'Cause Jesus paid it all
All to him I owe
My sin had left this crimson stain, he washed it white as snow

It's washed away, all my sin
And all my shame

Jesus Paid It All, Elvina M. Hall

  

 

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One of my favorite people to visit when I was a young girl was my great-grandma, Anna Johnson. With her loud flower dresses, large-beaded necklaces, fancy hats, and solid build, she could have been quite intimidating. But with her frequent giggle and her busy hands sewing yet one more outfit for my dolls, she was anything but. And you knew every visit, you’d be greeted with encouragement to open the bottom doors of her homemade wood pantry to dig out a homemade cookie from one of her many large glass jars. (Even if she knew your parents wouldn’t necessarily approve because it was right before dinner.)

 

By the time I knew my great-grandma, she had settled into retirement in a small, second-story flat above our Main Street stores. A handy place to visit almost any time.

 

There was one time each year the street below my grandmother's place became quite loud: Crazy 8 Days. Held each summer, I loved Crazy 8 Days! The stores on Main Street would set their merchandise outside at a steep discount. It was a good time for my mom to stock up--with my help of course--and it was one of the few times our streets were buzzing alive with activity.

 

But, my first experience alone at this event was a little embarrassing, I have to say.

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Tagged in: Freedom salvation

“There is nothing more beautiful than someone who goes out of their way to make life beautiful for others.”

Mandy Hale

 

“I tell you the truth, anything you do for the least of my people here, you also do for me.”

Matthew 25:40

 

I have taken hundreds of photos of flowers over the years, perhaps thousands. But, there’s a photo I took last summer, on a hike in Montana, of tiny pink bell-shaped flowers cascading down from somewhere high overhead, that still comes to mind every now and then.  

 

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I think the reason they cross my mind so often is their humble appearance.

 

Even if no one else stopped to notice them that day, those Twinflowers willingly bent low to bless anyone on the lookout for little love gifts such as these. They certainly blessed me.

 

But, for all their sweetness, few people would have noticed them, because looming large nearby, tall stalks of bright fuchsia-colored Fireweed and fiery red Indian Paintbrush eclipsed them. Tiny pale flowers clinging to rock’s edge are easily overlooked.  

 

As is often the case, it’s the bright showy blossoms that catch folk’s eyes.

 

That seems true of people too. We are often enamored by the bright, the beautiful, and the talented.

 

Perhaps that’s why the upstaged Twinflowers touched me so. And touch me still. Their humble presence reminds me so much of my Grandpa Simey…and of the Savior.

 

My gramps walked gently upon this earth of ours. He was unassuming. A man of few words. Whose love of God was lived out in humility. Caring. Generosity.  

 

His father died when he was six. At the age of ten he was sent to live in a boarding house where he worked for his keep. Skilled, but, not schooled, he became a welder by trade. In his later years, he welded sections of the Gateway Arch that were shipped and put together in St. Louis, Missouri. It could’ve been an opportunity for a bit of bragging, but, you never heard him speak about it.

 

It was what my grandpa did behind the scenes that is his true legacy. Growing up in poverty, he never forgot what it felt like to have nothing. Once, after reading a story about a family living in their car in his small-town newspaper, he went in search of them. When he discovered their whereabouts, he brought groceries, clothing and money to help tide them over.

 

When my grandpa died, over 700 people came to pay their respects. Story-after-story was shared by those who attended, telling of his generosity and gentle, unpretentious life of self-giving. Each one touched by God in some way by my Twinflower grandpa who, too, bent low to bless.

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Growing up, I remember my dad hiding Easter eggs in the best of spots.

 

Inside the cabinet of our piano, on top of the ceiling fan blades, nestled in the strings of our basketball hoop, and scattered across our backyard in the mesh of leaves, dirt, and lawn furniture. And my brother, sister, and I would play like sleuths, elbowing each other for the biggest eggs, and each secretly hoping for another quarter to add to our piggy bank.

 

Now since my own toddler has come of age to participate in an Easter egg hunt, you can bet your bottom dollar it is on. My husband jokingly (but not so jokingly) left a stack of eggs on our kitchen table with these instructions: “So Oscar can practice. Try to get him to find the gold ones first—they have the biggest prizes.” Welcome to the inside of #andersonpartyof4.

 

Sometimes there are moments (like that) when it’s very easy to forget that Easter is more than just Cadbury eggs, bunnies, and brunch. As much as those marshmallow Peeps and straw bonnet hats have become holiday staples, those things have absolutely nothing to do with the origination of the first Easter 2000+ years ago.

 

But how can anyone keep the focus when all we’re hearing is the megaphone of the Parks Director before the big hunt or the blaring sales of Target’s Sunday ad to ring in the holiday? How do we expect to celebrate any differently if we eat our ham in silence and shove some toddler aside so our kid can be victor of all eggs? (Because, if we’re being real, those bloodbaths that are local egg hunts just are trouble.)

 

If we keep attending family gatherings without saying a word of prayer, pumping up egg hunts like it’s more important than the cross, and really, making it out to be anything other than Jesus, we are missing the mark. Missing the point.

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I was determined to learn a new language, even if I was well past the age of a typical college student. But I found that I struggled retaining many pieces of information—from simple vocabulary to complex verb conjugations. My professor noticed my difficulty and gave me a simple suggestion, “Study right before bed,” he said. “Your brain functions well while you’re sleeping.”

 

After years of pulling all-nighters as a graduate student, I found this concept difficult to believe. But a recent sleep study published by Notre Dame found that studying before sleep had some significant memory benefits. The study tested college students who were divided into two groups—those who were given information to memorize at 9 am, followed by 10 hours of wakefulness; and those who were given information to memorize at 9 pm, followed by 10 hours of sleep. Those who studied the information and went right to sleep could recall that information 10 hours later and were even able to process complex information and processes while they slept. Those who studied that information during the daytime were less able to recall even simple formulas and vocabulary.

 

Could it be true? Could it be possible…that I just needed to study and then sleep? I could hear mothers across the country rejoicing…college students celebrating.  I thought I owed it to my professor to try it.

 

I started going through my language materials for about 30 minutes before bedtime. The plan was working! I began waking with the vocabulary still intact. I even conjugated a couple of verbs over breakfast.

 

If this could work for my vocabulary, what would happen if I applied this same technique to memorizing and understanding Scripture? If I filled my heart and mind with the truth of God’s Word—even just a snippet—could my mind process that information overnight so that I woke with a clearer understanding of who I was in Christ?

 

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According to a recent Pew Research estimate, there are about 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States. This provides a great opportunity for the body of Christ to reach out to our Muslim neighbors, friends and co-workers. 

 

This week on Connecting Faith, Jo Bender talks with Samya Johnson of Call of Love Ministries, who says we can’t forget to point people towards the heart of the gospel message and savior of the world.

 

Listen to a podcast of Jo's program by visiting http://myfaithradio.com/2017/ministering-muslims/ or by clicking here. 

 

Connecting Faith is aired every Friday afternoon at Noon on Faith Radio Network/KTIS Radio. You can listen at AM 900 / 90.7 FM here in the Twin Cities or online at MyFaithRadio.com

 

We will be posting Jo's weekly podcast here on Heart Matters Publishing. Enjoy the show!

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This very idea that we have individual homes in heaven is really neat... Mansions are the personal expression of this person in house form... Mansions are big and different and have friends like striped cats and furry dogs that you knew as a kid. 
—Josiah Cullen

 

It was bound to happen.

 

March is crazy busy for airline staff. Families are flying away from the cold, after-school activities, and homework to make memories in the sun. College students are putting even more distance between them and their parents with their newfound independence, while giving their brains a break from the workout the profs demand. And then there are all the charter flights for the March madness basketball teams.

 

Combine a busy flight schedule with a gal that goes full-speed ahead, sometimes ignoring the details, and it was bound to happen.

 

The plane had just landed from a flight from Minneapolis. My daughter, a flight attendant, joyfully welcomed the travel-weary passengers to their new destination. “Welcome to Florida everyone!”

 

…Only, she was met with stares, surprise and confusion instead of the smiles she was expecting.

 

Another stewardess hissed to her under her breath.

 

“Oh,” she corrected. “I mean, welcome to California!”

 

She looked back at the other flight attendants sheepishly. “Well that explains the mountains… When I heard we were going to Palm Springs, I just assumed Florida!”

 

Have you ever had that happen? 

 

You were planning on going here, but you end up there.

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Tagged in: Eternal life

We gals grew up hearing and reading love stories and fairy tales from the time we were little. One of my very favorites was, and still is, Cinderella. 

 

Perhaps I am drawn to her story because, like myself, she was just an ordinary gal. 

 

And, she, like many of us, found herself stuck in what felt like the inescapable drudgery of daily life.  

 

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With the death of her mother and father, she felt very much alone and unloved. And sometimes we can feel lost and alone in this great big world of ours. 

 

She also experienced the painful feeling of rejection and ridicule by those who should have loved her. Instead, her stepmother and stepsisters were wickedly cruel. And who of us hasn’t experienced hurt-filled words?

 

But then, one day, she encountered “divine intervention” and the experience was transformational, to say the least. From dirty cinder soot clothes to a sparkling new ballgown, she soon found herself the Belle of the Ball dancing with the Prince Himself. 

 

But, as is the case in all our lives, in a blink of an eye, real life rushed back in and she once again found herself in the same old routine of life, back in the cinder soot. The memory of her encounter with the Prince began to fade. 

 

Fortunately, her prince had not forgotten her. He had been searching high and low throughout the land to find her. 

 

When he finally did find her, she was not dressed in that beautiful ballgown like the night he’d first danced with her; no, she now stood before him in all her cinder soot shabbiness.

 

He, however, could’ve cared less about her outward appearance. Because his only motivation for knocking on her door that day…was love. He loved her…just as she was. 

 

Victor Hugo once said…

The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved…loved for ourselves.

  

And isn’t that what we all long for in the end? 

 

Love stories. Fairy tales. Call them what you will, there’s a reason why we gals are drawn to them. 

 

I think it’s because, like Cinderella, we too hope that despite our ordinariness, our unexceptionalness, yes, even our cinder soot shabbiness, we too might be chosen. And not just chosen. Loved. Loved for who we are. Loved NEW. Loved from ordinary into extraordinary. 

 

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Because if love is anything…it is transforming.

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Play dates are the best. The other day, all of us moms lugged in our car seats with toddlers in tow, we spread out some toys across the living room carpet, and our babies just sat there staring at each other. The ladies cracked open some sparkling waters while the toddler boys roamed the room, and in no time, it was pretty apparent we didn’t get together for them anyways. Because really, a play date? Who are we kidding…more like a mom therapy group.

“So when did you introduce a second meal?” “How many ounces is he drinking these days?” “Can you take a look at her rash?” And on. And on. And on. No one else could possibly be interested in hearing about potty-training for a half hour, or my woes on how my baby’s sleep schedule has rocked my world. It would be a complete and utter snooze fest, a wasted hang out, to everyone else. Everyone else, except the very people going through the EXACT SAME THING. To them, it was like finally finding a lemonade stand on a hot summer day.

How have you experienced this in your season of life? You know who those people are. They’re the ones giving jerky, emphatic nods whenever you share the highest highs and the deepest lows of what’s really going on, chiming in to every detail with a, “Yes! Yes! YES.” Don’t you just love them? When you meet these people, you can almost feel the connection, the electricity in the room that comes from finally being understood, finally feeling like you aren’t alone, finally pulling back the curtain and getting a standing ovation. You walk away feeling nothing short of a kindred-spirit-kind-of-bond after all the confessing, debriefing, and empathizing.

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My son came home from school one day and grabbed the dust pan and broom. I had wondered if this boy who rarely jumps into chores without my prompting had suddenly become responsible and independent during the course of the school day. As I was getting ready to sit down and congratulate myself for training him right, I heard him say, “Got it!” With that declaration, he grabbed a Ziploc bag from his pocket and carefully poured in the dust bunnies he had collected from under our couch. 

 

By the expression on my face, he could see that I was quite confused. “It’s for science,” he said. “We are studying what kind of stuff makes up dust. We’re dissecting it!”

 

I didn’t know if I should be proud or offended that he knew just where to find these suspicious little dust-bunnies. I thought that I’d been successful at keeping those little buggers hidden. When it was time to host a party or even just a friend or two, I would take great pains to go through the house collecting and eliminating these dusty little reminders that people actually live in my home. I much prefer creating the impression that my family is so squeaky clean and happy that even the dust bunnies don’t gather here. 

 

But my son knew better. He knew just where to find the shady characters. And now, he was going to dissect the very dirt that can expose me for what I am…a hider, a fake, a person who needed help. 

 

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No book is a chapter

No chapter tells the whole story

No mistake defines who we are…

Bob Goff

 

One day a gentleman came to my mother-in-law’s door saying that he could resurface her driveway for several hundred dollars. He told her, “I’ve been doing some resurfacing in the neighborhood and have enough supplies to do your small driveway.”

 

She and my sister-in-law had been discussing that very thing recently, so she said, “Sure, why not?”

 

After working a short time, the gentleman came back to the door to say that he had finished the job. Happy that he had done such quick work, she readily wrote him a check and continued about her day.

 

When my sister-in-law got home, she gingerly walked across the newly resurfaced driveway. But, something seemed amiss. It wasn’t until she spotted her own footprints on the floor, that she realized that the guy who had “resurfaced” their driveway had conned mom by pouring motor oil over the driveway not by laying tar.

 

She and mom immediately jumped in the car and headed to the bank to stop payment on the check. But, that con man had gone directly to her bank and cashed her check straightaway after leaving her place. 

 

Mom was heartsick. Devastated. We all were. Not only had he conned her out of a significant amount of money. He had left her with a big mess to clean up.

 

We may think that kind of thing could never happen to us. But, catch any one of us off guard and we can be duped just like my mother-in-law…

 

Sometimes with much graver consequences. Like Jehoshaphat.

 

Yep. That’s right. I said, Jehoshaphat.

 

You may not be familiar with this king of Judah. But, he was one of the good ones. And that’s saying something, because there weren’t too many of them back in the Old Testament days. In either Judah or Israel.  

 

The Bible describes him in 1st Kings 22:43 and in 2nd Chronicles 20:32 as a king ‘who did right in the eyes of the Lord.’ That’s because Jehoshaphat’s heart was devoted to the ways of God (2nd Chronicles 17:6). He sought God’s direction (2nd Chronicles 18:4). He implemented reforms. He removed idol worship from the land (2nd Chronicles 17:6). He raised up judges to act according to God’s standards (2nd Chronicles 19:5). He set in place spiritual standards, as well, teaching his people God’s Law (2nd Chronicles 17:9) and elevating godly men to the priesthood (2nd Chronicles 19:11).

 

Yet, like all of us, in unguarded moments, he, too, was fooled. One of those decisions cost him a fleet of ships (2nd Chronicles 20:33-37). But, the other nearly cost him his life.

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I beg you to step into whatever adventure God has for you, whatever the cost. He leads us down different paths,

but none of us is led down the path we would have chosen for ourselves…

Trust whatever He has for you. It will be better than anything you can plan for yourself.

— Francis Chan

 

 

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The sun was especially hot. As he reached for another heavy board, sweat dripped onto his dirty hand, creating a miniscule, muddy stream. Without thought, he wiped his brow, leaving a muddy trail onto his forehead. Then he straightened his back slowly, like a morning glory unfurling in the early hours, and he went back to the task at hand.

 

Board. Nail. Pound.

 

It was of no surprise when he began to hear the cacophony of cackles and derisive chuckles, increasing in volume after several more heartbeats as the sun increased its power. Especially on a day like today; hot days like this brought them out in full force.

 

There were the usual. The voices that enjoyed hearing their own rise above on a strong, conceited current and riling up the encircling crowd, like a mother with her chicks that followed blindly, although not to such a nurturing leader.

 

“Hey Noah!” He heard the familiar voice.

 

Board. Nail. Pound.

 

“Your feet are looking particularly dusty on this fine day. How interesting… Shouldn’t you be standing in mud by now?... Oh wait…” He shaded his eyes as he strained his head forward in exaggeration, focusing his eyes towards the distant horizon. His arm catapulted towards the sky, his finger pointing. “Is that a raincloud forming in the distance?... Look everyone, a cloud!”

 

The crowds’ eyes followed. The voice continued. “Maybe today will be the day our fine friend gets his much-needed rain! We might actually get…an inch, or maybe two! Just enough for the bottom board of your boat to get wet, Noah. How about that? What do you say, Noah?... Why so quiet?”

 

The laughter followed. More mocking. More heckling.

 

Noah reached down.

 

Board. Nail. Pound.

 

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Did you know there was a day when the sun stood still?

Heidi Anderson

 

Ever since my first-born was just a tiny kicking blob on an ultrasound, I’ve debated about his life verse. There’s so many compelling nuggets in Scripture that could ennoble him to live a faith-filled life… but I was always stuck on the cliché, oh-so-common verse in Joshua: “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (1:9).

 

Shouldn’t I be more creative though? This verse was announced at my college graduation ceremony, screen-printed on the back of my volleyball warm-up tee, etched into half of the mugs in my cupboard, and at the risk of sounding melodramatic, it’s splashed across every other Christian trinket you could possibly find around the globe. 

 

But. Even so. I’m convicted with the thought that its over-use shouldn’t diminish the potency of what this verse delivers. Because there’s power among these words. So much strength to draw from. And it introduces a character in the Bible with such sure faith—exactly what I hope for in my son. 

 

So yes, I’m stuck on that man Joshua. The one with the audacious faith that made the sun stand still. And I’m talking literally. Joshua needed more time to defeat his enemies, but in order to do that, he needed daylight. So, when evening hours hit and the sun started to dip down, Joshua very simply asked God to pause it from falling further. To freeze time for His people. Who would even think to pray that prayer? To believe that God will literally stop the world for him? Stop the scientific order that faithfully repeats itself like clockwork day-in and day-out? Joshua. And God gave him exactly what he asked for.

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Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” – (Matthew 14:31)

 

My heart was beating wildly as I watched my son stand at the edge of a small cliff off the coast of southern Greece. The beautiful turquoise waters beckoned him to jump, but his feet said “no.”  While I had watched seven older cousins make the leap, I wondered if giving permission to my youngest to jump off a cliff might have not been my best parenting decision.

 

 

Fear was gripping his little mind. There was the fear of physical harm if the jump didn’t go well, and the fear of humiliation if he decided to crawl back down the cliff. After all, his brother and cousins had already made the leap.

 

I tried to yell up words of encouragement when I remembered years ago, trying to get him to jump off the diving board at our local pool. If I remained on the side of the pool, he would jump off the board sideways, narrowly missing the edge of the pool. But when I swam out beyond the diving board, then he would jump out safely and swim right to me. 

 

 

I immediately left the side of the cliff where I was safely watching from afar and swam out to where he would ideally land. I said, “Just jump out to me and swim my way, just like we used to do at the pool. Don’t look down, just look at me. I’ll be right here.” 

 

 

What happened next was a combination of sheer terror and sheer delight (mine and his) as I watched my son leap from the edge of the cliff and into the water in front of me. Within seconds, he emerged from the brilliant blue, wide eyed and smiling. He swam right to me and screamed, “I did it!” He may have doubted the water, but he trusted me at my word, that I’d be there when he came up.  

 

In his gospel, Matthew tells a story about the disciple Peter, who also towed the line between fear and trust. 

 

When the disciples find themselves out in their boat caught in a treacherous storm, they see Jesus coming out to them, walking on the water.  As if this isn’t scary enough, Peter stretches his fear and faith a little further. Peter calls out to Jesus, “Lord, if it’s you, ask me to come to you.” And Jesus says, “Come.” So, Peter swings his feet over the side of the boat, carefully setting his feet down on something that should have engulfed him, and miraculously, stands up. Then Peter begins to take tentative steps toward Jesus. He looks forward. Although I have no way of knowing, I picture Jesus keeping Peter’s gaze with an expression of encouragement as if to say, “Keep walking!” 

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Written by McKayla Adams

 

Not all who wander are lost.

J.R.R. Tolkien

 

…but, maybe a lot of us are….

 

The “Not all who wander are lost” quote from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series has become a quote that is hard to escape. It's plastered across posters, photos, jewelry and journals. In fact, my mom bought for me an engraved necklace with the very quote.

 

The definition of “wander” according to dictionary.com is “to ramble without a finite purpose or objective—to go aimlessly or to stray.”

 

But, why would we wander in the first place?

 

For a lot of us, this quote stirs in us a desire to travel…to wander away from our routines and sameness. To discover newness. This can be an amazing thing! Stirring away from our comfort zone, growing in new experiences, or even leading to journeys of self-discovery and deeper faith.

 

Some of us, in fact, just love to wander. I am one of them. I am constantly in search of a new adventure. I’m sure that’s why mom thought of me when she saw this necklace.

 

Although wandering can be a journey of growth and discovery, I fear that sometimes the desire to wander can come from an unhealthy motivation of a broken state; that the desire to wander is aroused from a physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual discontentment.

 

Maybe we are even unknowingly trying to wander away from a painful storm we are in the center of. I know this first-hand.

 

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I heard an old man speak once… He said that he’d finally figured out a few years ago that his profound sense of control, in the world and over his life, is an addiction and a total illusion. He said that when he sees little kids sitting in the back seat of cars, in those car seats that have steering wheels, with grim expressions of concentration on their faces, clearly convinced that their efforts are causing the car to do whatever it is doing, he thinks of himself and his relationship with God: God who drives along silently, gently amused, in the real driver’s seat.

Anne Lamott 

 

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I don’t know if it’s because I’m a firstborn. A child of divorce. A burden-bearer by nature that desperately wants everything to be alright. Or a combination of all three. 

 

But, I do know this… I definitely struggle with control issues. 

 

I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had over the years with my Spiritual Director that have centered around this stumbling stone in my life. 

 

I’ve wrestled down the need to please others. Perhaps when you are pushing sixty you finally realize that the only one worth pleasing is God. I’ve made this my goal now…

 

Walk worthy of the Lord, please him in everything…

Colossians 1:10 

 

I’ve also learned to let go of perfectionism. 

 

Unfortunately for my boys, I didn’t learn that lesson until later in their childhood. Poor guys would stand befuddled in the middle of a room wondering where their toys went when they turned their backs on them. In an effort to keep the house neat and tidy, toys got swept away into the toybox as quickly as the boys would set them down.  

 

My sister once challenged me about my need to have everything in its place and it hurt me terribly. But, I got the message loud and clear one evening when after scurrying around like a mad woman after the boys, my hubby asked me, “Is the President of the United States coming for dinner?” I responded with a quizzical “no.” “Then let the boys play!” he responded.

 

Young mommies take a tip from me… 

Parents, don’t exasperate your children…

Ephesians 6:4

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I think back to when I bumped into a friend at the mall just days before my maternity leave was over. With her own baby on hip, my stay-at-home-mom friend explained she needed some fresh air—and what better place than among the clothing racks, shoe sales, and hubbub of other SAHMs looking to get out of the house.

I just stared at her. Her life seemed so carefree. Anyone passing by would covet (what looked to be) a life full of free afternoons and minimal stress. But within how are you’s, you look so good, and give me life updates, she pulled me in between clearance racks and divulged. (That’s what we do, you know. Us women can’t help where we are. If there’s secret confessions to be made, we will SPILL… Even if it means hiding under hangers.)

My dear friend grabbed my shirt, her toddler started screaming, and her shoulders collapsed. She said, to be honest, some days are hard. Many are lonely. And sometimes she just wishes to be back at work, enjoying a lunch with her colleagues, and feeling accomplished by a marked-up to-do list. Doing something for HER for once.

 

Later, I bumped into another friend who returned back to her office, briefcase, and dress suits after spending months at home with her kid. Another round of how are you’s, you look so good, and give me life updates. All the same, she spilled the beans. “It doesn’t help when he screams at daycare drop-off,” she permits. “That can make anyone cringe–but as I sit in meetings, I’m wondering how he’s waking up from naptimes and looking up to an unfamiliar face. Wondering why it’s not mom.” The worst–those days when she comes home late just in time to put him down for bed, she wonders if it’s worth it.

Both situations are completely understandable, common. Even predictable. You want to be there to witness every major milestone in your baby’s childhood, and you can’t imagine sharing the responsibility of raising your child with someone else. I’m nodding right along with you. But there’s a pull to follow your dreams, pay the bills, and/or get some social time (aka me time) for your extroverted self. I’m still nodding. Which to choose?

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I like the concept of setting some resolutions for the new year. I feel like January is a time of reset, a chance to take a deep breath and head into the next year with a plan to become someone, well…better.

 

Numerous polls and articles list the top resolutions. Some people want to be thinner, some stronger, some wiser, some wealthier. Some want to be more generous, while others want to read the Bible more. Most of these goals have something in common—people want to be better versions of themselves. Let’s face it, we all want to improve. And the start of a new year gives us an opportunity to start fresh.

 

After all, the writers in the Bible are continually encouraging us to try and follow Christ’s example, reminding us to be…better.

 

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14)

 

Julius Caesar instituted New Year's Day on January 1 to honor Janus, the two-faced god who looks backwards into the old year and forwards into the new. The custom of New Year’s resolutions began in ancient times, as the Romans made resolutions with a moral bent—mostly to be good to others. To them, Janus was the god of beginnings. 

 

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You probably base your self-image on past experiences. If you’ve failed, you feel like a failure. If you’ve made poor decisions, you think of yourself as stupid. That’s the old way of thinking. When you gave your life to Jesus, he made you entirely new. Your poor choices—made either before or after beginning a relationship with Jesus—do not define you. You need to feel good about yourself or you will never live the life God has for you.

 – Leon Fontaine, The Spirit Contemporary Life

 

The other day I received yet another free gift in the mail. It seems that once you give to a charity, your name gets around. It must be an effective way of incentivizing donations—mailing out calendars, note pads, labels, cards, coins, stickers.

 

As I was opening my latest envelope—from a charity I had never heard of—I perused the enclosed gifts; the Christmas address labels went into the trash—my name has been misspelled for years with a small “a” and I just couldn’t do it again. Then my eyes landed on the Christmas gift labels. I might keep those.

 

My relationship with labels, though, has become rather intense lately.

 

There are some labels I just love. I thrive on order, and anything that helps me achieve that is comparable to Sony and Cher (yes, I know they broke up later, but I’m still in denial).

 

Labels help my life run more efficiently. They let me know what I and my family and friends can find in certain bins without digging. Labels tell me what package goes to which special person. They tell me what ingredients and nutrition are in a bag or can. They tell me how I can most effectively wash each item of clothing.

 

There is another type of label, though, that I am disliking the more I get acquainted with it... And those are labels we place on people.

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“I’m feeling very thin and vulnerable, in a good way.”

Amy Layne Litzelman

 

It hit out of nowhere. The flu.

 

It started as a simple little sore throat the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

 

Soon the “dripping facet” phase kicked in, and I couldn’t get Kleenex’s to my nose fast enough.

 

The bug hit my vocal cords next leaving me speechless for almost a week. Which some may not have thought such a bad outcome. But, then, gravity pulled it all down into my lungs and the coughing fits began, leaving me exhausted.

 

I won’t bore you with any more details. But, let’s just say there is a reason why I’m sharing my woes with you.

 

You see, it’s the holidays. And with the holidays come certain expectations.

 

Gifts, for one. As I’ve been incapacitated these days, shopping is out. Fortunately, we live in the days of Cyber deals. So at least I’ve got that one covered.

 

But, there are other expectations.

 

Like cookie baking. By this time in December I would’ve had several varieties of Christmas cookies made and in the deep freeze. But, this year I just baked my first batch. And it may be the only batch.

 

Like decorating. Most of my decorations are still in plastic bins out in our garage.

 

Like hosting parties. Due to my nasty bug, there will be no parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting or caroling out in the snow...

 

I find it all a bit depressing not being able to pull it altogether and create the kind of Christmas we’ve had in the past.

 

But, I know that I’m not the only one struggling to keep up this Christmas.

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My toddler was a tiny one-year-old last Christmas, fascinated only by the basics—staring at the lights on the tree, rearranging ornaments, and thrashing around wrapping paper.

 

This year, Oscar is two, and things are obviously different. He wonders why Rudolph’s nose is red and laughs when Frosty says, “Happy birthday!” instead of Merry Christmas. And he’s not only preparing for his very first Christmas pageant, but he doesn’t chew on the manger scene anymore either. Instead, he places the angel correctly above the stable and hums “Away in the Manger” while rocking pretend baby Jesus in his arms.

 

Even though Oscar experienced Christmas last year, his ever-growing mind soaks up all the songs, stories, decorations, and lights like it’s new this time around too. In a way like everything’s fresh. And the awe in his eyes is plain for all to see—showcasing just how captivating and extremely interesting every detail is.

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