road” comes from.
Will you roll up your sleeves to display your tattoo? Still ready to defend your team, even when they’ve left the stadium and you alone remain? Are you really ready to bleed and find out if it’s truly orange and blue?

Now Picture:
You love Jesus. You attend every Sunday service (unless there is a Bronco’s game-Thank GOD for Saturday services!) You tithe your 10%, volunteer at the homeless shelter, attend bible study and can recite specific bible verses at the drop of a hat. You raise your hands in praise during every worship song, pray for your enemies, love your neighbor and have that icthus (the fish) bumper sticker firmly affixed to your Ford.

Now, take away your comforts, your finances, your marriage of 50 years, your career, your health, your family.

Still His fan?

When you’ve lost it all, will your heart fill with doubts? When the nay-sayers and well-meaning friends ask what you’ve done to deserve this, will you question His sovereignty? Will your mind spill over with unanswerable questions: “Why?” “Why me?”

Why do bad things happen to good people?

For many a heartache and wound that I have survived, I am able to look back and thank God for His growing me in those times. It’s those very same rough times when my relationship with Jesus grew deeper and more intimate. I can often look back and see a purpose to those pains and, in that “20/20 hindsight,” I can find some answers.

When I can’t, I rely on Proverbs 3:5-6:
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

But why do innocent suffer? Why does evil often go unpunished?

Although I don’t have answers to many of these tough questions, I know One who does. I know that He will not waste a single tear and I rest my hope in the fact:
“…that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

God can handle your questions. And it may not be until you see Him face to face that you will have your “20/20 vision” and answers. So, until then, know that nothing can separate you from the love of God–
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38)

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1

In losses, in pain, in heartbreaks, in failures and disappointments, in any circumstance from the beginning until the end: His love endures.

He is your biggest Fan.

UNIQUE

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CREATING YOU UNIQUE

Cooking shows have been around for years (like Julia Childs) and continue to grow in their popularity. Now, not only can you find them on the Food Network and cable channels, but prime time has hosted Master Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, The Taste and many more!

I love watching a master create a fabulous feast by utilizing everyday kitchen ingredients — like my mom at Thanksgiving ;). Sometimes these Master Chefs use the kitchen tools and gadgets only found in specialty stores, or an ingredient I have never heard of, but my favorite is when the creation is crafted from the mundane.

Isn’t that what creativity is about? Picking and choosing from the ordinary and, by someone’s special talent, gift or touch, morphing it into the extraordinary?!

…….

I was amped up from a day of pumpkin spice lattes and couldn’t get to sleep. I got to thinking how cooking parallels writing. A good writer can utilize the everyday mundane events, filter it through their perception and out oozes one of two things:

1)     A sumptuous, smooth, creamy concoction worthy of topping William and Kate’s wedding cake

OR, quite possibly,

2)     A travesty to the taste buds worthy only of “decorating” the nearest lawn as the latest fertilizer! (Get my drift?) Pee-ee you!

You win some, you lose some.

Yet, both serve a purpose. And #2 -no pun intended- very likely could’ve turned out to be the most fabulous fertilizer known to man!

—–

Whether your creation is cooking, painting, writing, decorating, building, acting, speaking, dancing, singing, parenting, managing or whatever-ing—There is only ONE YOU.

Your filters: your past, your life events, your perceptions, experiences and what makes up you, are completely and utterly unique to YOU.

You are one of a kind.

“You knit me together in my mother’s womb…I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:13,14)

That always amazes me. The ultimate Craftsman, Creator and Master took the everyday ingredients of flesh and bone, hair, skin and cells and He creates a masterpiece each and every time. Something so diverse, there will never be another.

I work in the Identification Unit. Fingerprints are utilized to identify individuals because science has shown them to be unique and permanent.

Their genesis is in the womb and they persist past death.

They identify you as His unique creation.

Each and every fingerprint found on your hands (and feet) is absolutely unique. There never has been another with the same fingerprints and there never will be another, EVER, with the same.

That kind of creativity blows my mind.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle most nights with finding something new to throw together for dinner and often end up making the same old thing. Yet, our Creator never struggles. We are marked as His unique creation before we are born, created with grace and divinely unique through (and beyond) our death. A divine masterpiece each and every time!

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10)

So, whatever good works you were created for, my hope is that you recognize your uniqueness; you embrace YOU and all that went into you as a special creation.

And, like Kathryn Stockett from the movie The Help so beautifully put it, “You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

And, I would add, you is Unique!

 

 

MAGNUM-SIZED TEMPTATION

What is your "Magnum?"

What is your “Magnum?”

MAGNUM-SIZED TEMPTATION

Have you had these little packages of heaven? Magnum–A creamy vanilla bean ice cream covered in silky chocolate, dabbled with goodies like caramel, almonds or toffee. OMG. Absolute deliciousness. Such a treat when it’s110 degrees out (and the commercials are ridiculously funny.)
I bought four packages when I was expecting company (and they were on sale two-for-one)! I devoured one as soon as I got home and then totally forgot about them. Even forgot when my company came! (What can I say—I am over 40 now.)

It has been two months since I brought those Magnums home. In the freezer they sit, all intact, save the one I ate that day.

Now that summer is over and I failed once again to lose “those ten pounds;” I have decided to get serious about my swimsuit body for next summer.—Small changes over time will produce big results. Right?

So, I am giving up cheese and dairy.

Actually, this is a BIG HUGE CHANGE for me—I have pizza easily 3-7 times a week and have been known to eat a cheese and fruit plate for dinner many a night. And then there is the coffee creamer—Seriously??!! Do they put drugs in it?–It sometimes is the only reason I get out of bed! Especially the Cinnabon creamer. Mmmm…

I digress.

So, I have given up cheese and dairy during the week (Let’s be realistic). Ever since this decision, I swear to you those Magnum ice cream bars have been taunting me. Despite the fact those little gold minions of chocolate beauty sat in there for two months without my even giving them a second thought; post “no-dairy decision,” I cannot open the freezer door to get ice without their sparkly, beautiful gold wrapping blinding me. One even jumped out to me—like it wanted me to save it from its lonely existence next to the frozen peas and neglected pizza! I cannot watch TV without thinking about them. If the temperature’s over 100, they are on my mind.—So…EVERY DAY!

God knew we would struggle and has us pray: “Lead us not into temptation…” (Matthew 6:13)

Temptation taunts in many ways.

My subconscious even struggles. Last week I dreamed I was face deep in a lasagna and cheesy pasta buffet and gorging on the saucy deliciousness. I awoke from this dream with a smile spread across my face as I could taste the garlic cheese bread…THEN BAM!—my smile was instantly wiped clear when I remembered the decision; (Seinfeld’s soup-Nazi style):

NO CHEESE FOR YOU!

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies…” (23rd Psalm)

This table of temptation is different for everyone.

Whether your table contains heftier tempters like alcohol and drugs, sex/lust, the greed for money; or more subtle ones such as pride, gossip, selfishness, cheese…

“…You anoint my head with oil. My cup overflows” (23rd Psalm)

With Christ, there is a way out.

“He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)

With Christ there is a power beyond your own that you can tap into:

“…the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.” (1 John 4:5)
And when you rely on Christ working in you, He will strengthen you in those areas.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

So, as I close the freezer door (sans-Magnum,) and I sip my black coffee, I pray your day is filled with the power of Christ to overcome whatever “Magnum” is seated at your table.

PROFESSIONAL ZUMBA DANCERS

Zumba
(“One of these things is not like the others!”)

I think something tragic happens when we try to be something we aren’t meant to be.

Actually, I KNOW it is tragic.

Take, for example, when a runner attempts something like ZUMBA.
Seriously tragic.
And, you know what they do in those dance places? They place mirrors at every turn. So, even if you could fake it in your mind that you don’t look like a puppet/marionette gone wild–on crack–there is the visual evidence slapping you in the face! It screams at your flailing arms and at every hip shake and misstep saying, “YOU WERE NOT MEANT TO BE A PROFESSIONAL ZUMBA DANCER!”
I didn’t give up; but I wanted to! (-And a few people around me wanted me to!) AND, after two days of recovery, I was actually glad I tried something new!
But, then there is my old Jr. and High school buddy, Kelly. You put her in those mirrored rooms and she blossoms like a flower in spring! Her arms are in perfect sync with the furious steps below and the hips in between, making most blush who witness the ease of her rhythm.

She was meant to dance.

(See if you can pick her out in the photo above—she has this knowing look—like, “These others shouldn’t quit their day jobs!)

It’s truly something to witness when you see someone “in their element;” pursuing a dream; excelling in their passion. Like a well orchestrated song, perfectly pulling together the individual sounds of each instrument, joining up with lyrics, rhythm, melody and it all flowing together like it was always meant to be exactly that way.
But, what when we are forced/or stuck in something that we don’t excel in? That we loathe doing day after day after day…After a while, life turns from musical harmony to a clanging cacophony of unbearable noise.

I get that there will always be things that we struggle with wanting to do–homework, paying pills, Mondays, etc.,—that’s part of life; but it shouldn’t BE your life.

We are promised something more…

“…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

And when you invite Jesus into your life and allow him to direct your path and your plans…

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” (Ephesians 3:20)

More than we can even imagine??!! Hmmm…I like this idea…A LOT!

As I was struggling with what to blog about this week, I realized…I LOVE to write. I am not pretending that it is easy for me to do—there are many things that get in the way (like two other jobs, laundry, eating, the voices in my head saying, “You can’t,” or “No one cares.”) But I always return to it—the desire to be at my computer, or with a note pad jotting down something that struck me during an interaction. I yearn for the spare minutes to get the “pen to paper” and I get a rush. It is almost like that marionette on crack, or probably more like the runner’s high when I feel God nudging me to write something. It often happens when I am out on a run and when I am undoubtedly at the farthest point from home!

As I write, I am smiling. My hope is that, whatever it is you spend the majority of your day doing, or dreaming of doing, that you will DO IT! –Pursue it. Don’t give up on searching for your “thing;” for what makes you blossom; the fire in your belly; the passion that you can’t get out of your mind. Try it. Don’t give up on it. Keep trying; keep searching and keep pursuing until you find it. Continually ask the Lord into your plans and, I am willing to bet on it, that “it” becomes more than you can imagine!

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

BENCHES

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You see them in parks. You see them in playgrounds. They are found on front porches and in the front of the grocery store.
Besides a place to sit, what is it about benches?

When I asked Heidi Rosner, the artist behind the cover of my book “grace,” to add in a bench at the river scene, she said, “No problem. I do it all the time in my artwork. People love ‘em!”

A gentle man in his 80’s had finished “grace” and told me the bench was one of his favorite scenes because of what it meant to him. “In my marriage,” he said with a glimmer in his eye, “Oh yeah… Connie and I have had our ‘benches.’”
In the scene, and apparently for his relationship, the bench is a place of reconciliation; a place of confession; a place of releasing fears, finding comfort and new beginnings.
When I picked out the bench (and I never knew there were so many choices!), I chose the simple wood slats with iron bolts keeping the posts together. The bench was special for the characters in the book; it represented vulnerability and risk. But this bench represented all these things and more.

There are similarities that I hoped the reader would find there.

There is a “place” made of wood and iron that we can go to find a new beginning; a place of hope, confession, healing and rest. A place that we can lay our burdens, place our trust and release our grip of things we hold tightly.

“Lead me to the Cross where you love poured out
Bring me to my knees, Lord, and rid me of myself” (Hillsong United)

“At the Cross you beckon me
You draw me gently to my knees,
And I am lost for words so lost in love
I am sweetly broken…” (Jeremy Riddle)

So, the next time you see a bench, take some time, bend at the knee and take a seat. Rub your hands along the splintery wood. Thumb over the iron bolts holding it together and know that there is a place you can come to pour it all out, a place you can find peace, a place of healing and a place to release.

“…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross…3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” (Hebrews 12)

The Cross is the place is where you find the One who can hold it all together for you.

FIERCE LOVE

fierce love

FIERCE LOVE
“I will cease to live if I cannot be with you.”

Sounds Shakespearian, or maybe a line from “50 Shades of Grey,” or a RiHanna song?

It’s all about context.

Now-a-days this could be a codependent red-flag if spoken by a boyfriend, lover, stalker, etc.
Change the context; it changes everything.

–Scene change–
Picture these words being spoken by a parent or grandparent who, through no fault of their own, is faced with the thought of being denied access, sight and time with their beloved young child or children.
Though I am not a parent, I have been witness to this type of love; a fierce, almost angry, wild love.

Altruism: the sacrificial love of one for another.

It is a willingness to set aside your very life for the life of someone you love so intensely that life wouldn’t be worth living if they aren’t a part of it.

Soldiers do it for the love of their country.

A parent will step in and sacrifice for their innocent children.

This love is found between siblings, partners, families and spouses who willingly lay down their life to save their beloved.

But what if you were asked to sacrifice your life for something you didn’t care that much about?

Envision being asked to die for your abuser.

Or, for a follower of a different faith that harmed your country;

Or, the ex-boyfriend who dumped you for the larger breasted, more popular girl in school.

What about for the friend who betrayed your trust?

Or, being willing to give your full life for the child who turned away from all your teachings, stole from you and chose a drug ridden path on the streets…

**gulp**

This type of love happened.
This love happens.
This love is available to us because of Jesus.
It is the love He demonstrated on the Cross.

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-7)

God, our father in heaven, loves us with such intensity that he sent us the ultimate sacrifice so that we would not cease to live. What He accomplished on the cross makes a tough life worth living, makes death not final and turned everything on its head. It’s the upside down that made things right; the death of an innocent for the lives of the unworthy.
It is the most quoted and therefore the most recognizable verse: John (3:16) “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

He seeks us out when we are lost. He calms the storms of the seas of our life. He provides daily for our strength and gives us a hope worth clinging to when all else seems void.

Just know that no matter how unworthy this life can make you feel; that no matter what shames haunt your heart and, despite the burdens that weigh down your willingness to carry them one second longer, you have One that knows you, One that empowers you, One that believes in you, One that died for you because of His fierce, fierce love for you.