Does God Know Santa?

“Does God know Santa?” my eight year-old grandson asked? The pressure was on. He still believes in Santa Claus and since God made everything and everyone and knows us all by name, I couldn’t say no.

I sent a quick prayer heavenward and asked for wisdom. Then I took a deep breath and… (wait for it), I told him, “Of course God knows Santa. He knows and loves everybody.” This seemed to satisfy his curiosity for the moment.

The childlike wonder and magical “specialness” of Christmas led to other questions about God and a chance to discuss the real reason for Christmas – the baby Jesus who was sent to earth by God as his special gift to us. We spent twenty minutes talking about the Christ child and God’s love for us. It was a special time for me to see his young heart so open to the true message of Christmas.

He was fascinated by the story of baby Jesus and the celebration of his birth in a stable and his bed of straw in a manger. The story of the wonderful angels who lit up the night sky proclaiming wonderful news to the shepherds in nearby fields evoked a number of questions. As I answered them, I began to see Christmas through the eyes of a child for whom the wonder of God’s son sent to earth as a grand and glorious gift to all of mankind is profound.

By the end of our conversation he was a little closer to understanding the true meaning and real “magic” of Christmas – after all they don’t call it Santa-mas, do they?

Unusable Decorations

I usually love decorating for the Christmas season. But this year as I sorted my way through boxes of decorations - trying to decide which ones would fit in our tiny, new condominium and which ones would be left in the boxes, sadness and a deep longing to return to our large home in the country overwhelmed me.

I missed our huge Christmas tree and windows filled with Yuletide greenery and candles. I remembered the tiny, white lights spread out over a cascade of greenery atop our piano and the colorful outdoors lights that framed our house and deck. I yearned for that “Home for the Holidays” feeling and wanted to celebrate the way we always had in the past. But the mounting stacks of boxes filled with unusable decorations with no place to be displayed reminded me in no uncertain terms of my new reality.

Willingly tumbling into a downward spiral of negative emotions, I started imagining that everything good about the Christmas season would now be gone forever. I recalled the simple Christmas traditions of wrapping gifts, decorating the tree, sipping hot chocolate with tiny marshmallows, and exchanging gifts with family and friends. I pictured the precious smile on my grandson’s face as he plunged cookie cutters into the dough while making Christmas cookies with me in my old kitchen. I remembered the fun we had baking and decorating them and the simple pleasure of sharing a few cookies with him along the way.

My self-pity grew to resentment as my husband brought in box after box of unusable Christmas treasures and I continued to convince myself that I would never again experience another precious Christmas memory in this dreary little condo. How could Christmas be special here with little to no room for my seemingly endless treasure trove of decorations?

I needed to do something, anything to take my mind off the resentment I felt for not being able to use all of my Christmas decorations. Unbeknownst to me, in the midst of my selfish attitude, God was already at work – preparing to answer the unspoken prayer of my heart.

I walked out of our tiny, dreary condo and headed down the hall toward the elevator. As I entered the third floor lobby I noticed someone else walking toward the elevators. We struck up a conversation and I learned that she was in charge of the decorations for the building and was looking for someone to decorate the third floor. Before I knew it, I was the newly-appointed volunteer in charge of decorating the entire third floor of our building for Christmas.

While my newfound friend was overjoyed at finding such a willing volunteer, I was beginning to realize that God was once again at work in my life. After my new friend finished showing me where all of the seasonal decorations were stored I hurried back to our little condo with a heart full of joy, excitement, and a childlike anticipation of Christmas cheer. I now had a plan for those stacked boxes of unusable Christmas decorations.

I dove into the stack of boxes again and after a long session of sorting, arranging, re-sorting, and re-arranging, I was ready to decorate the third floor. An angel with golden wings now presides over the coffee table near the double doors. My special glass vase sits atop the grand piano in the lobby surrounded by a gorgeous display of holiday greenery laced with tiny, white lights. A beautiful Christmas swag accented with rich, red candles adorns the mantle over the fireplace and the windows are filled with greenery and flowers. A holiday garland bedazzled with a shimmering assortment of Christmas decorations offers a festive greeting to residents as they step off the elevator. The unusable decorations transformed the third floor lobby into a beautiful tribute to the Christmas season.

As I decorated this huge common area and the lobby began to sparkle and shine with the joy of the season, a miraculous change took place in my heart. My attitude began to sparkle and shine as my bitterness and resentment were replaced by a deep sense of joy and peace. The tidings of comfort and joy we sing about filled my heart.

I asked God to forgive me for my attitude of selfishness and resentment and thanked him for providing a way to share special Christmas treasures that mean so much to me with the other residents in the building. As I continued to fine tune the Christmas décor throughout the week, a number of people commented on how pretty everything looked and what a great job had been done on this arrangement or that display.

So in addition to being able to use all of my Christmas decorations, God also allowed me to share my joy with others. The sense of joy and appreciation I see in their smiles and hear in their comments is something I never would have experienced in the big, old house where we used to live – and for this I am grateful.

The Struggle

Always be joyful. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

For years I struggled to understand these verses. How could God expect us to be thankful for everything (all circumstances) in our lives? Being thankful for the good things in my life made perfect sense – but being thankful for the bad things? No way!

I could never imagine saying, “Thank you, God that I am sick today” or “Thank you that my car broke down on the freeway.” On a more profound note, I have never been thankful that my oldest son was killed in a car accident when he was eighteen.

Then I took a closer look. God didn’t say to give thanks “for” all circumstances. He asked us to be thankful “in” all circumstances. I think this passage is encouraging us to find the joy of living in the midst of life’s pain and disappointments. God wants us to keep on trusting him and praying in spite of the difficulties and disillusionment we often face. We must thank him for taking us through the darkness while we are still going through it.

Look for the silver lining. Find and believe in the blessings that are hidden in even the most difficult circumstances. God didn’t promise that life would be easy. He never said we wouldn’t experience bad things, hard times, or devastating circumstances. But he did say he would be with us and never forsake us and for that we can be thankful.

If I can believe that God loves me enough to send his only son to pay the death penalty for my sin, surely I can have faith that he has my best interest in mind no matter what circumstances I am experiencing. If nothing else, I can be thankful that one day my trials will end and I will spend eternity with the God who loves me more than I know or understand.

Always be joyful. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

A Wedding Tale

The entire wedding party disappeared with the photographer immediately after the ceremony and I followed the crowd to begin that (often much too long) break where wedding guests mill around the reception hall munching on mixed nuts and making small talk until the bride and groom return with their attendants to get the party started. But then something great happened - something I had never experienced before.

The lights dimmed and a larger-than-life image of my niece joscelyn and fiancé-now-husband Wade appeared on the huge video screen behind the head table. The casually dressed couple extended a pre-recorded video welcome, an explanation of what they were up to at the moment, and an explanation of how the evening would unfold.

After the opening comments, an entertaining and well produced video clip chronicled the high (and low) points of their entire relationship – from their first date on through a number of romantic milestones and comical episodes in their growing love story. The grand finale was a complete video reenactment of Wades very romantic and highly creative proposal to my niece, complete with commentary from the happy couple as to what they were thinking and feeling as events unfolded.

As the video played, I was impressed with the sincerity of my new nephew’s love for my beautiful niece. Much time, thought, and effort went into making their engagement day special and memorable for both of them. This theme of fun and creativity continued up to and throughout the day of their wedding, which was filled to the brim with much love and laughter.

The deep and growing love these two young people share for each other and for God was obvious and ever present throughout the entire wedding celebration.

o From the words spoken by the bride and groom about their abiding love for each other to their joyful and solemn vows of commitment to love and cherish each other for the rest of their lives…

o From the meaningful and powerful counsel of the groom’s older brother who officiated the ceremony to the spoken blessings from both of the happy couple’s fathers…

o From the countless endearing and heartfelt comments of family and friends – especially a particularly poignant toast by the bride’s younger sister Allison.

God was honored, Christ was central, and true love was celebrated.

The wedding was incredible. The reception was full of fun and memorable moments. Late in the evening, while my niece and new nephew changed their clothes, hundreds of guests were handed sparklers (instead of rice) and asked to form two long lines - from the reception hall to the double doors leading outside. As the happy couple paraded their way down the sparkler-illumined pathway through the dark night air that was filled with encouraging shouts and cheers from the human hallway, they ran to a waiting helicopter that had just landed nearby – a helicopter my niece knew nothing about until that moment. As they flew off into the night sky, I realized that in every way possible, the “how to do a wedding” bar was raised to new heights that day (literally).

Congratulations, Wade and Joscelyn. May the love, beauty, fun, creativity, and adventure of your wedding day be a fitting prelude to married life. May God richly bless you both as you begin your new life together. Here’s to a future of unlimited possibilities and God-sized dreams. The best is yet to come!

On A Clear Day You Can See Forever

I attended a wedding recently. On a bright and sunny Saturday morning, I ventured out on a beautiful drive to Pacific City with my husband and mother-in-law to witness one of our favorite niece’s wedding celebration. The setting was idyllic, the weather was perfect, and the wedding was beautiful. End of story… (Well, not quite).

Wendy and her new husband Jeremiah (Miah) met about two years ago and many of us knew from the start that he was the one for her. They both have an amazing love for the outdoors and for things that go fast. Wendy’s 5-year old son Noah bonded quickly and deeply with Jeremiah while Wendy and Miah’s love and respect for each other grew in leaps and bounds from the start.

Wendy is an “outdoor” girl who has always chosen comfort over style when it comes to fashion. A sweatshirt and jeans was about as dressed up as I’d ever seen her. Imagine my surprise when an elegant and beautiful bride dressed in satin and lace with her hair done in cascading ringlets began her walk down the aisle to meet her future husband.

As I often do at weddings, I sneaked a peek at the groom while the beautiful bride was making her way down the aisle. I was not surprised to see a huge smile on Miah’s face as he wiped a tear from his eye.

The wedding was very much a family affair with sister, cousins, brothers, and friends making up the wedding party. The flower girls were adorable. The ring bearers (one of which was Wendy’s son Noah) were so handsome and cute you just wanted to reach out and squeeze them. There were a few unique and non-traditional twists in the ceremony that were creative, fun, authentic, and endearing. The entire event was a joyful celebration of love and commitment, surrounded by family and friends.

I found myself wondering if Jesus did his first miracle at a wedding as a trailer for the blockbuster release of Heaven – as an appetizer for the wedding feast to come. Those of us who know God through faith in Christ will all be in heaven someday - surrounded by family and friends, brothers and sisters in Christ who believe the good news that Jesus is the way to God and life eternal.

I know Wendy and Miah believe this and will pass this heritage of eternal life on to Noah and their new daughter, Jaycee. What a blessing to know that deep, abiding fellowship and joyful celebration not unlike Wendy and Miah’s special day in Pacific City will be never ending in Gods eternal kingdom.

Life's Little Surprises

Life catches us all by surprise at times - the ringing of the phone in the middle of the night; a chance meeting with an old friend you haven’t seen in years; an unanticipated layoff; an unplanned pregnancy when you thought you were finished. And the list goes on.

It’s a mixed bag. Some of life’s surprises are good while others are difficult and challenging, leading to hard times or seasons of great uncertainty. A life full of surprises (good and bad) is to be expected. It’s part of what makes life worth living.

But when it comes to the “bad” surprises of life – the difficult, challenging, heartbreaking ones, the key to living a life of peace in the midst of the storm lies in our power to choose how we will react to life’s surprises. Panic is not a requirement.

If you are a Christian, the one constant and unchanging thing in your life is Jesus. He never changes and is always with us through the surprises of life - good or bad. He is our source of peace, refuge, and comfort in the bad times as well as and the giver of all things good in our lives.

So if life has caught you by surprise today (good or bad) remember to turn to God for help through the bad surprises of life and to thank Him for the good ones.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4:6-7

Bumpy Roads of Life

Four mornings a week I go to our local aquatic center to work out and swim. Because I am an early riser, I usually try to get there by 5:30 AM when they open.

I am a little nervous about driving in the dark anyway - so I am extra careful when I drive the three short miles to the pool. I have driven the road enough times that I am familiar with the possible hazards I could encounter. I always choose the well-lighted route and am extra careful when driving on darker streets that have rough patches and bumps in the road.

As I was heading to the pool this morning I thought about how God often lights our way and steers us through the dark places. And how he sometimes allows rough patches and bumps in our lives to help us learn what he wants us to know or to help us to grow in our faith.

Have you come to a dark place, a rough patch, or a bump in the road in your life? Remember that our light and our hope is in Christ. Trust him today to take you through it.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. ~ Psalm 119:105

The Reunion

“She was just as I remembered – cool, confident, and possessing an easiness with people that made them feel at ease right away. I couldn’t believe it had been nine years since I last saw her. In many ways, it seemed like yesterday.

Out of everyone I reconnected with that day, she was the one who had changed the least. A strong, powerful, charismatic woman with a “take charge” personality, she never seemed afraid to speak her mind and say what needed to be said. You could always count on her to make things happen.”

Nearly a decade ago, I spent eight years of my life in production work for an industrial bakery. I was part of an assembly-line team that packed, wrapped, and shipped over a million cookies to the uttermost parts of the world every day. People that know me and follow my blog are often surprised to learn that I was a card carrying union member during these years. The occasion for this reunion was unique – an enterprising retiree organized a reunion tour and lunch event for past employees of the plant.

Many of my ex-coworkers arrived at the huge cookie factory and the grand tour began. We walked the same halls, crossed the same floor, and passed by the same machines we had operated for so many years – but everything was different because it was no longer our plant. It was no longer me packing the cookies that flowed down the line from the industrial ovens like a controlled river. It was no longer me visiting with the ladies on the line - coworkers that became friends over time as we worked side by side day after day for weeks, months, and years of our lives.

I saw the young man I had trained from his first day at the plant. None of us thought he would ever learn to pack, but when the production manager suggested we fire him. I recommended that we give him another week. Nine years later, he is still there – packing cookies like a pro. I greeted the feisty woman who is rough, tough, and gruff on the outside. Her harsh personality is a thick veneer that hides a secret treasure that very few of us know about – a heart of gold. The list of people who touched and impacted my life grew longer as the event continued.

Powerful memories of my love-hate relationship with this place and the people who worked there flooded my mind and surged through my heart, immersing me in a swirling gush of mixed emotions. I wanted to smile, laugh, and cry all at once. Strange as it may sound, I loved packing cookies.

The tour went well and it was fun to reconnect with people. Then we all went to lunch at a local pizza parlor for a chance to “catch up” and learn how life has changed for so many of us. Stories and picture of children and grandchildren filled the room. Conversations about who was missing from the gathering were popular. I learned that the funny woman with the great sense of humor who knew how to make us laugh and the sweet, kind-hearted single mom who was loved by most and liked by all had recently died.

Then the treasured old-timers who had the longest careers were featured as our event coordinator facilitated discussion and elicited stories of what they have been doing since retirement. Their stories and snapshots of life gave me a sense of who they are and reminded me that life is precious and meaningful no matter what season of life you are in.

We heard stories of fifty-year wedding anniversaries and terminated marriages. Some people were flourishing in retirement while others were struggling to adjust to life outside the plant. One woman led with her sense of humor and a few people seemed defeated – beaten down by life with little to no hope or joy in their life.

As I observed these cookie industry alumni and listened to the stories of their lives, I was filled with a sense of gratitude and recognized that I am fully known and fully loved by a God who has forgiven my sins and past mistakes and healed my shame. He loves and accepts me just as I am – warts and all. I am blessed with a husband and family who fill my life with joy and meaning.

And today, in a huge cookie factory, I was reminded of the enduring value and great blessing of friendship.

He Arose

Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,
waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o'er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior,
vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o'er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Death cannot keep its prey, Jesus my Savior;
he tore the bars away, Jesus my Lord!

Up from the grave he arose;
with a mighty triumph o'er his foes;
he arose a victor from the dark domain,
and he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

Music and words by Robert Lowry

Once Upon a Time

The bride wore an antique lace dress with a perfectly cut mid-calf hemline. Her long brown hair was pulled back with tiny jeweled pins creating a cascade of ringlets that bounced and flowed down her back. Her face was flush with the excitement of the moment and her eyes sparkled with joy as she started down the aisle to meet the love of her life waiting at the altar to make her his bride. She was beautiful.

The groom was equally impressive. Dressed in dark slacks and a white shirt and tie he stood six feet tall with long, straight dark hair that parted in the middle framing his rugged, handsome face. His blue eyes were fixed on the vision in lace walking toward him and a smile lit up his face.

It was at that moment that I sensed the pure magic of this moment.

The brother of the bride escorted his soon to be married sister down the aisle on his right arm. Cradled in his left arm was a sleeping infant. Huh? What! Hold on a minute! Did you say sleeping infant? Now that’s something different (and you thought this was going to be your typical fairy tale, happily ever after wedding).

Wrong! There is nothing even remotely typical about this couple and the story that led them up to this moment. You see, this is my nephew Joe, who, if you have been following my blog, you met in an earlier post, ( Dec. 30, 2009) and my niece by marriage, Amanda.

From a desperate life of drug addiction, hopelessness, homelessness, death, and despair, this couple by the grace of God, experienced an about face “turnaround” in their lives (and the lives of their two boys) that is nothing short of miraculous. In the process of this transformational life overhaul, they have touched the lives of many other people –many of whom filled the wedding chapel to capacity.

So clearly this was not your typical wedding. Rather, it was a milestone of celebration in a relationship that has seen lower lows and higher highs than most of us can even imagine. This special wedding day was 18 years in the making - with a lot of pain, loss, and heartache along the way.

The truth be told, these two didn’t stand a chance of making it and many times over the years, I was quite sure they wouldn’t. But God had other plans. He used their unique circumstances to radically alter the course of their lives and to significantly impact the lives of many other people from all walks of life (as was evidenced by the diverse backgrounds and lifestyles of the people who attended this wedding celebration.

It’s amazing what God can do with a life that is yielded up to Him – and congratulations to Joe, Amanda, and their boys (Chris and Zack). We’re proud of you! May God’s richest blessings bring you great joy, meaning, purpose, and fulfillment as you continue to live, love, laugh, learn, and leave a legacy for those whose lives you inspire.

Big Faith, Big Results

My husband Curt is a wonderful man. (If you don’t believe me, just ask him.) He is a strong and courageous man of great faith and strong character and God is as real to him as breathing.

As a lifelong entrepreneur and business owner with a heart for ministry, Curt loves to start things from scratch and transform ideas and visions into reality. Over the years nearly four dozen new business and ministry start ups (47) have benefited from Curt’s visionary leadership. With few exceptions, God’s blessing on Curt’s many endeavors has led to financial success and the time freedom and flexibility that passive income produces.

The last few years have been an exception – not that God’s blessing has been removed but that God’s blessing has not led to financial success. In fact, the last few years have been filled with many good ideas that didn’t work (at least not yet). And financially, these have been the most difficult years we have ever known. But I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

About two and a half years ago, Curt and I both felt God leading us to have Curt surrender some licenses that provided us with $90,000 to $100,000 a year in passive income from a business he built in the mid-nineties. We pulled the plug on that income stream in September 2008 and Curt was excited to venture into new areas and master new skills. But the amount of extreme difficulty and long delay in these endeavors has been unlike anything we have ever experienced.

I can only stand back and marvel as I see God’s hand upon Curt and observe the unwavering faith that continues to sustain him through a seemingly unending stream of setbacks and challenges. After thirty long months of struggle, some of his ventures are finally coming together and the possibility of actually generating enough profit to create an income seems to be just around the corner.

I know that he is grateful that we are getting close to profitability and will be excited when our financial situation improves. But as I observe Curt’s life and faith, I realize that it’s not about the money. It’s about the people in his life and the powerful ways God uses my husband to influence them. God’s blessing on Curt’s life flows out of his willingness to be used by God in the lives of others.

We have a friend who’s business was in disarray when he asked Curt to step in and “take the reins” in an effort to turn his businesses around. After nine months, the business is stabilized and growing. But the bigger news has been the way God has used Curt to bring this man closer to God and to radically alter his life and lifestyle. Curt is now mentoring him in business (and in life) and they have become close friends. Curt even performed his wedding recently.

Last spring Curt sensed God leading him to the owner of the gym where he works out. Without knowing why (or if he would be laughed out of town), he walked up to her, shared a bit of his background in business, and asked if he could help with anything. After a few smaller projects, they found a way to work together and her business is now beginning to flourish and they recently even made an offer on a second location.

But the bigger news is that she felt stuck and had been praying for a way to either grow or leave the business she once loved. She recently told Curt that she believes he is God’s answer to her prayers of quiet desperation. How cool is that?

Because Curt’s faith in God is so big and so real, he chooses every day to let go of his fears and doubts about the future and simply trusts that God will continue to provide for us and meet our needs (something I struggle with from time to time). As a result, God uses him mightily in the lives of others.

Even a little faith produces results but big faith produces big results – and huge blessings for everyone involved.

No Cracks

A cracked foundation is no laughing matter. We’ve been dealing with one recently.

My grandson is seven years old and one of his favorite Christmas gifts was a large and extravagant Legos castle. With his dad’s help, he assembled this spectacular edifice in less than a week. He was proud of his masterpiece and we were impressed with the quality of his work.

Then came the post-Christmas “let’s get the house back in order” day when it was time to move his masterpiece from the front room to his bedroom. He prepared for this castle relocation project by carefully placing the structure in a box. During the move he dropped the box and after hours and days of hard work, his masterpiece crumbled to pieces in an instant.

Fighting back tears, he placed the box of broken pieces at my feet and asked for help. I am not a structural engineer by any stretch of the imagination and fixing things is not high on my list of life skills. He was hoping that his grandma could repair the damage and restore his creation. I was quite confident I would not be much help at all.

So I did the one thing I knew I was good at - I sat down beside him on the floor and gave him a big hug. Then something interesting happened. As I held him in my arms, I looked at the largest chunk of the broken Lego castle and noticed a crack on the far side of the floor piece and it occurred to me that this cracked foundation was the primary source of the problem.

I reconnected the broken floor piece to the rest of the foundation and suddenly realized that for the most part, the castle had simply broken in two. Once the crack was repaired and the foundation was back in place, it was easy to see how everything else fit into place. My grandson’s castle creation was restored to its original beauty in less than 10 minutes.

The obvious moral of this life lesson is that once the foundation is restored, the rest of the pieces fall into place. As I explained what had happened and how important it is to start with a good foundation, I heard God’s still small voice talking to me.

I was suddenly aware of my recent struggle with feeling that my life is falling apart – that huge parts of my life are crumbling and things I’ve been comfortable with for years lay in pieces on the floor. I realized it was time for a foundation inspection – time to discover any cracks in the foundation of my relationship with God. I remembered that unless I repair these cracks and reconnect to my rock solid foundation everyday, the broken pieces of my life will remain in a shattered state of “unfixable” chaos.

As is often the case, God used my seven year old grandson to teach me the lesson I was trying to teach him. Here’s to a rock solid foundation with no cracks in 2011.