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?

 

 

In Search of Greener Grass

In Search of Greener Grass

I’ve heard said that in the summer there are two colors in Arizona: brown and blue. The months of 110+ degree temperatures month after month, and the sunny blue skies tend to turn the AZ landscape brown.

St. John, USVI. Heard of it? Some of the most beautiful beaches, lush National Parks and snorkeling adventures and creatures that only God could think up! We were blessed enough to travel there this summer. A relaxing 10 days to escape from the AZ heat, our every day routines at home and to reconnect with my exhausted, worn-down, weary, school teaching husband; a great way to begin his summer break after the grueling school year.

The grass is greener on summer vacation!

Or is it?

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve seen the beauty in the pictures.

A cathedral of granite as we hike through the Baths

A cathedral of granite as we hike through the Baths

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Great Cruz Bay from Vista Mare where we met the best bartender–Taylor!

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Felling “Titanic” aboart ISLAND TIME where we met the Georgian couple

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Here are some of our favorites-The view from Vista Mare where we met our new favorite bartender, Taylor, the boat trip on “Island Time” to see the Baths National Park of Virgin Gorda followed by cave snorkeling.

St john blog baths

On Island Time (the aptly named vessel we toured the islands on), we met a lovely couple. Well, not so much “meet” as admire from across the deck. They were about 10 years younger, perfect, pearly white smiles and bodies that proved they ate from the “Lite menu.” Later we saw her designer sunglasses couldn’t hide the tears that were slipping down her cheeks.

We later introduced ourselves and learned they were from Atlanta, Georgia. This vacation for her was about reconnecting with husband after her grueling school year as a professor at Emory University. They shared later the reason behind those tears. As we traversed the islands on our way to Virgin Gorda, they’d receiving a text that the door had been closed on their year-long attempts to adopt a child.

Circumstances can still find you on vacation.

There were a few things about St. John that I didn’t expect.  Ever heard of closing a beach due to bacterial build up? Heard of a sea urchin? How about sand fleas? No?  Well…I’m sure you’ve heard of jelly fish.

Evidence points toward my being a veritable jelly fish and sand flea magnet.

All places have their downside.

The exterior often tells very little of the condition of the inside.

We stayed at the Westin St. John and part way through our trip, early in the morning, the sound of lawnmowers awoke us.

We got so relaxed, where were we again? Was it lawn day in Arizona?

But, no! We’re still on vacation! We emerged from our room to witness the landscapers mowing the grass down to its base. The previous stretches of green were now brown.

Bummer.

It brought back thoughts of returning home to the heat of Arizona. Where, when summer comes, the grass areas are mowed down to the ground and re-seeded with a different grass; a summer seed of heartier, thicker grass that is better able to withstand the intense Arizona summers. It takes several weeks for the green to re-appear. And when it does, the new seed does pretty well in the scorches of the desert—as long as it gets watered.

So, as we grabbed our pool towels and headed out for the day, we left the brown lawn of the Westin behind us in search of sandy (and open!) beaches. As we walked along the newly browned property, we focused on the beautiful patches of bright yellow, orange and purple flowers, the bougainvilleas, the various types of palm trees: corkscrew palm, date palm, queen palm, coconut palm and all of it being watered by sprinklers that imitated rainfall.

In all, our time on St. John had its highlights. We experienced the peaceful serenity of swimming with a sea turtle (I still have dreams about it!). We read the books that had been collecting dust-(“Unbroken” for Keith and “Love Does” for me.) We soaked in every sunset from a different vista. We splashed in the pool, photographed all the wild life, tried every rum drink the island could offer and supported the local shopping economy. Keith even won a small jackpot at the tiny (awesomely air-conditioned) casino, and we snorkeled where Robert Louis Stevenson received his inspiration for Treasure Island. Pretty cool.

A couple days after the “lawn mowing alarm clock” had awakened us, we emerged from our room to a brand new looking green expanse! The watering, mixed in with the natural moisture of the Caribbean miraculously transformed the brown to green as if it had never been hacked down to near death! In just two days!

Maybe the grass really is greener on St. John?

Westin St. John with GREEN!

Westin St. John with GREEN!

Yet, all vacations must come to an end; time to return home.

Work, work, work, so you can get away to a vacation in a more relaxing place, just to return to work, work, work—as you hopefully plan for the next break.

The green, to the brown, to the green.

In addition to the summer seeding, most of Arizona also re-seeds the grass right before wintertime. Once again, the green summer grassed areas are mowed down to the brown, to be replenished with a lighter winter grass that thrives in the milder temperatures.  And then in the summer: mow, seed, water. And then in the winter: mow, seed, water, REPEAT.

Such are the rhythms and seasons of life. So where is the grass greener?

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”–Philippians 4:12

These words are from Paul. If you know the story, you know—HE KNEW.

He knew of green grass and parched deserts. He knew praises and prosperity, and also punishment and persecution. And yet, content? In all things, times and circumstances?

HOW? Had he been on St. John? Did he schedule lots of vacations and reconnecting time?

I think Paul knew the secret to green grass.  But it isn’t really a secret.

You’ve probably heard it before, because of its profound truth:

Grass isn’t greener “on the other side.”

The grass is green where you water it.

Do I think Paul enjoyed persecution, near death, shipwrecks, beatings, near starvation? No. But I believe he found this seemingly very elusive contentment in knowing there was a strength and sufficiency beyond his own carrying him on the journey.

When life circumstances dealt him some brown parched grass, he knew what to do. He knew “where to go.” And it wasn’t on St. John. He knew the place of the “greener grass” was at the Cross of Jesus Christ. He knew what was beyond his current circumstance. He knew the hope found at the Cross and had the anointing water of the Holy Spirit in his life that would supply the seed for whatever season he found himself.

HE knew of a HOPE beyond his circumstance.

He knew JESUS.

And he could go there anytime.

He knew, with the Holy Spirit in him, his exterior circumstances couldn’t take from him the greenest of grass- –At the end of his journey, he would be returning home. He knew Jesus awaited him there.

I picture Paul, hanging out with Jesus right now. In his trials and ordeals, he KNEW everything he went through would be worth it.

Please don’t misunderstand me on my St. John rantings. We too, count our blessings every day.

In spite of my jelly fish sting, a body covered in sand flea bites and a brutal return trip on American Airlines fraught with delays, a medical incident, no food and lost luggage, and even if we got a little homesick; we have contentment.

As we return home to our routines and the brown of Arizona, we reminisce on the beauty of the Baths, the white, silky sand beaches, the sea turtles…We think of that lovely couple from Island Time and pray for them, and Taylor, our Vista Mare bartender and his adventurous spirit and the other lovely souls we met on St. John.

As we watch the sunset from Arizona and think on our next adventure, I look over at my sweet, newly relaxed (and content) husband and know that, like Paul, we too will be home soon.

Is it finished?

Question: How do you eat an elephant?

 

 

How do you eat an elephant?

How do you eat an elephant?

Answer: One bite at a time.

I love this! Whenever I have a task, project, event or any challenging, time consuming, and effort-exhausting item on my “Things TO DO” list, I remember this.
Just start with a bite (and it usually is a pizza) ;)…but it begins.
When I set out to pursue writing and took on the idea of a weekly blog – it felt like a herd of elephants; trampling on my every plan of how I want to spend my time. And yet, here I am again. Let me explain…

We ascended the path uphill on one of our favorite walks in southern Oregon. The subdivision houses packed in side by side turn into countryside. The wildlife sightings increase and the open air, farms and landscaped beauty explode across the senses. Scents of earthy manure, wildflowers and the occasional whiff of a skunk assault the olfactory nerves.

Our walk

Our walk

It’s July 4th and even the back country roads are more quiet than usual.

Wildlife!

Wildlife!

As we plugged along uphill, we felt the temperatures of our bodies and the heat of the black asphalt warming; perspiration beads across our foreheads and trickles down our bodies. We approached the awe inspiring work of a new vineyard. Row after perfectly aligned row greeted us. We both smiled as we saw the bright green leaves popping their heads out of the cream colored encasements at the base of the planting; evidence of success.

Baby vines peeking out

Baby vines peeking out

As we walked, we reminisced about the progress; remembering when the hillside contained rocks, majestic oaks, brambles, thistles, grasses and probably innumerable amounts of other surprises.
The oaks were transported, one by one.
The rocks relocated, load by load.
And the grasses and other ground cover all removed.—That alone took several seasons.
Then came the rows and rows, upon rows and rows– of lines, of plantings, of piping, of draining systems, of watering systems…
Years later (and minutes later in our walk,) we neared the far end of this newest vineyard.

 The far end

The far end

We were a bit surprised to find another soul out here. An older gentleman, possibly in his 50’s or 60’s was hunched over and at work in what captured our attention. He was pulling weeds amidst the last few rows. As our journey neared him, he stood up and walked closer to us:

“Beautiful morning,huh?” he said to us looking up.

“You bet!” we replied, “Got your holiday plans set for you, huh?” We said as our eyes scanned row after row of the baby vineyard with the acres upon acres of vines that he was working his way through.

“Yep! All by hand; no pesticides! Trying to get rid of the poison oak and hand pulling everything else.”
Our jaws dropped. We were speechless.

“You watched the progress of this?” He asked.
“We have.” We nodded our heads, “Totally amazing how a field has been turned into…all of this.”
“Quite a project…” he looked back at the row he had just left.
“Really does a number on the back …and the hamstrings…but it’s cool to see the progress…”
Our conversation continued for a bit, and then we turned and continued up the hill and let him get back to his work.

“Wow! And we thought our weed pulling was a pain?!”

As we got to the top of the hill we stopped, looked out and, in awed silence, we admired his “project.”

 

His work

His work

 

“All by hand?” I thought.
I pondered what the rest of his holiday would entail- still so much work to do.
And so much more each and every season. Did he have help?
Not to mention the utter dependence on the sun, the soil, the climates; the uncertainty of what the wind might blow his way.
Will his work ever be finished?

The next day at Table Rock Fellowship, a church in the neighboring town, the Pastor spoke to those who listened of the beauty and privilege he feels when he gets to share his testimony and spread the love and message of Jesus. I listened in humility as he shared his story, then looked out at the hundreds of people, rows upon rows of seekers that he was reaching.
– He even mentioned a story of an elephant.

I am convicted of my own “work” once again.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

I believe there is work to be done; in the landscape of my heart and in the fields where I have been planted. I know there are people listening, watching, (and hopefully!) reading who need to hear a little love—people who need to hear the Truth.
All that God ever asks of us is to Trust in Him, rely on Him, believe in Him and be willing to be open ourselves up to how He can use each and every one of us.

Keeping my eyes on the Master Gardener, I know that I am not alone in this task (for He is ALWAYS with me) and I know that I am not the only one He has working for him.
I seek, connect and open my ears and eyes as the fields before me expand.

I climb the stairs to my office and type in the password to my computer.

I close my eyes and reminisce on God’s faithfulness over these last months while so much took place: the planning, the marrying, the moving, the honeymooning…

I open my eyes to my bible and study God’s word and the vines.
I listen; I trust; I rely on Him and prepare my heart and soul to be weeded.
I believe.
As I return to the blog and the task written in my heart, I type the first sentence—“Is it finished?”

And I take yet another bite.

Happy Easter!–A re-visitng of an older Post–THE END?

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THE END?

I am on the last few chapters of the Hunger Games.  I have been losing sleep the last three nights due to its riveting intensity of action. I have fallen in love with the characters – Peeta with his unconditional love and the hijacking of it, Gale with his undying loyalty yet clinging to anger, Katniss with her flawed harshness and her fierce love, Prim with her innocence and finding her strength…I am drawn like a moth to the flame or an addict to the needle.  I am sucked in each night, way past my bedtime, with a need to see how it ends, yet something holds me back… I don’t want to say good-bye to Peeta. I will miss Katniss’s valor and attitude. I don’t want it finished. Even as I fly through these last pages of mounting action, I am savoring every last word like they were my last breaths.

I don’t think I am alone in this.  –Not wanting to say good-bye to something. Even if the next novel, the next trilogy, the next job, next relationship, or whatever could be even better, could exceed our wildest dreams or could be “THE ONE?” Good-byes are tough.  I believe it is part of what keeps people locked in abusive relationships and dead end jobs; missing out on what is around the corner or what could be if you just held on a little longer…

Yet, nothing and no one in this life is permanent.

Until recently, I was never a church-goer. I didn’t know that people when to church on Good Friday.  Now that I have been to church on this day, I still don’t quite understand.  How is this day “good?” The Crucifixion? The One who came to save us is hanging on a cross?

John 19:30 records Jesus:  “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and released his spirit.

When I picture the scene, Jesus’ beaten and abused body hanging on the cross and between two thieves, I can’t help but think about what his mother Mary felt. What Peter was thinking?  The confusion of all of those who followed him to that place. If there ever was a time to think things had hit an absolute bottom, this was it.

I can barely make it through a Good Friday service. Beyond the visual and the corresponding heartache, I don’t want to say good-bye.

Emerson Hart wrote a song for a friend who described to him the conflicting emotions he was having as he faced divorcing his wife. The song’s called “I wish the best for you.”  Check out a few lines:

“How long can we wait here To say goodbye?
The words once they’re spoken Are words that we can’t take Back to where we were, before Things got in the way Life gets so confusing When you know what you’re losing
You Me
Why can’t we see that there’s More to love than we’ll ever know
Sometimes you’re closer when you’re Letting go… I wish the best for you”

 

This song gets me because of the truth of it.

I know.

I’ve walked in those shoes – The very pain of saying good-bye, the hurts of letting go are vividly right in your face, even as you are saying good-bye. Even if you know it is the right thing. It has to happen.

 

After the Resurrection, Jesus spoke to Mary Magdalene in John 20:17: “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

I tend to forget what is around the next corner; that the story doesn’t end on Good Friday. I forget that this was part of His plan. It had to happen.

“I am leaving you with a gift; peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you; I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.

I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let’s be going.” (John 14:27)

He knew what He was going to have to do. There was a purpose to the pain He was going to endure. He said His good-byes.

When I walk into the Good Friday service, I forget to believe. I forget to move my focus to the empty tomb; and the story doesn’t even end there! I get wrapped up in the pain and the stuff of this world and forget who God is—Forgetting that He knows about the pains of this world; that He overcame death; that He still lives.

As I ready myself to say good-bye to Gale, Katniss, Prim and Peeta from The Hunger Games, I remember there is always the movie.  As I dig out my waterproof mascara for the Good Friday service, I remember the Sunday Easter Service. And as we all face the pains of whatever it is we have to let go of, I pray that you hold fast to the peace that Jesus left us with. I pray that you know that there is a plan and a purpose to the pain and that purpose might just be around the next corner.

And I pray that you take heart and hold on to knowing that even though it is finished, it is not the end.

SALT

SALTSalt from seedtofeedme.blogspot.com

Salt – sôlt/noun a white crystalline substance that gives sea water its characteristic taste and is used for seasoning or preserving food. (from google definitions)

On popcorn at the movies, on the soft pretzel at the ball game, in my mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, sprinkled across lunch-time salads and balanced delicately at the rim of my margarita glass–

Salt, salt, SALT–

I LOVE SALT!

The majority of salt on the earth is found in the sea. China and the US are the top producers of it.

Salt, made up chemically of Na (sodium) and Cl (chloride), in its pure form, works in our bodies in conjunction with potassium to keep our muscles, nerves and hearts beating in balance.

Heidi, my friend and culinary mastermind, while teaching us how to create the perfect, most juicy and tastiest pork loin explains, “Salt works as a wonderful tenderizer to the toughest of meats.”

We discover this truth as we feast on the mouth-watering, fork-tender creation. As she sprinkles it across her other dishes, she explains how it works in partnership with the flavors of the meal to enhance it.

Back before refrigeration was common, salt preserved meats, keeping them from spoiling and averting countless families from starving through some tough times.

Not only used to enhance and preserve food, but also as a cleansing agent, in baths and mouthwashes, salt has also commonly been used as a healing solvent.

Salt, in its most natural form… brings things to life.

And yet, like we humans can do, we tend to make things un-natural.

Table Salt– we whiten it to make it more appealing. We add things to it (iodine) to make up for things we lack. We overuse it in processed foods and soups lacking flavor. And in doing this, a beautiful, pure and balanced compound becomes unhealthy.

We’ve bleached it, we’ve changed it, we’ve bloated ourselves on it and made it unnatural.

Jesus teaching his followers in the Sermon on the Mount states–

“You are the salt of the earth,”

Of the earth. Natural. Un-tainted or changed by the world. In the original form. Back to the basic, life-giving, life-preserving, life-saving balanced purity.

Jesus also says, “…but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” Matthew 5:13

I believe many of us Christians have lost our saltiness. We dilute God’s message of repentance and salvation. In general, we add things unnecessarily to enhance the basic Truth. We become complacent and allow un-natural elements (like sin) to bloat the message of the cross. We try to “whiten” ourselves to a point of “purity” that creates hypocrites.  Man-made religion, with it’s rigidity and pious practices, has developed followers who forget to love.  Actions, deeds and lives of those who wear the title of “Christian” have become unnatural, unflavorful, and no longer good for anything—except to be crushed under man’s feet.

Like table salt, man-made religion has trampled the pure, life-giving message of Jesus.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” John 13:34

salt of the earth/noun/an individual or group considered as representative of the best or noblest elements of society.

(dictionary.com)

Again, the message of Jesus to his followers is that, “You are the salt of the earth.”

How do we restore our saltiness?

It is painful—like swabbing salt across an open wound, but it can also be healing– we must find restoration in the one place that will never disappoint—The message and life of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ–God made human, who took on flesh and walked among us.

Jesus Christ–the Prophet, the Priest, the King.

Jesus Christ–who lived an innocent life and offered up himself as payment once and for all and FOR ALL.

Jesus Christ– the Way, the Truth the Life.

Jesus Christ–who did all things moved by an unfathomable, immeasurable depth of LOVE.

Holding fast to the teachings of Jesus, you are called to be true to who God made you. There is no one else like you.– You, as your redeemed self; you, in your sphere of influence; you, doing what you do best every day of your life; just be you. Be pure –unadulterated by the world. Be the best or noblest element in where God has placed you, keeping your motives focused on Jesus.

Acting out of love.

And, like all of Jesus’s followers in that day who heard his message, they ran to tell others, not wanting anyone to miss out on the life-saving and life-preserving message.

So, whether you are munching on your popcorn at the movies, or crunching your way through the whole bag of Lay’s potato chips (I can never eat just one!), or as you are sipping from that salt-rimmed margarita, remember to BE SALTY!