5 Ways to Keep Holiday Gatherings Merry & Bright

1. Announce Your Hugging Game Plan
A simple fix to the awkwardness of choosing the appropriate greeting for varying levels of acquaintance is to let the other person know what you are going for. I like to ask, “Would you like a hug?” or, if I know they like hugs but don’t know if they are expecting one from me, I say, “I am so happy to see you! I need to give you a hug.”

2. Repeat the Names

I know this has been said before, but since I am personally weak in this area and need a reminder, I’ll just go ahead and say it again: People feel valued when you make an effort to remember their name. It’s true. If you want to spread holiday cheer, it is great to sing loud for all to hear, but it is also wonderful to actually try to remember the names of your co-worker’s children. You can help names stick by repeating them, asking what they mean or even writing them down.

3. Go Next-Level with Anyone
Weed out stale, cut-and-dried questions like “Where are you working right now?” and “Have you been enjoying the holidays?” If it is a question that has been overused on you, it has been overused on this person as well. Instead, use an invitational, open-ended question that you are truly interested in hearing the answer to, such as, “What’s been on your mind this week?” or “What is your favorite way to spend your time these days?”

4. Bring Your Questions and Your Best Snippets
While preparing for an event, plan how you will contribute to an entertaining conversation. Pull a few interesting snippets of your life, local news, or global discoveries to the forefront of your mind. (Avoid bringing up politics–because of acid reflux, obviously.) Choose ahead of time a few questions you want to ask folks you expect to see at this event. If there is a topic you’ve been wanting to discuss with someone who is also interested, keep that in the forefront of your brain too. Boom. You are ready.

5. Jump Aboard the Awkward Train

In the event that conversation dives so far into the awkward or absurd that no amount of civility will bring it back, you can still have a good time by going Brant Hansen and just bringing a wonderful snippet of your own to the conversation. A few starter options:

“Does it ever bother you that gingerbread people live in houses made of the flesh of their fellow men?”

“Do you ever stop and ask roadside bystanders whether they are hitch hiking, or just trying to compliment your driving?”

“What spiritual applications do you take from 1 Samuel 19,  where the Spirit of God came upon Saul, and he stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel, and lay naked for a day and half?”

 

Have a very Merry Christmas!

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Courage

Isn’t it crazy that even when everything I know and see is on the downstream side of insanity, just hanging on to hope by a thread, Jesus’ name is STILL ‘Deliverer’?

Even when I feel like a skittering mouse, MY name, because of my divine heritage, is STILL ‘Courageous Victor’?

I’ve thought to myself, “Maybe I’ll find a syringe of courage on the other side of a challenge, kind of like the proverbial gold at the end of a rainbow!”

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Guess what? I haven’t found a crumb.

I guess courage comes from an unseen source, like the very air we breathe.

Always surrounding me.

Always enough.

Always ready to make me STRONGER THAN BEFORE I ASKED FOR HIM TO HELP.

Victory on earth is so different then Jesus’ definition for His victories (which are happening all around you, unseen.)

Close your eyes, and look with His, and you will be encouraged.

Turn your eyes away from darkness, and live out your name!

COURAGEOUS VICTOR!!!

It’s Gonna Be OK

Ever have those days when you just want to sock yourself in the face?

You’ve tried so hard to do the right thing, to be that person you want yourself to be, but in the end you crashed miserably and burned a whole pile of people in the process. All the time and effort you’ve put into building trust… into maintaining a safe relationship… is a cloud of ash.

Gone.

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Forever gone, in just one moment of failure.

Or, is it?

It may feel that way, but is it really gone?

The other week, I confessed to my sister how, when we were little, I was the one who stirred her goldfish up in it’s little goldfish bowl with a plastic spoon until it had a heart attack, and floated. I just wanted to see how fast it could swim. I didn’t try to make it die. But it did.

She, kind-hearted lamb, suddenly remembered dozens of offenses she had committed to me.

Thing is, I didn’t remember a single one of them. All I remember about our childhood was a fun, spry little playmate who came up with many schemes, was always up for a bike ride or fishing trip, and always left surprises on my pillow on the holidays.

Our interaction got me thinking.

Could it be that trust isn’t about the visible, but the foundation?That the unseen foundation…. the entire picture all put together…. is more relevant than the tiny puzzle piece of what’s said and done in a moment of conflict?

I had a boss once, who everyone was afraid of. He brought the house down when he was upset. Seriously. Not the roof, thank goodness,  but pots, pans and anything else in his wake.

Thing is, everyone who spent long enough around him soon considered him one of their best friends. No matter how much he ranted and swore, he was, at the foundation, a friend worth having. At the foundation, he truly cared about his staff, and protected them at all costs.

Six years later, I hardly remember the rants. I just remember a safe environment, and being empowered every day. I’m not saying he never hurt me, I’m just saying I don’t remember it.

Mistakes happen to everyone.

Don’t fall into the condemnation trap. Stop looking behind you.

I know you’re quick to ask for forgiveness when you mess up, but I’m guessing the biggest question is…. can you forgive yourself?

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Just ask! Accept. It’s already been done, by the only One who can be fully perfect on this earth.

Just ACCEPT His forgiveness! It’s for real, I promise.

No looking back now! You are gonna be just fine, and so are they.

He Gave Me a New Name

I stood on top of Fort Fredrick two days ago, and while ants bit my legs and the sea breeze whipped my hair, Jesus and I had a conversation about love.

You gotta understand, I’m not so good at loving. Really though. I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true. I’m just learning now how to do it properly.

You see, I had a tower built in my heart. The cornerstones of this tower were Pain, Inferiority, Fear and Performance. Not a great family to build a tower on, to be sure, but I did. The small stones had many names… betrayal, mistrust, anger…. on and on to the sky.

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What did this tower surround? My ability to give and receive love.

Weird, isn’t it, that I would hide something that I wanted so badly to give away? I mean, how could I share something that was locked deep inside a fortress?

Well, I’ll tell you how it all started. I wasn’t always this way! One day, long ago, I started believing a lie. What lie? The lie that to love someone meant an instant assignment to protect them.

That is, after all what people do if they care about someone, right? It’s even, to the proper degree, scriptural. I was very good at it. Protecting those I loved came naturally for me.

But I took it too far.

I started crashing. I realized that I couldn’t be strong for everyone, so I started shutting people out. If it seemed like they were asking too much of me… too much strength when I was weak, too much emotional energy when I had none, I cut them off. Not from myself, mind you! From unlimited love. I just went only so far, and then stopped. They could visit my tower, but only stay as long as I allowed.

Why? Because if they stayed, I’d have to protect them…. fight their battles as well as… or even instead of… my own, and I already knew I couldn’t do that for everyone. I’d tried.

“There’s GOT to be a better way”, I thought one day. I was desperate for change. No, not change as in money. Change as in, a different way of living. A better way. I packed my bags and went on a long journey.

Up mountains, along crags, and through valleys I hiked, and along the way, I learned a new skill called “receiving love”. It meant valuing myself enough to accept words Jesus says about me that did not feel true. It meant valuing others enough to bless them by being a gracious receiver. It meant taking their love for what it is–a direct outpouring of love from Jesus Himself.

In return, Jesus pulled out the cornerstone named ‘Inferiority’ and my tower began to sag, just a bit.

With the love of Jesus now boiling inside of me, I powered onward, and found I had new courage to learn a second skill, called “saying no”. I learned, through Jesus the gentle Teacher, that sometimes it really was ok to say no… to a favor I was asked to perform, or to a task, or to a responsibility, or to a role. Sometimes it was better for everyone if I just said no.

No. That was a hard word for me, but I finally learned it.

In return, Jesus gave me a gift. Space! Space to let Him set my priorities. Space to love Him first. He grabbed the cornerstone named Performance and tossed it far from me in one mighty heave.

What did I do with all this new-found space? I used it to deal with the last cornerstone, Pain, and it’s ugly partner, Fear. Funny how the two go hand-in-hand.

Or claw-in-claw. It’s not funny at all, really.

Jesus said to me, “I brought you this far. Will you trust me? Will you trust me to know how much pain you, and the people you love can handle? Because if–no–when! When you trust me that much, you can love without limit knowing that when the people you love suffer, it will be for My glory, and that fact will make their pain worthwhile in your eyes!

You can live without fear because you’ll know that suffering will not last forever! That I always, always and always have something rich and spectacular in the making!

I, and I alone, hold the role of ‘Protector’. You can have so much more freedom to disappoint,–even hurt people, and still you’ll know, as long as you are pleasing Me, that they will be ok.

Will you let Me have My rightful place?”

Standing on the top of Fort Frederick, 25-knot winds threatening to blow me over the side, I said, “Yes! I will let you have that place!” I picked up a small rock, part of the fort’s wall, and threw it into the jungle with all my might. It crashed through the brush and disappeared.

In my mind’s eye, that rock was me, escaping the tower of self-produced love forever. The remaining parts of the tower–its last two cornerstones (Pain and Fear) smashed to smithereens–collapsed in a mighty crumbling, and blew away on the wind.

All that was left by the sea was me, Jesus, and our perfect love, alone in a real world where ants were still biting.

I’m so glad the last bit of that tower is gone.

The only walls that trap us are the ones we build ourselves.

 

But He Always Offers Rest

2 weeks ago, I was part of an amazing scouting adventure in the Florida Everglades. A recon. Research, networking, exploration and a harvesting of as many Glades skills as we could scavenge.

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My co-guides and I all knew it would be, to borrow the favorite expression of my friend Kathy, a very “interesting situation”. New adventures just are. But we weren’t prepared for just how interesting our situation would be.

We set out under the dire predictions of being de-limbed and then eaten by an alligator, or suffocated and then eaten by a snake, or swept out to sea, or dehydrated.

(What can we say, we have great friends!)

And then we set out, and reality began.

Everything we tried to do in the front country was a fail.

I’ll just graze the tip of the iceberg by saying that the journey which should have taken 22 hours took 32, and by that time, our SUV was toast. If you ever need to buy tranny fluid on a southern trip, just ask us. We know all the good places between North Carolina and Florida.

Somewhere along the line, we met many locals of various character, called 20+ hotels which had no vacancy, made fruit salad and packed gear in the parking lot of a shady auto body shop, and slept overnight outside of Wal-Mart in the canoe trailer.

Not necessarily our customary wilderness trip practices.

We were all thrilled to finally set into the wilderness on Sunday afternoon,

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and lay our weary heads down on our squeaking therma-rest mattresses that night at South Joe Chickee. From there on, our journey was a breeze. And I mean literally. The wind was at our backs 80% of the time.

Coincidence?

Never.

I know Jesus too well for that.

The tides were in our favor, we met dolphins every day, we didn’t get eaten by alligators or pythons, and we didn’t get blown out to sea. Every day brought a gorgeous sunrise and sunset,

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every corner brought another spectacular view,

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it only sprinkled rain once, and we never lost our way.

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Our struggles during our road trip to the Glades gave us a head start in trusting each other…. in being real. No day went by that there wasn’t conflict, struggle, Jesus-words, restoration, and freedom, and celebration among us.

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Paddling across the Gulf of Mexico towards the end of our trip, I thought it over. We had come, each of us, from a battle. We had come on assignment, not knowing what lay ahead, or how hard it would be. We didn’t know there would be rest…. but there was.

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All I could think of was these words from the Maker.

“The people who were spared from the sword found grace in the wilderness, where I led them to find rest. I have loved you with an everlasting love, that is why I have called you to myself with loving kindness. I will build you up again–you will once again be strong! You will once again be joyful, and join in the dances of those who are carefree. What you plant will bear fruit. Those who realize what is happening will cry, “Let’s spend more time with Jesus–let’s worship the Lord!” (Jeremiah 31:1-7, paraphrased)

And that’s what I love about wilderness. No matter why you come, no matter who you are, Jesus is there. It’s His place to do what He wants, and amaze everyone.

We came, essentially, to work.

But He’s always offering rest.

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He’s always offering relationship, restoration, and peace.

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And He’s always offering joy.

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Who wouldn’t want to receive such a gift?

 

That Bum On My Couch

I was in the second-to-front pew at church the other week, and I was feeling the morning blues.

Do you know what I mean? That sandy-eyed, groggy-voiced, brain-not-quite-awake feeling of sluggishness that isn’t really ready for 120 decibels of worship music being emanated directly in front of oneself.

Don’t get me wrong, the band was great. I liked them, really. I’m usually the type to get into the celebration spirit right away…. but that day, I just…. wasn’t.

I tried desperately to focus on the positive side of life, like the two adorable little girls dancing in front of me, carefree as could be. It helped a little.

Then the pastor took the stage, and he told a story.

“Imagine going home from church today,” he said, “And finding a bum fast asleep on your couch. He is stoned, snoring, and you have no idea who he is. What would you do?

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Hmm. Let me guess. You’d try to make him leave. Maybe pat him on the shoulder, say “Excuse me, sir. You’re in the wrong house.” But what if that didn’t work?

You’d get a little more violent, maybe go so far as to poke him, maybe even raise your voice. “HEY, SIR. THIS IS NOT YOUR HOME! YOU NEED TO LEAVE!”

But what if he just went right on snoring? What if he rolled over, looked you in the eyes, said, “Excuse YOU, but this IS my house!” and went back to sleep?

Would you shrug, assume he was right, and just live your life around him? What if he invited his friends over, and they all claimed that this house belonged to them as well? Would you accept that?

You see, friends… your level of persistence shows what you truly believe.

If you truly believe the bum does not belong in your house, you will fight back harder, call your buddies to help you drag him out of your house, maybe get the police involved. You would take as much time as necessary to evict him.

What about your spiritual life?

When temptation, fear, sickness, depression, shame, and the 1,000 other tools of the enemy sneak their way into your ‘house’…. do you accept them?

Do you politely try to evict them, and if they do not obey the first time… or the 12th time…. just assume they are meant to stay? Or do you hold FAST to your knowledge of what is yours, and fight for it until everything is set right?

Do you BELIEVE that God can if He wants to?

Do you believe that He might not be able?

Your level of persistence shows what you truly believe in. “

And that is what I learned on a half-awake Sunday morning, from the second-to-front pew.

Innumerable Gifts

 

Recently, most people have been asking me the “What next?” question. You know the one. The one where it’s incredibly awkward to say, “Well, I plan to study, write, do some renovations and work out. That’s it.”

Why me? Why is my path so full of “What if?” and “What next?”s? Why do I love doing everything, and find it impossible to just stick to one vocation until I’m a pro, like some nice, normal person?

I hate not knowing what is ahead, and I hate having not having a predictable income. I hate those looming words TAXES, CAR INSPECTION & MED BILLS that seem to float through the air at year’s end, without a care in the world.

Really, I mostly just hate being out of control.

I went into a field today, and laid on my back looking at the blue of the skies behind wispy clouds, silently sad.

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And then it hit me. “Right now, I am doing my favorite thing. I am outside, alone, breathing fresh air, without a single deadline to worry about. WHY should I be sad unless I’d allowed that sneaky little seed of mistrust to grow in my heart?”

I thought of Jesus’ care for me over the past month, and how He surrounded me with wonderful friends, gave me a plane ticket to the Caribbean, and overwhelmed me with His promises at all the right moments.

“Jesus, I’m sorry. I DO trust you. Thank you for giving me freedom!

Because that really is my favorite. .

I came into the house and the first thing I heard was, “Don’t forget to put your registration sticker on before the new year.” What?? My registration?? But…. I already paid for that!”

All along I’d been preparing myself for a $200.00 inspection bill…. but… that’s not what was about to expire!  My registration had been paid for weeks ago, leaving me bill-free.

Then I realized how my Father had provided for me long before I noticed Him….. once again.

Do you think, one day, I will fully learn to trust Him?

That’s my goal.

 

 

What I learned about Jesus from the Ironman Triathlon

Think about what it means to be strong in the Lord, and tell me what you see.

I always knew better in my mind, but when push came to shove I used to believe that God wanted macho, 6-pack body-builders of the faith. The ones who overcame all odds by pure determination.

Somehow, I switched out the word faith for the word strong, and lived my life that way. My hope relied on “My strength is made perfect in weakness”—but in a moment of trial, I added on to the promise with, “But since I don’t believe God is strong enough to be my strength, I’ll just help him out by being stronger.”

Ouch.

You know Samson, that 7-braided, rock-solid Jew of the Old Testament? Samson was strong. Crazily enough, he was also filled with the Holy Spirit, and didn’t even know it. Somewhere along the way, he threw away the fact that his physical strength was a gift from God meant to accomplish a specific work in the Heavenly Kingdom. He’d always had it, right? So why not rationalize that it was a part…. of him? He could do anything he set his mind to.

“Go ahead, woman! Cut off my hair… I’ll be fine.”

But he wasn’t. He spent the next age of his life building physical muscles in the mill. Now he knew what purely physical strength felt like, but it was too late.

There was once a young man whose body was trapped by cerebral palsy… but not his heart. His heart, he discovered, loved to race. Racing made him feel alive.

His heart also had the capacity to trust his father’s love for him. He spoke his desire to compete to his father…. and despite everything the world tried to tell him about who he was and what he could do, ended up competing in the Ironman Triathlon… the toughest one there is.

What if being a child of God made no earthly sense at all?

What if Jesus wants to literally BE our strength?

What if all we need to do is tell him our greatest desires, and he would accomplish them for us… but we got to go along for the ride?

What if we didn’t need to be strong…. we just needed to learn how to RECIEVE THE FATHER’S LOVE?

Love Ambush

I’ve been a crab for twenty-four hours.

It all started when someone asked me a question, and I responded defensively and then the father of lies jumped in with all of his hogwash and made a mess of everything.

“You’re not worth fighting for.” he said, “You are selfish at the core, and think of no one but yourself. Your dreams are not reality. You have tricked yourself into following them as an easy escape from life’s problems.”

Because I was tired, weak in heart and still feeling defensive, I believed all of it.

My joy was robbed.

It’s messy enough trying to make big decisions for your future, but when you start believing lies… things get ugly pretty fast. Each lie is joined by it’s own disease until your heart is trampled.

Shame.

Defeat.

Anger.

People (and most animals) caught on pretty soon, and gave me a wide berth.

I sat at my desk the next day, trying to write encouraging words to a friend and finally decided that I needed some music for inspiration. The first song that played went like this:

“Whatever you’re doing inside of me… it feels like chaos but somehow there’s peace. It’s hard to surrender to what I can’t see, but I’m giving in to something heavenly. Time for a milestone… time to begin again. Revaluate who I really am.

So show me what it is you want from me.

I give everything….

I surrender….

Time to face up. Clean this old house. Time to breathe in and let everything out that I’ve wanted to say for so many years. Time to release all my held back tears. Whatever you’re doing, inside of me…. it feels like chaos, but…. I believe. You’re up to something bigger than me.

LARGER THAN LIFE.

Something HEAVENLY.”

While the “You’re up to something heavenly… bigger than me.” promise was still reverberating in my mind, the next words came through my speakers.

“Lord I come. I confess. Bowing here, I find my rest. Without you I fall apart… you’re the One that guides my heart. Lord I need you, oh, I need You. Every hour I need you.

My ONE DEFENSE.

My RIGHTEOUSNESS.

Oh God, how I need you. Where sin runs deep, your grace is more. Where grace is found is where you are. And where you are, Lord, I AM FREE!!

HOLINESS IS CHRIST IN ME.

Teach my song to rise to you, when temptations come my way. When I cannot stand I’ll fall on you. Jesus, you’re my hope and stay!!!!”

“Jesus… MY righteousness??” “Holiness is Christ in me?” I was overwhelmed.

“For real, Jesus? But…. my sins. They are HUGE! ”

“I AM your righteousness. It’s not about you at all. Where sin runs deep, My grace is MORE. Come to me, and you will be free.”

“Ok. I will!!!”

He smiled, and I could have swore He wrapped His arms around me.

My heart jumped into the sky. And of course, the next song that played was,

“I’m trading my sorrow! I’m trading my shame! I’m laying them down…. for the JOY OF THE LORD.”

THIS. This was what my Loving Father was holding out to me.

I received it, and cried.

Forgiveness overwhelmed me.

Yes, Lord. Yes. I AM blessed beyond the curse. Get behind me, satan. JESUS HIMSELF is fighting for me, and He will never stop.

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My Jesus is up to something LARGER THAN LIFE. Something HEAVENLY.

He does not despise me, but instead holds out HOLINESS, FREEDOM & GRACE.

His promise will endure, and His joy’s gonna be my strength.

He told me so Himself, in one big love ambush in my old-fashioned straight-backed chair.

And I accept His words.

The Time When I Started a Church

Driving along a cold, forsaken road one dark night, my radio croaking out a mournful song,  I saw a church. A church that had a lighted cross by the highway, and warm, welcoming lights on inside, as if it was open to strangers and a crackling fire was burning in the hearth.

How strange!” I thought, “How very rare it is to see a lighted church at this time of day. I wonder if their doors are unlocked?”

“Hmm. That sight is like rest to my weary bones. If I ever started a church, I would have a parsonage, and leave the doors open and the lights on all day and night and people could come and go as they pleased, and always know that my church was a safe, private haven, always at their disposal.”

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And then I thought, “Ha! Start a church? Never!

There never WILL be perfect church.

Even if I gathered the smartest, most on-fire people to start my church, they would end up fighting. Wait, I bet that’s why, in the old days, there was just one man spear-heading the church. The parson. And the only person he had to get along with, if he wasn’t musically inclined himself, was the organist. A strange lot, those parsons, but still….. I think they were on to something with this one-man deal.”

So I planned it all out in my mind.

IF I was a man, and

IF I became a parson in the mountains of darkest Peru,

and IF I had my very own parsonage, I would win the people’s hearts for Christ and have a perfect church.

I would work tirelessly (with the help of many cups of coffee, of course) to meet all of their needs. I would love unconditionally. I would study the Word with passion.

I would preach the Gospel tirelessly, and speak truth in the face of lies. (But if I was feeling insecure, I would be silent.)

I would spend my last penny to bring cheer to my discouraged parishioners. (But some days, I would squander my last dollar on a bag of gummy bears, and eat them all in one sitting.)

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I would pray without ceasing. (But on days of total exhaustion, I would cut it short with the excuse, “I REALLY need my sleep.”)

The rickety little sign by the door would say, “Come just as you are!” But on a bad day, I would add “…but not if you have a dirty mouth, fart without shame, or act inappropriately towards the opposite gender”, because those are three of my pet peeves.

I would never judge a soul. (Unless it was someone who deeply hurt me.) I would fight for spiritual victories in my parishioners’ hearts. (Unless I was in a No-One-Is-Fighting-For-ME sort of mood, in which case I would block everyone out for awhile.)

I would do a lot of things, if I was a man, with a parsonage, in the darkest depths of deepest Peru.

But it would never be perfect.

Because I’m not.

Why do you stare at the tiny particle that is in your brother’s eye, but do not become aware of and consider the beam of timber that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me get the tiny particle out of your eye.”, when there is the beam  in your own eye? First get the beam of timber out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the tiny particle out of your brother’s eye.

Keep on asking and it will be given you! Keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who keeps on asking receives; and he who keeps on seeking finds; and to him who keeps on knocking, the door will be opened.

Matthew 7:3-5,7,8

Those words are for me.

“Keep on asking, Kara. Change begins inside of you. One day, when all of my children finally arrive in heaven, all of these imperfect temples will transform to become My spotless bride.”