Vanity Fair

A woman models a corset in this 1898 photograph.

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Why does irrationality seem to peak in the morning? Rarely do I bite off more than I can chew in the twilight hours. Somehow as the light grows dim, one generally recognizes inherent limitations and waning energy allotments.  But the morning on the other hand, oh the morning is a different animal.  It is new and fresh and all things are possible. 

All things- like running a few miles after a winter of relative lethargy, donning break-a leg high heels to compliment a gorgeous purple bridesmaid gown, and then subsequently roping in one’s waist with a stringent corset to epitomize a romantic heroine of days past. 

It seemed like a great idea at the time.  We gathered at the bride’s apartment, seven ladies in long flowing gowns that laced up the back.  We took turns pulling each other’s stays (corset lacing to those unfamiliar with historical lingo). 

The tightening was subtle.  “Is that snug enough?” lead to, “I think I can cinch it in a little more.”  And finally, “wow girl, look at your tiny waist.”

After a few rounds of pulling, there we stood,a bevy of lasses with reduced waists, exaggerated busts, hips, and of course, little room to breathe.  But vanity had stealthily crept in to our midst, and though I couldn’t bend over or even sit down for that matter, I felt like a beautiful damsel in distress. I’m pretty sure my voice took on a southern belle drawl.

I looked in the mirror and delighted in my pretty dress and va va voom curves.  I was Scarlett O’Hara, Marie Antoinette, and the infamous Gibson Girl of Bygone Days!

About an hour into the tight lacing, I tried to eat a snack, but my confining attire denied me any sustenance, not even a cracker.  Fortunately, I could drink and so a margarita on ice slid down nicely.

As the wedding hour approached, I noticed a stinging ache down my spine along with the growing compression of my now heaving bosom as the bottom of my lungs began to fill with fluid.  My legs throbbed from post-workout lactic acid pooling in my quads, and my hairpins felt like daggers stuck into my head.  My feet were so swollen I could barely walk.

As I lined up to walk down the aisle, I trembled at the length of what seemed like a never-ending runner.  My husband, the wedding pastor smiled at me like a warm beacon, and guided by his big goofy smile, I tottered towards him semi-delirious in pain but determined to appear graceful and elegant to the large crowd assembled.

After a lovely ceremony, more pictures, and millions of seconds of searing pain, I finally sat down at the dinner table in a heap.  But sitting proved even more restrictive.  An old song played in the background.  It was catchy dinner music tune and in my state of pain induced euphoria I swayed to the crooner’s voice.  Strangely enough, it sounded like the word salad was being repeated over and over. Then again, it could have been my starving belly crying out for food.

“I didn’t know they had such cute songs about salad,” I announced to the table.

My girlfriend Krista, also a corseted bridesmaid, but clearly retaining a few more brain cells than I, shouted, “Did you say salad?  It’s called Solid as a Rock.”

The table erupted in laughter; myself included at the erroneous error, but then along with my laughter came a blackish sort of envelopment.  The table, the guffaws…it all began to fade as I teetered on the edge of fainting.

Indeed, I was a damsel in distress. 

My friend Katherine recognizing my flushed face and dilated pupils quickly steered me towards the lady’s room where she tore at my laces and opened up my lungs for some much-needed air.

Returning to the table, I sheepishly sat down and inhaled my dinner.  Now moderately laced, I was able to eat, dance, laugh and enjoy a big piece of strawberry cream wedding cake without the restrictive garment of my own folly (It wasn’t too much later before Krista was begging me to let her loose too).

I learned an interesting lesson that day.  Vanity is subtly deceptive.  I believed the corset to be glamorous, romantic, and whimsical, but in truth, found it to be agonizing. 

I should know better by now than to be duped by another promise of pretty…but then again, The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, and they are but pure vanity.(Psalm 94:11 WBT)

Jesus sure has got my number.

“Without vanity, without coquetry, without curiosity, in a word, without the fall, woman would not be woman.  Much of her grace is in her frailty.”-Victor Hugo.

Whoomp There it is

Whoomp! (There It Is)

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I asked my pre-teen son what he was thankful for yesterday. He paused for a moment, and then replied, “My home, sports, my clothes and family.”

“So, do I rank higher than your skinny jeans?” I inquired.

He smirked and mumbled, “Sure, mom.”

I didn’t get the response I wanted, but then again, he didn’t mention his friends and I know they rank pretty high on the list. Secretly, I wanted him to proclaim his heart for Christ and yet was instead confronted with his passion for fashion. Awesome.

                                           ***

A few weeks ago, my son performed as a rapper for the school talent show.  His rendition of Whoomp There it is was truly engaging.  My fair-haired white boy took the lead solo in a tribute to The Tag Team and owned it with confidence and panache. But it was another child at the performance that ended up stealing my heart.

Sydney, a little seventh grade girl, climbed up on the stage and boldly proclaimed her faith with a simple guitar and a courageous voice.  She self wrote and performed Glow Within Me, a song about her dependence on Christ and the impact His sacrifice on the Cross made in her life.

Tears streamed down my face as I watched this little evangelist rock the stage.  She received the biggest applause of the evening and I have to believe her impact went far beyond the night. 

Personally, it brought up emotions in my own heart that I am still processing. 

Truth be told, I wish I was more like her.  I envied her boldness and strength to stand in the face of adversity.  And lest you think middle school is not a jungle, think again.  It’s a scary place for an adolescent in a cesspool of insecurity, puberty and social drama.  Reputations are won and lost in the battle of Middle School.

Secretly, I also wanted my son to be the one in front of the crowd proclaiming his faith.  I mean he is the pastors’ kid after all! Couldn’t some of my husband’s charismatic for Christ sparkle have transcended to our boy?  Just a tad more Jesus and a little less Usher?

                                            ***

Last night, my son and I took a walk along the canyon by our home.  He threw rocks deep into the crevice and I watched him scamper around and laughed at his goofy antics. It was a sweet picture of a boy on the verge of manhood and a mother yearning to direct and guide her son’s heart.

And as we walked, we talked about humility and who we are in light of God…that we are nothing more and nothing less than what He created us to be. Kyle brought up sacrifice and obedience, and his struggle to do the right thing even when it’s hard.  He shared how working with the kindergarten class in Sunday school was a pain in the butt, but he knew how important it was to the church at large and made a conscious effort to suck up his reservations.

The more Kyle talked, the more I was reminded of my son’s character and Godliness.  My desire for him to be something else…more bold, more this, and more that, fell away in the recognition of who he truly is in light of God.  My lesson to him on humility was really a lesson to me.

And so today, I am grateful for my son Kyle (the athlete), who loves his family, his home and has a wicked sense of style, turquoise skinny jeans and all.   No more and no less.

The Favor of God

The Favor of God

I hear a lot about God’s favor these days in the church.  Some people have it and others less fortunate get overlooked. The favored few rise to the top and those that lack favor end up floundering in the land of mediocre.  And though some might argue that the floundering builds character, sometimes it also builds bitterness.

I get the impression from current theological minds, praying for favor is a cop-out.  It’s the Prayer of Jabez-y (to use my friend D’s term) prosperity touting gospel.  It’s the name it and claim it kind of Christianity which seeks personal happiness instead of Kingdom suffering.

But what if the favor we desire is simply to be used by God?  No one faults David for wanting to be the guy to build the temple.  Even though God said no, his sincere longing for favor was legitimate. What happens when we ask like Isaiah, “Here I am God, use me,” and all we hear is crickets?

Disillusionment with God’s Timing

Some stories I encounter have me scratching my head in bewilderment. What about my friend Jonah, a missionary who felt God’s call to attend Bible College and enter pastoral ministry.  But due to unexpected circumstance, runs out of money for tuition.  When he interviews at church after church for a pastoral job, he is told to finish seminary and then reapply. So, he heads back into the workforce disillusioned. Years later, he is tentatively opening his heart again to be used by God. In all reality, he was a pastor doing Kingdom work as a missionary, but no one in the church was willing to take a risk on field experience vs. academic accreditation. Or did he merely lack favor?

Radical Obedience

I’m watching the Catalyst updates on Twitter as I write this.  Ironically, Andy Stanley is speaking on radical obedience being a pivotal component to Kingdom sized dreams.  Is God’s favor somehow mysteriously intertwined with obedience? 

Stanley suggests, “Often, a single act of courage is the tipping point for something extraordinary.”  He also mentioned the church would have kicked Peter out of leadership, but Jesus, on the other hand, put him in charge.

The State of the Heart

Hmmmm?  I guess that brings me back to favor. If the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16 WBT), then the condition of our heart influences the outcome of our prayers. If we pray for God’s favor regarding doors opening and opportunities to glorify Him, then our will cannot be out of alignment, but the means to achieve this glory may be. To put it simply, we have to want what God wants. 

Courage then, in light of favor, can be seen as the relinquishment of personal agenda.  It is letting go of our expectations and embracing the circumstances of God’s timing. 

And favor, therefore, is the exact moment when our innermost desires meet with God’s timing.

Call me Jabez-y, but I will keep praying for those moments, not only for myself, but for all the Jonah’s out there that want to be used, like Peter, for the Kingdom.  They aren’t looking for a comfortable G6 ride instead of a bumpy broken jalopy; they just want an opportunity to travel down the Kingdom road of favor.

Searching for “Triple X”

I have this nifty little tool that tracks the words people type into Google, or any search engine for that matter, to find my blog or certain topical areas that I have written on.  The only problem is that “said” nifty tool just happens to also expose the desperately evil “topics” that random people search for.  Let’s just say that there are some sick puppies out there.

I wrote an article, not too long ago, suggesting the Keep a Breast Foundation devalues women battling breast cancer with their I Love Boobies Campaign which targets Jr. High boys.  And because Google bots crawl around and pick up certain trigger words, here are just a few of the  keywords and phrases that people type in, and thus end up in my search box on a daily basis.

Past searches include:   “boobies”, “I heart big boobies”, “saucy boobies” “pile of boobs, ““Jr. High girl’s boobies”, and my personal favorite…”grandma and child hot sex.”

Really? Do people really type in this filthy tripe?

I know, I know… wake-up check,  “oh sheltered wife of a pastor.”

But, sometimes I forget, maybe on purpose,  how depraved people really are.  I put blinders on and plug my ears from the noise.  I live in a Christian bubble of nice people and vanilla pleasantries. Everyone is pretty and well dressed, smiling and socially aware of maintaining the “good” facade. Certainly, everyone minds their manners around the pastor and his wife.

And so, I am surprised and shocked when sins are so blatant and in my face, even though I am painfully aware of my own hidden darkness.

My baby illustrates how good we are at the game of image management.  She is always watching and always copying mama and daddy.  Her second sentence was, “How are you?”

If you ask baby the same question she will respond, “Oh, fine.”

She mimics what I do everyday.  The subtle pretend that we all do.  If I were honest, my baby would answer,”Oh, a tad bitchy, exhausted, overwhelmed, and pissed off at that idiot who just cut me off.”

I point my finger at the sick puppies, even though, I am constantly aware of my own nasty sin-nature and inequity apart from Christ.  It’s just so easy to call “that” guy a pervert and justify my own wicked heart.

So when “Mr. Obscene,”  who types in “Grandma and child hot sex” ends up reading my blog.  He searches for the darkest of porn and finds my simple little blog instead, the one that talks about faith, Jesus, and our desperate humanness embroiled in sin. But hopefully, he also finds someone who understands loneliness and the void in life when hope is dim.

Now, that is food for thought.  And maybe, just maybe, God uses this nifty little keyword tool to lead people into His light when they get lost along the way.

So, here is my message to those who read this post “accidentally.”

I’m glad you showed up. 

Sinners and perverts are welcome.

The real housewife vs the “Real Housewife”

Pink nail polish.

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For the third time this year, I got a pedicure.  I divulge this not so you will think I have sad and neglected toes, but as a pastor’s wife, I always feel like I have to justify frivolous spending. So, there I am, sitting in my bucket seat with my feet soaking, reveling in the sheer sacredness of sitting still, when in struts a “glamazon” otherwise known as “A Real Housewife from Orange County,”  a reality show on Bravo that claims to follow real women in the OC.  Now there are many words I would use to describe this woman, but “real,” wasn’t one of them.

I tried not to stare, but I honestly couldn’t help myself.  The woman, quite simply, commanded the room.  She was striking, toned, tanned, enhanced (and I do mean enhanced), luxuriously clothed, styled, over made-up and had a slight air of arrogance. I imagine she is used to be ogled and gawked at, so it’s not surprising that she would be a tad defensive in her demeanor (and yes, that was me again trying to justify that I just called someone arrogant…bad pastor’s wife, bad!).

I confess, as I sat there in my sweaty workout clothes and ratty pony-tail with baby snot stains on my arm, I felt a tad underdressed for the occasion of nail grooming.  The “Real” beauty, on the other hand was camera ready, ensconced in a black silk jumpsuit, roped in at the waist with a big chunky belt, delicately flowing down to skim the top of her sky-high heels that she peeled off and placed in the soaking water.

Her earrings were the size of my fist and I was mesmerized, like a deer in the headlights at the surreal glamour of her very presence.  Her make-up alone, looked like it took hours to apply and it wasn’t even noon yet.  It was TV “reality” juxtaposed into my reality, strangely an oxymoron, because in all reality, people always act differently, good or bad, when the camera is rolling.

Strange emotions erupted in my belly as I sat in my chair feeling very small.  As a former model, my pride and competitive spirit kicked into high gear.  Apparently, the Holy Spirit was quenched for a few minutes as my devious sin nature took over.  The demon sitting on my shoulder whispered, “Now, if you only had those clothes, a makeup artist, a mystic tan and that purse, you could give that chick a run for her money.  You could make people stare.”

Surprise, surprise…vain people really do think like this, though I might testify on the stand that I was under the influence of nail polish remover.  But the truth is, that even after seventeen years of following Christ, with all the spiritual leaps and set-backs of a long and arduous journey, I still struggle with image management, even though I know the truth that sets me free. 

I know that what looks like success to the world-beauty, power, wealth, and status… is death to the soul.  Before I accepted Christ in my early twenties, it almost destroyed me, as I struggled with an eating disorder and a compulsive addiction to control my appearance.

Recently, I stole my husband’s copy of Why Guys Need God, by Mike Erre. And though I’ve always known that our society has done a disservice to our young women by portraying these images of perfection, I never really understood “the why”, beyond the inherent sinful nature of man. But Erre shed light on this perversion of beauty by tying our culture’s destructive behavior back to Genesis 1 and the curse on humanity.

 Erre describes this consumptive and objective mentality towards women as an assault on the very heart of femininity. As cursed men run from human weakness and overcompensate by trying to control things (women included), it has distorted the relationships between men and women.  If a woman is objectified, and her worth and honor stripped, then a man has control over her and subsequently, a world of detached men and women hungry for connection is born.  Generations of women, starved for attention by the distant men in their lives have created a culture of constant striving to somehow obtain the elusive power to heal the gap of loneliness, not recognizing that the striving only leads to an endless cycle of more detachment.

 Erre suggests that because “real” women can never measure up to images of the world, they either give up or continually compete for the illusive ideal,  starving and distorting their bodies (through surgery or other “treatments”) to create an image subject to the whims of  fashion and man’s desire.  

As a young woman, I fell into the striving category.  Now, I guess you could call me a recovering “striver.”

And so as I sat in the salon, and stewed in thoughts of negativity, the Spirit inside me burst forth, and I turned a proverbial spiritual corner.  Closing my eyes, I took a long breath and prayed for Jesus to comfort me.  I clung to His truth that illuminates the insidious evil of seduction and the temptation to compare and envy, forcing myself to remember that my appearance does not define my worth and that I am beautiful in the light of Christ’s sacrifice, never subject to the world’s obsession with youth and flawless perfection.   

I relaxed into my seat and smiled at the girl tending to my toes. Fortunately, she had no idea of the spiritual battle I had just waged in my head, and then I turned and smiled at the not so “real” woman next to me.  Empathy and understanding crashed over my heart like thundering waves as I realized that my battle was her battle, and that the great deceiver was whispering in her ear too.

In the Shadow

Panoramic Night Vision Goggles in testing.

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There is a simple truth about our culture that can only be found in the midst of suffering.  When great things happen, we rejoice, when good things happen we celebrate, from our normal mundane living, well, we escape, and when bad things happen, we generally do our best to avoid the pain

And this rampant avoidance applies not only to ourselves, but those around us as well. It’s only when you are smack dab in the middle of pain do you see, really see, as if you had special goggles,  how uncomfortable everyone else is with it. 

Ever notice how people are afraid of catching pain? It’s as if divorce, depression or death were viral.   So instead of leaning in and being present in the messy, we stuff it, hide it, and put on the Christian happy face.  We all too quickly forget that joy in Christ doesn’t mandate a perpetual façade of gooey sweetness.

We avoid the old folk’s home, complain about the smell, hide from the abandoned wife at church, and quarantine ourselves away from illness, regardless if it is contagious.  We sanitize empathy down to a Get Well card or some flowers and remain aloof from intimate relationship in the darkest moments. Genuine and heartfelt mourning seems to be so passé, as if they were thrown away with the old traditions of widows wearing black and communal lamenting

My husband has a dear friend who is extremely ill, and the other day, they had a long visit in the hospital.  By my husband’s own admission, it was a visit that was long overdue.  My husband didn’t want to admit or acknowledge that his friend wasn’t doing well, because it was easier to live in the land of hope, where everything remained in the status quo. Fortunately, another friend intervened, and he was forced to confront both his own avoidance and the reality of the situation.

Somehow my husband missed out on the blog that his friend started. It’s an online journal, that keeps his friends and family updated on his condition, and though it chronicles his physical journey with cancer, it also gives voice to his spiritual battle with this unseen and vicious enemy attacking his blood.

After recalling his emotional day, my husband mentioned that his friend noticed an unusual occurrence with his blog. When he updates positive news on his status, the comments and prayers come in abundance, but when the news is dire, which has been more the case recently, very few if any comments show up in the guest book. 

Why is it that our praises seem to dry up when circumstances go down the drain?  And when there are no words left, we conveniently disappear, because suffering interferes with our busy agendas. Mourning, compassion, empathy… the sheer ability to be present in the Valley of the Shadow of Death with anyone, even sometimes those closest to us, seems desperately lacking in our society. 

When I look at Middle Eastern culture, I envy their ability to emote, to wail like banshees and cry and grieve with passion.  It seems so much more acceptable to feel emotions.  The tough guy American demeanor never drops a tear.  It’s probably why I always apologize when I cry, as if tears were an affront to good manners.

Is it our fear of the dark, of death and the unknown that causes us to push away and to hide?   Could any temporary relief of an awkward moment or an uncomfortable confrontation ever be worth the loneliness and abandonment of those dear to us?

Yesterday my husband wept, prayed and laughed with his dear friend.  The cancer was only a reason for their relationship to grow deeper.  They mourned and looked to Christ, unsure of His plan, with unanswered questions and heavy hearts, but resolute in their double fisted faith of a Holy and mysterious God. 

They were precious moments, stolen and sweet, because time has become like gold as the shadow deepens.  These were moments of friendship, based on eternal brotherhood and bonds forged on Christ’s sacrifice.

And so my husband’s friend has hit on a profound truth, we are a culture of avoiders when it comes to pain.  And as the lines between heaven and earth blur for him, clarity comes like waves as he assesses his life.

The Psalmist proclaims that “though weeping may last for a night, joy comes with the dawn.” (Psalm 30:5)

True joy, it seems, can only be discerned on the other side of the deepest pain. For how would we recognize the light if we had avoided the dark?

Rom. 12:5 (NIV) Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn

Giligan’s Journey

Christmas Eve was a day of perpetual mishaps.  The best laid plans were best laid to rest…because chaos reigned supreme. 

The older kids were at Grandma’s and it was time to rendezvous with my parents to bring them home.  And so my little one hour jaunt turned into Gilligan’s three hour tour.  The baby and I set off and not fifteen minutes into my journey, I heard a strange clicking  and within seconds a loud bang erupted from under the car and the front tire on my Xterra exploded off the rim. 

My car shuddered ominously, which happens when you are traveling at 75 mph, and so, I prayed, wailed and held on for dear life.  Fortunately, I managed to pull over, traffic rushing by me on the toll road, and rolled into a small inlet off the side of the road. All this happened as I was “multi-tasking” on my cell phone to my husband who heard the whole fiasco on speaker-phone.

Ever the Eagle Scout, my husband told me to sit tight and he would be there shortly.  Thirty minutes later, he pulled up.  We moved the baby into his car, he pulled out the jack, and off I set again to bring back our kids from Grandma’s. 

After giving him a big kiss, I left my husband on the side of the road changing the tire.  Only fifteen minutes later, we were diverted off the toll road because of mud slide damage from the recent storms.  After a thirty minute alternate route, we finally got back on track.

Then the crying started.  I had left the baby’s bottle at home in my haste to pick up the kids, and baby was hungry.  Already an hour late for the pick-up, I had no time to stop for food, so in my best soothing voice I kept repeating, over and over, “Just a few more minutes baby. “

 Then the next freeway closure hit from storm damage, and once again we were re-routed for another thirty minute detour.

As we pulled up to meet my father, two hours late for our pick-up, I pulled a hysterical baby out the car.  On the verge of tears myself, my dad rushed us over to Chili’s for some R & R.  As I quickly made the baby a bottle, sad little sobs erupted and her body shook with frustration.

As I handed the baby a makeshift bottle, she leaned back in my arms, looked deep into my eyes and said “Thank You.”

This is my eleven month old baby.  An exhausted, starving baby who had endured suffering for the first time in her life, and her response when finally fed was to say, “Thank You.”

She didn’t hit me, turn away in anger, refuse to eat, or play passive aggressive baby.  She simply took the food and thanked me.

I reflected on the last time, or any time for that matter, that I had thanked God for the circumstances in my life that tested my spirit and lead to patient endurance.  Just thanked him for the character defining moments I hate because I am forced to grow, despite my unwillingness to change.

My baby inherently knows what I often forget…to have a childlike trust in God, a simple dependence, and a thankful heart

Then the little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them.  But the disciples rebuked those who brought them.  Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Secret Santa

Starbucks on Briggate

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I got that giving itch from God today.  A little tickle on my spirit, saying “My daughter, do you see I have a child in need?”

Every now and then, this burden descends upon me to give financially to a specific person. It’s as if God is sitting on my heart and pressing, firmly adjusting my internal vision to see the crisis at hand and move towards it on behalf of my Father’s will. 

I have learned through trial and error to heed this call, avoiding second-guessing and justification,(i.e., does He really want me to go without my monthly Sushi treat or Starbucks?) choosing simple obedience and giving out of my blessings, or lack thereof, depending on the season.

The first time I felt this compulsion to give, I drove over to the family’s home that I felt God nudging me towards and handed them a check.  And though it felt good to be obedient, taking credit for the giving proved anticlimactic.  It felt awkward and rather prideful taking on the role of a Christmas benefactor.

There I stood at the door, having no idea what to say. Somehow, “Hark, I bring tidings of good will and generosity,” didn’t seem appropriate.

The “secret sauce” was missing and the key factor was taking “me” out of the equation and adding in the actual “secret.” 

The next time God put someone on my heart; I got out-of-the-way and allowed Him to be the Giver of all Good Gifts.  I simply played the humble steward, using the gifts and talents He had given me to run his estate. 

And yes, this time my joy was complete.  I got to watch God get the glory and revel in the delight of being a small part of an answered prayer.

Remaining anonymous is like playing Secret Santa without the big reveal, where only you and Jesus know who the real Santa is.  It’s a covert mission from God for the average Christian, a little slice of heaven, to be eaten in the company of angels and not men, for the rewards of this obedience can only be seen in the celestial realm.

When a financial gift is given to someone in need, and the giver remains hidden, something mysterious happens in the spiritual world.  The person sacrificially given to, though they know not of the giver, has become all the more tender.  They have secretly joined in on a “story” of God’s provision.

When I encounter someone whom God financially blessed through me, there is an unexpected seed of compassion deeply rooted in my heart that God has planted.  It’s completely beyond my normal and slightly selfish paradigm, unnatural even, but effortless because of God.  It is His love weaving through my crusty heart to bless both the giver and recipient.

My story and their story intersect, our journeys of faith swirled in layers of sacrifice, obedience, comfort and provision. 

So when the Christmas bonus comes this week, what face comes to mind? A single mom you know, the unemployed father sitting next to you in church, or maybe the family losing their home in your neighborhood?   

But please, oh please…don’t forget the “secret sauce” when you put on that Santa Suit!

Christmas Lights and Humility

Ned Flanders

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Someone stole my neighborhood and turned it into Whoville.  Large elves, masquerading as competitive men have ambushed our energy resources and hung up enough LED lights to have the streets aglow with a garish gleam as bright as the sun.

My first indication that our new neighborhood might go a little “over the top” at Christmas was during a conversation at my son’s baseball game. My neighbor asked me if I wanted to join in on the lift rental. 

A “lift” rental?  Seriously? 

She assured me that it was a normal occurrence in our neck of the suburban woods at Christmastime, and that all the neighbors cooperatively shared the expense and used it for the soaring high icy peaks of our two-story homes.  I could see desperation in her eyes that I grab onto her vision, but I wasn’t taking the bait.

I said “maybe” to the lift. Silly me…I’m so old-school thinking a ladder might be sufficient.

So, a few weeks later, the foretold lift arrived and our neighbors got busy stringing lights on the trees and peaks of our little borough.  My family was out-of-town that weekend, so you can imagine our surprise when we returned.

Remember that song, “I wear my sunglasses at night”? Think bright, stadium bright and you just might get the picture. Every nook, corner and cranny burst forth with Christmas paraphernalia. And that’s just the lights!

The inflatable army has also come out in full force-Frosty, Spongebob, Mickey, and Santa bluster and blow about depending on their robustness or their lack of. Sparkly reindeer, candy-canes and the angelic host have all joined the cast of characters on our street. 

So, not wanting to feel left out, the next weekend my husband risked life and limb on an extension ladder to string a Charlie Brown strand from our roof to our neighbors.  We highlighted one simple peak on the second story, strung lights around the porch, added a few multi-coloreds to the bushes and called it a day. 

We were so proud of our simple accomplishment.  We had fun, experienced a little danger on the extension ladder and laughed a great deal at our slightly cheesy and ghetto attempt at illuminating design.

That is…until we walked to the tract across the street.  Some of our neighbors, concerned that we didn’t quite grasp the seriousness of the “decorating spirit” encouraged our family to travel over to Sarasota, where apparently the big Christmas dogs come out to play.

So, we bundled up the baby, grabbed some coats and mittens, and the family ambled out of our tract into the neighborhood just across the street. 

And this is how we got schooled in the Ned Flanders way of Christmas.

We could hear the roar before we even crossed the street.  Three lifts were at work.  About fifty people were out, from kids to grandmas, and all were busy decorating.  This was definitely the bigger the better, and anti-less is more school of thought. 

Every tree was being wrapped in lights.  Some of the homes had music synchronized with the lights to create shows.  I’m pretty sure I saw a real sleigh and a chorus of angels.  Music blared from loud speakers.  There were Christmas banners, themed homes and lights strung across the street from roof to roof creating a tunnel of extreme awesomeness.  It was the North Pole, a fairy tale, and a child’s Disney dream! 

As my son and I reveled in the majesty of our Costco culture, laughed at the over-commercialized decorations, and took in materialism at its finest, my husband on the other hand, turned sour.  The Grinch face was starting to appear.

“It’s too much,” he said, “too competitive, too garish. They’ve lost the Christmas spirit.”

I nodded my head in agreement while secretly plotting ways to spruce up our own lawn.

“So how about an inflatable Jesus on roller-skates?” I suggested. 

At least I got a smile out of him.

Deep down, I know it’s the posture of our heart that matters at Christmas.  If we are decorating our neighborhood as a gift to the community, than the gift–whatever it’s brilliance or lack thereof is enough.  If we are decorating for approval, applause and to win the association’s contest, then shame on us. 

If I am to be honest, I desire both.  I want to be content with a little.  I also want to compete and win. 

I struggle with my inner naughty; this duality of the Christian walk and the daily battle between choosing humility or competitiveness.  I think I might have caught my neighbor’s desperation.  I’m pretty sure it’s viral.

Praise the Lord that Jesus doesn’t keep a naughty list like Santa or I might get some coal in my stocking.  Because, when my husband goes out of town, some elves just might drop by our house too!

Not so Nice Comments

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I got my first negative comment today on my Everyday Christian blog.  Actually I got three of them.  I’m pretty sure one of them was from Satan.

 The really scary part is they called me “Sammy.”  I am blown away by how the commenter knows me so well.  It was such an intimate association, and so assumptive to call me by such a fun nick-name.  I’m flattered.

Of course, no one actually calls me that.  And maybe that’s best, because if they knew my real nick name that would be border-line stalker… and that’s really scary.

I knew this would happen.  I figured eventually I would write something controversial enough to stir the pot and piss off someone.  Fortunately, it was about my belief in God. 

Is it a sin to be proud that you got persecuted for Jesus?  Because, I might have a little banner made that says, “I took one for the team,”

So, here’s a little excerpt from my new demonic friend

“Too bad you were not strong enough to shirk the shackles of fables and myth. In fact, it looks as if you have fully submerged yourself in your chosen fairy tale.

Life is worth living in and of itself, my dear Sammy. No need to give credit to imaginary friends.

There is no hell. There is no god(s). Death is exactly like things were before being born. You simply no longer exist. Why does this scare you so?”

 

I replied

It doesn’t scare me.  I know where I am going and more than likely will be so overwhelmed by the glory of God that I won’t even remember this temporary pain.  I have a hope and a promise of eternal life.  It just makes me sad for those that take a different path.

Many Blessings to you and thanks for the comment.
Sam

I am afraid I have started a battle.  The comments continue to come in. 

Game on!

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