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The other day, I am ashamed to say, I pulled a very “juvenile” move…We had given a party at our home for my son’s birthday and I had purchased a number of helium balloons to add to the festivities. When the party was over, being that the balloons are Mylar, they were still going strong. I tried to give them away, even to our grandchildren, but no takers. I didn’t have the heart to pop them, so they hung around the house for a couple weeks. As the days past by they began to wilt a little but for the most part stayed floating happily, all but one. This was the one that said “Happy 30th Birthday”. I noticed it drooped much quicker than the others, but they continued to hold it up as best they could. However, it was still bouncing around with the rest of the balloon bouquet each time it caught the slight breeze of an open door or someone passing by.

It got to be Thanksgiving week and it was clearly time that the birthday decorations needed to be sent packing and the Thanksgiving decorations take its place. As I looked at those still perky balloons I had a thought…why not open the door and release the entire bouquet into the air. I hadn’t done that since I was a kid. It would be fun to watch them climb into the sky and be mesmerized as they soared higher than I could eventually follow them. This way, I also wouldn’t have to pop them, which felt a little like ending their life. For a split second I did think about just popping them, as it was probably the most environmentally friendly and neighborly option, since they would eventually end up in someone’s yard who’d have to pick them up, or as trash along the roadside. But I quickly dismissed this thought.( My idea was much more pleasing.)

When I released them I snuck out to the deck, checking to be sure there were no neighbors about, quickly christened their voyage, and ran back to the doorway to watch their plight under the eaves of the house where no one could see me. But, as I retreated I noticed that darn “30th” balloon was not cooperating. It was dragging all the other balloons down with its lack of air and partially flattened state. Just then, a side wind took hold of them. As I watched in horror, the entire balloon bouquet became entangled around some wires and a telephone pole at the back of our neighbor’s yard. Yikes! No way to get that down now, so I quickly darted into the house to hide, hoping no one could trace them back to me.

Today as I was thinking about that event as I looked out the window and could still see those now deflated balloons hanging on the pole. I wasn’t thinking so much about the childish act, but more towards that “30th” birthday balloon. It was a real downer. Had it been as perky, light and airy as the others, they would have made that maiden voyage a success. They would have missed the tangles of wires and maze of poles that were out in front of them. The bouquet of 10 balloons would have skyrocketed, missing all of the entrapments.

It led me to think…during this Holiday Season… I don’t want to be a downer. It’s so easy to discourage people, taking the air out of their sails and keep them from experiencing joy. So I committed to lifting others up so they can miss the traps and things that tangle people keeping them from soaring. I hope you will commit to this along with me. This Christmas season will be much jollier if we remember… it only takes one flat balloon to weigh down the whole bunch.

Oh By Golly Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, this year!

The Advent of a Deliverer – Dec 1st, 2014

During my quiet time with the Lord today I thought about how it must have been over 2,000 years ago when the Jewish people were under oppression from Rome and they cried out for a “Deliverer” to their God.

A deliverer had been foretold of hundreds of years earlier, however none had come. But then, after many years of God’s “silence” things started to happen. John the Baptist was born as the forerunner to tell of Jesus birth. A young Jewish virgin girl Mary became pregnant with a child whom angels said would be the Savior of the world. Angels appeared to Mary’s betrothed husband, Joseph, and told him the child Mary was carrying was the Son of God. You see when God starts to move, we had better “buckle-up” because He patiently waits but then all of a sudden, in His time, things begin to move. It must have been like that those many years ago before the birth of Jesus. Can’t you just sense the magic in the air they felt way back then – finally…the Deliverer would arrive. The Jewish people were under such oppression, such poverty, such cruelty, such tremendous rebellion and some of it coming from God’s own people. It was time… And the advent of the Deliverer was at hand…

Today, if you think about the state our country is in, or even the world at large, we are in a very similar situation: one of oppression for our Christian values and beliefs. One of rebellion from God – the very Maker of this world and this blessed nation we live in. One of cruelty to others; selfish-absorbed and impatient.

Christian’s, myself included, have become so self-absorbed that we hardly have time, nor the patience or energy to be kind and seek to help others in need – say a kind word, let someone else go through the check-out line ahead of us, or even stop what we are doing long enough to make a difference in someone else’s life. This is not a dish on Christians. Of course we are self-absorbed, we are beat down every day – socially, professionally, and financially. We are doing everything we can to keep our head above water. With so much to manage, we hardly have time to care for others. There is scarcely a person you talk with that when they get really transparent, they admit to the intense struggles in their lives, and that they feel overwhelmed and exhausted just trying to keep up. All this “managing” keeps us beat up spiritually.

Today, Dec. 1st, the first day of advent, I found myself thinking about the similarities between nowadays and 2,000 years ago. Maybe our cry needs to also be to God to “send the Deliverer.” His return is eminent; why not begin his 2nd coming Advent … Today!

Joy to the World, the Lord Will Come!

My daughter Stacy is an angel sent from heaven to delight everyone who comes in contact with her. Stacy is one of those women that walks into a room and lights it up – not only with her beauty, but with her smile and grace. She is lovely beyond description, both inside and out. And although she is one of the most beautiful looking women I have ever seen, her depth of character reaches far beyond her beauty. Many times she has jolted me with her gift of wisdom and determination. If Stacy put her mind to something, she was always determined to do it and nothing was going to get it out of her pretty little head.  Often as a child Stacy would be so persistent that I’d give in just to get her to stop bugging me. She never let her young age deter her, and now in her adult years her wisdom and determination are even more prevalent.

The other thing I have always admired about Stacy is that her beauty, to her, has always been secondary. Her first thought is love. Everyone that knows her loves her, because she loves them. From the time she was a little girl, her gift of love was apparent to her dad and I, and he fondly nick-named her the “Velcro Kid” because when she was with you, she was stuck right to you. Stacy’s beauty draws people in but her love keeps them in relationship. And with her gift of love and perseverance, comes confidence and grace.

The attributes of Stacy, unfortunately, have not always been as true of her mother. In contrast to Stacy’s innocence and confidence, I have often confused God’s gifting as useful tools for my gain. Particularly when it came to being pretty.  In my younger years I fell prey to using my gifts in self-centered ways, which typically back-fired, leading to self-pity.

I found myself in that awful place of self-centered-self-pity just before Christmas many years ago when Stacy was about 5 years old. Here is the story of when God used her unique blend of grace and persistence to prevail in order to do His will and ultimately to teach me about the “Purpose in gifts”…

Each year close to Christmas my sisters and I had a tradition of taking our kids to a nursing home where we would walk the floors and sing Christmas carols to the residents. We had 8 children between us, so with the kids, my sisters, and a few tag-along friends we made quite an ensemble. We would happily walk through each floor of the nursing home joyously bellowing out our merry Christmas tunes. We always started out a little shy, but by the time we reached the middle of the first floor the kids were leading the way singing their hearts out and greeting the old folks that would come scurrying out of their rooms to see us.

We went to the same nursing home each year, but this was not a typical middle class nursing home. It was a state ran facility. Now we’ve all heard horror stories about how bad some nursing homes can be, but you cannot even imagine the depth of despair until you visit a state ran facility that houses people who are very low income and with no other financial resources to take care of themselves.

This particular facility had 3 floors that looked pretty much like a hospital. As you progressed up each floor the sadness would thicken as we saw declining degrees of the human condition. It wasn’t that the faculty was neglectful toward the people, it was apparent most of the workers genuinely cared for the residents. It was just that there was only so much money available in state funds allocated to the home. So with that along with whatever social security paid, the nursing staff did the best they could.

The first floor housed residents that could somewhat care for themselves, however, they needed someone  to remind them to eat, take their pills, clean their rooms, etc. The people on the first floor were mostly of sound mind and were typically strong enough to walk or be pushed in wheelchairs. Some of the residents on this floor were convalescing and would be leaving at some point, but for most they were nearing the end of the winter season of their lives.

The second floor housed elderly people who could no longer care for themselves. They needed round-the-clock supervision. Many were mentally ill in various stage of dementia and Alzheimer, and most had disabilities that kept them confined to wheel chairs. When our little band of carolers would go to this floor, we would be ushered by several of the orderlies who stayed close by, as the people were unpredictable and sometimes a little intimidating. But, our kids continued to merrily sing Christmas carols and shake the hands of each person. I was always so proud of how outgoing the kids were as they wished everyone “Merry Christmas!”

The third and last floor of this nursing home required special permission to go on it. When my sister originally sought out a nursing home we could carol at, the head of the facility said we would not be allowed to tour the 3rd floor as the people were in critical health and the last stages of life. Many there had progressed their way through each floor to finally land on the third floor where they lived out the remainder of their life and passed away. The third floor was restricted, but my sister, also blessed with the gift of persistence, finally talked the nursing staff into allowing us on the 3rd floor.

The third floor housed the dying and the severely disabled, physically and mentally, however, not all were old people. A few of the residents were young people who had been in horrible accidents but had no money for their continued care, and no one to care for them, so they were put in this facility to live out their lives. It was a tragedy to see some of the severely disabled young people there year after year.

I remember one young man that was on the third floor who had gotten in a motorcycle accident. He was in his 30’s at the time of the accident that left him completely paralyzed. He laid in that bed with a sound mind, unable to move and communicated only by grunting – 1 grunt for no, 2 grunts for yes. He had a wife and family that spent long hours with him – at first. His money had run out as his medical expenses soared, so he was resolved to spending the rest of his life in the same bed on the third floor of that state ran facility. Year after year we would see him and he always remembered us. Each Christmas visit we made a point to go to his room and spend extra time singing to him. There were always hugs and smiles as he gave us 2 grunts acknowledging he had remembered us from the previous year. The two most significant memories I have of this of this young man were that he had the biggest smile you have ever seen, and that as the years went by his family stopped coming to see him.

People in nursing homes sadly don’t get many visitors, and if you were in this nursing facility it was most likely because you had no one to care for you and no where else to go. Needless to say it was one of the most sobering and heart wrenching things to see. Yet we believed we could make a difference in the lives of these forgotten people even if for just one night at Christmas. 

After the first year our children got used to going to the second and third floor of the nursing home. They saw past the tragic circumstances and happily bounce from room to room delighting people with their youthfulness and song. How the residents loved the kids. The faculty got to know us and each year would make an announcement that we had returned with our unique Christmas cheer to delight the residents and they allowed us to meander a little longer than their rules permitted.

As we walked the halls the residents would come out of their rooms, some using walkers, some using wheel chairs and some being pushed out in beds by nurses and orderlies. They would join in our songs. They delighted in seeing our beautiful children and caught their excitement of the magic of Christmas and the birth of our Savior.

As I mentioned, when I was younger I did not always appreciated my God-given gifts as being from Him – meant to share with others for his good will. One particular year, close to Christmas and ironically the evening of our annual caroling, I had been in a particularly negative rut for several days over an offensive statement I had heard said about me. Earlier in the week I had applied for a job and lost the position. I had tried really hard to get it and felt sure I would. After I had aced my first interview, I was confident my experience, professional demeanor and pretty looks would be the closer. But, instead of the door opening because of my attributes the door slammed shut. Upon following up on the position I was told they felt my looks would be a distraction to the job.

This wasn’t the first time I had heard this – the same message had just recently been conveyed to me from a committee at church as I had sought to serve in a particular capacity. My being pretty would be a distraction and hinder the ministry.

Being “pretty” had opened doors from time to time, which had been an advantage in the past, but recently it had become a hindrance to me getting what I wanted…and I found myself sinking into the self-centered-self-pity mode.

There I was, the morning of our caroling adventure, feeling very sorry for myself. I looked in the mirror with a selfish and bruised ego and demanded God to answer this question “why God did you make me pretty?”  On this day I saw it as a curse, and as silly as it sounds now, I stood there crying and pleading with God for an answer as to why he made me pretty.  …No answer came.

As the evening grew closer I got the kids ready for our caroling adventure. They put on their festive Christmas attire, found the jingle bells, and out the door we went with some homemade card ornaments we had put together a few days earlier to give to the residents.

Everyone looked especially radiant that night including me. But unfortunately my attitude was nothing of the sort. Still sulking from the loss of the job and feeling discriminated against from church, we left for the evenings annual Christmas caroling. My thought was I’d go through the motions, faking my Christmas joy in order to be a good example to the kids. But internally I had even became angry at God for not answering my earlier question…”why did you make me pretty!”

When we got to the nursing home we made our usual rounds to the first and second floors. The residents were so happy to see us. Many had remembered us from the previous year. We missed some as they had passed on but there were new residents to take their place. On this night there was particularly more joy and love in this place than even on previous visits. The peace and merriment of Christmas was present and everyone including our little band of carolers were recipient of God’s joyous presence. Eventually I even dumped my self-pity “baggage”  and joined in the merriment and blessings we were witnessing as God “showed up” that Christmas caroling evening. I had completely forgotten my questioning God earlier that morning, and was just thankful to be part of bringing so much joy to others.

As we reached the third floor, the “last stop” for residents in their twilight years, God’s presence abound even more. For a moment I paused and watched as my 5 year old little Stacy skipped through the hall singing her heart out with the other kids. She was darling in her little Christmas dress and her hair curled in pigtails. She actually was so friendly that night that I became a little nervous because she kept wanting to go into patients rooms who were not coming out into the hall to hear us sing. So I decided to hold onto her hand to keep her close.

Up on the third floor the nurses had asked us to be careful about not going into rooms, even though the doors were left open, because they were afraid the children may see something that would be upsetting, so we tried to contain them to the hall as best we could.

There was however one room that Stacy was adamant about going into. With her unique brand of persistence she continued to tug on my hand over and over again, saying “mommy come in here, we have to go in here.”  I kept telling her we were not to go into rooms if people were not at their door, but Stacy persisted. “Mommy, please come in here” and before I knew it she let go of my hand and darted in the room – alone. I followed after to bring her back into the hall.

As I entered, the room was dark with the exception of a single light in a corner. There were two beds, one unoccupied, the other occupied with a very old sick man laying flat and staring up at the ceiling. Stacy was already at the man’s side standing on her tiptoes and I could see from the doorway that she had captured his attention with her loving smile. She began merrily chattering and when she saw me she said, “mommy lets sing to him.” The other carolers could be plainly heard out in the hallway bellowing their Christmas carols, so I said “Stacy, jut let him hear everyone else”. But Stacy persisted, “mommy come closer and lets sing to him.” I realized she was not going to give up until we sang to the man so I approached the bed. The man had not seen me yet, but was intently looking at sweet, beautiful, smiling Stacy.

When I got to the bedside I could see the man was really ill, so much so that he could not lift his head. All he could do was lay there motionless. It was obvious by his slow shallow breathing and cloudy eyes that he was dying. I realized then why he was not pushed out into the hallway to hear us sing as the other residents had been.

Immediately I was filled with compassion and sorrow. Stacy persisted, “mommy sing to him.” So at the relentless determination of my daughter I began to sing. And as I did the man’s gaze turned from Stacy to me, and he saw me for the first time since I had entered the room. Immediately upon seeing me, this man who before was gaunt, had sunken eyes and gray coloring, now had a face lit up as if he had just seen something glorious. His eyes began to dance and a huge smile came to his face. I continued to sing and Stacy joined in. Then just as the song was ending, Stacy ran out of the room, leaving me on my own. I stood there, finished the song, and then there was silence.

The old man never took his eyes from me, and I saw them began to fill with tears. He then softly said  with delight “Your here” (pause) “I have been praying that God would send a beautiful angel to take me home to be with him and you’re here.” He began to cry and thank God for answering his prayer, never releasing his gaze from my face. At that moment I heard God say to my heart “you see Janie, that is why I made you pretty.”

I too began to cry and just then Stacy came running back in the room and started tugging on my sweater saying “here mommy give him this.” I looked down and in her hand was one of our homemade Christmas card cutout ornaments with the picture of a beautiful angel that closely resembled me, dressed in powder blue (the same color I was wearing.) I took the ornament and put it in the hand of the old man. As the old man took hold of the ornament, his gaze turned from me to the angel on the card ornament and he beamed at the site of the card the same way he had at me.  Stacy and I were both reverent for a moment then she took my hand to lead me out the door. Stacy seemed to have realized our mission was accomplished in the old man’s life, but what she did not realize is that a mission was also accomplished in her mom at that same moment.

I kissed the old man on his forehead and told him I would see him in heaven. Stacy then quietly said “come on mommy,” and we walked out the door. I took one last look as we got to the doorway. The old man never took his gaze from the angel ornament in his hand and he continued thanking and praising God.

I have no doubt that the old man passed away shortly after that, it was obvious he was just waiting for God to answer his prayer of having an angel usher him into heaven. God had used me to answer his prayer and I had been given the gift of holding his hand for a few moments on this final journey.

I left there a changed person. No longer did I question why God made me pretty or any other number of “why questions” around my God-given abilities. God had made it clear He had given me certain gifts to be used for his glory. I just needed to be humble so God could show me that gifts are not given to be self-servicing or to manipulate to get our own way. They are given to us so we can bless and minister to others. So we can be His hands, His feet, His eyes, ears and voice.

I am thankful to Stacy who at a very young age was tuned into God enough to know exactly what He wanted, and what her mommy needed. I was given an amazing gift that night to be a blessing to others, and personally healed (and forgiven) in the process.

Get into the Boat!

My husband and I enjoy spending time at the ocean. It has become sort of home-away-from-home for us.  We love to stay at the same place, which has a panoramic unobstructed ocean view.  It feels like our home-away-from-home not just because of the familiar accommodations, but because of the unchangeable predictably of the lovely seascape. It is the same view every time, yet there is always something new that has made it’s way onto the beach, and I never tire of seeing the beautiful scenery. Such serenity at the beach.

Recently when staying at this favorite ocean resort, I got up early one morning to enjoy some quiet time. The weather was stormy, so I turned on the gas fireplace, made coffee, and settled onto the couch in front of the ceiling-to-floor window to watch the ocean waves crash onto the beach and roll back in rhythmic concession. I looked in awe at the beauty before me and began to think about the similarities between God and the ocean. I took out my journal and began to write the the attributes of both…

The ocean is steady, powerful, relentless, and all consuming – so is God.  The ocean is the cloth of time pounding the beach. Likewise, so is God; timeless, the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega. The ocean and God are consistent, yet within their consistency there is an ever-changing landscape. Walking the beach on a particular day you will find driftwood, plants and crustaceans. Yet overnight, the next walk you take will yield the same or similar species but different sizes and placement. God is very much like that. Our lives, situations, and the world around us change from day to day. Who I am today is not who I will be tomorrow as God works in and through my life – but, I am still Janie. God and the ocean are constant in their change but reliable in their consistency.

Gazing out the window I imagined the creatures that live in or near the ocean. Life is sustained through the ocean for a host of plants and animals who find a harbor within its breadth. The ocean is their source for food, energy, and a home. God too is our source for life and a harbor for sustaining his people. God is the giver and provider of all things just as the ocean is to its inhabitants. And God, like the ocean, is no respecter of persons in that he has created this beautiful world for all to live in, and blessed us with life and love, and he provides means for shelter and food. (I am very fond of a saying that says, “God provides every bird his food, but he doesn’t throw it into the nest!”) God and the ocean both provide the means for sustaining life and are not impartial.

My thoughts then turned to God and his tranquil beauty. He is a God of peace and as one song suggests “an awesome God, he reigns from heaven above with wisdom, power, and love.” But there is also the righteous judgment side of God and as the same song continues, “there’s thunder in his footsteps and lightning in his fists.”

The ocean too is a tranquil place of beauty where both calm seas and raging waters abide. We can swim in the ocean and be consumed with its beauty. However, we are not infallible so without a life supporting vessel we cant stay afloat forever. We need a boat to keep us buoyant. And, once we “get into the boat” we are safe to further enjoy the tossing and rolling of the tide. It can get rough on the sea, but within the confines of the boat, even though the sea whirls around us, we are safe-saved from harm and potential of sinking.

Consequently,to stay afloat in this world we need a life sustaining vessel to keep us safe. We do not have the ability to stay afloat on our own. We make mistakes, trials come our way, and the world rages around us. All our flailing around and dogpaddling wont be effective forever. We become tired and incapable of saving ourselves. Oh we may try to fool ourselves or others into thinking we are OK, but deep down we have a need to be loved and protected, to be scooped up from our sinking state of mind; to be saved, at peace and settled. We need to be rescued and God has provided the “lifeboat” – Jesus Christ. Through accepting Jesus Christ, who died to rescue us from the strife of the world, God makes a way for us to be saved. 

Do you see the likeness of God and the ocean?  Have you experienced exhaustion trying to stay afloat apart from God?  He welcomes everyone to enjoy his beauty and provision by accepting Jesus Christ as our savior so we can bask in Gods sustaining sea of life for all eternity. With Jesus as our lifeboat we can live in the ocean of God’s goodness, love and protection.

Is it time for you to “get into the boat?”

I saw an interesting quote recently which said “The miracle is not that I finished, the miracle is that I began!” Why do we not begin? And, why if we do begin do we not finish? I believe the reason is fear. We loose our focus as fear becomes a distraction – fear of the future, fear of ridicule, fear of failure. Where does this fear come from? Our self talk, peers, those in authority, and the world in general can steal our dreams if we allow it. Goals and dreams are snatched away by input that would tell us to be safe, don’t rock the boat, don’t risk it…you’ll be sorry. I have been a recipient of just this type of “advice” and left dreams by the wayside or deferred a goal for a less risky opportunity. But, one pre-halloween evening I had an experience that changed my view of fear.

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 say you can’t do it, 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 to realize that with God, I am equipped with everything I need to get through life and achieve my dreams.

As you go through the “haunted houses” of life, they will all look different. Scenes come and go, situations change and can become seemingly insurmountable. You will hear screaming and fear will attempt to set in. Just remember they can not harm you. They are fake. Put your trust in God, focus on the goal, glorifying God in all that you do, and pay no attention to the screams.

Lord help us to focus on you and not be distracted by the screams, taunting, and temptations of the world. Amen

Jeremy is our youngest child. There has always had a uniqueness about him that is hard to convey in words. You can’t really grasp his amazing qualities unless you have the privilege of spending time with him. And once you have you will want to come back over and over again just to be around him. He is strong physically, intelligent, determined, a leader, compassionate, and is known for his very interesting insight and his ability to bring truth in counseling in a direct way yet well received by the hearer no matter how difficult the message may be. Often he would say something so eccentric yet profound that even as a small child those who heard him would ponder his words, his articulate delivery, and quickly realize the depth and truth in his comments. I, as his mother was in awe of Jeremy’s thought process and insight as soon as he could speak. My husband and I would often look at one another in amazement after Jeremy said something that made more sense than a college professor. From the beginning he just thought different, right, precise but from a unique  perspective with wisdom written all through it. Many times the saying “from the mouth of babes” rung through my head as he would provide some choice “morsel” that was to resonate within me not only for the few moments after he said them but for a lifetime of self reflection and truth.

It was upon one very busy stressful mornings that once again Jeremy would deliver a pearl of wisdom that would stay with me for a lifetime, and that I would come back to time and time again.

The 3 “little dumplings” as I have always called our children – Teddy, Stacy and Jeremy, were getting ready to make their way out of the house and up the street to the grade school they all attended. That morning I found myself in a fit of despair regarding circumstance of which I thought were beyond my control (To this day I have no idea what could have possibly been effecting me so negatively.) But that morning I was struggling with life, and all of its complications felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders and I was making no attempt to keep my frustration contained to myself.

I was in the bathroom trying to get ready for the day ahead, while unknown to me little Jeremy, 5 years of age,  just tall enough to reach his hand over the bathroom cabinet and peer into the sink to wash his hands, had come into the bathroom for one last pit-stop before heading off to school. When he witnessed his mother carrying on in a fit of complaints – talking to myself. In my pity party I had neglected to notice Jeremy, him with his angelic face peering up at me as I picked up my primping tools, and morning routine toiletries to use them and promptly slam them down on the counter in rapid succession after I  finished with each one. BLAM! I slammed down the hair brush, BLAM! down went the toothpaste, the deodorant, no product was safe in my hands. With each slamming I continued to muddle under my breath all that was bothering me that unsettled and frustrating morning.

After a while, and I had no idea how long Jeremy had been standing there watching this awful expression of my lack of self control, I finally realized he was in there with me and in a very concerned tone he said “Mommie what’s wrong?”  Being the “controlled” mother I was I readily let him know my list of woes, frustrations, and disappointments ailing me and cluttering my mind that “foggy” morning, all of which he at his young age of 5 had no clue as to what they meant. But he patiently let me run through my list, and after what must have seemed like an eternity to him, I finally ran out of my list of life’s troubles and shut my mouth. His eyes were wide as saucers and I was afraid I had scared him. It was only then that Jeremy said one of the most profound things I have ever heard, which has never left my conscience. In his very simple yet direct way, he looked at me with those sparkling, penetrating, bright blue eyes, with the face of an angel and a heart pure as snow and with a little fear said “Well, are we going to live?

At that moment all of my tales of woes took their rightful place and priority in the grand scheme of things and I looked into his sweet face and said “Why yes Jeremy, we are going to live…” There was the slightest moment of silence as I stood there looking at my little boy, immediately ashamed of my poor attitude and unwarranted display of emotion only a few moment earlier. Jeremy shrugged his shoulders as if to convey, “so no big deal”, and said OK Mommie, see you tonight. He then stood on his tippy toes and I bent down so he could give me a kiss and he ran off to catch up with his brother and sister on their way to school.

I learned that day that nothing, neither height, nor depth, nor principalities…can separate me from the love of God and that all things need to be in perspective of truth, so they do not consume a place, thought, action, or position they do not deserve. God taught me through Jeremy the faith of a child and what really matters in the grand scheme of things…are we going to live? Well – then we need to leave the rest up to God.

God has quite often used my children to teach me things. In fact they are my greatest teachers and I their willing student. My children are simply delightful. And, as they have grown into adults, married and with children of their own, they and their spouses continue to teach and give me those “ah ha” moments when the light goes on and I realize I have just heard from our heavenly Father, through them. Whether they realize what they are doing or not, I am so very thankful for their input as God profoundly speaks to me through their actions and words. Here is one of those moments when I learned what the world needs now…

Teddy is a “golden” child. He is a rare and beautiful son who has now become a man. From birth, he was nicknamed “Mr.” as from the minute he was born, his demeanor has been one of leadership, with the ability to bring peace, truth, gentleness, stability, and honor to every situation. He loves deeply, is full of heart, but also loves the extreme side of life and is a bit of a risk taker. He is liked by everyone, and there within his nature lies an aura which radiates respect and a challenge to be the best you can be. Teddy makes others better by just being around him.

Raising a child like this to me, (and no disrespect intended towards our Lord,) must have been in some ways a little like Mary raising Jesus. They just know better than we do…and they are much younger. It is innate within them and God given. On many occasions Teddy has unknowingly brought choice words of wisdom to a situation. At times he has spoke with such simplicity and directness that it could be missed if I wasn’t listening to more than his words, but also listening to his heart.

One of those “ah ha” moments came close to Christmas, when Teddy was around 7 years old. I had held him out of school for the morning, while we went for his six month cleaning at the dentist. 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 after his dentist appointment. As we got to the school Teddy reached into my purse to get something out of it. I have no idea what it was that he was looking for, but what he found would be one of the many growing up milestones in his life, (and mine.).

It was a few days before Christmas and the kids were excitedly looking towards Christmas Eve when Santa would bring them all their little hearts had longed for over the past year and their rooms would once again be filled with the latest and greatest toys that Santa could muster. It was a Bakke Family traditional that each year we would sit at the kitchen table and the kids would happily look 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. I’d watch as the envelopes would quickly fill up. And in keeping within “Santa’s” Christmas budget, out of necessity I would say, “OK guys, that’s probably enough now.” And the catalog shopping was over.

This year was no different and the weekend before Teddy’s dentist appointment we had made the trek downtown to see Santa and give him each child’s envelope of wishes.  After they sat on Santa’s lap and told him they had been good then rattled off one or two items from the envelopes they held in their tight little hands, Santa would graciously take their envelopes and tell them he would try to get them a couple of the things in the envelopes, and that they should continue to be good for their mommy and dad until Christmas.

Unknown to the kids, after they walked away contented that they had been heard and assured of the loot to follow on Christmas morning, my husband would distract the kids while I went back to Santa to get the envelopes so we could remember what each one wanted from “Santa.”

That Monday morning as I parked the car at the school to drop Teddy off after his dentist appointment, his little hand went into my purse and emerged not with what he had been searching for but with the Santa envelopes. I had forgotten to take them out of my purse that weekend, and I immediately felt my heart sink. How was I going to get out of this one…

As Teddy pulled out the envelopes he saw his along with his brother and sister’s Santa envelopes. His face became one of concern, and asked in a very puzzled tone, “mommie, why do you have our Santa envelopes in your purse?” I wanted to make up some story because I knew if I told the truth that would be the end of my little boys Christmas dreams. Santa was a regular tradition, his Grandpa had dressed like Santa every Christmas Eve and had delighted the kids for many years with his belly laughs and Christmas stories. I did not want the magic to disappear. So, in lue of telling my son the truth I decided to work around it. “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 Dad and I always get you kids a gift or two as well.” Teddy was not letting me off the hook so easily. “But Mommie, if you have the envelopes, how will Santa know what to get us?”

I looked at Teddy’s beautiful face of innocence and we were both silent for what seemed like several minutes, but was in reality only a few seconds. All of a sudden a look came over Teddy’s face, the “Mr.” in him came out, which called for a mature answer. At that moment I knew God was calling me to be truthful with Teddy. Fear had taken over me. Fear that my little boy would grow up, fear that if I told him the truth about Santa, what about the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and more importantly the credibility of God. All of these he had seen through characterizations, pictures, and stories. How would he take the news that Santa was not real? Would this cause him to doubt God as well? Where would this end? I wanted to keep Teddy little as long as I could and ultimately wanted to be sure he knew God was real.

But, a question of this proportion, the strong relationship I had with Teddy, and the evidence from my purse demanded the truth. So I tenderly said, “well Teddy, Mommie and Daddy are really Santa.” Expecting Teddy to be very disappointed and sad, and his little heart to be broken, I waited with a sinking feeling in my stomach for his response. After a second or two Teddy said, slowly “well Mommie, (pause) what about the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy?” He had put those together with Santa, just as I suspected. My heart sunk as I said “Yes Teddy, Mommie and Daddy are the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy too.”  At that, he started to cry and I just knew my worst fears had become a reality – his little heart was broken.

There in my car in the school parking lot, Teddy cried for a couple minutes. I attempted to console him and said “Teddy, don’t cry. I am sorry, I know your disappointed.”

Then Teddy said something I will never forget. He looked at me with his eyes full of tears and said Mommie, I’m not disappointed, I just can’t believe that you and Dad would do all of that for us kids.”

I realized at that moment that Teddy was thankful. He was not sad or heart broken, he was crying out of love and respect for his parents and their graciousness. God was bigger than my fear of disappointing Teddy, and Teddy was grounded and stable. His world did not turn upside down because of this new revelation, it was confirmed. Teddy was humbly thankful and in awe.

Within a few minutes Teddy wiped his eyes, kissed me, hopped out of the car and ran into school. He was fine and actually knowing the truth seemed to be refreshing to him. The truth was freeing for us both. His step was light as he skipped away. He never once asked if God was real. That wasn’t even a thought. Which also told me of Teddy’s commitment to God and the relationship he and God had at that young age. God had revealed himself to Teddy’s heart years earlier, and Teddy knew that God was real.

That day it was confirmed to me that what the world needs now is…truth.

 

Dear God,

Help us to be truthful even in the hardest situations, knowing that you have equipped people to handle it, and something brighter and more profound awaits in knowing the truth.

Love, Janie

I stared at the blank page – where to start with my writing? It was not for lack of subject matter as my mind skipped from one experience to the next of  amazing opportunities I had the benefit of witnessing where God spoke through circumstances and relationships in my life. I knew God had been exposing me to a host of events from early childhood, teaching me truths so I could in turn share them with others. What is the reason he has spoke so many times? To show Himself, His character, His personality, and teach me how to be in relationship with Him and love His people. His method? Teaching through experiences and parables, learning to embrace all – trials and times of tranquility.

God has consistently revealed his character and qualities so as to invite me into a deeper relationship. Why does God choose to speak through experiences? Because, as visual, sensory driven individuals, these experiences are used to seal truths into our head and brand them on our heart. And, while He has communicated these truths to my heart, passion has become the overwhelming outcome. Passion about being coached, and mentored by a loving God. Passion for His creation, passion for adventure and His people, and passion for a deeper relationship with Him.

Many years ago I began journaling. It was a way to keep focused during my “alone time” with God.  Each day I would pray, read my bible, and write a “love” letter to God in my little journal. I began every new journal entry with…”Dear God.”

Early on my journaling mostly consisted of “discussing” life’s challenges, which usually involved a lot of whining, (obviously on my part.) In my “love” letters I would tell the Lord everything that was troubling me. And there were many…As a young wife and mother at times I felt the weight of the world was on my last nerve.  Although I was blessed with a wonderful husband, he worked long hours trying to provide for our family and we still struggled to make ends meet, so the stress of money issues was a constant battle. We had 3 young, adorable children all just a year in age between them. The kids were well behaved and excellent playmates, but taking care of them was more than a full time job. Also, during those years I had severe back trouble as a result of an injury that occurred during the birth of our first child. At age 27, these  issues along with the emotional “baggage” I brought into the marriage from a very unsettling childhood, were all topics of discussion during my “time alone” with God. They were captured in print through my “Dear God” journal entries.

My journaling became my release, and I found that as I wrote my attitude changed, I felt better. And each time at the alter of my “alone time,” I came to know God more as He showed Himself to be concerned with all that troubled me. Not only was he concerned but He understood. In those quiet times my complaints to God were comforted by the Holy Spirits’ unique way of understanding right were I was, and by the time they ended I was praising God and thanking him. (You know it is really true that a heart of thankfulness has room for little regrets.)

Just as each journal entry “love” letter began with “Dear God”, so did each closing line read “I love you. Love, Janie,” as love was always the end result and Gods answer to every situation. His parting words to my heart regularly were “I understand, now go and love.”

During our daily time alone, God revealed himself as the compassionate, understanding, and commissioning, God he is. He never failed to comfort and encourage me. Soon my whining sessions turned into times I could not wait to be alone with Him, as I knew I would leave our sacred time together refreshed with a new perspective.

It is now through my writing that I intend to impart to you, as best I can, the goodness, wisdom, insight, peace, commitment, healing, and love Jesus Christ offers us. I feel privileged to share these experiences through the journey in the journals, mountains and valleys, He has brought me through since my commitment to him so may years ago.

It is my prayer that the experiences, thoughts, ideas, and revelations in these pages touch you as they have me. My hope and trust is that God will use this recounting of my experiences in your life to groom, coach, and mentor you, to show how real and profound He is, to show his providence in “coincidences”, and to reveal a life with Him that is exciting, new every minute, and something to be sought after and fully engaged in. These are His stories, not mine. I am just doing what He has told me to do, which is “Never stop telling what I have done for you!”.

Dear God,

Your will be done in the words of this “journal.”

I love you.

Love, Janie