The Fudge is Gone

Well. The fudge is gone.

Yep. I ate the last piece yesterday, washed the Christmas tin, put it in the drain board…with a long sigh.

OK, some of you are thinking, so big deal. Well, it is kind of a big deal. And it’s not just about the fudge.

See, I make fudge every year about half way through December and eat 1 piece every day all throughout the holidays. OK. I cut it into small pieces and actually eat more than 1 piece a day, so sue me. Anyway, I make it last as long as I possibly can. Just like I do with the holidays.

See, I totally love Christmas! I mean, I love everything about it: the lights, the decorations, the tree, the beautifully colored wrapping paper and bows, the music, the fresh, clean smell of pine. And, I love the people – people everywhere, the shopping, looking for the perfect gift, gathering together, feasting together, enjoying family from out of town, neighbors from across the street, the smiles, the laughter, the sharing. And, obviously, I love celebrating the birth of Jesus: the absolute reason for my freedom, my forgiveness, my forbearance in this fraught-filled life.

But, there is a down-side to Christmas: it comes. And it goes. Just like that, after weeks of preparation, I go to bed late on Christmas Eve and, despite my excitement, one little defiant part of my heart can’t help but think, “It’s almost over.” And, then it is over and the hardest month of my life begins: the it’s-January-and-the-holidays-are-over grind. Oh, it’s a grind, my friends.

The out-of-town family leaves, the gorgeous wrapping paper is in shreds, the ready-made bows don’t stick anymore, the Christmas radio stations go back to playing regular music, I eat that last piece of fudge, the tree begins to wither and so does my spirit. But, why?

Songs have even been written about it, like “Why can’t we have Christmas all through the year,” etc. Why do we want Christmas all year? I mean, who can afford Christmas all year, right? But, I think it’s much deeper than that. We love the spirit of Christmas, don’t we? You know what I mean, that spirit of generosity to those in need, selflessness toward friends and family, kindness to strangers. We value time with family more, the sweetness of just being together.

But then Christmas comes and goes, reality sneaks back in, the house is put back in order and people like me are practically in tears by the time the tree is thrown to the curb.  And, unfortunately, joy is often replaced with sadness, time with family is exchanged for the busyness of life, kindness snuffed out by self-absorption. Yep. If December is “the most wonderful time of the year,” January must be “the most depressing time of the year.”

Maybe I’m all alone in my funk, but I doubt it. So, what do we do? How can we de-bunk the January funk? Here’s what I say: we need to remember that the spirit of Christmas is really the spirit of Christ, who actually lives INSIDE of us! Absolutely, yes! Right there with us, in the middle of this sadness, is Jesus, and guess what? He’s actually available after the Christmas tree dies and the black plastic bags filled with the wrapping paper are put out in the trash can! And, newsflash: He wants us to continue to be filled with joy, with wonder, with the simple kindness and compassion that our world desperately needs to see. He wants us to be filled with HIM.

Look, we’re only a few days into 2018 and it’s already very rudely pulled a few punches on me. Oh, yeah, I’m already licking some wounds, thinking, “Oh no! Easy, 2018, please be gentle, please play nice.” I suspect some of you feel the same. There are real needs, true trouble, the kinds that can make us lose our breath at times, let alone our footing. If we look around at our circumstances long enough, it’s easy to just settle into the blahs and blues of this after-Christmas-season. But I want more from 2018, don’t you! 2018 may try to play hard ball with me, but I’m going to keep my eyes, my ears, my heart and my mind on the One that has already conquered 2018 and its best shots. Why?

Because God loves me! He adores me! He has an amazing plan for me and as long as I stay with Him, He and all of His goodness will come out on top. Is it going to be all hot chocolate, snow and “chestnuts roasting on an open fire?” Heck, no! But, we are promised victory where it counts.

I don’t know if you saw the children’s movie, The Star, that came out around Thanksgiving? If not, try to see it, it was wonderful (good for you, Sony Pictures,) but Casting Crowns did a beautiful rendition of His Eye is on the Sparrow. Check out these words:

Why should I feel discouraged? Why should the shadows come? Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home? When Jesus is my portion, a constant friend is He. For I know His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me. HIs eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

‘Let not your heart be troubled,’ His tender words I hear. And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubt and fear. When Jesus is my portion, my constant friend is He. For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me. His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me.

And listen to this:

I sing because I’m happy! I sing because I’m free! His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me! His eye is on the sparrow and I know He watches me!

So, I’m going to dig into God’s Word, stay connected with friends and family, and believe for those dreams that God has given me to happen this year. I’m gonna go ahead and put that fudge tin away, for now, and believe that 2018 is going to go down in the books as a life-changing and fantastic year for me, no matter what happens! Who’s with me!

The Vacation

Well. We are home from our huge, long-awaited, too-good-to-be-true vacation (or, “holiday,” as the Kiwis say) to New Zealand! It was amazing…no, superb…no, fantastic…no, really, it was phenomenal. Actually, I don’t have the right adjectives to describe this trip. It was really the trip of a lifetime…

New Zealand, you say, whoooooaaaaa! Yeah, I know. And, this was actually our second trip to New Zealand.  Why New Zealand? Twice? Well, it’s really a pretty great story…

Once upon a time, we met Jeramy and Melissa Kenworthy – two native New Zealanders, living in the United States. They became the children’s pastors at our church at the time, and there was an instant connection. We began spending lots of time together – holidays, special occasions, weekend getaways, you name it. While they were in the US, they had two of their children. Then, came the year they decided it was time to move. Away. Far away. Different hemisphere, different continent, the whole enchilada. They moved about as far away as one can move: back to New Zealand.

Well, as you can imagine, there was the usual sobbing, wailing, gnashing of teeth, but in the end, we helped them to load all of their worldly belongings, including their HONDA VAN, into this ship container, and, just like that, they were gone.

End of the story, you ask? Not hardly!! It’s not easy, but we’re all determined to stay close. One of the ways, of course, is to actually visit New Zealand. Everyone with me so far? Good, moving on…

So, when I say that our trip was phenomenal, you have to imagine that with all caps – PHENOMENAL!. In case you don’t know much about New Zealand, let me be the first to tell you that it’s BEAUTIFUL! I mean, New Zealand has mountains, the ocean, lakes, forests, rivers, beaches, snow and low humidity. (And, lots of sheep everywhere, strangely enough…that’s just some free information for you…) I mean, Lord of the Rings was filmed there, for crying out loud! Get the picture? And, you know that’s awesome, it really is, but what’s even better is spending time with some of our favorite people.

From the moment we got off the plane and cried a few tears of joy, it was like we’d never been apart. We laughed, cut up, cooked together, watched movies, went to the grocery store and to dinner and constantly argued over who was to pay whatever bill we had at the moment. We also had 1 fall, 1 busted lip, 1 severely stubbed toe (all this was actually just with my mom), 6 different flights, 3 head colds, 3 luge rides, 2 buttermilk pies, 1 broken gondola, 1 snowman, 1 7-year-old falling into the lake while feeding the ducks and a partridge in a pear tree. OK, so no partridge in a pear tree, but everything else really happened. After 4 years of not seeing each other, these relationships are just the same.

Do you have people like that in your life? I hope so. I’m reminded of Paul the Apostle’s letters to the different early churches in the New Testament. In all of these letters, he routinely mentions by name people he loves and is thankful for. People who have made a difference in his life, and he in theirs. Relationships that can stand the test of time, no matter how long the test is. People who know you, the good, the bad and the ugly, and just choose to love you anyway; people who speak truth in love, cheer you on to be better and encourage you in your relationship with Christ. In my life, some of these people are my precious Kiwi friends.

In Phillipians 1:3-8, Paul says it best:

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. -ESV

The bottom line, as I see it, is that when hearts are knit together BY God and IN God, there are no friendships any sweeter, more fun or more beneficial. And, these friends may literally be on the other side of the earth or 2 doors down, no matter: the relationships stay strong because God has created them.

So. The gondola really did break down, WITH PEOPLE ON IT AFTER DARK (not us, or I dare say I might not be here to tell you about it) and we had to wait on top of the mountain for about an extra hour or two for it to be repaired. We went to the gift shop…with the kids…for a very long time…much longer than necessary…and, finally we were treated to free hot chocolate or mulled wine while we waited…and waited. What more can you ask for, right? Except, no, it was boring and irritating and the free hot chocolate didn’t begin to make us any happier. The only thing worse that we could think of was if we’d actually been ON the gondola when it broke. Yeah, that would be so much worse…

When we finally heard the announcement that the gondola was up and running again and we all ran through the plan of salvation together again, confessed sin and prayed, you know…just in case…we got in a cart with another American, strangely enough! She was a teacher who taught at a school in Aspen that was a “sister school” to a school in New Zealand and was a chaperone for a group of 12 students. No, really, I promise that is true and I’m currently trying to get on some list to obtain said-type job. I’ll keep you posted…anyway, we talked some, in between taking deep, calming breaths and calling out Jesus’ name, and she asked if the people we were visiting were family or friends. I thought for a minute, then answered, “You know, sometimes it’s really hard to tell the difference.”