Has Your Schedule Taken You Hostage?

When was the last time you had a pajama day? When you spent an unscheduled afternoon with your family? When you reached the end of your to-do list? If these questions stirred a longing within, you might find my post on Faith, Friends, and Chocolate helpful, or perhaps challenging.

And as a friendly reminder… We’ve moved! We’ve even got a new name–Faith, Friends, and Chocolate! Join us on our new site to read more about making and keeping the main things the main things as we encourage one another to live intentionally. Read more here.

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The Writer’s Prayer

In 2011, I attended the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference and I remember picking up Debby Giusti’s “The Writer’s Prayer.” The beginning says, “Lord, inspire me to write stories that touch reader’s hearts.”

It wasn’t until a few years later she had mentioned to me how God had given her the prayer soon after she got The Call. But it wasn’t just for her. The prayer was for everyone who wants to write His stories.

Debby’s prayer was something I had picked up initially because of the card’s vibrant colors, but after reading it, it was her heart, the yearning to follow after God, that I’ve kept this prayer and have prayed it over the years.

May her prayer be an encouragement to you as you write for Him.

Blessing,

~Tanya

 

writers prayer

 

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Christmas… What if There’s More to the Story?

ID-100109865The Woman, the Child and the Dragon~The Adventure Awaits: The Choice is Yours

I never expected to hear a Christmas story that began in the book of revelations. A woman, a baby, and a powerful, murderous dragon lurking, waiting, watching… trembling.

Today my pastor Lance Burch of Reality Church located in LaVista, NE, shares an epic tale of Christmases past and those yet to come. This tale has been unfolding since the beginning of time, and today, you and I have a chance to step into it. To make history. To live big, dragon-slaying lives.

You can listen to this tale in it’s entirety here, or you can read a shortened version below.

It’s one thing to appreciate the drama, risk and adventure of the story. It’s another thing entirely to realize you are in the story.

What if our lives are a part of a cosmic conflict that has been raging since the beginning? What if part of the curse is that we don’t even realize that we are players in this epic tale? How much have we been missing out on? What if we are living the small story and ignoring the big story that is going on all around us? Missing adventure?

Revelation 12:17 says, “And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus.” (NLT).

Satan is doomed but not yet gone. 2,000+ years ago, Jesus, God’s Holy, powerful Son, Jesus swaddled in mangercame to the earth in weakness, as a human baby. And yet, this was enough to defeat and crush the dragon and ensure his doom.

Satan is a defeated dragon destined for hell, so he’s thrashing around trying hurt anything he can in the time he has left.

“He is filled with fury, for he knows that his time is short” (Rev. 12:12b).

We look around and he doesn’t seem defeated. We see wars, illness, unfathomable pain and cruelty, all signs of evil. And yet, the Dragon’s power is waning. His time is short. He is going down and he wants to take you with him.

Consider the end of World War II. The time between D-Day and final victory was the most terrible time of the whole war not because Hitler was winning, but because he was doomed.

Satan, our enemy, is angry at “…all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus” (Rev. 12:17b).

That’s us.

Upon Christ’s birth, the Dragon incited Herod to murder thousands of children in his attempt to annihilate Jesus. This dragon who hates Christmas also hates Christians.

You don’t play patty cakes with demons… you fight. War has come to us. We cannot make peace with the dragon.

The dragon’s weapons are insidious and sly.

For the unbelievers, he attempts to blind their eyes so they cannot see the gospel.
For the believers he attempts to make them live the small story. A story of monotony, of selfishness and pettiness. To keep us from the great adventure.

Satan is doomed. He couldn’t prevent the birth of Jesus; he couldn’t overcome Jesus; and now he can’t even get at Jesus. The child born on Christmas reigns from heaven’s throne. Satan can only to take out his frustration somewhere else, on the woman who gave birth to Christ and on the woman’s other children–us.

That’s exactly what the dragon is doing. Even this time of year… he wants us to ignore the big story and live small lives around our own narrative. Because the dragon is the small story, he wants us to get wrapped up in the small things. His Schtick is to make small things seem big, trivial things important.

Are you living a small story life, characterized by:
1) Whining – “This stable stinks!”
2) Addiction – “Mmmm… I could really go for a burger!”
3) Drama – “I can NOT believe that innkeeper didn’t let us have a room. He is going to ID-100276677regret that when I post to Yelp! What are these Shepherds doing here!? How embarrassing!?”

The enemy will take full advantage of passive living. Lives will be lulled to sleep. Fear will rule. Anxiety will dictate. Toxic substitutes will be consumed because escape seems the only solution.

Could it be, the reason we buy into the small story is that we think that God is a taking God? That we have this sneaking suspicion that we are missing out?

All small story living is serving the diminutive power of the dragon. And that is Cosmic Treason.

Jesus is inviting us into the sweeping epic of all time… inviting us to play our part in the Big Story! A tale of ultimate evil being defeated by ultimate good is offering us a place of eternal impact.
Adventure awaits… make your choice. 

What do we do – once we realize we are in a war – to fight the dragon? We peel our eyes away from the small story. We ask God to open our eyes to His epic adventure. We abandon the insecure posture of Christians on the defensive about the war on Christmas and begin fighting the dragon on his territory. The territory of the hurting, the abused, the hurting…

“Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.” ~Steve Mariboli

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Dealing with Holiday Stress by Eileen Rife

Woman screamingAunt Edna plunges through the front door loaded down with gifts. On her heels, Uncle Henry grumbles about the cost of fuel. Popping gum with cell phone glued to her ear, niece Marcie stomps in, plops on the couch, and props her snowy feet on your antique coffee table.

Kinda reminds you of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, doesn’t it?

With all our best efforts to prepare for and enjoy the holiday season, we sometimes lament with the Griswold’s wife when she tells her daughter, “Look, it’s Christmas; we’re all miserable!”

Take heart. The holiday season doesn’t have to weigh us down with stress if we follow a few helpful guidelines.

Stop. Take a deep breath.

That’s right. In the midst of shopping, food prep, company, programs, and parties, stop and breathe deeply through your nose. Hold it to the count of eight, then let it out slowly to the count of eight. It’s almost impossible to be stressed when you breathe deeply. The exercise slows you down, forces you to regain equilibrium, and sends nourishing oxygen to all of your organs.

Adjust your expectations.

If your expectations for a happy holiday do not match reality, then your stress level will go up. You may be the type who wants it all—the china, linen, silver polished to a sheen, and the turkey roasted to golden perfection. Gifts wrapped and glittering under a fresh Frazier. Fire lit and house sparkling. Christmas caroling and hot cocoa and cookies waiting at home. You may want to host a neighborhood open house, serve at the Rescue Mission, or take charge of the office party or church drama.

Choose one or two activities that best represent your desire for the holidays. Then let the rest go. You will be doing yourself and everyone around you a big favor. And you’ll likely experience godly contentment, which no amount of gifts or glitter can replace.

Remember, relationships are more important than things.

If you are so frazzled that you can’t sit down and carry on a meaningful conversation with your spouse, family members, or friends, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate. God loves people. That’s His focus. The Babe in the manger came to restore us to the Father. He’s all about relationships. We should be, too. Take time to play games, read the Christmas story, listen to each other, pray together, and laugh around the table. These are the memories you will carry into the future, not how many activities you completed on your list.

Set aside some one-on-one time.

It’s okay to leave Uncle Fred snoozing on the sofa while you slip out with your honey for a well-deserved walk. Work off that heavy meal with a little touch football in the front yard with your teenager. These activities will not only build connection but also provide exercise during a time of year when diets typically fly out the window.

Share the load.

Consider using paper plates instead of china. Delegate various menu items to members of the family. In our household my husband’s motto is Ladies cook, men clean up! I love it!

Take a nap.

With late night parties, church drama practice, or meal and gift prep, it’s likely you’ve been staying up later than usual. Sneak in an afternoon nap to refresh yourself. Even some quiet time alone in your room can help you regroup so that you can jump back into family life and better enjoy those around you.

Count your blessings.

Remember to stop and breathe a prayer of thanksgiving to the One who has richly blessed your life. An attitude of gratitude can go a long way in building strength and fortitude when busyness threatens to swoop in and rob your joy.

~~

EileenRife

 

Eileen Rife, author of Laughing with Lily, conducts marriage seminars with her husband, Chuck. Together, they host the website, www.guardyourmarriage.com, where they discuss dealing with holiday stress via a video clip.

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Keeping CHRIST in Christmas

Decorated Christmas tree with gifts. Holiday Christmas scene

Christmas approaches, amidst the usual flurry of shopping and baking and wrapping…parties and gift exchanges, lots of fun, and more than the ordinary show of affection.

I love the holiday season. The cheery spirits, the smiles that are just a touch broader, the eyes that hold a little more of a twinkle. It makes my heart sing when everyone is just a little kinder than they usually are. Just a little more easygoing, a bit more willing to go the extra mile.

But in the darkness behind the lights and decorations…in the silent shadows behind the Christmas carols…somewhere beyond the trees and the gifts there’s a world of heartache. And hunger.  A world of want and need.

It’s so easy to forget, surrounded by the laughter and joy of the season, that not everyone has the wherewithal to shop, or the ingredients to mix cookies, cakes and candy. They have nothing to wrap…or unwrap. For them, this most joyous of seasons is not happy, and certainly not fun. It’s the hardest time of year.

Of course, Christmas at its heart is not about any of the things we associate with the holiday.

Jesus swaddled in manger

DollarPhotoClub.com

Christmas is all about Jesus, Who is Love. Jesus, Who traded His kingdom for a lowly manger in a stable built to house animals. Jesus, Who hung out with the poor, with sinners, with the downtrodden. Who loved those same people enough to die for their salvation.

I will never forget one special Christmas, when my four children were all small. My husband had broken an ankle, and was off work. We were already barely getting by, and his injury came as a tremendous financial blow in many ways, not the least of which was that it was just before Christmas. All hope of making the day special for our children was completely dashed.

A couple weeks before the big day, I answered a knock on our door, and found Love standing on my front steps. My brother and his wife, both carrying bags of groceries. While I gaped in disbelief and tears streamed down my face, they returned to their vehicle for more.

Those two Christmas angels issued firm orders that I was to dry my tears and put the groceries away, while they bundled all four of my children into the car and took them Christmas shopping. Somehow my sister-in-law managed to find gifts for each of the kids without them knowing exactly what they were getting. And when they returned home, she hauled in wrapping paper and stayed until every last present was wrapped and placed under our erstwhile bare-looking Christmas tree.

I will always see that as a perfect example of putting Christ in Christmas. Because if this most joyous of holidays is really about Him, then it’s about caring for those less fortunate and going beyond simple caring to active compassion.

This Christmas, why not reach beyond your own family, outside your own comfortable world, to make things a little easier, a little brighter, a bit more joyous for someone else?

  • Bless a family with a turkey—or the fixings for an entire Christmas dinner.
  • Help an individual in need. Slip them $5—or $20, or $50…you know what you can afford.
  • Are they lonely? Perhaps you could invite them to dinner with your family. Are they cold…hungry…alone? What can you do to help?
  • Find a child whose Christmas blessings are perhaps fewer than most. An elderly person who could use some company. A family with little means of support. A homeless person. A shut-in.

Opportunity abounds to represent the true spirit of CHRISTmas. Please…seek one out and brighten someone’s life. Do it for the sake of kindness. Do it in the name of humanity.

Do it for yourself…because you’ll never feel more valuable or appreciated than when you help someone else.

But more than all the other wonderful reasons to give a little more…do it to help keep CHRIST in Christmas.

Delia Latham

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What Price Freedom?

7895957150_63c1a4da0b_bAn estimated 36 million people are living in slavery today. That’s more than the total number of people taken from Africa to America in the vast trans-Atlantic slave trade between the 17th and 19th centuries. SOURCE: GLOBAL SLAVERY INDEX 2013

That’s a shocking statistic.

December 2 is the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery. It marks the date of the adoption by the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others on 2 December 1949. It was first observed in 1990.

Slavery today isn’t usually people in chains. Now it’s sex trafficking, child labour, forced marriage, and the forced recruitment of children for use in armed conflict.

Want some more statistics?

SLAVERY IS ILLEGAL IN ALMOST EVERY NATION ON EARTH, BUT SLAVERY STILL EXISTS EVERYWHERE.

Modern slavery affects people in the world’s richest and the world’s poorest countries, within borders and across borders. Slavery can trap thousands in one place – like mines and factories – or happen at a small scale, where a single girl is trapped in a stranger’s home and forced to work without pay. SOURCE: U.S. STATE DEPARTMENT

THE VICTIMS OF SLAVERY CAN BE AS YOUNG AS FIVE OR SIX YEARS OLD.

Teenagers who reach for a better life can find themselves tricked into accepting the offer of a job far away that turns into the nightmare of slavery. SOURCE: INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATION FOR MIGRATION

7833461936_474218f532_bMODERN SLAVERY GENERATES PROFIT OF OVER US $32 BILLION EVERY YEAR FOR SLAVEHOLDERS.

That’s more than the entire output of Iceland, Nicaragua, Rwanda, and Mongolia combined. And it isn’t just a problem in distant, poor countries; nearly half the total, an estimated $15.5 billion, is made in wealthy industrialized countries. SOURCE: INTERNATIONAL LABOR ORGANIZATION

SLAVE LABOR CONTRIBUTES TO THE PRODUCTION OF AT LEAST 122 GOODS FROM 58 COUNTRIES WORLDWIDE.

Official U.S. government research identifies many products – such as diamonds from Africa, bricks from Brazil, and shrimp from Southeast Asia – as products that are commonly produced with slave labor. Around the world, people are forced to work with the threat of violence for little or no pay producing dozens of things we use every day, like soccer balls, flowers, and chocolateSOURCE: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR

What can you do about all this?

  • Become informed. There are dozens of websites.  Here are a few to get you started: www.justiceventures.org   www.walkfree.org  www.fightslaverynow.org
  • Choose products and/or stores to avoid. Learn which brands use slave labor and just don’t buy them. Those that don’t may be more expensive, but that’s because they are paying the workers an actual living wage. Just pick one to start with. Chocolate (ouch!). Coffee. Soccer balls. Sugar. Glass bracelets. T-shirts. See this site for more info.
  • Support fair trade organizations. Here’s a good list to start with. Again, these products maybe more expensive, but they are worth it. Teach your children why you can get a scarf at Target for $8, but at one of these places it’s $25.
  • Volunteer your time or donate your cash.

At Christmastime, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who was born to give us ultimate freedom, it’s a fantastic time to contribute to the physical freedom of others.

See more from Carole Towriss.

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A Heart of Thanks

We all have things to be thankful for. We’d like to share some of the things we’re grateful for, not counting the most important, like our heavenly Father, His Son, the Comforter, our families.

Christmas2013 004

My daughter, Stephanie, and her husband, Matt, two of my special encouragers

Eileen: Recently, I flew to Washington state to visit my sister with stage three cancer. Our time together was a mix of uncertainty, yet peace and laughter. You see, Lois, doesn’t share my faith, and though I’ve witnessed to her over the years, she’s always turned a deaf ear to my attempts. Surrounded by my prayer partners and my daughter, Stephanie, who sent me away with scriptures, I plunged ahead, not knowing what would come of our time together. In her letter to me, Stephanie expressed her prayer that warrior angels would surround me in the airport and during the entire trip. Little did I know how God would fulfill this request through three special people I sat beside at different times on my return trip. One right after the other, they prayed for me, then looked into my eyes and said, “Don’t give up! God’s not done with your sister.” I’m so thankful for the body of Christ doing what the Body does best–encouraging others!

Jennifer:  I’m thankful for grace, for the chance to begin again, no matter how bad I’ve flubbed it. I’m thankful that nothing in my life–not the most difficult or painful triumphs, the most mundane, or even the most celebrated triumphs–is wasted. I’m thankful for the gift of purpose, knowing that this crazy world truly isn’t spinning out of control but rather, that each one of us are part of a greater story. And I’m thankful that I don’t have to figure any of this out. Rather, all I have to do is draw near, rest in what Christ has done, and respond with surrendered obedience. Such simplicity!

Carole: I’m thankful for the legacy of faith my mom and grandmother have left to me. My grandfather died when my mother was eight years old, and her sister was ten. My grandmother’s faith was simple, but strong. When her life-long friend was dying of cancer, I don’t think it ever occurred to her to ask for healing. She asked instead for strength to deal with the pain. When I lost a baby a year before Emma was born, her journal said, “Carole lost her baby. Made soup today.” It sounds strange, but I derive great strength and comfort from that. She just knew God would be there for her and life would go on. My mother is the same way. Even when life batters her, her faith never wavers. I want to pass that on to my children.

Tanya hosted a giveaway last week. She asked me to let you know the winner of that contest, so congratulations to Frances Cavallo! Please email me at carole@caroletowriss.com with your address so we can get that prize package out to you!

What are you most thankful for this week, aside from the most obvious things (God, family, friends)? Leave a comment and I will choose a winner and send a copy of either of my books, In the Shadow of Sinai or By the Waters of Kadesh.

Have a wonderful thanksgiving!

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