Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Learned in 2014-Being the Best Me

I recently read a blog post called, "14 Things I Learned in 2014," by one of my new favorite upcoming authors-Kelly O'Dell Stanley. If you haven't heard of her, you will. Her book, "Praying Upside Down" is due to come out sometime this spring. Anyway, I "met" Kelly on Facebook through a mutual friend, and I love her writing. 

Kelly's blog was among several others on Emily Freeman's Link-up (for those readers who are not bloggers, that's where bloggers share their blogs, meet other bloggers, etc...it's like a blog party!). The party theme? Let's Share What We Learned in 2014.

I decided to read some of the other blog posts there to see what others had learned in 2014, and it inspired me to come out of hiding this week (I'd vowed to take the week off), and write about what I've learned.  So, here goes---the things I learned are highlighted and underlined:

One of the most important things I learned in my little blog-world is that 

there are literally hundreds of thousands of bloggers out there! 

I had no idea of how to grow my blog, how to "get more followers," until my friend, Kathryn Ross introduced me to link-up parties. These wonderful people host a weekly "link-up" where you can share your blog, read other posts by like-minded bloggers (and sometimes not-so-like-minded, but still amusing and interesting), make new friends and gain followers. I've made some wonderful cyber friends through these link-up parties, and have learned a lot from other bloggers--things about blogging and things about God. When you see "sharing this with..." at the bottom of my blog post, I encourage you to click on any of the links to read other wonderful blogs!

In the midst of all of this cyber galavanting, I learned that 

a lot of people have written a book.  

I was envious at first. Why did everyone have a book and I didn't? Well, because you haven't written one yet, silly! 

You can't be jealous of something you haven't yet done. 

I felt angry, but then I realized that I was angry at myself for not following through on the dreams and desires I've had since I was a little girl---dreams of writing a book, of being an "author."



So I researched. I asked questions. I learned about self-publishing. I learned about traditional publishing. About writing a proposal vs. writing the (non-fiction) book. And I learned that 

I am a writer. I always was a writer; that's who I was designed to be. 

I am still learning about self-discipline. That's an ongoing lesson...AND, some of those peoples' books are pretty darned good, like my current favorite, Laura Boggess' "Playdates With God"

I learned that 

if you want to be promoted, promote someone else. 

The best way to get something is to forget about getting it by giving. Put your goal aside and help someone else reach their goals. I've heard it said that the best way to find your way out of grief is to help someone else. Helping someone else gets your mind off yourself. And when you get your mind off yourself, the envy, depression or whatever else you felt someone don't matter anymore. Before you know it, you're actually happy and rooting for that person.



For some reason, hiking became my absolute favorite thing in the world to do this year. I don't know why. I've always enjoyed it, but this year I discovered all kinds of new trails within an hour of my home. It was as if a whole new world opened up. Through the NY/NJTrail Conference

I learned about trail-making, about trail maintenance and about trail-blazing. I learned how to correctly read a trail map and on New Year's Day, when the Hubster and I go out for a holiday hike, I will learn how to properly use a compass.



I learned that I am afraid of the creatures of the night, and that's the real reason I don't like camping. And I learned that I have a deep desire to hike the 72 mile stretch of the new Jersey section of the Appalachian Trail, and to do so will require facing a lot of my fears, only one of those fears being the creatures of the night. 



I'm strangely excited. I've always loved an adventure. A year ago, I would have thought I was out of my mind (my kids and my best friend think that I am. My son referred to it as, "this thing you're going to do."). Hubster and I just bought a tent and are making plans to tackle that 72 mile hike this summer. Yeah, I know, summer is really hot, but other than right now, summer is the best time for me to take time off work. Camping is one thing; camping in 20 degree weather is quite another. Summer it is.


My first time on the AT
stirred the desire to do more.
This year I decided to simplify my life. I said no to a lot of things that I'd previously said, "Oh yes! Thank you...yes!" to. Things that I actually enjoyed, but took up a lot of my time. I started staying home, and 

I learned to enjoy my husband and the time we share. 

More than that, 

I learned to enjoy being with myself without having an agenda.

Simplifying my life allowed for de-cluttering of my life and my time. Simplifying and de-cluttering made me realize my priorities. I can breathe. I can see and hear people. I can make time, not find time. I can care. Simply put, I can. No longer do I frantically say, "I just can't!" In a world that measures worth and efficiency by how much you do, I measure it by how much I don't do and how much I pay attention to what God wants. In a world that seems to commend busyness, I decide to relax. It is how I discover what I truly want in life. I believe it is how I discovered my two favorite things to do this year: Write and hike. In both of those I learned that:

I can do what I set my mind to do.
I can rise to a challenge.
I can conquer the rock scrambles and the word scrambles through Christ, who gives me strength.

















One of the most important things I learned in 2014 is that 

I cannot be anyone but who I am. 

Maybe to you that's not big news. But for someone who has tried all her life to live up to what I thought everyone else expected me to be, well, that's pretty big.

I learned this a long time ago, but this year, in fact, only recently, did I really "get" that 

every person is uniquely who they were meant to be, quirks and all.  

We can spend our whole lives pretending we have it all together when we are not even close, trying to live up to some ideal worker/parent/friend/Christian/fill in the blank... that exists only in our mind, only to discover that that person really doesn't exist...anywhere...in anyone. No one is perfect, except for Jesus Christ. So not only should we not dump on ourselves because of our "flaws," we ought to accept everyone else...with their flaws and quirks. Personally, I would rather spend time with someone who is comfortable being themselves than someone trying to be someone they're not. Wouldn't you?

 If we could all just be a little kinder, we could diffuse a lot of anger and hurt.

I learned a long time ago in the theatre world that while you may be better than some, there will always be those who are better than you. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others and just be who we are. Quirks and all. We're all quirky. We can strive to attain perfection, but it will never come. 
This is my best me...haha!
I've been told that that role captured the real me.
So just be the best you that you can be. If you can learn that, you will find amazing freedom!

(Come on, you had to know that I'd throw you a curve ball somewhere in here!) 

Blessings Along the Path in 2015!
Mary

Sharing this with Emily Freeman, Faith Filled FridayThe Weekend Brew, Sunday Stillness


Monday, December 22, 2014

Look For the Joy

Yesterday was the first day of winter. Yay!

Okay, but I thought you were S.A.D., Mare...why would you be excited about THAT?

Because... it was also the shortest day of the year!

Okay...again, why would that make you happy?

Because starting today, the days start getting longer!


YAY!!!

There is always a reason to rejoice in the midst of a situation where there seems to be no reason. Sometimes, you just have to look harder for it than others.

As you go through this last week of Advent, as you go through the busy-ness of the week before Christmas, try to remember that.

In every circumstance, there is a cause for joy.

In the midst of the chaos, there is peace.

In the dawn of each day, there is hope.

In the cradle of Christmas, there lies Love.

Find the joy in each circumstance.

Search for the peace in the chaos.


Discover the hope in each new sunrise.

Allow the Love of Christ to flood your soul.

And enjoy that extra minute (one minute may or may not be an accurate fact...it's just my estimation) of light that each new day gives you.

Since I will have some time off from my job next week, I've decided to take a much needed break from blogging until the new year. I want to thank each one of you who takes the time in your busy day to read my ordinary thoughts on our Extraordinary God. I'm always amazed when someone says to me, "I read your blog every day. Keep writing because you have no idea who you're ministering to." Sometimes, those words are what keep me going.

I'm not big on New Year's resolutions, but this year, I am praying that God will reveal to me a word for 2015. Just one word. Last year it was "simplify" (but I had never even prayed about that. I realized it somewhere around October).

I'd love to hear what God reveals to you for 2015. See you in January!

I pray that God blesses each one of you with peace, hope, joy and love this Christmas. 

Have yourself a merry little Christmas...(If video does not display, click here)


Friday, December 19, 2014

Friend? Or Faux?

No, I did not spell that wrong. I know that it's "foe."  Stay with me.

This is my friend:



And this is my friend:

credit

THIS is my faux friend:



I don't very much like my faux friend. It lives in my basement. It pretends to be my friend. Whenever I do laundry, it stares oddly at me. It silently beckons me to come play. It mocks me when I don't. 

It quietly yells mean things to me, like "Hey Fatty, you gonna go eat some more chocolate and sit on the couch?" And laughs at me. When I ignore its comments, I hear its angry screams in my head: "Hey, I'm talking to you!"

It calls me names, like "Fatso," and "Lazy, and Lard-Ass"

For a friend that doesn't move, it sure likes to make fun of me when I don't move. For a friend that doesn't go anywhere, it sure likes to send me off on frequent guilt trips.

In terms of physical fitness, it is indeed my friend. In terms of enjoyment, it is a faux friend.

I actually hate my faux friend. Which makes it my foe...my enemy.

Because it is my enemy, I have a good excuse not to hang around my faux friend...my foe friend...

Therefore, I need not exercise.

Okay, maybe that's illogical reasoning.

The fact is, I don't mind exercising when it's outdoors. Walking, hiking, biking. But sitting on that dad-blamed stationery bicycle drives me nuts. It's far from enjoyable. It's downright aggravating. I don't feel better when I'm on it, and I don't feel better afterwards. Truth. So I ignore it. And resolve to go outside anyway, even if it's cold and dark. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. 

There are a lot of places I could go with this "faux friend" thing. 

First, we've all have faux friends, and I'm not talking about exercise bikes. Real people. Ones who are friends with us because we have a mutual friend. Or people we work with who tolerate us because they have to. Or ones who use us for their gain. Those who beckon us to join, and mock us when we leave. They gossip and slander us when we do something they don't like or approve of.

And...we've all been faux friends. At least I have. And I'd be willing to bet that you're not all that different from me. I've been the one who pretends to like someone for the benefit of a mutual friend, co-worker or personal gain. It's quite ugly. I've taken guilt trips, and I've sent people off on them, not really caring if they have advance notice or luggage. 

Last, we have a spiritual faux friend...foe...who also likes to pretend that he is our friend. Satan works the same way that blasted bike works. He silently beckons us, and then he mocks us. He calls us names, but he disguises his voice to make it sound like our own. He sends us on guilt trips...the longer the better. He doesn't really care if we ever come back. He insidiously inserts himself into our thinking until we don't know if what we're thinking is friend or foe. 

It's all faux.

And it's important to learn to recognize it as such.

Faux is not genuine. Imitation. Not real.

While satan is real, he is not genuine. And he is never original.  

Like the stationery bike that aggravates me to no end because it doesn't go anywhere, but causes me to exert a lot of energy, Satan's accusations and mockery spin around and around in our heads. They go nowhere, but they cause us to expend a lot of useless energy. We start believing the lies and then dwell on those thoughts. They feed on themselves. The energy and speed increase until we feel aggravated, and we don't know why.

If you'll pardon my pun, we need to break the cycle. Boy, would I love to break that cycle---my faux friend!

Get off the bike. Stop believing the accusations, stop listening to the mockery. 

Look at that stupid bike and say, "Shut up!"

Turn our eyes upon Jesus. (if video does not display, click here)

I have called you friends, for everything I have learned, I have made known to you (John 15:15).

Everything I have learned I have made known to you. Isn't that delightful?

Ask, and it will be given to you (Matthew 7:7).

Ask Jesus to reveal to you what the Father wants to teach you, to tell you. He will make it known to you. That is a promise.

Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17).

God does not change, like a faux friend. He is the Real Deal.

What a friend we have in Jesus! (Alan Jackson)
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go break my cycle...and you can take that any way you'd like...

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

sharing this post with Deb at Blessing Counters, Barbie at The Weekend Brew, Janis at Sunday Stillness, Beth at Wedded Wednesday, Laura with Faith Filled Friday, Naomi at Monday Musings, Joan at Sharing His Beauty, Laura with Playdates With God, Terri from Good Morning Monday

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why I Stopped Listening to Christmas Music

Today I stopped listening to Christmas music, and switched to "regular" worship music. That in itself is odd. I've always loved Christmas music. I have 530 songs on my "Christmas songs" playlist. 

I never made it through the list. I have to stop. There are only so many renditions of "O Holy Night" that I can listen to before I start wondering if some of the artists are just trying to show off...even the "Christian" ones. (Hmmm, maybe I need to revisit my "in the same manner that you judge you will be judged" blog from the other day).

And then there are songs like this:

It's the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle-belling 
and everyone telling you, 
"Be of good cheer."
It's the most wonderful time of the year!

It's the hap-happiest season of all
With those holiday greetings
and gay, happy meetings
when friends come to call
It's the hap-happiest season of all...

...It's the most wonderful time of the year
There'll be much mistletoeing
and hearts will be glowing 
When loved ones are near
It's the most wonderful time of the year!
Edward Pola and George Wyle @1963

It's really not the most wonderful time of the year. Not for a lot of people. Not for those who have estranged family members, those who've lost loved ones, or those who are dealing with anger, unforgiveness or bitterness. 

Not everyone's heart glows when loved ones are near. 


It's not the happiest season of all for those who are battling illnesses, depression or loneliness. Those folks don't want some bubbly, happy person shouting in their face, "Be of good cheer!" (read: Whatever it is, get over it! This is a time of joy!)

Of course, this is a worldly song. I could just listen to songs like Joy to the World or Silent Night.

Except that Silent Night always makes me cry. And Joy to the World is just a bit much for my 7am commute. 

Truth?

It's just all too much this year. All of it. The songs. The parties. The decorations. The shopping. The gifts.

For the first time, maybe in my life, all I want is Jesus.

And if I could give all of the people on my gift-giving list one gift, it would be to know Jesus in an intimate way. 

And I fall into that latter category right now...the not so happy one. 

You may recall in an earlier post last week, that I have (self-diagnosed) S.A.D. No matter how hard I try, I can't seem to shake the sadness that rests just below the surface, due to the lack of light and warmth. It comes over me when I least expect it. And because of my lack of energy and physical movement, I've become just a tad apathetic.

But here's the thing: 

I still have joy. Indescribable joy. It's indescribable because it doesn't make sense. How can I be sad but still have joy? 

Because I am with God and He is always with me. Because this baby we anticipate as our coming King offers me hope. Security. Blessed assurance. 



Advent anticipates His coming, and Christmas celebrates it, but the truth is, He has already come. 

The sadness I feel is fleeting. It's a condition. It's not who I am. 

It comes over me, but it never overcomes me.  It is not mine and I refuse to embrace it as such. 

But Jesus is mine. And He is real. Never-changing. 

And His joy is never-ending. Not fleeting, but ever-present. 

The joy of the Lord is my strength (Nehemiah 8:10).

Maybe that's why the Christmas music is so hard for me to listen to and sing along with this year: because I need to worship the King who has come, not the baby who is yet to come. I need that blessed assurance that Jesus is mine, not the hope that He can be mine. 

Christmas songs are about anticipating the birth of Christ. Right now, I need to know the Christ who was already born, died, rose again and lives victoriously, fighting for me in my gray days.

Songs like Take Me In, by Clayton Brooks of Oaks Worship---in my opinion, one of the best and most anointed worship songs I've ever heard. (If video does not display, click on link)
Joy to the World has its place. But declaring, Oh the joy the floods my soul when I'm with you, Lord; when I'm with you Lord (from the song, Take Me In) does in fact flood my soul with joy, even in the midst of the sadness. 

This is what gives me hope.

Winter is not the happiest season for me. It's the worst. It's cold, dark and gray. But I wait in joyful hope for the spring. It's only a few months. I always get through it, and I'll get through it again. There will be sunlight, warmth, and smells of honeysuckle in the air. Snowdrops and crocuses will peak out from the snow, while vibrant yellow daffodils and red tulips will burst gleefully through the melting ground. Trees will once again bud and bloom. Daylight Savings Time will give me that extra hour of daylight, so that I can once again go into the woods for my hikes after work. 

As the saying goes, "This too shall pass."

But these things remain: Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control.

Joy.

Joy that floods my soul.

Joy to the world!

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

Sharing this post with Holley at Coffee For Your Heart, Holly with Testimony Tuesday, Judith at
Wholehearted Wednesday, Shari at Word Filled Wednesday, Rosilind at A Little R&R , Beth at Wedded Wednesday, Crystal at Thriving Thursdays, Lyli at Thought Provoking Thursday

Monday, December 15, 2014

Measured Back

Jesus told us, 

Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matthew 7:2)

Well...I can tell you that there is truth in this. Grab a cup of hot whatever. It's story time.

I've been dealing a lot with unhappy customers lately at work (landscaping) because of cleanup delays due to weather and holidays. When we hang up, I say things like, 

"My gosh, they're only leaves! Get a life!"
"Sheesh, they're never happy!"
"They complain if you don't clean up their leaves, and they complain when you do!"
"No one is going to turn around on Thanksgiving and go home because you have leaves on the ground when they're getting a free meal!"

You get the drift. I'm complaining about the complainers. 

Well, recently I bought some of those battery operated window candles that go on and off automatically (at a rather upscale store that I don't normally shop in). When I got home and turned the bulbs (which turns the candle on), I noticed that two of them were defective-one was very dim and the other had only one out of two elements lit up.


So I took them back. 

In the measure that you judged, you will be judged.

Maybe the manager had a long day. Maybe she was tired of people with petty complaints, not unlike my own situation at my place of employment. I tried to be nice about the return. Really, I did! 

I explained the problem. Then I turned the bulbs to switch them on so that she could see my dilemma. She huffed.



"There is a bright side and a dim side. You have to put the bright side facing out."

"Yes, I realize that. But this one is definitely more dim than the others.

She wordlessly left the counter in search of a replacement. There were none. Sold out. She checked the computer. None available online. That was that. 

I suppose I had the next move because she just stood there. I would have to return home with my defective candles, I suppose? Hmmm...I don't think so.

I cheerfully suggested that maybe it was the bulbs that were defective. I switched out the bulbs as an experiment, and voila! The dim one was now brightly lit! But the other one still didn't fully light. The manager huffed again. Clearly, she wanted me gone.

"Well, you know, if you knock them, it can cause damage."

"I didn't knock it. I took it out of the box, screwed the bulb on, and it didn't light."

"Well, we're out of bulbs too." She huffed again.

Of course you are. This couldn't be easy, could it? 

All the while, I'm thinking, I sound like those customers who complain that their leaves are still on the ground.

"Can you order one?"

She huffed yet again. 

"Okay. It'll be $9.99 for a set of two."

It was my turn to stand there and stare at her.

Very nicely, I said, "I don't think that I should have to pay for bulbs when the candles are defective."

"Okay, fine. I'll order them for no charge, but you'll have to bring back two bulbs when the replacements come in."

"But only one bulb is defective."

"But they come in a pack of two."  

Oh my gosh, is this conversation really happening?

"So, you want me to take a perfectly good bulb out of a fully functioning candle and return it to you so that I can get a package of two?"

"You said that there are two candles that don't work."

"No, this one works!" I said brightly (pun intended). Then, in an effort to empathize with her and thereby assuage her attitude, I added (as if she really cared), "Look, I work with people too and I can't stand when they complain. I'm not trying to be a pain." 

As soon as I said that, I heard one of my customers in my head. 

She'd said almost that exact same line..."I hate to complain..." and I'd rolled my eyes (on the other end of the phone) as she said it. Huffy manager really didn't care. She only wanted me to leave. I was a "problem customer."

"Okay, just bring back the one that doesn't work."

Never once did I raise my voice, lose my patience or whine. But I did expect a replacement for a defective item, and I was met with resistance. I was being very nice about it all. Why couldn't she just be nice? 

Hadn't I done the same thing the week before to that customer who didn't whine, didn't lose her patience and didn't raise her voice? Yet she wanted restitution and didn't immediately get it. It took some persistence on her part, and in the end, she was right. I might have thought she was overreacting, but she was paying money for a service and wanted it done to her satisfaction.

When I got home, I decided that it wasn't worth the trouble. The extra candle was going in a window that no one really sees, so I decided to just return the candle. I called the store and told the manager. She asked if I was sure (she probably thought that I was fickle and would again change my mind). Yes, I told her, I was sure. She was much more pleasant on the phone.

After I hung up, I decided to call my cable company about that free gift card I was supposed to have gotten after signing on with them that I never got. Oddly, no one at the company ever seems to know about that particular promotion...did I not just learn my lesson with the candles that I had to further punish myself?

Apparently not, because the 45 minute dilemma was almost comical. How does the "Internet Essentials" department end up with my call after I've been on hold for ten minutes? And the supervisor of that department assures me that "Tech Support" would handle my problem? After another long hold, why does a mechanized voice tell me goodbye and hang up on me? How is it that I call back and am told before the voice prompts even begin that every agent is busy helping other customers? And finally, when I get someone who can solve my mystery, how is it that he has to open a ticket for an investigation that will take 2 weeks?

The measure of judgement? Huffiness. Eye-rolling. Impatience. Aggravation. Wishing the problem (customer) would just go away. Wishing that people would come around to my way of thinking.


With the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

As you move through Advent, closer to Christmas, closer to Jesus, it might behoove you to remember that.

When you'd like to do an eye-roll, try rolling them up instead of around. You might save yourself a lot of trouble. Or you can be like me, and learn the hard way.

Blessings Along the Path,

Mary

Sharing with Naomi at Monday Musings, Janis at Sunday Stillness, Barbie at The Weekend Brew, Laura at Playdates With God, Terri from Good Morning Monday, Joan at Sharing His Beauty, Holly at Testimony Tuesday, Holley with Coffee For Your Heart, Kelly at Cheerleading , Beth at Wedded Wednesday, Lyli at Thought Provoking Thursday, Crystal at Thriving Thursdays, Deb at Blessing Counters

Friday, December 12, 2014

Advent Restlessness

I've been feeling restless.

I don't feel like shopping. 
I don't want to write.
I have autumn decor mixed with Christmas decor...and I don't really care.
I feel a bit disjointed, discombobulated, distracted.

I can't seem to concentrate on any one task long enough to accomplish anything.

Well, in all honesty, that last thing is an ever-present trait. 

Part of the problem is the cold weather and shorter days. A few years ago, I self diagnosed myself with SAD, a type of depression that occurs during seasonal changes, primarily winter. 

I miss being outside. I miss warm weather. I miss sunlight. 

I just want to watch past episodes of Parks and Recreation. Or sleep. Like my co-worker.



Exercise would certainly help...


Okay, enough said on that topic.

Advent is a time of expectation; of waiting. We spend a month waiting for something that is fleeting...while the packages may be full, the joy that we feel from what's within the package wears off quickly. 

The truth is that a good majority of people find Christmas to be anything but joyful. The expectations are high, but the return is often low, which sets us up for depression. 

Estranged family members, bad family vibes, jealousy, envy, bitterness, anger, loneliness, unforgiveness, and petty annoyances become more pronounced as that magical day creeps ever closer.

What does that have to do with my restlessness? 

I don't know. Maybe nothing. 

But maybe my restlessness is because I'm finally seeing that there is so much more to Christmas than giving and receiving gifts. As much as I would like to receive the things on my list, I really wouldn't care if we just got rid of the gift giving (Note to Hubster: Do NOT return gifts).

If we took all of that away, what would Christmas look like? What would it look like to you?

To me, it would still look like celebrating my Savior, Jesus Christ, who was born in human form, as a baby, to a humble Jewish girl. One who would embrace me in my restlessness, even though he himself was just a restless baby.

I've disclosed this before: I'm not a theologian; I'm just an ordinary woman. But this is what I think: 

I think that Jesus didn't wait until he was on the cross to embrace my sin. He did it the moment He was born. 



I wonder...did He have a sense of restlessness growing up? Did He know what would be expected of Him in a time yet to come? How much did He understand, being fully human, but fully God?

It is truly a mystery. One that we will never have the answer to until we see Him face to face in all of His splendor and glory. 

I suppose that my restlessness could be a symptom of my waiting, my anticipation and expectation of the coming King...yeah, I'm going with that.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

Song of the Day: Mystery by Selah (if video does not display, click here)

sharing this post with Faith Filled Fridays, Counting My Blessings, My Freshly Brewed Life, Sunday Stillness,

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

An Angel's Perspective

I told this story last Christmas Eve. Gabriel has asked me to tell it again. It's a little long, but if you have some time, grab a hot beverage, put your feet up, and listen to Gabriel's story.

I have one of the most difficult jobs on earth. I guess you could say I'm in Sales. We don't really get into job titles where I come from. See, it's difficult because I have to convince human beings a) not to be afraid, because otherwise, they won't be able to be convinced of b) that I have great news.

I say it's one of the most difficult jobs on earth because in Heaven, it's much different. Fellow angels do not have to be convinced, because we don't have doubt, fear, mistrust and lying. We don't understand these things, so when we sit around and talk, it's pretty much, to coin a human phrase... "what you see (and hear) is what you get." Difficult to play poker though. Hard to bluff, if you know what I mean. But I digress.

You see, the biggest obstacle is that humans are not used to seeing us. They don't understand the supernatural, so when one of us appears before a human, they become afraid. If I can't convince that human to be unafraid, not only will they not hear what I have to say, but they won't believe. And that is perhaps the saddest thing of all.

One year, I had an especially hard time trying to convince these humans. It was one thing after another, and I thought, "Boy, these human beings are very hard-headed creatures. It's sad that they have such fear and mistrust. I wonder why Father made them that way." But I was reminded that it wasn't Father who made them that way. It was sin. But that's another story. Let me tell you about this incredible year, well, really only a few months. Well, honestly it was sort of like what you might call a millisecond, since we have no "time" in Heaven.

It all started with this priest, Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, both upright with the Lord, but they had no children, and they were pretty far along in years. One day, when Zechariah was doing his priestly duties, standing at the altar of incense, Father sent me to appear to him. Right in the middle of his burning incense! Of course, Zechariah was afraid, but I was used to this. I was trained to attempt to dispel fear. I told him not to be afraid, then I assured him that his prayer had been heard. Now, he thought I meant the prayers he was offering up for the people, so I went on to tell him that his wife Elizabeth would have a son, and his name was to be John, and he would be a forerunner to the Messiah.

I suppose my sales pitch needed to be stronger with Zechariah, because his response was, "How can I be sure of this? We're old!" A holy man, but skeptical! Unfortunately for him, because he didn't believe, he was struck speechless until the time of John's birth, when his wife proclaimed that the baby's name was to be John. Unfortunate for Zechariah, but such is the often the way when these humans do not believe.


My next stop after Zechariah was a young virgin from Nazareth named Mary. This young woman was chosen by Father to bear His son. What a wonderful girl, highly blessed to have this honor! It would be a delight to appear to her! I was so excited about my assignment, that I forgot to preface my appearance with "Do not be afraid." Instead I blurted out, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!" 

Ok, I scared her a bit and I think I confused her as well, but I quickly recovered with my "Do not be afraid" line. I explained to her that she would come to be with child and to name him Jesus. That He would be great and be called the Son of the Most High. She became more confused. I guess I wasn't explaining this in a way a human could understand, but truthfully, I didn't quite understand the specifics myself. She wondered how this could happen when she'd never been with a man, and I explained that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her. I assured her that nothing was impossible with God.

I think it was that last line that convinced her. I've been told that your closing line is what gets the sale. This young woman---what a gal! I guess my sales pitch worked, because she pondered this for a few moments, then she said, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." No more questions! Just simple and pure belief!

Her betrothed, Joseph, was a little harder to convince. That's a pretty crazy story to be told by the woman you're about to take as your wife! So, Father tried a different approach. He had me come to Joseph in a dream. Of course, even in his dream, I told him not to be afraid. I didn't want him to wake up and wonder who the dream was from! He had to know it was from Father. Fear comes from our enemy, Satan, not from Jehovah. In his dream, I told him that he should take Mary as his wife, that what was conceived was from the Holy Spirit. She would give birth to a son, and would call his name Jesus, because he would save his people from their sins. 

I never thought I could convince anyone in a dream, but I'll tell you what---Joseph awoke from that dream and didn't waste any time taking Mary as his wife, but respected her until she gave birth...if you catch my drift.

I really like this Joseph, and the way he responded to my appearances in his dreams, so much so, that I would choose this method two more times--once to tell him to go to Egypt to escape King Herod's wrath of killing all male children under the age of two--in order to attempt to eliminate Jesus--and the third time to tell him that it was safe to return to Israel. But again, I digress from this particular time.

Well, you probably know what happened with Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem to register for the census (talk about bad timing!) and because of the hoards of people coming to Bethlehem for the same reason, this young couple could not find lodging. And Mary, due any day, ended up giving birth to the King of all kings in a manger, his throne being a water trough.

My next assignment was to let the shepherds in the fields know that a Savior had been born. This was great news, but back then, there was no internet, no cell phones, no CNN. There was no way to get this news to them quickly other than an angel! So, once again, I appeared, and because it was very dark out, the glory of God shone all around. Let me tell you, these guys were terrified! I suppose hanging out with sheep all day and all night makes you pretty lonely. So when you see this celestial being, complete with intense, blinding light, you may think you're hallucinating. We're used to it; we sometimes forget that humans are not.

Of course, I gave them my opening pitch...do not be afraid. What a joy it was to simply proclaim to them, "I bring you good news of great joy! Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."



Next thing we all knew, my friends appeared all around us--a great company of heavenly host and we couldn't help but praise Adonai. We began singing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

I guess you know the rest of that story, but let me end with this:

We still appear to humans today. Maybe not in the same way. But we are all around. You may not see us like Zechariah, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds did, but we still roam the earth, protecting you, delivering you, guiding you through circumstances, ministering to you when you hurt, and watching over you. We especially look for those "on whom his favor rests" because those are the ones who have the most peace. Sometimes, we even take the form of a human...you never know who might be an angel in disguise!

I know I took a lot of time up today... it was important that you get my perspective on things. I wanted you to know that Father loves you so much that he created you for His pleasure and because He loves you so much, He sent His only Son to this planet you call earth...this tiny speck in the universe...to be born and to die just for you. Glory to God in the highest! Do not be afraid!

Blessings Along the Path,
Gabriel

References: Luke 1&2; Matthew 1&2
Note: Biblical text does not mention Gabriel as the messenger except for Mary; creative license was taken for this blog.

Song of the Day:
Angels We Have Heard on High (Pentatonix) (amazing a cappella group!)
Angels Watching Over Me (Amy Grant)

sharing with Holley (Coffee For Your Heart), Shari (Word Filled Wednesday), Judith (Wholehearted Wednesday), Rosilind (A Little R&R), Beth (Wedded Wednesday), Lyli (Thought Provoking Thursdays), Crystal (Thriving Thursdays), Laura (Faith Filled Friday), Deb (Blessing Counters), Barbie (The Weekend Brew), Janis (Sunday Stillness)

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mangy People and All Things Pretty at Christmas

Last weekend I pulled out the Christmas decorations. I wasn't quite ready to take the autumn ones down, so I have an eclectic blend of angels and pumpkins. I will sort it out...eventually.

One of the things I put up every year is the manger scene that has been in my life since I was a child. When it was first handed down to me, I thought I'd hit the jackpot. Out of three children, I got the manger scene. I handled it with care and I treated it with reverence. 

My children grew up with that manger scene. One year, my daughter received some "Advent Straw": pieces of straw from school that she could offer to Jesus by placing them daily in the creche (I'm sure she had to do something like make her bed or by nice to her brother). They're still there.

This year I told the Hubster that I didn't want to put it up. It's embarrassing. It's so bad that I've resorted to calling the people of the manger the "Mangy People."

All of the sheep have broken legs and need to be propped up. The angel has disappeared...I suppose she moved on to proclaim the good news elsewhere. Perhaps she needed to stretch her wings a bit.

I substituted her with a cheaper model I acquired somewhere along the way; one that has cheap electronic music inside her. As you can see from her picture, she's either had her wings clipped or hasn't earned them yet. They sort of broke off the back of her.



Last year, since we are empty nesters, I decided to decorate the tree like I'd always dreamed: silver balls and decorations, red bows and a big bow on the top of the tree. It was pretty...sort of. It was actually more boring than pretty. But I left it alone.



I repeated that silver/red theme this year. It looks a little better, maybe because I've acclimated myself to it.

So, in that theme of "all things pretty at Christmas," I decided that it was time to retire the Mangy People.

"I think I'd like something simple," I explained to the man at the computer, aka Hubster, who was doing a decent job of pretending to listen. 

"Oh, okay," he agreed. He could care less, I'm sure. I should have gone for a higher ticket item.

"Yeah, maybe something like just the Holy Family. Maybe I'll see if I can get something at Wal-Mart." 

Sure. Wal-Mart will have that "all things pretty" Holy Family Statue, I'm sure. Not. 

Oh they had them. Pretty? Not so much. Jesus' hand was as big as his face and he looked like he was awkwardly waving hello, as if realizing he was a newborn and really didn't have this waving hello stuff down yet.

So a stuffed snowman went up on the table where the Mangy People used to dwell. If you walked into my home, you would not see anything that shouts, "Jesus is the reason for the season!"

Then I read a post by Ceil Ryan (Surronded by the Spirit). It was as if she was in my head. She too had a dilapidated creche. The donkey's ear had taken up residence in the same mysterious place my sheep legs were. And she didn't put the baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas (like me). And they sing Happy Birthday to Jesus on Christmas morning (like me). And here's the kicker---she loves it!

I thought, "Oh my goodness, what have I done to my poor mangy people?"



It made me ask myself why. Why didn't I want these mangy people out on display? 

Well, because they don't fit into the mold of "all things pretty."

The fact is, those people were mangy. The stable was most likely a bit dilapidated. The parents were tired, hungry and alone. Their donkey was weary and thirsty. They were sharing their beds (straw, mind you) with smelly animals who didn't excuse themselves to use the facilities. My goodness, Mary gave birth amongst all of this!

The shepherds? Well, shepherds hang out with sheep and don't see too many humans, so they were probably quite..uh...ripe.

The Wise Men? Sure, they probably had better hygiene, but having "traversed afar," I'd venture to say they fit right in.

The sheep with the broken legs? Well, isn't that all of us? We're all broken in some way. The Shepherd comes along and carries us. Our Savior makes all things new.

As much as we want "all things pretty at Christmas," it doesn't always happen. There are a lot of "mangy people" out there. Will we welcome them in? Will we set them up next to all the pretty things? Will we recognize and admit the "mangy" among the pretty things inside of ourselves? Will we bring it all to Jesus and lay it at the foot of the cradle, which exists in the shadow of the cross? Will we worship the newborn baby...the King of kings and the One who would someday and already has saved us from our sins? The one who accepts the mangy and the pretty in each of us?

Now...the biggest mystery remains...

...after 50+ years, I have yet to figure out...

Why is there a bagpiper among my Mangy People?

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

Sharing this post with Monday Musings, Playdates With God, Sharing His Beauty, Good Morning Monday, Testimony Tuesday