Last Day of 2013. Here today...Gone today.

Last sunrise of 2013. thankful.

2013 and I did not get along as well as was hoped for. Just like sometimes after a fight we agreed to disagree. Along with some really fun and happy moments, it was challenging, stressful, at times depressing, and just downright hard. It easily could have defeated me. Some days I felt strong, resilient, tough enough to handle what came across the path, the desk, emails or phone. Then there were days when all I wanted to do was crawl back under a blanket, pull it up over my head and tell the day I wasn't having any of it.
As always, there are a few takeaways from this year. In no particular order, here's what I've observed:
  • Health is important. Gah! Really? For a large portion of this year, I was dealing with an undiagnosed problem, even after 5 doctors. One very smart Doctor did help me uncover an auto-immune issue that is going on and recommended that I go on a specific eating plan. She said it would help relieve the inflammation in my system and maybe I would find out what was causing other problems.  So I bought the book, The Virgin Diet, (don't go there, lol) and read it through in about one sitting. It was written by a Dr. JJ Virgin. Sure enough, everything that I had been dealing with was caused by food sensitivities. Gluten, corn, soy, dairy, eggs, sugar, and peanuts were all culprits. Some reviews stated that she was just another self-made diet guru marketing her ideas just to make money. But there is truth to the fact that foods cause irritation and inflammation in our system. I did the 21 day test and know for sure. Eliminating those foods calmed my system down, gave me more energy and the symptoms I had been dealing with for a year were gone. I've tried to add some of the foods back, and the problems return. So, it really is unfortunate that many foods now have to be avoided. I said avoided because on occasion, I indulge, then deal with it. What I've noticed is that the symptoms don't last very long, since for the most part, these foods are now off the menu.
  • Love Wins. One of the books Michael and I read together this year was Love Wins, by Rob Bell. I love his rational, though at times unconventional and controversial thinking. My opinion is that if you read his books or watch his videos and walk away offended or threatened by his content, rather than have a really great conversation about it afterwards, you need to grow up. As a Christian, I do have a strong sense of values, morals, truth and the Bible. But I also believe that good healthy conversation is energizing for the soul and the mind, whether it turns into a debate or scholarly dialogue, or not. I love when my thinking is challenged, even though my first reaction in most cases is to defend my ideas. Who wouldn't? But I've learned to listen and be better at understanding others, rather than trying to elevate my ideas as if they were the only ones that mattered. Anyway, this quote (forgive the length) sums up where I think the Love Wins concept shines brightest:
    “As we experience this love, there is a temptation at times to become hostile to our earlier understandings, feeling embarrassed that we were so "simple" or "na├»ve," or "brainwashed" or whatever terms arise when we haven't come to terms with our own story. These past understandings aren't to be denied or dismissed; they're to be embraced. Those experiences belong. Love demands that they belong. That's where we were at that point in our life and God met us there. Those moments were necessary for us to arrive here, at this place at this time, as we are. Love frees us to embrace all of our history, the history in which all things are being made new.”

    Those moments, all the moments of our past, were necessary for us to arrive here, at this place, at this time, as we are. This statement frees my soul and allows me to give myself permission to take another step, and another, and another away from my past. This year, for some reason, it kept haunting me. And I didn't always end up standing when it was over. But I found that falling down gave me time to rest. I didn't always have to bounce right back up and act like nothing happened. I'm always amazed at how sports figures, whether it's baseball, football, hockey, can get knocked down and the next second they are back on their feet. Real life just isn't like that. I've accepted that getting knocked down is life's way of saying "just sit down and shut up." Not in a bad way, but in a way that means I don't have to do it all, I don't have to feel good about everything, I'm not going to come face to face with trials and not go unscathed.

    During one particularly difficult episode, I wrote about the space I found myself (and I'm not one to write about dark places):

    "The stress of life has done me in. From the depths I sit there's only to begin again.
    As out of the darkness does emerge, one who's heart has been removed. No pulse, no life but only stillness in the soul. Just be. For as long as time is short. The distant future slingshots us into itself hoping we can catch something to hold onto. For then and now are two places we'd rather not go, the farthest space that echoes light is calling, giving reason a chance to live."

    I was afraid. And the only realization I could come to was that being is all that mattered and that at our darkest moments, in the middle of our being, God is there. Gentle. Peaceful. Loving. I also realized it's ok to sit with your wounds until they heal. I'm stronger if I do. I learn what can be avoided, how I can respond differently and how I can dig so deep in my heart to areas I never knew existed, to find forgiveness for those who I've allowed to hurt me. Then I forgive myself. Again. I refuse to allow my past to define me, even though others keep doing so. So, I'm thankful that each new day is a new day.
  • There is something greater than ourselves, and we're supposed to learn what that is. This sentence is short, but the journey to that place can take for-ever. Maybe you know what that is already, maybe you're still searching, or maybe you've never heard this before. Lucky you. Sometimes I wonder if it has become my nemesis. Quickly rejecting that thought, I dive into a book called More or Less by Jeff Shinabarger. Whoa. Eye Opener. Maybe I'm looking too hard or too far for my life's work. It's most likely closer and more real than I've imagined. Just because it won't become the next reality show, doesn't mean it isn't important or worthy or valuable. More or Less is about simplifying, drawing the line at excess and providing for others from what is beyond our needs. Simple. Scary. Life changing.
  • Tomorrow's sunrise will look very much like this one and so will the other 364 days of the year. Sometimes clouds will obstruct the view, but the sun will always do it's thing. Even though I've taken hundreds of photos of the sunset or sunrise, they all seem unique and special. In most of my photos, I can tell you circumstances surrounding the need to take yet another picture of the same old thing. The newness of the day, or the change in circumstances, my surroundings or companionship, always creates a new frame for that same beautiful  cosmic show called sunrise or sunset. The earth is here, the sun is there, it's going to always move the same. It's what is between my view of earth and my view of the sunrise that changes, making the day worth getting up for, worth being thankful for.
  • Music is medicine. Just barely skimming under the last days of 2013, I came across something new, fresh and energy creating. It's called The New Liturgy. Here's what they say about their collection: "A New Liturgy is our attempt to create holy space wherever we find ourselves. A moveable, sonic sanctuary." From the opening notes, I was captivated. Music has always had an impression on my life. This is no different. In fact, if I allow myself to be in the moment while listening to it, I feel it wash over me like a blanket of warmth, spirit, and love. It blesses. There are plenty of moments in a day or a week where I need to recalibrate. This will help. And I like it so much that I'm willing to give away a set to one unsuspecting reader. Just leave a comment either on the blog or the Facebook post, sharing what your year was like, something you've learned, or what you are looking forward to for 2014. A winner will be chosen at random. Then you, too, can create space in your life, especially if it's crazy, chaotic, running off in a ditch, or filled with stuff you didn't plan, and taking away your last ounce of energy. You will be blessed.

    Happy New Year. 



Where are you Christmas?

I'm reposting part of a blog and some photos from a previous Christmas. I remember finding songs or videos that were about the holidays and Christmas to count down the days, finding a meaning in them, using a photo to represent something in the song. This was especially nostalgic but equally invigorating as I found familiar clips and brand new ones I'd never seen. This song can still remind me of less joyful times when we were alone on Christmas, through no fault of anyone or anything. It just happened. But in a way, we were glad it did. It gave us time to be attentive to someone other than ourselves and reflect on just what blessings we do have.

In glossing over this blog again, I suddenly found a new meaning. My photography. I always liked to use it when I write anything, it gives a broader context to the words. I like the sharpness and the colors in this set. At that time I was working hard to find the right look, lighting and composition. While I still like these, and the photos of the stocking hangers with some of our families photos, what is starkly missing is people.

I'm beginning to feel like photos of things can evoke emotions, but photos of people with emotion touches me more. The way light lands on the face, the way the sunbeams add a halo if from behind the subject, the subtle simple smile on both the lips and the eyes. I would much rather capture this than how light falls on an object. It creates a purpose for the photo, as if thoughts are being projected through the lens to the viewer. The person being photographed really does have a story, really does have dreams and visions of their own. In photographs, that person can clearly articulate those thoughts or leave you curious.

Sometimes it's not about that at all, it's about capturing tender moments between two people. To me, those are always intense. These two are clearly sisters, who in this moment find contentment in their togetherness. 

In this recent maternity shoot with Ashley and Larry, these photos are some of my favorite, as they are their very first family photos. Clearly there are three people in the photos and you can feel their happiness. Precious. Their little one will be here soon.

Capturing people, feelings, emotions of all kinds, is such joy to me. That one second in a persons life will never be relived, but can always be remembered. Part of me wants to still feel like I'm making a difference to others. By giving them a gift of those moments. In those photos, they see who they are, I see them as beautiful. 

When I originally posted the blog a couple of years ago, I chose this song because it fit at the time. We were lamenting over what seemed like a Christmas lost since we were alone, no one sitting around the dinner table; all the gifts were shipped in boxes, we saw no ones faces as they were unwrapped; and phone calls to family had been made but that warm touch just wasn't there. But in all  that space and time, we met people who were hurting, really hurting and they were wondering what happened to their life. They also had memories of years gone by that were more of a celebration, more festive, more Christmas-y. But things change in everyones life, and even the spirit of Christmas is difficult for them to find in the middle of their struggling just to make it one more day. 

Click on the link below to hear the song. I'm sure it will move you and you can decide if you can find Christmas where you are this year.

Merry Christmas to you and those you love, with Love.

Where Are You Christmas? (Jon Schmidt - the Piano Guys and Sarah Schmidt)
Sarah Schmidt is a little girl who sings a portion of this song at around 2 minutes 30 seconds. Her voice is so beautiful, I wished she had sang more. Enjoy!

Where are you Christmas
Why can't I find you
Why have you gone away
Where is the laughter
You used to bring me
Why can't I hear music play

My world is changing
I'm rearranging
Does that mean Christmas changes too

Where are you Christmas
Do you remember
The one you used to know
I'm not the same one
See what the time's done
Is that why you have let me go

Christmas is here
Everywhere, oh
Christmas is here
If you care, oh

If there is love in your heart and your mind
You will feel like Christmas all the time

I feel you Christmas
I know I've found you
You never fade away
The joy of Christmas
Stays here inside us
Fills each and every heart with love

Where are you Christmas
Fills your heart with love

Christmas: 5 Days and Counting - Do They Know It's Christmas?

More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity, by Jeff Shinabarger, is a book that I'm currently reading. It's quite appropriate for this season of year, what with giving being the theme and all. In the book, Jeff is challenging the reader to consider the fact that truthfully, we all have enough. Of everything. Food, clothes, shoes, toys, stuff. And if you were to stop and really think about it, having so much stuff can create stress, an organizational challenge, and feelings like we've reached the saturation point. It's easy when it becomes a burden to say that enough is enough. But when you're heading to the mall or your favorite store, or searching for that new pair of shoes, admitting that enough is enough doesn't even come close to being on your radar. 

One of the stories Jeff tells in the book is the challenge he had after Christmas one year. In January when the credit card bill came, they didn't have the money to pay off what they spent for gifts. So, they had to come up with a plan. After discussing it, they decided to not buy any food for a month, to use what was already in their kitchen cabinets and pantry. To their surprise, after digging deep into the freezer for weeks and coming up with Lean Cuisine dinners they didn't know they had, or into the cabinets and finding brownie and cake mix, (when you're hungry, food is food) they lasted for 7 weeks without buying anything. Except maybe a gallon of milk. They called it a necessity. So, in his mind, the lesson is, they had 147 excess meals in their home, without even knowing it. I'm guessing we have even more since I tend to stock up when the price is right. But, bottom line, it's excess. It's more than I need right now. And each of us has to decide where that line of excess rests in front of us.

The song I chose for today, is called Do They Know it's Christmas? I found it by accident. I had never heard it before. It was written by Bob Geldof, sung by a group of musicians like Bono, Sting, Boy George, and they called their group Band Aid. They wanted to do something to contribute to the solution for hunger in Africa. That was in 1984. The video will be amusing to some, because these guys are so young. Most of them were in their 20's, all successful artists, who were motivated to do good for the people of Africa. The song starts with the reassurance that there's a mission to Christmas, letting in light, banishing shade, spreading joy. Throwing your arms around the world. I love this line. It's such a visual for what God did in sending Jesus to this earth. It was as if He said, I love you this much to give you this gift, let me embrace you. 

The song goes on to reflect the pain that many feel around the world and how there's fear in the hearts of people, how the most they'll get for Christmas is more of the same. Same life, same  negative environment, same arid, drought stricken land, same heart ache and pain and tears. Their life isn't going to get better. Unless we get involved. The song encourages the listener to pray for them, to think about them during these days, just give a little help to the helpless. In other words, consider our abundance and our excess and be willing to share with those who have nothing and with those whose life has no chance of change. We're not to feel sorry for them, just empathy. Throw our arms around those less fortunate. Throw our arms around the world. 

Then once their needs are met, and people genuinely feel cared for and loved,  consider whether or not they know it's Christmas, what does that mean, what's the significance for their life. After all, what would we be wondering about and wishing for as we go to bed at night? Or are you too cold to have thoughts or dreams? Are you too hungry to care, and the only thing you can do is sleep? Or would you lay away and wonder what will happen to your children, who don't have anymore food or clothing or warmth than you do?  Our excess has removed us so far from this reality. Unless we come face to face with those in need, we forget there are people, just like us, who have needs. The song has one controversial line, "Well, tonight thank God it's them instead of you." Perhaps we should be just thanking God for what we have, for our excess, and for those in need so we may practice love, kindness and live Christmas every day. Our health makes us capable, our resources make it possible and our desire makes it acceptable to God. He did say that whoever you do goodness and kindness to in this life, it's as if we've done it to Him. 

If you look, there is need closer than Africa. There's hunger, darkness, hopelessness closer than you could ever imagine. Sharing our excess doesn't have to mean packing it in a box and shipping it to a third world country. It may mean discovering right in your own community a place that gives help to those in need and making your contribution local. Steve Sjogren teaches us to notice people, show God's love in practical ways, and he teaches that small things done with great love will change the world. It's not necessary to feed the masses. Just feed one. It's not mandatory to supply all the needs of an under resourced individual. Just provide what God lays on your heart to give. Out of your excess, others can be raised up, lifted up, given hope, happiness and joy for the future. They can feel connectedness and community because you extend a hand. It's not always just about teaching someone to fish so they can provide for themselves for the rest of their life. Sometimes they just need a fish right now. For without it, there might not be any rest of their life. 

There's so much depth and meaning to Christmas, but it usually boils down to the same thing, love your neighbor, the poor, the fatherless, the homeless, the widow, the incarcerated, the hurting, the dying, the lonely, the forgotten. As yourself. Wrap your arms around the world. And if not the world, just one. They need to know it's Christmas.

Do They Know It's Christmas?

It's Christmas time, there's no need to be afraid
At Christmas time, we let in light and we banish shade
And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmas time
But say a prayer, Pray for the other ones
At Christmas time it's hard, but when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing
Is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you
And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life
Where nothing ever grows
No rain nor rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmas time at all?
Here's to you
Raise a glass for everyone
Spare a thought this yuletide for the deprived
If the table was turned would you survive
Here's to them
Underneath that burning sun
You ain't gotta feel guilt just selfless
Give a little help to the helpless
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?
Feed the world
Let them know it's Christmastime again -
Feed the world
Feed the world

Christmas: 14 days and counting - The Simple Birth

In 14 days it will be Christmas. 2013. Today's blog is a little different. It's not about a particular song, although there is a song. One of my favorites actually. It's called The Simple Birth and I first heard it performed by Windham Hill Artists. Right now, I don't need a bunch of Christmas tunes or lyrics. I need simple. Simple music, simple moments, simple thoughts, simple days. Simple everything. 

For some reason, complicated Christmas decorations, gift wrapping, dinners and parties, are too much. Maybe it's because of the busyness of the end of the year, busyness around the holiday itself, busyness of trying to be in the Christmas spirit. There's something beautiful about simplicity that feels right. Simple sounds create a peaceful thread through the air, simple menus make it easy to feel healthy, simple shopping creates a stress free kind of giving. Simple designs on a cake, simple strands of sparkling lights on the tree, simple ornaments with simple memories attached, simple messages on a Christmas card. If I stay with the complicated, everything moves too fast, moments are missed instead of savored, the focus is on something other than right now.

I heard this quote, and perhaps you have, too, it said that "yesterday is the past, tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why they call it the present." Don't know the author, but it has stuck with me. Today feels like a gift, regardless of whether it's perfect or not. Everything around the holidays doesn't have to be Martha-Stewart-perfect, with every ornament in the exact right place, every piece of tinsel hanging straight, the dinner table set perfectly, every recipe made as if you hired a chef and every gift wrapped with bows and evergreen stems. It's the moments, the seconds, the minutes that are perfect. It's the present that is not to be missed. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, and whoever is around you at that time. That's what is perfect. It's the remembrance of the meaning of the celebration that is perfect. It is the appreciation and thankfulness for all the blessings we have that is perfect. It's the acceptance of where God has brought us through this year and the resting in what He is doing at this very moment, that is more than perfect. It's hearing a voice on the phone if you can't be with family, it's the sharing of Christmas cards with love, it's the giving of ourselves, our attention to others and our noticing those around us, it's serving others and thinking less about ourselves, it's giving others hope that their present is just as perfect.

Today, for me, didn't start off perfect. This whole week hasn't been perfect. In fact, even though I challenged myself to blog Christmas songs, I am in serious risk of losing the Christmas spirit myself. I see all that's going on in the world, I hear about families who are burdened and troubled, I know people who are going to be alone and I can't help them. My hyper-sensitivity won't let me rest in the moment and plan for a celebration.  But I came home today and Michael had set up a 9ft tree in our family room, had a fire burning in the wood stove, and asked me if we could decorate tomorrow night. I'd all but decided that it wasn't worth it. It wouldn't make a difference, and it just didn't count. But, I succumbed to the idea that I could give a little more of myself and turn it into the festive atmosphere we so love at this time of year. I also heard it's supposed to snow, a lot, on Saturday. I know that some gifts need to be bought, wrapped and shipped. I keep seeing pictures of Christmas cookies and want to bake. So many traditions. So little time. But we do have the present and can think about what to do in this moment. For sure, we will do what we can do. And whatever it is, it will be perfect.

This is something I put together, with photo memories from last years Christmas with all our children and grandchildren in Lake Geneva, along with some friends and family. This year won't be quite like that, but the memories make it a lot easier and simply perfect.

Christmas Lake Geneva - The Simple Birth

Christmas: Day 16 and Counting - Mary Did you Know?

Don't bother looking for Day 17. It didn't happen. Well, it did happen, but the blog never happened. It was my goal to do this daily, and it's a worthy goal. However,  life and stuff happens. So, extending grace to myself, and moving on to Day 16. :)

And it did give me an extra day to think and listen to more Christmas music. This song, Mary Did you Know, was written by Mary Lowry in 1984 and Buddy Greene. So many people have performed, recorded or sung this song since then. My absolute favorite was CeeLo Green. Not the most likely person in my mind to even sing it, but the notes just flowed from his voice. But that's not the video linked below. This link is to a version of the song sung by Mark Lowry, with an intro to the song at the beginning. This was his very first time recording it. He wrote the lyrics and Buddy wrote the music. Together they blended so perfectly into this beautiful song, with so much passion about the baby born of Mary, who was the creator of the universe, and now was laying in her arms.

Mary Did you Know? - Mark Lowry

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy will calm the storm with His hand?
Did you know that your Baby Boy has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little Baby you kissed the face of God?

Mary did you know.. Ooo Ooo Ooo

The blind will see.
The deaf will hear.
The dead will live again.
The lame will leap.
The dumb will speak
The praises of The Lamb.

Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your Baby Boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
The sleeping Child you're holding is the Great, I Am.

This song is no less than a really great question. Wouldn't you like to ask Mary if she knew what was going on the whole time? She was only 13 or 14 years old, I'm guessing she had no clue. Other than what the angels told her. 

Read how it's described in Luke 1:26 - "In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to the Galilean village of Nazareth to a virgin engaged to be married to a man descended from David. His name was Joseph, and the virgin’s name, Mary. Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her: Good morning! You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, Beautiful inside and out! God be with you." The very next verse, "She was thoroughly shaken, wondering what was behind a greeting like that." Who wouldn't be just a little freaked out at a glowing being walking into your room and telling you were a hottie? I mean, really? Some stranger walks in and starts talking crazy talk. 

Next verse: "But the angel assured her, “Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name Jesus.He will be great, be called ‘Son of the Highest.’ The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David; He will rule Jacob’s house forever—no end, ever, to his kingdom.” 

At this point, Mary wasn't yet pregnant. Gabriel was telling her what was going to happen. Do you think in that moment she was thinking this was a good idea, bad idea, a crazy idea? Or was she was turning a peculiar shade of pale and thinking no, oh, no you don't! Her life must have flashed before her in those seconds, at least the life she thought she was going to have before all this. This changed everything. Her reaction, not so typical for a teenager, continuing on in verse 36: "And did you know that your cousin Elizabeth conceived a son, old as she is? Everyone called her barren, and here she is six months pregnant! Nothing, you see, is impossible with God. And Mary said,Yes, I see it all now: I’m the Lord’s maid, ready to serve. Let it be with me just as you say. Then the angel left her." He left. He didn't have to convince her. He didn't have to persuade her. He didn't have to prove anything. To her, it was clear, God called her for a very specific role in this place, at this time. It took another miracle to help her see and believe, but believe she did. 

The next verses describes how she wasted no time and ran straight to Elizabeth's house to share her news and see her miracle. It tells of Elizabeth's baby deciding at that very moment when Mary walks in to do jumping jacks in her stomach. Up until this time, the baby had not moved. This made Elizabeth absolutely crazy with joy. She started dancing and singing. And she knew Mary was pregnant, calling her the Mother of her Lord. She affirmed Mary's decision to believe, "Blessed woman, who believed what God said, believed every word would come true!" This must have been so reassuring for Mary, realizing that someone else knew what was going on and she would have her to lean on and share this amazing experience. 

Mary also was quite, can I say giddy, at the thought of being pregnant. She writes:
"I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
    I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
    the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
    on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
    scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
    pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
    the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
    he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
    beginning with Abraham and right up to now."

 Not only did Mary get it, she totally got it. She remembered the teaching about the promises God made to His people that a Savior would be born. Anybody and everybody who has watched Charlie Brown Christmas knows this verse that little Linus recited, Isaiah 9:6, "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever."  The notion of her baby being the Son of God was starting to ring true because of the prophecy she had heard probably most of her life. She knew the same prophecies that we can read in the bible, but for her, it had been passed down through the generations of her family. 

The other interesting thing about this story, back in verse 26, she was engaged to Joseph, a man who was a descendant of David. Really he was in the blood line of a King. And Jesus' lineage was also of David. Between David and Jesus was Solomon, David's son. Whose mother was Bathsheba. Don't know if you remember or not, but Bathsheba wasn't David's wife. She was the beautiful woman who was bathing on the rooftop that David lusted after, sent her husband into battle to be killed for and ended up sleeping with her and having a son, Solomon. This is the line that God allowed Jesus to be descended from. God, in his infinite wisdom, can make anything work together for good, if it pleases Him. He always has a bigger plan.

Back to Mary, I also love what she says about God, " God took one good look at me, and look what happened—I’m the most fortunate woman on earth! What God has done for me will never be forgotten, the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others." This feeling, like you just won the lottery, is one that only God can give. It's not something you can plan for, earn or order up from a menu. This is something that takes you completely by surprise and you know in your heart of hearts that it has to be from God. Only God.  Every good and loving gift is from God. Mary knew this. She knew that God's favor was on her, and she gave Him all the credit. And she would forever remember that God did this for her, called her to be special and precious, and blessed with this child. 

I'm not really sure that she knew the full extent of what would transpire over the next 33 years. Especially the last 3, or even the last 6 months. She must have seen the determination in her sons eyes. Mary would have been no less than a mom and wanted to protect her son, her only son. She saw how Jesus grew into this person who reflected God's love, became completely enamored with him, respected him and trusted him. She could never have imagined how it would all end. Watching. Emotionally wrecked. Helpless. Trying to have faith still. Remembering how it all started with Gabriel telling her she was beautiful, full of God's beauty, both inside and out. It must have felt like a quantum leap to be in that final moment of Jesus' life, he was only a baby, just a minute ago, wasn't he? Can't we stop time? I don't think Mary would have survived if she knew what was planned for his life. She just woke up everyday, doing what she had to do, as his mother. Never thinking the end would come sooner than anyone would ever think.

Mary was blessed, no doubt about it. She knew Jesus in a way no one else would. His smile, his laugh, his silliness as a kid, how he slept, how he cried, what his favorite meals were, what games he liked to play, the names of his friends, how he worked hard. I love how Mark Lowry described Jesus as a baby, his hands and fingers wrapped around hers were the ones that scooped out the oceans and formed the rivers; his feet were the same ones that had walked on stars and was worshiped by angels; his little lips were the same ones that spoke the world into existence. And she was his mother. No wonder people hold her in high esteem. We would trade places with her in a heartbeat.

No challenge this time for your or me. Just relish the thought that the little baby figure that you see laying in a manger scene, whether it's on the mantel, out on a lawn, or in a church, had a real purpose for being born. Believe it or not, that purpose was you.

Christmas: Day 18 and Counting - 2000 Miles

Today, listening to Christmas music, I could not have been more surprised. This is one of my absolute favorite Christmas songs. The version we are most familiar with was recorded by Coldplay. Chris Martin plays the piano like no one else and sings even better. I love this version. The surprise...Coldplay didn't write this song. Originally it was written and performed by The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde in 1983. Now, I was a big fan of this group but never, ever heard this song. Until Coldplay. I feel so musically illiterate! Either way, the song triggers feelings many people experience around Christmas time and many other holidays. It's sad in a way because of the picture it draws of one being away from someone they love. But beautiful in a way because of the snowy winter, Christmas-y feeling that's portrayed.

2000 Miles - The Pretenders

 He's gone, 2000 miles, Is very far.
The snows falling down.
It's colder day by day.
I miss you.
The children were singing,
He'll be back at Christmas time.
And these frozen and silent nights,
Sometimes in a dream, You appear.
Outside under the purple sky,
Diamonds in the snow, Sparkle.
Our hearts were singing,
It felt like Christmas time.
2000 miles is very far through the snow
I'll think of you Wherever you go.
He's gone, 2000 miles Is very far.
The snows falling down,
It's colder day by day.
I miss you.
I can hear people singing,
It must be Christmas time.
I hear people singing,
It must be Christmas time.

How many times have you heard statistics about depression increasing drastically around  Christmastime? We've all heard them, probably from a nightly news program or read it in a magazine. Then they go into all the reasons why people are more depressed. Possibly over the serious spike in commercialism over the holiday. People are bombarded by advertisements, commercials on TV and even your email blows up with daily specials that scream act now or you'll miss this huge, one-time-only, lowest-prices-this-year-sale. Literally, every day, I get 20-30+ emails with these advertisements. It feels like I'm being invaded, it's definitely an irritation and I dread going to my inbox. So I can see how some people would get depressed. Some might get depressed at having to spend a lot of money on a lot of people. Perhaps they already have stress with their jobs, are limited in their budget, but somehow still want to live up to the idea that gifts are expected. Then, some have expressed that there's the seemingly unavoidable obligation of spending time with family or extended family or friends that you just don't want to be with. But out of obligation you say yes but the end result is depression.

This season is also a time for questioning and examining yourself. This causes stress and depression. Even though the story of Santa calling the shots on who's naughty or nice, the truth is, at a heart level, people know which is true of themselves. The brutal reality that perhaps this past year hasn't been so great, can cause some to lose hope that next year will be any better. They might feel trapped in the place where they are and have no hope of moving on. It's sad to see people depressed and stuck emotionally.

Another reason, and I think the biggest one, is the feeling people get when they realize they have no one with whom to celebrate this joyous occasion. Loneliness. People from all walks of life, all income levels, all social strata, all religions and nationalities can be affected by loneliness. The anxiety of the season builds with everyone talking about their plans to be with family or friends for the holidays but some will be with no one. Millions of people share their travel plans, while others have no plans to go anywhere. Separation from those we love and feel connected to can cause great stress, depression and sadness at the thought of not seeing or being with them. I'm beginning to understand what they are going through.

Being apart from family is just hard. Your hearts are connected, or should be, you're there in spirit, but physically there are too many miles between you. This knowledge that the separation is inevitable can wreck you months, weeks in advance. No matter what your heart wants, there's no guarantee that it will happen. It doesn't matter how you plan, how you organize, how you dream. The truth is there's always room for disappointment. Being alone, or without family close on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning, is one of the saddest times. You want to be a part of reading the Christmas story together, exchanging gifts, the fun of opening gifts, hearing the laughs, sharing hot chocolate and marshmallows, smell of cinnamon rolls, surrounded by the scent of pine from the brightly dressed tree in the room. You want to be a part of those family photos and watching the kids play with their new toys for hours. None of these dreams are guaranteed. For some, the best time of Christmas is the day after. Its over, there's no more pressure, you can see life moving in the direction of getting back to normal and the feelings of loneliness change to feelings of relief that you've survived another holiday. After years of experiencing this, it would seem as if you could get used to it, respond more maturely, less emotionally. But this isn't the case. Emotions are timeless. They are as fresh a year from now as they are this very minute.

If you are struggling with any of these, I found a short list from Psychology Today ( that might help you get through the season. It isn't exhaustive by any means, but they are practical and relevant.

  • First, if the depression is serious, seek out the help of a qualified mental health professional;
  • Set personal boundaries regarding the money spent on gifts and the number of social events;
  • Don't accept any "perfect" representation of Christmas that the media, institutions or other people try to make you believe. Lower your expectations and any attachment to what it should look like; be present and enjoy each moment as best you can;
  • Become involved in giving in a non-monetary way through charities and worthwhile causes that help less fortunate people;
  • Be grateful for what you have in your life, rather than focusing on what you don't have;
  • Avoid excessive rumination about your life; 
  • Take action and do interesting and fun things;
  • If you are religious, take part in church activities that focus on the bigger meaning of Christmas;
  • Focus your thoughts on all the good things about Christmas--the opportunity to engage in loving kindness, generosity of spirit, and gratitude for others in your life.

Your challenge (and mine): Be on the lookout for people who might be experiencing these feelings and embrace them into your plans, your celebrations and festivities. If it's you that is separated from family and you are feeling it, make the first move, pick up the phone, write a letter, or send an invitation. Make plans, if not for this Christmas season, then soon after. It will give you something else to focus on besides the sadness you may be experiencing right now.You're not alone, really. I'm sad without family nearby, too. Guess I need to make some calls, write some cards and make some plans.

Christmas: Day 19 and Counting - Santa Baby

We finally did it. We took the plunge into the great shopping fest that many are caught up in for Christmas. This afternoon, Michael and I needed to go take care of some errands. Before coming home, we ended up in a shopping plaza with all our favorite stores. We aren't shopaholics, so this was definitely a treat. We started out going in that direction because I wanted to stop at the Mall, purchase some toys and drop them off at the Toys for Tots collection center. It's a big deal around here, radio stations promote this with on-site remote broadcasts, law enforcement come out with the toys they've gathered and the marines are there to help with all the work involved in the collection.

Because of the traffic flow, we decided to go to Best Buy first since it was on the way, to make a purchase of one thing. About 45 minutes later we were walking out with our one thing. As we came out of the store, we realized how nice the weather seemed and decided to just walk instead of taking the car from store to store. Just down the sidewalk from our first stop was a Kitchen Store. A-maz-ing place, and one I could get lost in. It's one of those places that has everything from glassware, cookware, silverware, specialty food items, food storage containers, knives, etc., etc. Another 45 minutes later, walked out with six things. Two items I have been searching forever for and finally found. It was like I had hit the mother-lode to find them there. Two OGGI Copper mugs to use when making one of our favorite drinks - Moscow Mules. Also amazing.  The mugs are exactly what I wanted and an early Christmas gift to myself.

Then, walking a little further, we ran right into a Trader Joe's. Omg, who would have thought!  It was as if the shopping gods were leading us in all the right places. I'm not the only one who loves this store, Michael does as well. It can be an adrenaline rush for sure. The both of us were able to find plenty of great food and drinks to put into our cart. Things we weren't even looking for, but were happy to find. Such as Pear Cinnamon Cider, Veggie Crisps, Turkey Chili and Tea Tree Tingle Body Wash. Plus, a bunch more stuff. We love this place.

So, after loading everything into the car, we started driving and thought, where are we going now? By the time we hit the highway, we realized we had not made it to the Toys for Tots collection center, nor had we even purchased a toy gift yet. Looking at the time, it was a little too late. We were tired, hungry, needed to get home, had plenty to do tonight and the time was flying by. So to our home we drove.

I'm sad to say that it was easy to put our giving goal on the back burner. After all, we don't shop much and all these stores were drawing us in. We were caught up in the moving crowds, loving the beautiful weather outside, and just having a great time. Right now, I feel a little sad. Sad that the things I bought for myself had nothing to do with toys, or gifts that I wanted for others. Somehow, I feel a little guilty splurging on myself.

As I sit here thinking about the events of the day, I wondered about the campaigns the Marines have yearly and wanted to know a little more about them. Toys for Tots was started in 1947 in Los Angeles, CA by a major in the Marine Corp. That year, 5000 toys were collected. The first being a hand made doll.  The next year it was established as a nationwide, Marine Corp sanctioned activity. What I just learned was Walt Disney designed the Toys For Tots train logo. Fast forward to the campaign of 2012, over 16.8 million toys were distributed to 7 million children. I think they are doing something meaningful and significant and have had major support from corporations, charitable foundations, celebrities, and individuals. This year so far in New Hampshire, it has been reported they were about 30,000 toys short of their goal. Thus the big push this weekend for donations. I know it's a big deal. I know I should be giving. Like the Toys for Tots foundation believes " the American public will not let the Toys for Tots fail." But it takes many people making small contributions to fulfill their goals. I'm starting to believe that my gift really will make a difference. It would make a difference to one child who really would not have a gift to unwrap. The Marines make sure that all the requests are filled and that each child has something to be happy for on Christmas. Even with the millions of gifts donated, there are still many who won't receive anything. With this economy, that's not surprising. I get a sense that some of those who benefit the most from these donations, are the parents who want to be generous and giving to their children, but who must make hard decisions to put food on the table and provide a place to live. Gifts and extras come last or not at all. We are a rich nation, no one should go without.

So, you might be asking, what is the song for today? It's a strange one and rarely fits within a conversation about giving and providing for others. But it is a stark contrast to what some think this holiday is all about. Little do they realize it's not about the expensive, abundance of gifts we want for ourselves. Even though this song has a catchy, sassy, sultry tone, it's just another grown-up Christmas list, with a twist!

Here's a behind the scenes video recording of Santa Baby by Lina. Click here:

Santa Baby - Lina

Santa baby slip a sable under the tree for me
I've been an awful good girl
Santa baby so hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa baby
A '54 convertible too, light blue
Well I'll wait up for you
Dear, Santa baby
So hurry down the chimney tonight. Yeah

Think of all the fun I've missed
Think of all the boys I haven't kissed
Next year I could be just as good
If you check off my Christmas list

Santa baby I want a yacht
And really that's not a lot
I've been an angel all year
Santa baby so hurry down the chimney tonight

Santa, honey , there's one more thing
I really do need, the deed, to a platinum mine
Santa honey so hurry down the chimney tonight

Come and trim my Christmas tree
With some decorations bought at Tiffany's
I really do believe in you
Let's see if you believe in me

Santa baby forgot to mention
One little thing a ring
And I don't mean on the phone
Santa baby so hurry down
The chimney tonight

Your challenge (and mine): Get to the Toys R Us (or other toy store), buy a toy or three toys, and drop them off at an official Toys for Tots location. On Christmas morning, when you are just waking up, you can be sure that some little child somewhere will also be waking up with the gift that you choose under their tree. Think of their expression as it's unwrapped. Let that put a smile on your face. If you can't get out, online donations are accepted. This allows them to purchase the needed gifts to fill the gap between what was donated and the unfinished list. Here's a link to the website: Toys For Tots Website for Donations.

Semper Fidelis. Always faithful.

Christmas: Day 20 and Counting - Unexpected

Yep. Tis the Season. For decorating the trees, buying gifts, cinnamon spiced latte, mistletoe, twinkling lights, spiked eggnog, ribbon and wrapping paper, Christmas cards, nativity scenes, neighborhood caroling, and TV commercials. Oh, ugh, you might say. And normally I would agree. The only time for a flood of commercials of this magnitude is right before the holidays. Well, then and the Superbowl. So, this might seem a little bit off the mark of this Christmas songs blog, but while looking for videos for songs I wanted to use today, I ran across this series of commercials. This blog is not a promo for the department store, which happens to be in London. So good luck with ordering anything from there and getting it on time. (Psst...I think the deadline is December 10th for international.) 

While there are plenty of commercials at any time of the year, these were an unexpected surprise. Even though I didn't exactly know where the store was located or what the products were, I was drawn in by the production of the videos. Most specifically the use of popular songs and wrapping them around a vignette with a little message. The singers have sweet, melodic voices, the song choices were fitting and the stories have some "awwww" factor. Maybe not as powerful as a Budweiser commercial with the Clydesdale's trotting down the lane in the snow, but meaningful non-the-less.

These campaigns are surely designed to sell products, increase revenue and create awareness. If you can look past all that, there is meaning. So for this blog, still keeping in the theme of Christmas and songs and meaning and relevance, I've added links to these commercials, one for each year since 2008. I know it's not the usual Christmas carols or Christ-themed songs that we started with. But I do believe that the underlying messages are still valuable. Try and find the poignant meaning in each one.

John Lewis Christmas 2008 - Song: From Me to You

Spoiler alert: In this commercial, the gifts are representative of their future owners and the perfect choice. "If you know the person, you'll find the present."

John Lewis Christmas 2009 - Song: Sweet Child of Mine

Spoiler alert: Probably my favorite one of the series. The children are opening gifts that might be a little beyond their years. "Remember how Christmas used to feel? Give someone that feeling."

John Lewis Christmas 2010 - Song: Your Song

Spoiler alert: This is really sweet. Each scenario, the person is doing something a little extra special. The last one is adorable. "For those who care about showing they care."

John Lewis Christmas 2011 - Song: Please, Please, Please

Spoiler alert: The patience of a child is rewarded by a special moment at the end. He has waited for a long time for just the right time to give. By the lyrics, you might think that he's waiting for a gift for himself. But he surprises you in the end. "For gifts you can't wait to give."

John Lewis Christmas 2012 - The Journey - Song: Power of Love

Spoiler alert: The dedication, endurance and stamina of this snow-man will astound you. And all in the spirit of love, for his snow-girl. Set in a beautiful snow covered garden and forest. "Give a little more love this Christmas."

John Lewis Christmas 2013 - The Bear & The Hare - Song: "Somewhere Only We Know"

Spoiler alert: Heartwarming relationship between the forest animals, so much so that they awaken the sleeping bear so he doesn't miss any of the Christmas celebration. It's taken from a beautiful storybook that can be downloaded on iPhone or Android. "Give someone a Christmas they'll never forget."

Your assignment (and mine): Try not to let the commercialism of the season ruin everything! It's easy to get overwhelmed at the task of gift buying. Look for tiny drops of goodness. That will get you through it all and be a reminder of why we do this.

Christmas: 21 Days and Counting - Christmas Song

If you've never heard this song, you might think it to be a little unconventional for a Christmas song. But I absolutely love it. The simplicity, the acoustic guitar, the relevant-could-be-today lyrics and story telling piece of it captivates me every time. And Dave Matthews oh so sultry voice also causes me to melt into a trance. All in all, this song, is a true love story. From the part of Mary and Joseph, to Jesus and how He relates to all those around Him; to God, the Father and His Son.

Take a listen:   Christmas Song - Dave Matthews

The Christmas Song

She was his girl; he was her boyfriend
She be his wife; make him her husband
A surprise on the way, any day, any day
One healthy little giggling dribbling baby boy
The wise men came three made their way
To shower him with love
While he lay in the hay
Shower him with love love love
Love love love
Love love is all around
Not very much of his childhood was known
Kept his mother Mary worried
Always out on his own
He met another Mary for a reasonable fee, less than
Reputable as known to be

His heart was full of love love love
Love love love
Love love is all around
When Jesus Christ was nailed to the his tree
Said "oh, Daddy-o I can see how it all soon will be
I came to shed a little light on this darkening scene
Instead I fear I spill the blood of my children all around"

The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around
So I'm told, So the story goes, 
The people he knew were
Less than golden hearted
Gamblers and robbers
Drinkers and jokers, all soul searchers
Like you and me

Rumors insisited that he soon would be
For his deviations
Taken into custody by the authorities
Less informed than he.
Drinkers and jokers, all soul searchers
Searching for love love love
Love love love
Love love is all around

Preparations were made
For his celebration day
He said "eat this bread and think of it as me
Drink this wine and dream it will be
The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around
The blood of our children all around

Father up above, why in all this anger do you fill
us up with love
Fill me love love love
Love love love
Love love
And the blood of our children all around

It's been mentioned in some editorials that the songwriter, Dave Matthews, was/is not a Christian. In fact, according to one writing, before this song came out, he made the remark that, ""if Jesus was alive today, the one thing he wouldn't be is a Christian." Whether Dave is or is not a follower of Christ, he does think deeply about the story of Jesus. He connects at a heart level with the purpose and outcome of Jesus' coming. Part of which was to bring love to the world. Love is the central theme.

Joseph and Mary, boy friend and girlfriend, espoused to each other, I can only imagine were head over heels in love. They would have to be for Joseph to graciously walk through this strange story of Mary's conception, angels appearing in dreams encouraging him to take her as his bride anyway, having to travel the countryside with a pregnant wife. Surely at night when things were quiet, they would hold each other, realizing the turn their life had taken, discussing the situations they would find themselves in and the possible turmoil that might be around the next corner because of the social stigma. Joseph, being the man that he was, would probably take her in his arms, allow her to feel, express and cry at all the emotions that must have been inside. He could see the bigger picture, wanting to comfort, protect and lead his wife through this unexplainable time. At that moment, I wonder if he had any idea who Mary was about to give birth to. Nevertheless, he was comforted enough in his own spirit that all would be ok, the angel had told him so. And, the love was there. The were going to be a family. I love the verse in Luke 2, after Jesus was born, "Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself." She had just been a central figure in the birth of the Savior, receiving confirmation from the shepherds that the angels sang throughout the heavens, because her son was born. I think she new the significance of that moment.

The wise men felt it and wanted to love on Jesus as a baby. As did others who had heard he was the King they were waiting for all those years. Traveling far distances, driven by love, never doubting, they came prepared to shower him with gifts, and they did. The song goes on to talk about Mary and her concerns as a mother over this child Jesus who seemed to have a mind of his own. Mothers who love worry. Plain and simple. About everything. But Jesus was out doing what he came to earth to do, telling the world that God had a plan and it would involve saving all of man. And, to share love. He shared it with everyone, did not hold back, threw no judgment, no expectation, no condemnation on anyone. He only loved. He loved those who were "less than golden hearted," gamblers, jokers, tax collectors, thieves, or prostitutes. We are the ones who created the labels for these types of people, then added the stigma and perception of what type of people they really were. But Jesus, He saw through those labels and loved them anyway. He saw their heart, he saw into their soul and he reflected to them what they were searching for. It was a precious act then, it's a precious act now.

I'm not going into the religious overtones of this song. There's plenty of debate about what Dave thinks of the church. And, I know there are many people who would agree. But the bottom line is God loved, Jesus loved. Anything that we know that is related to love, or about love, or feelings of love, are all because of this moment, when God poured love from heaven. The nuances of organized religions will not even be a blip on the radar once the entire world is engulfed in God's love. Religion can distract us, move us farther away or disengage us from a relationship with God and Jesus. But that separation can't last. Love always prevails.

When my children were of school age, we were still attending the church that didn't allow Christmas. (Still another story for another day.) I remember feeling sad, as they would have to sit out of the school parties, plays, musical performances, art and crafts activities or anything connected with Christmas. At one point, I started a movement at our school which said that the school curriculum couldn't and shouldn't contain items from which my child would have to be excused for religious reasons, i.e., the music program. Indeed, I pushed my beliefs on everyone because I thought it was unfair that they would have to sit out in the hall while others are involved with the Christmas activities. It made me think, why would they be ok with my child sitting in the hallway. I know it must have  been awkward for them, maybe embarrassing, and there surely were hurt feelings. For at that young age, they weren't going to fight for their beliefs. Looking back, rightfully so, since it was all false anyway. Once God showed us grace, showed us where we went wrong in our belief system, showed us another way to relate to him, I knew that there was something I had to do to make up for my religion-pushing ways.

Through careful thought, consideration and prayer, I wrote a letter to the principal of the school. I apologized for having upset the system, apologized for keeping others from celebrating such a joyous occasion, apologized for pushing my false beliefs onto the entire school in the name of fairness for my children. I saw him a few days after sending the letter. He said to me, on the verge of tears, "I have never, ever received a letter quite like this. I'm speechless, I don't even know what to say. Thank you for sharing this, it really means a lot." A few months later, the victory was mine again (not necessarily the intended outcome) as I sat listening to all the children in the whole school sing songs, play instruments and recite passages about Christmas, mine among them. I remember tears streaming as I felt so humbled, so thankful and so loved all in that moment. God whispered in my ear that what I had done was a good thing.

To sum it all up, Christmas isn't about religion. It's about Jesus. It's about redemption. It's about relationship. It's about family. It's about friends. It's about serving. It's about sharing. It's about forgiveness. It's about reconciliation. It's about giving. But most of all, it's about love.

Your assignment (and mine): If we've pushed our beliefs on anyone, in a negative way, and caused offense, apologies are in order. Extend a hand of gratitude and love. Find ways to show love to those in your circle of influence, not because of your religion, but because you really do love.