Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Preparing Our Hearts for Christmas

When my children were small, Christmas was an exciting and hectic season. But very early on, the focus shifted from the true meaning of the celebration, as is typical of human nature, to a focus on the stuff of the celebration. It became a rush to get just the right presents, cook just the right foods, decide which house to visit for Christmas Eve and which to visit for Christmas Day. Thanksgiving Day just became just a big family meal...get through this and then hold on as we zoom through to the New Year.

I soon came to dread the time change at the end of October that signaled a frantic November and December. Every year I thought, "I hate Christmas!" The stress became too much for me and I was one of the millions depressed by the holidays. I was not a fun person to be around. Think of the cliché, "If momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!" That was our family's mantra as soon as November 1st dawned. And Momma was certainly not happy...

...Until one October afternoon in 1993. I knew that my attitude toward the holidays was not fair to my family and not worthy of my calling as a daughter of the King of Heaven. After all, it was His birthday we were supposed to be celebrating. I went to a Christian bookstore in search of something to make the holidays easier on me (note again the focus on myself). I came across an Advent devotion booklet. This had devotions for every day from the Sunday after Thanksgiving to Christmas Day, all focused on celebrating the arrival of the baby Jesus.

Now, my first thought was, "No way do I want to think about Christmas every single day for the next month!" But I read a couple pages into the devotional and my heart was broken as I was reminded of the real purpose of bring forth the Savior that died for me. Over the course of the next few weeks, I studied more about Advent celebrations and the kids and I worked on an Advent wreath for our kitchen table. Thanksgiving that year was spent at home, just the five of us. It was a beautiful time of being thankful for the blessings God had brought to us throughout the year. We had a wonderful meal and started putting up some of our Christmas decorations.

Our tradition was on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when we got home from church in the evening, we put up the Christmas tree. The year before this, I stalled until two weeks before Christmas to put up the tree. This year we all sat around the kitchen table, Steve read a devotion from our Advent devotional, we discussed its meaning with the kids, and prayed -thanking God for giving us Jesus. Then we all got up and started decorating the Christmas tree.

And, from that evening on, each night leading up to Christmas morning, we had Advent devotions. That Christmas was the beginning of the most meaningful Christmases of our lives, because God changed my attitude by reminding me of why we celebrate in the first place. From then on it didn't matter where we spent Christmas Eve and Christmas Day...the pressure was off because our Advent devotions went with us.

In a few years, as everyone grew up and got busy outside the home, our devotions had to be done just on the Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. But they became all the richer as our children started writing their own devotions and leading our family worship each Sunday evening. And they especially love being the one whose turn it is to light the Jesus candle on Christmas Day!

How, you ask, did I keep the children's attention during devotions every single night of Advent in those beginning years? (They were 9, 7, and 4 years old that first year.) You must be Super Mom, you say! No...every night we do Advent devotions, everyone gets a small gift at the end of our prayer. On the weeknights & Saturdays it's something as simple as a piece of Christmas candy. On the Sundays it might be a pair of slipper socks or a hot chocolate mug. On Christmas Eve, the traditional Advent gift is a new pair of pajamas- so everyone looks nice on the Christmas video!!

It might sound like I bribed my kids to sit quietly...but the idea for me was to give them a little tangible reason to be thankful for the holidays each day. But if you ask them now, they'll each tell you that they look forward most to lighting the candles and talking about what God has done for us in sending His Son as our Savior. And this year, I think we'll put up the Christmas tree before Thanksgiving...and use it to hang little notes of thankfulness to God as decorations. We'll read them at the table on Thanksgiving Day and "worship His Name with thanksgiving in our hearts." Then we'll get out the ornaments and decorate our tree as the beginning of our month-long celebration of the coming of the Christ-child.

Advent begins on November 27, but we can really prepare for the coming of the Christ-child by starting with celebrating the gift of Christ the Savior on Thanksgiving Day.

First printed November 2005 in The Freedom Reader, a publication of Spring Valley Freedom Bapist Church, Huntington, WV.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Who Am I?

I have spent years of my life trying to answer that question. I started being aware that there had to be a reason for my existence in my late teens. I became a Christian at the age of 12, a very awkward age and a little early to know just who I was becoming. The one thing I did know at that time was that I needed to have God in my life by accepting Jesus Christ as my Savior.

Along the road on my search for purpose, I realized that my love of writing was a gift from God. My love of writing started early...

I wrote sing-songy poems as a young child. In 5th grade I took well-known nursery rhymes and made them into plays; then recruited my friends to perform them with me for the kindergarten and 1st grade classes at Lyndon Hill Elementary School in Maryland. In North Carolina, when I was 12, I developed a huge crush on my mother's best friend's brother. I wrote him a poem and asked him to wait for me to grow up and then marry me (he was in his late 30's at the time!).

At Kubasaki High School, in Okinawa (a prefecture of Japan), I joined the journalism class and became the Features Editor for the school paper, The Typhoon. I enjoyed that so much that my senior year I became the paper's Editor-on-Chief. At the age of 17 I had the opportunity to attend a press conference for Billy Graham and his entourage. I got to interview him during the press conference and my interview was the cover story of the next issue of the school paper, pictures and all!

About this time, I started seriously trying to define myself as a person. As is common, I ran into many road blocks, including being required to write an editorial for the school paper on the topic of the Equal Rights Amendment that was coming up before the US Congress that year. I was so very intimidated by my journalism advisor and her anti-male attitudes that I wrote that editorial with a slant toward militant feminism, even though I had no interest in being a feminist or being militant.I finished high school and enrolled in my first college writing course. The very first assignment I turned in brought an "F" for the grade. I was devastated. I had never had a grade like that on anything I wrote where I took time to thoughtfully put the paper together. (Never mind that Brit Lit research paper in 12th grade---no, you can't do well starting the night before the paper is due!)

I later found out that the instructor didn't like my writing style. I worked at improving but was never able to pull better than a "C" grade on anything and I finished the course with a "C". I was discouraged and decided that my talent was childish and I didn't pursue writing again for almost 10 years.

I always had stories in my head that I wanted to put on paper, but that instructor's opinion outweighed the encouragement I got from friends and family. I assume I felt that because she was a college instructor, her opinion was more valid. The lesson in this is to be very aware of the people influencing your children's self-image, even at the college level.After I wrote my first devotion to be included in a church devotional for Easter in 2000, the writer's block was somewhat lifted. I became interested in creating web sites and did that for a while, including one for the Salvation Army Olympic Ministry during the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. I didn't write on a regular basis again until 2005, when I started writing a column for my church newsletter.

In the fall of 2005, I was moaning about not having enough time to do all the things I am interested in when my husband suggested that I focus on what I'm good at doing - writing. As always, God's timing is perfect. And this time I listened to the encouragement of family and friends and began writing again in earnest.In May of 2006, my husband made it possible for me to start an apprentice writer's program with the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. The lessons are challenging, pushing me beyond the ways I limit myself. I have deadlines each month that I find especially challenging as I try to take care of my family. I resigned my job as secretary for our church in January 2007 in order to narrow my focus.

And as God leads me, I am looking to Christian writers for guidance to eventually write full-time. Right now I listening for the still, small voice that leads my hands as I write to glorify God - because He is the Author of all good works!

Sunday, June 4, 2006

Everyday Faith

I base my beliefs on the Bible as God's inspired word. I believe the Old Testament is given for our growth and hope. I believe the New Testament is the fulfillment of the prophecies and promises given in the Old Testament.

"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17 [NASV]

I believe that:

(Clicking on the links will open a new browser page at

"Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Deuteronomy 6:5

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

Why Doesn't God Fit in My Box?

I’ve been thinking about a comment my daughter made recently concerning her prayers and her diabetes. She has been praying daily for God to heal her of her diabetes.

She has always had faith that she would be healed if God wanted to do it. She also had a great attitude at the beginning, when as an 11-year old, newly diagnosed, she wrote to the church of one of my co-workers that had been praying for her particularly: “I don’t know why I have diabetes, but I don’t see it as a disease—I see it as an opportunity to see what God can do.”

When my co-worker read me that note, I was ashamed of myself because I was still dealing with the crushing realization that my child had a life-threatening, chronic illness. I was very angry at God. I couldn’t even sit through church services without crying in rage the entire service.

Now, as is typical of children with diabetes, Lindsey later questioned, “Why me?” And she went through a couple of years of rebellion...not checking her blood sugar regularly...deciding without a blood sugar check how much insulin to take. And the question...”Why won’t God heal me?”

But through all the years, she never has doubted that God could heal her if it is in His will. In late February, Lindsey had an eye check-up and a dental check-up. She received two clean bills of health.

What makes these results so impressive is that Lindsey has had diabetes for nearly 10 years. A couple of months into dealing with the diabetes, Lindsey’s doctor explained the necessity of regular blood tests, eye exams, and dental care. She told me that damage from the diabetes would start showing up in about five years.

This is what Lindsey said to me that started the whole contemplation: “I’ve been praying every day for God to heal me of my diabetes. I have been healing is just packaged differently than I expected.” She was referring to there being “no evidence of diabetes in my eyes or my teeth.”

Once again I am in awe of my daughter’s faith. She can see God working in her body, even though she wears an insulin pump and tests her blood sugar several times a day.

It is difficult at times to accept the form of answer God gives me to my prayers. I tend to be one of those people who starts a prayer request with an idea of how I want the issue resolved. This is probably the wrong attitude with which to go to the throne of God.

I think Lindsey’s idea of taking advantage of “an opportunity to see what God can do” is probably the best approach to viewing our circumstances and our prayers.

When life smacks us in the face with more that we seem to be able to handle, the natural desire is to want circumstances return to what they were before the crisis. But if we don’t allow ourselves to really look for God in the circumstances, how will we grow?

Like Lindsey said, her answer came packaged in an unexpected way. God is too big to stuff into my box... My answer might be more than I am expecting, or it might be less than I want at the moment. My responsibility is to see the answer as God intends it to be...a lesson in submitting to a holy God who intends everything for my good and His glory. And I have already been given the best gift...Jesus bought my entry into heaven with his life.

First printed March 2006 in The Freedom Reader, a publication of Spring Valley Freedom Bapist Church, Huntington, WV.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Raising Men of Honor

I have grown very tired of the popularity in broadcast media of making men appear stupid and ridiculous. We see it every time we turn on the television -- from commercials showing men incapable of preparing breakfast or hanging mini-blinds to a host of situation comedies depicting them completely incompetent as husbands and fathers.

I know this male-bashing trend has risen from liberal feminism trying to force society into seeing men as incidental and unnecessary. I am the mother to a son and grandmother to a grandson and I am highly offended that Hollywood has bent to this influence. I have no unnecessary men in my family. They do not deserve to be told every time they turn on the TV that they are dim, slow-witted bunglers.

Many will say that these shows are all in fun and I should lighten up. But as I watch my ten-month old grandson stop what he is doing every time a Little Caesar’s commercial comes on where the people do nothing but mumble I know that television has influence. Children learn what they see. And there is a lot of offensive programming on television right now.

The worst offender on TV is advertised on one network as “the most popular comedy on television.” It is a sitcom that portrays two brothers living together with one brother divorced and having joint custody of his 11-year old son, who lives with them part time. My biggest problem with this show is that it depicts the father as an idiot, despite the fact that he has a thriving practice as a chiropractor and depicts his brother as the competent one, despite the fact that he is a hard-drinking womanizer who sleeps with a different woman in almost every episode. The 11-year old boy sees and comments on all of the lewd behavior of his uncle and the failures of his father. It makes the son appear to be the level-headed one. What kind of example is this for young men? How can we expect boys to grow into honorable men with this kind of mentality so prevalent?

I gladly spoke the words of my marriage vows to love, cherish, honor, and obey my husband—because he is trustworthy of those promises. He gladly spoke the words of our marriage vows to love, cherish, honor, and protect me—because he meant them and demonstrates them every day. Obviously, I am not a feminist, but I am also not a weak woman who needs to prove her self-worth by clinging to a man for every need. I can change a tire and install ceiling fans. Together, my strong, intelligent husband and I have raised two strong, intelligent daughters and a strong, intelligent son.

There are young men out there without the positive influence of good male role models. It is imperative that people of conscience speak up for those who can’t. It is time that wives and mothers who respect the men in our lives demand that Hollywood produce entertainment that is more worthy of our husbands and sons. If we want more appropriate programming, we must not stay the “silent majority.”

First printed January 2, 2006 on the Op-Ed page of the Herald-Dispatch Newspaper, Huntington, WV

Wednesday, February 1, 2006

"And They Call It Puppy Love..."

February is a good month to think about love. After all, February 14th is the day all good husbands give their wives a dozen or so red roses, right? And all good wives will have a wonderful steak dinner prepared in a spotless house when their man walks in with those roses, right again?

Uh, huh...sure. That’s the way it would go in a romance novel. But my reality is just a bit different.

Number 1—Steve would never walk through the door with a bunch of cut roses...I would despair of the waste of thirty bucks or more on some flowers that will be gone in a week, when that money could have purchased that new variety of blueberry bush I want to plant this year. He knows better.

Number 2—As much as I would like to have that spotless house, we have six people in the house and right now, two dogs (Our dog, Penny, is babysitting my folks’ dog, Sassy, for a couple weeks.). Dog hair, baby toys, endless loads of laundry, leaves and bark dragged in with each armload of wood for the wood stove. [Side Note: Is it normal to need to run the dishwasher 2 or 3 times a day? And just how many drinking glasses does each person need to use in one day!?!]

But all the fuss of February 14th is not really the point of celebrating love this month...

As I was thinking about how love is supposed to be celebrated, a 70’s song from the Jackson 5 came playing through my mind. The song is cute...but the title is what got my attention.

What exactly is “Puppy Love?” Well, every puppy I’ve every known loves in the following ways.

  1. Unconditionally. No matter how much you ignore them...If you forget to put water in the dish...Puppies (and a lot of adult dogs, too) completely accept their people and lavish unconditional love on them.
  2. Enthusiastically. As soon as they see you, puppies are jumping up on you, running around you, doing their best to bathe you in their enthusiastic affection. If you walk out and walk right back in, a puppy will act as if you had been gone for hours and again cover you up in love.
  3. Unreservedly. Puppies don’t hold back their love waiting to see if you’re going to love them back. They just love you. Period. No waiting for you to say just the right word. No hurt feelings if you don’t talk to them for a while.
  4. Absolutely. Puppies don’t bounce between pouty hormones and disappointment over unmet expectations. You are their person. They love you.

I think those are the kinds of thoughts behind 1 Corinthians 13, called the Love Chapter. It is God’s directions to us on how to love...our families (immediate and extended), our friends, our neighbors, all those God puts in our paths.

It is also the way God loves us...unconditionally, enthusiastically, unreservedly, and absolutely—Read John 3:16 and Romans 5:8.

Just a word of warning...If you haven’t been practicing the “Puppy Love” sort of loving up to this point, you aren’t going to be able to make it up on this one day, February 14.

But give it your best shot...Chocolate is a great way to start. My personal favorite is Lindor Lindt Truffles, particularly hazelnut-flavored.

I also hear jewelry works pretty well, too (although for me, we again come to the dilemma of how many plants could be bought instead).

First printed February 2006 in The Freedom Reader, a publication of Spring Valley Freedom Bapist Church, Huntington, WV.

Sunday, January 1, 2006

Overcoming the Winter Blues

I have a devotional I bought many years ago to use during the winter months. I have never read every devotion in it — I try, then miss a few days — try to catch up — get frustrated — put it away.

Winter is a particularly difficult time for many people, including me. I’ve always laughed and said I can take any temperature as long as it is a sunny day. Of course, this is a great exaggeration. There are sunny days in summer I spend whining in air conditioned comfort complaining of the heat. And there are sunny days in winter I spend whining in front of the roaring fireplace complaining of the cold.

But the rare sunny days in winter are more apt to make me grateful than the abundant sunny days of summer. There is something incredibly beautiful to see in the sunlight glistening on frosty ground. I can be instantly recharged waking up to a sunny winter morning that comes after a few days of cloudy gray.

I have been rereading my little devotional that I bought ten winters ago. The title of this devotional is Quiet Places of the Heart in Winter: Meditations for Women. As I mentioned, I have never gotten all the way through it and some winters I have skipped using it altogether. But each winter that I pull it out I am renewed by the daily scriptures and blessed by the insightful writings.

I want to share one of the devotions that touched a deep spot in my heart this winter. It is from Week Three, Day Two, which this time reading through fell on December 13:

“When God Says No”

The scripture for this day was, My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.” Luke 1:46-47. Here is the devotion:

“There are times when the one thing you want is the one thing you never get...All you want is an open door or an extra day or an answered prayer, for which you will be thankful.

And so you pray and wait.
No answer.
You pray and wait.
No answer...

May I ask a very important question? What if God says no?

What if the request is delayed or even denied? When God says no to you, how will you respond?...

Test yourself with this question: What if God’s only gift to you were His grace to save you. Would you be content?...You beg Him to save the life of your child. You plead with Him to keep your business afloat. You implore Him to remove the cancer from your body. What if His answer is, ‘My grace is enough.’ Would you be content?

You see, from heaven’s perspective, grace is enough.”

—From In the Grip of Grace by Max Lucado.

Wow...what a realization—God’s grace is enough. It seems like one of those “duh!” kind of thoughts. I should have known it all along. What more do I want? God gave me His grace when He sent His one and only Son to take on my sins at Calvary.

The hard part is the being satisfied part. The only way to be satisfied with God is to spend time with Him. It is a struggle to overcome the human wants, but I must be firm in my belief that His grace is enough. It is enough for me when the days are short and gray. It is enough when they are long and blue.

It is hard to be still in the silence waiting to hear from God. I think that is what winter is a picture of...all the plants die back, the air is cold, the skies are gray. It is the waiting for God time. It is the quiet with God time. It is the preparing for renewal time.

If all I get is His grace this winter, it is enough. Like Mary, I want my soul to magnify the Lord, and my spirit to rejoice in God my Savior because...

He is enough.

First printed January 2006 in The Freedom Reader, a publication of Spring Valley Freedom Bapist Church, Huntington, WV.