Christmas Thoughts

We hear it every year. Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year. It is the most difficult, depressing, discouraging time of the year. TV commercials and comments and casual conversation try to convince us that Christmas is nothing more than hard work, stress, disappointment and large amounts of cash spent, often on people that we just don’t care that much about.

Wow. Can we back-peddle just a bit? Like maybe 2,000 years worth?

The original Christmas gift was baby Jesus. Sounds lovely and neatly wrapped up and a positive thing to believe. But do we?

As the pastor stated this morning, that whole thing was strange. A common young woman chosen for the most important responsibility that has ever been and will ever be. Angel warriors showing up with messages. Frightening, I would think. The nation’s wisest and wealthiest traveling for years to find a child and bring that child strange gifts. It’s all so weird.

It’s still weird. In order for Christmas to last as long as it does and to endure through the ages as it has, there must be something very strange about it.

Most recent studies show that depression is NOT elevated during the holidays. Suicides do NOT increase during Christmas. In reality, it is just the opposite.

There is a marked increase in one thing during Christmas. Joy.

Joy, the kind that comes not from company parties and paid holidays and gift giving and receiving. No, real joy. The kind that comes from somewhere deep within. We are built to love Christmas. As the pastor said, it is “baked” in us.

In spite of that truth, there are moments that I still struggle at Christmas. I know that it is due to the huge expectation on put on myself. Often I am looking for Norman Rockwell but end up with Salvador Dali.

We must learn that it is not the painting we create, it is the process of painting. It is what lasts. Which is more than we can say for cookies and eggnog and that tool you bought for your husband at Big Lots.

Just thoughts.




The Wonder

The Big Idea at church today was to say no to something good in order to say yes to something great. The current sermon series for the Christmas season is “Rediscover the Wonder”.

So it got me thinking. To what good thing can I say no in order to say yes to a truly great thing?

I am considering that this concept could be applied to many areas of my life. One, is food. As I sit at my computer, I finished off the last (large) piece of pumpkin pie. I thought it would taste perfect with my steaming cup of green tea. And it did. But…would it have been GREAT for me to instead eat a square of dark chocolate? Of course, yes.

Another area for me is clothing. I guess it is okay to purchase a new piece of clothing every two weeks. Do I really need more? Of course, no. Would it be GREAT if I simply wore the closet full of clothing that I already have and use the money and time and energy on something else that is GREAT? Of course, yes.

Lastly, and hugely, is the way we spend our time. I am not a big TV watcher, but if it is on, I will completely become engaged in an old movie or a 60 Minutes segment or the life story of Arnold Palmer. That is not necessary bad, it is actually fine. But…what if I spent that time writing a nice note to someone that is lonely. Or bake cookies for my neighbor. Or do some serious reading. Those things are GREAT.

During this blessed season, I want to attempt to trade mediocre for better and so-so for wonderful and good for great. Those things may be very small and not seem to matter in the present. However, I have a feeling that these things matter in the long-term, to myself and to others.

What good thing can you say no to in order to say yes to something great?

What new wonder will you rediscover this season?

In the Here and Now and Then

The pastor talked about life on this earth. He suggested we stop trying to figure out who we are by digging into our past. That is not a bad thing. We all want to understand our ancestry. We want to figure out our DNA and what that means for us physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually.

However, delving into history in order to decide how to live our future, may be a moot point. He said we must live as if eternity is on our doorsteps. Which it is.

Again, what we do matters, not just for the present but for ever and ever.

I just read a story about a man who was hunting in the mountains of Wyoming when a 420-pound bear attacked him (for the record, I am wondering how they got that bear to stand still on that scale.)

The bear tore off most of the man’s face and knocked him unconscious. He awakened to the bear sniffing him. “I could feel the whiskers,” he said.

He managed to stab the bear with a steak knife he pulled from his pocket, after which the bear bit him in the arm and the two struggled until the bear eventually wandered off.

The man spent five months in intensive care. He endured hours of reconstructive surgery, one session lasting a full 24 hours, that saved his life and reconstructed his face.

The techniques used to save the man’s face are among the most advanced of their kind. Surgeons took skin from his leg in the initial procedures on his face and plan to rebuild his nose, using cartilage from his ribs and ears.

His original nose was preserved by attaching it to his arm. His radial artery feeds blood to it, keeping it alive. He looks forward to the next round of surgeries. “Then I’ll be a new me,” he told a newspaper.

A new me is what he said. Perhaps we should strive to be the person we are today and factor in the improvements and guidelines and disciplines that will make our future selves a bit better.

There is an old phrase which means to show our intimate emotions in an open and honest manner. There is so much vulnerability in it. The phrase is “wearing your heart on your sleeve”.

I’ve always loved that little quip. I am guessing that wearing your nose on your arm may be a bit similar. At that point there is very little one can do except be open and honest and authentic.

Whether your heart is on your sleeve or your nose is on your arm, I doubt there is much room for dissecting the past and attempting to connect the dots of who you are. At that point there is only space for loving those in your life and knowing they love you for who you are at the moment and for all you will become on this earth and beyond.

The great American revivalist preacher and philosopher, Jonathan Edwards, said this: “Resolved, never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.”

Heart on the sleeve or nose on the arm, we must live our best selves in the present and onward toward eternity.



Pilgrim’s Progress

On this date in 1660, John Bunyan was arrested while conducting a small worship service in a friend’s house. Earlier that year King Charles II had declared the Church of England as the authority, closing all non-Anglican houses of worship. Thus making Bunyan’s preaching of the gospel treasonous.

After arriving at the house and learning that a warrant had been issued for his arrest, Bunyan’s friends urged him to flee. His reply was no. “I will not stir neither have the meeting dismissed. Let us not be daunted.” This quote was recorded moments before the local constable disrupted the service and arrested him. At the time he had four children and a pregnant wife.

John Bunyan spent the next 12 years in prison. His family suffered. He supported them by making shoe laces. However, he shortly discovered a hidden gift – the ability to write. His most famous work, written toward the end of his incarceration, was Pilgrim’s Progress. It sold 100,000 copies during Bunyan’s lifetime and millions since. It became the best selling book (apart from the bible) in publishing history.

The imprisonment was not as bad as could be imagined. He was allowed visitors, spent some nights at home and even once traveled to London. He could have freed himself by promising not to preach, but refused.

The worst punishment for Bunyan was being away from his family. “The parting…hath oft been to me in this place as the pulling the flesh from my bones”, he wrote.

Writers, man.

John Bunyan is a hero, not because he was a famous author. He was a hero because he would not be daunted. He sacrificed lying in downey comfort with his lovely, young wife and playing with his children, in order to speak.

The love of God within him could not be quieted. That voice was louder than all the others.

Reward Cards

Warm, balmy Sunday. Felt a bit more springlike than smack dab fall. Cincinnati is a fickle friend. The moment you put away your summer shoes and pull out the boots, the day calls for cuffed jeans, sockless and ballet flats.

Church. The current series is: “Heaven, Hell and Here.” Interesting title. I have certainly had moments that I was certain “here” was heaven and then moments that I was quite sure “here” was pure hell.

For any of us who have grown up around church, we know that salvation is a gift of grace, given from a Father’s loving heart. We also believe there is a life after this one. How sweet is that knowledge. What we have never been completely sure about is exactly how we get there. Oh, we know HOW we get there. We leave these broken, human shells and get a new body (yay)!

But there is not total clarity about what it takes to get there. How many points do we need? How much money do I need to give to the United Way? What is the magic number of shoeboxes I need to fill for Franklin Graham?

The answer is zero. This is not your cheeseburger frequent buyer card. We cannot do enough good things to punch our cards to a free entrance to heaven.

Many, many times through the years I heard this: “It is not about works.”

God looks at the motives of the heart, not what we do or give or build or sacrifice.

So, the pastor affirmed the “not about works” belief but…he said that what we do HERE matters in eternity. It matters.

If we are honest, we question a god who would allow Mother Teresa and the Boston Strangler into the same heaven, that is, if on his deathbed the BS accepted Christ in his last breath. But that is the God in which we say we believe.

From what I discerned, the pastor feels that scripture may have something to say about the rewards given to MT vs. BS.

A friend of mine was upset after church. She expressed bewilderment about having “levels” in our forever homes. In her words: “Do I have to be middle class in heaven, too?”

Hmm…I certainly do not have the answers. One of the hills I die on is that I know that I know that I know that my Father does not want me to worry and fret about such things. Easier said than done. But that fact is one upon which we can hang our hats.

The rest of the mysteries, I do not know. But I welcome and love the discussion and the search. Say you will join me in that. Leave me a message. It may give you an extra punch on your get into heaven reward card.



Put Up or Shut Up

Today I had to put my money where my mouth is. We all know what that means; put up or shut up, walk the walk not just talk the talk, words are cheap, do what I do and not what I say, actions speak louder than words and many other phrases. But what does it REALLY mean? I did a little research.

One theory is that the phrase came from betting. Suppose I assure you that a certain horse is going to win a race; you challenge me to put my money where my mouth is – that is, am I willing to risk my own money on the horse I am telling others to bet on?

Another theory is that the phrase came into being shortly after World War II. The British government used it as an adverting slogan to persuade people to invest their savings in the National Savings Bank Accounts Department.

Whatever the true origin, we know the translation.

Yesterday I posted about my mother and mother-in-law, two women who have shaped my life and for whom I am grateful. I spoke of them being my role models, and they are. And that I am still learning from them, though I am 60 years old (wait, what??). Let me try that again, though I am 60 years old.

Mama was with me part of this weekend. This morning she was a bit difficult and whiny. She wanted to go to her church but not by herself, though I had planned to take her and get her settled in with friends and then another friend bring her home.

However, that was not enough this morning. She wanted me to go with her. My first thought (and word, actually) was “Ugh.” We had been to our church last night and today I was thinking I could get back home somewhat early and begin my Sunday tasks that did not get done yesterday with Mama at my house.

Momentarily, I bristled up against the idea and let Mom know that I did not want to do it.

Then I sensed God’s thumb in my back, saying “Oh, you don’t WANT to. Hmm….Well, your mama doesn’t WANT to be alone. She is 89 and a half years old.” Plus, it had already come to my mind that I may regret not going but I will never regret going.

My selfish, human default was to go, but to put on the accessory of a shiny, little chip on my shoulder. To go but make sure she realized that I was sacrificing for her. To go but let it be known that I was doing the right thing. What a martyr.

That lousy attitude got scrapped. I told my mama that I would go and that we probably needed to worship together anyway. She was happy.

The pastor announced that today is Reformation Sunday, the 500th anniversary. In 1517, a little-known monk named Martin Luther took a hammer and nailed his 95 Theses to the wooden doors of the Wittenberg Chapel. That act began a spiritual earthquake that literally changed the world. He started a revolution that he never planned or expected.

Luther knew there had to be more than lip service. He hungered for truth and for a way to connect with God on a personal level. It set him free.

I learned some new things today. I shared a bible with Mama, though neither one of us could read the tiny print. We sang worship songs together and I put my warm hands over her cold, bony ones. And I was thankful that I got called out to put my money where my mouth is. I even put a little bit of that money into the offering plate.




Leave it at the Curb

There is much struggle in this world. And not one of us is immune. I can barely stand to watch the local news, though I do want to know what is happening in my city.

This morning at church (if you read yesterday’s blog, yes, we went to church again this morning. When Noah plays in the band, we are true groupie parents and enjoy worshipping with him a second time. And most likely, we could use another sermon.) Back to this morning at church; the pastor talked about Jesus being the ultimate warrior. He fought for the poor and needy and sick and outcast. Though he also fought for the tax collectors and the higher ups and knew they needed redemption, as well. As do we all.

The sermon biblical reference was from the book of Mark when Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee in a boat and laid his head on a pillow of sorts for a little snooze. The winds and waves shortly terrified the other boaters and they begged Jesus to do something about it. Which he did. Jesus to the rescue. Always.

However, the bigger part of the story is upon what Jesus was resting his weary head. Our pastor inferred that it may have been clothing. Jesus knew he was about to encounter a broken, tossed aside, naked, demon possessed, pitiful man. And after Jesus brought him to healing, he would need some clothing. I love that. Jesus is in the details, not the devil. That saying needs to change.

This morning the pastor reminded us that problems are not just problems that others have brought upon us or we have created or that we ran into an unlucky streak or we were born this way or whatever bajillion things we say. Because God knitted us together in our mother’s wombs, because He know us, our problems cannot be disconnected from Him.

Our problems/issues/hangups/anger/timidity/fear/relationships/things are spiritual problems.

Aw crap! Does everything have to be spiritual? Um, yeah, I’m afraid so. That may not sound greatly encouraging.

There have been moments (and most likely will be again) I was quite sure that the ugly, annoying, unfair, aggravating, painful obstacles on my path were due to someone else. That may very well be true because someone else is broken, too. That person, place or thing that is causing me grief is a spiritual issue. The way I allow it to affect me is a spiritual issue. And what I choose to do about it is a spiritual issue.

No amount of shopping, drinking, pills, books, fighting or hot fudge sundaes will fix it (darn). Placing ourselves humbly before God and unstrapping that huge, murky, impenetrable heavy load is the only answer. As the ‘prophet’ Jackson Browne sang: “Leave it at the curb and we’ll just roll away.”

Leave it and then expect change. Say thank you for the answer that is coming. Call God out on it. He can take it. Wait for it. And if the change occurs only within your heart and mind, isn’t that everything?



A massive, dark bronze statue sits proudly in the center of Old Campus, a courtyard surrounded by eight to ten brick and stone structures. The courtyard is passable through one of those lovely, Yale iron gates. Lindsey said she imagines this to be a safe place that could be held as a fortress against animals or foes in the late 1700’s when those forces were indeed reality.

The statue is Theodore Dwight Woolsey, former professor of Greek, and the President of Yale from 1846-1871. The sculptor emphasized Woolsey’s academic career by seating him on a Greek Revival klismos chair. The Greek inscription on the back of the chair reads “the most excellent, the most wise, the most just.”

A notable and noticeable aspect of this formidable piece of art is the shiny, gold toe of one shoe. Generations of students have rubbed the protruding foot for good luck.

Every one of us wants good luck. However, we must go back to the inscription; “The most excellent, the most wise, the most just.” Those things do not come along by luck. Thank you, Mr. Woolsey for your wisdom and excellence and justness so that thousands may come along and rub your shoe, hopeful for a little bit of those things, too.

It is Sunday evening. I am thankful to be home safely after traversing five states, a traffic jam in Harrisburg, the fierce rainstorm in Wheeling, steamy creamy coffee, bad radio preaching, unhealthy snack choices at several road stops and the USA Today crossword puzzle.

There is a sadness to leave behind those I cherish. But what a gift it is to leave them in their happiness. The greatest treasure is the twinging of the heart at goodbye; the wish for more.

I indeed did rub the bronze shoe. Though I believe in more than luck, I am certainly not above accepting it with gratitude.



Post-church this morning, I was thinking about battles. Some are thrust upon us, unwillingly. Ugh! How we despise those. And some are self-started, meaning we literally or figuratively create a fight with ourselves, with life.

I believe we are created uniquely and beautifully and richly. We cannot fully grasp that concept. However, I do believe it. I also believe it is completely okay and right and good to be who we are; shy, gregarious, sensitive, bold, gentle, introvert, extrovert, ambivert (cop-out word! And I can say that because it is what I am, allegedly. Dang it! Just saying allegedly makes me an ambivert. Oy vey.). Even qualities we think may not be positive, like stubbornness and being opinionated, are who we are made to be.

In my 60 years (another difficult to grasp concept), I am beginning to realize that who we are is perfectly fine! As long as, and here’s the kick in the teeth or the kiss on the cheek, either perspective fits, as long as we align that with seeking God’s heart.

I just heard the sound of collective groans.

I know. That sounds pollyannaish and trite. But some truths are just truths whether we like them or not.

The battles are always with us. Thanks a lot, Eve. Perhaps if we can temper the self-made ones and choose to walk on the path of freedom, where we were designed to walk, then the battles hurled upon us may be easier to fight.