nativityI don’t know how much overlap there is between those who read my blog and those who follow me on Facebook. If there is, some of you may have noticed that I’ve been putting up videos of myself singing Christmas carols every evening for over a week, and I promised last time that I would tell you why. (If you’d like to watch them, you can scroll to the bottom and have a listen.)

Well, the short answer is that I wanted to give you something for Christmas, and a video of some sort seemed the best possible way to reach as many of you as possible. The long answer is a bit more complicated and only just came to me in a fuzzy way after I began my Twelve Days of Carols project.

The last couple of years have been difficult for me. Without dwelling too much on details, I can say that I experienced heartache a couple years ago, which seemed to color most everything. Life looked pretty bleak, lonely, and uninspiring. After that happened, I more or less stopped singing. Sure, I sang at church, but I didn’t sing much of my own accord. Where before songs were on my mind and in my mouth just about all the time especially as a teen and in my early twenties, they just weren’t there anymore.

Right now, I feel almost back to normal. Emotionally, that is and however you define “normal”! God has given back the joy of living. And while I doubt anyone completely “gets over” heart pain, mine has to a certain extent scarred over and sunk to the bottom instead of waiting to boil over at the least hint of a memory. I have begun to sing again. At home, in the car, washing dishes, and even at the store (not loudly mind you)! Much of that has been born of self-discipline, but now I do have songs randomly coming to mind often.   That’s a nice phenomenon.

As I began to post my Christmas carols last week, I began to ponder. I know that life is a series of testing, trials, and temptations. Some are easier to deal with than others, but it seems that we grow the most through the hardest. God wants us to grow, so it shouldn’t be surprising when hard trials come. I know I need to be prepared for the next round. One of the few constants in life is that they will come. For all I know, I could walk into one next week. Next time, though, I don’t want to stop singing. I want to sing through it, even if my heart is breaking. God deserves to be praised whether I am happy or not. In His mercy, obeying Him through praise is one of the most comforting tools for people in distress. Singing about Him reminds us of who He is and that He keeps His promises to provide for us, never leave us, or forsake us.

So that is my goal for the coming years—to keep singing. As I’ve been putting up my Christmas carols lately, it occurred to me that putting up videos might actually be a practical way of making sure that happens. One a day would be a bit much to sustain, but I may commit to one a week. How does that sound to all of you?

I know that what I’m writing isn’t exactly Christmassy, but in another way it is. What better season to sing than at Christmas time? I hope you will carve out some time during this festive day to gather your family around and sing some Christmas carols. The Incarnation is something to sing about. Sing through the pain, the tears, and the disappointment, because Jesus is here with us. Without His coming there could be no time to look forward to without any pain, tears, or disappointment. Merry Christmas!

Christmas Travels

A few hours from now, I’ll be on a plane to Colorado. It’s been a year since I’ve seen my parents and over a year since I’ve seen most of my nieces and nephews. Needless to say, I’m really looking forward to spending time with them, meeting my sister’s new German Shepherd puppy Gretel, reading good books (my brother-in-law always has a good supply of them), eating lots of food, and taking goofy pictures with my nieces and nephews. Last time I was there, a huge wildfire got started. I don’t think that’s liable to happen in the middle of winter, so I’m hoping for a less eventful visit in that regard.

One of the aforementioned goofy pictures...
One of the aforementioned goofy pictures…

One thing I’ve especially enjoyed about being an aunt is filling up stockings for nieces and nephews. If you haven’t shopped for stocking stuffers before, you really should. It’s tremendous fun. The last time I was in Colorado for Christmas, we couldn’t find the Christmas stockings. After searching high and low to no avail, my dad and brother-in-law volunteered their own socks for the cause. (They were freshly cleaned.) Aesthetic appeal lost out, but a good time was had by all.

My dad is the ultimate stocking-stuffer guy. He was the one who shopped for my brother and I most years. He was never content merely to fill stockings. He had to wrap each object before it went in. And when I say wrap, I mean wrap—colorful paper, tiny bows, and the whole nine yards. Nothing, not even a pack of Black Jack gum, escaped the treatment. Throughout the years, I unwrapped tiny packs of Kleenex, chapstick, boxes of Boston Baked Beans, Good and Plenty, and trinkets of all sorts. Stockings were my favorite part of opening presents and I usually saved that for last. In fact, I am of the mind that one never gets too old for stockings. Did you hear that, Dad? Hint. Hint.

At any rate, Tuesday was my packing day. Who am I kidding? I just finished up about ten minutes ago because I’m that disorganized. I approached it in the most disjointed fashion. I had clothing strewn all over the bed, trying to make sure I didn’t forget anything important. I tend to forget important things like pajamas, toothpaste and the like.

I wonder how much bigger they'll look?
I wonder how much bigger they’ll look?

I should finish up here because I need to clean up after the packing mess, throw another load of laundry in etc… But before I do, I wanted to mention that I’ve been posting videos of me singing Christmas carols every evening, and I intend to do that until Christmas Day. I hope they are a blessing and an encouragement to you. Hopefully next week, I’ll write and explain how the idea came to me and why I decided to do it. In the mean time, enjoy!

Dad Said I Was Pretty

the-princess-diaries-miaA few days ago, I was talking to my sister, Monica, on the phone about our bringing up and how thankful we were for the many things our parents did right. The context for this discussion was a memory I had. A girl I heard of who had grown up in a loving, well-intentioned home where the father, thinking he must prepare his daughter for what her life would inevitably amount to, told her that she would probably never get married because she was not pretty. Just thinking about that makes my gut sink to the floor. He meant well, but it was such a damaging thing to say. I also mentioned an article that I’d read by a woman whose husband, contrary to all her protestations, told her she was beautiful every morning before they got out of bed. She went on to describe in humorous terms what she usually looked like every morning—messy hair, sweatpants, stretch marks from carrying three children, extra girth around the waist…you get the picture. Yet to her husband, she was a beautiful, beautiful woman. I scrolled down through the comments, and most of them were lovely. But there were also a few that smacked of the “spirit of the age.” “Seriously, there’s no reason to let yourself go like that. Your husband would probably like it if you lost some weight. He’s just too nice to tell you.” Most heartbreaking to me was the woman who wished her husband would act towards her like the husband in the article. Her own husband was distant and had lost interest in being close to her emotionally or physically. He was, in fact, saving up his money so she could get a tummy tuck.

Backtrack with me about seventeen years. Thirteen-year-old Amanda stands in front of the mirror. Staring back at her is a huge pair of thick glasses, a smattering of pimples over whatever face isn’t covered by the glasses, a smile that reveals some crooked teeth, clothes that stick out in every awkward direction because she’s too skinny for most of them to drape nicely, a flat chest, and…oh, those glasses. Just like Anne Hathaway in the Princess Diaries, she finally sighs and mutters, “Well, as usual, that’s about as good as it’s going to get.”

She walks out into the kitchen where her family is gathered for breakfast. Her Dad looks up, smiles, and says something along these lines, “You’re so pretty, Amanda.”

Incredulously, she shakes her head, sits down at the table and begins to eat.

Talking to my sister on the phone the other day, we remembered how similar events played themselves out over and over. In spite of our protests, Dad told us over and over again how pretty we were. Often, he upped the ante and told us we were beautiful. Monica said, “Of course, I never believed him.” Neither did I. Why? Who knows. We silly females focus on one or two features we don’t like and forget everything else, I guess. We want, so desperately, to believe that we are lovely, but will contradict anyone who tells us we are. It’s a way of curbing disappointment before it happens, I think. Still, I could see the sincerity in my dad’s face whenever he told me I was beautiful. And even while I shook my head, I still thought to myself, “Well, Dad thinks I’m pretty, so maybe I really am.” Sometimes a little glimmer of hope is all you need.

Now that I’ve been out of my “awkward stage” for quite a few years, I’ve just realized how important my dad’s words of praise were and how they protected me. Those words enabled me to reject the desire to seduce that I believe every girl is born with and every girl, physically plain or beautiful, is capable of. When I am loved and found beautiful, there is no need to seek out the attention of short-sighted men with alluring glances and clothes designed to draw their eyes where they don’t belong. Later on, those words kept me immune to the men who make a practice of flattering in exchange for favors. I can tell the difference between sincerity and lust.

Dads should always tell their little girls that they are pretty. Even if the physical symmetry is not there, a good dad knows a secret—the image of God makes everyone beautiful and love can see that beauty. A human being is so much more than the sum total of his brains and body parts—it’s a soul, and that’s where its beauty resides. I would suggest to you husbands who cannot see the beauty in your wife’s tired body that the fault is not in your wife but in your ability to love. I would suggest to you wives who are secretly pining for a six-pack and gigantic biceps that the problem is not in your husband’s limited muscle tone. The problem is in the quality of your love. The good news is that while we may have a very hard time staying in shape, there is no limit to the ways our love can grow. And you may be very surprised to find how little buds can bloom when love is strong.

When We Are Rude

Grumpy_learning_Thai_cultureA few days ago, I got in my car and drove to the local Discount Tire store in Benton Harbor. I had been putting off the inevitable for quite a while. The car I bought last summer had some worn-out tires on it. After slipping and sliding round during the first two snowfalls of the season, I decided I needed to buy all-season tires. So off I went with my laptop in tow. I knew I’d have a long wait, because there are always plenty of poor suckers like me who don’t think ahead of time and clog up such places of business at the last minute. So I decided I’d work on a writing project while I waited.

I got in line, waited a while, talked to the nice man at the desk, and sat down to wait for my car’s turn for service. It was a very long wait. About two hours, in fact. The guys in the garage were doing the best they could, but they had too much business to keep ahead of. I was far from bored. I had my work to do and sailed along just fine until…Mrs. Crabby-Pants walked in. I shall call her MCP for short. MCP had been in earlier, dropped her car off, and gone away to do some errands. She was scandalized that her car had not been attended to yet. She regaled all of us in the sitting area by raining caustic comments at the poor service man at the front desk, which he handled very well.

MCP: Where’s my car in the line up now?

Guy at the desk: You have four cars ahead of you.

MCP: What!

Guy at the desk: Well, I did say you’d have quite a wait when you came in this morning.

MCP: That was an hour and a half ago. You said it would be an hour and a half.

Guy at the desk: Actually, I estimated two hours.

MCP (huffing): Well…

Guy at the desk: It shouldn’t be too much longer now.

MCP: You should have more people working in the bay.

Guy at the desk: We’re kind of at capacity.

MCP: I only saw four guys out there.

Guy at the desk: There are more than that, but they do a lot of running back and forth to grab parts. That’s probably why you aren’t seeing more all at once.

MCP: Well…

At a loss as to how to proceed after all her favorite objections had been thoroughly answered, she turned to the guy sitting next to me and tried to engage him in a friendly conversation. He complied, and we had a few moments of peace. I returned to my writing and nearly tuned out of the conversation going on to my left until a few words sparked my attention.

MCP: I kept hearing this voice telling me to turn around.

Dude: Seriously?

MCP: Yes, and I wouldn’t do it because it felt so silly.

Dude: Then what happened?

MCP: I finally turned around and felt something whizz by me.

She finished her story by saying that the voice commanding her to turn around had saved her from certain injury or death by a flying, blunt, metal object of some sort. She began to nod her head sagely, while the dude expressed proper amazement.

MCP: God is good.

Dude: Yeah.

MCP: God is good ALL the time.

Over in my seat, I had to choke down an overwhelming urge to laugh. I wondered if the notion that God was good all of the time had suddenly occurred to her while she was inconvenienced at the tire shop, or if He was only good all of the time when He kept her from injury. I had my answer a few minutes later when she approached the desk and made her complaints known all over again.

The wheels began turning as I contemplated what had just taken place. I had heard a self-professed Christian first make life miserable for about twenty minutes, then I heard her give praise to God, and then, not ten minutes later, begin complaining all over again. If the irony of the situation made me, a Christian, laugh and shake my head, what was it going to do for the professed atheist, the skeptic, or your average I-don’t-know-what-I-believe-just-pass-the-beer Joe on the street? If I were one of these, I wouldn’t be able to take her seriously or listen without a smirk when she told me I needed to repent, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. I’d probably say something about cognitive dissonance if I were some kind of intellectual. If I weren’t intellectual, I’d just tell her she was a big, loud-mouthed hypocrite.

And then, I began to think about my own cognitive dissonances–the many ways that I profess one thing and live another. As a matter of fact, as soon as I got back home, my brother and I got into a heated “discussion” concerning our differences (we’re pretty much polar opposites) and had to apologize to one another afterwards. Sigh.

I guess the point of all this is that when we use Christ’s name in connection to ourselves, we become His ambassadors whether we like it or not. Because of that, people get a very distinct impression about who He is by the way we behave. That’s a frightening and sobering thought. Mrs. Crabby-Pants at the tire shop painted a very poor picture of Christ’s beautiful character, and frankly, the picture I painted when I went home was pretty ugly too. My behavior either exalts or lowers God in the eyes of everyone around me. Thankfully, He can still glorify Himself when I fail and even through my failures, but I should always aim as high as I can for Him.