Don’t Tread on Christmas

Christmas

Christmas is Christmas. Everyone just needs to accept it and move on.

There is definitely a movement of opposing the true meaning of Christmas going on, and to the folks perpetuating it, Christmas is just the High Holy Occasion for said hate. Last year, in New York City, atheists paid good money to put up billboards at Christmas espousing the holiday as a “fairy tale.” The celebration of the Messiah who changed the landscape for all mankind draws ire from those who don’t know Him. I get it.

But I have a truly revolutionary idea, which I put into practice all the time. You won’t believe it, it is such a crazy-radical idea!

Every single year….

At Hanukkah, I don‘t light a Menorah.

At  Ramadan, I do not fast.

On special atheist days (such as “Tuesday”) and Santeria holy days, I do nothing to commemorate them.

I do not own a statue of the Buddha.

I appreciate nature, with no regard whatsoever to paganism.

And although I like reggae music, I do not follow one single Rastafarian tenet.

I also don’t recognize the Summer/Winter Solstices, or celebrate the ascension of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.

Because, you see, I’m not Jewish or Muslim, pagan or Hindi. I am not Buddhist, or Rastafarian, or an atheist.

I believe with everything that God poured himself over bone and under skin to be born in a humble manger. I believe he came to walk around in flesh, so that he could (a) know what the human condition feels like, and (b) give himself as a living sacrifice for all mankind. Jesus was revolution incarnate.

So, you can see why the birth of that savior is a big deal to Christians.

As a revolutionary thinker,  I just  don’t celebrate the holidays that are not meaningful to me.

I don’t insist that members of other religions alter their icons of celebration so that little crosses are part of their displays.

I don’t ask that they change their traditions to suit my skepticism and faith.

I don’t ask that they homogenize the teachings of their prophets,  so as not to offend my delicate spiritual sensibilities.

I would have no right to insist upon these things – to change an entire religious celebration for ME! Because I am JUST. THAT. SPECIAL.

I wouldn’t think of demanding that they light candles on alternate nights, eat a mid-day meal, or “don’t stop believing” (I couldn’t help it) because those ways are not my ways. How arrogant that would be of me!

But I would defend the traditions of either of those groups, and even of atheists – yes, atheists! I defend their right to NOT celebrate MY religion, it’s tenants, OR it’s holidays. Crazy, right?

It’s kind of the American Way, religious freedom.

In return for my not imposing my beliefs (or non-beliefs) on you – like I’m doing you a favor there –  I ask that you extend the same to me.

You know, the whole Golden Rule idea. It’s an idea that has roots in Judeo-Christian origin, not that its okay to mention that in polite society.

If Christmas has no meaning to you, don’t celebrate it. But how arrogant of you to ask that those who do change the very definition of the occasion.

If it offends you to be wished a “Merry Christmas,” I feel kind of sad for you. The message of Christ is and was love, and Christmas a celebration of goodwill toward men.

If it pains you to respond, “And Merry Christmas to you,” perhaps you are not as enlightened and tolerant as you fancy yourself.

(My favorite take on giving Christians the courtesy to allow them celebration is written by Ben Stein, himself Jewish. If you’ve never read it, I recommend it highly:  A Ben Stein Christmas.)

If you begrudge Christians the right to celebrate the birth of the savior, all you manage to change in the hearts of Christians is their resolve to keep Christ in Christmas.

You do not – by displaying a hardened, offended  spirit  – change the fact that God came in the form of a human being, changed the course of history one life at a time for over two thousand years now.

You will not change our hearts.

But yours might be.

Would your heart change if you passed along the goodwill that Christians celebrate at Christmas, by not insisting that the single most important event in history to millions of people be watered down to assuage those who don’t believe?

Are you just that special? (Irony: to the God you deny, you are incredibly special.)

I would rather Jewish, Islamic, and yes – even atheists! – celebrate their respective religions (or lack thereof) full-on without watering down their traditions to please me.

Don’t tread on me.

Don’t tread on my Christ.

Don’t tread on my Christmas.

And Merry Christmas. Welcome to the resistance.

Half Measures Avail us Nothing: How rigorous honesty and fellowship help avert relapse

68206a0ca12711e19dc71231380fe523_7People in recovery continue to amaze me. They are some of my very favorite people, because they have a high compassion level coupled with a low judgement level. One of my friend, J, is like that. He is brave and in love with Jesus in a way that just scours the complications of sobriety and salvation clean. When you meet such a person, you feel you can scale that pillar of recovery that can be the hardest to keep firm – rigorous honesty.

I emailed him today: “Do you know where I can hit a meeting tonight?”
And he emailed me right back: “What’s up?”

I told him that I’m struggling. The past few months have been super emotional and crazy….a cruel mixture of extreme change and boredom of mediocrity, both. I’m not sleeping well. I’m cranky about things out of my control. Experiencing health challenges. My kids are grown now, and my purpose has shifted. I feel depression tugging on my sleeve and anxiety strangling me with it. And all the while, I’m feeling a little guilty because I’m a follower of Christ and THIS IS NOT WHAT TRUSTING LOOKS LIKE.

And in the midst of emotional turmoil, a thought popped in to my head, smooth and serpentine.

“I’m just going to move,” I told myself, emotions rising. “I’m going to move far away from here and leave everything and go where nobody knows I’m an alcoholic. And I’m going to drink. I’m going to have a whole bottle of wine.”

What a very alcoholic thought! Lose it and leave it – to gain an hour of oblivion, just to be out of my skin for a temporary stay. Perhaps not even one hour – a time that would be followed with heaps of shame.

The thought – a skilled assassin….poised on the edge of my clean time – ready to take my sobriety out.

Nevermind that God has graced me with fourteen very good sober years now.

Nevermind that my life is – my all accounts, including mine  – a really good life.

Nevermind that I’ve cultivated friendships and recovery partners.

Or that I would be dead, had I not gotten into recovery in 2001.

How cunning and baffling the disease of addiction is. You can be trucking along, and BAM! That’s why we must be on our guard.

I told J about my assassin thought. I thought about glossing over the messier points, but I shared my heart honestly, because I figure that assassins who are called out into the open are less likely to get off a clean shot.

“I know exactly how you feel,” he wrote. “ I’ve had those same thoughts. And I wasn’t even really in a bad place or anything. My mind just always defaults back to my old ways.The good news is you are aware of it and want to get to a meeting.”

It is a fact of chemistry that we addicts are wired differently. Our default is so often continuing the old behaviors that never really worked in the first place. Rigorous honesty can be tough.

“The best possible news any of us can hear,” continued J, ” is that the God of the universe put on skin and walked the earth. And while He was here He went through what we went through – he was tempted, in many respects just like us. Worse actually…worse, because He is GOD. He can do whatever He wants, whenever He wants. I mean really, how tempting must it have been to not just say ‘Pfft, forget this. I can fix it all, and I’ll start by erasing Satan from history.’ But he didn’t. He resisted the temptation, and used His own written word to do it.”

People in recovery are some of my favorite people.

“And we have Jesus,” he reminded me.”The absolute best possible sponsor – which falls so insanely short in describing Him – living inside of us! He is alive, and He completely understands our struggle because He came here and went through it. That is absolutely mind blowing! And the only reason I still have hope, is because all of that is 100% fact.”

Brave and in love with Jesus. Like I said, scoured clean.

Assassination averted.

Addiction has a sort of timelessness to it. A day is a thousand years and a thousand years is a day. I don’t rely on ‘clean time’ to keep me clean for that reason.
I rely on Christ.  And on others walking the same path. Others who are willing to say “What’s up?”

So, I’m saying…sharing honestly, because there is healing and fellowship in vulnerability.

I’m in a messy place. But I won’t always be in a messy place. While I’m in the midst of it, I stay put. I gather with my tribe and drink coffee in fellowship halls, asking God for help just as I have for 14 years, knowing that He will help – every time.  He has not dropped me on my ass yet, even as I often try to wriggle free of his grasp. I will use God’s written word to resist temptation. He knows exactly how I’m feeling and doesn’t love me any less, emotional basket case as I may be.

That’s 100% fact.

Asking for help is what trusting looks like. Yeah, I think asking for help is sometimes what trusting looks like.

“HOW IT WORKS” AA Big Book pg. 58:

“Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path. Those who do not recover are people who cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program, usually men and women who are constitutionally incapable of beng honest with themselves. …. At some of these we balked. We thought we could find an easier, softer way. But we could not. With all the earnestness at our command, we beg of you to be fearless and thorough from the very start. Some of
us have tried to hold on to our old ideas and the result was nil until we let go absolutely. Remember that we deal with alcohol- cunning, baffling, powerful!  Without help it is too much for us. But there is One who has all power—that One is God. May you find Him now!
Half measures availed us nothing. We stood at the turning point. We asked His protection and care with complete abandon.”

Five People You Meet at Christmas

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They come from all walks of life and every background.

The people you meet at Christmas.

They love, hate, dread or excitedly anticipate Christmas. They are us, full of the spirit or full of ourselves.

 Here is sampling of the Five people you might meet at Christmastime:

The Consumer:

“My ornaments are so last year.”

Stuff, stuff and more stuff.  Black Friday? Not for these guys and gals. Why wait when you can blacken Thanksgiving evening? Christmas is packages, boxes and bags. So much to DO! Genuine givers they may be, but the baby Jesus gets a little lost in the shuffle of shopping and wrapping.  In the extravagance of perfectly decking the halls, it is easy to forget that the son of God was born in a simple stable surrounded by livestock. It’s very easy to forget when retailers break out the red and green before the Labor Day sales are over.

The Grinchy Begrudger:

“If you can’t prove it, remove it!”

These folks don’t believe in a power higher than themselves and resent anyone who does. Live and Let Live is not their strong suit. They will spend time researching to make sure that a life-size nativity scene is not set atop any government or public property, and would cut the leg off of the Wise Man whose plastic sandal touches the border. Bah!

The Homogenizer:

“Christmas tree? No-sir-ee! That right there is a” Holiday Tree!”

The star atop that tree is not representative of the Star of Bethlehem, but could be any astrological phenomenon. The Homogenizer doesn’t really want to take Christ out of Christmas, just water it down enough to please everyone. “Happy Non-Specific Winter Jubilee Holiday Solstice,” might be the response to a greeting of “Merry Christmas”, when a simple “you, too” would be just as easy.

The Revelers:

For true believers, Christmas is  the birthday of someone whom they love very much.  Having had an intimate spiritual encounter with Jesus, they know him personally. They appreciate folks who – if they practice another faith (or no faith at all) -can allow Christmastime to be celebrated without knickers knotted in staunch offense. For Revelers? The wonder and awe of the season revolves around the birth of a savior. But be warned; Revelers might insist on wishing you a merry Christmas with nary a thought of hurting your feelings because, um…. it is Christmastime.

God:

The fifth person you might meet at Christmas is God.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.” – John 3:16

God as a person? Yes.

That’s what all the hullabaloo is about, you see. God poured over bones and under flesh and wrapped in swaddling clothes. God himself, who lived as a carpenter by trade and at thirty years of age began to assemble a rag-tag band of twelve to follow him. God, who in three years of ministry to his creation, changed the entire trajectory of human history (and more importantly, of human lives). God, whose flesh and bones hung on a cross to make sacrifice for all of us – Begrudgers, Homogenizers, Consumers, Revelers, and everyone else– and rose from the dead on the third day. His birth has been celebrated in some way every year since. He lives even today.

You might encounter God this Christmas. He welcomes us all -– to gather at the manger and see what Christmastime is all about.

God bless us. Every one.

Thankfulness – Giving credit where credit is due

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“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”
― Thomas Merton

Who are you thankful to?

On Thanksgiving, when you sit down to feast on the turkey and trimmings,do you bow your head for a moment of reverence and thank the bird for its sacrifice, the stuffing for its grain?
Who did the Pilgrims and Indians thank?

God, who provided the bird and the grain and the corn, and all the trimmings.

Thanksgiving is a unique holiday – a formal chance to be grateful for all of our blessings. How blessed are we – in America – that we have planned feasts of gratitude?

I wonder how many tables in America will be flocked by people giving a generic sentiment of gratefulness to no one in particular, mentioning what they are thankful for – but not to whom they are indebted for such favor.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful that I am not indebted to mere man-made provision for my blessings, but by a bless-or. I am thankful that our turkey and trimmings were provided by the same force that formed the earth and set the planets in motion. Grateful that the same Being who gave all of the opportunism to afford such a meal is also the being who cares deeply about the small details of my life. And of your life, too.

Thankful to God for our bounty and blessings, grateful to him that he, himself, is our portion and prize on this holiday and every other day. Honored to thank him by name.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

The Secret Keepers – Little Girls Lost

You are only as sick as your secrets.
We’ve all heard the platitude.

Yet buried deep inside each of us are two compartments…the one we hesitantly  dust off and open up when we get into recovery – full of skeletons –  but none so shameful as to mark us for life; and those that we bury just beneath the surface of the last dig. It’s this cache that is the most dangerous – it’s a trap door. We will keep falling into it until we rip the lid from it and explore what is underneath. Like an archeologist frightened by a supposed curse of the tomb, we just don’t go “there.”

What if we unleash the curse?

But what if the curse is in the “not going there?”

What if we are marking ourselves for life by keeping sick secrets? What if opening up our crypts brings fresh air to heal the curse?

What if healing the curse helps others to heal?

I very rarely re-blog here at The Beggar’s Bakery. But my friend and fellow writer Karen Perry just inspires the crypt-keeper in me, and this particular piece spoke to my spirit.

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse myself, I applaud her candid transparency. I wrote about the subject on my own blog a while back (“Daddy’s Girls – the Healing”) but I am still actually doing a lot of healing. And a lot of trying to bury the site of excavation. I’m not proud of that, but it’s a process.

In my travels giving my testimony, I am astounded at the sheer number of women who have experienced this horror. Night terrors, anxiety, depression, substance abuse … can all be rooted in this abuse. It is a VERY BIG DEAL, it shapes who you are.

You are only as sick as your secrets, as Karen knows.You can read her awesome piece here: “Mended Musings – The Secret Keepers.”

GOD BLESS YOU, friend, for opening up. It has already helped this survivor by reading your story.

And by the way, here is my photo of the little me who kept secrets she should never have had to. It isn’t her fault.

It never was.

little me

Mustard Seeds and Mountains – Faith for the ordinary person

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“For if you had faith even as small as a tiny mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would go far away. Nothing would be impossible.” – Jesus (Matthew 17:20, Living translation)

For a short while in my career, it was my responsibility to edit incoming obituaries for a local newspaper. A good obituary gives you a mini biography of a person’s life – of who that person was while living out the “dash” in between the enter and exit dates on his or her tombstone.

I noticed a recurrent theme in submitted obituaries – the propensity to describe a departed loved one’s faith as such:
“A woman of great faith, Eula Mae Jones lived a righteous life. In all of her suffering, She never for a moment doubted her God.”

The same sentiment I read over and over  – a person’s absolute stead-fastness in faith described. I know it shouldn’t get under my flesh to hear faith described as such strong a thing! What a blessing! But  my flesh often allows things to get under it, even though it “knows” better….hings like Eula Mae’s never-wavering, rock-solid  faith.

Because I wish I were more Eula Mae and less like doubting Thomas. I don’t want to be Thomas, asking Jesus to prove his identity by the holes in his hands, but sometimes I ask him anyway.

The Eula Maes of the world are not prodigal-istic, but I am. Maybe you are, too. Maybe you – like me – have tried to take her heavenly inheritance and hit the road.

Although it happens less and less as I grow closer and closer to Christ, I’ve struggled with regular, run-of-the-mill doubt.  I love God with every fiber in my being, but I’m  just a regular human being with regular thoughts. I’m coming to believe it isn’t about knowing at all.

Yes, I know that I know that I know, but it’s not in the “knowing” that I grow. It’s in the trusting anyway that mountains get moved.  Trying to wrap my mind around what only my spirit was designed to understand leads to more doubt.

Here’s the thing about doubt – it does not diminish the God’s incredible, powerful love for us one single bit. I know that the Power of Love in the universe is not reduced by my doubting, nor anything else in my power. I know that His power can be magnified in my trusting him in doubtful times.

Here’s what account will be in my obituary, if it is an honest accounting of my faith:

Jana lived a life righteous in the eyes of God, despite her best efforts to screw her life up. Her righteousness had nothing whatsoever to do with her, and everything to do with the God she trusted anyway.

She  wondered if God were real on several occasions, but he was not angered by her questioning. Instead, He proved himself in a million ways if she took the time to seek Him –  in every gesture of love, in microcosm and macrocosm, in heaven, nature, and laughter.  He proved Himself with every sunrise and tide, and through the actions of others who love and trust Him too.

She didn’t understand why bad things happen to good people, or why bad things didn’t often happen to bad people. She didn’t understand many things, as  she saw through a glass darkly. But she  trusted God anyway. She believed like a child, open and in wonder.

She shook her fist at God on more than one occasion, but in the end, she  opened those fists to raise her hands high in worship.

She wanted badly to dis-believe a few times – periods when it would have been less painful to deny his existence than to believe he would allow her to experience such pain. But in those dark valleys, He always courted her gently back up the steep mountain. And she know that He was with her always, even to the ends of the earth.

She had faith the size of a mustard seed – no bigger – but she planted it anyway, small as it was. And God moved mountains by the deep roots that grew into a  sturdy, fruitful tree – from such a tiny thing. It only takes a little faith to move mountains.

She was a prodigal daughter, who took off with what God had given her,  determined that she could handle life all on her own. And when she returned home broken, Abba welcomed her with a ring for every finger, an embrace for every stubborn doubt.

In all of her suffering, she lived “the dash” honestly and authentically, and God was not diminished by her occasional doubts, but lifted high in her trusting.

And by her date of exit (and entrance into the arms of the God who courted her), she didn’t need to wrap her mind around what only my spirit was designed to understand. The mountain had been moved.

In the end, she believed nothing is impossible!

She was a woman of great faith, after all.

MORE

more

Father, Son and Holy Ghost
We’re the ones you love the most.
It’s only in You that we boast,
But Abba, we want more.

Over all and under none,
Not by our might, but what you’ve done
The battle has been fought and won,
But we want more of You.

When we worship and adore
In our pews (and on the floor)
Until our hearts can take no more,
We want more of You.

Your presence like a gentle breeze
Is a prompt, a holy tease
Of what will bring us to our knees,
More and more of You.

You made the earth, the moon, the stars,
And still make time to heal our scars
Freeing the prisoner from iron bars
But Abba, we want more.

Radical Savior, we seek your face
An avalanche of holy Grace
To overflow, fill every space
With more and more of You.

Alpha, Omega, Beginning and End,
Counsel, Provider, Redeemer and Friend
Calling out torn hearts to mend.
Give us more of You.

Drench us in your Spirit sweet
From the top of our heads to the soles of our feet,
Only then are we complete.
More and More of You.

 

“Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This is not a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your little boy asks for a serving of fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? If your little girl asks for an egg, do you trick her with a spider? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing—you’re at least decent to your own children. And don’t you think the Father who conceived you in love will give the Holy Spirit when you ask him?” – Luke 11:13 (MSG)