Christmas Cookies

“My sugar cookie tastes like peanut butter!” my hubs proclaimed as he chomped on the first tastes of the new year.

We had compiled a tin of all of our favorites Christmas cookies to enjoy on our return trip from spending the holiday in Colorado. Mom made all our favorites: sugar cookies, peanut butter marble whorls, peanut bars, lemon bars…

Christmas Cookies

Christmas Cookies

Yet, once thrown all into the same container and left to sit for a day or two, all of them tasted like peanut butter!

I tested for myself 8)

I’m always amazed at how God speaks to us; through His creation, His church, the magnificence of a sunset, the brilliance of poetry, and…Christmas cookies.

I’m amazed at how my resolution to quit cussing is quickly washed away when I spend an hour or two in a traffic jam.

I’m appalled at my nightmares and thoughts after I watch a few horror movies and listen to some “angry music.”

When I watch enough late night tv, I simply want to eat burgers and go shopping for the latest …whatever!—This world has its temptations and can permeate into us so easily…

Yet,when we throw ourselves in with the love of family, time with friends, more enjoyment, laughter, memory making, joy, kindness, hope and– peanut butter; we tend to be more hopeful, enjoyable, and filled with the fragrance of love and laughter—it permeates and emanates.

“O be careful little eyes what you see…

O be careful little ears what you hear…

O be careful little hands what you do…

O be careful little feet where you go…

O be careful little mouth what you say…”

Recently, a good friend of mine stated, “I’m done wasting my time on people who aren’t okay with who they are. I want to spend more time with people who are at ease and know who they are!”

I get it. Those people can permeate into us and make us feel … well, we can feel less, feel guilt, and not feel okay.

Yet, sometimes these people are our co-workers, our friends, our family. So…what then?

I think God asks us to be the fragrance of change. Be the fragrance of forgiveness. Be the hope of things being okay.

He asks us to be the peanut butter.

May your 2016 be filled with the fragrances of gentleness, gratitude, hope, kindness and Christmas cookies.

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?

 

 

De-Light-Full

Heidi Rosner's "Pick me!"

Heidi Rosner’s “Pick me!”

“Life is full of light and shadow.

Oh the joy and oh the sorrow…

Oh the sorrow…”-David Crowder Band

I have a friend who is a very talented artist. A relative of mine had just met her and was exposed to her artwork at the Celebration of Fine Art.

She said to me, “Your neighbor is just delightful!”

I love that.

Delightful.

Don’t we need more of that in life?

And my artist friend is delightful. She says of her own art, “I paint happy.”

I love knowing the “heart behind the art.”

One of my favorite works of her art is a fabulous watercolor with these joyous sunflowers. I believe she titled it– “Pick me, Pick me!” It was her description of the process that has stuck with me.

It’s been years since she described it, but this is my recollection:

“It is one of my goals to capture the process. I paint to capture the movement of a flower lifting its head toward the light of the sun.”–Heidi Rosner

Nature reflecting life. Truly.

If you’ve ever received a bouquet of sunflowers or been in a field where they grow, you’ve felt the mass that makes up the flower—it is quite heavy! Then, when that bouquet is a few days old, and the neck of the flower grows weary, you’ve seen the head drop, as though it bears the weight of a thousand pounds.

Isn’t this how we feel at time? Burdened, carrying the weight of the world, downright exhausted, anything but happy.

Oh the sorrow…

Yet life is full of both, light and shadow.

Some are great at painting “happy” while others reflect more of the “shadows.”

What would you “paint?”

There are times in life where it’s difficult to look to the light; to find joy when your heart is sorrowful, to find the ease when everything in life feels toilsome. It’s just NOT a “Joel Osteen”-day.

We are all going to have stormy days. Dark times will come our way; some self-inflicted and some not.

“We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, felling our way like men without eyes.” Isaiah 59:9

We live in a broken, fallen world. Keep in mind, we’ve been warned, “In this world you will have trouble”—John 16:33

But there is hope.

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

“He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings deep shadows into the light,” said Job. And he knew some pretty dark times. Job 12:22

I have this friend whose husband arrives to work before the dawn rises. Yet, every day, as she awakens from her empty bed at home and rises to get her coffee, she is greeted by his text message– he sends her a picture of the sunrise.  Every morning.

Sunrise from Bruce

Sunrise from Bruce

Not all of those texts are full of light. But he is faithful each day in doing this.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” Lamentations 3:23

There is something so mysteriously fabulous, so hope-filled in the dawn of a new day.

“Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for, to be overcome by your presence, Lord.”-Francesca Batistelli

“Your love, O Lord, is like the mighty mountains. Your faithfulness stretches to the sky.”-Third Day

Another sunrise from Bruce

Another sunrise from Bruce

Like each new dawn, God is faithful to us. When we stumble around in the dark, He is merciful. When life pitches us into some dark depths, He holds our heads in His hands.

As I have brought to the light the many areas that I stumble in, God is faithful to forgive, to love and to assist in healing those areas.

Jesus said, “I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” John 12:46

My hope and prayer is that, regardless of what this broken and shadowy filled world can throw at you, in spite of circumstances filled with darkness that each moment you choose to look to the light, exposing your sorrows and places of darkness to the healing light of the Lord, that your weary heart finds new strength to persevere for another day.

And, as life imitates nature, that your heart and head are uplifted with the light of every new day.

Tomorrow, or the next day, or the next… May you take the time to witness God’s faithfulness stretch across the sky and may you have a moment to bask in the dawning palate of hope that lights a new day of de-light.

ANOTHER sunrise from Bruce

ANOTHER sunrise from Bruce

The Unseen

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UNBROKEN

I requested it; waited weeks for it to come off “HOLD” from Scottsdale’s Public Library and now, I finally had it in my hands; “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. I dove in like a ten year old at a pool party on the hottest day of the summer.

I had no idea what I was in for. The Olympics, the running, the crazy boyhood life, the spirited jokes, the military preparations, the flying, the crashing, the inhumanity, the horrors of war…

And, like a terrible car crash, I couldn’t peel my eyes from it. It was heavy. Like any great novel, you are transported there. I needed to take breaks where I could stare into my own reality and recover from the events– and I was only READING it! “Unbroken” is many things, but primarily about one man, Louis Zamperini who, along with so many others, was held as a POW by the Japanese during WWII.

Each day I awoke after a night-time reading of it and somehow I’d changed; unable to return to the daily tasks of life without my perceptions being altered.

I’m willing to bet that everyone who reads this book will take away something different from it. Depending on whether you are a WWII veteran, a Japanese student, a young American, a runner, an Olympian, a mother, a brother, an atheist, an alcoholic… your life’s experiences will determine the message. Yet, there is depth and meaning in it for all. Reading Laura Hillenbrand’s flawless, detailed tale of this amazing, passionate, heroic man’s death-defying, horrendous experience, and what he did with it, leaves you changed.

The dark night of the soul—this is a journey you take reading “Unbroken.”

The dark night of the soul; Biblical teachers write of this. I’ve heard it explained referring to King David. He experienced this darkness when he refused to repent of his sins. King David, whom the Bible refers to as “a man after God’s own heart,” had committed adultery and subsequently ordered the murder of his adulteress’s husband. He experienced this darkness when he refused to repent of his sins. This “dark night of the soul” is what’s experienced when one turns away from God. Unwilling to accept circumstances, unwilling to face one’s own sins, and in capable of doing it on your own, it’s an unfathomably deep and immeasurable darkness that suffocates the soul—it’s a place without hope.

Louis Zamperini knows about the dark night of the soul—but his hell lasted way longer than a night.

To appreciate the power of the transitional experience and the depths Louis found his soul in, you must experience the story for yourself. Yet, as I amass library fines to finish my own journey through the darkness he encountered, I remind myself that the title is: “Unbroken.”

There is survival from this dark night of the soul.

Page 175 of the hardcover is where the tumult of his life came to a pivotal juncture. Laura details an encounter Louis had at a Billy Graham revival– “What God asks of men, said Graham, is faith. His invisibility is the truest test of that faith. To know who sees him, God makes himself unseen.”

Invisible faith.

When one reads of the full on HELL that this one man endured, I can see why some might believe that there wasn’t a God looking out for these souls. And in hindsight, one can dwell in that despair or make a different choice, like Louis did when he chose to be unbroken by it and turn another direction.

It’s always a choice to search for the Unseen or to turn your face from it.

“Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:29

 

Now that my journey through this story is concluding, if I had to sum this novel up in one word, I would say HOPE. In encountering the humiliation and depravity that Louis’s journey took him on, coupled with the intense and powerful heights of this champion’s life, it’s easy to see that hope drove him on; hope was never lost; hope was His experience.

He chose to be unbroken and he saw the Unseen.

And now, as I pass on this treasure to the next awaiting soul ready to immerse in the story, I pray, as they view every sentence and watch the events be brought to life in Laura’s words, that they too, will witness the Unseen.

What will you see?

“This is your brain on…”

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“This is your brain on…”

For those of us growing up in the 80’s, we know this phrase all too well.  The commercial for a “Drug Free America” that began with a picture of a whole egg: “If this is your brain…” then they crack the egg and fry it in a pan. “Then this is your brain on drugs.”

The brain unraveled.

This last weekend I attended a seminar/retreat on Love and Joy (and getting more of it in life!).  The instructor, Christy Osborn, was a corporate trainer for over 20 years. She utilized studies of the brain to understand and train/retrain individuals in the corporate world.

In summary, (or if you remember from science class) your brain communicates through a system of neurons and dendrites. Thoughts are neurotransmitters (chemicals) that travel from the neuron and through/out the dendrite. Picture a tennis ball at one end (neuron) and a stem coming out of it with a bunch of tree branches at the other end (dendrite).

When a negative thought happens (and test subjects were asked to dwell on negative things), the neurotransmitter (chemical) travels from neuron, down the stem and out through the dendrite where it makes paths to other nerve cells.

When your mind dwells on negative thoughts, it produces toxic neurotransmitters.

And it isn’t pretty–

Your brain on disappointment

Your brain on sorrow

Your brain in anger

Your brain in contempt

Your brain on bitterness

Your brain on unforgiveness–

Picture that tennis ball as a dried up prune and the extending branch as a dead and gnarly, blackened, spindly thatch of thorns.

It is a sickness that translates into our lives.

My sister calls this her “bad berry theory in management”—Those people who arrive to work in terrible moods, never smiling, always complaining, gossiping and grumping about everything. Their negativity spreads like a mold or a cancer through the workplace. It happens in life and in our bodies. When we dwell in the negative, our immune response decreases, our bodies are weakened and our pain tolerance levels decrease. We are more prone to illnesses when under stress; when someone dies, when we dwell in the negative.

And just a little more bad news—as it would turn out, those negative thoughts reproduce like a cancer. They stack up on themselves like a heaping, stinking pile of rotten produce.

Negativity perpetuates negativity.

Of course, we all will experience negative thoughts from time to time (the loss of a job, a divorce, losing a loved one, etc.,); the secret is to not get stuck there!

Ready for the good news?

Positive thoughts also reproduce themselves.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

For positive thoughts, the same process occurs with the neurotransmitters traveling from the neuron to the dendrites–

Your brain on joy

Your brain in compassion

Your brain in forgiveness

Your brain in acceptance

Your brain in encouragement

Your brain in love!

Picture a robust golden apple and a stem emerging from it with branches loaded with a bounty of beautiful, shiny green leaves.

These positive neurotransmitters are like a shot of pure joy straight to the heart. They result in emboldening the immune system, increasing your tolerance for pain and strengthening your whole body and mind.

And ready for a little more good news?! (A good practice for that idea of MORE positive!) 😉

“I’m trading my sorrows. And I’m trading my shame. And I’m laying it down for the joy of the Lord.” Israel Houghton & New Breed

Remember that stinking, rotten pile?– It can be brought back to life!

 

The power of HOPE.

“And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:5)

We have a God who knows everything we’re going through.  He knows our hearts and our minds. He created us! And with His power in us, there is nothing man can do to us that He can’t transform to good.

“In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” (Psalm 118:5)

For the doubters, unbelievers or many who are just stuck in the negativity, there is a place you can take it all and be changed.

“Anything is possible if a person believes”…“I do believe, but help me with my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

Take your burdens to Jesus-He can handle your disappointments, your discouragements, your hurt, your pain, your unforgiveness and your unbelief.

“We take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

With his power, given to you by the Holy Spirit, you can overcome; you can trade in your sorrow, your hopelessness and your pain for hope, love and joy.

Retrain your mind by taking a negative experience and locating the hope in it and the negative can transform to positive!

How does this work? Here are a couple of examples–Knowing that with Jesus, though you sorrow for your loved one who left this world too soon; you find hope in knowing you will see them again!

Or, spreading hope in the walk of life by being there for a friend who is diagnosed with cancer. Helping guide her because you survived that same diagnosis.

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)

Hope is knowing that:

When chaos surrounds you, there is One that can calm the stormy seas (Matthew 8:24, Mark 4:35, Luke 8:22)

When things look their darkest, there is One who can light your way (John 8:12)

There is a safe place you can lay all your grief, unforgiveness, shame, anger, bitterness, negativity and contempt

There is nothing new or negative in this world that you can think up that He doesn’t have the power to transform for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28)

Picture Jesus Christ betrayed, battered, bloodied and wearing that awful, thatchy, spindly crown of thorns, taking his last breath hanging on the Cross, paying the final debt for mankind and thereby enabling us all to live free from the negativity of sin–

That, my friends, is your brain on HOPE.

PERSPECTIVE

Long Road (2)

Perspective

Today; the first day of 2014; a new year.  

I relish new year’s day and new year’s eve; not for the festivities, the holiday from work, the guaranteed kiss at midnight; nor for the over-booked, over-priced menus at all restaurants that evening ;). Like standing atop the highest peak and looking out across an expansive valley below; this holiday can bring a different perspective.  For me, it’s a time for reflection: to look back on a year and wish it “good riddance!” or to revel in the accomplishments, goals reached and struggles overcome; often both.

January 1 holds in it a clean slate. If you didn’t waste yourself too much the night before, it is a day to behold the promise of new goals, a fresh start and the endless possibilities for the next 365 days!

Or not. It really is just a day. Probably a day of recovery with many people swearing, “I will never again…”

The more precious time I get on this planet, the more I sense God speaking to us through His creation I realize the importance of perspective.

Perspective.

 

I took these pictures from the same location just a few months apart.

Isn’t this how we can feel sometimes? Like there is so much beauty bouncing around life in a kaleidoscope of hope and opportunity, yet other times life is a foreboding, dangerous and dark place.

But it is the same place; just a different time.

I am not one who typically relishes the unknown of what change can bring. I am a planner and seek to control the outcomes. But every season of life contains a bounty of change, so I cling to the constant:

“For the Lord is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (Jeremiah 33:11)

As I write down my hopes for this new year, my resolutions for change, and I wipe away the failures and flops of 2013; I envision the possibilities that this road holds as spring sprinkles her magic dew and new life down her path. I can hardly wait to see the buds blossom into a wide array of fruits and fulfillment of purpose as summer breaks through. And I vow to remember that, regardless of dark days, looming fog, or storms that seem they won’t let up, a new season is often just around the corner; His love is an enduring constant that will carry me through those seasons.

So, whatever season you find yourself in, may your perspective be filled with hope and newness, and may you cling to the promise of His enduring, faithful, unchanging love as you travel down your path.

 Happy New Year!