Thursday, December 26, 2013

5 Incredible Christmas Words

The young woman holding the guitar looked nervous as she took her place on the stool at the front of the auditorium where 400 women chattered, all seated around beautifully decorated tables for the annual church Christmas banquet.

An expectant hush fell over the room as hot tea-sipping women dressed in their holiday finest turned their eyes toward the morning's entertainment. They had come to expect only the best in this musically talented church.

But something was wrong.

The young woman fumbled the first few chords, then haltingly plucked the familiar introduction to "O Holy Night." When she began singing, her voice was far too soft and didn't project well even with the microphone.

O holy night ... the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior's birth.

Oh, no - there was another guitar clunker and her voice slid off key yet again. I squirmed in my seat, growing uncomfortable for her and wishing she'd practiced a little more. I could see other women around me having the same worried reaction.

Long lay the world in sin and error pining, till He appeared and the soul felt its worth. 

After several halting mischords, she suddenly she stopped altogether. Collectively not knowing what to do to ease her embarrassment, the audience applauded lightly, hesitantly. But her response was not one we would ever have expected.

"Oh, do you want me to stop now?" she asked in childlike sincerity. "I could be finished if you want me to."

A bit of murmuring broke out in the audience as she set her guitar aside and leaned toward the microphone to speak. Her words shot like an arrow straight from her heart to ours.

"I know I'm not a singer," she said in a shaky, apologetic voice, "but I really wanted to share this particular song with you today. You see, I've been diagnosed with a brain tumor and my doctors tell me there's a very strong possibility that I won't be able to speak after my next surgery."

She paused as a stunned silence seized the room.

"This entire Christmas season, I've been thinking about the words to this song, 'O Holy Night' - especially these 5 words: the soul felt its worth. I just want to share with you that if you ever doubt your soul's worth like I have for the past few months, just remember what Jesus did for you. There is no greater worth than your soul, for Jesus came as a babe and then 33 years later died on the cross ... just for you. Because your soul was worth that much to Him. There is great joy - regardless of external circumstances - in knowing the true worth of your soul that was proven on that holy night in Bethlehem. So please, please allow your soul to feel its amazing worth this Christmas."


BIG wow.

Like you, I've sung that song a thousand times over the years but I can't say that I've ever really considered the meaning to those 5 words before that moment. Maybe it's because I'm currently immersed in Too Loved to be Lost, the new book I'm writing about Papa God's incredible, limitless, unconditional love for us that this young woman's revelation resonated within me so deeply. I've thought about little else since. And it's made for the most happy and holy of Christmases for me. 

Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

So I invite you, even though it's the day after Christmas and you're up to your eyeballs in turkey carcases, wadded wrapping paper, and creative leftover recipes, to ponder those 5 incredible words when you get a free moment. And allow the beauty and wonder and pure awe of His bottomless love for you to bathe your heart with joy.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Everyone Needs a Papa

I've had several recent requests from readers to explain the origin of my use of the term, "Papa God" in my books. I'd be happy to oblige.

I guess it's one of those things you do that is so much a part of you that you don't think about it anymore. Like parting your hair on the left. Or tucking your shirttail in when the rest of the fashion world wears theirs out (I'm aware only because my daughter often rebukes me for this).

Anyway, it all started back in 2004 when I began working on my first book, The Distant Shore, which released in 2007. Up to that point, I had only written considerably shorter pieces in the form of magazine and newspaper articles, so expanding my thoughts into a full sized book was quite a challenge.

The main story line is based on the true story of a young girl who is sent away from her family - for reasons unknown to her at the time - to live on the then remote, untamed Merritt Island of 1904. Emma-Lee finds life with crusty spinster Aunt Augusta very lonely and discouraging until she is befriended by kindly Captain Stone, a freighter captain.

Captain Stone is a godly man and introduces Emma-Lee to his beloved Heavenly Father, who Emma-Lee embraces as her surrogate father ... the heavenly Papa who will never abandon or forsake her like her earthly papa has done. She begins referring to Him as Papa God, and seeing the Almighty through the lens of the unconditional love of a faithful parent fills a gaping hole in her heart.

One of the things I really wanted to portray in the book was the personal relationship we can have with the Lord, our Abba as one of the ways the Aramaic Bible refers to Him. Abba is the intimate form of Father, which translates loosely as Daddy, or in my mind as Papa.

So as Emma-Lee discovered the loyal, limitless, lovingkindness side of her Papa God, so did I. I've referred to Him as Papa God ever since.

I invite you to join me. I think you'll be surprised how quickly and almost magically the secret deep longing in your heart for nonjudgmental, all-accepting, all-forgiving love will be fulfilled. He's your Papa too.

So tell me - how do you view God? 

P.S. A funny little tidbit for you: After a speaking gig not long ago, a lovely lady from the audience approached me  In her thick German accent, she introduced herself and then said something that 'bout made me drop my teeth. "In Germany," she said, "we say someone is from the distant shore to mean they are gay."
Ha! I guess that particular book won't be translated into German anytime soon, since Emma-Lee is only ten.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Don't Want to Flunk This Lesson

Yeesh, it happened again.

Every single time I teach a children's church lesson, Papa God brings the exact dadgum lesson home to me. He knows all along that I'm the one who needs to hear it more than the kids. And sometimes His timing is, well, unfortunate. 

So there I am, wearing my big floppy flowered "Bible Story Lady" hat, leading a dozen 2 1/2-year-olds in a rousing chorus of The Prayer Song. Our lesson today is, "When someone is mean to you, you don't have to be mean back."

Not exactly R.C. Sproal theological magnitude, but hey, everyone in my audience is shorter than my belly button.That's why I took the job in the first place - no PhD needed. Just KISS and tell. (KISS=Keep It Simple, Sister!)

So there's this one kid in the class - a big boy for his age - who won't sit in his chair. He starts out there but within minutes is up and migrating with the wind currents around the room. Don't know his name. We'll call him Danny.

Everyone in the room is singing with me (except Danny) when my laid-back, sweet, adorable grandson Blaine arrives late as usual (his mama made us late for church every Sunday morning for 18 years). There is not a single chair left in the room except the one Danny vacated. So the teacher directs Blaine to the empty chair, tells him to sit, and walks away.

Blaine Boy has no sooner seated his adorable little self in the tiny red chair and flashes his 100-watt smile at Mimi (me!) - who is still leading the song up front - than Danny's migration pattern comes to a sudden halt because he notices someone sitting in his chair. Not that he wants to sit in it, mind you, he just doesn't want anyone else to.

So with a running start from across the room, Danny charges sweet, unsuspecting, adorable Blaine and wallops him with a flying full body butt, knocking him out of the chair and sending him crashing onto the floor. I'm watching all this happen in slow motion and am unable to do anything about it without stopping the song and disrupting the entire class.

So I helplessly watch the kid I love more than life itself get pummeled by a bully in training pants. My blood pressure shoots through the roof of my head. I can feel my earrings start to melt. It's all I can do not to fly out of my seat and throttle this rotten little kid. But I remind myself he's only two. Even though he looks three.

Little Blaine, looking dazed and confused, slowly rises to his feet and stands there all alone (why nobody comes to his aid, I am completely befuddled) eying Danny, obviously not knowing what happened or what to do now. Danny glares back, and climbs into the chair. Squatters rights. You lose, sucker.

Blaine's adorable little face begins to pucker. Is he about to cry because he's physically hurt? Or because his feelings are hurt? He's a gentle-natured kid, so I suspect the latter. My guts are burning with the molten lava of injustice and I can feel the volcano about to blow. I'm gonna clean nasty little Danny's clock.

And then it hits me. An IM coming right from Papa God.

Helloooooo. When someone is mean to you (or in this case your adorable little grandson), you don't have to be mean back. 

But I WANT to be mean back. Danny deserves it.

Doesn't matter. When someone is mean to you, you don't have to be mean back. I wasn't mean back when they beat me up and shred my skin with whips and thrust a crown of thorns on my head. Aren't you supposed to be becoming more like me?

Oh. Yeah. I guess.

At this point, the teacher brings a chair in from another room and helps Blaine into it. His little body shudders as he fights the tears that threaten to squeeze out. He is successful. He is brave. He is adorable. He gives Mimi a shaky smile and begins to join in the hand motions of the song that Mimi feels will never, ever end.

Danny is off the chair again and paying no attention to the song. And then there's that still, small voice again.   

So now it's time to forgive Danny.

Maybe after the lesson, Lord. After I bring him up front and say, "Okay class, here's a prime example of our lesson today. This is a bully. A mean, bad, rotten little boy. He shoved Blaine out of the chair but Blaine chose not to be mean back. Who does God love more?"

I love Danny as much as you love Blaine.

Yeah, well okay, but he can't get away with busting up my grandson. Somebody needs to punish this kid. Maybe if I humiliate him in front of the class he'll learn his lesson.  

You know you can't do that. He made a mistake. Don't you ever make mistakes?

I think I'm about to right now.

But you won't. Because you love Me. And I love you. And we both love children who are learning to love me too. Now forgive him.

I can't. It's hard to forgive something like this.

Of course it's hard. That's why I'm here. I'll help you. Let's do this thing. And I'll give you an A+ on today's lesson. Let's say it together: When someone is mean to you, you don't have to be mean back. 

Got it.