Monthly Archives: December 2014

Goodbye, 2014 and Hello, 2015!

For this rare fifth Monday, I’m sharing one of my most-viewed posts of the last six months. It’s timely as we head into the 2015. Thank you for being part of this blog, and Happy New Year!

Confession: I hate running. Okay, “hate” is a strong word. I severely dislike running. If you read this blog regularly, you may remember that I do run. I just don’t like it. The strain, the boredom, the nasty sweating, the out-of-breathness. No, thanks.

It’s the having run that’s the good stuff. Sticking with it and crossing the finish line. …Perseverance, in the rearview mirror.

photo: U.S. Navy

What does the concept of perseverance mean to you? For me, it conjures a picture of pressing on in the face of opposition or resistance.  Like someone trudging forward through a howling blizzard or a ship weathering a fierce hurricane.

But why does it matter? So what if we hang in there, not just in tangible things like exercise, but during life’s difficulties? Wouldn’t it be easier just to throw in the towel sometimes? To give in to discouragement?

I’ve wrestled with this while going through long-term challenges. Prayer, digging into the Bible, and being around godly people have been lifesavers. And through this God reminds me of good reasons for sticking it out.

1. Persevering develops our trust muscles. Just like running strengthens my fledgling muscles, there’s nothing like hard times to grow our faith and trust in God. Do you feel like life just doesn’t make sense in certain situations? And where is God’s direction, His voice evaporating the fog of mystery surrounding these circumstances?

Sometimes it’s just not going to make sense, as much as we can’t stand that reality. Sometimes we must choose to trust and simply be with God–abiding in Him–and follow Him through the storm of confusion. And He won’t let us down.  Psalm 32:8 (NIV) promises the teachable person this: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.”

2. Persevering reveals God’s strength in us. Does your own strength ever surprise you? Maybe you hike a steep hill or survive an unbelievably hectic season of life. You look back, amazed, and think, “Wow. I didn’t know I could do that.” Here’s a secret I’ll bet you know already: It’s not our strength, but God’s in us. If Jesus is your savior, then He empowers you to do everything He has planned.

But here’s the interesting (yet groan-worthy) part–often it’s the hard times that hold up a mirror to reflect God’s strength inside of us. In the middle of it weariness threatens to capsize us. Then we stagger onto the shores of the other side. Catching our breath, we turn around and see what God brought us through. And He supplies strength to help us not only now, but in future challenges. We carry that power as we march ahead.

3. Persevering gives hope.  This week I talked with an older woman who is precious to me. She’s had a rough year. Lots of change, lots of loss. It’s healthy for her to acknowledge her grief, and she doesn’t sweep it under the rug. But she’s practicing perseverance by counting her blessings. “I have a warm place to live, I’m fed, I have my family.” She added with emphasis, “And I have have God’s love. What more could I ask for?”

What a refreshing perspective! Her attitude and perseverance give me hope and challenges my own. The “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12:1-3 comes to mind. Countless Christians in heaven cheer us on. They pressed on, and they whisper, “You can, too. Keep going. Don’t stop. Persevere.”

I think I’ll keep those spiritual running shoes laced up.

What about you? What’s another benefit of persevering? On a different note, what’s something that you hate doing but like having done?

High Flying Christmas, Take Two

It’s a Grab Bag Monday! I’m re-posting “High-Flying Christmas,” a short story I wrote in 2011. Today’s version includes minor edits. We’ll see how Josie James, the heroine from my novel Wild Blue Yonder, spends a Christmas during World War II. Merry Christmas!

Christmas World War II

Come on, you Yellow Pansy!” Josie muttered at her parked Stearman biplane. Only when it didn’t cooperate, like now, did she use the canary-colored plane’s nickname.

She strolled around a few seconds to refocus, hands on her hips, then turned on a heel to face the propeller once again. With a swift motion she yanked with all her might. The plane chugged, sputtered in protest, then fell silent as if pouting. Frustration rocketed out of Josie. Her fist connected with the cold metal shell of the plane with a dull thud. The bitter chill of the wind magnified ache in her knuckles and the remorse for punishing her Stearman.

It was Christmas Eve, for Pete’s sake. Only two days off from WASP training. She shook her sore hand and glanced around the bare, rolling plains. Wind whipped her chin-length hair into her eyes, but she could still see far down the dirt runway in the mid-afternoon stretch of sunlight. Maybe two more hours of daylight. Maybe.

Hmmm. Only a few miles back to Avenger Field. Even so, Otto was long gone and daylight was burnin’. West Texas dust had trailed her truck after she’d dropped off Josie where the Stearman was parked on a family friend’s air strip.

She turned and sized up the plane once again while hugging her thin coat to herself. It had to start. She placed an open hand on the side of the plane as an apology for the punch. The faithful Stearman hadn’t deserved that. She shot a quick prayer skyward – part plea for help and part asking forgiveness for getting distracted from Jesus’ birthday. Taking a deep breath, she rounded the front and turned to the propeller once more. One more swift yank, one more burst of hope.

She shouldn’t have been surprised. The motor roared to life and the baritone whirrr warmed her heart. The last few months had taught her that nothing was impossible. Now, what was that saying? …Something about truth being stranger than fiction? She chuckled at the memories of the last month-and-a-half, yet wasted no time. Two seconds and she vaulted herself from wing to cockpit.

Mercy, it felt good to be back in her family’s plane. To grasp familiar controls. No cramming bushels of new information just to get airborne. She smiled and sped through the pre-flight check with expert precision. A quick touch to two bags at her feet and she was ready. She smiled with gratitude. Mama and Daddy had scraped together enough rationed fuel for this trip.

Within moments she rumbled down the airstrip, easing the controls in a firm, smooth motion to push away from the land.

She leaned into a steep bank from north to east. Oh, how she loved those turns. She surveyed the land and caught sight of Sweetwater on the horizon. Cold air turned her nose as red as Rudolph’s. After sailing by the sleepy town, she headed southeast. It was almost as if the plane could fly home blindfolded to the James family farm.

Home. The thought warmed her as she readjusted in her seat. Her weary body and mind rejoiced to be free from the rigors of training for a couple of days.

If only Johnny would be there with them. The sting of missing her older brother pricked her.  What would his Christmas be like? Leading a mission? Hunkering down in a chilly tent with a bunch of stinky fellows, all wishing they were home with their families?

Yet pride filled her as she thought of her brother’s service to their country, to the free world. He’d be home as soon as he could. In the meantime her parents awaited her return tonight.

Before that, though, she had a job to do. The time in the air would give her the chance to plan that she’d missed while working on the plane. She rechecked her bearings while noting the faint outline of Abilene to her left. Good thing she didn’t have to stare down the setting sun on her other side. Satisfied, she let part of her mind focus on the task at hand. The bit of money she’d earn would surely come in handy on the farm.

Now, she had to time it just ri–

“Yowww!!!” Josie yelped and jumped in her seat. The plane lurched off course. Confusion clouded her mind. She scrambled for the controls and tipped the wings level again.

Only then did she look down to see what pain gripped her thigh. Breathing hard, her eyes grew as big as Mama’s pecan pies when she spotted him.

“Confound it, Gravy!” The scared, crouching cat at her feet stared at her with innocent eyes while an outstretched paw hooked claws into her leg. “How in tarnation did you get here?” More stares.

Josie tore her eyes away to regain her bearings. Her thoughts raced and she shook her head. She dared a glance down. Yep, still there. Still staring at her.

That infernal cat. He’d almost been the death of her almost as soon as she’d set foot on Avenger Field.  Cats belonged in barns, earning their keep by mousing. This flea bag – she felt him climb onto her lap, gripping claws all the way – had made her dream her first week about warm Russian-style hats. She’d read about them in school. When she awoke one morning from the recurring dream, she’d heard purring. Jerking fully awake, she looked at her pillow only to see this lounging gray and cream tabby cat gazing at her, content. She’d shooed it off her cot and watched, still in disbelief, as it hopped on another one and out the open window.

Her five baymates–her friends–had only chuckled and ignored her attempts to keep him out. Liza, who slept closest to the window, would reopen it after Josie conked out every night. The routine repeated each day. Before long he’d taken on the name of Gravy, after the cream-colored fur on his soft belly.  Josie allowed a small smile.  Truth be told, she’d never slept better than when he warmed her head each night. Not that she’d admit that to anyone. She cleared her throat.

Quick scans around the cockpit floor confirmed her suspicion. Her canvas bag now gaped. Bits of fur decorated the opening. “Well, cat,” she glanced down at his closed eyes. How could he sleep up here in the sky, and so quickly? “I reckon Brown Betty will have a barn visitor for Christmas.” She laughed out loud, anticipating her mare’s whinny of displeasure. Brown Betty didn’t like cats any more than she liked swarming flies on a June afternoon.

Ugh. Josie clamped her mouth shut. She’d laughed too long and swallowed a high-flying bug. Her grimace continued through a coughing fit. Get it together, flygirl! She peered ahead and took in Buffalo Gap’s twin hills getting bigger. Shadows below were getting longer, too. Time was running out to finish her plan.

Now, where was the Kramer house from here? Mr. Olin, the baker in Sweetwater, had described it to her while handing a warm cinnamon roll over his counter. “It’s across the road from the church,” he said with a nod and a smile. “Red bench out front. My son-in-law built it himself. Can’t miss it.” The family had moved to Buffalo Gap two months prior. Josie asked Mr. Olin to hold the reward until after she’d completed her mission.

The glaring sunset chased her toward town. She leaned forward. Gravy stirred. Would she be able to find their home in time?

A few minutes later her hopes had faded with the light as she approached town. She couldn’t see the houses below in the gray dusk. Her pulse raced. Another quick prayer.

Her mind went blank as the town turned black. Faint lantern light flickering in a few windows offered now help. She sighed. An incomplete mission. She frowned yet stayed her course.

Just as she was thinking of how to explain it to Mr. Olin, a bright glow glimmered ahead. What in the world?

Then it dawned on her. The church’s Christmas Eve service. She smiled, tears trailing down her cheeks. Moment by moment the light grew. She began to make out the line of people streaming outside to the front yard, candles in hand.  The light grew so much as she neared that the glow spilled to the neighboring houses. Josie banked, circling over the neighborhood.  It just might work…

She frantically scanned the small homes and yards. Where was it? She dipped the nose of the plane lower.

The she spotted it. The red bench, tiny below. And a couple with a little boy perched on their laps, watching the candlelight service. She kept one hand on the controls and reached the other for her second bag, a round, burlap one cinched near the top.

Wait, wait….now! As she shoved the bag over the side, the painted red words on the bag “From Santa” rolled by her. She caught a glimpse of the surprised churchgoers as she pulled up hard.  The plane’s flyby extinguished some of the candles, and a few raised, shaking fists spoke of frustration. Others peered or waved. Gravy gripped her lap.

Had it made it? She had to know. She swung wide and returned.

She craned her neck and found the home again. Peering through the dark she spotted the parents kneeling over the open bag. Wrapped packages sat next to it. The little boy jumped up and down. Just before she passed out of view the parents looked up and smiled at her. Her own huge smile made her frozen cheeks hurt.

She didn’t care. Mission accomplished. Yellow Pansy veered east and headed home.




Review: Truth Matters

Once a month I review a book – usually fiction, sometimes non-fiction. Grab your favorite hot beverage (mine’s a mocha), and let’s talk reading!

It’s a non-fiction month. Fair warning: this one challenges us to dust off our thinking caps. Get ready for Truth Matters: Confident Faith in a Confusing World by Darrell Bock, Josh Chatraw, and Andreas J. Kostenberger. But the thinkiness is worth it.

Truth Matters

Rating: 4-1/2 mochas out of 5

You might like this if you like: Christian non-fiction in general, writers like Josh McDowell or other defenders of the faith.

What it’s about: Nationwide, Christian teenagers by the droves are leaving church and their Christian faith after graduating high school. One common thread: their lack of a solid understanding of the reasons for their faith. They leave the relative security of their church youth groups and come under attack in the “real” world by those bent on derailing Christianity. They face questions like, “How can you prove God is real? What about the Bible’s inconsistencies? How can you believe that Jesus was anything more than a good teacher?”

The authors of Truth Matters want to turn the tide. This book aims to arm Christian high schoolers with foundations for faith in order to withstand verbal attacks in college and elsewhere. Thoroughly they discuss answers to the questions above and more. But the kicker is that all Christians–high school and older–can benefit from this project.

What I liked: Truth Matters doesn’t pull punches. It’s a slim-ish volume that gets down to business. It pinpoints the “greatest hits” of the world’s attacks against Christianity. In that sense it proves highly valuable. It fills a need. Our church’s youth group went through the book this summer, and many hungered to add to their understanding of the topics addressed.

Like I said before, this isn’t just for teens facing post-high school life. Too many “veteran” Christians need a deeper understanding to answer those who ask the hard questions, including the questions we ask ourselves deep down.

I wasn’t crazy about: Despite its target audience, at times the complex concepts can seem challenging even for adults. But that’s okay, too. Sometimes as Christians we’re too used to baby food. We need to be challenged.

The bottom line: Truth Matters, hands down, is worthwhile. I daresay most of us could use at least a refresher in how to converse rationally about our faith with a non-Christian.

What about you? When do you find it most challenging to answer Christianity’s critics (who could also, secretly, be seekers)? Have you found other favorite resources along these lines?

Taking the Treasures

We’re nearing the end of the year, and talk about introspection abounds…with good reason. What will you take with you from the last twelve months?


photo by Tom Praison

photo by Tom Praison

A familiar part of the Christmas story caught my attention recently. After the shepherds’ unexpected, worshipful visit to her newborn son, Jesus, Luke 2:19 (NIV) says, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Can you imagine the range of emotions and thoughts Mary experienced that night? And not just that night, but the last nine-plus months? She began that time as a young teenager betrothed to a good man, a bright future ahead. She then sparked scandal among family and friends by becoming pregnant before marriage. Who would believe she’d remained innocent? Only divine intervention talked Joseph down from ledge of divorce. No doubt her days after returning from cousin Elizabeth’s home were filled with whispers behind her back and disapproving stares. And no doubt those harrowing months shaped her into an even more compassionate person.

But then He came. Her baby, Jesus, the son of God. There was so much to take in, so much to process. Surely it required the decades ahead for her to come close to realizing the significance.

So for the time being, that first night, she she simply gathered all of the sights, sounds, thoughts, and feelings she grasped and tucked them away in her heart for safekeeping.  And her memory wasn’t just a storage space. It offered her a place to to think about and mull what all of it meant.

She recognized the significance and meaning just enough to hang onto it. The good, the bad of those months would not be wasted.

But what about us? What about you?  Think about this last year, the good and the bad. Which things do your heart beckon you to gather into its treasure chest?

No one wants to hang on to the bad things. At least not on purpose. But which of those taught priceless lessons that demand to be treasured, pondered? If God used it for our good, it will not be wasted. Bank on that.

But what about the negative experiences that earn no place in your treasure chest? If we’re anything like each other, sometimes the bad things of life masquerade as legitimate stowaways in our heart. It could be major events or even the smaller, pesky annoyances that abound in our everyday fallen world. Do they really deserve to be carried into the next year (or even the next day), or can we jettison them into the sea of forgetfulness? Let’s do ourselves a favor and ponder that.

Ah, but the good things… Let’s not neglect to seize them and, with a loving touch, place them in our hearts for safekeeping. God astounds me with His blessings, but do I take time to recognize and think about them? If we take anything from the life of Mary, her example is timeless and precious.  Surely she held tightly to these memories during the tumultuous years that unfolded.

Treasure and ponder. It just may help get us through the unknowns of our future.


Time Travel: The “White Christmas” that You (Maybe) Never Knew

Christmas songs. Which are your favorites?  You’re not alone if the classic “White Christmas” made your list. Most of us could sing it in our sugarplum-induced sleep. But with all its familiarity, do you know everything about this tune? Here are a few tidbits that may be new to you.

Holiday Inn

Best seller. The Bing Crosby version of the song rests unrivaled as the most popular of all time. In fact, his recording remains the best-selling single in history. Crosby debuted “White Christmas” on Christmas Day, 1941.

Composer. The songwriting master Irving Berlin penned the song. Most people know that, but consider the irony: Irving Berlin was a Jewish person who composed one of the best-loved Christmas tunes.

Tragedy. While not proven, some believe that tragedy birthed Berlin’s inspiration to write “White Christmas.” His infant son, Irving Jr., died on Christmas Day, 1928. It is speculated that the melancholy song paid tribute to his child.

Screen Origin. Ask almost anyone which movie first claimed the song, and they’ll give you a funny look. “‘White Christmas’, of course,” they’ll reply.

Nope. While that film is a king among holiday movies, “White Christmas” appeared first in one of my favorite Christmas movies, “Holiday Inn,” (see photo above) starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. Surprisingly, another song from the movie, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart,” garnered more attention than “White Christmas.”

There you have it. I wish you a Merry (and a white) Christmas season, dear readers!

Your turn: Care to share your favorite Christmas carols or songs?

What to know more? I highly recommend Ace Collins’ books exploring the background of Christmas songs and carols:

Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas

More Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas