Finding Our Gratitude This Thanksgiving

Somewhere in the past eight plus years that I’ve been regularly blogging, I started to include far more quotes from other authors and reduced my own thoughts on a topic. I’ve been known to quote entire articles available from other authors, and I always give credit and links to those authors and articles. I could just make a note in my blog posts to the titles and authors of those articles, but if you’re like me and you read a lot on online (whether in blog posts or on other websites or social media), when an author links to other articles online most of the time we (the readers) skip over those links and never or rarely end up going back to check them out.

When I run across articles online by other authors that I think are very much worth noting, I’ll post those articles on my blog post–not because I’m trying to plagiarize them, but because I want to share them with my readers. And, I know from my own propensity to not take the time to click on links in other blog posts (or websites) unless my curiosity is mightily piqued, I’ll just skip over the link and not take the time to “go there.” Hence, that is my reason for including large portions of blog posts and articles written by others in my blog posts.

With that being said, today is Thanksgiving Day here in America, and I just ran across the following article published two days ago on November 20, 2018, in The Washington Post titled, Find Your Gratitude This Thanksgiving. Here’s How,” by Kristin Clark Taylor, author, freelance editor and journalist, motivational speaker and lecturer, and a former White House communications strategist. She is also the founder and facilitator of the popular Great Falls Writers Group. In her article she writes:

Thanksgiving is the day that gives gratitude a good name.

Golden turkeys will be admired, platters will be passed. And when it comes your turn at the dining room table to sit up and announce the one thing you’re most grateful for, try not to say the same thing as last year. It might be easy to do a repeat, but that’s kind of cheating.

I get it, gratitude might not be at the forefront for you right now.

Most of us are either preparing food today, preparing to travel — or both. We might be steeling ourselves for high-running family emotions. (Family and politics, anyone?) Tensions are taut just about everywhere, and as family members file through that front door, what often blows in with them is the angst that comes from having lots of folks under one roof who don’t always see eye-to-eye. Somebody’s going to say or do something that upsets someone else.

Gratitude gets crowded out.

But here’s the thing: When things go haywire, that’s when we need gratitude more than ever. My relationship with it has evolved over the years, and today it actually defines my life. I carry it around with me as a constant companion. Many times — particularly during my darkest moments — it carries me.

I need it to survive.

That’s how gratitude is. You have to develop a relationship with it, perhaps even a dependence on it, in your own daily life in a way that is deeply personal and only yours (imagine a fingerprint) — but you have to be able to share it, too, (imagine an outstretched hand).

It’s a two-step process, really: You generate gratitude from within — and in my case, from above — then push it back out into the world.

Simple? Yes. Easy? No. It requires energy, discipline and perseverance. Practiced regularly and constantly, grateful living can become an attitude rather than an action, an instinct rather than an exercise. But it requires a sustained connection. It cannot just be a fling. It cannot just be dragged out and dusted off on Turkey Day.

Thankfulness is much more than a warm-and-fuzzy feeling. It’s a purposeful process that requires a push every now and then to remain vibrant; a gentle shove, from time to time, to maintain its momentum. Left alone and untended, it can get lazy and leave.

When the sun sets on this Thanksgiving Day, try not to allow your sense of gratitude and appreciation to set with it. When you wake up Friday morning, search for new ways to remain committed.

Search for gratitude in new places. Find it in the hidden corners and unexplored pockets of your daily life that you’ve never noticed before. It’s there, I promise — and the darkened corners are often the best places to search. (It’s said that the light of hope shines brightest in the dark.)

Today, I offer up a little platter of tips and techniques that might help. I practice them daily, constantly. They keep me centered.

Some of them might sound a little silly, but I see this as a good thing because although the pursuit of gratitude is serious business indeed, the process itself should be simple and joyful. Smiles should be involved. Laughter should be invoked.

10-Toe Gratitude: Throughout each and every day, I check in with my body, just to whisper a thank-you, to my heart that beats, my lungs that breathe, my fingers that type. During evening yoga (downward dog is the perfect place) I say thank you to each of my 10 toes. Toes work hard and are grossly underappreciated. I love my toes and am grateful to have them.

Similarly, when I’m writing (which is often because it’s what I do for a living), I often pause to touch my wrist, find my pulse, and send a jolt of purposeful gratitude to the blood that flows through my veins. To embrace the very miracles that are constantly unfolding within us is right and necessary. I like to call it vital acknowledgment.

Double-Barreled Gratitude: Some people keep a daily gratitude journal that describes all the things we’re thankful to have (i.e., health, family, fresh cilantro). It’s easy and automatic to express gratitude for all that has been given to us, but what about the flip side?

I’m as grateful for the absence of a toothache as I am for the presence of fresh ginger root in my refrigerator; as grateful for the absence of a desire to drink as I am for the presence of my daughter’s quiet smile. Absence itself has a powerful presence.

If you keep a gratitude journal, try expanding it for a day or two and take the double-barreled route. Create a list that’s made up of two columns, one labeled “Presence,” the other “Absence.” Train your brain to assign value to the absences in your life, too. It will expand your perspective in unimaginable ways.

Kitchen Floor Gratitude: Many years ago, I tripped in my kitchen and twisted my ankle badly. At precisely the same moment my brain perceived the pain, a deep and sudden rush of gratitude rushed in.

As I lay sprawled on my kitchen floor, a miraculous dichotomy unfolded: In the midst of our pain, gratitude can find a home. Translated: My ankle hurts like hell but thank God it isn’t broken.

Brown-is-Beautiful Gratitude: From a very early age, my mother taught me to seek the sacred within the ordinary. I remember sitting in the backyard with my mother one summer afternoon just after a rainstorm, when a brilliant rainbow appeared.

After we admired it for a few minutes, she picked up a brown rock and placed it gently into my little hands. “This plain old brown rock is every bit as spectacular as that beautiful rainbow,” she said softly. “Be equally thankful for both.” Tip: Next time you see a stunning sunset, also remember to reach down and embrace the beauty of the brown rock. Be as thankful for the ordinary as you are for the spectacular.

As you sit down to dinner this Thanksgiving, don’t forget that exploring and expressing your own gratitude can be a constant pursuit, not a one-day affair. Not just today, but every day. So seek it. Find it. Pass it along.

We need it now more than ever. (Quote source here.)

First Thessalonians 5:16-18 states, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Being a part of the human race, we know that it’s not often easy to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances.” The tragedies of life are constantly broadcast on the news on any given day, not to mention the things that we personally experience in our own lives. Rejoice? Pray without ceasing? Give thanks in all circumstances? It’s not easy, and sometimes it seems impossible.

It helps if we understand the concept of “praying without ceasing.” In a blog post titled, Pray Without Ceasing,” on AllAboutPrayer.org (a specific author is not mentioned), the post states the following:

How to pray without ceasing — a heart attitude

  • How does one pray continually? We cannot always be on our knees. With the daily demands on our busy lives, we are fortunate to kneel in prayer even a few minutes each day. However, the context of this passage gives us a clue. This passage focuses on heart attitude. “Rejoice always” is an attitude of joyfulness. Giving thanks in everything also requires a mental attitude of thankfulness. How do we rejoice and give thanks? Through prayer! Therefore, effective prayer is a proper heart attitude: a mental outlook of joyful thanksgiving. It expresses itself throughout the day with silent prayers of vital communication with the LORD.
  • Maintaining a healthy relationship requires communication. Always be “on line” with God so when the Spirit moves you to pray, you can instantly agree with Him. The Holy Spirit prays for us with inexpressible groans (Romans 8:26). When in agreement with the Spirit, we are praying continuously. The heart attitude of praying without ceasing means an ever-open heart to the Lord’s leading.
  • If we are praying without ceasing–even while driving, changing the baby, washing dishes, or running a lawn mower–we can be open to the leading of the Spirit when He urges us to pray for something or someone. At that time, we can agree with God and make a mental note to add that concern to our later prayer time.
  • Praying without ceasing doesn’t take the place of time alone in prayer with God. However, it is a joyful experience to unite with the LORD who lays burdens on our hearts. We can’t always stop and kneel, but our heart attitude can still be “praying without ceasing.” (Quote source here.)

I have found that the more I give back to God my personal expectations in any given situation or set of circumstances, and leave the outcome for God to decide and not for me to try to coerce God into doing for me, there is a “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) that comes from that total relinquishment of me trying to control the outcome when I pray (you know, like begging God to do something to change that we don’t like), especially in trying situations that never seem to end.

So, on this Thanksgiving Day 2018, as Kristin Clark Taylor reminds us to do in her article above, let us be in a constant pursuit of gratitude (regardless of our circumstances), not just today, but every day . . .

So seek it . . .

Find it . . .

And pass it along . . . .

YouTube Video: “It’s Gonna Be Okay” by The Piano Guys:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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With One Week To Go Until Thanksgiving

A few days ago on my other blog, Reflections on the Journey,” I published a blog post titled, Journey Into Thankfulness.” One of the topics mentioned in it was an article titled, Embrace the Family ‘Black Sheep’ This Holiday,” by Kristen Fuller, M.D. I thought it was an important topic given that just about every family has a “black sheep” who feels left out at the holidays.

However, being a family’s “black sheep” is only one reason someone might end up being alone during the holidays. In fact, many people find themselves alone during the holiday season for a variety of reasons. In a 2016 article titled, An Open Letter to Everyone Spending the Holidays Alone,” by Lane Moore, comedian, actor, musician, creator of the hit comedy show, Tinder Live, and author of How To Be Alone,” she writes:

Right off the bat, I want you to know that I totally get it. Right now the entire world is talking about nothing but the freaking holidays. Commercials, movies, special TV episodes, reruns of special TV episodes, social media, advertisements. All of it. And not just that, every single one of those outlets is talking about family over the holidays because “everyone” has a family on the holidays! The holidays are a time to spend with your family! And since everyone has a perfect family they spend regular time with, everyone loves the holidays! And if you don’t love the holidays, you must be a cold-hearted psychopath!!!

This is likely all you’ve been hearing lately, and that’s a shame. Because whether you lost your loved ones because they passed on, or because they were abusive, or because they abandoned you, or because you left them when you felt unsafe, or because they didn’t accept you, you are a special breed who, right now, feels like you do not fit into the expectations of the holiday season. And it’s the loneliest feeling in the world….

You’re not alone during the holidays because you deserve to be—everyone deserves a great family who loves them and makes them feel safe. The fact that you never had that or don’t have it anymore is not the result of your being unlovable or because something is wrong with you. I know it sounds like, “Duh, I know that,” but seriously, around this time of year it’s so easy to subconsciously think otherwise. I don’t know why you didn’t get what most of your friends have, but I know you deserve every bit as much love and normalcy as everyone else. Never doubt this…. (Quote source and complete article here.)

Here’s an article from 2016 titled, Why I Love Being Alone for the Holidays,” by Dena Landon, a single mom who knits, dances and blogs at femmefeminism.com. She writes:

My pattern of spending the holidays alone started during college. I went to school in Boston, but my entire family was back in Seattle. It was too expensive to fly home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I’d usually stay on campus during Thanksgiving. The first year I accepted a friend’s invitation to go home with her to New Jersey. It was awkward. I tagged along to her high school friends’ houses, attended church with her family and sat at the table making small talk with people I’d never met before and wouldn’t meet again. Everyone was nice, but when a group of girls are laughing about that time at Homecoming when so-and-so’s dress ripped it’s hard not to feel like a third wheel.

The next year I was invited to share Thanksgiving with a group from the seminary up the street from my college. I sat down at the table next to the only single guy, who started our conversation by talking about how a pastor needs a wife to receive a calling to a church and wow, was I single? That was worse than awkward.

By my third Thanksgiving, I had had enough. When the girl who lived two doors down in the dorm asked what I was doing, I lied and said, “Oh, I have plans.” I don’t think I imagined the look of slight relief that crossed her face when she said, “Great!”

When you tell someone you don’t have any plans for the holidays, particularly within the context of the Christian college I attended, they often feel obligated to invite you along. But that Thanksgiving spent alone in the dorms was the best holiday I had during college. I went tramping through the woods behind campus, my boots crunching on the ice-tipped leaves. I made tea and curled up with good books on my bed, reading for fun for a change. I got hot cider in a coffee shop on Newbury Street and people-watched to my heart’s content.

Since then I’ve spent many Thanksgivings and Christmases by myself, enjoying the quiet and solitude of my own home. I don’t wish to appear ungrateful to the people who opened their homes to me in the past. Offering a place at your table to someone who might otherwise have nowhere to go is a kind thing to do, and I realize that it creates more work in terms of cooking and cleaning. But the emotional labor is exhausting: chatting with 15 people you’ve never met before, trying to remember names and faces, and worrying because you brought lotion as a hostess gift and then found out she’s allergic to fragrance. And getting caught in the middle of the fight about your friend changing her major, or the sometimes complicated family dynamics that abound in even healthy families, isn’t relaxing.

When I tell people that I sometimes prefer being alone at the holidays, they give me a strange look. They say that it’s a time for family and friends, and ask if I get lonely. But I don’t have much family left: My mother died when she was 58, and because she was an only child that side of my family is gone, and I’m estranged from my father. I do have a family by choice, but there have been years when they traveled to visit their birth families and just weren’t around. And there have also been years when I’ve politely declined and chosen to be alone.

With the rush and bustle of daily life, it’s a luxury to have an entire day or two all to myself. No deadlines, no one asking me to get them water after I just sat down on the couch, no social demands. My time is truly my own in a way that it rarely is the rest of the year. Because I know it will pick back up the moment the holiday ends, I bask in that freedom and that brief time of answering to no one. I’ve found that, if loneliness does start to nip at me, it’s always right before I have to rejoin the real world, and it doesn’t have time to deepen.

I’ll be alone on Thanksgiving again this year, holed up in a cabin on Washington state’s San Juan Islands. I’m looking forward to the break after a fall spent finishing grad school, working on a novel and helping my son, who will spend the week with his father, start kindergarten. I’m an introvert, and I rest and recharge best when there’s no one else around. While I’ll miss my son, I’m pretty sure that the only other thing I’ll miss will be the turkey. (Quote source here.)

Those first two articles were written by women much younger then me (most likely Millennials); however, I found a third article, also written in 2016 on SixtyandMe.com,” titled, How to Celebrate When You Are Alone for the Holidays,” by Elizabeth Dunkel, writer and novelist who has lived in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico for 25 years. She is also the Creative Director of Camp Liza; and, she is definitely in my age range and loving it. She writes:

I hope you noticed that I didn’t title this article, “How to Survive the Holidays, Alone.”

No! This is about making sure to celebrate the holidays if you are alone.

A Moment of Realization

It all started like this. Last September I was strolling down the aisles of Costco and came upon the Christmas decorations. This is one of my pet peeves, Christmas in September… grrr!

Suddenly I was knocked over by a wave of nostalgia — by memories of all my family Christmases, the magical ones I enjoyed as a child, and later, the magical ones I created for my children.

Then, dare I say it, a tinge of dread crept in. Oh no! Who me, dread? This is a new one for me. I don’t do dread.

I live alone at the moment. I had a big family life, with husband, parents, children and extended family. I have always loved the holidays — the cooking, baking, decorating, shopping, and wrapping that went along with each one of them. Whether it was Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, or Labor Day, I was Miss Cornball with the lights or bunting and appropriate food at the ready.

But times change of course and my children have grown and flown. I felt a bit iffy — for a moment. Right then and there, in Costco, I made a promise to myself, “I don’t want to ‘get through’ the holidays. I need to find a new way to celebrate them.”

Don’t Let the Holidays Creep Up on You: Plan for Them

Just as I used to plan for holidays in the past — all those lists I used to make! — I realized it is just as important, if not more important, to make a plan for being alone, and not just let the holiday ambush me. I deserve a plan for one.

Now that I no longer “have” to do certain activities or bake certain things, I’m free! In the past, I had my rituals, my kids expected certain foods, etc. Now I’m free to invent new moments, discover new ways to mark a day that can be difficult for so many of us.

Survival Isn’t Good Enough: I Deserve to Celebrate

So I asked myself: Liza, what do you really want to do on… fill in the blank: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day?

Then I remembered how last January at the Sunday symphony matinee, I spied a couple I hadn’t seen in ages, “So, what did you guys do for Christmas?” I asked.

“We decided to escape from all the craziness, the parties, the food, the booze,” Grant said with glee. Clifford continued, “We went to the beach and got away from it all. It was marvelous. We drank champagne and stared at the ocean.”

The words from the Christmas carol, “Silent Night” came to me: “All is calm, all is bright.” Sounded perfect to me!

You Can Say “No” at the Holidays, Too

I can say “no” now! What a concept!

What I will say no to: Parties that I really don’t want to go to. Socializing with people I don’t feel like seeing. No to: “But Liza, maybe it would be ‘good’ for you to get out.” No to eating too much (because it’s there) and drinking too much (because it’s there). No to inviting someone over simply because I feel sorry for them or because I think it will be cheerier if someone is at my house. If it’s someone I really want to see, great. Otherwise, no thank you.

And most important, I will say no to: Wishing I had planned something. Because I will plan. For me.

Plan for Yourself, Just as You Would for Others

I adore Christmas Eve. The day is palpable with love, desire, wishes, expectations. Just because I’m alone, that won’t change. So I will participate in the collective consciousness by doing the kitchen prep work for my Christmas Day meal.

I love to cook, not “even for one,” but rather, “especially for one.” So whilst everyone in the world is wrapping and cooking I will be too. I’ll do the kitchen prep and then reward myself with a steaming cup of tea, one of my favorite Dark Chocolate Crackles, a recipe I share every year, and a Really Good Book. That’s my idea of heaven.

In the evening, I will sip from a bottle of Very Good Wine and write a gratitude letter for the year past and a wish list for the year to come. For my Christmas Eve supper, I will sup happily on Julia Child’s French onion soup complete with all the gooey cheese and toast floating on top. How sumptuous is that? And how clever are those French for making something so sensually delicious from water and onions?!

I liked the beach idea. It feels fresh and cleansing to me. So whilst the world is sleeping late after the revelries of Christmas Eve, I will wake up early, drive to the beach and go for a long walk. I will enjoy a thermos of hot, creamy cafe au lait and delicate sandwiches of smoked salmon on pumpernickel with honey mustard as I breathe deep the fresh salt air and give thanks for all the goodness in my life.

When I get home, I’ll open a bottle of bubbly and then have a feast. No bowl of cereal for this singleton. I’ve decided to make my Christmas classic but in mini style. A mini beef wellington is so manageable with a small beef tenderloin and the Boxing Day leftovers will be wonderful. Even though he’s a scoundrel, I adore Gordon Ramsey’s recipe. Doesn’t it look easy? Guess what, it is!

Treat Yourself Like the Most Cherished Guest in the World

You deserve to treat yourself like a queen on any holiday. Because if you don’t, who will? If you don’t honor the day, the day won’t honor you. No need to feel left out. Light the fireplace, cue up a good movie on Netflix, open a bottle of something special and cozy down. Gemutlichkeit, Hygge, it’s all about comfort.

My New Year’s Eve Readathon

I have never been a fan of New Year’s Eve, the false gaiety or sudden moroseness that can come upon everyone who’s trying to be of good cheer. Celebrating something so arbitrary is not my style, so I use the occasion to suit my way.

This year, I’ll stay on home New Year’s Eve. I plan to light candles and sup on creamy scrambled eggs dolloped with caviar and sour cream as I watch the New Year roll around the world on CNN. The next day, I’ll have a few friends over for a big pot of comfort food, chili con carne with all the fixin’s.

Friends, all I ask is this: This holiday season, take good care of you. Wishing you peace and love, and wherever you are, whomever you are with: celebrate yourself! (Quote source here.)

I hope these articles have given you some inspiration if you are spending the holidays alone this year. Alone certainly doesn’t need to mean lonely. So start thinking about your options now, even if you just stay home and read a really good book while sipping your favorite concoction! Make the holidays what you want them to be . . .

With . . .

Or without . . .

Company . . . .

YouTube Video: “Thanksgiving” (Piano Solo), 1982, by George Winston:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Seven Weeks Until Christmas

With seven weeks to go until Christmas, the signs of Christmas are already everywhere here in America. Yesterday I stopped at a LifeWay Bookstore and they had several new books on their $5.00 sale table. One of them, to my great delight, was one of Max Lucado’s new books published this year (2018) titled simply, Jesus.” Regularly priced at $24.99, it has been on sale for 20% off since it was published until now (I assume for a limited time only it is $5.00–click here to see if that price is still good).

The book is not specifically about Christmas, but it is about Jesus. In the introduction to the book titled, “A Word from Max,” he states the following in the last few paragraphs which follow after a cute story about a his wife’s uncle and the uncle’s son-in-law who had misinterpreted their time on their drive home from a road trip to L.A. from Tulsa and back. The uncle only discovered his mistake when he pulled over to the side of the road and called home, and while talking with his wife he discovered, much to his relief, his mistake. Here’s the rest of the story:

They aren’t the first to make such a mistake. This journey toward home can bewilder the best of us. Truth be told, we’ve all lost track of time. We’ve lost our bearings. We’ve lost our perspective. At one time or another, we’ve all needed help. We need to be reminded where we are and  where we’re headed. For Ellis (the uncle) and Pat (the son-in-law), it was a voice from home.

For us, it’s the name of Jesus, sweetest name ever spoken.

I know, I know. The name Jesus has been derided and mocked, turned into a curse word and a scapegoat for everything from a hammered thumb to medieval Crusades. Peeling back all the layers from the name is no easy task. But it is worth the effort.

To see me is to see God, Jesus said. His voice, God’s voice. His tears, God’s tears. Want to know what matters to God? Find out what matters to Jesus. Want to know what in the world God is doing? Ponder the words of Jesus. Need to know where history is headed? He wrote the time line.

It could be that your experience with the name of Jesus has been less than positive. Did someone ram some frosty ideas about right and wrong down your throat and tell you they started with Jesus? Did a circle of high and mighty folks keep you out because you weren’t good enough? Or maybe no one needs to tell you anything. You’ve fumbled enough footballs in life to know that no one like Jesus would have a spot for someone like you.

Reconsider, won’t you?

What if he really is who he claims to be? The image of the invisible God. And what if he can do what he claimed to do? Lead wayward travelers like you and me on the right road. Maybe it’s time to pull over to the side of the road and make a call.” (Source: “Jesus,” pp. viii -ix.)

As a society and, in fact, the entire world, at this time of year (well, mostly after Thanksgiving) we celebrate Christmas around a jolly fellow named Santa Claus, also known as St. Nick, as well as those of us who celebrate Christmas as the birth of Jesus Christ. However, how did the two end up being celebrated at the same time?

At GotQuestions.org, they give us a brief description on the origin of Christmas:

Christmas is a popular December holiday celebrated by large numbers of people all around the world. Christmas (or “the Mass of Christ”) has long been known as the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and the celebration first began to be observed in the early fourth century. However, some traditions associated with Christmas actually began as a part of pagan culture; these were “Christianized” and given new meaning by the church.

The exact date of Jesus’ birth is unknown, as the Bible does not give specifics as to the dates of either His birth or conception. But in the second century AD, a Roman Christian historian named Sextus Julius Africanus calculated Jesus’ birthdate to be December 25 (nine months after Jesus was conceived, according to Africanus). In spite of the assumptions made in Africanus’s line of thinking, the date of December 25 was widely accepted.

At the time of Christ, Roman culture already celebrated a holiday in December: Saturnalia honored the god Saturn and was celebrated from December 17 to about December 24. Later, the Romans began celebrating Sol Invictus or the “Unconquered Sun,” associated with the winter solstice and observed on December 25. When Rome eventually instituted Christianity as the state religion in the fourth century, the Roman church converted Saturnalia and Sol Invictus to a Christian holiday, the Feast of the Nativity, in order to commemorate Jesus’ birth, thus providing a spiritually positive alternative to a pagan celebration. The sinful customs and debauchery associated with Saturnalia were “cleaned up,” and some of the customs were absorbed into the celebration of Christmas. Christians have “redeemed” December 25 and have celebrated it as the birth of Christ ever since the fourth century.

Given the association Christmas had with the ancient pagan calendar, the question then becomes, “Since Christmas shares a date with a pagan holiday, is it acceptable for Christians to celebrate it?” It is important to note that Christmas, Saturnalia, and Sol Invictus were all distinct holidays; they were never identical to each other. Also, although some elements of Christmas celebrations (e.g., bells, candles, holly, and yule decorations) are mentioned in the history of pagan worship, the use of such items in one’s home in no way indicates a return to paganism. Christians simply celebrate Christmas to remember the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Celebrating Christmas is a matter of conscience (see Romans 14:5). (Quote source here.)

I found the following information in an article published on December 12, 2011, titled, Who is Santa, and What Does He Have to Do With Christmas?” by Angie Mosteller, online teacher at California Baptist University, and founder of Celebrating Holidays. She states:

The name Santa Claus is the English form of the Dutch name for St. Nicholas, “Sinterklaas.” Though the modern Santa Claus is associated with a world of fantasy, the historical St. Nicholas was a godly man known for his charity and generosity.

According to the best estimates, Nicholas, was born around AD 280 in Patara, in Asia Minor. He later became bishop of Myra in modern-day Turkey. Nicholas, it seems, died about 343 on or near December 6.

Nicholas was born in the 3rd century to wealthy Christian parents in Patara (a harbor city in modern day Turkey). It is probable that Nicholas and his parents could trace their spiritual heritage to the Apostle Paul, who stopped in Patara on his third missionary journey 200 years earlier.

It is said that Nicholas’ parents were devout believers who had long prayed for a child. When Nicholas was finally born, they devoted him to God. As an only child, he was raised with great affection and special attention. However, when Nicholas was still a young boy (likely a teenager), a plague struck his city, and both of his parents died. Though a loss like this might turn some away from God, it seems to have drawn Nicholas closer to him. The loss of his parents also seems to have made the boy’s heart tender to the suffering of others.

Nicholas was left with a large inheritance and decided that he would use it to honor God. He developed such a good reputation in his region that he was chosen as Archbishop of Myra (a harbor city just south and east of Patara) when he was in his early 20s, an indication that he must have demonstrated wisdom and maturity beyond his years. During his service as Archbishop, a violent persecution of Christians began. Nicholas was almost certainly imprisoned during this time and was likely tortured for his faith….

There are a wealth of stories about Nicholas’ life–many of them emphasize his kindness and  generosity. After his death on December 6, a tradition of gift giving was begun in his honor.

St. Nicholas Day is still observed on December 6 in many countries, but in others, America included, the practices associated with the day were combined with Christmas. It seemed natural to many Christians that a holiday celebrating giving would merge with the birth of Christ, the greatest gift ever given to the world. However, the merger happened to the dismay of many Christian leaders who thought that St. Nicholas started to draw too much attention away from Christ. In Germany, parents were encouraged to teach their children that the Christ Child was the gift-giver. The name Kriss Kringle is the English form of the German name for “Christ Child.” Ironically, in America the name Kriss Kringle came to be used synonymously with St. Nicholas, St. Nick, Santa Claus and even the English name Father Christmas….

In Middle Age art, St. Nicholas was typically depicted as a tall, thin, bearded cleric. So how did he evolve into the Santa that we know today in America? Santa’s white beard and red suit are actually quite similar to the bishop’s vestments worn by the Dutch Sinterklaas. But the “chubby and plump” appearance of America’s Santa Claus is generally traced to the 19th century poem “’Twas The Night Before Christmasan attempt to create a more friendly image of Santa and assure children that they had (in the words of the poem) “nothing to dread.”

Though the modern Santa Claus has devolved into a secularized figure surrounded by fantasy, his image can serve to help us remember the real St. Nicholas, a man who devoted his life to serving God and inspiring others to do the same. The purpose of all saints (all Christians) is to bring glory to God, not to detract from him.

At Christmas, we celebrate that God himself came in bodily form, in real flesh and blood, to earth. However, after he ascended to heaven and his physical presence was no longer on earth, Jesus entrusted believers to be his “body” (1 Corinthians 12:27). By all accounts, St. Nicholas lived a life that helped others to see the reality of Christ. How can we follow his example and help others to see Christ in us (in real flesh and blood) this Christmas? (Source and entire article is available at this link.)

Personally, I just love all of the Christmas decorations that come out at this time of year. As a kid I grew up with all the Santa Claus stories and Christmas songs (both secular and religious), but we also knew it was the celebration of Jesus Christ’s birth, and that the Santa Claus stuff was just a tradition. It was (and still is) a very festive time of year, and I loved Christmas as a kid. I still do.

I was not aware of background on St. Nicholas until I read that article mentioned above, and I found it interesting how closely the two (St. Nick and Jesus) are actually related in past history. Today Christmas is very much secularized by our culture, but for Christians the true meaning is still celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

In a lengthy and informative article published on December 17, 2015, titled, Jesus vs. Santa: Who Really Rules the Season: The Bible vs. Wall Street,” by Cynthia Gibson, contributor to Our Weekly.com,” here are a few excerpts from her article:

According to the Bible, Jesus is the reason for the season, but according to Wall Street, Santa Claus is the economic engine that keeps the season going full throttle from Black Friday until Christmas Eve. When it comes to influencing hearts, minds and wallets during the Christmas season, who really rules—Jesus or Santa?….

For Christians, Jesus is real. On the other hand, although he is based on the very real Saint Nicholas, it is widely accepted that the modern-day Santa Claus is a mythic compilation.

So why does Santa Claus, arguably, have just as much—if not more—influence as Jesus during the Christmas season?

“Santa Claus is a less controversial symbol for people to receive, accept and promote. Jesus is totally controversial in his message, method and even in his death, burial and resurrection—everything about Jesus Christ is controversial,” says Najuma Smith-Pollard, program director for the Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement at USC. Dr. Smith-Pollard is also senior pastor at Word of Encouragement Community Church in Los Angeles.

“Our nation has historically claimed a Christian foundation, (but) the problem is Jesus doesn’t sell toys. When it comes to influence, if you’re talking about selling toys, Santa has more influence,” said Smith-Pollard.

One-in-five adults say they are the parent or guardian of a child in their household who currently believes in Santa Claus, according to the Pew Research Center Survey (2013) on Christmas observations. The survey reports that 69 percent of those parents say they plan to pretend that Santa visits their house on Christmas.

Christian parents admit that Santa Claus has a stronger presence than Jesus during the Christmas season. “Whether it’s television, commercials, billboards, as parents with small kids, when they go to school, the question is, “Is Santa Claus real?’ They’re encouraged to take a position on Santa Claus,” said Neema Cyrus-Franklin, online engagement coordinator at Presbytery of the Pacific (the Los Angeles regional office for the Presbyterian church) and a mother of two children, ages 9 and 4….

According to a 2013 Pew Research survey on Christmas beliefs and practices, a majority of Americans—Christian or not—observe Christmas.

The survey revealed that while nine in 10 Americans take part in the holiday that theologically commemorates the birth of Jesus, only about half actually see it as a religious celebration.

The study also showed a nation where Christmas continues to be incredibly popular, but also that the day is increasingly a non-religious cultural event, especially among younger generations. Pew found that religious and non-religious Americans largely celebrate the holiday the same. Although those who believe in Christmas as a religious holiday and those who believe in the virgin birth are much more likely to go to church services for Christmas, both cultural and religious observers were just as likely to gather with family, exchange gifts and take part in the tradition of Santa Claus visiting their homes at night….

[The article ends with the following]: Despite the proliferation of Santa Claus during the Christmas season, for the 78 percent of Americans who consider themselves religious [from the 2013 survey], Santa does not wield more influence than Jesus. However, believers and non-believers alike concede that Santa Claus is a powerful marketing tool that comes with the season. As America becomes a nation of multiple religions, traditions and customs like Santa Claus, the observance of Christmas becomes a part of America’s melting pot, said researchers.

Pollard-Smith is philosophical about the future of Jesus and Santa Claus. “Those who believe that Jesus is still the reason for the season, that won’t change. The long-term impact may be that it’s no longer just about the influence of Jesus versus Santa. It’s the influence of Jesus, Santa, Mohammed, Buddha and so forth. Because of the increasing diversity of religions and observances in our nation, a change in the face of Christmas is inevitable.” (Quote source and entire article here.)

As Cynthia Gibson noted in her article, our society continues to become more diverse in it’s beliefs and customs; however, for Christians, the meaning of Christmas is still and will continue to be very obvious…

Jesus . . . 

Is the reason . . . 

For the season . . . .

YouTube Video: “Joy to the World” by Whitney Houston:

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In Good Times, Bad Times, and All Times

I heard some news yesterday (October 31, 2018) that, depending on which side you’re on, was either very good news or very bad news. For me and many other Christians around the world, it was, indeed, some very good news. In fact, it was a miracle given the circumstances regarding the case. After spending 9 1/2 years in a Pakistani prison–most of that time since 2010 spent in solitary confinement on death row on a charge of blasphemy, a Pakistani woman named Asia Bibi, also known as Aasiya Noreen–age 58, wife and mother of five, was set free from prison by a three-judge-panel on the Pakistani Supreme Court. The appeal process was first started in 2014 (see under Appeals section), and the final appeal was made on October 8, 2018 (see under Supreme Court acquittal section). It was after this last and final appeal that the three judges decided the final outcome of her case yesterday (10-31-18), and they set her free.

Here is a synopsis of Asia Bibi’s situation as stated in an article published yesterday titled, Pakistani Supreme Court Clears Catholic Woman of Blasphemy Charges,” by Scott Slayton, lead pastor at Chelsea Village Baptist Church, blogger at One Degree or Another on Patheos.com, and contributor on ChristianHeadlines.com:

[Asia] Bibi faced the death penalty for a 2009 incident in which Bibi, a Catholic, was accused of blaspheming the prophet Muhammad. Bibi worked as a berry harvester and was asked to retrieve water from a well. CNN reported that her Muslim co-workers refused to drink from the bucket because she is a Christian and her touching the bucket made it unclean. This led to an argument in which she allegedly blasphemed Muhammad and someone reported her to a Muslim cleric (Quote source and article at this link).

Since the ruling yesterday, many articles worldwide have been published regarding her case including Asia Bibi: Pakistan’s Supreme Court ‘historic’ ruling,” b

In other quarters, the news has caused an uproar. According to an article published yesterday titled, Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi has death penalty conviction overturned,” by 

Pakistan’s Supreme Court has acquitted a Christian woman who has been on death row for almost eight years on blasphemy charges.

Asia Bibi, a mother of five from Punjab province, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to hang after she was accused of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed during an argument the year before with Muslim colleagues.

The workers had refused to drink from a bucket of water Asia Bibi had touched because she was not Muslim. At the time, Asia Bibi said the case was a matter of women who didn’t like her “taking revenge.”
She won her appeal against the conviction and subsequent death sentence on Wednesday.
Islamist movement Tehreek-e Labbaik (TLP) had previously vowed to take to the streets if Asia Bibi was released, and protests broke out in Islamabad and Lahore soon after the ruling was announced.

Within hours, the protests were large enough that government officials in the cities were urging people to stay inside and avoid adding to the chaos. Demonstrators blocked a motorway in Lahore and a road linking Islamabad and Rawalpindi has been closed off. Angry workers from the TLP have also staged sit-ins and chanted slogans against Pakistan officials and judges.

In response, police officials invoked Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which prevents the gathering of more than four people. (Quote source and article at this link.)

Most of the years Asia Bibi spent in prison were spent in solitary confinement since a death sentence was given to her in 2010. Story after story has been printed over these years regarding her plight including one story published on October 31, 2014, titled Asia Bibi losing hope on death row: family,” and another story published two years later on December 22, 2016, titled, Asia Bibi: Christmas in a prison cell.”

I first became aware of Asia Bibi’s story back in 2010. There are many, many Christians around the world going through persecution but for some reason I could never get her particular story off of my mind. Drastic forms of persecution such as she has encountered are not uncommon around the globe, even though here in America we don’t see that kind of overt persecution taking place; yet covert persecution is not uncommon here–it is just very well disguised. It can take the form of homelessness, job loss, chronic unemployment and financial difficulties; unexplained health or mental health issues and opioid addiction, accidental deaths, workplace bullying and bullying kids in schools, and any number of other ways made to look like “normal” occurrences taking place. After all, we cannot overtly kill people we disagree with in America as it’s against the law, but those who are so inclined do have their ways of dealing with people they disagree with by destroying their lives in covert ways.

In an August 22, 2016, article published in ChristianityToday.com titled, Are American Christians Really ‘Persecuted’? by K. A. Ellis, a Ph.D. candidate who writes and speaks on Human Rights, Religious Freedom and the Persecuted Church, she states:

Anti-Christian hostility is on the minds of many American Christians these days. Each new legal challenge to religious liberty at the state and federal levels raises the issue afresh. It seems that today, Christians must think through their cultural position more carefully than at any other point in US history.

Still, given the terrible persecution of Christians overseas, I wonder whether it’s accurate to say that American Christians are “under persecution.” When I discuss the rise in anti-Christian hostility in the States, I avoid the “p word,” and I don’t make comparisons to other parts of the world.

But listen to a Middle Eastern underground house church leader: “Persecution is easier to understand when it’s physical: torture, death, imprisonment….American persecution is like an advanced stage of cancer; it eats away at you, yet you cannot feel it. This is the worst kind of persecution.”

A Syrian remaining in the region to assist Christians and Muslims cautions, “It wasn’t only ISIS who laid waste to the church; our cultural compromises with the government and our divisions against each other brewed for a long time. We are Damascus, the seat of Christianity; what happened to us can happen to you. Be careful.”

When persecuted Christian leaders overseas warn about how seriously US Christians are marginalized, it’s time to listen.

Of course, persecution in countries like India and China looks different than it does in Vietnam or Nigeria; the methods of oppressors and survivors vary dramatically. Often, other religious minorities suffer as well. In some regions, the disdain is cultural; elsewhere, hostility manifests itself in legislation. (Quote source here.)

In an article published on September 13, 2016, titled Are Christians Persecuted in America? by Gregory C. Cochran, Ph.D., a pastor, author, college professor and Director of the Bachelor of Applied Theology program at California Baptist University, he begins his article by acknowledging K. A. Ellis’s article (see above) and he goes on to state:

Ellis points out that Christians around the world—including those in hotspots like Syria and the Middle East—believe that Christians are being persecuted in the United States. The sub-title of her article is, “If our overseas brothers and sisters say we are, then we probably are.” The sub-title itself offers a compelling argument. Christians in the Middle East operate on the assumption that all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (see 2 Tim. 3:12). The response of these overseas Christians demonstrates the New Testament reality that the body of Christ identifies with the suffering of other Christians (Heb. 13:1-3). On this point, Ellis concludes,

“When persecuted Christian leaders overseas warn about how seriously U.S. Christians are marginalized, it’s time to listen.”

Ellis further points out the undeniable reality that persecution looks radically different in Nigeria, Vietnam, and China. Certainly, the degree of suffering in the US is less intense when compared to these Christians in other areas. But that fact alone is no proof of the absence of persecution in the US.

Christ taught his followers from the beginning that persecution would include mere insults:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10, ESV)

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:10-11, ESV).

Finally, Ellis argues soberly about how quickly societies can flip from tolerant to intolerant. It would be naïve to think that persecution can’t happen “in America.” Of course it can. It has. Baptists and others were persecuted in the early days of American history.  And Christians today are in the crosshairs of many cultural leaders.

Further, as I point out in my book, persecution does happen now in America, but it simply does not get reported as such (for predictable reasons). Churches are burned. Christians are shot and killed. House churches are targeted. And Christians are losing jobs… all in America. Yes, Christians in America are really being persecuted.

So, Christians ought to hear the sober conclusion Ellis reached:

“This is not a cause for despair. We may never experience what the global church faces, but it teaches us that the culture cannot despise us more than we can love its people… Our true goal is perseverance and faithfulness in showing forth the kingdom of God.” (Quote source here.)

Cochran also posted an article yesterday (10-31-18) on Asia Bibi titled, Asia Bibi and Why She Matters.” In his article he sums up the main points of what happened to her and her family from the time she ended up in prison in June 2009. At the end is a telling and ongoing story that goes beyond her release from prison yesterday in the last two paragraphs of his article:

Today, three Muslim judges–chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar and justices Khosa and Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel—have risked their own lives for the cause of truth and justice. In their decision, they quoted Muslim sources demonstrating that, yes, blasphemy is awful, but so, too, is falsely accusing others of it and sentencing them to death. Knowing they have righted the wrong of sentencing Asia to death, these courageous Muslim judges have now put themselves at risk of the same.

The Red Mosque in Paris, the Islamist TLP in Pakistan, and Muslims throughout the region have little interest in justice. They demand blood. They are angry. But James taught us long before Muhammad was born that the anger of man does not bring about the righteousness of God. May the Lord strengthen all people of good will to protect Asia, her family, and these courageous Muslim judges and against the bloodthirsty mobs. (Quote source here.)

After nine and a half years in prison, Asia Bibi is finally free, but there is still a world-at-large she and her family must navigate. Jesus said to his disciples (and he says to us who believe in him today), “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (see John 16:25-33; this is verse 33).

In this world those who follow after Jesus Christ will have tribulation. Jesus said so and that’s a given, not an option. The story of Asia Bibi sunk into my soul years ago, and over the years I have prayed with ongoing passion for her release from prison as have thousands of others who were aware of her story. Her prison was a physical prison cell isolated from others. Here in America, at least at this point in time, our prisons look a lot different, and often we do not recognize them for what they are until something comes along that turns our world upside down.

Asia Bibi ended up in prison cell for all those years because a coworker lied about her, and a lot of others wanted to keep her down and in prison for the sole reason that she was a Christian in a predominantly Muslim country. In America the type of persecution that happened to her is done here through workplace bullying by coworkers that often leads to losing one’s job and leading to chronic unemployment, a ruined reputation, financial difficulties, housing issues, and homelessness. And that’s just one side of the persecution taking place right here in America on a regular basis.

As Cochran stated above, “persecution does happen now in America, but it simply does not get reported as such (for predictable reasons). Churches are burned. Christians are shot and killed. House churches are targeted. And Christians are losing jobs… all in America. Yes, Christians in America are really being persecuted.”

This is a sobering blog post but it needs to be sobering. I’ll end this post with the words from Jesus stated above–In the world you will have tribulation….

But take heart . . .

I have overcome . . .

The world . . . .

YouTube Video: “Revelation Song” by Phillips, Craig & Dean:

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