Starting the new year right…with a stolen calendar

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That’s right. I stole a 2017 calendar. And there I sat, not feeling guilty in the slightest, not looking worriedly over my shoulder for a security guard, but absolutely delighted with my stolen property and even laughing a little.

Joining in the merriment of my theft were all of my coworkers (which sounds really bad when I add that we’re a church staff!). I hope the one from whom I took the very nice 2017 spiral-bound date book was as merry as the rest. After all, that’s the whole idea of the game Dirty Santa.

I drew an early number and selected from the unopened packages a nice item, some kind of little Sterno-fueled heater, new in its box, and I was prepared to make use of that gismo had it come home with me. However, it was stolen by another player. Just in case that should happen, already I had been eyeing some cookies and other opened gifts. But, when the one resting on my lap went elsewhere, I suddenly decided I had to have that planner.

You can ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you: I am driven to work ahead. If I can do some of Tuesday’s tasks on Monday, and Thursday’s on Wednesday, etc., that is a good week.

It’s December 29 as I write this, and I plan to start three days early on new year’s resolutions. Aside from getting those extra holiday calories worked off, I have three personal goals I’d like to achieve before 1/1/2017:
1. Finish knitting a baby hat
2. Re-organize my closet shelf
3. Get back into writing my second novel

Making any progress on goal #3  between now and January 1 will jumpstart a very large 2017 goal, that of completing the first draft of said novel.

Enough about my personal goals. But here’s another list you may find useful. These are a few important “new year” reminders I plan to keep in front of me for the foreseeable future.  Not only keep them in front of me, but say them out loud every day. Perhaps they will help you, too, while much talk rumbles about a new year, a new you, a new presidential administration, and those greatest of faith-challenging action words, hope and fear. Here the reminders are, and you can see in the photo above that I have written them on the January page of my Dirty Santa spoils.

  • God can do anything.
  • God commands us to ask of Him.
  • No place on earth is out of God’s reach.
  • God loves His children and longs for their good and holy desires, which reflect His desires, to be realized.
  • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Free Christmas fiction!

Stranded by a winter storm on the way to visit relatives during the holidays, the Wilkins family is forced to seek shelter in a home where grief from a recent tragedy has forever changed the meaning of Christmas.

Dear readers,

I am posting my one and only novella, which is also my one and only work of Christmas fiction thus far. It’s not published except by myself as a free gift to anyone interested in reading it. I wrote this story in 2010 and have since learned that it’s “against the rules” to narrate as the author, telling readers straight out what different characters are thinking, simultaneously. In other words, writing from “third person omniscient” point of view is OUT. (Unless you’re a Jane Austen or anyone else successful enough to make your own rules.)

But, as Hallmark Channel movies frequently suggest, “It’s Christmas! Anything can happen.” So, my “anything” Christmas miracle is to dispense with the “no head-hopping” rule long enough to offer you a work that is a story I believe in, no matter that it was written without the professional enlightenment that writers’ conferences like ACFW have since afforded me. I revised it significantly in recent weeks, except for “correcting” the point of view.

Catch several shout-outs to Grace Livingston Hill if you will. (references to her works, and, I hope, a little mimicry of her style)

For whatever entertainment and inspiration it may bring to you, here is The Carols’ Secret Message.

Merry Christmas!

 

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To the manger-seekers of 2016

The minister prayed just prior to his sermon on the first Sunday of Advent, “Help us get through this season.” I confess I heard little of what he said after that.

How honest and practical to introduce the theme “Simply Christmas” with such a prayer. Honest and practical not only in perhaps the most obvious way (“help us not to get all stressed and partied out, with gifts and decorating…”). Rather, in the plea for God’s help “to get through this” I found the Spirit reminding me that even a Christ-centered Advent celebration can be a test of sorts. It is such a big and necessary celebration that, though it is always a happy event, it demands of true manger-seekers some serious and even exhausting efforts: self-examination, pilgrimage, seeking, remembering, hoping, telling. Worshiping. But for whom and to what purposes should we rather exhaust ourselves? Binge-watching a series on Netflix? (Suddenly we’re back to the word honesty.)

How wonderful that we have such beautiful houses of worship filled with glorious music to honor Christ, where we can be drawn together to celebrate His birth just now and His life, death, resurrection, ascension and promised return during the other 48 weeks of the year. For it is not only in the special seasons of the liturgical calendar, but also in the “ordinary days,” that self-examination, pilgrimage, seeking, remembering, hoping, telling, and worshiping are some of the most stringent requirements set before Christ’s followers. In these actions we not only give our most devoted obedience but also receive our fullest blessings.

The very serious pursuit of non-temporal blessing binds us to our Father and to like-minded Christian brothers and sisters. Is it your desire to be so bound, and to a greater degree than ever? Can Advent 2016 find you being lured irresistibly down the fresh, new road of intentional, serious pilgrimage? It may seem a deserted road, quiet like a country lane with no sign posts and no apparent obstacles, ideal for seeking and worshiping. May God bless you with a pilgrimage road like that! Or, it may look like a busy street at rush hour – loud, confusing, and with many fun and ordinary activities telling you “pilgrimage” is an admirable goal but just not possible unless you’re a minister, a famous ascetic, or someone wealthy enough and unattached enough to “go away” for as long as needed.

Your pilgrimage road may not be a literal “road” at all, and, as a new course of action, attitude, or private spiritual pursuit, it may be unseen and quite possibly ununderstood by those closest to you. So be it. Jesus is there, and the plain truth is a husband, wife, child, parent, best friend or new associate cannot go with you into the holy place where Jesus infuses you with His presence, His power, and His peace. Though none go with you there, they can’t be unaware that you have been. Your light will shine more brightly (or into different corners) so that many – though they have not experienced your pilgrimage with you – will know one way or another that you have been in pursuit of Jesus and cannot be content except when close to His side.

“And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13 (KJV)

The heavens are telling

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“The heavens are telling the glory of God.” That line is already taken.

“I will extol thee.” Hmmm. Also taken. And, even if it wasn’t, “extol” isn’t part of my vocabulary. (To be honest,”thee” isn’t, either.)

Being original with the words of praise I offer to God isn’t super important, perhaps, but isn’t there something to be said for not always wanting to be quoting someone else? Far be it from me to express anything other than appreciation and awe for any book of scripture, and least of all for the Psalms, but, as beautiful as that poetry is, I’d like to offer God praises from my own heart, not from King David’s.

Remember movies or TV shows in which someone wrote love notes to another? It seems they often quoted famous poets with or without giving credit for the lines they lifted. Adolescent Peter Brady was tongue-tied, he was so infatuated with Kerry Hathaway. He did write a love note, but he also tried having his older brother Greg cue him with flowery words because he was incapable of voicing his feelings toward the pretty, new girl.

In not praising God for any length of time in my own words could there be diagnosed a similar emotional tongue-tiedness, or is it more to the point that I have not gotten in touch lately with what my deep feelings toward the eternal Alpha and Omega actually are? Perhaps it is that for years I’ve been conditioned to use other people’s words instead of my own.

There is nothing deficient about choosing to quote scripture or hymns or popular praise songs if the words express what I feel and if I don’t happen to be quite that poetic myself. I do think it bears examining by any of us, though, if we claim to be “worshiping through” songs that tell about faith and feelings we don’t have, don’t understand, and are not very interested in.

Is there a point? Yes, at least one. Anyone who isn’t praising Yahweh frequently is missing something much more huge than we might think. Missing. Missing. Going without – and for no good reason. Often, for a lot of basically unimportant reasons.

I feel this “missing” – right now, as I write – as if it is a vitamin deficiency that has been going on for a long time and is finally causing outward symptoms. I’m looking jaundiced. I’m feeling anemic. I crave this missing nutrient as I would be thinking about chocolate halfway through Lent if I were strong enough to give up chocolate for Lent.

Now, what about the pretty, heartfelt words that prove I don’t need to quote the Psalms or Charles Wesley or Getty and Townend in order to praise? Well, they may come or they may not come. Lovesick Greg Brady (in an earlier season) lay on his bed thinking about Linda. He wasn’t sitting at the desk in the boys’ bedroom composing a poem, nor was he chanting, “Linda, you are beautiful; Linda, no one is like you.” We saw in that episode interest and affection that was untrained, spontaneous, and all-consuming. No orations. Just an infatuated teen with a stomach ache.

I want to be the one who takes to my bed sometimes because God is so wonderful that it gives me a stomach ache.

I am that baby

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I looked in the mirror this morning and realized I am the most important person in the world to God. And so is the next person. And the next person. Because God is all-powerful and omnipresent, it’s as if each of us has God entire giving sole attention to us. Do we fail to ask for His attention? If so, we grievously fail ourselves.

I’ve seen a baby ultrasound face picture recently, remembered the one of my daughter, and visited a Chinese friend and her newborn son. As I looked at my face in the mirror, I thought of that, how I was once that beautiful, brand-new creation knit together in my mother’s womb. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, of course, but – also of course – I am just as precious to God today as I was when tiny, helpless, and innocent.

And so are you.

Last week we buried the last of our parents, Jeff’s 93-year-old mother. Pictures from her youth were quite impressive at the funeral visitation. How beautiful she was, an 18-year-old war bride! That face at 93 – the one under the lid of the casket – suffered years of declining health. But no wrinkle, no pallor, no weakness mars beauty except to us, who sometimes forget what beauty is.

Never forget how beautiful you are, and live accordingly! The world needs your beauty to shine forth in positive words and good works.

 

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Granddaughter and grandmother show remarkable family resemblance at similar age!

31st Olympiad: inspiring and sobering

With my family, I enjoyed watching TV coverage of the competition, victories, anxious moments, medal ceremonies, and background stories on many athletes representing the U.S. and other nations. My husband, a former high school and college sprinter and hurdler, told me that a certain Olympic runner for Great Britain (who looks to me as though he’s from Africa) lives in the United States. It all gets very eclectic and melting pot – which is one of the clearest messages portrayed in advertising during the games and, of course, in the games themselves.

I am sad over the scandal of Ryan Lochte and companions, and I surely hope many people of all ages get the message that going out “partying” and drinking is very foolish and risky, indeed, and is a habit best given up. Period. Did you find the pun I used intentionally in this article’s title, where I originally wrote “inspiring and disturbing”?

Michael “Mikey” Brannigan, 19, the Paralympic runner with autism, said, “Find a hobby you love and stick with it.” As a hopeful novelist – who, in that pursuit, often has work periods when a second great love, knitting, gets set aside – I find a monumental reminder in Brannigan’s advice! These pursuits, both authorship and knitting, presently are hobbies for me. So far, I’m in that protected place where I am not obligated by strict completion deadlines in either avocation (other than self-imposed goals). And I do love both hobbies. That’s why you often see me busy at one or at the other.

For athletes and for hopefuls in any field, the message has been coming down for a long time, including from classic DCOMs* like Brink and Doubleteamed: Stick with your passion as long as it makes you happy. Whether it ever earns a living for you or brings you competitive victories is secondary. Of course, the happy fallout of this approach is that passion typically fuels excellence, and excellence frequently attracts interest, customers, and even trophies.

Love and enjoy the process. That doesn’t mean not dedicating long hours and hard work. If you take a look at my other blog page, Long Tail and Short Tales, you will find pictures depicting long hours and hard work toward knitting, my hobby that is a true happy place. And, when A Stranger’s Promise and its sequel, The Wrong Type of Love, get into print and you read them, you will find several years’ hard work that brought me considerable pleasure. Please like Books by Betsy Lowery on Facebook and follow my trail to market!

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

*DCOM, Disney Channel original movie

The bridge: “out of my hands”

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This is part 2 of my “Christmas in July” post on Robie Lester’s song, “My World is Beginning Today.” If you missed part 1, read it here.

The bridge of the song has a very light, “retro feel” trumpet score underlying. Listen again here for that. Ah, so nice! It brings to mind songs by B.J. Thomas from the same era. And the flute is great, too.

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Things happening that are “out of my hands” – we need this!

In the bridge lyrics there is a neon-yellow, flashing, impossible-to-miss parallel to the movement of God we need and long to see in our confused and violent day. Things beginning to happen that are “out of my hands” and “without any plans” (that I made) is a monumental reminder of what the power of the Holy Spirit is, and of how the life of faith is lived.

Note, please: I am energized by the reminders I get from this song, but it is what God’s word says that guides what we believe about our prayers and His work. Some of what the Bible declares about God’s response to our prayers can be found here.

“When God’s people pray”

I dream of a grassroots, spontaneous outbreak of prayer like none of us have ever witnessed. Don’t you agree these many mass shootings are already starting to spark that? Lines in a pair of songs by Life Action Singers* help me to visualize what many of us long to see happen in and around us: “Businesses stopping so thousands can pray; all through the nation it’s just the same way” and “nothing moves the Father like His children on their knees.” Put those habitual relaxation activities aside long enough to walk into a different room of the house, bow your head, and ask God to move in a way that all of us can’t help talking about as enthusiastically as about football recruitment or the lives of famous people.

When? Well, pull up your device’s Reminders or Calendar and set it up. Thursday night? Saturday morning? There is a window for this in your week, I promise. You can find it. Oh, happy place that I assure you you want to be found: not continuing to shove Jesus aside in order to spend ALL AVAILABLE FREE TIME enjoying idols and working toward temporary dreams.

Since joining my church’s intercessory prayer team and committing to a once-a-week vigil over published prayer requests, I find my appetite for prayer obeisance whetted. Private, exposed-heart prayer and unashamed “where two or three are gathered” prayer. It’s nothing more than pride, complacency, and disobedience that stops you and me from going to a Christian coworker or family member or neighbor and requesting a few minutes of prayer together.

I promised to include comments on pretending to be God (in a good way), but that’s next time. It’s another subject and I’m out of space.

*Workaday World and When God’s People Pray, tracks on CD “Send the Fire Again”