Jr. High Gym Class. Oh, the Horrors.

Gym class was the worst.

No.  Wait.

Seventh grade gym class was the worst.

The heat.  The clothes.  The coach’s shorts.

Our locker room was concrete blocks, painted–no–slimed is a better word, a pale and institutional mucous pea green.  So shiny.

I hated it.  I can’t think of a strong enough word, so I’ll settle for hate, but I mean, I hated it.  I dreaded it.  It became nearly a phobia.  Maybe a full-on phobia.

I was never a great runner as a teen.  I discovered later that I had a mild case of asthma.  It would have been nice to know back then, why I always came in last, why I couldn’t breathe.  It would have been nice to be able to tell the coaches, with their barely restrained eye rolls, as they clutched their stopwatches and waved the stragglers in.

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At home we played some mean badminton on the weekends.  But softball, football, volleyball, basketball?  Ummmm, no.  Never.

And it didn’t help that I went almost my whole seventh grade year without glasses.  Even though my prescription is in the -5 category.

I did fine in my classes, I just couldn’t see a softball coming to save my life.  At least not until it was close enough to hit me.  Nothing like throwing a softball at a blind kid and telling them to run.  “Come on, kid!  Catch it!”

I spent that six-week-unit out in left field.

Literally.

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It didn’t help that I had gone to a friend’s house the summer before, and a bunch of kids there thought it would be fun to play softball.

I have learned that some things are not fun for me.

Softball is one of them.  Also Starbucks at 6 am.  I don’t get it.  Not fun.

They got a game of softball together in the front yard.  And I went out to left field.  My destiny.

But my friend forgot to tell me that her dad had strung up a single strand of electric barbed wire that was about knee-high on a twelve-year-old.  He put it there to keep the cows out of their yard.  I grew up in Arkansas and, hot wire, it’s a thing.  But I lived in town–no cows, no barbed wire.  I didn’t see it.

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When the ball came my way, I decided I’d actually try to play.  Unlike gym class where I usually wandered off to the bushes in the middle of an inning.

I took off running, stretched up, arms out, glove open like a cradle.  I was going to catch it, one more step, and I would be right under it.  The kids were shouting.  I thought they were cheering me on.

And then.

I connected with the barbed wire, and those electric barbs sunk deep in my knee.  And on a hot wire, I was stuck there a second, shocked and vibrating.

When I finally pulled back and broke the circuit, I was done. Just done. The little white ball rolled innocently to a dip in the pasture.  A cow gazed at me, chewing, and looked away.

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I heard my friend running behind me, “I was trying to tell you!!  So sorry!  I thought you would see it!”

Well, I could see it now, thanks, but just barely.  One string of wire against a green and brown lawn doesn’t exactly stand out.

I was over it.  I completely ignored her.  I dropped the glove on the ground and started walking to the house.  Forget softball.  Forever.

Blood streamed down my leg.  I wasn’t even embarrassed.  I was just done.

I went into the house.  I probably should have had stitches, but I didn’t want to deal with it.  I didn’t show my mom.  I stuck a bunch of bandaids on my knee and never looked back.

After that, I hated anything to do with Phys. Ed. even more.  As if.

I did the least activity I could and found all kinds of excuses to sit out.  I slow counted my crunches and my cotton pickers. I faked sicknesses.  I hung back.  I made it through with a B grade, some coach’s mercy.  And I still had to take two more years of gym class.  I limped through it and was never more relieved than when that last credit was done.

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Fast forward a few years, and my daughter asked me if she could play softball.  I said yes.  She had a friend on the team.  They giggled and wore matching shirts.  They liked meeting each other at the softball field and getting juice boxes after the games.

The first time I visited the field, the wind blew and shook the chain link fence.  The rattle of the metal was Pavlov’s bell, in a bad softball field kind of way.  I broke out in a sweat, and a mild panic rose  up in me.

Shame is truly an awful feeling.

It takes everything.  Freedom, joy, delight.

When that fence rattled, it took me back to all those years of being picked last, softballs flying toward me that I could not see.  I hated taking my daughter to those games.  I could barely watch, and the rattling of that fence rattled me.  I stood outside the group of moms, trying to focus on my daughter, sweating, and counting the minutes til the game would end.

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One afternoon, I stood and listened to the fence jangle, metal rings on metal rings in the wind, and I watched my daughter play.  She was the sweetest thing, eight years old, all unicorns and cupcakes.  Her smile was so big I could see her teeth from the sidelines.  She was having so much fun.  Out in left field.

The other kids were tearing it up.  Hitting the ball hard, running for dear life, sweating, red faced, focused.

And all the while, my daughter and her friend were lying down on the ground, looking at the sky.  Making dirt angels.  Picking daisies.

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No pressure.  No shame.

And something fell away from me, that fast.

My heart reconditioned in one soft and sunshiny moment.  And that chain link fence suddenly sounded like a song.

It has happened to me over and over again, walking through an old ugly thing in a new way with my kids.  Their joy heals me.  Everything is reframed.  New memories push the old ones away.

What a gift.

***

Children are a gift from the Lordthey are a reward from him. Ps127:3

A Willing Vessel: 9 Lessons in Courage from The Finest Hours

I love movies.

Not all movies.  But the well done and uplifting ones, I love those.  The wisdom of a lifetime compressed into two short hours:  Seabiscuit, Queen Elizabeth, and William Wilberforce, and now, Bernie Webber, from start to finish, in the time it takes to paint my nails.

I’m grateful.  I need all the life-school I can get.

The Finest Hours is based on the true story of the most daring small boat rescue in Coast Guard history (Spoiler Alert).  It’s a simple film, easy to watch unless you are upset by rollicking ocean scenes.  It is not complex in the sense of subplot or psycho-drama, but it is a great tribute to a group of heroes who faced their fears, not to promote themselves, but to save the lives of 33 men stranded on one half of a ship destroyed by a raging storm.

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If you’ve seen it, you’ll remember that Chris Pine, also cast in recent years as the new Captain Kirk, is almost unrecognizable as the windchapped and head ducking rule-follower, Bernie Webber.

I love seeing actors lay down their vanity.  It’s a different kind of bravery.

The movie takes place on a night rocked by terrible winter storms and is based mostly around a Coast Guard station in Chatham, Massachusetts.  Not only one, but two tankers were torn in half by the storm that night.  Most thought that Bernie and his crew were being sent out on a suicide mission when they went out to help the S.S. Pendletion.

Throughout the movie, I was struck with Bernie’s absolute unwavering determination.  He and his crew were in a tiny open boat, sometimes completely submerged in water, four men on a huge and angry ocean.  I watched it twice.  And some things stood out to me about courage in the face of a challenge.

9 Lessons in Courage from The Finest Hours

 

1. Face your fears, and then do it afraid.

Bernie’s fiancée, Miriam, is afraid of boats and water.  When he finds out, he immediately wants her to get on a boat.  Bernie tells her, “We all get scared out there.” Don’t stuff feelings, admit them.  Bernie does not cover up his fear.  He does what he has to do in spite of it.

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2. Keep it simple, and shrug it off if you have to.  

Miriam says in reply, “I’m not scared of the water, just what’s underneath.”  Bernie shrugs and smiles and says, “Just more water.”

And later, when everyone around him tells him that he will die if he goes on the mission, he shrugs again, respectfully, and responds, “The Coast Guard says you got to go out.  It doesn’t say you have to come back in.”

Whatever it is, don’t overthink it.

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3. Knowing your why helps with your how.

Bernie joined the Coast Guard to be a protector.

And so had his crew.  They all volunteered.  A Coast Guard officer has the ability to command a crew, but Bernie didn’t have to take unwilling sailors.  One volunteer, Ervin Maske, says, “Well, someone has to go out there and save those guys, right?  That’s why I signed up.”

If you’ve never written a personal mission statement, it’s a helpful exercise.  When life gets distracting, difficult, and confusing, I go back to my mission statement.  It helps me know what decision fits with my ultimate purpose; it helps me remember who I am when I’m being pressured to be something else.

It helps me choose my battles.

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4. So does being prepared.  

Show up, and work hard, even if you don’t know the end game.  Bernie had been on rescue missions;  he had completed his training and knew the local waters well from his patrols.  He could not have anticipated the shipwreck that particular night, but by doing what he was good at every day, getting better, gaining skill and knowledge, he allowed God to prepare him for the biggest rescue of his life.

When the time comes, it goes a long way to know that you have the skill you need to do the job He’s asking you to do.

The years of training and boating allowed God to use these four men.  At the same time, in some ways they weren’t experienced enough.  Just showing up with the knowledge you have is half the battle.  He can use a willing vessel.

As Heidi Baker says, “If you don’t quit, you win.”

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5.  Be singleminded.

Once the leaders in the film make up their minds, they stay with their decisions.  Bernie Webber, Station Sergeant Cluff, and Chief Engineer Sybert on the shipwrecked S.S. Pendleton, all are singleminded men, even in the face of raging criticism and undermining.  And they insist on unity from their teams, that everyone around them be singleminded as well.

Though these men are surrounded by doubt, they do not allow themselves to be distracted and lose focus. In this particular situation, it was key.

If any of them had wavered, many men would have died.

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6. Courage doesn’t come from our peers.

The men at Chatham Station tell Bernie that he should pretend to follow Cluff’s commands, to motor around the harbor, and then come back in and say he couldn’t get out.  Bernie tells them thank you.

And then he goes out anyway.

As Praying Medic said to me recently, “Most friendships are temporary.  I can’t change what I believe just because a friend asks me to.”

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7. At the same time, it helps to have at least one person that believes in you.

Chatham Bar, a shallow sandbar off the coast, was also known as “The Graveyard of the Atlantic.”  It was difficult to cross, especially in a storm.  Bernie pauses when they reach the Bar and looks at the huge waves crashing toward them.  Engineman Andy Fitzgerald calls out, “We got faith in you, Skip!  Anytime you’re ready you just go, ok, Bernie?!”

Bernie wants to go, but he is unsure at times.  He knows what is at stake, and he knows his decisions put his crew at risk.  Fitzgerald’s cheering strengthens Bernies’s resolve.

Courage doesn’t come from friends, but believing in each other goes a long way to bolster courage.

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8.  Don’t give fear center stage.

On the S.S. Pendleton, Chief Engineer Sybert plans to run the ship aground and wait for help.  Another sailor, Brown, berates him and questions his decision, implying that he cares more about the ship than saving the men.  Sybert replies, “I got a life, same as you.  I’m scared, too, Brown.  Just don’t see the point in sitting around and talking about it.”

At the same time, on the Coast Guard boat, Richie Livesey is shouting at Bernie everything that is wrong, that they should go back. But Bernie already knows that they are in danger, that they have lost their compass, that the storm is getting worse.  When Fitzgerald hears Livesey, he goes from supporting Bernie to agreeing with Livesey, “Maybe Richie’s right!  Maybe we should just go back!”

Once spoken, Richie’s doubt becomes contagious.

It’s the only time Bernie shouts.  He will not listen to doubt or make a decision based on fear.  “We aren’t giving up on ’em! Not on my watch!”

Don’t give fear all the air time.  Give hope the sound instead.

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9. Faith, not luck, is on your side.

The men on the S.S. Pendletion pray when the ship is torn in two.  Later Brown yells at Sybert, “This ship is just bad luck!”  Sybert replies, “It’s got nothing to do with luck.”

Bernie Webber’s father was a pastor, and Bernie considered the ministry before he joined the Coast Guard.  Bernie always said about that night, “The Lord’s hand was on my shoulder.”  (ChristianNews.net)

In one of the few scenes that is not completely true to the story, Fitzgerald sings an old sailor song, and all the men join in, a sign of solidarity and a way to strengthen themselves.  In reality, they did sing, but not a sea shanty.  They sang the old hymn, Rock of Ages.

Bernie had a strong inner life.  He leaned on faith to do the impossible.

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One last thing that struck me as I researched this rescue was the absolute humility of these men.  Bernie always gave credit to the whole crew, even refusing a gold medal unless the crew received the same honor. One of the men’s wives didn’t know the full story of the rescue until years later. They chose bravery and self sacrifice, it was how they saw themselves.  And then they just lived it, without asking for glory.

It’s a beautiful story.

If you’ve seen it, I’d love to hear what you learned from this film in the comments.

If you haven’t, it’s on Netflix right now.

Enjoy.

***

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for his friends.  Jn15:13

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility, value others above yourselves.  Phil2:3

I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle–victorious.  ~Vince Lombardi

The Best Possible Light: Respond to Others and Change Yourself

Sometimes, the places that hold criticism and neglect shock me.

Even though I guess I should know by now, I can’t help hoping that some relationships will change one day.

In the same way, sometimes the places that hold  encouragement and cheers surprise  me as well.  Sometimes a total stranger sees us more clearly than anyone we know.

I remember getting off the phone with someone one time and thinking, “Wow, after the things they said, I could be really hurt, and mad, and offended right now.”  And then, something else took over, and I thought, “But.  I just don’t want to be.”

It was a turning point for me.  I realized I had a choice.

Practicing that choice is a practical way to change everything about my day, my feelings, even my physical health as I refuse to allow stress and pain to take over my life.

I realized that I like being happy more than I like being offended.  I like having peace and moving past insults without having my day interrupted by anger.  I like enjoying my kids instead of taking out other people’s mistakes on them.

And I love thinking of all the people who have hurt me as their best possible selves, seeing them in the best possible light.  I love imagining the fun we would have if we could all be our best selves with each other, all the time, every day, no matter what.

It will be that way in heaven.  I’m looking forward to it.  Until then, we have a choice.  God, help us choose well.

***

How do you choose to move past hurtful things?

Count it all joy… when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  Jas1:2-3  ESV

Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.  Jas1:2-4 NLT

13 Ways to Fight Anxiety

Friday the 13th.

Mine was great.  How was yours?

I’ve never been especially superstitious, but I do remember a time when numbers, bridges, black cats, and ladders made me think twice.  Now they make me smile.

So, in honor of Friday the 13th and all the good gifts God gives on any given day, here are

13 Ways to Fight Anxiety

  1. Positive messages.  Start pumping them in.  Right now.  Whatever.  Whoever.  A comedian you love, songs, speakers, TED talks, podcasts, redemptive movies and television shows.  Tons of great preachers have free videos on YouTube.
  1. Pump OUT the positive messages.  Fill up on joy to spread joy.  Make yourself a veritable font of joy.  LAUGH.  Joy is strength.  Learn from people who make you laugh, listen to speakers who make you laugh, create a culture of humor around you.  Plan to make someone else laugh.  You reap what you sow.  So, instead of ruminating on negative statistics, politics, news, gossip, and complaints, sow some joy, and reap some strength.couple-1846208_640
  1.  If fear does not budge, you may need a deep healing work in your life.  Most Christians believe that God does deliverance, in other words, cleanses us of any spiritual influence that is causing fear and replaces it with peace.  Get counseling from someone who understands emotional healing and deliverance.
  1. Hope.  For something.  Believe that things can get better.  Believe that you can be free and victorious.  Believe that your dreams can come true, in some form.  Believe that you were made with a plan and a purpose and that God has not brought you this far to drop you.
  1. Do something.  Don’t give up.  Don’t back down.  Just keep swimming.  Forward movement is always better than wallowing in emotion.  Remember, no matter how little you are able to do, doing something means you are running circles around the guy sitting on the couch.  running-573762_640
  1. Raise up your voice. Talk back to anxiety.  Recite scripture.  Just say “no.”  Just say “Jesus.”  Say something, anything, to cheer yourself on and give yourself much needed strength.  The most powerful people I know speak over themselves constantly.  It’s a habit that has to be learned and practiced—put up post it notes with verses and sayings, and then SPEAK THEM!  Don’t let random thoughts rule your life.
  1. Move in the opposite spirit. This means that when circumstances look bleak, you look for the rays of sunshine.  Stop blaming everything on the devil and looking for demons in every drawer.  It is not about being Pollyanna, it is about looking for the Easter egg, the silver lining, the hidden treasure of goodness, and focusing on that instead of anything else.  If you can’t see it, ask God to show you.  Ask Him to tell you what moving in the opposite spirit looks like right now.
  1. Watch the crowd you hang with. If everyone around you is constantly spewing negativity, fear, and doubt, it is going to be harder to find courage.  You don’t have to drop everyone, but make your inner circle a circle of courage.  active-1822704_640
  1. Watch the influences you allow. So many of our emotions flow from things we did yesterday or last week, or things that happened to us years ago.  We can’t control everything, but we can control some things.  What are you reading, listening to, watching, thinking about?  Watch your responses to movies, conversations, news reports, etc.  How is your heart rate?  Are your palms and pits cringing with sweat?  Are your shoulders tense?  Do you feel restless and wish you could get away?  Are you reading/watching/listening out of obligation or peer pressure?  What is your body telling you?  Listen, and limit influences that rob you of strength.
  1. Love and draw near to God and draw identity from Him. The more time spent in His presence, the more like Him we will be.  There is no anxiety, fear, stress, or frustration in God.  los-cabos-68861_640
  1. And, as God reveals His identity to you, saturate in that. Pay attention to His love languages with you, like armor, doves, hearts, thunder, etc.  What do “God winks” look like to you?  And then watch for these things.  Billboards, radio, people, little signs.  Wear them, find clothing that reminds you of what He’s shown you.  Jewelry, stickers, artwork, furniture.  Let Him weave His message into every part of your life.  Write down every instance and reminder in a journal, and pull that baby out and read it often, not just on the bad days.  And spend time with people who understand identity.  Celebrate these encounters and reminders with them.  It’s amazing and encouraging to see how much He is communicating with us when we plug in.
  1. Forgive.  Yourself and others.  Confess something if you need to.  Let old and new things go.  Quickly.  Don’t ruminate and take offense.  God is for you.  Forgive and move your focus to the plans God has for you.
  1. Know your why! You’ve heard me say it before:  Your why will help you with your how.  Why do you want to beat fear?  Who is watching your example?  Kids, family, friends?  What are your dreams?  What do you long to do?  As the old question asks, “What would you do with your life if you had no fear?”  Knowing why you’re fighting the good fight will help you push through the hard days.

What habits do you cultivate to keep anxiety at bay and your mind on things above?  When anxiety creeps in, how do you kick it out?

***

Anxiety is doublemindedness.  –Neil Anderson

Peace I leave with you; my peace I leave with you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not be troubled, and do not be afraid.  Jn 14:17

Wait a Minute, Christmas. One More Thing Before You Go.

Christmas flew by like mad this year.

A red and green blur.  I know it happened.  I was there.  And with trails of glitter and packages of hot chocolate scattered everywhere, I even have proof.  I just thought it would last a little longer.

Not sure what made the difference.

It could have been the hedgehog.

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New additions to the family always make the nights and days run together.  This hedgehog, an early Christmas gift, is no exception.  After a month of heat lamps and meal worms and animal psychology, we have learned why hedgehogs are considered “Advanced Pets.”

But, she is worth it.

Creation is magnificent, far away and up close.  I love her quills and the way she rolls herself into a safe little ball.  This creature lives to please no man.  Or woman.  She is not a best friend, but more of a mirror.  And a test.  But more on that another day.

Caring for the new hedgehog added one more thing to a long list this season.  And add to that, the scared and hungry kitty cat that followed us home after a late night bike ride.

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She chose us.  What could we do.

So now we have three pets when only weeks ago, we had one.  A trifecta of fur and comfort and delight.  And all of it running around the base of our Christmas tree.

It’s been busy, to say the least.  And some things I don’t mind letting go.

I didn’t wrap the gifts in the kids’ stockings this year.

I didn’t cook a big Christmas dinner.  We got takeout.  Please.  Don’t judge me.

My breakfast casserole was a runny bust.

My monkey bread was burned.

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I just can’t do it all.  And you know what?  My family is still blessed, and we made wonderful memories.  I think one of them even said it was their happiest Christmas yet.  And I’m sure it was the cat’s best Christmas ever.  She spent the whole day with her head in a food bag.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her no.  It was Christmas, after all.

But there is one thing I don’t want to leave behind.

On Christmas Eve, when my kids were much younger, we used to have a birthday party for Jesus.  Kids love a birthday party.  They get it.  It’s a great way to explain the exchange that Jesus provides.

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Wait a minute.  You mean it’s His birthday party, but I get presents?  

Yes.  That’s the way He is.  Pretty cool, huh?

And then they get to blow out candles and eat cake.

At some point, they usually ask, “but, what can I give Him?”  And we talk about all the things we can give.  What it looks like to give a whole life.  He gave His for ours, now we give Him back everything we can.  And it looks like love.

The love of God is not that complicated if we will let it be simple.

The birthday cake is the culmination of our party.  And with my kids getting older and all of us more health conscious, I’m not even sure we will do it this year.  But the cake itself is not the end game, the candles are.

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I don’t know on what wonderful website I found this idea years ago, or I would link it here.  I was searching the internet,  “How to make Christmas more meaningful for kids.”

After wading through pages of Bethlehem dot-to-dots and Baby Jesus coloring sheets, I found this beautiful idea, as simple as a birthday cake.

Light.

Here’s how it goes.

Make Christmas More Meaningful:  

A Light Celebration at Home.

 

On Christmas Eve, after dark and after supper, I call the kids to the table.  And in the middle of the table, I line up tons of candles.  I have a menorah I use, and a candle nativity that my grandmother gave me.  And a birthday cake covered in candles.  Although this year, I think I’ll use my mini Christmas village instead of the cake.  Five tiny houses, each with a little light inside.  It doesn’t really matter what you use, just pull together every candle you can find.

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I turn off all the lights and grab the matches or lighter, whatever I have.

It’s pitch dark in the room, and I talk to the kids about darkness.  How some people only know darkness.  How darkness is heavy, and it feeds our fears, and it makes us feel alone.  It keeps us from seeing all the blessings: it hides the good things that are all around us.  And it either makes us defensive, or it makes us sleepy and unaware.

But.  When light comes in, it changes everything.  It changes the way we feel.  It changes what we are able to see.  It changes the way we are able to move in our space.

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And I light the first candle.

I tell them the story of Christ,  the Light of the World.   And at every key point, I light another candle.

I explain to them that it’s not really his birthday in December, that he was born in September sometime during the Feast of Tabernacles.  When Christ said “I come to dwell among you,” the word he used for dwell was literally “tabernacle.” I want to reinforce to them the idea  of the festivals and the reveal of the centuries in this one man.

And, interestingly, with his birthday during Tabernacles, that would put His conception during Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.  And I share with them that we are either in Hanukkah every year during Christmas or very close, and that the Light of the World came into the world during the Festival of Lights.

God put Jesus inside of Mary during or near the Festival of Lights.  Mary pondered these things in her heart.

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And I light a candle.

I keep telling them the story, how Mary and Joseph travelled to Bethlehem, how they stayed in a stable, how the wise men followed the star, and the shepherds heeded their bright angel.  And for every twist and turn, I light a candle.

As I talk to them, the room becomes brighter and brighter and brighter.

And when the last candle is lit, we look at them all for a few minutes.  The dark room is cozy now, and the nativity spins as the heat from the candles moves the figures through their paces.  We listen to a couple of songs.  I think this year we will use this one by Lauren Daigle and this song by Kari Jobe.

This last thing, our inheritance, our commission.  That as He is the Light of the World, He also calls us to carry light.  That we, too, are this bright Light of love.

They love to hear the story, they listen still, and they are big now.  And I am overcome by the light, flickering on their faces.

And here we are in January.  And Christmas flew by this year.  And I still haven’t done it.

Today’s the day.  It’s never too late, or too early, to revisit this story.  Never too late to ponder these things in your heart and to soak in love that lights up the dark.

***

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.  Gen1:3

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” Jn8:12

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.  Mt5:14-16

But Mary kept all these sayings, pondering them in her heart.  Lk2:19

Leah the Weak: An Unexpected Story of Christmas.

December is a story time of year.

Mostly about a baby, a star, and those who came to see the prophecies of history fulfilled.

But recently, I read a story, not about three wise men, but about three people in a love triangle.  Jacob, Leah, and Rachel.

You may know the story, but here’s a recap:  Jacob, the son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham, sets out on a long camel ride to find a wife.  He also happens to be outrunning the murderous rage of his brother, Esau, after stealing Esau’s inheritance.

“Jacob” is a word for “deceiver” in Hebrew.  So far, Jacob is living up to his name.

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When he arrives at his kinsman’s home, Jacob agrees to work for the man.  He sees the man’s younger daughter, Rachel, and immediately falls in love and wants to marry her.  He has also seen Rachel’s older sister, Leah, and, for whatever reason, he is not interested.

The girls’ father, Laban, agrees to allow Jacob to marry Rachel if he will work for him for seven years.  So Jacob does, and seven years pass.  The wedding day arrives.

But–and this is where it gets tricky–on the wedding night and unbeknownst to Jacob, Laban somehow substitutes Leah in Rachel’s place as the bride.

Jacob discovers the switch in the morning when the sun comes up.

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After pondering this one for some years, I have decided  it does not pay to ask many questions here.  There are only sordid and potentially embarrassing answers for everyone involved.   I’m planning to ask God to explain how this is all completely edifying when I get to Heaven.  Leaving it at that for now.

But, the point is, Laban deceived Jacob.

Jacob goes to Laban, understandably angry, and says “What is this you have done to me?  Why have you deceived me?”

Laban says to Jacob, like it all makes perfect sense, “Oh.  It’s not our custom to marry the younger daughter first, so I gave you Leah.  Wait a week, and you can marry Rachel, too, if you will work for me another seven years.”

So, without feeling like he has much choice, Jacob agrees.

For years I heard this story taught as a morality tale of sowing deception and reaping deception.

Jacob deceived Esau and stole his birthright–scandalous!  How dare he!  And so, he got what he deserved when Laban deceived him with Leah for a bride, instead of the woman he loved.

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Leah, the weak-eyed, unmarriageable, older daughter.  Leah, given as some kind of cosmic punishment to Jacob the Deceiver.

I’ve always felt a kind of camaraderie with Leah.  Whatever “weak-eyed” means in scripture, some scholars have suggested that she was cross eyed with poor vision.

I was a cross eyed kid.

I have worn glasses since I was four, and I had two surgeries as a child to correct my eyes.  But over the years, if I forgot a contact, or if I’m very tired, one eye might drift a little at times.  I don’t know if anyone else notices, but I do.

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I remember being at a family reunion and seeing an older cousin with the same crossed eyes.  She was tall and slender, very fashionably dressed in a tailored  yellow top and a green pencil skirt.  Her hair was thick and dark and wavy, and she wore spectacular red cateye glasses with little jewels on the frames.

But her standout feature was, unfortunately, those extreme crossed eyes.

It’s so hard to know where to look when someone has an eye off, how to know which eye is looking at you. And your own eyes dart back and forth, trying to find the active eye, like a Poe novel come to life.

I can say that, because I am sometimes that girl with the wandering eye.  And, for the record, I can tell you, just pick one.  They are both working fine, most likely.

Just pick one.

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Anyway.

I’ve always kind of felt for Leah, this weak-eyed woman.  Handed around like property, an unloved wife, accused as a man-stealer for the rest of time.

In the story, God brings sons from Leah and Rachel.  He uses this strange setup to fulfill the prophecies over Abraham, that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars.  From these women come twelve sons, the twelve tribes of Israel.

And these sons, the majority of them come, not from Rachel, but from Leah.  At that time, children were considered proof that a wife was a good one, that she was pleasing to God Himself.

The sons were a vindication.

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Reading this story today, I went back with the same old perspective. Jacob the deceiver meets his match in his sneaky old uncle, Laban,  and gets stuck with this unbeautiful, unlovable bride.

For a minute I wondered if Laban had had faith that God would provide a husband for Leah, could she have married someone who loved her?  And Rachel and Jacob, could they have had their fairy tale?

And then, I was arrested by this thought.

No.

God did it.

As wacky and sad as it seems for one minute, God did it just like that.

It hit me.  If Jacob got two wives for his “punishment,” that’s a strange punishment indeed, especially for that time. Leah was no punishment.

Leah was Jacob’s double blessing.

Leah was abundance.

Jacob comes out of this deal with two wives instead of one.  In the context of the time, God Is blessing Jacob in spite of his failure, not punishing him for it.  Aside from the inherent blessing of companionship, wives were a sign of wealth.  And a source of sons.  The more wives, the more sons.  And more sons and more wives meant increased standing in the community.

Jacob did not get what he “deserved,” some kind of Bride-from-Hell-Smackdown from On High.  No.

Jacob got mercy.  He got grace.  He got a heavy portion, pressed down and running over.  He got abundance for his sin, rather than devastation.

That’s more like the God I know.

And Leah had more retribution than just bringing forth many sons.  Leah was not born to bring punishment.  She was not born for another man or lineage.  She was born for this one.  She was born to fulfill a prophecy and give birth to nations.  And to a saviour.

You may remember this part of the story, too.  Leah’s fourth son was called “I will praise the Lord,” or “Judah.”

And Judah.

Judah, through many generations, brings forth Jesus Christ.

And Rachel has her sons, too.  Both women were exactly where they needed to be.  The great Joseph comes from Rachel, a man who saved Israel in Egypt, a man who foreshadows the coming of his even  greater cousin, Jesus.

Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

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Leah the Weak, through God’s grace, becomes Leah the Lioness.

The mother of a lion.

The mother of The Lion.

God loves to use the weak to bring forth strength.

There are many women like this in the lineage of Christ. Tamar, the seductress.  Bathsheba, the exhibitionist.   Rahab, the prostitute.

Women despised by their culture.  But redeemed and honored by time and by scripture.

Sometimes we do not always see our vindication, our reparations.  We don’t always get to see the full fruit of our labors.

But these things are coming.  Our sacrifice is not wasted.  Our efforts are not in vain.  Our pain and tears and weakness do not go unseen.  And they do not go unredeemed.

Leah, Rachel, Jacob, Laban.  Small figures in an epic tale.  A huge plan that spans millennia to bring love to all mankind in the form of one tiny child.

One little lion.  In a manger.  Leah’s son, and Rahab’s, and Bathsheba’s, and Tamar’s.

And Mary’s.

And God’s.

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The unspeakable beauty of a God who takes a thing that the world calls weak and ugly to bring forth the greatest miracle.

The beauty of a God who might even sometimes ask us to endure some embarrassment or inconvenience–after all, what is a lazy eye in the scheme of things?

He might sometimes ask us to lay down our pride and our ease for something greater.  For the ones that come after.

Leah was willing.

Jesus Christ was willing.

And I am thankful.

Thankful for eyes to see this Christmas.

Thankful for His coming and His sacrifice and His strength in our weakness, in my weakness.  So thankful.

***

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  2Cor12:9

Call It Good. One Way to Beat Holiday Pressure.

I wrapped Christmas presents today.

I have all this cute, adorable, beautiful, sparkly paper.  And one really ugly roll. I don’t know why I bought it.

Well, actually, I do.  I found it on sale for seventy cents a roll.  Seventy cents.   And it’s one of those never-ending value rolls. Like, a million square feet.

I keep wrapping a gift with it here and there, hoping no one will notice.  I try to stick them on the bottom of the pile.

In fact, this roll of paper is so ugly and huge, it may last me my entire life as a caution, a reminder not to shop like that ever again, throwing my seventy cents around without any thought to the consequences.

It literally seems to get bigger every time I cut it.  It could outlast me.

But, dear God.  I hope not.

Anyway.

My daughter and I wrapped presents today, with mostly the cute paper.

We were wrapping them to send to loved ones nearly a continent away.  They are trinkets really, but I pray these friends feel all the love that we can’t be there to give.

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As we wrapped, and I checked one more thing off my Christmas list, I felt so organized.  I was on time, early even.

And then, I hesitated.

I looked at those gifts packed in that box with so much joy and love and anticipation.  Those gifts, wrapped in cheerful patterns, with their messy edges and wrinkly tape, names written, and hearts drawn on the paper with markers.

First, I smiled.

Then, I hesitated.

And then, I criticized.

There were no fluffy bows.  No glittery package toppers.  No pretty tags.

They were nowhere close to perfect.

For one second, as I thought of our beautiful friends, I didn’t think these presents were good enough.  I considered taking them all out and rewrapping them, the way I used to wrap presents.  Before I had kids.  Before I started homeschooling.  Before I realized that energy is a perishable commodity, and I simply can not do it all.

I didn’t know it was a luxury back then.

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But I have learned my lesson in a million ways.

Some things just have to be declared good enough.

My sister says the secret to success is, sometimes, lower standards.  She laughs when she says it, but she is a wise woman.

And that’s my reality today.

I have other boxes, other appointments, other errands.

I either send these presents now, as they are, or it will not get done.  And our friends would miss a blessing.  And I would find this package in July, under a pile of sweaters, and realize I never sent it.  And then stick it back in the closet with good intentions to try for Christmas next year.

And it would never get done.

Again.

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I looked at those gifts.  I even lifted one out and studied it in my hand, and I immediately heard this, “Do they need to be perfect? Or do they need to be good?”

And I set that gift right back in the box.

And I am not looking back.

Except.  Maybe to do something with that hideous paper.

My oldest daughter suggested that we burn it.  It’s that ugly.

Or, maybe we’ll just call it a lesson learned.

And good enough.

***

Perfection is the enemy of the good, and enough is as good as a feast. 

I pray your holidays are good enough.  Not in the sense of settling, but in the sense of a deep contentment and enjoyment of the messy, real life and true love all around you.

Take a deep breath.  Let some of it go.  It’s not all going to get done anyway.  

Let someone help you, even the kids.  Especially the kids.  Their work will be messy.  But a present wrapped, a cookie decorated, an ornament hung by a child is adorable, and the people who love them will love that they tried.    And the kids will feel like they matter.  And they will be one year closer to learning how to do what needs to be done.  

And they will remember that you valued them enough to let them do the big stuff.

Not one of us is perfect.  Holding ourselves and others to that kind of standard is the worst fun killer ever.  And it may be the worst love killer, too.

Just send the packages.  

And receive them.  And all of it.  With grace.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1Pet4:8

Crazy in Love with God. Interview with Chana Keefer, Bestselling Author. {WATCH}

You are called to something.

We all are.

I love connecting people with each other, especially the ones I know who are courageously pursuing that call.

In this interview of six short questions, meet Chana Keefer, best-selling author of several books and a great friend of Lady the Fearless.  Chana encourages, inspires, and shares tips for any of you who are pursuing that thing–whatever it is–that you feel called to do.

Check out her new book, Annabelle:  A Ghostly Texas Tale, and her other books here.  Great additions to any Christmas list!

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You’ll also find a heartfelt video response to these questions at the end–watch when you can!  You will be lifted up and leave with practical applications from this interview.

LADY:  Hi, Chana, my friend!  Thanks so much for being here today!  First question, simple and sweet!  What inspired you to be a writer?           

CHANA:  Growing up, some of my favorite moments were getting lost in a good book.

Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lucy Maude Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott, and others had that gift of making me forget my troubles at the same time I was learning huge life lessons such as empathy, courage, kindness, and even God’s character.

I always wanted to write a book–it was an item on the ol’ bucket list–but it wasn’t until I went through intense personal battles, that at their core were spiritual battles, I unwittingly put a foot on the road of writing.

Desperation led me to prayer for an hour every morning which led to vivid dreams that led to a story I HAD to get down on paper. As I grew closer to God, the NEED to write burned me up so much I would get up way-early in the morning to pray and let the words pour out. Connection and flow.

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Chana’s first book, an answer to prayer. Click image to read reviews and novel summary.

 

 LADY:  Amen!  Tell us a little bit about your latest book, Annabelle: A Ghostly Texas Tale.                                                                                                       

CHANA:  Annabelle has been very patient. I actually started writing the story in the spring of 2007 but learning about publishing and juggling life in general kept this wonderful story on the back burner. My family, especially my hubby, always said it was their favorite of my stories and every time I cracked the manuscript open to edit, I would always end up crying, kinda dazzled by the beauty of it.

On the surface, Annabelle sounds like a simple ghost story but the themes are much deeper. Who hasn’t felt a bit like an old house, past its prime, glory days gone by, gutted and abused by life? I know I have. The young family in the story are decimated by harsh circumstances when they limp into the tale. It’s a beautiful, timeless story of restoration and redemption.

Who hasn’t felt a bit like an old house, past its prime, glory days gone by, gutted and abused by life? 

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Alternative cover art for Annabelle, by the talented Disney artist, Scott Seeto.

 

LADY:  What’s it like to be a writer AND a mom AND a homeschooler AND run an online jewelry business AND work in the prayer ministry at church? How do you juggle it all and stay filled so that you have something to give?        

CHANA:  (Laughs) GREAT question for which there is no easy answer.

The hardest thing to juggle as a writer, wife, mom, etc. is my own self-defeating inner dialogue–something, with God’s help, I continually work to improve.

Do I EVER feel that I’m doing all those roles well?  VERY rarely.

There are little victories that arrive hand-in-hand with more challenges. I try to stop and celebrate the victories, at least a moment, before turning to the next flub or challenge. Kind of like popping your head up to breathe while swimming, taking a moment to notice a victory, no matter how minor, gives me the breath to keep on going.

What’s funny is, on a day when I might feel like, “Wow, I am totally killing it! Yes!” whether in writing, homeschooling, keeping house, whatever, I tend to hit a wall later that evening.

Basically, my expectations and reality don’t really mix therefore I constantly feel I’m not doing enough. (Anyone relate? Perfectionists, self-floggers, over-achievers?) It’s a constant struggle but thank God for His grace and His perspective to help me kick Chana off the throne to remember it’s all about HIM anyway.

In a practical way, I have to remember to give myself permission to enjoy something once in a while. It’s amazing how laughter, a chat with a friend or even reading a good book will re-boot my energy.

The hardest thing to juggle as a writer, wife, mom, etc. is my own self-defeating inner dialogue–something, with God’s help, I continually work to improve.

 LADY:  What other advice do you have for aspiring writers and creatives?          

CHANA:  I was never a very disciplined person until I had to be.

When the prayer and writing became as vital as breathing, discipline followed–at least in committing to them every day.

Therefore, find your WHY and go after it. The best place to discover meaning and purpose is in God’s presence since He made you and knows what will fill you up. I feel all true art is spiritual in nature, therefore we must connect in a spiritual manner with the Creator of all.

Again, connection & flow. Out of that will flow the passion that will keep you going day by day, where real life works hard to knock you off-track.

 Find your WHY and go after it.

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Chana writes what is known as “speculative fiction.” Her books don’t fit neatly into a genre or category because of her unusual story lines, which she would say are God given.

LADY:  What is your hope or prayer for anyone who reads Annabelle, or any of your books?                                                                                              

CHANA:  With all my books, whether inspirational romance, epic spiritual warfare, memoir, etc, my deepest prayer is for the reader to be ushered into God’s presence–to “taste and see the Lord is GOOD.”

Just like a song embeds words and messages in our hearts, so I pray these stories plant vital seeds of being crazy-in-love with God. That’s the start. Open heart, mind, and spirit to our loving, healing, inspiring, empowering Father, then He takes it from there.

I pray these stories plant vital seeds of being crazy-in-love with God.  

LADY:  What does fearlessness look like for you? And what do you do to grow in courage and to fight fear in your career, life, and faith?                                                                                                                                     

CHANA:  I love Joyce Meyers’ advice to “Do it afraid!”

God does not bring me into a comfort zone.

Every single time I speak or share stuff online or unveil a new book, there’s trepidation. I’d like to say I never waver, that my eyes are so fixed on God there is zero fear and I don’t mind if people say negative things, but that just ain’t so. It has to be a choice of “Who will I serve: Fear or God?” The one I obey is the one I serve.

Courage, for me, is looking fear in the eye, taking God’s hand and plowing through it. I may gulp big and quaver a bit, but it’s not my power anyway that’s going to accomplish something of eternal value.

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Lady the Fearless reads Chana Keefer!!! Don’t know which one to read first! All proceeds from “Servant of the King” go to Kemper Krabb’s international ministries.

 

Courage, for me, is looking fear in the eye, taking God’s hand and plowing through it.

***

Thanks again, Chana!  

Who will I serve: Fear or God?” The one I obey is the one I serve. –Chana Keefer

WATCH Chana answer questions in person at the link below.  Wisdom, transparency, and prayers from the heart.

3 Ways to Recover Quickly from Hurtful Comments

Oh, the holidays.

So much fun.  So cozy.  So sparkly and delicious.

And sometimes, so very painful.

Whether it’s family, friends, or total strangers, we get thrown together with lots of people this time of year.

And, often, we get thrown together as we are planning or attending gatherings that are stressful for some reason–either just happy people trying to put on a beautiful event, or really crabby people feeling the pressure of time and debt and dysfunction, or some combination of the two.

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Clearly, many times, this is not a good thing.

And we can get caught in the middle, in the way of someone who is short on patience and time.

And words can hurt.

Below are three ways you can overcome hurtful words quickly.  Life is too short to hold on to someone else’s bad decision.

1.)  Know this:  It’s not about you.

Really.

Nine times out of ten, a person’s statements reflect their own mood or situation.

One time, I was in a big box store a few weeks before Christmas when I nearly had a head-on cart collision with a white haired gentleman.  Even though it was an accident–both of us were pushing carts around a blind corner–I smiled and apologized.  I thought he would do the same, and we would move on.

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I said, “Oh, I’m sorry!”

He scowled at me and shouted, “SORRY? OH!  YEAH, I KNOW YOU ARE!!!”

For some reason, typing this today makes me laugh out loud.  But that day, I was devastated.

I was in my twenties and had my little ones with me. When he shouted at me in front of them and called me “sorry,” I almost cried.

But it was not about me being “sorry,” it was about him having a bad day.

Maybe his wife sent him to the store, and he hated it or was afraid of letting her down.  Maybe he was just a mean man.  I have no idea.  But it was his problem, not mine.

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That day, I just kept telling myself, it’s not about you, it’s not about you.  Which brings me to number two.

2.)  Say out loud that you don’t receive the hurtful comments.  Speak up and replace them with truth.

Say, “This is not about me.  I do not receive those words.  That person’s problem does not get to tell me who I am.”

I love the verses that talk about what we hear, that faith comes by hearing.

And not only does faith come by hearing, but we develop faith in the things we hear most.

If we listen to lies, we will begin to believe them.  If we listen to truth, the same is true.  We can’t control what other people say to us, but we can control what we say to ourselves, and so, control what we hear, and so, what we believe.

Joyce Meyer suggests starting your day by saying “God loves me” one hundred times.

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Get ahead of any lies that might come your way by filling up on a beautiful truth first thing in the morning.

When that man called me “sorry,” at one time, I would have said to myself, “Why did he say that to me?  What did I do that made him be so mean?  I must really be a sorry excuse for a human being if he felt like yelling at me!”

But I had learned that I had a choice.

So instead of beating myself up because of something someone else did, I said, “I do not receive that.  And I forgive that guy.  And I bless him.”

Which brings me to number three.

3.)  Forgive quickly, and bless the person.

I cannot tell you how many times people have said things to me that cut me to my heart.  Things that kept me up at night.  Things that made me feel sick, that gave me a pain in my stomach, things that I remembered that made me cringe and sweat.

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But, over time, I learned that they hurt me partly because I agreed with them and because I kept asking “why?”

“Why would they do that to me?”

There is so much in that little question.  The “why” looks for a way to make the hurtful comment make sense.  But abuse never makes sense.  Trying to force sense out of abuse will wear you down.  It is an unanswerable, never-ending spiral of a question.

And asking, “why would they do that to me?” makes the whole scenario about, well, me.

And most of the time, again, what other people say is not about me.  Or you.

I also love the verse that says “from the fullness of the heart, the mouth will speak.”  Some translations say, “from the overflow of the heart.”  The verse doesn’t say “from the way everyone else acts, the mouth will speak.”  It is clear that what comes out of a person comes because it is what was already there.

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In the same way that if someone spills a drink on you, it is not your fault, neither are the words that “spill” out of a person’s mouth to be blamed on you.

In a very few cases, you might need to listen to the heart of a matter, even if the presentation was less than kind.  Especially if you hear the same thing over and over again from different people.  But, most of the time, a person’s words only reflect one thing:  the state of their own heart.

***

Occasionally,  if we are very tender, or the person is very close, or the comment strikes an insecurity we already have, we have to be more persistent.

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I have had times when I had to repeat these steps over and over and over.

But I realized that I would repeat something to myself over and over, even if I didn’t try. It could either be their words, or God’s.  I learned to choose truth.

I choose to speak over myself words of life, even if I don’t feel it.  I repeat them until I do.  Sometimes, it has taken one time.  Other times, twenty.  And some hurtful words did not leave my soul for years, but I could feel them loosening their grasp as I stood on truth.

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It gets easier the more we practice.  Speak life.  It’s better.  It works.

And, bonus:  The more you speak life over yourself, the more life you hear.  The more you hear, the more you fill your own heart with love.

And by filling your own heart with love, you become more likely to speak love to others.  It’s a win/win.  You will bless everyone around you as you bless yourself.

***

I am a child of God.

God loves me.  God loves me.  God loves me.

I forgive.  

I bless.  I bless.  I bless.

What words do you need to trade in for truth today?

The good man brings good things out of the good treasure of his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil treasure of his heart. For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.  Luke 6:45

Thanksgiving, How Sweet the Sound.

My grandmother’s love language was food.

Food, food, all kinds of food.

Biscuits and gravy.  Bacon and eggs.

Pancakes, stacked high with butter and syrup, sausage on the side, mixed and crispy-hot in the pan just before daylight.

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Home fried chicken.  Ham and beans.  Cornbread in an iron skillet.  Mashed potatoes, perfectly white, whipped to an inch of their little lives.  Homemade cinnamon rolls, homemade ice cream.  Chocolate chip cookies.  Banana splits.

My grandma made iced tea so sweet it crunched, and then she sent me out to the garden to pick little sprigs of fresh mint. She laid the green leaves gently on top, and the smell of that sweet mint tea was as fresh as the sun.  We are Southern after all.  There’s really no other way to drink it.

In the winter she made hot chocolate, and cappuccino from a tin.

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She made grilled cheese.  Macaroni and cheese.  Sandwiches with three slices of American cheese.  Cheeseball.  Pimento cheese.  Fruit and cheese.

Oh, and pepper jelly on a Triscuit.  With cream cheese.

Fresh.  Everything so fresh.  And almost all from scratch.  Pie crusts rolled out early in the morning.  Fruit picked from her own trees and sugared by her own hands.

Berry pie.  Cherry pie with whipped cream.  And apple pie with melted cheddar cheese.  The first time she handed me that delicacy, I thought someone had gotten confused.

But it was good.  Like all of it.  So good.

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And Thanksgiving?

Move the chairs out and bring in some tables.  Turn yourself sideways to make your way through the bounty, stack up your plate, and don’t be shy, honey, come back for more.

On Thanksgiving, my grandmother cooked for days around her teaching job.   Deviled eggs could be done early. The pies too, they could be done ahead.  Salads, chopped the day before and tossed in the morning.

She still made jello molds, maybe the only thing she made I didn’t love, but they were pretty and somewhat gravity defying, and what kid isn’t entertained by carrots jiggling in gelatin?

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My grandmother was a schoolteacher and a children’s librarian.   Besides cooking, she dressed in costumes on the holidays.

On Christmas, she was Mrs. Claus, Santa hat, red sweater, matching skirt, and a huge black belt with a shiny gold buckle.

And on Thanksgiving, she alternated years, one year a Cherokee maiden with construction paper feathers in her hair.

And, other years, a pilgrim in black and white, complete with a little collar and funny hat, flaps around her ears.

And she did it all while caring for my grandfather, wheelchair-bound from polio.  My grandmother sold everything she had after he came home from the hospital, and she went to school to become a teacher.

She was loyal to him until he died in his fifties, and she never remarried.  She still wears her wedding band, even though I’m not sure she remembers why.

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She doesn’t know us anymore, and she gets upset if she forgets where she is.

But her love language is still food.  She got afraid at my house the other day, and I said, “Grandma, do you want a cookie?”  She nodded.

I gave her two cookies.  “One for each hand,” I said, like I do for my kids.

She smiled and took a big crumbly bite.

It wasn’t until I had my own kids and tried cooking for a family, day in and day out, that I realized what a gift she gave us.

After I had stayed home for ten years, I realized that I had prepared over 10,000 meals, many of them spit out and proclaimed “disgusting” by children who had just been eating dog food.

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I know they did.  Dirt, too.  I saw it with my own eyes.

Even so, I baked and meal-planned and hunted recipes to delight them.

One time as a young mom, I tried to make beans.

I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to make the whole bag at once.  When the water boiled, I happily watched the beans soften and swell.

Until I realized they were swelling right out of the pot.

I called my grandmother.

“What do I do?”  I asked her.

She laughed so hard.  Couldn’t even talk.

“Grandma, stop laughing,” I said, “they are seriously coming out the top!  What do I do?”

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“Just get another pot, honey,” she gasped.  “Start spooning them in to something else on another burner, add more water.”

“Ok, Grandma,” I said.  Her laughing made me laugh.  I spooned some in another pot.

The beans kept swelling over the top.

I called her back.  “Grandma, I think I should just throw it away.  There’s too much, it’s still overflowing.  I give up.”

She thought this was hysterical.

“No, honey,” she said.  “Don’t you have four burners?   Just keep adding pots, keep spooning it out.  You can fix this.”

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It was a vote of confidence from a woman who knew her food.  I did fix it, on the phone with her, laughing and spooning and babysitting beans.

She kept asking, “What does it look like now?”  and laughing.

I wish I’d had a cell phone back then.  I would have texted her a picture of the four bean volcanos erupting on my stovetop.

I think she got the idea.

It’s a little memory.

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But I’m so thankful for it.

The food is a small thing too in a way, but in another, it’s the soundtrack of my childhood as much as any music.

A soundtrack of flavor and love poured out and laid before me by a servant of God and family who lived to bring us comfort.

My grandmother worked hard in her gardens and at school to provide the food for a big family she fed all the time.

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And then, unless you’ve planned meals like she did, and gotten up at all hours of the day and night to make sure it came out right, and tended to every little bite like it mattered, it’s hard to explain the time and the effort, the cuts and the burns and the sweat and the tired arms over a hot steamy stove.

I remember conversations at these meals.

Conversations that often ended up with someone raising their voice and walking away mad, and the awkward silence that followed.

And I remember my grandmother leaving the angry adults and swooping us all up in her arms.  She had holiday books that she read in the most soothing, sweet voice, a voice and a cadence made to order for children’s stories.

I’m sure the conversations mattered to her, but her babies mattered more.

She had worked hard to make a beautiful meal and space for gathering.  She was not about to let them ruin it for her or for us.

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She was a woman who never stopped smiling.

I’m amazed by her restraint, and inspired by the way she always chose love.

I want to give that same gift to my kids and my family.

I’m planning what I’m cooking this year.

My kids have never seen a jello mold.  This may be the year that changes.  That jiggly delight just might find itself a place on my table.  Some old things are worth resurrecting.

And I’m planning what I’ll say.

“Hey kids, want to read a story?”

And.  My sister has this hilarious game.  Telephone pictionary.  Great for a crowd.  Directions here.  Might play that, too.

There’s a time and a place for everything, it’s true.

But Thanksgiving is about making a joyful noise, not an angry or fearful one.  And about making memories that will still be sweet for a long, long time.

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I’m praying for love, words of love, sweeter than honey, and more savory than turkey, and sweeter than music, to grace your lips, your ears and all your gatherings.

Pleasant words are a honeycomb, Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.  Prov16:24

Goodbye, Fear. Hello, Love.