New Year’s Resolutions

2013

I enjoyed writing about the end of the world so much, I thought I’d try my hand writing about New Year’s Resolutions!

(The following first appeared in print via www.NewHavenBulletin.com on 12/31/2012)

According to USA Today, some of the most popular New Year’s resolutions for 2013 are as follows:

  • Drink less alcohol
  • Eat more healthy food
  • Get a better education/job
  • Get fit
  • Lose weight
  • Manage debt/stress
  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
  • Take a trip
  • Volunteer to help others

Do any of these resolutions look familiar to you?  I know I am personally familiar with several of them.

Okay, let me be totally honest with you here.  As I was reading this list and came across the resolution to “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, I thought to myself, “Really?  What kind of person would make THAT their New Year’s Resolution?”

Then, I remembered: I did, in 2007.   It was actually the only New Year’s Resolution I’ve ever kept in my entire life.

Not a very good track record if you consider I’ve probably been making New Year’s Resolutions for at least 20 years (maybe longer)!

I started to feel bad about being a failure for a little while, then I decided to do what I normally do when something is bothering me:  I Google it.  I’m sort of glad I did, because I found out that according to Wikipedia, 88% of all New Year’s Resolutions fail.

What this means is that on 12/20/12 the odds in Las Vegas for the world ending on 12/21/12 were higher than the chances of your New Year’s Resolution being a success.

With such a high failure rate, I can’t help but wonder… who was the genius that started the whole New Year’s resolution trend?  And, what can I do to help ensure my resolutions won’t fall by the wayside before Valentine’s Day?

The first historical record of how a New Year was welcomed dates back to 2000 BC when the Babylonians would hold semi-annual festivals near the spring and autumnal equinoxes.  During the festivals, the Babylonians would pay off their debts in order to start the New Year with a clean slate.

This practice remained until the days of Roman reign, when the Romans would offer up resolutions of good conduct to the god of beginning and endings, Janus.  When the Roman calendar was created, the first month of the year was named ‘January’ in honor of him, making it the official beginning of every New Year.

In Medieval times, the knights of old would take what was called a “Peacock Vow” at the end of the Christmas season to reaffirm their commitment to chivalry.  (Little wonder knights from medieval days still have the power to make ladies swoon even today!)

In 1740, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, founded Watchnight services as an alternative to the drunken revelry and fun times that New Year’s traditionally brings about.  During these services, which are sometimes held even in the modern era, Christians have time to confess their wrongdoings in the past year, as well as pray and make resolutions to do better in the coming year.

Here in the 21st century, we no longer make vows to re-affirm our commitment to chivalry (although I’m not entirely certain that’s such a bad idea).  Most of us can’t pay off our debts in full to start the year off with a clean, debt-free slate (hello, home mortgage).  Almost all of our resolutions fall into the previously mentioned USA Today Top Ten of New Year’s resolutions.

With the beginning of each New Year, we now seek primarily to break with the ingrained patterns of negative habits in our lives.  I’m probably not the only who would agree that as a collective society, we have a lot of bad habits worthy of being broken.

As you set about the task of making your New Year’s resolution, probably the most important thing to remember is that it is widely accepted by psychologists and other experts that it takes 28 days to change a habit.    While that certainly sounds easy enough, we all know if it was really that easy the New Year’s resolution failure rate wouldn’t be at 88%.    If you want to beef up your odds of success, experts say that you should write down your resolutions and keep them in a place where you will see them, share your resolutions with others, and be sure to track your progress.

Now, if you’d like some non-expert advice from someone who has actually succeeded at keeping one New Year’s resolution for over 6 years (go me!), here it is:  pick something easy, and pick something extrinsic that motivates you.

I would also recommend picking more than one resolution, that way you have a 50/50 chance at success.

That’s why my two New Year’s resolutions are to walk the dogs more often and get Alex to eat more vegetables.

Happy New Year!

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Your Random Questions Answered

Dear Readers,

In the past, one of the more popular regular columns I wrote for my blog was called “From the E-Mail In-Box”.  In these entries, I would answer some of the many questions I get from the people who read my blog.  Since I have written a post in awhile, and I’m coming up short on inspiration currently, I thought I would dig into the old e-mail inbox and pull out a few questions to answer tonight.  If you have a good question for me, send it to me at Beth@BethStauffer.com and it might just end up featured in a future “From the E-mail Inbox” segment!

(PS–I kind of picked easy to answer questions for tonight’s purposes.  I’m feeling rather brain dead after Christmas!)

Question #1 is from Kevin in Nashwauk, Minnesota.  He writes, “What are your favorite TV shows to watch?”

Answer to Question #1:  Honestly, I don’t have time to watch a lot of TV.  I’m sort of embarassed to admit it, but the one and only show I make it a rule never to miss is Criminal Minds.  Growing up, I always dreamed of being an FBI Agent so I guess I’m vicariously living out my dream on Wednesday nights on CBS.  I also watch some shows on Hulu Plus and Netflix.  My favorites are Parks & Recreation (I am the brunette Leslie Knope), Downton Abbey, and the IT Crowd.  I also have been known to watch Dr. Who, but I will deny this if ever asked in person.

Question #2 is from Mathilda in York, England.  She writes, “If you were going to be stranded on an island and could only take one band’s music with who, which band would you take and why?”

Answer to Question #2–First of all, I hope that if I am ever stranded on an island it is Prince Edward Island in Canada.  I’ve always wanted to visit there.  No really, I have. 

Secondly, what a great question!  I had to think about this one for awhile to make a good decision.  If push came to shove and I had to pick one band it would have to be Kutless.  I debated my other favorite, the Sidewalk Prophets, but in the end decided that they only have two CDs out and since I’ve listened to both many, many times, I’d probably get bored after awhile. 

Kutless is the next logical choice.  I really like a lot of their songs, and have at least 7 of their CDs so I would have a lot to listen to.  “IT Is Well” is one of my all time favorite CDs, “Strong Tower” is one of my all time very favorite songs, and I dearly love their newest single, “Even If”.  As a matter of fact, I can picture myself singing “Even if…I never get rescued” right now.

So, my #1 choice of bands to take with me on a desert island would be Kutless.  (Now, do I actually get to take the band with me or just the CDs and boom box?)

Question #3–Leah from Taylorsville, Utah, writes:  “What’s your favorite movie ever?”

Answer to Question #3–Easy.  That would be “While You Were Sleeping.”  I also like “Serendipity” quite a bit.  Those who know me realize that I probably like both of these movies because the plot would be entirely plausible in my life.

Question #4–Amanda from Lafayette, Louisiana, writes:  “If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you want to go?”

Answer to Question #4–Pawnee, Indiana.  (Just kidding, I totally love the show Parks & Recreation but I’m pretty sure Pawnee is a fictional place.) I’ve already mentioned my decision to be stranded on a desert island (OK, Prince Edward Island) with Kutless.  If I had to pick someplace else, I would probably go with either Australia or England.  Australia because it seems like an interesting place and England because I like tea and would love to meet a real Queen.  (Leah, are you offering to send me a ticket?  We could go together!)

Question #5 is from Alles in Dallas, Texas, who writes: “If you could have any pet, what would it be?”

Answer to Question #5–Well, in the past I’ve had pet chickens, rabbits, fish, guinea pigs, cats, and dogs galore.  If I’m chosing something new, I’d go with a fire breathing dragon.  Or a dolphin.  Dolphins look like they could be fun.

Thanks to everyone for the questions!  Now, it’s time for me to get back to defending myself from my husband’s automatic firing Nerf gun that I foolishly bought him for Christmas.  I also bought one for my son, but the person who really needs a Nerf gun around here is me!

Much Love & Best Wishes for a Happy New Year!

Beth

Worried about the end of the world happening on 12/21/12?  Never fear, here’s my take on it!

(Story first appeared in print on New Haven Bulletin.com’s website on 12/20/12)

 

Tonight, on my way home from a doctor’s appointment, I called my husband Jon to let him know I was going to stop at Darlington Warehouse to pick up the wrapping paper I need so I can get started wrapping presents.

“I wouldn’t bother,” my husband told me.  “The world’s going to end on Friday.  Don’t waste too much time wrapping Christmas presents.”

Spoken like a man who will sleep like a baby all night on Christmas Eve while I’m up wrapping Alex’s presents like a maniac until the wee hours of the morning.

You see, I’ve lived thru many of these end of the world prophecies, and guess what?

Nothing even remotely interesting has ever happened.

The band R.E.M. has been singing about the end of the world as we know it since 1987 and yet the world is still spinning round and round some 25 years later without interruption.

Consider me jaded when it comes to the most recent predictions about the end of the world, but I recall with great clarity Y2K and how long it took me to deplete my stash of bottled water and canned Spam.  I was perhaps the most bitterly disappointed 23 year old in the history of womankind that the lights didn’t even flicker with the dawning of 01/01/01.

What I didn’t know at the time was end of the world prophecies are not anything new.  In fact, the first recorded end of the world prophecy occurred in Germany during the 1530’s when a radical group known as the Anabaptists seized control over the German city of Munster and declared it a “New Jerusalem awaiting the return of Christ”.  A tailor from Munster by the name of Jan Bockelson proceeded to declare himself the “Messiah of the last days” and set about making his fellow citizens wish the end of the world would hurry up already.

As it turned out, Bockelson was not the “Messiah of the last days.”  When the world didn’t end by 1535, the result was Bockelson’s genitalia being nailed to the gates of Munster.

Gruesome as Bockelson’s fate was, it hasn’t deterred a variety of others from sounding the doomsday alarm many times over since then.  The Seventh Day Adventists (who were formerly known as Millerites), the Pentecostals, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses (formerly the Zion’s Watch Tower Tract Society) have all inaccurately predicted the end of days since 1535.  Each of these groups predicted the end of the world in 1844, 1977, and 1914, respectively.

Other notable (but wrong) predictions about the end of the world include David Koresh and his Branch Dividian sect in Waco, Texas, and science fiction writer, Hal Lindsey.  Lindsey predicted the world was going to end on December 31, 1988 in his best-selling non-fiction book of the 1970’s, The Late Great Planet Earth.  While his numerous end of days predictions proved to be false, his ramblings went on to popularize an entire genre of prophecy books predicting the end of time (Was anyone else as freaked out by the “Left Behind” movie with Kirk Cameron as I was?)

                This brings me back around to the current predictions about the world ending on Friday, 12/21/12.  Surprisingly, the Mayans and their 12/21/12 prediction isn’t the only prophecy about the end of the world centering round the year 2012.  According to New Age beliefs, we are all supposed to undergo physical and spiritual transformations this year that will result in the end of the world as we know it.  Either that, or Earth will collide with a black hole or the planet Nibiru and kill us all.

Your guess is as good as mine as to when Nibiru became a recognized planet.

By far, the most popular belief about the 2012 end of world is credited to the Mayans and their Mesoamerican Long Count calendar.  Some scholars have interpreted the calendar to suggest that the world we live in will end on 12/21/2012 because that is the last date appearing on the calendar.  In addition to freaking many a person out, the Mayan calendar prediction also spurred the Hollywood film “2012” featuring John Cusack.  In contrast to the Mayans, my 2009 prediction that the only thing worse than the world actually ending would be watching this disaster of a movie was spot on.

Another perhaps more accurate interpretation of the Mayan calendar was recently made by my friend, Ina Scott of New Haven:  “The Mayan calendar ends on December 21st because they ran out of stone and a bigger one would have been too heavy.”

I think Ina’s comment hits the stone tablet on the head.

When it comes to end of the world prophecies, I’m going to hang my hat on what it says in the Bible.  In first Thessalonians 5:2, it says that the end of days will come “like a thief in the night”.  In Matthew 24:36, 44 it says the end will come “at an hour you do not expect…but concerning that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.”

In other words, our guesses about the end of time will be just about as accurate as Jan Bockelson’s, David Koresh’s, Hal Lindsey’s, and theY2K geeks.

On the off chance that the Mayans are right, however, I will wait to pay that $250 speeding ticket I got in Wisconsin last weekend until after 12/21/12.

 

 

The Christmas Heart

 the christmas heart

“Let us remember that the Christmas heart is a giving heart, a wide open heart that thinks of others first. The birth of the baby Jesus stands as the most significant event in all history, because it has meant the pouring into a sick world the healing medicine of love which has transformed all manner of hearts for almost two thousand years… Underneath all the bulging bundles is this beating.”

~George Matthew Adams, from ‘The Christmas Heart’

We Interupt Our Regular Programming…

I am devastated by the shootings that happened yesterday at Shady Hook Elementary School in Conneticut.  My own words cannot describe how deeply my heart goes out to the Newtown, CT community and most especially to the parents and families who lost loved ones yesterday.

All day yesterday I kept picturing the faces of the children I know and love who are in elementary school, particularly Kindergarten and 1st grade, like my son, Alex, and niece, Alyssa.

The events of yesterday are unspeakable.  Why did this have to happen, and how do we continue to live in a world that feels so scary and unsafe?

I don’t have any answers for these questions. 

I wish I did, but the truth is there is no sense that can be made of this tragedy.  Nothing I could ever say or do would bring back the loss of precious young lives and innocent people who died trying to protect the children in their care. 

What I do have is the following devotional I read this morning. I wept as I read the following devotional from the book Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.  I want to share it with you:

“I AM TAKING CARE OF YOU.  Feel the warmth and security of being enveloped in My loving Presence.  Every detail of your life is under My control.  Moreover, everything fits into a pattern for good, to those who love Me and are called according to My design and purpose.

Because the world is in an abnormal, fallen condition, people tend to think that chance governs the universe.  Events may seem to occur randomly, with little or no meaning.  People who view the world this way have overlooked one basic fact:  the limitations of human understanding.  What you know of the world you inhabit is only the tip of the iceberg.  Submerged beneath the surface of the visible world are mysteries too vast for you to comprehend.  If you could only see how close I am to you and how constantly I work on your behalf, you would never again doubt that I am wonderfully caring for you.  This is why you must live by faith, not by sight; trusting in My mysterious, majestic Presence.”

So for today, here in the wild north of Wisconsin where I’m at with Alex, my friend Sarah and her 3 year old Isaiah, I’m going to hold tight to what I know is true. 

The Lord is my Shepherd, and I will fear no evil because He is with me.

I will live by faith, not by sight.

May you find comfort in these truths as well.

 

“We live by faith, not by sight.” 

2 Corinthians 5:7

27 Days of Christmas Music: Matt Maher’s Silent Night (Emmanuel)

matt maher

Matt Maher – Silent Night (Emmanuel)

One of the most beloved, yet ironic, Christmas songs ever (in my opinion) is “Silent Night”.

You see, in my experience as the one time mother of a newborn, you’d be hard pressed to find a recollection of a silent night when Alex was a baby.

With this being said, one of my favorite stories to tell (now, at least…at the time, it wasn’t so funny) is of Jon & my first night at home with our new baby.

I had just had a c-section a few days earlier, and had been hospitalized just hours shy of a week.  Alex had been in the NICU for several days after his birth, which resulted in many a sleepless night for me.  (Jon, on the other hand, seemed to sleep just fine on the window seat in my hospital room.)

The hospital finally let us leave late on Sunday night.  In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was in such a rush to leave considering that I had a direct line to both the kitchen and housekeeping staff, but that’s beside the point.

If I’m being honest, Jon and I had no business bringing a real live newborn baby home from the hospital.  We didn’t have a clue what we were doing.  Sure, we had all the stuff we needed for Alex (and probably a lot of stuff we didn’t really need), but as for the hands on aspects of parenting we were clueless.

I’m not exaggerating when I say It took us a good twenty minutes to change his diaper at first…by the time we had Alex in a fresh diaper and dressed again, he’d usually have his diaper refilled and we’d have to start all over.

I was exhausted and sore and more overwhelmed than I had ever been in my entire life.  Jon had gone to bed because he had to go back to work the next day, and I was looking forward to putting Alex in his crib and getting a good night’s sleep in my own bed.

I swaddled my sweet, sleeping  little baby and gently laid him in his crib.

As soon as his back touched the mattress in his crib, his eyed opened wide.  To this day, I swear it was as if he looked at me and thought to himself, “Just where do you think you’re going, lady?  You didn’t really think it was going to be that easy, did you?”

With that, my sweet little baby turned into a wildly screaming, bright pink banshee.

I tried everything I could think of to get him to calm down and go to sleep.  Fresh diapers, a feeding, twelve different kinds of pacifiers, burping him.

Alex wasn’t having any of it.

I was beyond tired and becoming more desperate by the minute.

I attempted to wake Jon up, but he was sound asleep.  Not even the wailing of our son when placed right next to his ear woke him up.

As I stood next to Jon sleeping peacefully in our bed, I seriously contemplated smothering him with a pillow.  I was pretty sure not a jury in the world would convict me.

It was at this low point in my 5 day career as a mother  that I remembered Trent, a little boy I used to baby-sit for.  When he was a baby, his mother would have to turn either the vacuum or dryer on to get him to go to sleep.

I spied my vacuum in the corner of our bedroom and decided it was worth a try.  With Alex cradled in one arm and my other arm running the vacuum, I swept my floors within an inch of their existence.

Alex slept like a baby should as long as the vacuum was running (and he was in my arms.) 

After I was done sweeping the floors, I moved on to using the accessories to clean the curtains and the comforter on our bed.  Yes, Jon even slept thru me basically running the vacuum over him.  (I thought about strangling him again but decided against it.) 

As Alex grew, so did his love for the vacuum running while he slept.  I grew weary of vacuuming, so eventually I decided the ultimate solution was to just prop the vacuum up next to his crib and turn it on.  Alex then slept in his crib and I slept in the rocking chair in his room.

We may have burned up the motor on a couple of cheap vacuums from Wal-Mart this way, but at least I finally got some sleep.

With my own experiences in mind, I can’t help but snicker at the thought of the song “Silent Night”.  I mean, was this song written by a man who has never spent time with an a newborn infant in the house?  Was he a deep sleeper like my husband Jon?

Even if we just look at the facts surrounding Jesus’ birth, I have a hard time believing it was a silent one.

First of all, Jesus was born in a stable surrounded by animals.  I grew up in Indiana surrounded by farms, and let me tell you, there is nothing silent about your typical barnyard animals.

Their noisyness is rivaled only by how bad they smell.

Secondly, Jesus was born in crowded Bethlehem, a city so full of people that there wasn’t even a spare room for a woman giving birth.

Third, there were angels and shepherds and wise men and who knows who else popping in and out of the stable to see the newborn king for days and weeks on end.

Silent Night?  I don’t think so.  Definitely a beautiful sentiment, but probably very inaccurate.

You know what is true about this song, though, particularly the Matt Maher version ‘Silent Night (Emanuel)’?

Jesus is the Son of God, love’s pure light.

Truly, His birth was the dawn of redeeming grace.

Because He so loved the world, He came and gave His very life for us to heal the great divide our sins have created between us and our Heavenly Father.

Whether or not the nights surrounding His birth were silent or not are irrelevant.

What is relevant is the fact that He came, that little baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, to one day swaddle us in His grace.

The only other thing I’m sure of about that so-called ‘Silent Night’?

Mary never contemplated suffocating a sleeping Joseph with a pillow or strangling him with a vacuum cleaner.

She’s way out of my league in that respect.

27 Days of Christmas Music: Day 7, Relient K’s I Celebrate the Day

Relient K – I Celebrate the Day

I love a good, old-fashioned Christmas carol just about as much as anyone…perhaps even more so.  Traditions and customs, including songs, passed down from one generation to the next is in my opinion what makes Christmas time so very magical.

I love it when I hear my Grandma’s favorite Christmas song, Ave Maria, this time of year and one of my favorite decorations that hang on my tree is a Star of Bethlehem ornament that once hung on my great grandmother’s tree.  In honor of my other grandma, I put real cinnamon sticks in Alex’s hot cocoa just like my grandma used to do for me when I was little.

Even though I can still picture in my mind’s eye many of the ornaments I used to hang on my own mother’s tree as a little girl, I always love it when I hear a new Christmas song or create a new Christmas tradition with my own family.

One of my favorite modern Christmas songs is Relient K’s ‘I Celebrate the Day’, which has been in frequent rotation on my most played songs list lately.  Just the other day as my son Alex and I were driving along I-469 outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana, we were listening to this song when Alex simply said to me, “Mommy, what does this song mean?”

I looked in my rearview mirror at my little blonde haired, blue-eyed boy as he sat in his booster seat behind me.  I couldn’t help but notice how big he is getting, and how much is starting to look more like a boy and less like the little baby I once held in my arms.

I didn’t really know how to explain the song to him.

So, I simply said, “It’s a Christmas song.”

“How come they  aren’t singing about Mary and angels and the manger?” Alex asked astutely.

“Well, not all Christmas songs have to be about those things,” I explained.  “This song is more about why Jesus came at Christmas time.”

“Jesus was born so that we could live with Him in heaven one day,” Alex said quietly.

“That’s right,” I replied, smiling at Alex in the mirror.

His eyes met mine, and he said very directly, “Mommy, is it true what they sing?  That when Jesus opened his eyes on Christmas, he knew about me?”

“I believe that’s true,” I said.  “I think that’s the only reason why Jesus was able to do what He came to do:  because He knew each one of us, and loved us so much, that He was able to die for us,” I told Alex.

“Now that’s love,” said Alex.

“Indeed it is,” I replied.

“Merry Christmas, Mommy!” In the back seat of my car, Alex gave me a knowing smile.

“Merry Christmas, sweetheart,” I responded with tears in my eyes, realizing that I had a new Christmas traditon (and memory)…listening to “I Celebrate the Day” with my son, Alex.

 

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

John 10:10

I Celebrate the Day lyrics

by Relient K

And with this Christmas wish is missed
The point I could convey
If only I could find the words to say to let You know how much You’ve touched my life
Because here is where You’re finding me, in the exact same place as New Year’s eve
And from a lack of my persistency
We’re less than half as close as I want to be

And the first time
That You opened Your eyes did You realize that You would be my Savior
And the first breath that left Your lips
Did You know that it would change this world forever

And so this Christmas I’ll compare the things I felt in prior years
To what this midnight made so clear
That You have come to meet me here

To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me
In the hope that what You did
That you were born so I might live
To look back and think that
This baby would one day save me

And I, I celebrate the day
That You were born to die
So I could one day pray for You to save my life

27 Days of Christmas Music, Day 6: Chris August’s Jesus, Savior

chris august jesus savior

Chris August – Jesus, Savior

As I write today’s blog, I’m actually in the Ohio city of Toledo for the TobyMac Hits Deep tour featuring Brandon Heath, Mandisa, Chris August, Britt Nicole, Jamie Grace, Group 1 Crew, and of course, the man himself, TobyMac.

You can probably imagine that I, along with my VIP Press Pass, am near giddy with excitement. I’ve been looking forward to this night for quite some time, and I’d venture to say that wild horses couldn’t keep me away from the Huntington Center in about 2 hours.

Well, that’s not entirely true.

One thing almost did keep me away: the Anthony Wayne Bridge that spans the Maumee River in downtown Toledo.

If you don’t know anything else about me, the one thing you will probably take away from reading this blog is the truth that I am kind of a quirky person.

For starters, I am physically unable to eat meat that has a bone attached.

I can’t stand the flute.

I have a bizarre, totally inexplicable crush on TV’s Turtle Man.

And, to the delight of my friends and family, I am freakishly terrified of underground tunnels and bridges that span over waterways.

We’re talking a hyperventilating, sometimes vomiting, crying and screaming type fear.

To give you an idea of what I’m dealing with, you should know that I suffer from a recurring nightmare in which I am drive across the Mighty Mac Bridge to Mackinac, Michigan. (This, by the way would never happen, me driving across a bridge like that. It’s better for everyone if I’m blindfolded and sedated in the backseat when we drive across the Mighty Mac.) In my dream, my Honda Civic turns into a science fictional submarine that transports me back in time to World War II, where I land on the beach at Normandy during the Allied invasion of France.

Not a good time to visit France, even in a dream.

Needless to say, as much as I love going to Mackinac Island, I abhor the thought of having to cross over the Mighty Mac in the process of getting there.

My experiences with the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco haven’t been much better. The one positive thing I will say is that the Golden Gate Bridge is breathtakingly beautiful, especially with two feet firmly planted on the ground outside the gift shop while taking pictures.

When I was inside a large passenger van driving over the Golden Gate Bridge…well, that was another matter entirely.

Earlier this afternoon, I was faced with my fear of bridges as I approached the venue for tonight’s concert. There, in between me and the Hits Deep Tour, was a really big, really archaic looking Smurfy blue bridge over a really wide section of the Maumee River. Seriously, this bridge looked like a bad knock-off of the Golden Gate Bridge, only not nearly as well maintained and with far fewer people on the pedestrian bridge.

I was in big trouble, and I knew it.

Abruptly, I pulled my car over to the side of the road to take a moment to come up with a plan.

Should I use my GPS to calculate a different route? A logical plan, but my GPS hates me and the spot I was in was a veritable no-man’s land so I couldn’t pick up a signal.

Should I call my doctor to have an emergency prescription of Xanax filled at the nearest CVS?

Drive across the Anthony Wayne Bridge with my eyes closed?

Turn around and go home?

There was really only one good option, and that was to buck up and just drive across the bridge. I thought to myself, ‘Really, what could go wrong?’

‘Well, since you asked,’ I replied to myself, ‘remember the bridge that collapsed in California a few years ago that killed a bunch of people? Or the bridge that collapsed in Minnesota? Wait, I think that was just a pedestrian bridge, but still, it collapsed. What if another driver veers into my lane and I end up in the river? What if there’s an earthquake, or a fire, or a tornado? What if….”

(Side note: you know you’re in a bad situation when you are having an intense mental debate with yourself. No one ever wins in this scenario.)

As I continued with my very long list of possible catastrophes that were not very likely to occur at any time, ever, I heard the words to Chris August’s song, Jesus, Savior, as his CD, No Far Away, played in my car.

Once upon a time,
In a town called Nazareth,
Lived an ordinary girl.

Mary was her name,
And she was engaged,
To Joseph the carpenter.

Suddenly an angel came,
Said, “You will have a baby boy.
But don’t be afraid,
God is with you.”

It occurred to me that Mary was a young woman who really had a legitimate reason to be fearful, at least when compared to me.

The angel Gabriel had appeared to her, announcing (and I’m loosely paraphrasing here), “Guess what? The Holy Spirit is going to come down and overshadow you, and you’re going to get pregnant! In nine months’ time you’ll give birth. Congrats, it’s a boy! He’s going to be, like, a really big deal. We’re talking the King of Kings and Lord of Lords here. A real VIP.”

Reason to be Afraid #1:  Mary had angels dropping in to visit her. I’m sure that was awesome, but freaky frightening as well.

Reason to be Afraid #2:  Mary was going to get pregnant, not the old fashioned way, but by the power of the Most High overshadowing her. I don’t know about you, but that sounds rather frightening to me, to say the least.

Reason to be Afraid #3:  Mary was going to be an unwed, teenage mother. She no doubt knew when word got out about her situation she would likely be stoned to death or worse. Yikes.

Reason to be Afraid #4:  She had no money, no job, no life skills. No way to take care of a baby, much less the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Reason to be Afraid #5:  How do you even begin to mother God in the flesh anyways? Being a parent is tough enough, but being a parent to Jesus Christ…now that is seriously intimidating.

I’m sure I’m missing at least a hundred more reasons why Mary should have been scared out of her wits, but I’m going to cut to the chase and tell you the two things that strike me the most about this song, and this story.

The first is that Gabriel tells her very plainly, “Do not be afraid. God will be with you.”

The second is Mary’s reply to Gabriel: “May it be to me as you have said. I am the Lord’s servant.”

I love Mary’s response to the news that she was to become Jesus’ mother. What I love even more, however, is the fact that God promises the very same thing to me and to you that He promised Mary on the day she learned God’s plan for her.

God promises us that He will always be with us. Always.

There is nothing, not one thing that can separate us from His love, although many a fear and phobia have tried. When we are at our feariest, He is at His kingliest.

(Yes, I know, I’m making up words again…Deal with it!)

There is quite literally no bridge that He cannot cross to get to us when we need Him, pun intended.

With the song Jesus, Savior playing on the stereo and the song Jesus, Take the Wheel playing in my mind, I made it across the Anthony Wayne Bridge without the least bit of a problem.  For about 20 whole minutes, this was the biggest accomplishment of my entire life.

Then, in one of those weird twists that my life is full of, I unexpectedly got to have a little Q&A session with the one and only TobyMac.  You know, my most favoritest singing person in the whole wide world since I was 12 years old.  (Considering I’m halfway to 70, that’s a long time.)  The one person in the entire world I told my BFF Sarah I never wanted to meet because I was afraid I’d lose all ability to speak coherently, among other things.

Yep, him.

All in all, it was a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious-ly good day of fear fighting on my part.

Bridges and Peter Furler (the other person I never want to meet), take note.

 

 

 

27 Days of Christmas Music, Day 5: Mandisa’s Christmas Makes Me Cry

Mandisa

Matthew West – Christmas Makes Me Cry – feat. Mandisa

I’m going to be completely frank for the next few minutes.

For a lot of people out there, Christmas sucks.

Harsh as this may sound, you know as well as I do that it’s true.  We live in a completely broken, torn apart world.  Even while Psalm 47:8 plainly tells us, “God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne,” I’d be lying if I didn’t freely admit that most of the time it seems like the only thing reigning in this messed up world is our own brokenness.

You better believe Mandisa and Matthew West aren’t the only ones Christmas has the potential to make cry.

I’d be surprised if anyone, anywhere didn’t at one time or another feel pretty darn miserable at Christmas.

I know I hurt when I think about how much I miss my grandmothers at Christmas time.

My heart breaks when I think about the Christmas memories I didn’t get a chance to make with my little girl.

I turn into a floodgate of emotions when faced with Hallmark Commercials, photos of golden retriever puppies wearing Christmas bows, sappy romantic holiday movies and stories revealing the true meaning of Christmas this time of year.

Niagara Falls has nothing on me in these instances, that much is certain.

Tonight as I ponder the true meaning of all my Christmas tears, an unexpected thought pops into my mind.

No one has ever written a song called “Easter Makes Me Cry.”

For a brief moment, I wonder why this is the case?  I mean, all the holiday stuff that makes people cry at Christmas is still pretty applicable at Easter.  Come to think of it, the story of Easter comes right on the heels of Jesus spending three days being tortured, dying a horrific death, and taking a trip to hell for sins He never committed.

Shouldn’t we not just be crying at Easter over the atrocities committed against our Savior, but tearing out our hair and gnashing our teeth as well?

I mean, seriously, if we are crying at Christmas time over the sweet story about the birth of a little baby boy lying in manger, shouldn’t Easter be filled with a little more angst?

Of course not.

(Had you going there for a minute, though, didn’t I?!)

So why all the tears at Christmas and not Easter?

Perhaps my favorite line of lyrics in Christmas Makes Me Cry explains why our emotions are closer to the surface at Christmas time than any other time of the year:

I think of Mary and the virgin birth
And I’m amazed by how much God thinks we are worth
That He would send His only Son to die
And sometimes Christmas makes me cry

As I picture my precious Savior lying in that lowly manger, the joy I feel as I celebrate His birth is coupled with the full knowledge of what Christmas would one day cost Him.

Because of me.  (You, too!)

…I’m amazed by how much God thinks we are worth

That He would send His only Son to die

While I’ve shed many tears at Christmas time, I can’t stop my heart from rejoicing with the knowledge that our Savior’s story didn’t end at Christmas.

It didn’t end when He died, arms outstretched, for you and for me, on the cross at Calgary either.

The promise that was made to us on that Christmas night so long ago was fulfilled in its entirety on that blessed Easter morn when the angel triumphantly announced, “He is not here; for he has risen as he said he would.” (Matthew 28:6)

Because of Easter, because my Lord is risen indeed, I believe with unsurpassing confidence that one day the tears I’ve shed in the past will matter no more, and all the pain and brokenness and death of this world will pass away.

All that will remain is the joy I feel knowing that the price my Savior paid for me has set me free from all of my tears, all of my sadness, and all of my pain forevermore.

No one cries at Easter because Jesus is alive!  Hallelujah!  (And a very merry Christmas, too!)

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Revelation 21:4

27 Days of Christmas, Day 4: TobyMac’s This Christmas (Father to the Fatherless)

I had a so-traditional-it’s-crazy kind of upbringing as a child. My Mom, Sandy, left her job as an elementary school teacher to stay home with my brother, sister, and I in our rural Indiana farmhouse. My Dad, Rick, worked full-time at the local factory to provide for his family. Money was frequently tight, so our food budget was stretched by growing our own vegetables in the garden in the summer time for canning. My Dad was also an avid fisherman and hunter, so whatever he could catch or shoot would often times end up on the table for dinner.

A major part of my childhood was attending church with my family. We went to the church my Mom attended as a young girl, and the church my Grandma Bricker attended up until the time of her death in 2005. Unless I was on my own deathbed with an illness, I never missed a church service or Sunday School. I can maybe remember in 18 years missing 3 or 4 Sundays; one of those Sundays was due to the blizzard of 1978, so it was kind of unavoidable.

The older I became, however, the more I began to question why going to church was so important in the first place. I mean, I already had one father who was an expert in ruining all of my fun. Why did I really need another?

What it all boiled down to in my mind was that having a meaningful relationship with God was the equivalent of inviting another member of the Fun Police into my business.

I had it all figured out, and I didn’t need Him. I didn’t need the Dad I already had, either.

Or did I?

It actually wasn’t until I became a mother that I began to truly see just how important a father is in the life of a child. I began to reflect upon my relationship with my own fathers, both of them, as I observed the growing relationships between my young son and his earthly and heavenly fathers.

What I realize now, and have come to sincerely appreciate from the depths of my heart, is the fatherly love I have been blessed with my entire life.

Even when I ran away from this love, it never left me.

Even when I didn’t deserve it, I always, always, had the love of my fathers.

By their very presence in my life, my fathers showed me over and over again the true meaning of love and grace.

Doesn’t every one deserve to have the same?

In TobyMac’s song, This Christmas (Father of the Fatherless), he tells the story about a nine-year old orphan named Johnie, and how he came to find his fathers. A chorus in the song, in my opinion, is especially poignant, and one that we should remember not just at Christmas but all year-long:

Father of the fatherless

Be with your sons and daughters this Christmas, this Christmas

(You ain’t livin’ ’til you choose to give

Love and Joy and Peace to one of His)

Father let us not forget

The children who are all alone at Christmas, this Christmas

(You ain’t livin’ ’til you choose to give

Love and Joy and Peace to one of His)

With these lyrics in mind, I want to encourage you to look around you this Christmas time and ask yourself, ‘Who are the fatherless in my circle of influence?’

Maybe it’s the little neighbor girl from down the street riding the pink bicycle.

Maybe it’s the college student serving up your cappuccino at the local coffee hot spot in your town.

Maybe it’s the widow who just lost their spouse this past year that you see at the park while walking your dog, or maybe it’s the single father of three who coaches your daughter’s basketball team.

The fatherless come in all shapes and all sizes.

They are in every community, in every neighborhood, from the projects to the affluent.

They speak every language, from English and Spanish to Burmese and Swahili.

They come in a rainbow of assorted colors. Some have dark skin, some have light skin. Some may even have tattooed skin and blue hair.

Yet in spite of their differences, the one thing they all have in common is the fact that they each have a Father who loves them to the ends of the earth. He loves them so much He came to earth as a tiny baby, delivered in humblest of places, and lived His life for the express purpose of dying so that one day we all might spend eternity with Him in heaven.

I ask you, what could be a better gift to give this Christmas time than telling someone they have a Father who loves them like that?

It’s up to you this Christmas to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the fatherless.

Won’t you join me?

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:27

27 Days of Christmas Music: Day 3, Rhett Walker Band’s O Come, O Come Emmanuel

Rhett Walker Band

Rhett Walker Band – O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Last Sunday marked the first Sunday in Advent.

Oh, how I love Advent.  It’s such a beautiful time of the year, filled with the anticipation and preparation for the most blessed day of the year:  I live for tree decorating with my family, baking cookies with my son, and attending special worship services at church.

This time of year is also filled with special memories of my childhood.  One of my most favorite Sundays in the entire church year was the second Sunday in Advent when the church I grew up in, Grace Lutheran in Columbia City, Indiana, would hold a Christmas carol festival in place of a typical sermon.  As a kid, sermons weren’t always the most exciting things to have to sit thru, but I welcomed this special service with a joyful heart every year.

One of my favorite songs that we would sing during this special service was the old hymn, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  The lyrics were old fashioned, but beautiful:

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And teach us in her ways to go.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, oh, come, our Lord of might,
Who to your tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times gave holy law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Perhaps now more than ever before, we need to rest in the assurance that Emmanuel has already come for us.  He has already paid the price for our sins in full, thereby paying the ransom forever more that releases us from the bondage we were all born into.

There is no longer need for mourning, or for sadness and regrets.

This is the time, and the season, for the excitement and hope that Christmas brings.

Jesus is alive!

Our Emmanuel has come!

Hallelujah!

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”

~Isaiah 7:14