Why Vault 7 is the Most Sherlock Thing to Ever Happen in Real Life

Just so you know, I get that this is serious.

But honestly, it’s also a rush.  After so much opinion and spin in the news, the transparency from WikiLeaks is somehow, at the same time, both terrifying and reassuring.

Whatever happens, whatever the debate, there is no doubt that these are exciting times.

And more than anything, I appreciate WikiLeaks for being one of the few places in our modern media that isn’t talking down to us.  Kind of like Sherlock.  Julian Assange is a Sherlock fan, I’d bet my pipe on it.

Love, hate, or just don’t care about WikiLeaks and the CIA, this is the work of brilliant men, criminal masterminds, heroes, & villains.  And there is a lot of debate about which one is which.

If you haven’t been following the recent (practically nonexistent in the MSM) news about Vault 7, here’s the short version.  This story is the most Sherlock thing I have ever heard in real life.

In February, Julian Assange, founder of the controversial Wikileaks organization, announced the release of new information coming on March 7, 2017.

Some have said that Vault7 got its name from the release date, but I’m sure there’s more to it than that.  Assange loves to speak in clues and riddles.

Assange went dark in October of 2016, not long after the release of the now infamous Hilary emails.  He was presumed dead by some followers, after all, how many high profile people must desperately want to see this man put out of business?  However, Assange has made allusions to a “kill switch” on WikiLeaks.  In other words, he has suggested that there exists an understanding between unknown members of the Assange network, so, were anything to happen to Assange, incriminating files on some world leaders would be released.

This is strange to us who live in a 9-5, bread-and-butter world.  But, to the players of chess in politics and leadership, this is business as usual.  It’s just that, now, it’s finally in the open where we can all see it playing out, thanks to the transparency provided by Wikileaks.

Back to Vault 7.

On March 7, Wikileaks tweeted this encrypted image.

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 7.25.40 AM

And the next morning, the password to decrypt it, “SplinterIntoAThousandPiecesAndScatterIntoTheWind.”

Like all things WikiLeaks, the password has more than surface meaning.  It is an excerpt from a larger quote by JFK referencing the need to dismantle the CIA, which he believed was gaining and abusing power.

That was in the 1960s.

Decrypting the photograph then revealed an image of a piece of artwork covered in phrases in many different languages.  Link to more images and details about clues here at heavy.com.

If the riddle interests you as much as it does me, you can read about it at the link above.

One image after another, hinting at the contents of the Vault 7 release.  A seed vault.  A mailbox.  A jet engine hush house.  Nazi gold.

Now we know that the documents in Vault 7 contain a volume of evidence showing that the CIA has been hacking government and private citizens all over the world.

Some were disappointed that this information was the subject of the anticipated release.

In the current climate, many people consider some measure of surveillance to be expected.  It has been normalized through years of seeing ourselves on recorded video–in stores, elevators, our own phones and devices, etc.

We have been conditioned over time to accept a scenario that was regarded as sinister and unlikely in the famous novel, 1984.

But it appears that there is more evidence in Vault 7 beyond what has become ignored and dismissed as garden variety surveillance.  Evidence that the CIA has overstepped in ways that would trouble even the most jaded and overexposed.

It remains to be seen.  I’m watching for the big reveals.

But it’s clear, if it wasn’t before, that we are in a war.  Whether it feels like it or not.  An information war.  A war that is being fought on the internet, in the media, in entertainment, and technology.

Amid all the noise, Wikileaks’ strategic moves are quietly epic.

The response will, no doubt, be the same.

***

The greatest battles are fought in the mind.  ~Casey Treat

And you will be hearing of wars and rumors of wars; see that you are not frightened, for those things must take place, but that is not yet the end.  Mt24:6

Sometimes I Sit Down in the Middle of a Mess and Play Webkinz for an Hour.

Shocking, I know.

I don’t know how.  It just happens.

Two weeks ago, my kids and I drove to Boston to stay with my husband while he works in the area.

We have a great hotel.  I’m blessed.  I love it.  I get to be on vacation while I’m doing life.  It can be hectic traveling so much, but, most of the time, it’s fun.

But Saturday was one of those days that was not fun.  A sprinkler head for the fire system started a slow leak in our hotel bathroom on Friday night.  We put a towel down and watched it to make sure it was the sprinkler and not some child spraying water everywhere.  By Saturday morning, it was obvious.  Sprinkler.  Definitely.  Leaking.

I let the hotel know, and an army of maintenance men showed up at my door.

They wanted us to change rooms.  Just in case they triggered the whole system and made it rain inside.

Ok.  Good.  I don’t want to be in here if it rains.  I don’t want my stuff ruined, and it’s super cold.  Let’s move.  Whee.

Down the hall, a few doors over.  We just got all our belongings wedged in to this room, but so what.  No problem.  Easy.

But then I got down there, and the room looked different.  Everything was dirty.  There were holes in the walls and in the ceiling .  And then I found a piece of surgical tape stuck to the kitchen counter.

I peeled that tape off the counter and stared at it sticking to my finger.

A little tear started to creep out.

I took the tape to the hotel desk.  They were horrified and sent maids and the maintenance guys to our new room.  They had the holes fixed in five minutes.  And the housekeepers did a walk through, but after what I had seen, I didn’t think I could rest until i sprayed the whole thing down with bleach.

I called my husband.  “I need bleach.  And sponges.  Stat.”

He delivered them, said I was awesome, and went back to work.

I looked around at the piles and the dirt and the clothes everywhere.  My youngest was having a meltdown.  She is my type A kid, everything in little rows and neatly labeled.  She was looking for a nail file and couldn’t find one.

“Oh, no, it’s going to be like THIS,” she said.

I bleached the fridge so I could put away food.  Bleached the kitchen floor and the countertops and all the chairs.  Then I sat down with a glass of water and told the kids to bring me my laptop.

Once in a while, I have an urge to play a game called “Pizza Palace” on Webkinz.  Usually at the worst possible time, right in the middle of some domestic disaster that I should be casting out like a demonic plague.

Usually, right about then, I want to play Pizza Palace.

The kids stood around laughing.  They were amazed by me and my mad pizza making skillz.  And a little bewildered.  “Mom?  Do you want us to put away our clothes?”

“Um, yeah.  Whatever.  I don’t care right now.  I’m busy.  Don’t talk to me.  I’m on level 8, and it’s getting hectic.  These penguins are the worst.”

I made my oldest daughter get off her math website.  She was slowing down the internet.

I told them to get out their tablets.  Bewilderment became shock and disbelief.  I never tell them to get their tablets.  I’m always the one taking them away.

We sat around a freshly bleached counter with our gadgets and gamed.  Surrounded by a mountainous mess.

And we laughed.

I cleaned up the mess later.  Bleached the whole room top to bottom and put everything away.

I love what Ginny Wilcox said to me recently, “Children know how to play.”

And we are God’s children.  We get to play.  Yes, we need to work hard and do our best, and that mess had to be cleaned up.

But, anytime I rest, it is a confession of trust and faith that things will work out without me killing myself to get them done.  And if I’m hitting my limit, I need to stop a minute.  I need to play Pizza Palace.

I need to laugh, and put my feet up, and recharge.

Sometimes it’s ok to play.  Right in the middle of a mess.

***

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”  Neh8:10

Why Milo is Rising and Why You Should Care 

Berkeley burning.

I saw the images, and I was stunned.

I had already dismissed Milo Yiannopoulos, without ever hearing him speak, as an absolute show-off with fabulous hair.  But when Berkeley decided to burn itself down over his visit in January, I had to know what he was saying that was so terrible and incendiary.

I took a crash course in Milo over the next week. If you aren’t familiar with him, Milo is a gay Jewish Catholic British Greek journalist in the U.S. and the U.K.  Read that again if you need to.  I’ll say up front that he is R-rated, and I don’t agree with everything he says.  But, that much, I expected.

What did surprise me was how much of what he said, getting past the bear-baiting and f-bombs, that I did agree with.

I listened to Milo talk about the war on boys in public school.  A personal issue for me since taking my son out of a school that was humiliating him, lying to me, and certain to insist on medication as the path to his success.

I listened to Milo talk about the bullying tactics of third-wave feminism and the importance of truly giving women choices, also a personal issue for me since leaving an academic path to stay home with my kids.  When I had my first child, the academics I knew were visibly disappointed, and I knew the things that would be said behind my back.  A woman that had made the same choice before me had been called “a waste” and her choice “a shame.”  Older women that I knew called me during my baby’s first year and told me over and over, “You know you can go back to work now.  It’s time for you to go back.”  I didn’t want to go back.  I thought feminism was about giving women a choice?

I listened to Milo talk about women proudly videotaping abortions, his support of the Catholic church, his concern for the cultural confusion around the problems of radical Islam.  He was laughed at, screamed at, even assaulted onstage.

And I found myself cheering him on.

For standing up for stay-at-home moms?  For families feeling the pressure to medicate their otherwise healthy boys? For Christians and their right to free speech?

Yes.  I’m cheering him on.

I saw a post on social media saying, “shame on Milo.”  Many headlines emerged after the fires at Berkeley, incidentally, the place, should anyone forget, that birthed the concept of the peaceful protest.

Headlines that read, “Milo Incites Outbreak of Violence at University.”

Last time I checked, we still have a constitutional amendment that guarantees a person’s right to say what they think.  It’s called free speech.  And burning buildings is still against the law.  It’s called arson.

And yet, people are afraid to say much of what Milo is saying, even if they think it.  And as Milo is escorted out of Berkeley for a very real threat to his life, and police stand and do nothing, it starts to look like their fears are founded, that there is indeed a very real war on free speech in our country.

You should care about Milo, because if his right to free speech is threatened, censored, or reframed in the media, your free speech can be, too.

Let me repeat:  Protestors throw fire into a publicly funded building and the main media headline is “Milo Incites Violence at Berkeley”?

Here’s the thing:  Milo never spoke that night.

He didn’t get a chance.  Rather than shut down the violence, police let it rage, and Milo was taken off of the campus.

You should care about Milo, because if his right to free speech is threatened, censored, or reframed in the media, your free speech can be, too.

I hesitated to do this blog. Considered keeping my own mouth shut on this topic. Google is censoring Milo’s name, so anything containing it is damaged in SEO. But one great thing about being small is that you don’t have much to lose.

And this is Lady the Fearless.  I can’t be quiet for fear of speaking up.

True freedom is always associated with free speech. I’m for freedom.  I’ll support free speech whether I agree with all of it or not.  And I’m not running to a safe space if I feel challenged. I am an adult.  I do not need play dough to recover from hearing someone else’s opinion.  And I don’t plan on starting a fire if someone says something shocking.  Call me crazy.  I just don’t think play dough and fire are the right avenues for me.

But I do feel suddenly like raising my voice in a new way. It feels weird. All fluid and like I scare myself a little. Like I might say anything.

It feels like freedom.

***

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  2Cor3:17

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.

running-1329470_640

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.

softball-1565699_640

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.

wicker-fence-1319080_640

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.

cow-1549747_640

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.

softball-1534446_1280

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 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.

fence-454558_640

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.

daisy-424893_640

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.

wave-384385_640

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.

fishing-boat-166532_640

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.

sea-1264120_640

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.

write-593333_640

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.”

boat-1177901_640

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.

rope-1314964_640

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.”

solitary-figure-615160_640

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.

ocean-918999_640

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.

sea-241665_640

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.

rainbow-569864_640

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.

hedgehog-468229_640

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.

cat-1814315_640

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.

hefekranz-99984_640

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.

birthday-947438_640

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.

candle-322510_640

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.

christmas-decoration-1886233_640

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.

sky-690293_640

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.

hanukkah-1934637_640

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.

ch4avmdbr4q-sylwia-bartyzel

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.

setting-947134_640

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.

law-1063249_640

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.

person-947709_640

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.

eye-211610_640

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.

pregnant-woman-1866000_640

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.

lion-588144_640

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.

astronomy-1867616_640

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.

paper-933661_640

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.

u6fdue2x11g-roberto-nickson

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.

heart-1693304_640

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

Goodbye, Fear. Hello, Love.