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The Deliverer…

As I pondered December 1st, being the start to the holiday season; my thoughts went to what it must have been like those 2,000+ years ago when the birth of Jesus was approaching. I reflected on how the Bible says the Jewish people were under tremendous oppression by Roman rule. The Roman government was so domineering that the people cried out to God to send a “Deliverer”.

A “Deliverer” had been foretold of hundreds of years earlier, however, none had come. The Jewish people experienced great poverty and persecution at the hands of the Romans; leading to revolt. The years of brutality had made the Jewish people hard hearted, stubborn, and cruel in return. On this December eve they waited for a Deliverer to rescue them from misery and conquer their oppressors.

Today, if you think about our country, the world at large and the human condition, we are in a very similar situation: one of oppression, (particularly for Christian values and beliefs,) one of rebellion, one of cruelty: selfishness, anger, impatience. We lose our temper and our manners at the first sign of inconvenience. We jump to conclusions without having the full story, we retreat within; living in fear, we protect, we debate…we rebel.

We have become so narcissistic that there is no time, patience, or energy left to be kind. We are so busy caught up in our personal struggles that we don’t have the wherewithal to put others ahead of our own “suffering”, or detour long enough to make a difference in someone else’s life.

And can you blame us? We are exhausted and beat-down every day – socially, professionally, financially, physically, emotionally. We are doing everything we can to keep our head above water. There is scarcely a person that if they could be truly transparent, that would not admit to the intense struggles in their lives, and the overwhelmed feelings they experience just trying to survive. With so much adversity we become withdrawn and introspective, lacking desire or ambition to care about others, especially outside our realm of convenience or obligation. We isolate … all the while our hearts cry is to be “delivered”.

This thought made me sad… But then it occurred to me, “what if while we’re waiting for the return of the “Deliverer”, we are to be “deliverers” ourselves. What if until Christ returns, as He said he would, we are to help “deliver” our “neighbor”.

When Jesus appeared on the scene those 2000+ years ago, he was the “Deliverer” the Jews had been waiting for, but his message was not one of political power, strong-arming, or war. His message was one of “love your neighbor as yourself”. He told them to “be the light to the world”. They were to help orphans, widows, and the beaten-down, to love their fellow man, including those they disagreed with – to be a “deliverer”.

So maybe while we are waiting on Jesus’ return, our ultimate” Deliverer”, we too could to make room in our lives to be Christs intercessor helping to “deliver” people. Be their friend in times of despair, show them kindness, mercy, forgiveness, helping to deliver them from the pit of their fears and struggles, ultimately showing them the love of Christ.

Jesus is returning one day and He will deliver mankind for all eternity once and for all, this is for certain. But, until that time – possibly we could be the hands, the feet, the voice, and the heart of one reaching out on behalf of the eternal “Deliverer”.

I hope you have a very merry holiday season and that you find peace in the “Deliverer”.

Deliverer

http://www.thecrystalheart.org/

I wrote this blog in 2011, however after reading it again for the first time in many years I realize it is even more relevant for today and our “cultural climate”.

The truth about fears, distractions and focus… Memoirs of fright fest. 

During these tumultuous  times we live there are so many distractions coupled with fear to not only hold us back, but to sometimes even completely derail us. How many times recently have you heard some outlandish claim, unreasonable suggestion or degrading and insulting comment that made you stop dead in your tracks and wonder “what is going on, how does this effect me?, how bad is this going to get? , and how am I to respond.”. If you’re like me, the news, social media, community, country, world, and my own family struggles all play a huge part in the undoing of Janie. I loose my focus as fear of the unknown, fear of retribution, fear of personal loss,and fear of all the “what if’s” of life become distractions. I lose my focus as I allow the distractions of the “world” to get the best of me – . But, one pre-halloween evening I had an experience that changed my view of fear, distractions, and focus forever.

A few years ago I worked for a company that had an office in Los Angeles, CA where I often had to travel to meet with my boss and other team members. On this occasion I had traveled to LA only to have our meetings cut short, and as my co-workers lived in the area, I found myself alone in my hotel room at 4:00 PM that afternoon with nothing to do. It was close to Halloween and my hotel was just a few miles from Knotts Berry Farm where I had gone several times when I was younger, but hadn’t been back in over 15 years.  How I loved going there for the amusement rides, see the shows, and dine on Mrs. Knotts famous chicken dinner.

From the moment I had arrived in LA I had seen signs about Knotts Berry Farm and had thought I’d love to go back if I had the chance. But to do this alone, heavens no. That would be scary. And as I observed the advertisements more closely I realized that this friendly amusement park had been transformed into a place of horror as they celebrated Fright Fest! I had heard about the popularity of Fright Fest and seen it on TV as one of the top 10 most frightening places to go for Halloween. I quickly determined that was not something I was interested in going to and especially alone.

As I sat in my hotel room wondering what I would do for the rest of the evening, I had a crazy thought run through my head. The kind you get when you know God is prompting you to act… It said “you need to go to Fright Fest.” What?, I argued, and quickly began to list all the cons of going. Con – I’m not terribly familiar with the rental car I was using. Con – could be dangerous driving in the dark. Con – I have to drive to Knotts Berry Farm with no GPS and try to find my way in uncharted territory. Con – Parking at those amusement parks are a “nightmare.” Con – I’d have to walk through a dark parking lot alone and Ted (my husband) has always warned me not to do that. Con – I’ll have to go through haunted houses with out someone to hold my hand and when I scream there will be no one to console me. The cons staked up. The voice persisted and I decided to list the pros. Pro – I like Mrs’ Knotts Chicken. Pro – I could just relax in Mrs. Knotts Restaurant. Pro – I needed to eat anyway. That was about it for the pros’ of going to Fright Fest. The cons definitely outweighed the pros. But no matter how hard I tried to get it out of my mind, the voice persisted “try it, I will be with you.”

So after much deliberation (I think it was more like arguing with myself and God,) I reluctantly caved, but,with the full intent of only going to the restaurant to get Mrs’. Knotts famous fried chicken dinner.

One of my cons was immediately realized when I got lost driving to Knotts Berry Farm even though there were signs everywhere. How I kept making wrong turns I’ll never know. But eventually one of the wrong turns landed me in a parking lot that was right at the front entry way to the amusement park. All the other signs around the vicinity had been directing the onslaught of cars to parking lots on the outskirts which would have meant a 4 block walk to the entrance. That was one con turned pro! Next, the parking lot was packed and there was a huge line of cars waiting for the parking attendant to usher them to a spot. I could see it now, I would be at the back of the lot. Ted was not going to be happy to hear that I had to walk by myself in a dark parking lot. But as my turn came for the parking attendant to show me the way, they opened a parking lot that was completely empty right at the front. Another con turned pro! As I parked my car and made my way way through the lot there were hundreds of people strolling in so I saddled up beside them for the jaunt to the park entrance, hence turning a third con into a pro! This was already turning out to be a positive experience and I hadn’t even approached the entrance.

When I got close to the entrance my plan was to make a beeline for Mrs. Knotts restaurant which had an entry on the outside of the amusement park. I wouldn’t even have to go inside! But when I got to the restaurant they were closing for dinner and said there was another restaurant inside the park that served the same food. Darn, I was going to have to go inside after all.

As I approached the entrance I could see on the outside ghoulish creatures, disturbing Halloween animated scenes, and hear screams and screeching from within. I thought about turning around and going back to the hotel. (I liked room service anyway.) But I had that really good parking spot and my mouth was watering for Mrs Knotts famous fried chicken dinner. So I decided to venture inside the haunted park with a mission to find the restaurant.

When I got inside it was a confusing mess of people, frightening scenes, screaming and howling and evil laughing. The park was huge and when I asked for help to the restaurant someone shoved a park map in my hand and said this should help and circled the restaurant. Then turned to help the next person.

I was on my own in this huge disarray of mayhem. What else was I too do. Too late turn back now plus it cost me $30.00 bucks to get in. So, I set out thinking I’d find the “chicken” and ignore everything else along the way. I would laugh in the face of danger and heckle at the creatures that tried to scare me. But as I rounded the first corner the fog was so intense I couldn’t see anything  more than about 2 feet in front, and as the first zombie on a skate board flew past me as if he would run me over and bellowed his haunting taunt, all my bravery went out the door. I screamed and ran. Ran right into a group of teenagers that laughed at me not at the zombie. I felt silly and really out of place as I followed them for a while pretending to be part of their group so the villains would leave me alone. I thought there would be safety in numbers. Every once in a while the teenagers would hear me scream and look back as if to say who is the weirdo following us. I would quickly stop and pretend to be looking the other way at some oddity in an attempt to divert their attention. I was afraid they’d ask me to quit following them, and the last thing I wanted was to be on my own. I ventured a few more minutes with this group but eventually got separated from them in the fog (I think they intentionally lost me.)

There was no end to the creepy characters and haunting scenes as I continued to run into more ghouls, ghosts and vampires at every turn. Everyone was screaming as we made our way through the park.

I finally found the restaurant, which appeared to be in “Never Never Land”” from the amount of time it took me to get to it. And none too soon as I was just about ready to be attacked by a whole group of mummies, when I quickly darted in the restaurant door and said “one please!” completely out of breath. I think the mummies could see I was easy prey. They actually looked disappointed when I turned around as if to say to them, I’m safe now. You can’t get me in here. (I did some of my own heckling when I was in safety.)

Once at my table I could still hear the sounds of terror in the streets but I was safe. I boldly called my family and told them where I was, bragging about how brave I had been and making them jealous that they were not with me to indulge in the chicken dinner.

As I finished my meal I began to get a little nervous about the prospect of having to make my way back through this creepy venue to the entrance so I could get to my car and back to the safety of my hotel.  I decided to order dessert to prolong the inevitable. I eventually got to full to eat anymore and figured I’d better move along, as it continued to get darker and the screaming persisted. I paid the bill and as I was leaving the hostess said “enjoy the festivities”. Yeah right…I was going home! I pulled out my trusty map and started back to the entrance. But,somewhere along the way I made several wrong turns and when the fog lifted a bit I realized I was standing in a line for a haunted house.

At Fright Fest the big draw is that they convert their traditional rides and shows into haunted houses and mazes. The houses of horror are abundant, and each one of them are a different theme. One is a clown haunted house (clowns are scary), one is a meat factory, one is a baby Chucky type theme, and they go on and on. There are probably 20+ different themed haunted house opportunities, even the wild west show was turned into the walking dead show.

There I was in the line for the “fun house” haunted maze. I did some positive self talk ,”Janie stop being such a baby” and “your already here how bad can a fun house be”, and “the boys (our sons) would certainly be making fun of you if they could see you now after all the bragging you did moments ago in the safety of the restaurant”. My self talk was convincing, so I stayed in line.

The lines were about a half hour long so you get to know the people in front and behind you rather well. And everyone said the same thing, your alone? They thought I was crazy and so did I! We walked slowly through the line that seamed more like we were going to pay penance rather than have fun. As I got closer to the entrance of the haunted house the screams from within got louder and louder. I braced myself for something absolutely horrifying and thought I hope I don’t faint cuz I did when I was a kid at the Radio Station haunted house in our neighborhood and my dad had to carry me out the back door. There was no one here to carry me out.

It was finally my turn to go through the turnstile and once you do there is no turning back. I saw several people chicken out at the last minute, which actually crossed my mind several times. But I had come this far I was going to brave it…alone.

Haunted houses always start out with ghoulish creatures welcoming and pleading for you to come in, your the guest of honor, come see what I have in store for you…blah, blah, blah. They typically then bring you into a room of headless people, villains, torture scenes, and several creatures that look like mannequins who ultimately come to life as they jump out at you to get the element of surprise going and fear juices flowing. You then wander into a strobe light room, where you become completely disoriented and more monsters jump out at you. You also notice the faces of people you are sure were standing in line with you who are now on the chopping block (literally) or hanging from some spike on the wall. After passing through a hall of black plastic tarps you then proceed to a graveyard of sorts with RIP on the tombstones, or here lies so and so, and ghosts ascending from the graves. Lastly some witch beckons you to “come back again. We’ll have you for dinner.” And you walk out completely horrified.

As I write these attributes of a haunted house they sound rather silly, but when you are there, in the heat of the moment, there is nothing silly about it. And, if the staged ghoulish sounds are not bad enough – the screaming and crying from the other haunted house goers is sure to complete the fear package.

The first haunted house I went through was a nightmare. I had never seen such theatrics and well planned horror scenes in my life. (What did I expect I was in LA.) There was nothing fun about the fun house, and it included some pretty scary clowns. I was screaming so loud and was so upset by the time I got out my blood pressure was racing and fear was written all over my face. I was breathless. What had I just done? I told myself -“ Janie, you are the one who has terrible nightmares watching some cheesy 1940 Bella Lugosi vampire movie and now these graphic scenes, you’ll never sleep tonight. I was very upset. I had succumbed to every theatric and trick the people running the haunted house had sent my way. The screams and sound of taunting, howling and tempting were the worst. And I decided I’d had enough.

However, as I walked a few more feet there was another haunted house and that voice inside me said, “try it again.” Really…??

So there I was back in another half hour line trying to get my courage up to endure the meat factory maze. As I stood in line I could hear the taunting and screams coming from within and I was dreading my turn to go through the turnstile. Suddenly in the midst of the terror, as if all the screaming and voices had been somehow  blocked from my hearing, I heard that little voice once again, “Janie, pay no attention to the screams. Pay no attention to the taunting and temptations. Keep your eyes forward. Do not look to where the screams are coming from or from who they come from, just stay the course, with the goal of looking ahead and getting through the haunted maze.” The sounds of terror returned and I realized I had just heard from God as to how I was to get through this haunting experience. Pay no attention to the screams he said. Pay no attention to the fear you see around you. It is not real. It is only there to try and trip you up, to scare you, to keep you from moving forward.

As I stood there in awe of the message I had just received, a dad and his children were ahead of me in line and the dad said, “Are you alone? You can walk through the haunted house with us.”

When we went through the turnstile I grabbed hold of the hand of one of the kids and off we went. This haunted house was more graphic and twisted than the last, and my first inclination was oh no here I am again and wanted to let out a scream. But then I remembered…”pay no attention to the screams.” So I blocked them out. When they screamed I looked beyond the scream. I did not look from where it was coming. I stayed on course. I did not get lured into chambers of horror, I went through focused on the goal, coming out the other side with my blood pressure down and not being afraid. The little boy I was holding hands with got scared a few times and each time I would say, “Sweetheart, pay no attention to the screams”, and he would settle down. When we made it out the other side, the family asked if I wanted to continue going through other haunted houses with them but I declined. I had found a new way to get through the haunted houses without fear and unscathed.

That night I preceded to go through 9 different haunted houses and mazes, mostly alone, and each time remembering to pay no attention to the screams, keep focused on the goal. I eventually got to a point where I could actually go through the haunting with a smile on my face and enjoying the innovation and ingenuity that had gone into each scene.

As I made my way back to the car that night, totally exhausted, I was filled with joy as I had discovered a new life lesson…Pay no attention to the screams of life, the things that seem scary, the people that taunt you, and the situations around you that appear overwhelming and impossible. The Lord showed me to keep my focus on the goal that is ahead. And, with God as my focus, all things are possible through Christ to strengthen to me. 

As you go through the “haunted houses” of your life, they will all look different with a little different that distraction technique, look and feel. Scenes will come and go, situations change and can become distractions that are seemingly insurmountable, overwhelming, and potentially fearful. You will hear screaming and fear will attempt to set in. Just remember the screams cannot harm you. They are fake. Put your trust in God, focus on the goal – glorifying HIM in all that you do, and pay no attention to the screams!

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Advent is the anticipation and preparation for the arrival of a noble person. At Christmas it means the coming of Jesus. It is God interjecting himself on earth, taking on human form as a baby, born of a virgin, in a little town called Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago.

Why did He do it? Why did Jesus, the son God, leave his home in heaven to be with us? Why all the fuss, why all the carrying on? Why all the ruckus about a little baby, a manger, and a stable?

I wish I had an answer that would give you that “ah haw” moment when the light goes on and you say “oh, that makes perfect sense!” If I could do that for you I would, because you see, I believe in the Lord, with all my heart and in His purposes, however, my devotion to Him is not because I understand Him, it is because I don’t need to…I just need to accept Him and His love. Everything else falls into place after that.

Here is the best I can do…

The Bible says, and I believe it; that when God created men and women He did it so He could have someone to pour His love into. I want you to think about that for a moment… those of you who are parents know what it is like to have a child and pour your love into them. Well, that is precisely what God wanted.

Is it so hard for us to imagine a being like God, who can do and have all He wants, and yet would create something He wanted more than anything …someone to love…? And God’s love is unconditional. We, don’t have to do anything to get and keep it…it just is. As parents we love our children unconditionally too, don’t we…? Can you imagine anything they could ever do that would stop you from loving them?

God wants the same things with us as we do with our children.

So When God made men and women He gave them everything their hearts desired. That was in the Garden of Eden. But just as when our children get everything they want, they can become selfish with a bit of an entitlement attitude… so it was with man and woman.

What happens when our children get that way? Oh we tolerate it a moment, and then when they persist, we administer some type of punishment in order to restore them to their sweet selves. Well that is what happened with God. Men and women had everything they wanted and became a little spoiled. They acted out by taking the fruit from the tree that God, their father, had told them not to take. And just as when our children disobey, there were consequences.

Man and woman were removed from the garden.

As parents sometimes our children misbehave to the point that we too have to remove them from a situation so they can have an attitude adjustment. That is precisely what God did. He made man and woman leave the garden of their hearts desire to give them the right perspective.

Now God, because He is who He is, knows everything man and woman were going to do before He even created them. He knew there would be wonderful times of fun and joy; He also knew there would be difficult times. But, the joy of having man and woman to love was worth the pain of the difficult times.
Likewise, who of us as parents, when we had kids, thought they would be perfect? We knew there would be times when we would be disappointed and even have to punish our children, but the love and joy they bring would be worth the tradeoff.

After man and woman left the Garden of Eden, God continued to be with them and love them, but things were a little different. Instead of God providing everything for them, man and woman had to work to provide for their own needs and desires. This is very similar to our children when they are grown. They aren’t going to live in our house forever. At the age of 18 or shortly after they venture out on their own and establish their grown-up roots. We raise them to do this and to be able to provide for themselves. God has done the same with us.

(Now we know when our kids grow up and leave the nest that they are going to struggle, but we also realize this is for their good. They need the struggle in order to grow in character and strength. Within the confines of our home they can grow to a point, but at some juncture it is time they go out on their own. That doesn’t mean we aren’t still actively involved in their lives, but they are now making their own decisions. This is how God is with us. We are making our own decisions, we are leading, we are working, we are taking care of the world, and God is there like a parent helping us along the way.)

But God’s original plan for man and women, which was to care for their every need and desire – never changed. He still wanted to one day restore us to the beautiful state we were in, in the Garden of Eden.

But men and women didn’t change. Like a naughty child who continues in their rebellious attitude, so did man and woman continue to be self-absorbed. God knew the punishment required, due to the consequences of man and women’s actions, was more than man and women could take. Even though they were the ones who were on the naughty list, God knew He would one day take their punishment for them.

And that is what He did when 33 years after His birth, he died on the cross. God’s plan all along was to eventually take the punishment we deserve so we wouldn’t have to. He realized we could not endure it, nor did He want us to endure it. He didn’t want us to get what we had coming because He loves us. So Jesus was punished in our place.

God also knew that if He took the punishment, not only would He be able to endure it, but He would rise again, and not only that but He, unlike children, would not be tempted to do any of the bad things we do. And, when He refrained, no more punishment would be needed, because man and women would be covered with forgiveness – because…He had already paid the price, He took the punishment in our place.

And that is why Advent is so important, because you see for the last 24 days we have been getting ready for the Noble One’s birth who would take the sins of the world onto Himself.

Oh how wonderful the day when as a child I had done something wrong and was in big trouble, that I did not get what I deserved. My mom’s classic line was “Wait until your father comes home!” I knew what that meant… big punishment. But on occasion, when dad came home…instead of disciplining me, he acknowledged what I had done and then forgave me. No spanking? No time-out? WONDERFUL!! Do you think I received his “gift” of forgiveness? Or do you think I chose the alternative? Of course not…I chose to be forgiven. And then you know what happened? It made me want to go on and be better.

Today as we begin gathering with our families and friends to celebrate Christmas on the Eve of Christ’s birth, I want to remember that the advent of Jesus is all part in the divine plan of a God whose only desire is to love us. He has taken care of everything…all I need to do is accept His love… and take His gift of forgiveness. It is the reason for the season!

‘Hark the herald angels sing…glory to the new born king. Peace on earth and mercy mild…God and “sinners” reconciled.’

Ted and I can be miles apart when it comes to how we each think some things should be for Christmas, (and life in general). I must say that some of the most stressful times of the season can be those spent with my husband, working on compromises.

For instance, we have very different ideas regarding gifts for others. Ted thinks we should narrow it down to a few select people to include our kids, grandkids, and parents. I on the other hand want to buy for everyone on Ted’s list but also include close friends and family as well as the occasional hostess gift for parties we attend.
I typically end up getting my way and we buy for everyone.

And I can’t just buy one gift per person, I have to also include some little do-dad or accessory that goes with the main gift. This in Ted’s mind is not necessary. To me, not including the do-dad is like getting dressed without putting on my earrings…my outfit is just not complete. Ted on the other hand feels “getting dressed” is enough…people can get their own earrings.
I end up buying what I want and every present has an accent gift.

We also don’t agree on the dollar amount we should spend. This is no surprise given I have a lot more people on my Christmas gift list than he does. This has led to more than one fight while standing with the big shopping cart at Costco in the aisle way, blocking others way while we hash things out.
I typically end up getting my way… I spend a little more than he wants me to, but in the end he is happy when he sees how delighted everyone is with their gifts.

We also differ on the Christmas menu. I like to provide a nice variety of food and snack choices for our guests at various events. Ted on the other hand, thinks we should have meat and potatoes and apple pie, and lots of all 3.
Our menu end up being a variety, but I make sure Ted gets his meat, potatoes and apple pie, even though he is the only one that eats the pie.

Our Christmas tree is also an area we disagree on…Ted wants a flocked tree and I want a green tree.
We have been married for 33 years, and for 30 of those we have had a flocked tree.

When it comes to Christmas cookies I love a variety of delicious cookies. When I ask Ted what he’d like me to make, he always say the same thing “just chocolate chip.”
Chocolate chip? That is so boring. So I make my variety of cookies anyway and he eats them.

I want to send a small amount of Christmas cards because they are a lot of work. Ted wants me to send them to practically everyone we know. He also wants me to hand deliver as many as possible so we can save money on the stamps.
I appease him and send Christmas cards to almost everyone we know, however, I hand deliver very few.

These are just a few of the areas we have to work out during the season…and that’s just Christmas. Imagine all the other issues we have to work through the remaining 11 months of the year!

With all the differences between our preferences, wants, and desires, it’s amazing we get anything accomplished; however, everything seems to come together in the end – we make compromises, we give in to each other on things that are important to the other person and it all works out. I guess when it comes down to it, it really doesn’t matter if we agree on everything or not. The main thing is we complement one another, respecting each of our unique gifts and talents, pulling them together to make for one spectacular Christmas.

The Bible doesn’t say that when a man and women get married the two “are” one.
It says when a man and women get married they “become” one.
Ted and I are continually in the process of “becoming one”.

We may not agree on a lot of stuff, but one thing we do agree on is that when the other is happy, we are happy… The fact that Ted is from…”the North Pole” and I am from…The Marshmallow World, makes life interesting and lends to a wonderfully diverse Christmas and beautiful life…together.

‘It’s a marshmallow world in the winter…When the snow comes to cover the ground…It’s time for play, it’s a whipped cream day…I wait for it the whole year round…
It’s a yum-yummy world made for sweethearts…Take a walk with your favorite girl…It’s a sugar date, so what if spring is late…In winter it’s a marshmallow world!’

These past few days I have been thinking a lot about the concept of “paying it forward”. “Paying it forward” is a random act of kindness. It is acknowledging the big and small good things that have happened to me by way of someone’s generosity, charity, forgiveness, or grace. Then, when having opportunity, showing someone else the same kindness I’ve been shown… without any ulterior motive.

There was a true story on YouTube recently that brought this to mind. It was of a boy about 7 years old who was destitute. He stole something from a food stand in an open-air market. When he was caught, he said it was because his mom was sick and needed something to eat. The owner of the food stand, as his young daughter looked on, forgave the child and gave him even more food than he had attempted to steal. The boy looked at the owner, took the food and ran off. The next scene shows the owner of the food stand, now 30 years later, as he falls to the floor and passes out ending up in the hospital in a comma. The hospital bills pile up to the tune of $700,000 plus, and his daughter, now grown up, is in terrible duress wondering how she is going to pay for her dads medical bills. In the next scene she receives a notice in the mail that the balance owed for the medical bills is now zero. All debt had been wiped away. The doctor who was her dads attending physician ended up being the very same boy who 30 years earlier had been shown grace by her dad. The sick man did not recover so he never realized the magnitude of his kind act 30 years prior, but his daughter ended up being the recipient of an awesome and much needed act of “paying it forward.”

I had the privilege not to long ago to be part of a “paying it forward” act which when demonstrated effected not only the recipient, but those who were witness to it.

My youngest son, Jeremy and I were in Chicago on a business trip. We had just finished a very important meeting and were jazzed about the results. We left the business meeting and headed straight for the coffee shop downstairs. It was close to Christmas and the coffee shop was all decked out in festive décor. We got our coffee and sat down to reminisce about the meeting, when a homeless man entered. It was very busy, standing room only, but the homeless man managed to find a seat and proceeded to sit there and talk to himself. He was wearing tattered clothes, had matted hair and stuck out like a sore thumb in the midst of the posh coffee shop patrons. It was extremely cold that December in Chicago and he had come in to warm up. Jeremy and I continued to talk; meanwhile neither of us could take our eyes off of this man. People were ignoring him, trying to pretend he wasn’t there. Eventually a conversation between the barista and the coffee shop manager ensued, which I could see was about the homeless man and his need to leave the premises. Jeremy and I noted the situation silently when finally; neither of us could enjoy ourselves anymore watching the impending removal of this homeless man. Jeremy looked at me and said, “Ok, what do you want to do? I’ll do it”. Jeremy then proceeded to buy a large peppermint mocha and pastry and gave it to the man. It caught the attention of everyone in the coffee shop as they witnessed Jeremy’s act of kindness. I watched as a sense of relief and peace came upon everyone in that establishment, as the homeless man sat among us enjoying his treat in the warmth of the coffee shop. Jeremy and I had been the earlier recipient of a much coveted business deal and it was our turn to “pay it forward.”

As I think about this concept, I have also come to realize that not all “paying it forward” is a blessing. Case in point…I was driving home recently from a friend’s house and was in thoughtful reflection of our visit, when a car buzzed around me on the freeway doing about 70 MPH, while I was going the speed limit. As he zoomed by, he veered over into my lane enough to get my attention and flipped me off. I was surprised at this aggressive gesture, and wondered what had happened in his world that caused this act of hostility toward someone he didn’t even know. This was a negative act of “paying it forward” and one that I hope will not be repeated. When unkind things are done to us it is hard not to lash out and make everyone as miserable as we are, however, “paying it forward” needs to come from the goodness we have received, not from the badness. There is enough strife in people’s lives without us “paying that forward.”

This Christmas season and into the New Year I want to be committed to “paying it forward” in the best of ways! I want to bless others as I have been blessed, showing them grace, mercy, love and friendship whenever possible by simple acts of goodwill. I may not always see the results, but no matter the affects, I need to trust lives have been touched in some way by my random kindness. And…The positive effect it will have on me as the giver will be rewarding and bring contentment to my soul.

‘It’s the most wonderful time of the year… With the kids jingle belling… And everyone telling you “Be of good cheer” … It’s the most wonderful time of the year’

Children make Christmas magical! They embody the spirit of Christmas – in a child’s eyes, anything is possible. We are captivated by their innocence, honesty, and sense of imagination. For today’s blog I want to share with you an enchanted story from my granddaughters, Mirabel and Sloane, ages 3 and 4 respectively. They made up this story and told their mommy, who wrote it down and sent it to me.

I hope you enjoy their enchanted tale of – The Ice Witches’ First Christmas Party!

In a faraway kingdom there was a Snow Prince and Princess who loved Christmas time! They loved that it was Jesus’s birthday, and a time to give and receive presents. To show their love of Christmas they threw a big birthday celebration every year on Christmas Eve for Jesus.

High up in the mountains of the Kingdom lived an Ice Witch, who despised Christmas! She didn’t know Jesus; she wanted to get rid of Christmas all together. The Prince and Princess tried to visit the witch to inform her about the meaning of Christmas and why it was so important, but her heart was too frozen and she wouldn’t let them through the gate without harm. This kept her from receiving their message.

While the Prince and Princess were preparing for the celebration the Ice Witch cast a dark magic spell to steal their Christmas spirit. Soon as the spell was cast the Prince and Princess forgot the meaning of Christmas and started fighting over gifts, money, and their time. Before long decorations for the party were ruined! Word got out that Jesus’s Birthday was canceled, and the Prince and Princess were fighting. The Ice Witch was tickled to discover that her spell had worked! Now everyone would be as unhappy as she was.

A Fairy in the land was a good friend of the Prince and Princess. She had seen through her crystal ball on the top of her wand, that fighting had broken out in the castle. She was determined to help them, but how? The Fairy said a pray and asked God to reveal to her an answer to the problem. She heard back, “show them the real meaning of Christmas.” She knew just what to do, and flew off to the palace.

Meanwhile, the witch headed to the castle to observe firsthand the chaos she had created.

As the Fairy arrived, she gathered families from the village to sing a baby Jesus song in the castle. The Fairy used her magic wand to create music and the town folks began to sing. The divine singing brought tears to the Prince and Princesses’ eyes, as well as the witches, who was watching secretly in the rafters.

The beauty and love of Jesus’s birth broke the spell! Joy filled the room as new decorations were brought out. The birthday party was back on! The best part was the unexpected guest who attended this year, the Ice Witch! The message had finally gotten through to her; she was now too a recipient of the Christmas spirit.
The End!

My summary:
As you read their story you may have observed a few characteristics…

There is always a prince or princess in every (little girls) story.
They have a clear understanding of the true meaning of Christmas
They have a desire to change people’s hearts so they are happy
There is complete acceptance of others
Peace and harmony are important attributes in a “kingdom.”
It has a happy ending.

As we grow into adults, we encounter challenges, which can diminish many of the hopes and dreams of our childhood. With dreams in the rearview mirror, life’s struggles can change us and we lose hope. We can become bitter, defensive, self-absorbed and pre-occupied. But…wouldn’t our existence and the world at large be a much better place if we remembered the characteristics from the story of The Ice Witches’ First Christmas Party, and replicated them instead – in the “Story Of Our Lives”?

‘Toyland, Toyland…Little girl and boy land…While you dwell within it…You are ever happy there…’

I love to laugh and to hear laughter! It’s amazing how infectious and healing it is. I am convinced that we don’t laugh near enough, especially during stressful times. It would almost seem to be an oxymoron – laughing in the face of trials and challenges, but Readers Digest has a section in their magazine called “Laughter, The Best Medicine”, and I would have to agree.

One year for Christmas when I was a kid Santa brought my youngest sister a stuffed Disney character, Goofy. Goofy had a voice-box inside and when pressed it laughed hysterically for 5 minutes. That’s all it did… laugh… a great big belly-laugh. I remembered seeing Goofy at Toyland at the Bon Marche, and my dad finding it an absolute hoot, we all did. We were delighted when he was under the tree Christmas morning. When you pressed Goofy’s voice-box he would began his insatiable laughter, slowly at first, then picking up momentum. You couldn’t help but smile, our smiles then became giggles, and our giggles turned into uncontrolled laughter. Times were hard during the 60’s for my parents to make ends meet especially when they had 3 little girls – and they were just “kids” themselves. During the years we had Goofy we were actually comforted and uplifted from time to time by his endless laughter. Santa knew our family was going to need a good belly-laugh now and then.

I am also reminded of a road trip my husband and I took to the ocean several years ago where laughter was a welcome companion. The 2 hour drive turned into 4. Ten minutes into the trip we sat in bumper to bumper traffic. My husband became very frustrated at everyone on the road. He was huffing and puffing and telling me how he could drive better inebriated than 95% of everyone else on the road when they are sober, etc… Yikes! I feared our lovely weekend get-away was starting off on the wrong foot. So I thought I better come up with something to distract him. I Googled” jokes” on my iPhone, and for the next 3 1/2 hours I read my husband jokes and riddles, to his delight. We laughed the whole way to the ocean and when we finally arrived, we were both in great moods and the time had passed by quickly.

The Christmas season can be filled with a lot of stress and emotion. There is so much to do, so many functions, so much money to be spent. It can make a person grumpy. But I am challenging myself to not let the stress of the season get the best of me. And when something does go sideways, I am going to remember to try and find the humor in it. There is something about laughter that cleanses the soul and clears the mind.

Join with me in making laughter our motto as we wind up into full Christmas mode this next week.
Here are a few quips to get you started. Warning: they are corny, but corny is good… right?

How did Scrooge win the football game?
The Ghost of Christmas passed.

It was Christmas and the judge was in a merry mood as he asked the prisoner, “What are you charged with?”
“Doing my Christmas shopping early,” replied the defendant.
“That’s no offence,” said the judge.
“It is if you do it before the shops are open,” countered the prosecutor.

Do you know what would have happened if there had been Three Wise Women instead of Three Wise Men? The women would have: asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, and brought practical gifts (like diapers!)

‘Dashing through the snow, in a one-horse open sleigh, or the fields we go, laughing all the way, ha,ha,ha…’

Only 10 days left until the big day! But only 9 days left for shopping, cooking, baking, decorating, and wrapping… And then…the BIG GUY comes…

Santa is a staple at the Bakke home. Every year he shines up his shoes and his buckle, combs out his beard, stuffs himself into his bright red outfit and fills his bag with surprises.

My husband, Ted, has a soft spot in his heart for the jolly guy. It is our family tradition that every year Ted and I play Mr. and Mrs. Santa. While everyone is busy having fun and the kids are distracted, we sneak downstairs during the party so I can help Ted put on the Santa suite. Once Ted is in costume – “Santa” sneaks outside.

I then come upstairs and announce, “ I think I heard Santa’s sleigh. I can hear the bells jingling”. Then I ask everyone to quiet down and look out the window to see if we can see him. Sure enough, we hear his jingle bells and up the driveway he comes. The kids are ecstatic with wonder and amazement. The adults are beaming, (even though they know who’s in the big red suite.) For a few minutes, time stands still and everyone becomes a kid again.

We open the door and Santa bellows in his Norwegian accent, “Ho Ho Ho, Merry Christmas!” To the kids delight he comes up stairs. We have a seat in front of the tree ready for him. Santa sits down and begins to talk with the group telling them of his adventures of the night so far. He then asks if we would like to hear his favorite story…The Night Before Christmas.

He pulls a big picture book out of his sack and begins the tale. “Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.” With those words everyone becomes engrossed in the story and the big pictures Santa shows with every turn of the page. As the story ends, Santa closes the book and everyone is quiet.

He then says who’s going to sit on Santa’s lap first and begins to call the kids by name. One by one they sit on his lap. Santa asks them what they want for Christmas, and if they have been good, and tells them he will do his best to get what they want. He pulls a toy out of his sack, gives it to the child and then it’s the next child’s turn. Meanwhile the adults are giggling and taking pictures. The scene is absolutely magical.

When Santa finishes with the last child and all of the family pictures have been taken, he gets up and says he has to go, but he will be back next year. Everyone follows him to the door, and once again he bellows, “Ho Ho Ho Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” And he is gone for another year.

The kids are buzzing from Santa’s visit and the adults appear to be just as enamored with the whole event.

Within a few minutes Ted shows back up at the party, his lack of being present during Santa’s visit goes undetected by the kids.

And that is how every Christmas Eve goes at the Bakke house.

It is a tradition that my husband carried on after his dad passed away. Ted actually learned “his craft” from his Dad, Ted Sr., who delighted in being Santa for our kids when they were young.

Aren’t traditions grand? They give that sense of belonging and stability. They bring family together for one night a year, making memories that last a lifetime.

Today we put a “Charlie Brown” Christmas Tree on my father-in-laws grave site, as we do every year. As we stood there for a few minutes after having decorated the tree, I got a little melancholy reminiscing about how the holidays used to be with Ted’s dad, and how he delight in being Santa as much as my husband does. That memory was so vivid, as if it were yesterday. At that moment I became thankful that Ted Sr. had made such an impression on my husband that now 12 years after his passing, my husband has continued the tradition of Santa, making each Christmas Eve a magical experience.

I bought my husband a sign last year. It reads:
The four stages of life;
You believe in Santa
You don’t believe in Santa
You are Santa
You look like Santa!

I’m happy to be in the fourth stage with Ted, keeping to traditions and making magic at Christmas.

‘Up on the housetop reindeer paws, out jumps good old Santa Clause…’

Keeping priorities in order is a real challenge. At Christmas my priorities tend to be spending time with family and friends, making memories, and sharing tasty food. But during the other 11 months of the year my priorities can easily move away from relationships.

I have spent the last 15 years working in careers that take an enormous amount of my time, energy, and thought process. That’s not to say that I haven’t invested in relationships with people, but I almost kill myself trying to balance the two.

Some months ago I heard a speaker at a breakfast function say, “What is the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning, before your feet even hit the floor?

I didn’t even have to mull it over. I knew my answer immediately. The first thing I think about is work, i.e. what I have to do for the day, how I was going to deal with challenges, and so forth.

No sooner had the answer come to my mind, when the speaker said…”then that is your god.”

I was immediately convicted realizing that I live, eat, and breathe my career.

I am not propagating that working and doing the very best you can at your job is a bad thing. I come from a strong belief that I am to give 100% at everything I do. But when it develops into an obsession – that is where it becomes unhealthy.

I must be the most hardheaded person in the world. I have had to learn this same lesson over and over again. (I guess that means I never really learn it.)

When I was 29 years old I developed a bad back. My sciatic nerve was being pinched due to a deteriorating disk. The first doctor tried several procedures and 1 failed attempt at surgery to try and relieve the pain, but to no avail. For 2 years I couldn’t walk without using a cane. I had to quit my job and all other activities. (I was always involved in way too much. You know… that overachiever syndrome.) Finally a doctor at Swedish hospital took my case and performed an operation which fused my spine in my lower back.

The operation was a success but the recovery was grueling. I remember being in such pain all I could do was lay and pray. This went on for 2 weeks until finally one day while being in excruciating pain, I cried out to God,
“Why have you allowed this in my life? Can’t you see all the good things I was doing for you?”
Immediately I heard a voice say,
“Janie, why did I call you unto myself?”
And without time for me to respond, the voice continued,
“I called you unto myself so you could love ME, then Ted, (my husband,) and then the kids, and everything else is secondary.”
God had taken this opportunity to remind me that all the noble tasks I take on should be secondary in my life to the relationships I have with people and Himself.

I have been unemployed now since April, and after being confronted with my answer to the speaker’s question, a beautiful transformation has been taking place. I am now in the process of getting my priorities back in order. I am enjoying the revitalized relationships with my husband, the kids, my mom & dad, and extended family. I am steadfast in knowing my next job will allow for a healthy work/life balance, and I am committed to not let anything get in the way of making time for old friends and fostering the new friendships I have initiate since being unemployed.

In my mind there is NO substitute for relationships. And, now when I wake up each morning the first thing I think of is … God.

Christmas is a time to reflect, so I challenge you to conduct the same test; tomorrow morning when you wake-up note the first thing that comes to your mind. Then, start taking steps to change if you’re not happy with the answer.

‘Just hear those sleigh bells ringing-ting-tingling too…Come on it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you…’

I have a confession to make… I didn’t reflect the spirit of Christmas very well today. in fact I failed miserably. Here I am always touting in my blog posts about “peace on earth goodwill to men…” But today my Christmas Spirit went sideways!

I had to call our internet service provider today and request a modem upgrade based on a letter they had sent us stating we needed this piece of equipment. First I had to go through the telephone prompts to get to a live person. Once I got to the live person the questions began – “What’s your name? What’s your account number? Who’s the primary person on the account? What’s your address? What’s your phone number? What’s your social security number? What’s your husband’s social security number? What’s your email address? How much did you pay on your last bill? I was waiting for them to ask me my height, weight and shoe size.

Finally she were able to pull up our account and confirmed that yes they had sent us a letter and that we may qualify for the upgraded modem which was a do-it-yourself kit. She then said I was to keep checking my email to be sure. “You’ll be notified if you qualify.” My thought was; why did you send me the letter if I “may” qualify? I then realized my email with their company hadn’t been working, so we’ve had to use Gmail. So I asked, “Do you have a technician that may be able to help me to get my email going again?” The customer service rep said she could take a look at it herself. She put me on hold, then came back and said it looks fine and that it should be working.” I said, “It’s not” so she suggested for me to be put through to a technician and proceeded to put me on hold.

Once the technician got on the phone he went through the same questions; “What’s your name, your account number, who’s the primary person on the account, address, phone number, etc. In a matter-of-fact tone I preceded to give him all this information AGAIN! After I had given the technician my “vitals” he asked me what he could help with. I said, “I can’t get my emails through your company. It hasn’t worked for a long time.” He said just a minute I’ll check. After a minute or two he came back to the phone and said “everything looks good”. I said, “I know, that’s what the customer service person told me, but she thought you could help.” He replied, “I can’t do anything on your computer. I’ll have to send out a technician.” I said “I don’t want a technician; I just wanted to see if there is anything you can do remotely.” He then asked me again, “Who is primary on your account?” I said, “My husband. He then said, “Can I talk to him?” At that point I began to boil and my blood pressure went through the roof in less than a second. I raised my voice and said, “No you can’t talk to my husband. What’s wrong with you people?” I then proceeded to tell this poor technician that I had already been through this with the customer service rep and now with him, and I am the one in the family who does our computer stuff, and that talking to my husband wasn’t going to help because he doesn’t know anything, and he is outside mowing lawns.” There was a long silence, and the technician said, “I need to talk to him for security reasons, but I can’t help you with your computer, so you’ll have to call Microsoft.” Security reasons…?! He was right, he needed some security. I was ready to reach through the phone and strangle him. He then asked,” Is there anything else I can help you with?” Help me?! Was he kidding… I said, “no you’ve been helpful enough.” He then thanked me for calling and said if I needed any additional help to call, ( and rattled off a number,) or go to the website, (blah, blah, blah.) He then started in with a canned speech about their package upgrades and how they are the best service provider in their category, etc. By this time I was ready to cancel my service.

However, while he was talking, a voice inside me said, “Janie remember it’s Christmas”, and my fiery temper started to diminish. The voice continued, “You are making this guy have a bad day. It’s not his fault he is only saying what he has been scripted to say.” And so went my guilt. I think that’s why I didn’t hang up on him while he was giving his sales pitch. I began to feel bad for him and ashamed of myself. When he finished he said, “So if there’s nothing else I can do for you, thank you for calling and have a nice day!” Click!

After hanging up the phone I was convicted that I had let my irritation affect someone else negatively. I always try to remember that you never know what people are going through, and often times the holidays can bring out deep seeded problems or heighten existing issues. It’s the old adage, not to judge someone until I’ve walked a mile in someone’s shoes. Too bad I didn’t practice that during my phone call.

I am going to be more careful this holiday season to put myself in others shoes. People deserve my respect.
Is it kind?
Is it truthful?
Is it necessary?
If what I am getting ready to say doesn’t fit at least 2 of those 3 criteria, then I’m not going to say it.

So I guess this is an attempt to confess my guilt and Christmas spirit gone sideways. I only wish my technician friend could hear it…

“Silent Night, Holy Night, All is calm, All is Bright.’

I think gifts are a language of love. Some gifts are sentimental and some are fun. Some are surprising and some are expected. Some are serious and some are hilarious. Others make us laugh and yet others make us cry. But whatever the gift is, love is at the foundation.

Years ago when the kids were little money was tight. Prior to having kids, my husband, Ted, and I would get each other anything our hearts desired. But, after having 3 little ones, there was always more “month at the end of the money.” One Christmas we had just finished the kids visit with Santa, and were browsing through the aisles at the department store, when I found a lovely perfume. I wanted it in the worst was, but I was not going to ask Ted because it cost $50.00. That was a lot of money to us in the late 80’s. Ted and I had agreed “NO gifts” that year, so I elected not to say anything. I sprayed the sample bottle of perfume all over myself and even in my purse so the fragrance would linger and we went on our way. On Christmas morning after all the gifts had been opened Ted pulled out a beautifully wrapped present. Of course I protested that he had broken our deal about No gifts, but I was overjoyed to get it. I unwrapped the gift and saw the word “Eternity” on the box. It was that lovely perfume. Ted smiled at me with contentment, and I started to cry. It was so sweet. Ted knew we couldn’t afford it, but bought it anyway. I still have a small bit of that perfume left in the bottle all these years later. I never wear it, but every once in a while I open the bottle and smell it to remind me of Ted’s thoughtfulness. That was one of those sentimental gifts that make you cry…

On another occasion…it was the first year all 3 of our kids knew who the real Santa was. We were afraid it might be a bit ho-hum on Christmas morning, so Ted thought it would be funny to play a joke on our youngest son, Jeremy. First he bought each of the kids a really cool, expensive gift. I wrapped them and put them under the tree. He also bought a stuffed doll called Baby-Bop, who was one of the characters from a popular show called Barney. Jeremy was a couple years beyond the age of kids who were enamored by this purple dinosaur, and even when he was younger couldn’t stand Barney. (Barney was one of those characters either you absolutely loved or completely hated – there was no in-between.) On Christmas morning Ted began our gift unwrapping ritual by giving our oldest son, Teddy, a gift from under the tree. Teddy burst with excitement upon opening the cool expensive gift. Next was our daughter’s turn. Stacy opened her gift. She too was elated. By now Jeremy was salivating. He just knew his gift had to be as cool and expensive as the others. Ted reached under the tree and said “Jeremy this one’s for you!” You should have seen the look on Jeremy’s face and the other kids when he opened his gift and it was Baby-Bop. Ted and I played along with it for a minute, saying “we thought you loved Barney and his friends”, and so on. We all had a good laugh, and then gave him his cool present. That was one of those hilarious gifts!

And again, I am reminded of time when the kids were young and they cut pictures out of catalogues of things they wanted for Christmas. We’d put each kids pictures in an envelope with their name on it and give them to Santa when they went to see him. I’d go back while the kids were distracted by Ted and get the envelopes from Santa’s helper so I could remember what they wanted. Upon returning home, I was going through Jeremy’s envelope one day and saw he had a picture of Mr. Potato Head. I thought it was odd he wanted a Mr. Potato Head. He was always more into racing and pushing things around. But I shrugged it off and thought “well if that’s what he wants…” On Christmas morning Jeremy was very disappointed when he opened the package and protested, “A Mr. Potato Head?! I wanted the race car on the back!!!” Race Car, what was this kid talking about? There wasn’t any picture of a race car in his envelope…. I decided to check it out. I slipped away into my room and pulled out the envelopes and sure enough there on the back of Mr. Potato Head was a picture of a really cool race car. Jeremy was pretty disappointed that Santa could make such an error. I assured him that Santa was probably just really tired by the time he got to our house. Between Ted and I, we had a really good laugh. The next year I noticed that Jeremy had put an “X” on the back of all the pictures of items he had cut out which he was giving to Santa. That way there would be no confusion. That was one of those surprising gifts that made us laugh.

And the memories go on and on…

This Christmas we’ll all sit around the living room and the gifts will be passed out like always. In the mix there will be gifts that make us laugh, there will be ones that bring tears, there will be jokes, and surprises, but one thing is for sure… They’ll be given with love.

‘We three kings of Orient are… Bearing gifts we traverse afar…’

I am sort of “re-posting” a story I wrote in 2011. I have updated and shortened it. I hope you will be touched by its message.
And so it goes…
I believe one of the reasons my children were given to me is so they could teach me valuable lessons. You would think it is the other way around, but not so. If you have children you know what I’m talking about. One Christmas when Teddy, our oldest son, was about 6 years old, one of those moments came when that little voice inside me said “pay attention to this”.
I had held him out of school for the morning, while we went for his dental check-up. I have always enjoyed my one-on-one time with the kids and this morning was no exception. Teddy and I were happily chattering as I drove him back to school. Upon parking the car Teddy reached into my purse to get something out of it. I don’t remember what he was looking for, but what he found gave me a new perspective on dreams and reality.
As was tradition, a couple weeks before Christmas the kids would sit at the kitchen table looking through the Christmas catalogs searching for pictures of the toys they longed for Santa to bring. As they found each toy, they would cut the picture out and put it in an envelope with their name marked on the outside. We’d then make the trek downtown to see Santa and give him each child’s envelope of Christmas wishes. Unknown to the kids, after we walked away from Santa, my husband would distract them while I went back for the envelopes.
That morning after the dentist appointment, Teddy’s little hand went into my purse and emerged with the Santa envelopes. I had forgotten to take them out after our Santa visit the previous weekend. I immediately started to panic. How was I going to get out of this one…??

As Teddy pulled the envelopes out his face was shocked.
He asked in a very concerned tone,
“Mommy, why do you have our Santa envelopes in your purse?”
There was silence while I fished for something to say. I wanted to make up a story because I knew if I told the truth that would be the end of my little boys Santa dreams. I wasn’t ready for the magic to disappear.
So, I decided to do a work-around,
“Oh, I got them from Santa after you kids walked away so Dad and I would know what we should get you kids too. You know we always get you kids a gift or two as well.”
Teddy was not letting me off the hook so easily.
“But Mommy, if you have the envelopes, how will Santa know what to get us?”
I looked into Teddy’s innocent face and at that moment I knew I had to be truthful.
I tenderly said,
“Well Teddy, Mommy and Daddy are really Santa.”
I then waited with a sinking feeling in my stomach for his response.
The wheels were spinning in Teddy’s head and after a couple seconds he said
“Well what about the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy?”
(Darn it, he had put those together with Santa, just as I suspected.)
My heart sunk as I said,
“Yes Teddy, Mommy and Daddy are the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy too.”

At that, Teddy started to cry and I knew my worst fears had become a reality. My mind raced with fears that his dreams had been dashed. I feared that the magic of Christmas, and Easter, and all other whimsical imagery for holidays we had pretended were real, was gone from Teddy forever. More importantly, what would he think of God? We had told him God was real too, and he couldn’t see Him. How could I explain that Santa wasn’t real but God was?

There in my car in the school parking lot, Teddy cried for a couple minutes.
I attempted to console him,
“Don’t cry Sweetheart. I am sorry, I know you’re disappointed.”

Then Teddy said something I will never forget.
He looked at me with his eyes full of tears and said,
“Mommy, I’m not disappointed, I just can’t believe that you and Dad would do all of that for us kids.”
I had completely misread the situation; Teddy was thankful, not sad. His heart was not broken, he was crying out of love for his parents and their graciousness. His world did not turn upside down because of this new revelation, it was confirmed. Teddy was thankful and in awe.
Within a few minutes Teddy wiped his eyes, kissed me and hopped out of the car. The truth seemed to be refreshing to him. His steps were light as he skipped away. And he never once asked if God was real. That hadn’t even been a thought.
I have contemplated this exchange over the years and my conclusion is this; that dreams don’t have to go away because of some new revelation or circumstance, they just change in perspective. And it also confirmed to me that belief in God is lasting and true. Somehow God reveals Himself to people’s hearts as being real and eternal, long after our dreams of what “was” have disappeared. He is constant and faithful to work in our lives showing not what we may have lost, but what we have the opportunity to gain…
‘Do you hear what I hear… A child, a child, sleeping in the night. He will bring us goodness and light.’

Christmas starts in the Bakke Home the evening of Thanksgiving after the turkey and pie have been eaten and the mess cleaned up. In tradition I put on Elton John’s “Step into Christmas” song and we have a dance party in the living room, all acknowledging that it is time to step into Christmas. Our ramp up for Christmas looks a lot like this:

Week 1:
– Get the tree up and all the decorations. (I have enough stuff for two houses so everything has to come down and be boxed so the Christmas decorations can take their place.)
– Go through the Christmas card list and pick out the picture for the card. (This used to be a more tedious chore because when the kids were living at home we had to make sure the picture we chose had a good likeness of everyone. Now that it is just my husband and I, I can choose whatever picture looks good of ME!)
-Ted, puts up the Christmas lights. Ted is serious about putting up his lights. We have one of those houses that everyone stops to look at as they drive by. I love it! (I’ve even seen it from an airplane while taxing into SeaTac Airport.)
-Start the Christmas shopping! (Actually this is more like make the Christmas list, and probe my husband for how much I can spend.)

Week 2:
-Order the Christmas cards. (We don’t send out as many cards as we used to. We used to send out 150. I dreaded week 3 where I had to address all of them. That’s why if you have been a recipient of our cards from time to time you’ll notice sometimes they reach you after Christmas. I don’t know why we don’t just order Happy New Year’s cards. Then it wouldn’t matter when I got them done.)
-Start making plans for parties and social itineraries. I’m big on Christmas parties and get-togethers this time of the year, (well,really anytime of the year, but at Christmas I get to plan something for every night of each weekend in December and my husband is on board.)
-Continue Christmas shopping!

Week 3:
-Bake the cookies. (This year I’m’ having a cookies exchange because it’s so much work to make that many different kinds of cookies. This will be a lot easier – 10 friends, 10 different types of cookies.)
-Make up the grocery list for the food we’re going to need for the festivities the week of Christmas and send my husband to the big box store. (Thank goodness he is a born shopper. His idea of a good time is going shopping at Costco and eating $1.50 pizza and a soda at their snack bar.)
-Start addressing the Christmas card envelopes. (I tried to do a mail-merge once on my computer and print them off on our printer, but my husband said it looked impersonal. I then asked if he thought I could use the free “Easter seal” address labels we keep getting in the mail. Thankfully he conceded to that.)
-More Christmas shopping!

Week 4:
-Get the stocking stuffers (Those cost as much as the gifts)
-Finish the Christmas shopping. (Typically this happens the morning of the 24th.)
-Buckle down on getting those Christmas cards out. (I’ve procrastinated so long now that my good intention of writing a personalized special message on each one is not going to happen. Good thing I ordered a pre-printed “special message” on them.)
-Make sure my husband’s Santa suite is clean and ready for Christmas Eve. (Last year our granddaughter said that Santa smelled funny.)
-Wrap the gifts. (Once again good intentions of doing it before Christmas Eve, but I’ll be up until 3 AM the night of the 24th wrapping and stuffing stockings.)
– Fix up the guest rooms for overnighter visitors (This includes washing all the bedding. At an hour a load to wash and another hour to dry, I’ll have 5 hours into washing bedding.)
– Purchase and wrap my mom’s birthday present. (She’s a Christmas Eve baby. If you give her a birthday present in Christmas wrapping … she is not happy.)
– Clean the house spotless
– Prep the food
– Set the table

Oh, and while doing all this…have some Christmas cheer and make merry! (This happens weeks 1, 2, 3, and 4.)

“Stepping into Christmas” is grueling, and all of this while keeping up on my daily routine of working, washing clothes, cooking, cleaning, running errands, etc. I ask myself…how do I find the time and energy to pack all of these extra-curricular activities into the 25 days of Christmas…??

Answer: I guess when you love something – you just do it. Love, passion, and joy, together, are unbeatable forces.

So, this year after we have stepped into, over, and through the season I know I’ll be exhausted, but my satisfaction will be having “Stepped into Christmas” doing the things I love, with the ones I love.

‘Step into Christmas…Let’s join together…We can watch the snow fall forever and ever
Eat, drink and be merry…Come along with me…Step into Christmas…The admission’s free’

This Christmas is unlike any other year in the history of our 33 year marriage. I find myself unemployed and money is tight. My husband owns a business and we are working hard at growing it, however with the loss of my income the prospect of purchasing Christmas gifts for our family and friends is slim. This is a big change as we not only are some of the biggest gift givers at Christmas time, but also have a heart for surprising individuals with presents that are typically unexpected. But this Christmas the tables have turned.

With me not seeing any real opportunities for a job before Christmas, I asked myself…”How can I still impact people with gifts, ones that are meaningful and lasting, ones that can change a heart or bring a new perspective into someone’s life?” That is when I came up with the idea to use my blog, The Crystal Heart, to write a Christmas message every day of Advent, beginning with Dec. 1st and ending on Christmas Eve.

What I have found by doing this is I have the ability to touch others’ lives by these holiday messages in consistent and significant ways beyond what any purchased gift can supply. I am overjoyed to see that the gift of words, encouragement, and love are touching not only my typical recipients of gift giving, but reaching out to another entirely new audience.

It is funny how things work out, because during this Advent time, I have also been introduced to a charity called the Amara Emergency Shelter for abused and neglected children. It is a safe house for them when they are first removed from their homes. During these times children are abruptly separated from everything they know, sometimes even in the dead of night. They are scared and alone. This safe “in-between” house is a warm and caring environment for them to stay while a foster home is found. If you’re looking for a charitable organization to give to this Christmas I invite you to check out Amara Emergency Shelter.

http://amaraparenting.org/

So you see the Crystal Heart blog not only gives me an outlet to bring encouragement and insights to others, it is a vehicle to reach people for really good causes.

Yes, at various times during our married life we have been financially in “states of plenty” and also “of want”, but it seems that during the “state of want” I am less superficial and much more tuned into needs beyond my own. I’m not saying the “state of want” is better; it just has me more focused on the real meaning of Christmas. My activities this year are all about giving in different ways, and as I do this I receive the best gift of all – bringing peace to people’s troubled hearts.

Silent Night, Holy Night…all is calm, all is bright…

I recently had a job interview in which the interviewer asked a random question at the very end of the meeting. “What are the 3 most memorable days of your life?”

I had to really put some thought into this. Notice he didn’t ask “what are the 3 best days of your life?” If he had asked that question I would have given answers like – the day I got married, or the day my children were born, or the day I had achieved some monumental goal. The question was “what are the 3 most memorable days?” To me, for something to be memorable means it makes a lasting impression. It may or may not be the happiest day, but holds great significance, value, and life changing.

After quite a long pause I finally said the 3 most memorable days of my life:

1) The day I accepted Jesus as my Savior. This was significant because I had made the decision to make Jesus Christ Lord of my life. I would be His friend and trust His leading.

2) Today. Because I never know who or what I am going to encounter that I can positively impact or positively impact me.

3) The day I pass from this life to the next and meet The Lord. Ahhh… that day will be memorable for sure when I get to spend eternity with Him and my loved ones in heaven.

In thinking over my response, the interviewer thought my number 2 answer was the most interesting and asked me to elaborate. I then explained that if today is the most memorable day of my life, I am “in the moment.” I am stopping to smell the roses. I am slowing down long enough to enjoy people, and encourage or help them. I am finding joy in the big and small things. I am taking opportunities to be enriched. I am fully engaged in this day. And if I am 100% engaged in this day it will be significant, purposeful and very possibly life-changing. In that way each new “today” comes with the possibility of being the most memorable.

As the holidays pick up momentum think about that question. It is so easy to get caught up in the hustle- bustle of the season that we can miss “today”.

What are your 3 most memorable days? My prayer for you is that one of your answers will mirror my number 1 – the day I accepted Jesus as my Savior. But, I truly hope one of your answers is “today”! Then remember…tomorrow is your next “today.”

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

I have this issue with perfection. I am a deep-rooted perfectionist through and through. I admit it. When I sat down to write this blog, no matter how hard I tried to write about me being just a “compartmentalized perfectionist”, every example I came up with showed me to be a perfectionist in the worst way… Ugh.

For example; when I’m decorating for Christmas, the decorations have to be just so. I will arrange and rearrange until my eye for interior design is content. When the grandgirls come over and move stuff around on the tree, I am determined to leave it in its unbalanced state because they were so cute while doing it. After they’ve gone home I sit there and look at it repeatedly telling myself “just leave it, Janie!’ But within minutes there I am up at the tree putting the ornaments back in their calculated place.

I also do this with events I host. Everything has to be just right for a party; the food must be a nice variety, a little bit of something for everyone. The decorations must be strategically placed to give each room that party feel. There must be a variety to drink and lots of music, candles lit, and of course games! Sometimes I have so much planned that my kids become irritated with me and just want to go out on the deck and chill. (How dare they be such party poopers…)

I’m also a perfectionist when it comes to buying gifts. I will go to store after store searching for just the right thing for each person. I may not even have any idea what I’m going to get them, but I’ll know it when I see it! This is very time consuming, so when I am putting together our holiday month of events I always have to factor in several days just for shopping.

I also do this with my looks. Yikes, I hate to admit it, but if I go to the store and run into someone I haven’t seen for a long time I quickly do an assessment of what I am wearing, how’s my hair and I better put my lipstick on before I approach them.

It’s exhausting keeping up this perfectionism. I run myself ragged trying to keep the house clean, the muddy footprints off the kitchen floor and the Christmas pillows fluffed on the sofa.

My perfectionism goes beyond decorating and events. It affects people negatively as well. I am reminded of a time when I had been down for several months with a bad back. We had just bought a new home and it was time to move into it. I could not do any of the packing on account of my back, so a couple of girlfriends came over and packed up all of our stuff. One of them said a comment upon completion that has stayed with me; “Janie, you always have everything so together, it is nice to finally have the opportunity to do something for you.” Ouch! My perfectionism was even making others feel less capable.

I could go on and on with different scenarios where my perfectionism takes hold and is actually perfectly irritating; to others possibly, but to me for sure!

In reviewing the effects of my meticulous behavior, I have come to this conclusion – being perfect isn’t perfect at all. Things don’t have to be perfect to be enjoyed. Some of the best times we have had have been when an impromptu meeting of friends led to dinner, or a vacation where we just hopped in the car and drove, no plan, no destination, just togetherness, or when random people happened to show up at the house at the same time and we had an evening of visiting and Christmas cheer – spontaneously. (I’m sure I rummaged around and brought out a few snacks though.) I can’t recall a time I ever went to a party at someone else’s home where I valued how things looked over the love and hospitality of the host or hostess.

My husband always tells me how much he loves me and that in his eyes I am perfect. I know what that means; I am perfect to him because he has a perfect love for me. It’s not because everything I do is perfect, by a long shot. I feel that way about him too. I also feel that way about my kids…I know they aren’t perfect, but I love them perfectly. What I am learning is the imperfections in me gives others opportunity to love me, to use their unique gifts to harmonize with mine. It gives them opportunity to show me they care. It makes others feel good, when I am not perfect.

So this holiday season I am giving myself permission to drop a few balls, (figuratively.) I’m going to be happy when I unexpectedly run into someone at the grocery store this holiday season, even if I don’t have my make-up and hair done. I am going to let the grandgirls rearrange the tree next time they are over and I’m going to leave it. And I’m going to let others do things for me instead of me doing it all.

My perfectionism starting TODAY is going to change! Case in point… Today is actually the 7th day of Advent and I am just now publishing Day 6. (However, I’ll probably burn the midnight-oil getting the 7th day blog done too so I don’t fall behind. Darn… there I go again… )

A beautiful sight, we’re happy tonight, walking in a winter wonderland…

My daughter Stacy and I had a Holiday/Yard Sale today. We had a lot of gently used toys and Christmas decorations we had uncovered while doing some housecleaning this summer, and thought the holidays would be the perfect time to sell these treasures. With me still unemployed and Stacy choosing to be a stay at home mom, the funds in both our households are a little tight. We came up with this wonderful idea to have the Holiday Sale to earn some money to buy Christmas gifts thereby helping our husbands out with some of the financial burdens of the season.

We discussed our plan of action for a couple weeks – 1) Make everything look as festive as possible. 2) The house would be all lit up with decorations and lights. 3) We’d post our sale on Craig’s List and bulletin boards in businesses in the area. 4) We’d make our signs and post them strategically around the neighborhood and at the busiest intersections. 5) When people arrived they would be greeted by happy Christmas music. 6) We would have our cute little granddaughters offer the customers a cup of hot spiced cider. And, 7) items would be priced to fly out the door. All these elements should make the customer feel cozy and want to spend their money. This marketing plan was sure to be successful and bring in the sales we desired for a big pay-off!

When we awoke this morning the rain was coming down steadily. But we were undaunted by this hiccup… Idea: We will have the Holiday Sale under the carport! We set everything up on tables covered by red and green tablecloths. Like items were strategically placed together. The cider had just the right spice and the granddaughters were looking as cute as ever. The signs were out and strategically placed. I was in my Santa hat and the Christmas playlist was “shuffling”. We were ready for the customers.

However, by the time the sale was to start the rain was coming down in buckets. We were dry under the carport, but no one wanted to stop by and wade through the mud and downpour to take a look. Cars would slow down so they could see if there was anything worth getting out for, but then quickly speed off. We weren’t really getting the amount of traffic we anticipated so we decided to blow up balloons and place them on all our signs to attract more attention. Unfortunately, that didn’t bring about the desired number of customers either. Stacy and I sat there for several hours listening to the same 6 songs I had on my Christmas playlist and filled up on the hot cider. We had one guy stop and spend $6, bartering with us on items that were priced at $10, and then no traffic again. Eventually, a few cars stopped sporadically, spent a dollar or two, then more dry spells.

After 7 hours of “managing” the Holiday Sale, we closed shop. Upon counting our revenue for the day we had brought in seventy dollars and fifty cents. But, if you subtract the lunch we bought, $21, and the cost of the spiced cider and cups, $7, and the signs, balloons, etc., $5 – we netted $37.50 (liberal estimate), which divided between the two of us = $18.50 each. All day…All that work… YIKES!

Our grand idea of making money for our Christmas gift fund did not materialize as our Holiday Sale was unsuccessful from a monetary standpoint, however, we agreed that the success we did achieve today was; we cleaned out a bunch of stuff we didn’t need, had a “free” lunch, broke even on all ancillaries, and most importantly got to spend several hours together just visiting and laughing about our “failed” endeavor.

Success can be measured in many ways. Since I have been in career transition it has become even more apparent to me and deep-rooted that… ‘The best things in life aren’t things. The best things in life are spending time with the people you love.’

It’s going to be a slim Christmas this year, but the gift of time well spent with those I love, (even when it yields little monetary value,) is the greatest gift of all.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas… May your hearts be light…

During this festive time of the year we try to surround ourselves with fun, laughter and people that make us feel warm and loved. The holidays are famous for bringing out the best in people, but also notorious for bringing out the worst.

With all the joy and goodwill in the air it’s hard to believe but there will still be those occasional “Scrooges” armed at bringing us down, either accidently or on purpose. When we encounter “Scrooge” it is natural to want to shun them steering clear of their infectious attitude or even worse – retort back. I encountered one such “Scrooge” just the other day while standing in a checkout line.

I was at the Dollar Store picking up some candles and miscellaneous items to go with my Christmas decorations. I had perused through the store, picked up what I needed and was now standing in line, up next to pay for my items. The customer in front of me swiped her card, paying for her purchases and requested cash back. When the cashier tried to get the money the cash register drawer got stuck. It would not open no matter how hard he tugged and hit every button on the register.

I was next in line and there was an old man behind who had struck up a conversation with me in the meantime. He was sharing how he had stopped by the Dollar Store because he had a sweet tooth, how cold it was outside, etc. Most everyone including me had 10 or more items to purchase. The old man was purchasing one item…peanut brittle. He said he hadn’t had it in years and was afraid it might break his teeth but was willing to take the chance. The old man was a little slow but engaging with cheerful facial expressions. He was enjoying our conversation; all the while I had one eye on the commotion at the stuck cash drawer and the other eye on the line building up behind us. All of our patience was wearing thin.

The cashier eventually called over the manager who persisted for another ten minutes using every tool they could get their hands on to try and open the drawer. Finally he too gave up and decided to open a different register. He made an announcement that everyone was to move over to his register starting with me and the old man.

Immediately, a woman who was about 7 people back moved to his register to be the first in line. The manager observed this and to my delight told her that I was to go ahead of her. To his directive, she snapped “Well I didn’t see anybody moving very quickly to get into this line so I should be next.”

She’s right…she had moved so quickly none of us had time to get over there before she squeezed to the front of the line.

The manager persisted that I was to be next so she reluctantly moved back to the number 2 spot and let me in. In the interim, the old man with his peanut brittle was still trying to make his way over to the new line. By the time he got there instead of being second in line he was at the end. He didn’t say anything as if he expected to be pushed to the back. By this time I was pretty irritated with this woman – her selfish attitude, in addition to my 5 minute stop had now turned into 20 minutes.

My initial reaction was to let that woman have a peace of my mind about her rudeness, and how she butted in, and that we’d all been waiting a long time too and so forth. However, at that juncture I had a split second to do the right thing. Instead of running my mouthing and being as self-absorbed as she was, I could choose to be an example of goodwill, which is what the season is all about.

Calmly I took back my basket from the manager and said “The gentleman in the back has one item and he can go ahead of me.” At those words all of the people in line responded by stepping aside, including the pushy lady, while the old man made his way to the front. The manager rang up his peanut brittle. The old man thanked me and went happily on his way.

Then…an interesting thing happened; I watched as everyone in line simultaneously stepped ahead of the woman who had pushed her way to the front. And as they did this, she retreated to the back of the line without saying a word. It was as if peace and understanding was brought to this frustrating situation with an act of integrity and kindness.

We have a choice every day, multiple times a day, to do the right thing… to bring peace to others, to not seek revenge, to not vindicate ourselves and our position through anger or hostility. The right thing isn’t always the easy thing nor does it always feel good at the time. I would have much rather barked back at that woman and embarrassed her. It would have felt good for the moment. However, I don’t think the pleasure I would have got for that moment could equal the lasting impression on others that was imparted through gentleness.

You and I can choose to bring harmony to a situation instead of strife, even when we are the ones who are being mistreated, thereby exemplifying the true meaning of Christmas. You see…kindness has the power to reform “Scrooge”.

With peace on earth, goodwill to men…

So I bought this little snowman decoration for my dad’s birthday this weekend. He said “NO GIFTS!”, but I couldn’t resist. The chubby little plastic snowman is only about 5 inches tall with a great big smile on his face. The unique thing about the snowman is he is solar powered, no batteries needed. Once he gets in the sunlight he begins to dance, actually kind of just bobble back and forth, but he jiggles happily from head to toe.

In observing this little guy, I noticed when he is infused by the first light of sun he begins to dance, slowly at first, and picks up momentum as the sunlight intensifies. On cloudy days he jiggles less aggressively, but on days like today where the sun is shining brightly in Seattle, he is dancing up a storm!

I also have observed that he continues to dance for quite a long time even after the sun has gone down and darkness has taken over the sky. However, eventually his dancing slows down little by little as the energy the sun produced is expelled – until finally he stops dancing all together. I’m not sure when he stops, as he continues to dance long after I have gone to bed. However, in the morning I find him motionless. All his energy has been drained.

With the long dark winter hours I have tried to put him under “artificial” lighting, (my lamp), first thing in the morning to get him going, but to no avail. Oh he sputters a little and looks like he is going to start dancing, but it quickly dies out. It isn’t until the sunlight peaks through the darkness that he once again starts to soak up the rays and begins his happy dance, continuing to build momentum as he bathes in the sun’s light.

In thinking about my little snowman and his obvious need for sunlight to function properly and happily, I related that to our life in Christ. We too function at our very optimum when we are in the “Son” light. We start out slowly at first, baby steps, but as we continue to trust more and more on Him, we pick up momentum. God fills us with his “Son” light, His love, His blessings. As we soak up more and more of God, we begin to “dance” like my snowman. And similarly we begin to loose joy and momentum as we move away from the “Son’s” light. We can maintain our motion for a while apart from Him, but eventually if we are away from Him long enough we become as lifeless as my snowman in the early morning. We can also look for substitutes for the “Son” light. But these “artificial” gods won’t sustain us. Oh we may experience some “dancing, but only Christ is everlasting.

This Christmas I’m going to be more like my snowman…soaking in the “Son” light, remembering the importance of staying close to God and the reason for the season…and also being wary of the artificial imposter “light” that may fill me for the moment but is not life sustaining. I challenge you this Holiday season to dance in the “Son’s” light along with me…like my snowman.

(PS. I’m going to have a hard time giving up the snowman to my Dad.)

Frosty the snowman was a jolly happy soul… There must have been “Son” magic in that old silk hat they found… for when they placed it on his head he began to dance around…