Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Oh...the Christmas Tree?

Have you ever just sat quietly and starred at your Christmas tree?

Assuming you will, what does it make you think about?

There was a time in my life where I wanted nothing to do with Christmas trees. Their once joyous presence was replaced by thoughts of bitterness. They held no meaning, right?

I read something yesterday in a book about Christmas. The author did a radio show and a caller ranted and raved about how all of our Christmas traditions are based on pagan practices. By his reasoning, we should throw out our silly traditions since they had no Christian beginning. His argument made sense to me. I think I almost cheered him on as I pondered why we would celebrate something God didn’t originate.

………Or did He??

The author responded with a question: how long the caller had been a Christian. After learning it was half of his life, the author stated, “Then half your life you were not a Christian. If you follow your thinking on Christmas symbols like the tree, then we should toss you and me out of the church because we both have some pagan roots” (25 Days, 26 Ways by Ace Collins).

This sparked my interest in taking a 2nd look at the Christmas tree. So I started starring. At first, all I could think was, “It is pretty.”
I know…DEEP thinking huh?
I kept starring, hoping for inspiration to hit.
It didn’t. So I gave up.
But as I walked into the kitchen I started to hum to the tune of “O Christmas Tree.” That’s when I remembered something my father once told me.

“Do you know what the carol is about, Ang?” he asked one day.  I responded like a 16 yr old: “Ah....DAAAA! It’s about a Christmas tree, dad!”

Remembering, I had to look up the lyrics. Once I read it a couple times, I sat and starred at the tree once more. This time…the meaning was sinking in:
EVER green, EVER faithful, EVER unchanging: shining BRIGHT, how richly God has decked thee!

Can you guess what (or WHO) the tree represents? Can you find the meaning in the shape of the tree, the gifts under it, the remembrances of love it is adorned with, the light it shines and the star above?
I challenge you to take a few minutes today…gaze and wonder. I pray you find what I did!
Here is a little help to get you started:

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging;
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging;

Not only green when summer's here,
But also when 'tis cold and drear.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging!

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Much pleasure thou can'st give me;
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Much pleasure thou can'st give me;

How often has the Christmas tree
Afforded me the greatest glee!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Much pleasure thou can'st give me.

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy candles shine so brightly!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy candles shine so brightly!

From base to summit, gay and bright,
There's only splendor for the sight.
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy candles shine so brightly!

O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
How richly God has decked thee!
Thou bidst us true and faithful be,
And trust in God unchangingly.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Merry Christmas OR Ba humbug!??

In 2005, I became aware, as if for the first time, that Christmas can be lonely, grievous, stressful and meaningless for many. Instead of allowing it to bring joy, it feels like a month-long task list with impossible expectations.

Two simultaneous events lead me to a Christmas strike. Event one was loss. When my family refused to reconcile in the face of this loss, I cried and then I hardened my heart. The second event robbed me of the joy of giving. Someone told someone who told me that my heartfelt gifts were not well received. They had a lot of negative things to say about gifts they didn’t want. I became angry, threw my hands up in the air and exclaimed, “Then what’s the freakin’ point?!”

I know…I know. I said, “freakin’”
But even worse, I became bitter and lost my Christmas Spirit. What was once a celebration filled with festivities, anticipation and laughter was reduced to dread. No decorating. No Christmas cards. Why even celebrate this silliness? Christ wasn’t even born on December 25th! I wrapped my presents with torn wrapping paper. Who cares…they are just going to rip it open, right? Go Christmas light gazing? No thanks. Its just a waste of natural resources. Christmas music? Turn it OFF.

So much for a holly jolly Christmas. Ba HUMBUG!

I complained about the overindulged holiday and how America lost the meaning of Christmas. But really, I just used the excuse as a mask to hide my wounding.
This year, my eyes are open and I grieve the lost of those 5 months. I grieve the loss of the opportunity for me to be an Ambassador for Christ during a time when we should stop to remember what matters most.

What changed this year? First, a friend called me on my “Scrooge” attitude. I defended it of course. Then I let her suggestions sink in and decided to do something for someone else with no expectations in return. So I surprised my coworkers by getting to work early and decorating the office in full Christmas attire.

At first, I wasn’t feeling anything. I grumbled a little bit at the garland. But as I hung snowflakes in a hurry before their early morning arrival, I rediscovered the excitement of anticipating other’s joy. O…there was a couple moments of doubt: what if they don’t like the colors? What if they don’t think it’s a big deal? What if…what if?

But in the end, it wasn’t between me and them: it was between me and God. It was about the condition of MY heart.
Then it snowballed. I forced myself to sing Christmas carols. Next thing you know, I was baking, decorating, signing Christmas cards and wrapping presents with love. Each act represented what Christ would do for me….regardless of whether or not I deserved it. And I wanted to do the same for others.

It’s kind of exciting: remembering what Christmas is all about. I feel the anticipation I used to but with a little more “seasoning.” I learned that Christmas isn’t about what’s going on around you but inside you. And we have a CHOICE in the attitude and condition of our heart. For me, this year is about the message of Christ and I have a role to play in sharing it. I plan to continue sharing my re-discoveries here on the blog. Stay tuned! In the meantime I chose to have a merry Christmas!

Good Tidings and Blessings to You,

Friday, December 17, 2010

Making Promises to Self

Do you know a person that says they are going to do something and they never do? After awhile, you question their committments with, "yeah right" or "I won't hold my breath."  A friend of mine actually started asking his friend for deposits! He said that if he showed up, GREAT! They would spend the money on their time together as planned. But if he didn't show, he would be reimbursed for his time and effort to meet a "no show."
It gets under our skin when words don't line up with actions. We preach the scripture, "Let your yes be yes and your no be no" (Mat 5:37) and drill the importance of keeping your word. But how often do we teach to keep promises to ourselves?
This is a fairly new revelation for me. I was (and still can be) so focused on keeping my promises to others that I often neglect promises to myself. Those people that said "no" to others, I labeled as SELFISH.  For example, I used to give my father a hard time.  He is great at keeping promises to himself.  If he said, “No” to one of our last-minute invitations, I would get frustrated and see him as neglecting us.  Now I realize how important that quality is to someone with an entrepreneurial mindset (you can't build a business on broken promises to yourself).  For all of us,  it is a quality and skill that is to be respected.

On the flip side, I never stuck to anything I set out to do for myself. I was good at killing myself to meet the expectations of others. If I told myself I was going to work out, have quite time or focus on my writing, I would often "skip it" at the last minute. At worst, I thought I was only perpetuating a character of procrastination (which, I could stop at ANY moment…of course). But little did I realize it goes deeper: I was building up a lie I believed in myself that I didn’t matter enough to keep my word...to myself. The lie of unworthiness and helplessness sets in unconsciously and before you know it, you believe “I can’t” change who I AM and the effort to do so is wasted on someone LIKE me.
God values you so much that He keeps every promise He makes. Why would we treat ourselves worse than God and diminish the beloved one He values so much that He sent His own Son to fulfill the greatest promise of all? Psalms 105:8
All this to say, keeping promises to yourself is just as important as keeping promises to others. If you don’t, you send the message that you don’t matter. Repent from the lie that you don’t matter.  Believe instead that you are the worthy son or daughter of God because He has said so. If you are WORTHY of God’s attention, you are worthy of YOUR OWN.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Aloha Papa Cal

On October 29, 2010, Calvin Spicer, a.k.a Papa Cal, passed on. A week later, I traveled almost 1000 miles in 48 hours in order to say a sad goodbye. At noon on November 5th, I sat in the second row of a funeral home, staring teary-eyed at a coffin in front of a heavenly backdrop, questioning God about the grim finality of life.

Papa Cal was family but I probably knew him the least out of everyone in the room. I met him when I was 17 and when I was 18, I went away to college minimizing our time to get to know one another. In October 2001, I “officially” inherited him and Grandma Marie as family when my dad remarried. Shortly thereafter, Papa and Marie moved north to retire. Life went on until one day, it stopped.

I didn’t even know the depth of my own grief until I heard the words spoken about Calvin’s life from my family. Fourteen year old Shanya spoke of his kind spirit and lifelong friend Gene, spoke of his love for the Lord. Cousin Linda spoke of his brotherly adoption of anybody and everybody and my dad spoke of his keen gift of forgiveness. It was then all kinds of emotions hit me: pain, grief, peace, fear, laughter, wonder, regret, doubt and peace. (Yes…they can all happen at once). My mind and spirit felt so overwhelmed I thought I would burst into loud convulsions.

“Why?!” I asked. Then I realized I was grieving the loss of missed opportunity. My relationship with Papa was blessed but minimal which meant I had missed an opportunity to know Cal deeply: to know his kindness, humor and love in my OWN memory and not just the memories of others. I was overtaken with the sadness of regret.

Then my dad read a tribute from my cousin Andi in Hawaii, which opened with, “Aloha means both hello and goodbye” and ended saying, “If we all can say one final ‘ALOHA’ it would mean so much to us in Hawaii, who unfortunately can't be there...so say it loud and clear... ALOHA.”
As the entire room spoke “Aloha” in unison, peace flooded me and my spirit understood what I can finally articulate today:
Yes, Papa Cal, our “hello” was brief and our “goodbye” came too soon. But we share a common spirit: we have the same God, who WAS and IS and SHALL BE, evermore. He is the Alpha and Omega. He is the BEGINNING and the END. God is Love and love is ETERNAL and NEVER ENDING. We said “Hello.” I said “Goodbye”. But we will say “Hello” again.
I saw the evidence of God’s purpose on his life through the message of love and adoption others spoke of. I realized his legacy was FAR reaching to me and many, many others, even those who had NEVER met him. You see, even though my time with him was limited, Papa Cal’s legacy of love blesses me daily through my dad, my brother, my step mom, my cousins, my aunts and uncles who carry it to everyone they meet. They carry on his message in their character…the very character God molded in him.

I came that Friday in a spirit of regret, fearing a lesson in the grim finality of life. After experiencing how we carry-on in and through others, I left blessed and hopeful that we have an opportunity to touch eternity and the very heart of God by loving others like Jesus loved us…just like my Papa Cal.

This is the powerful mystery of God: Love never fails. Love never ends.

Aloha Oe, Papa Cal.
“Until we meet again…”

Love Angie

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bless the Medlock Family while Wearing Purple...

I attend and serve with a great group of people at Pure, a ministry from Water of Life church.  And at Pure, we aspire to be a close family, which means getting to know one another and being there for each other.

I have had the opportunity to get to know a handful of men and women that have absolutely enriched and blessed my life.  But today I finally realized that I have been blessed by and influenced by a larger circle of people that I have yet to even meet!

Let me explain.

I have only met Linda Medlock briefly BUT I have been influenced and touched by her all year long. How is that possible? She has passed on a legacy of kindness, loyalty, love, and joy into her son and niece who have carried it to me and the rest of my small group on many occasions. Linda has been there for me through her niece Jennifer and she has been there for many others through her son, Jonathan.

THIS is family.

And now has come a time to return the blessings by honoring and supporting our family members. Linda, mother to Jonathan and aunt to Jennifer (and thereby an extension of OUR Pure family), has been diagnosed with advanced stages of pancreatic cancer.  Doctors have painted a very grim outlook.

Linda and her family need our encouragement, hugs and prayers. And to honor the family, we are asking everyone to wear Purple Wednesday, October 27th as a sign of our support for the family and our HOPE for the survival of pancreatic cancer patients.

To Linda, Jennifer, Jonathan and the Medlock family, we bless you and are praying for you.

2 Corinthians 1:3 - Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What About Those Stones?

How is it that such a short sentence speaks a lifetime of lessons to me all at once? Maybe because I find myself in a place where I'm holding a stone in my hand and have to decide what to do with it.
“We can throw stones, complain about them, stumble on them, climb over them, or build with them.” -Warren Withlock Tweet

It would feel soooooo good to throw it. The outburst of energy would be a great stress relief and although my aim is horrible, I would be excited (at least for a moment) if I hit my target. It would feel goooooooood.
Hmmm...then again, remorse might set in.  And my parents did teach me about the Golden Rule.

Do I complain about the stone? The new hardship? The obstacle?
"Why can't my path be smooth God?!"
Hmmm...then the ulcer would set in.

And if I'm not careful, I could easily stumble over one. Every done that? It is FUNNY as all get-out to watch someone trip on a rock when they were looking elsewhere. Most catch themselves, turnaround and cuss out the rock. (I'm laughing just visualizing it). I know. I need to work on my compassion. 
Hmmm...but it's not so funny when it's me. With a big enough rock or even the smallest pebble, I could really get hurt: bust a knee, break a hip, hit my head.

Climb over them! Now there is a WISE concept! Go around it. Go over it. The point is...you are moving forward PAST it.  In my personal life's experience,  if I can find the clarity, presence and strength of mind to not be threatened by the stones in my life and move past them, I am the closet I've ever been to achieving my destiny.  If there were 5 stages to achieve in life, this would be stage 5! Right?

Build with them.
[Enter in mind-blowing paradigm shift and revelation.] 
I had never even THOUGHT of such a thing!
I have this visual of a field LITTERED with rocks. Even if we manage to climb over them, we may still run the risk of being exhausted by working so hard to maneuver such obstacles.  We could still get hurt.  
But gather them and BUILD a path? A shelter? Or even a monument?  Have you ever thought about not just "making it through" (aka surviving) but leaving the place better than when you found it?  Isn't that the very definition of making a difference with your life?
Oh...but here is how it gets even BETTER:  In so doing, YOU leave better also.

Lets stop for a minute and see the obstacles in our lives and ask, "How can I build this into being a part of who I am and use it to build a monument to God using the impossible in my life?"
Translated? "I can't seem to control what I'm going through right now  but I can chose to thank God for these building stones and see them as steps to my destiny: to God molding me into the PERSON He has called me to be."
 1:2-4 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Farewell to Faith?

Do you know Charles Templeton? What about Billy Graham? Of course you know Billy! But did you know that once upon a time, next to Charles, Billy Graham was an afterthought? Charles was the headliner and Billy was the "also-appearing" in smaller font. This is hard to imagine given Billy Graham's international status. So why have we not heard of Charles Templeton?

In the movie, The Case for Faith, Lee Strobel had an opportunity to interview Charles Templeton about his sudden rejection and departure from the Christian faith. As I listened to Charles ask Lee, "If He was a loving God, then why allow such pain and suffering in the world?" I felt a connection to Mr. Templeton that disturbed me. Am I blasphemer for daring to relate to a man who rejected God and Jesus? I don't think so and I dare believe that every Christian who hears it will also feel the stab of familiarity. In the dark moments of night and the deep places in our hearts, we have all known a "Charles Templeton": also known as doubt.

Doubt: The opposite of faith.
Faith believes in the unseen. Doubt does not believe until you see.
Faith, some define, as a knowing and expectation for change even when there is no possible WAY for it to happen. Faith is carrying your umbrella into a 7 year draught prediction. Faith is willing to risk being wrong because you know you have to be right. Faith says there is no other option but to believe beyond all understanding.
Doubt says you cannot trust anything but what you can see, hears, touch, taste and figure out in your own understanding and logic.
This is why doubt is so familiar to us all. It's easier to trust in that which I can see, feel and understand. It's easier to believe things will be okay when there is a plan you have crafted, a bank account saved up and a roof over your head..
On the surface, doubt promises to keep us safe. Doubt says it’s safer to stay home and unsafe to talk to strangers. Otherwise, you may get bombed, attacked, ran over, shot at, or mugged. But the truth is, doubt only keeps us safe behind the bars of fear. Doubt is the sheriff in the prison of inner hell, masquerading as paradise.
Charles Templeton understood this well. He often felt like he was on the brink of losing his mind. In the end, Charles chose to listen to the doubts that sided with reason and logic. Faith was too risky. But I wonder, if doubt was so safe, why did the man wrestle and obsess with it even unto his death?!

In his dad's eulogy his son Brad Templeton said, "Even though he had given up the faith, religion remained his obsession for the rest of his life, as can be seen in his novels and even in 'Farewell to God.' To his dying day, he expressed his admiration for Jesus the philosopher, whom he regularly declared to be, though not god, the greatest man who ever lived."

Now...wait. Before you let your mind judge Charles as quickly as mine did, I ask you to consider the tone of Charles' departure from the Christian faith. For an agonistic, why chose the words "Farewell to God"? Why "farewell" and not "so-long"? Why bother with a departing gesture at all? If he was so convinced against God, why did he walk away but always look back? This leads me to believe that this was not an angry or vindictive or evil man. Oh no. This was a broken hearted man in search of something he couldn't see and never dared to keep looking for.

And doesn't THAT sound familiar? HOW to trust in a God unseen? A God who says to seek Him and yet I cannot see him, touch him or audibly hear him? HOW to believe in miracles not yet performed? How to trust that God is good in spite of the pain and suffering I see? To believe...that even if I'm in pain, God loves me?

Mr. Templeton let doubt choke out his hope of ever finding a redemptive and PEACEFUL truth. He let fear stop him from looking. Doubt whispers that we will have peace if we chose safety when in fact; doubt is the opposite of peace. Doubt is mental torment. Is it no wonder that God continually beseeches us to cast doubt away?!  His son Brad also noted, "At the end of the book, he [Charles] wrote that he sometimes felt that his whole life had been an attempt to impress his aloof and never-present father. He considered titling the memoir [Farwell to God], Hey Dad, look at me!"

Ahhh. The pieces fall into place, do they not?
I think we know Charles Templeton better than we thought. I too, search for the love of God as an ever-present Father. But what breaks my heart is that for most of his life, Charles never found what he was looking for. Not because he didn't want to...but because he listened to the "what-ifs." Maybe...he never even really looked in the first place. Maybe he was only a moment away from breakthrough and gave up when peace was just within reach.

I can't help but picture the young Billy Graham, standing nervously in the shadow of his friend Charles Templeton, wondering if he'll ever be as great a man of God as he. I am 100% sure that Billy asked the same questions of God because Charles, Billy, you and I, ALL know the familiar voice of doubt. And yet little did Billy realize until much later that God needed more than talent, skill, intelligence and all that we have to offer: God needed his faith in Him.

Do you now recognize something familiar in both Charles and Billy? There are moments when I wonder, can I do this? Can this be true? How? Why? What if I go forward for prayer and don't get healed? Then my fears will be confirmed and God must surely not love me enough! Therefore, it must be safer to stay. To never go. To never try....right???

But then there are moments when I know no other option will do. I must trust and I will trust that my God is the one and Only and that He is Good and that He loves me! I must! Not because anybody said so...but because deep down, my spirit and my soul know that without that trust...without Him, I will perish in torment from the inside out! I must keep searching for there is One I long to know more! And when I find ... a tiny shaving...barely a FLAKE of GOLD, it will be just enough of a taste to fuel my hunger for more. So I will keep looking and digging for more: more peace. More of HIM.

Yes! The story of Charles Templeton could breed sadness. For some wavering, it could dare to try and confirm your doubts. But it could also birth Faith. It's all the more reason to learn from him and keep SEARCHING if you have not yet found what you are looking for! And as you search, please join me in addressing that familiar voice of doubt, which comes with F.E.A.R. (False Evidence Appearing Real):

"Wiley, lying Doubt, who comes pretending in order to steal and imprison God's family; We have found you out. We recognize you for who you are. I confess before my God that at times, I have believed your lies. I confess and I repent before my God. Doubt, I send you away. I don't need you anymore. Go and send no others. For I turn my ear away from your seemingly sweet, safe-talking chatter and choose to listen to the voice of faith. As risky as faith may seem to be, even as silly as she may sound at times, I will chose to trust in the One who promises that all things work out for GOOD for those that love Him! I choose to believe that when I seek, I WILL find. And as I seek, I am assured by faith that the safest place in the world is in the will of God."