“…and pondered them in Her heart.”

It was a tad bit nippy this year. But the snow sparkled. Which I love. We had one of the best Christmases on record. No arguments (I know, right??!!!). Presents given and received in love. Love in the air and around the house. Joy around the table. Picked up Mom and brought her with us to extended family celebrations and feasting. Even among strangers, she enjoyed the food, the noise, the kids, the conversations. Actually got home in time to watch a Christmas movie and relax before falling into bed. All in all, a truly blessed Christmas.

This year, we Nailed It! for Christmas. LOL! This show has captured my funny bone. We watched an episode while getting ready to head out to family yesterday. What I love about the show, “Nailed It!” is that people are trying. They are learning. And they compete in something they know, ahead of time, they are not particularly good at. But they try. And it provides some much-needed levity in life. We need to learn to not take ourselves so seriously. To not expect more than we are capable of. And we need to learn that sometimes our efforts are just not enough, and that we have not “nailed it,” and that we are okay with that. Life is the journey, not the destination.

As I posted in my blog about needing my weapon to be handy and ready, I realized that I had a lot of living left to do, and I was not ready to lay down and let someone else choose the end. My dash was still going on! If you are not aware, there was a eulogy given a few years back that became so famous. It spoke to the two dates on our tombstone, with the dash in the middle. The dash is the sum of our entire lives. And we need to be present in our dash, and make it count. And this year, we opted for a simpler Christmas. We chose to enjoy the moments and to live in them.

We spoke about how people were texting each other Merry Christmas wishes on their phones, and about how some people seemingly “go dark” from social media during Holidays. And I thought about that. And I thought it was a great thing. Because if we are off social media, it means we are present to the people around us, making the most of our dash. And today, as I was browsing the various social media forums, I noticed who did, and who did not, post a lot of photos. Some people had some magnificent photos of their Christmas feasts, decor, and gift giving. Some posted sayings and left it at that. Some posted pithy political junk that had nothing to do with Christmas. Others were not present on the media platforms at all. And it got me thinking.

The Birth of Christ is what Christmas is all about. Even our grandchildren were talking about Jesus’ birthday this year (miracle all on its own). And I was thinking about how quiet it must have been in that lowly manger. Just the stirring of the animals, the movement of the breezes, the light from the Star. And Mary and Joseph, knowing the miracle is upon them. My eldest jokingly referred to it as the “Holy C-section” as we believe Christ “emerged” from Mary without all the travail of a traditional birth. Some believe She suffered; others believe that because She was the Mother of God, suffering would be unknown to Her. The result is the same: Christ is Born! Glorify Him!

And the Shepherds, sleeping with their flock, are awoken by the songs of the Angels, directing them to the Manger where the Son of God lay, surrounded by His Glory and His Simplicity. It must have been frightening, and exciting, all at the same time. And they did not quarrel over what they had seen. They did not dally and ponder. They did not go back to sleep. They obeyed the Messengers of God and right away sought the Savior where He lay. In the book of Luke (Luke 2: 17-20):

“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the Baby, who was lying in the manger. After they had seen the Child, they spread the message they had received about Him. And all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, which was just as the angel had told them.”

“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” And I realized something profound to me: we were so busy truly living in the moment and joy of Christmas, we forgot to take photos! We have no family poses. We have no photos of our grandkids with us, or our dinner conversation around the table, or photos with my mom. We forgot. Because we were living in the moment. Our dash was full and growing. How amazing is that? And today, I thanked God for the blessing of this Christmas. And for the moments with family and friends. And for excited joy on the faces of those we loved, as they received the gifts we chose for them. For the moments of revelation when conversations were life-filled and love-filled. For the moments of no-conflict, even with disparate people gathered around a table. Even though we were not with our entire family, because of distance, we treasured moments with them of conversation and loving wishes given and received. We were so very blessed this year. So blessed.

And today, as the world returns to its rhythms and its chaos, my prayer for everyone is that we recall the simplicity of the moments in the Stable. When Mary rejoiced in Her Newborn Son, held lovingly in Her arms. When Joseph looked lovingly at His Wife and the Son He would raise to become a Man like no other. When the Shepherds arrived, after having been instructed by Angels – a choir of Angels – singing, “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, Goodwill and Peace among men.” All in the quiet of a December night, so long ago. And as you gaze lovingly at the spent remnants of a day sharing with family and friends, smile for a moment, thinking of the Birth of the Son of God, Who came to save us all.

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“Let me sit with you awhile…”

My post about self-defense is the single, most read post, I have ever written. Well over 1,000 people have read it. That feels so weird to me. I am not sure if I even know 1,000 people. But I am prayerfully optimistic the post may bring people back and they can read other posts, and that may lead them to taking on a loved one’s total care, and it may also lead them to think about their faith a little more, as well. Which are some of the many reasons I post on this blog, from time to time.

So, winter is really here, up in the Last Frontier. All our gifts are wrapped and/or mailed out. We spent a wonderful evening with some friends last night and on our way home, we noticed the temp in the car said 2 degrees. So I was not surprised to see -10 this morning. Yeah; a tad bit nippy! But – we are having a White Christmas and I love that!

We have been blessed with enough snow so that it is sticking around for awhile (not melting off) and increasingly low temperatures. People are snow machining and ice fishing, and skiing, and enjoying the winter wonderland that is Alaska. Having been raised in Southern California, I always longed to experience real weather patterns. I had always hated being hot and sweating. I recall, a few years back while still living in SoCal, laying on the bed completely drenched in sweat, the A/C was blasting, and a ceiling fan was whirring overhead and I thought to myself, “If I can ever get out of this, I will jump at the chance. Lord, help me get away from this awful heat.” I remember the feeling and I really did not like it. I was miserable. And a few months later, an opportunity came to relocate to Washington State, to the town of Maple Valley. It was a dream come true. And we both jumped on it. What an adventure that was. Our first winter outside of SoCal and we are living in a hotel during a huge winter snow storm. I remember trying to figure out how to do Christmas, birthdays and New Year’s Eve in a hotel with a pre-teen son, one home from college, and both a dog and a cat. LOL. We pulled it off. A couple of months of hotel life until we got moved into our house. I actually have fond memories of that Christmas.

The following Christmas, we had the most wonderful tree we cut down ourselves. It was gorgeous. Massive, too. LOL. But it was so beautiful. And then in January, before the decorations had even been put away, we were offered an opportunity to relocate once again, to Alaska. Things just presented themselves and we chose to shoot for the stars! We packed up our 3,000 square foot house (after much purging) into a 25-foot U-Haul and drove to Alaska. One of the most horrible road trips of my life. I hated it almost daily. LOL. Never want to be in Canada again, either! But we made it to Alaska and we were stunned at the beauty. As we made our way into the state, the topography really changed. And the closer we got to our meeting place with our daughter-in-law, it seemed like the faster I drove. LOL. But we pulled into the driveway of the little house our kids found for us (it was just 1,080 sq ft) and we felt like we were home.

And in May 2013, just barely unpacked, we had our first snow storm. LOL. We thought, “Oh no, what have we gotten ourselves into?” Because May in SoCal, or even WA, was all about flowers and spring and getting close to summer. And here we were, shoveling snow and driving in snow – in May! LOL. But it was just a random storm and when the snow melted, the green arrived. In abundance. Oh my word. It was a revelation of the beauty of God in this world. Truly. We saw things we never thought we would.

I was asked just this morning, “Do you like living in snow? Do you like winter?” And it took me back to these moments of discovery. Of learning about a completely different way of life and looking at life. I still get excited when I hear the crunching of snow underfoot. I stand in awe as the snow falls and flurries fly around us. The glistening of the snow when it gets down cold enough – when the snow re-freezes with ice on top of it. It is amazing and looks like someone threw glitter on it.

And I realized that I adore winter. I really do. It makes the fall holidays just so much more than they ever were. All the references to snow and glistening in the many carols of Christmas make so much more sense, now I live in a place with winter over half the year. I totally understand Spring Cleaning! My windows. Oh my word. When the sun starts to come back and stay for more of the daytime hours, it reflects on all the places you thought you had cleaned but where the dust bunnies own the real estate! LOL! So many things I chuckle at, that make so much more sense, now I live where there are real seasons.

The gorgeous pinks of Alpenglow really do render the landscape to this ephemeral look and I find such great peace in the quiet of a snowy day. We are blessed to live where we do, and I am thankful for it every day. I miss my family and friends in the lower 48, but I know God brought us here for a reason and we are all working out our salvation where we have been placed. And I am thankful for the beauty that only enhances my walk with the Lord, bringing home feelings of comfort and home and hearth and family. I feel so blessed and am so thankful that Christmas is upon us. And that these feelings of peace and good will I have, will endure throughout the year. I prayerfully hope for each of you, that you find the peace, the home of Christ, in your hearts this year and all your years.

Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year

 

“…because you gave it to us…”

So, it’s Christmas. We are down to just one at home. Our main focus is on our grandchildren, for major Christmas shopping. And as we think of each one (we have 6 so far) we just smile and get all excited!!! We set off, determined to please each child.

We are not Icelandic, although it is the sole place I am dying to visit – there is even a cruise you can take through Iceland. Bucket list!! Anyway, there is this amazing tradition we adopted a couple of years ago, called Jolabokaflod! Or, Book Flood. And we decided that, as grandparents, our kids can provide toys for their children. We will provide books and chocolate. I mean, who doesn’t like chocolate?? LOL. And we can add to their reading library. So much of the joy of giving, is to hunt for that perfect thing. My husband and I found ourselves up against it because of his work schedule. And we chose to do a shopping marathon prior to his flying out and being gone for a week. And we sort of had fun. It is like our date night, only it began after Church and a visit with mom in the Assisted Living home, and lasted through into the night. We even stopped and had coffee and cookies, to just take a breath.

Scanning through kids’ books is an exercise in patience. Especially at a bookstore, at Christmas. Kids running all over, frazzled parents, staff trying to make everyone happy. And then, a staff member walks up with coupons for free cookies with coffee. Well, this is not our first season as grandparent-shoppers! We jumped on that coffee/cookie thing! LOL! And we came home, excited and happy with our choices. And today, grandma gets to do the entire wrapping thing.

The fun part is finding books that we know each grandchild will enjoy. We look at them, and we think of each child, one at a time. And we try to match selections with their personality. This year was no exception. And as we proceeded to go through our choices, we were feeling more and more confident that we chose the right thing for the right child. Giving brings such joy to us, especially when we picture each child receiving what we picked for just them. This summer, when we visited our granddaughters in Southern California, nothing brought us as much joy as a granddaughter walking up with a book, asking us to read it to them. The icing on that cake was them telling us, “We love this book because you gave it to us.” The fact that they know we chose the book for them just warmed our hearts. Did they recall the chocolate with each book? Nope. They loved the book – which is the point. The chocolate brings sweetness to enhance that reading experience, all cuddled up with a book. And I love that the feeling of cuddling and reading with grandma and grandpa had endured throughout the year.

We were tired, driving home through the snowstorm amongst all the people in the ditches and spun out on the highway. We got home safely after a few slips and slides ourselves, pleased with our day. And now, I cannot stall any longer – my wrapping table awaits!

Think about changing things up this year…give the gift of books, reading, cozy and warm Christmas Eve’s in quiet firelight and the sound of pages turning!! Happy Jolabokaflod!!!

 

“Where the feminine and firearms meet”

This post may not be appreciated by some people. But this is a part of who I am, too. Please give this a read, and some contemplation. So, as many of my friends know, I belong to a wonderful organization, “The Well Armed Woman.” This group has taught me more than I ever thought I should know, about protecting myself. All by myself. And it has also given me the confidence to protect myself, all by myself.

A little over two years ago, even after noticing them on Facebook and other places, I was invited to attend a TWAW meeting. It changed my life. I met women who have become good friends of mine. I was enthralled by the lessons. But I did not shoot a gun. Don’t get me wrong, I love shooting. I grew up with weapons in the house. My dad hunted. I was comfortable around long guns. For my 40th birthday, my husband bought me a shotgun and some perfume! LOL. We owned hunting dogs and regularly went bird hunting with friends and family. So I have been around the culture of guns and hunting my entire life. But self-defense and handguns, when carried on your person, were a completely different ballgame.

I wanted to learn how I could protect myself. It came to roost, in a serious way, one day when I was walking to the grocery store with my elderly mother. We had parked our car a ways out, because the lot was packed. As we were walking to the storefront, I noticed this man heading right towards us. He looked like he was high on drugs and he had a menacing air about him. One of the amazing things about the sessions at TWAW meetings was that I had been taught about “situational awareness” – always keeping your eye on your surroundings, so you do not become a victim. And we also were taught to carry ourselves confidently, so we didn’t look like victims. I squared my shoulders and looked at this man, straight in the eye. I placed my hand in my purse, signaling to him I was armed. As he approached me, I said, “Don’t even think about it.” And he literally turned right and walked away. And I realized I was all that stood between me and my mom. I was her sole protector. (She is 89 and has Alzheimer’s, and is 4′ 10″ and 120 lbs. on a good day). And I did not even know how to protect myself. (Other than how I project myself).

I decided I really did need to learn how to shoot and how to carry a weapon – safely. I had shot handguns in the past, but I did not feel like I knew much about them. I had been joking around that I wanted a pretty “Tiffany” gun – all silvery and blue and fancy and looking cute for my purse. But when it came down to it, I chose to purchase a black, simple, gun that felt good in my hands and that I could really use. My personal choice was a Smith & Wesson M&P Pro and I really like it. It is big, but there is no recoil. It fits my little, arthritic fingers and it does not hurt to shoot. It took me more than a year to choose a weapon, trying everything my instructors shared with me. And having hours and hours of discussions about which weapon would work for me.The instructors at TWAW (who have since become dear friends) never lost their patience with me, but were so positive and encouraging. Never did they push me to do anything other than what I was comfortable doing. And that even included taking more than 1 year to choose a gun to own! (You know who you are – and I thank you for that).

In the year I have had this weapon, I have become more and more comfortable with it. I have also been eyeing other brands and styles, for different reasons. They do say once the bug bites, you want more and more guns to shoot with. For anyone who is afraid to shoot a gun, there is a TWAW chapter near you. And they instruct you and inform you and help you grow in confidence and expertise. It is amazing. And the camaraderie of shooting with a group of women is something I cannot really explain. You just have to try it. And their color is purple! Who doesn’t love purple, right???

It is winter. Darkness comes about 3:30pm. This sort of total darkness. The sun in winter does not mess around with pretty sunsets…it is just gone! LOL! And this week, I am home alone. My husband is business traveling and our youngest son, who is a firefighter, was called to some shifts at the station. So it is me and our 13-year-old Springer, Poca. Last night, as I was getting ready for bed, I heard this banging sound. It sounded like someone was trying to get into our garage from the side of the house. I realized I was totally alone. So I went to get my weapon. It was in its bag, empty. Surrounded by empty ammo boxes. I had been lazy and not cleaned my gun, neither had I removed it from its range bag and refilled any of the magazines. My gun was empty and I did not see any rounds. Well, my husband shoots, too. He is in a sharp-shooting course with our eldest son and he shoots with him every Thursday. I dove into his range bag. No ammo. So I went to where we keep our ammo and found out we just had some really pretty Winchester Full Metal Jacket rounds. So I grabbed a box and went to load my magazines. I hear “bang-bang-bang” on the walls again. So I hurry and look for my loader. Not in my bag. It was in hubby’s bag (guess what Santa is bringing him this year???). I started loading. I realized that by this time, I should be dead, if this was an intruder. So I loaded my weapon, cleared it, and had one in the chamber. And I set out to clear every room in the house, as I made my way towards the sound. Now, we live in Alaska. There are big animals here who wander around at will – like moose and bears. So I am thinking perhaps a moose or bear was dipping into our trashcan outside the garage. I am making my way towards that side of the house when I see our dog, Poca, chomping away on a new bone. “Bang-bang-bang” as she flips the bone over and it hits the floors. Yep; it was the dog the whole time. LOL. (That is her below, chomping on a bone on her bed by the fireplace).

I learned something from this. I realized I depended on my husband to be the protector in our home. Not me. And I realized I had no idea how to unlock his gun safe (I know now – a day later). And I also realized that I am enough. I can protect myself. Once my gun was loaded and that round was in the chamber, I relaxed. I respected my weapon and I also felt confident that I could protect myself using it. Because it is the bad guy, or it is me. And I realized last night that I am not ready for it to be me. I still have a lot of living left to do.

So, if you feel frightened in your own home, that is not a good feeling. It is the one place we need to feel safe. When our doors are closed and locked, and we are inside, we should not have to fear intruders. They have no right to be in our homes if they are not invited inside. And last night I realized that through the past two-plus years of attending The Well Armed Woman courses and events, that I had been lectured to. I had been instructed. But I had never been called upon to use any of what I had learned. Up until last night. And I am so pleased and proud to say I can take care of myself, no problem. It felt really good to take control of my environment. (Whether or not I hit the target is for another post, but I know I could save my own life). And as an older woman, alone, it feels pretty darn good. In addition, I am less fearful of carrying concealed (I already have my CC permit, having taken the course and passed the tests) because I realized that when something frightened me, I was up to the task of protecting myself. As I get more prepared, I feel better and better. I am planning to continue my education in firearm use and safety, as well as learning more and more through The Well Armed Woman. If you haven’t considered it, as a woman, I think you should! It is so much fun; the camaraderie is fulfilling; and the experiences are priceless. It truly is an amazing organization. Below is a photo of me, heading out to the range for a day of learning and shooting, in my TWAW purple! And if you decide you want to learn more, please find a TWAW Chapter near you. I promise you will be glad you did!!!

 

 

“…But you don’t really care for music, do you?…”

I have hesitated so long in writing about this. And it is something that really bugs me. A lot. You know that song, “Hallelujah” that is in Shrek? The one EVERYONE is making a cover of? (Even the Shrek version is a cover). That is NOT THE SORT OF SONG YOU WANT TO SING IN CHURCH, PEOPLE! It is not a worship song. It certainly does not qualify as a hymn. It has a beautiful melody, and is haunting at times, but it is not about loving God. It is about a relationship gone bad. And the writer used Biblical examples of relationships gone bad. His point, per the biographical articles I have read, was to show that all sorts of Hallelujahs are valid, if we are crying out to God. Even the bad ones. Even moments of extreme joy found in the arms of the person you love (and are hopefully married to) are forms of an Hallelujah to God. I have seen post after post, and release after release of this song as part of Christmas programs or albums. It is NOT a Christmas song, my friends! Have you actually read the lyrics????? One part supposedly refers to the moment of the Immaculate Conception when the Holy Spirit covers the Blessed Virgin Mary and Christ is conceived. Yeah. That particular moment is a sort of Hallelujah, too. You can stretch it to mean you are worshipping God, but it is set in a carnal sense and does not suppose to reach the ecclesiastical heights of a Church song or hymn. It is couched in sexuality and to stretch it to the spiritual is, indeed, a stretch. Here is a peek at the 4th verse:

“There was a time you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah”

Yeah. That is not something I want my kids or grandkids to learn for the Christmas program at Church! There is a huge discussion online about why this song has become so popular. Leonard Cohen, who wrote it, was interviewed and one of the articles said this: “The word ‘hallelujah,’ he teaches us, is a refrain worthy of times of celebration, of mourning, of regret, of catharsis, and reconciliation. The original song is the story of broken love, true love remembered and mourned, guilt, and penance, and of finding peace in the vicissitudes of brokenness — themes with a myriad of applications and dimensions. The song, reflecting the diverse substance of its own lyrics, has seen a lot of life, and death. It’s for this reason that the significance of Hallelujah isn’t likely to wane anytime soon.”

There has been so much controversy over songs and lyrics this holiday season. “Baby it’s cold outside” to “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” One meme I saw cracked me up because it said, “Everyone is upset about Baby being cold outside, but no one worries about Grandma being run over by reindeer. Grandmas Matter, too!” Ha-Ha-Ha.

We really are what we eat, listen to, watch, and read. We are who we associate with. It impacts our hearts and souls. So, what do the lyrics of the songs you listen to speak to your heart about? Many, many years ago, while visiting my mother-in-law, I asked her why she constantly listened to only Christian music, piped through the house. And her reply stunned me, “Because I am not a very good Christian, I need to listen to this to keep me on track.” She would also record sewing shows and sports. And that is pretty much all. She really controlled what she saw and listened to, and who she associated with. I learned much from her. And in this day and age, when there is just so much junk food thrown at us in the guise of entertainment, we must really guard our senses.

I was asked about fasting the other day. I explained that intermittent fasting is medically proven to enhance our immune system. But one of the benefits of fasting within our faith traditions is that we not only find focus and clarity, we find an increase in the practice of prayer. And prayer enhances our lives. It helps us focus on God, and not what we eat. It shows us again how we should monitor everything we take in, be it food, songs, movies, etc. And so it is, at Christmas time. We are in a period called, “Advent.” This is the time where we fast and prepare to welcome the Christ Child, into that lowly manger, on that cold night, thousands of years ago. We work so hard to prepare to have the best Christmas ever, every year. But are we fasting from the things of this world, to invest our time in preparing for the coming of our Savior?

Well, the lyrics of the song, “Hallelujah,” are certainly not lyrics that bring us closer to the Manger at Christmas, or to Christ, most days of the year. It is shrouded in beautiful music and tonality, taking us away on another plane as we listen. And yes, there are all sorts of Hallelujahs and all sorts of ways to praise God. But this particular song, to me, just does not measure up. I have seen memes complaining about the song, “Mary, did you know?” because they all say, “Yes, she knew! Of course she knew! She accepted the promise of an Angel, and she knew she was carrying the Son of God. She knew! Stop it already!” And I get that. It is still a lovely song. I recall looking longingly at my newborn sons, wondering what their lives had in store for them. And although Mary knew her Son was the Son of God, I am sure the details were left to unfold as He grew in age and wisdom (“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Luke 2:52). So what do we do with all these aberrant songs and lyrics? I think we need to really look where our money goes. Do you buy those records? (Forgive my age – downloads or CDs?). Give them airtime? Like them on social media? I was asked to like a version today, and all I could comment was, “Interesting version.” I cannot condone the symphonic treatment of it, in all that pomp and circumstance, for Christmas fare. I do like the sound, although the version was not my favorite.

I just wish people who get upset over these lyrics about when “it’s cold outside,” would realize there are far worse examples. And that some of these songs are not Church hymns, nor are they appropriate for Christmas programs or children’s programs. Some schools are actually changing the lyrics of traditional songs, to be more inclusive. That is the subject for another blog post!! So, which is your favorite Christmas Carole and why?

“…I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.”

“…and learn from me…”

It’s been a hot minute since I posted. Life sort of kept us hopping. We have had more than 5,000 aftershocks since our November 30th Earthquake. It really shook up our world. So much has come from it. Most of all, I think people have realized they truly control little of their lives. You think you are in charge, making decisions, managing your life and your family, and a 7.2 shaker comes along and you realize you are but a spec on this earth. And control? Ha-Ha. You control very little of it.

One great thing about Alzheimer’s is that they recall very little of their current lives. So an earthquake really doesn’t shake them up too much. We saw Mom in her assisted living home last week and she was a transformed woman. She jumped up, recognizing me, and just hugged and hugged. She laughed. She was smiling. She looked so good. And I realized that I truly was not the best thing for her. She really does better apart from me. And I think now, she can enjoy the life she has left, with her buddies in her home, and with spaced-out family visits. This week a stylist is coming in and doing everyone’s hair! How fun is that? And she loves the attention. Even though her home sustained a little damage in the quake, it never interrupted her life. She lives in the moment, literally. But what a lesson that is for all of us. Live right now.

And all the anxiety we have about things, truly is leeching the life out of us. It is making us shells in the moments of life, if we are continually worrying or anxious about all the “what-ifs” in this world. And I realized something profound: I honestly trust God. Wow. Not me. Not the situation I live in. I am at peace because I truly, truly trust Him. He loves me. He cares for me. Just me. He died on that cross, just for me. And we multiply that in the billions. But even though the numbers make me feel small, like a spec, God is that awesome in that He knows each one of us, by name: (Isaiah 43: 1-5)

But now, this is what the Lord says—
    he who created you, Jacob,
    he who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
 When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I give Egypt for your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in your stead.
 Since you are precious and honored in my sight,
    and because I love you,
I will give people in exchange for you,
    nations in exchange for your life.
 Do not be afraid, for I am with you;
    I will bring your children from the east
    and gather you from the west.

And I can assure you, I felt this today. I have been worrying about bills and medical expenses, and Christmas and my kids and grandkids, husband’s happiness, friends who are suffering…you name it. Pile it on. I actually felt shorter, from the burden of my own anxiety. And man oh man, have I been storming the gates of heaven with prayers. And today, as I mulled things over in the light of day, pouring myself a cup of coffee and indulging in some incredible raspberry swirl bread, I stopped in my tracks as I realized God covered all of it. All of it. There are details I need to work out, but He hears me. He listens to me. And I am fearful on my own – not allowing Him to share my yolk.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28)

His yoke is easy and his burden is light. Wow. And some days, I truly am weary. Some days I just breathe and feel accomplished. But that is on me. That is my doing to me. Not the Lord. Because He promises us all, that He will give us rest. What do you think He means by “rest”? I somehow do not think it is a nap. Or a long, solid night of sleep. I don’t think it is magically wiggling His nose like Samantha on Bewitched, and everything is fixed. No; He expects us to manage what we have. But the rest is in the yoke. Because when we allow ourselves to rest in Him, His promises, and our faith in the message of Christ’s work in us, we obtain rest – an easing of our burdens. As I walked out of the kitchen in my snowflake and candy cane Christmas leggings (what an image, huh?? And they are winter leggings…so warm and cozy in our 10-degree, snowy weather) I felt taller. My back was not as bent. Because I realized, “God’s got this!” Mark Hart the Bible Geek loves to quote that and I forget to use it daily as my mantra. God truly does have this – all of it. From the shaking earth, to the white out on the highways, to the bills we need to pay, to the recipe we are struggling with for our Christmas expectations and dinner, to even the laundry. The Lord oversees our lives and will interject His Holiness and Peace, when we invite Him to “take the wheel.”

I added candy canes to our tree this year, instead of tinsel or garland or bows. Why? Well, they were so cheap ($2 for 2 boxes of 20 each) and so I got 4 boxes. Too many? That is up for debate in the family; but I like them. But why candy canes? They symbolize so much in our faith. The theories abound but I like: the white is symbolic of the purity of Christ and His love for us; the red symbolizes the blood He willingly shed for us; the shape is the letter “J” for Jesus, but it is also the shape of the Shepherd’s Crook (and He is our Shepherd); and the peppermint flavor recalls the Spices brought to the Christ Child by the Wise Men. The shape is significant because the Shepherd’s Crook was shaped that way for two things – to literally grab the sheep and guide it to food and water, and secondly to grab the sheep and yank them away from danger. Our Lord certainly does all of that and more for us. And so this year, I wanted to share that with my kids and grandkids. We are also going to crush them and use them to decorate some Christmas cookies, and I am planning to do it symbolically with the grandkids, so they can see where Jesus is in our Christmas celebration.

Winter is here. Christmas is almost here. The earth is still rumbling and letting us know we are but sojourners on its surface. Things are changing in my little world. We are attending Church with our kids this weekend. Last weekend when we did that, we had a 4.5 aftershock right as the procession started. We realized we were in the perfect spot if it was a catastrophe – the House of God. I am learning to be aware of His presence and seeking Him in prayer more often. And I am trusting, even in the little things. I am finding rest.

“…temple of infinitely greater value.”

Those who know me well know we have moved – a lot. As a kid, I attended 3 elementary schools, a junior high and 1 high school – in different counties. Sigh. And that does not count the houses we moved around in, still staying in the same school district. From my birth until I moved out on my own after high school, we had lived in 7 homes. And since I moved out and went to college, going through roommates as they married, and then my husband and I moving around…I have lived in more than 40 places in my lifetime. Crazy as that sounds. My husband and I have been married 34 years and in that time we have lived in 10 homes. Can I say that I hate moving? I really hate it. And this house, when we were in the process of purchasing it, I nick-named it my “casket house” because I plan to move out of here in a box. A pine box. I cannot even fathom the idea of packing things up and going anywhere else. Truly.

This past Friday, we had a 7.2 earthquake here in Alaska. And five minutes later, 5 miles apart, a second one at 7.0 – so they say. All I can attest to is that it is, by far, the strongest earthquake I have experienced in my lifetime. And I grew up in Southern California. This was far worse than any I lived through there. The shaking and movement of the earth is so different. But this time, I did not even run around. I sat at my desk, as I was in the process of paying bills at the time it struck. I sat there, hanging on to my computer and a rather large statue of St. Rita I own. The artist who made it was a friend of ours and I have owned this statue for many years. This statue is about 3-feet tall and very heavy, made of plaster. Anyway, I clung to this statue and was praying out loud – “Lord, please stop this. Lord, please protect us. Lord, please stop the earth from shaking. Lord, forgive me my sins. St. Rita intercede for us!!!” On and on I lamented. It really seemed like an hour, but they say it was no longer than a minute or so. I could hear crashing sounds in the house as things fell and broke. As it slowed, and I was sure St. Rita was safe, I ran down the hallway to check on my slumbering son to be sure he and the dog were okay. The power flickered and went out. This was 8:30am. In Alaska, in November, it is pitch black at 8:30 in the morning. So I used my phone’s flashlight, as we made our way around the house, assessing damage.

The biggest loss was to a crystal bell collection I had. Over the years, I had quite a collection. But as we had kids, and their friends, we lost bell after bell to one accident or another. It was down to just a few. But one was my grandmother’s from New Zealand, one was my mom’s, and the smallest one was mine, received as a wedding gift. They fell. Hard. And shattered in our bathtub and all over my bathroom floor. I lost them all. And in the kitchen, my mom’s ginormous crystal vase fell off the top of the refrigerator. I thought it had shattered. I was so sad. It was older than me. And it was high quality crystal. But instead, the little pieces all over the floor were the crystal squares I used to stuff it to hold the lavender branches in place (decorative plastic, clear, tiny squares used in floral decoration). The other disaster was a bottle of walnut oil had tipped over and was slowly dripping between the stove and refrigerator. The dog was quick to help clean it up! LOL!

Oh, I found a 12-year-old bottle of Scotch had fallen, head first, into the trash can in the pantry but was safe; a few essential oil bottles toppled; some things in our linen closet fell to lower shelves; dishes in cupboards fallen over. But the biggest mess was sweeping up the glass and mopping up the oil. It was nothing. We were completely cleaned up in less than an hour. During that time we were in complete darkness. And the house started to get cold. Hot coffee had already been brewed, so we sat and drank hot coffee. It was unnerving to feel the many aftershocks. There have been, quite literally, over 1500 measurable aftershocks. Some have been in the 4s and 5s. It keeps you on edge. But all in all, we, personally, came through this event unscathed. But our state was not so lucky. Roads. bridges, stores, homes were left in heaps and piles of ruin and mess. The clean up will take months. Our new governor was sworn in today, but the biggest news is the highway was moving. We only have one main highway between Anchorage and the Palmer/Wasilla area and thousands upon thousands of people use it every day. And part of it was missing and some of the bridges and on/off ramps fell off. Seriously. They fell off. There are holes in roads that are wider than my house.

We felt so blessed, and so on Saturday, we met with some dear friends for coffee, catching up (including hugs and lamenting over the damages, and thanking the little restaurant we were in for being open!!), and then we chose to go home and decorate for Christmas. Our kids and grandkids had far more damage to their home, losing light fixtures and their refrigerator (luckily we do live in Alaska and food can just be put out in the snow) and lots of other things. More importantly, their nerves were frayed, and so they came over to decorate our tree and let the kids run around and have a giggling time at grandma and grandpa’s house. It was heaven. Everyone had a short escape into normalcy, ignoring the details of the disaster facing us all. Decisions to be made; actions to be taken; things to repair and clean up. But for a couple of hours, kids running around grandma and grandpa’s house, climbing step ladders and finding some Christmas Joy.

Do I care all the ornaments are in the range of where a 5- and 7-year-old can hang them? I could care less. Blank spots are actually a reminder of who helped decorate my tree and I have found myself just smiling at how some ornaments are bunched together, next to a hole where there are none. It brings me more joy and peace, at a time when we all need it. The fact that this year we had planned to use all our old ornaments was perfect because my grandchildren hung ornaments their dads had once helped me hang up. How cool is that? We laughed a lot. Their dad, our oldest son, played pranks on me, by helping his son hide matchbox cars in the branches. They thought they were so funny. LOL. And we let them play with our unbreakable Nativity sets. It was so fun. It is the sort of holiday afternoon my husband and I fantasized about when we moved up here, to be closer to our son and his family. My husband remarked that out of a disaster like this earthquake, came the blessing of grandchildren’s laughter, joy, and boundless energy. We are blessed.

We hunted and we hunted for my international Santa collection. We wanted our grandkids to see them all. We tore apart boxes in our garage even today. We cannot find it anywhere. Thanks be to God I save all my Jim Shore Santas in their boxes. Because I have all but one of those. I am missing a Jim Shore collectible a friend gave me. Ironically, I have the box, but not the statue that should be in it. And that is where I come back around to moving. I have realized I am missing quite a few things that I have had over the past 34 years of marriage. And today we tore apart the garage, looking and looking, but not finding. And it made my heart contract just a little bit. My sons used to tease me about my Santa collection. But for me, it was a reaffirmation of the gift of Christ. His presence in our lives in the lives of His saints. Trust me; St. Nicolas has interceded for us more than once on this journey of parenthood!! And I lament that I cannot share them with my grandchildren. But that is me; not them.

It is one of the reasons I am done moving. Parts of my life are scattered across three states, in boxes lost along the way. And I am done with it. But on the other hand, I have learned to be less attached to my things. Am I sad about the last of my crystal bells? Yes, I am. Am I sad about my Santa collection? Very much so. But I have friends who lost far more in the mere minutes of the earth shaking this past Friday. Some friends are actually just throwing entire rooms full of broken things away. Several are planning to vacate the state, because this undid their nerves. So many are still sweeping, sorting, throwing broken parts of their lives away. And they are done. Still others are seeking emotional/psychological counseling, because they are having a hard time handling this. And I sit here, looking at my beautiful tree, and I count my blessings. I know the Lord has watched over every step we have taken in our lives, bringing us to live in this exact spot. And He watched over us on Friday, and He watches over us every moment. Maybe someone else needed my Santas in their life. Maybe I need to be detached from my things so I can help others with perspective and remain calm in the chaos. All I know is on Friday, while the earth shook quite hard, I felt peace; I felt safe; I felt loved; and I felt God in control – not me. And now we clean up the mess, and we move forward. Without some of our things, whether they are shattered on the floor or lost in a U-Haul truck somewhere across America.