2014 in Review

Some of the numbers seem a bit strange, but still fun to look at. Here is my year in review!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

 

A Short Story: The Pearl King’s Son

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This is a short allegory about Christianity. I’ve been trying to find a good story for years to describe our rebellion against God. We often glorify rebellion, especially in America, and I’ve wanted to try to show that we rebelled against a good King when Adam fell in the garden. I rarely write allegory because it becomes frustrating and breaks down the closer you examine it. Thoughts appreciated.


 

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful kingdom by the sea. Her buildings were carved from the white glistening shells of the ocean. When the sun rose in the east and set in the west the Pearl Kingdom glimmered and shown so brightly that far off wanderers could see her light.

A wise and good King tended the kingdom, both in the city and the green fields that surround it. The people lived free and happy lives protected by the King and his knights from her enemies and guided gently away from any ills by his wisdom. No trash marred the beauty of the Pearl Kingdom. No families lived without a roof over their heads, food on their tables, or clothes on their backs. No one went without work for their hands to do, or art to share with others. Everyone helped their neighbors. The countryside was orderly with good crops and fat cows and sheep, goats and chickens. Little wild places broke up the farms full of hidden delights for children and adventures alike. It was a good Kingdom ruled by a good King, a jewel on the Earth.

But, one day, darkness came.

It was not a natural slipping down of the sun into the sea and a rising of the silver moon, but a pestilence, a plague. It whispered in the ears of the unwise and the foolish that this land wasn’t the best and the King wasn’t the kindest and wisest. It whispered that far across the land an Onyx Kingdom lay where everyone could really be free. Where everyone could be their own king.

A rebellion arose against the good King. His once happy people shook their fists in his face and hurled horrible words and rotten food at the beautiful white walls of the castle. Then, they followed the darkness out across the land to the Onyx Kingdom where they could be free.

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Free to lie about and do nothing. Free to forget their neighbor and keep even what they didn’t need. Free to say aloud what they thought of others without restraint, and free to eat and drink until they grew sick with diseases. They were free to mock the kingdom they left and the King. They were rebels and traitors condemned under the law to die if they ever came home. Instead of cowering under their condemnation, they fought the Pearl King, and stole from their old kingdom. They crept in at night to take and whispered to any who remained in Pearl Kingdom to come away with them.

But the King wasn’t content to let the darkness just have his Kingdom. He wasn’t content to have his people blind, sick, and lost in the unlit streets of the Onyx Kingdom. He wasn’t content to let his people be eaten by the King who ruled that land for that was their fate. When they had grown fat in the darkness, the Onyx King’s slaves took them and fed them to the Onyx King.

He sent light with a promise of hope and mercy. Here and there, it slipped in searching under windows and behind doors for the King’s true people. The wealthy of the Onyx Kingdom pushed the light away, so it went to the poorest of the poor. It went to the lazy, the deceased, the dead. The light went into the darkest of the dark and searched out the King’s true people.

The Onyx King sensed the light in his shadows and sent his goblins and trolls to snuff it out. Over and over, they slayed the lights, but the Pearl King only sent more and more. Little by little, his true people came back. They came back filthy, broken, reeking of their own laziness and putrid rotting. The ones who made it to the Pearl Kingdom fell on their knees and begged mercy knowing they had to die for their rebellion. They knew they had broken the old laws. They knew they’d broken the King’s laws. Traitors had to be executed. But, they begged the good King for mercy. The King washed them, clothed them in royal robes, and gave them rooms in his castle. He helped them see the black lies they had believed. They dared to hope in the King.

Not everyone came. Not all who once lived in the Pearl Kingdom returned. Many, far more than the ones who came, stayed in the Onyx Kingdom. They hunted down the light. They slew those who listened to it. They revealed in the darkness. The Onyx King sent them out into the highways to attack and maim the ones trying to return to the Pearl Kingdom. Some they killed, and some returned to the darkness deciding the Pearl Kingdom wasn’t worth fighting to get home to.

The Onyx King was hungry. He wasn’t willing to let one person from Pearl Kingdom slip through his fingers. He wanted the ones who had left him back. He smiled. He had a plan. They were traitors and there was a law, after all.

The Kings met on the line between light and darkness. Behind the Onyx King gathered his vast black host. Behind the Pearl King stood only the weak and broken host of those to whom he had shown great mercy.

The Onyx King laughed at the Pearl King.

“This is a trick. They can’t be free. What of the old laws you yourself wrote?” he said. “They must be executed as traitors. It is the law.”

The Pearl King agreed. It was the law. Only death could a traitor expect.

The executioner came from the black land with his dirty axe on his shoulder.

“I will pay the price, Oh Father King,” a quiet, meek voice spoke out.

From out of the crowd of broken people needing mercy stepped the King’s only Son. The Pearl King nodded, granting the Son’s request. “If you pay this price, these people will be yours forever. Not one will ever be the Onyx King’s again.”

The Onyx king nodded, delighted to watch the Son die for such a group of useless people. He was losing nothing by their redemption for they were the poorest of his poor, scrawny and hardly worth eating.

As the Son knelt before the executioner, the poorest of the poor fell to their knees and wept that the good and kind Son would die in their place.

He freely laid his fair and noble head on the chopping block and the axe fell. His blood was shed in their place.

The poorest of the poor cried and wept.

“The price has been paid,” The Pearl King announced. “I declare peace on the earth and my good will towards my people. Pardon has come to all who now come because they heard the light.”

Much to the Onyx King’s surprise, many of his vast host quit his ranks, dropped their swords, and walked through the Son’s blood to join the poorest of the poor on their knees behind the Pearl King.

“And now, my law has been satisfied,” the King said. “Grace has been shown. The Dead are no longer Dead.”

With his words, the earth cracked between the two kingdoms and the sky broke apart casting the Onyx Kingdom into utter darkness never to see the sun again while the Pearl Kingdom rose into the heavens.

Lo and behold, the Son who had died rose up. All the host of heaven cheered with joy. He took his great spear and cast it down into the darkness right into the heart of the Onyx King.

His people surrounded him, forgiven, loved, the law satisfied and the Darkness slain.

The End

Quote of the Weekend

“It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in disease and sorrow, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”- Charles Dickens, The Christmas Carol

(Laughter and Good Humor are far more important than wealth and possessions! May we value them as such!)

A Texas Cousin Adventure: The Christmas Blues

Texas Cousins (Picture stolen from Liz)

Texas Cousins
(Picture stolen from Liz)

Eight Cousins sat around Grammie’s empty Christmas tree and sighed. All around them sat toys, books, and the last of the Christmas snacks.

“The day after Christmas is always so hard,” Grammie said.

“It looks like everyone has a bad case of the Christmas Blues,” Aunt Abby agreed.

“The Christmas blues?” Constance asked. “What’s that?”

“I’m not blue,” stated Imogene. “I’m a ginger.”

“Sometimes words can mean two things,” Aunt Abby explained, sitting down in the middle of all the cousins. “Sometimes a word like blue can mean a color, or sometimes it can describe a feeling. Being blue doesn’t mean you’re the color of Joshua’s eyes, but that you feel sad.”

“I do feel sad. I must be blue,” Jules said.

“Let’s see if a story would help,” Aunt Abby suggested.

“I think it won’t,” said Bruce.

“We should try anyway,” Aunt Abby advised.


 

Once upon a time, twas the day after Christmas, when all through the house, not a cousin was smiling, not even a mouse.

“We don’t have mice,” Ellie said.

“I know. It’s just a story. I’m making it up.”

The stockings were no longer hung by the chimney with care. St. Nicholas had come and gone, yesterday. The children stared at their piles of open presents all the visions of sugar-plums dashed with the holiday’s finish. And, Grandpa and Grammie never got their long winter’s nap.

Out in the pasture there arose such a clanging and banging, all the cousins sprang up to see what was happen’n. They rushed to the window on steady and tottering feet, and pushed through the blinds with fingers and noses.

The sun hid behind big stormy clouds, covering the earth with a sense of early night. The wind blew and blew with a frightening might.

What to their wondering eyes did appear, but snow falling from heaven to the pasture below.

“It’s like Christmas all over,” sang Jules with a smile.

“It’s a White Day-After Christmas,” Constance agreed.

More rapid than eagles, the cousins got on their coats, and Grammie, shouted and called them by name:

“Now, Julie! now, Constance! now Bruce and Joshua!

On, Ellie!, on, Imogene, on, Jude and Rook!

Out on the porch! Out out!

Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

Like dry Texas leaves caught in a wild wind fly, the cousins flew out the door tumbling and laughing into the yard. In a twinkling, they built a sweet little snowman with white snow mixed with sleet. Grandpa drew the door shut behind them and hurried off the porch. He dressed in winter clothes, from his head to his foot, and they were all worn from yard work and splitting wood. He bundled the cousins, one after the other, on his back, racing through the After-Christmas snow like a pedler with a pack.

Grammie, her eyes how they twinkled, her smile, how merry! Soon everyone’s cheeks were red like a rose and their noses like cherries. Uncle Price even peeked out at the snow, the stump of a pipe held tight in his teeth, and the smoke encircled his head like a wreath.

Everyone laughed and played until their bellies shook. They were all right jolly old elves. The After-Christmas snow had chased the blues away and reminded them they had nothing to fear.

Grandpa laid his finger to the side of his nose, gave a nod, and sprang up on the porch. To the cousins, he gave a whistle. Up they all dashed, tumbling over each other like the down of a thistle.

Grandpa spread his arms wide and exclaimed: “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good day!”

“And God bless us everyone,” Imogene added.

“AND GOD BLESS US EVERYONE,” everyone chanted.


 

“The End” Aunt Abby said. “Feel better?”

“I wish it would snow?” Joshua said with a loud sigh.

“Now, now, you can’t have the blues after Christmas!” Grammie exclaimed clapping her hands. “We have lots of good food, lots of fun toys to play with, and even better we have each other!”

The cousins looked to one side and then to the other and saw that Grammie was right. They did have quite a few cousins each. With a laugh and a smile, the jumped up out of the blues and ran off to play with the boxes their toys had arrived in.

(This silly story is obviously a rewrite of the traditional Christmas Poem, ‘Twas the Night before Christmas. Thus, the odd wording and the silliness.)

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Rook, the Pumpkin!

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Jude, my special puppy!

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Ellie, the fairy, Jules, the princess, Imogene, the Owl, and Bruce, the ghost!

 

Merry Christmas Eve

8301903277_44881f4e8a_zMerry Christmas Eve!

Today we’re gathering with my brothers and sisters, Mom and Dad, Grandma, and all my little Nieces and Nephews! Oh the fun we will have! The food! The feasting and drinking! The Cheer! The teasing, shenanigans, play fights, fires, food fights, singing, gifts, and reading! I hope you have a very merry Christmas!

A Thousand Words are Worth one Picture: Christmas Tree

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This is my Christmas Tree. I can show you the picture. It’s a pencil tree, tall and thin instead of short and squat. It works well with our vaulted ceiling. Look at the picture. See?

But, let me tell you about this tree. Sparkling lights cover this tree. Lights. Lights. Lights. There is a beauty, a soothing peace that comes from their soft warm glow. They shine out on dark cloudy days. They shed a light that warms the soul when the winds blow. Christmas lights are the reminder that there will not always be short days. It will not always be winter. Winter. The cold bleak time of year when the world is sleeping and looks dead, but it will not always be winter. There is both an earthly truth here and a spiritual truth. It is true that spring will come and the days will again be long. There is also the truth about Christ. He came into this world and shed a strong and mighty light into the darkness dispelling the shadows. His light brought judgment, but it also brought a soothing peace to his people after a long and terrible war. So next time you sit beside your lovely Christmas tree on a dark cold night, remember that Christ came, the Light of the world. How beautiful is this?

All over my tree, I have white, clear, and silver glass ornaments. For me they represent the snow. I love the beauty of falling snow. I love the odd silence, the stillness the snow brings. I picked these ornaments because they sparkle in the lights. They reflect and refract the light out adding more sparkle to my tree. And, the tiny glass balls look a bit like bubbles which appeals to the fairy tale side of me.

I’ve added reindeer to the mix both as a representation of Santa’s eight reindeer and because I love all things woodland. I love foxes, hedgehogs, owls, crows, and deer of all kind. The tree ties into my woodland love, too. I love trees. So having a tree, tall and towering, in my living room for four to five weeks is pure magic! It makes me soooo happy.

The red ribbons add a hint of elegance to the tree that reminds me of an English Christmas. See, if you grow up reading and watching The Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe, if you grow up watching The Christmas Carol you have a sense that there is something perfect about an English Christmas. There is something older and deeper there than what we have here in America. You have a sense of time going back, of dignity and beauty and order tied to the good rich earth. The long red ribbons on my tree tie me back to that. They remind me of the old country.

Lights, tree, glittering ornaments, and a star on the top. The star is reminiscent of the star over Bethlehem when the greatest single act of grace began. When God became man. Oh what a glorious day, when God became man.

You can look at a picture of my Christmas tree and see the lights, the glow, the sparkle, and the red ribbons. You can see the swirling beauty of white, red, and green. But, the picture can’t tell you of the hope that winter will end. It can’t tell you of the hidden pictures of Christ’s First Advent. It can’t tell you of history weaving back, Christmas to Christmas to Christmas: Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

I love Christmas tree because around them lie the memories of my childhood, my family, my joining with another family, my first kiss, and many many cold nights spent cuddled up safe and warm.

Merry Christmas!!

 

Quote of the Weekend

Luke 2:1-20

The Birth of Jesus Christ

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

(Tolkien describes this moment in history as the Turning Point of Grace in the real Fairy Tale. The turning point of Grace, when God became man, when our Savior humbly laid aside his crown and became like us! He came to secure Peace between God and man!  Merry Christmas!)

Writing Journal: Trees

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Trees are very important to me. They are mighty, knurled, fruit bearing, warmth-providing plants with rings counting back the years. They survive and grow into the heavens. Other than about six years living in Los Angeles, I’ve spent most of my life in the beautiful South. From northern Arkansas right in the middle of the Ozarks, to South Carolina and our quirky house that butted right up against a small bit of forest, to Fort Worth with her Botanical Gardens, to my first home with 11 trees surrounding our house, I’ve lived around lots of trees. Not everyone thinks the South or even Texas are beautiful, but the connector between all those places that I’ve loved is tress, trees, trees. (Obviously, besides my church and family.)

In my fairy tale, I’ve opened the floodgates on this love by having two main characters tied to tress. One is a mother with a special magical connection to trees. The other is the dryad Guardian, master of all trees—Oak! (Oak is captured, locked far away from his trees, and tortured. It isn’t pretty.) I have enjoyed writing about trees and about people who love trees. The more I learn about them the more amazing trees become. Getting to pour that out into my book is delightful!

One of my goals as a writer is to write stories from a Christian worldview. That’s doesn’t mean everyone is blatantly a Reformed Christian (I’ve tried to do that and it’s very hard to write…they all just go live quiet lives) or that the story is blatantly Christian, but that the themes, the guide, and the defining of right and wrong are Christian.

I love it when a sermon confirms how I’ve done this or directs me into a new path. For example, one of our elders defined grace as an undeserved rescue. I wrote a whole story around that concept.

I hope to write a series someday entitled The Deacon, The Pastor, and The SoulDefender. So sometimes sermons confirm the direction my stories take, sometimes they correct it, inspire it, and sometimes direct it. I actively seek to submit my writing to the preached Word.

A few Sunday’s ago, Pastor Jarrett preached on Hebrews 10/32-39 and the encouragement, the soothing balm the Holy Spirit brings us, through the Word, after the sharp and terrifying warning against apostasy. If you fear this damnation, you are to:

  • Remember your salvation and look back to see your endurance. (v. 32-34)
  • Remain steadfast in your endurance. (v. 37-38)
  • Root yourself in faith in Christ (v. 37-38)

“my righteous one shall live by faith.”

Right there, a connection was made in my mind. Root yourself in Christ. Let him be the anchor for your soul. In my story, my tree Dryad, Oak, endures some great suffering. But he always holds to the idea that “deep roots don’t fear the wind, and trees by water don’t wither.” When Pastor Jarrett said “root yourself” I thought of Oak because he is in a dungeon chanting to himself “root and water” while he’s lost in darkness.

This sermon helped confirm in my mind that I’m showing a Christian worldview in my fairy tale. It is subtle. It is hidden. It doesn’t preach or scream. It is a strong man, broken down by evil, who has a faith in the King that the villains can’t touch. His roots are deep and planted by water. Roots and Water.

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Oak will endure because his roots are deep. This will confound his enemies. May it do the same in our lives.

1st World Problems and Prayer

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It’s funny to me how anxious I can be about 1st world problems. For instance . . . remodeling the house. I have a house. I have the time and the funds to remodel. Yet, I get stressed about it. Granted, there is a huge amount of research and decision-making to be done. (There’s a 1st world problem for you—too many options.) I have to take into consideration long-term and short-term plans, but really? Back and neck aching anxiety?

You may or may not know that I hate doing the budget, accounting, and taxes type work. I’m not a numbers person. I’m a words person. But I have money in the bank, the bills paid, systems in place and flexibility. We’ve never once lacked. Yet, I lay awake at night dreading dealing with the monthly statement.

I’ve tried telling myself not to worry. I’ve pointed out the 1st worldness of my problems. This hasn’t helped. When I lay awake at night or I wake up early and my back and neck start hurting (my high-stress indicator) only one thing really helps: prayer.

This isn’t some mystical magical sense of peace. This is a careful thinking about life in an offering to the Lord. Prayer is the process, the earthly process, by which we mentally align ourselves with the will of God. It’s where we wrestle within ourselves before and sometimes with God submitting ourselves to his commandments. God encourages us to pray about our daily needs, the wrongs we’ve suffered, and the temptations we’ve faced. By praying through them, we are reminded that God sees and cares about all our needs, that we must forgive as we have been forgiven, and we’re armed to face our temptations head on with the truth. For years, I didn’t do this consistently. I didn’t bring my everyday fears and worries before the Lord in an honest evaluation that would have helped me see I was being fearful and worried. I didn’t ask for wisdom. I didn’t face my temptation to be lazy and procrastinate when I don’t want to do something. Then by God’s kind grace, my Dad preached through the Lord’s Prayer and convicted, I started praying through my every day, humble, quiet life very specifically.

See, Jesus didn’t say only pray about really big or spiritual things. He did teach us to pray for the spreading of the gospel, but he also taught us to pray for all the little things in life, like bread, forgiving each other, and the temptations we face. I think I never really thought about praying over the budget cause it’s so mundane. But, isn’t daily bread mundane?

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I pray through my and my churches daily, earthly needs. I pray that we would humbly forgive each other’s big and little wrongs as we have been forgiven. I pray that we would have strength in big and little temptations, sufferings, and trials. There are sins we wrestle with and anxiety is one of them for me. So I started praying about all the things I’m anxious about, asking for forgiveness, repenting of my lack of trust, my unbelief, and asking for wisdom.

Being very specific and honest has helped my anxiety because it’s reminded me to cling to the truth, not my perception. It’s calmed my heart because I know all this is from the Lord. God is so kind and gentle to us. I love to see the wisdom of God. He teaches us to pray, not because He doesn’t know everything, but because we need to voice what we need. It helps us!

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, my normal schedule was all un-normal and I didn’t keep my normal prayer time. Lo and behold, I woke up one morning worried, literally in pain in my neck and shoulders about nothing. Nothing. I’m fretting over storage space as we rearrange my husband’s office and guest room. Really?

What I realized was that pain was really proof of a bigger problem: the problem of not starting my day, continuing my day, and ending my day in an aligning of my heart and mind with the Lord in prayer. I wasn’t casting my care on him. I wasn’t remembering his promises, and I wasn’t trusting him. I had tunnel visions for the trials of life and needed an adjustment. Prayer is a vital part of my life. Without it, I have physical problems pointing to Spiritual problems. But God is good and has given me the preaching and teaching of his Word by faithful men so I can be reminded to pray even and most especially about my 1st world problems.

Merry Christmas!