Get Ready. Here Comes 2010.

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

2 Corinthians 5:16-18

Christmas 2009 is history. Can you believe it? The beautifully wrapped gifts have disappeared from under the tree, big bags of holiday trash are at the curb waiting for pickup, and there's leftover ham in the fridge (not to mention leftover everything else). How quickly we've put Christmas behind us. In a few days we'll leave 2009 to our memories and take the leap into 2010. And you know what that means: RESOLUTIONS -- the year-end tradition of promising one's self to accomplish something, often meaning to change a behavior (or two or three).

Do you make resolutions? I don't. I grew weary of failing. Every year on New Year's Eve, I would make a list and vow that by the new year's end I would be a changed person. After a few weeks, or if I was lucky a few months, procrastination set in. I'm the exception to the rule that says it takes 30 to 45 days to change a habit. I always seem to slip back to my old ways. Maybe I'm just lazy, or maybe I don't succeed because I'm diffident; I don't like change, and that keeps me wandering around in circles.

It's true, I really don't like change. I'm skeptical of it. This last decade has been a challenging one for me. My life has changed in ways that I wasn't prepared for and in ways that I don't like. The one constant in these changes is that I had no control over them. The changes didn't happen because of anything that I did -- they just happened. As hard as I tried, I couldn't take charge of them. I wondered if God was trying to tell me something. As I prayed and asked for His guidance, I came to realize that God has me just where He wants me right now. I need to be open to unexpected change -- the one thing that I fear the most. I need to keep moving forward knowing that God has gone on ahead of me. He has the compass, and He is the orienteer. He knows exactly where I'm headed, and it's my job to be obedient and to follow Him with blind faith believing that He knows what He's doing.

It's hard to have blind faith, especially when the changes in our lives aren't positive, at least not in the way that we see them. Remember Job? He had it all, and then it was all taken from him. He was left sitting in sackcloth and ashes, sick, wishing he were dead. Still, he refused to curse God and die. He held onto his faith, and eventually God picked him up and gave him back his life. And remember the Israelites and their trek to the Promised Land? A journey that should have taken less than two weeks took forty years. Every step led to some sort of setback, and those setbacks often came when the Israelites' faith wore thin. Even their leader, Moses, grew weary and lost faith. The Israelites constantly complained about their circumstances, and Moses became angry with God and was disobedient to Him. Still, after years of suffering, God brought His people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. He took the most challenging of circumstances and worked them out for good.

Do you wander in circles instead of following the footsteps of God? I do. I sometimes forget that Jesus always walked forward in faith believing that his Heavenly Father was leading him. Even in the darkest of circumstances, he held to his faith. When he imagined the horrors of His crucifixion, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, "My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will but as you will." (Matthew 26:39 NIV) Not as I will, but as you will. Christ suffered through arduous changes, but he didn't lose faith. He didn't get what He asked for, but God took all of His suffering and changed it into something wonderful, not just for him but for all of us. Jesus is our example. His faith shows us how God wants us to approach the unplanned changes in our lives.

What are you asking God for in 2010? What resolutions are you making? None of us know what the Lord has in store for us. We hope for something wonderful, but we can't be assured of it happening, at least not "wonderful" in our perception of the word. When we face unpleasant changes outside of our control, it's easy to lose our faith that God is working everything out for good.

In truth, each trial we face is a step toward goodness. How do we know? Because Romans 8:28 says that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Believing that as God's promise to us requires blind faith.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step." Add the words of St. Francis of Assisi: "Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible." What is necessary this week is stepping into 2010 with blind faith in your Heavenly Father. After that, pray that He will guide you to do what is possible. And, finally, leave the impossible up to Him. Allow God to change you and to make you into whatever He wants you to be.

Dear God,

We pray asking for your blessings in this new year. We promise to follow you by faith remembering the words of Isaiah 64:8: But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we all are the work of they hand. Amen.

The Secret to a Stress-Free Christmas

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest,and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2: 9-14 KJV

I’ve been thinking a lot this month about the birth of Christ. Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem was long and hard. They weren’t greeted there with joyful anticipation of the eminent arrival of the Messiah. Instead, they were turned away from the inn and sent to a stable or cave. There, in plainness among the animals, Christ was born. There was no grand celebration. In fact, it would be many years before His birth was celebrated around the world as a holiday. The birth of Christ was simple.

The second chapter of Luke presents not an earthly celebration, but a heavenly one. An angel of the Lord appears to the shepherds and describes Christ’s birth as “good news of great joy for all people.” Then suddenly, a crowd of angels appears praising God.

Praising God. Those two words in Luke 2:13 teach us how to celebrate Christmas. We are to praise God for His gift to us – the gift of eternal life through the birth, life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is the busiest week of the year. Our lives are filled with holiday preparations: planning, shopping, baking, wrapping gifts, sending cards, decorating and cleaning our houses; the list is endless. Yet, God requires none of these things from us. He wants us to celebrate the birth of Christ simply by praising Him, by offering thanksgiving to Him for the gift of Jesus.

The birth of Christ was simple, and so is the secret to a joyful Christmas: Praise God.

This Christmas I wish you, my readers, a simple stress-free holiday spent remembering the birth of Christ and giving praise to God.

Jane's Accidental Turtles

"We know that all things work together for good for them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." —Romans 8:28 (KJV)

I met my friend Jane when we were both in our late twenties. We are creative women, each of us strong-willed, independent and competitive. We attack life with a vengeance, and we have strong opinions. But if you told us that we'd deny it.

I'm a writer, a quiet, steadfast observer. I tune in to everything that's going on around me. When I'm in a crowded restaurant, I can't help but listen to conversations at the surrounding tables. The writer in me is always listening, always sifting and sorting, translating the sights, sounds and smells into words. I soak everything up and hang onto it until I'm so full that I'm forced to let go. Jane sees this attention to detail as my being distracted and disinterested in the here and now. I wish that she could see the world through my eyes. She wishes that I could see the world through hers.

Jane is an artist, an outgoing, high-spirited adventurer. While my mind is occupied with the lives of pioneers in their covered wagons, Jane dreams of space travel and new frontiers in other worlds. She likes noise and she's noisy. There are televisions in every room of her house, and the radio is always blaring while she's doing some sort of project. Often, she seems unaware of what's happening around her. Jane locks into the moment, captures it and gives it form. Then she releases it and moves on to something new.

We are an unlikely pair. We mix like oil and water, yet God brought our two very different personalities together so we would learn from each other. Some of our lessons have brought wounds and others healing.

One place we meet well is in the kitchen. We are good cooks, and we compliment each other's style. At Christmas-time we have a long-standing tradition of baking cookies. Not just a few cookies, but dozens of cookies in dozens of varieties. (Jane and I don't do "simple.") We sing carols, eat snacks, sympathize with each other's aching backs and we bake. We rarely stray from our tried-and-true recipes, and when we do we're usually disappointed. We made divinity fudge with batter so stiff it burned out the electric mixer, we tried truffles only to find that after hours of work we had half as many as we needed, and we bored ourselves to tears with the monotony of making dozens of tart shells. Then, one year, Jane made turtles, turtles so decadent they were only made once. The recipe is locked away forever in the memories of that day.

The turtles came quite by accident. It was the end of our baking night, and leftover ingredients cluttered the kitchen table. "This is good stuff," Jane said, "We shouldn't waste it." She was right. We'd bought the best vanilla, the freshest spices, the richest chocolate, the creamiest butter.... Before I knew it, Jane was at the stove creating. She was intense, and I stayed out of her way. While I cleaned cookie sheets, she poured a little of this and a little of that into a saucepan. The mixture bubbled and simmered while Jane put trios of pecans on sheets of waxed paper. Then she dropped spoonfuls of her creation over the nuts.

We waited. By time the kitchen was cleaned, the turtles were ready to taste. They were the best turtles ever!

"How did you do this?" I asked.

"I have no idea," Jane told me. "I just put everything together, and it came out right."

The way Jane made turtles is the way God forms our lives. Romans 8:28 says that He works all things for good for those of us who love Him. It's hard to see God's good works when we feel like a burned out mixer, or when we work hard and don't make enough money, or when the monotony of a daily routine drives us crazy. But God works all things, every thing for our good. He takes unlikely ingredients and mixes them into the saucepan of our lives, and like Jane's turtles what comes out of the pan is better than anything we could ever expect.

Dear Father: Help us, please, to surrender to you all the ingredients of our lives. Take them, Lord, and use them in your recipe to create something beyond our expectations.

What Number is Your Turkey

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication
with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

Philippians 4:6 ESV

(Reposted from Thanksgiving 2009)

My mother was the official turkey maker for our Thanksgiving dinners. Every year, Mom would fret about cooking the turkey, and Dad would answer by telling her how many turkeys she had cooked through the years. "We've been married 27 years, and you've made 27 turkeys. It'll be fine"….."We've been married 40 years, and you've made 40 turkeys. It'll be fine." It was the same conversation each Thanksgiving, and the turkey was always fine.

I confess, that I was somewhat annoyed by their annual exchange. Sometimes when we're young, we miss the significance of the little things – those little exchanges that couples have again and again.

Mom was a worrier, and I'm sure that she prayed to God each time she put a turkey into the oven. She read her Bible daily, and Philippians 4:6 was a verse that she liked to quote: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. "Dear God, thank you for this turkey. Now, please help me to cook it just right so it won't turn out dry. Amen."

Mom checked the bird often. She tested it for brownness and juiciness, and when it was finally done and presented to the table she always said, "I hope that it's okay." That's when Dad would chime in and announce the annual turkey number and proclaim that the bird was fine.

The last turkey was number 57. We didn't know that it would be the last. A few months after Thanksgiving, Mom became suddenly ill and died. That same year, Dad went into a nursing home.

Dad had dementia that progressed rapidly after he lost his wife. He no longer remembered the number of turkeys that Mom had cooked through the years, but he remembered Mom. As time went on, he forgot that I was his daughter. I became Betty, his wife. I looked like her and I sounded like her, and that, I think, was a comfort to my dad. In his mind, his beloved wife was still with him, and although I wished that he'd remember me, I played along. I was Betty.

On each of the nine Thanksgivings that Dad was in the nursing home, I cooked our traditional Thanksgiving dinner at home, packed it up, and took it there to share with him. Like my mother, I fretted about the turkey and wondered if it would be done enough or if I had overcooked it and it would be dry. The nursing home staff always prepared a private dining room where Dad and I could sit together and eat our Thanksgiving meal. In Dad's mind, he was home. "I hope the turkey's okay," I found myself saying as I presented Dad with a steaming plate of food. I half expected him to answer that this was turkey number 58 and it would be fine, but he didn't. I fed him the turkey because he was no longer able to feed himself. He said that it was good. Gone was the traditional exchange between my parents. Lost was the annual turkey count. But we went on sharing our Thanksgiving meals, father and daughter together, until he died.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." This year, I'm thankful for all the Thanksgiving turkeys that I shared with my Mom in joyful holiday fellowship. I'm equally thankful for the additional Thanksgivings that I had with my dad. Although the circumstances were sad, and grew more difficult with each passing year, we had each other. I'm most thankful for memories of the little things: my mom and dad bickering about the turkey and the wonderful smell of it roasting in the oven when I walked through the door. It was those little things that reminded me that I was home…and everything was fine.

Dear Lord: On this Thanksgiving Day, we give thanks to you for family, home, and for the sweet remembrance of Thanksgivings gone by. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

What number is your turkey? I wish you, my readers, a blessed holiday filled with little things that become cherished memories...and most of all, I wish you a turkey that turns out fine!

A President's Thanksgiving Proclamation

Sarah Josepha Hale, a prominent author and magazine editor, best known as the author of the poem "Mary Had a Little Lamb," campaigned for 17 years to have Thanksgiving made a national holiday. She wrote letters to five Presidents of the United States -- Zachary Taylor, Millard Filmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and Abraham Lincoln. Thanksgiving had only been celebrated in New England, and each state scheduled its own thanksgiving day with timing that varied from January to October, a day of thanksgiving was almost never celebrated in the American South. In 1863, it was Hale's letter that inspired Abraham Lincoln to support legislation to make the last Thursday in November a national day of thanksgiving. The timing was perfect. Just as it says in the Bible in Ecclesiastes 3:1, "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven." The country was in the middle of a devastating civil war, and it was time to unify and count blessings, as elusive as they might seem. What better time to set aside a national day to give thanks?

Lincoln issued this proclamation on October 3, 1863.

Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation
Washington, DC—October 3, 1863

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful years and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the Source from which they come, others have been added which are of so extraordinary a nature that they can not fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever-watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict, while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the field of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than theretofore. Population has steadily increased notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony wherof I have herunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

A. Lincoln

Times have changed. I can't help but think of 1 Chronicles 16:8 which says, "Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done." I wonder what the reaction would be if during this time of war and economic strife our President issued a proclamation stating that the whole American people should acknowledge God's mercy and offer thanksgiving and praise "to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens." Would it be accepted with accolades, or criticized by columnists and news talk shows across the nation?

[Dear Heavenly Father] "Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all. Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name." [Amen]
1 Chronicles 29:11-13 (KJV)

Lincoln art print credit: "To Save a Nation" by Larry Winborg

Joel's Story: A Miracle in Iowa

This week, I am honored to introduce you to my guest blogger, Shari Barr. Shari writes from a farm in southwest Iowa that she shares with her husband and two children. In addition to numerous articles, stories, and Sunday school curriculum, she has two books to her credit including “Memory Maker Bible Crafts for 2nd and 3rd Grades.” She has recently completed four books in Barbour Books’ Camp Club Girls mystery series to begin releasing in early 2010. Shari is a member of the Heart of America Christian Writers Network and American Christian Fiction Writers. In her guest post, this week, Shari shares with us an inspirational story about a young man who survived insurmountable odds. Here is Joel's story:

On a cold January day earlier this year, a tragedy rocked our rural community in southwest Iowa. Joel Herzberg, an eighteen-year-old senior at Villisca High School headed to Mt. Crescent Ski Resort in Council Bluffs for one last outing with his parents and three brothers before Christmas vacation ended. But the day was cut tragically short when Joel fell while snowboarding, striking the right side of his head.

After a few precious minutes, Joel slipped into unconsciousness. LifeNet arrived, rushing Joel to University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska, a mere five minute helicopter ride. After a CAT scan showed a fractured skull and a severed blood vessel, neurosurgeons performed emergency surgery to remove a blood clot that had formed. Doctors put him on a ventilator to help him breath and placed him in a drug-induced coma to reduce swelling and pressure on the brain.

Despite the medications, however, the pressures remained high. Doctors informed Jim and Jan Herzberg that their son’s condition was critical. Until he awoke, no one would know the extent of his injuries.

As is often the case in farming communities and small towns, the news of Joel’s accident sent shockwaves throughout the area. In an instant he became everybody’s son, brother or friend, whether or not they knew him. Prayer chains set in motion by family, friends and classmates sent multitudes of prayers heavenward. Complete strangers prayed in earnest as Joel’s story spread across phone lines and the Internet.

Soon after the accident, Jan began an online journal to keep family and friends informed on his condition. Though I had never met Joel, I followed his story relentlessly. As a mother to two teenagers of my own, the tragedy struck close to my heart. On the seventh day following the accident, my heart sank as I read Jan’s devastating entry. Neurosurgeons informed the family that Joel had been on the drug Phenobarbital long enough that if the swelling on the brain was from the accident, it should have been down by now. His rising pressures, along with another CAT scan, told them that the pressure was from a massive stroke he had suffered while the blood clot was placing pressure on the brain, critically injuring the brain stem. Doctors told the Herzberg’s that their son might not survive. The last line of Jan’s journal entry that day read, “We continue to pray now for a miracle, please pray with us.”

Despite the doctors’ discouraging prognosis, Joel’s family refused to give up. Neither did Joel. His condition stabilized and doctors removed the ventilator. He began to respond to stimuli, though doctors said the actions were simply reflexes. Still, countless prayers for a miracle continued.

During the following days, responses became more frequent. It became obvious that Joel’s movements were not reflexes—he was waking up. Several weeks later, he lay in bed watching a basketball game on a computer set up in his hospital room—a game in which he should have been playing. Villisca was playing their biggest rival, Stanton, in a close ballgame. And then it happened—Joel moved for the first time since the accident. The moment he moved his foot, the Herzberg family knew their son and brother was on his way back.

I’ve followed Joel’s story from the day of the accident, to moving to a rehab center where he learned to walk and talk again, and to receiving his diploma at his high school graduation in May. Now, more than nine months after the fall, Joel has returned home. He has dreams, big dreams that include college some day.

I’ve learned a lot about faith these last few months just watching this amazing family who refused to give up hope. The Herzberg’s are proof that God indeed listens to our prayers, working miracles every day through devoted doctors and therapists. Though I’ve often wondered why God allows these tragedies in our lives, I do know Joel’s story touched countless lives, including mine. Witnessing this miracle has taught me to never give up hope, even if it seems like all hope is gone. This was, without a doubt, all a part of God’s plan.

Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is a time and purpose for everything under heaven,” and this is, after all, the season for miracles.

Dear Lord, Help us to never forget your undying love for us and to remember that anything is possible for those who have faith.

Joel continues his treatment at home. Please pray for his complete recovery.

Look for Shari Barr's newest book: McKenzie's Montana Mystery, available from Barbour Publishing in March 2010. Click here to read more about it.

Thank you, Shari, for being a guest blogger on "God is in the Compost Pile."

Stealing Jesus

"Remember Jesus Christ..."
2 Timothy 2:8

The year I bought my house, God decided I needed a cat. I didn't want a cat, I wanted a dog -- a big, hugable, lovable dog. I wanted a German Shepherd, a Golden Retriever, maybe even a Saint Bernard. But instead, God sent me a cat.

Freckles was a little, gray tabby cat, a stray, less than a year old. I found her wandering through my foxgloves and delphiniums. She was thin, hungry, and covered with fleas. The poor little creature broke my heart, and when I brought her a plate of cat food she claimed me as her own. At the end of a few days, it was as if we had known each other forever.

From the beginning, my cat made it clear to me that she was in control. True to her kind, she was independent and self-assured. My house belonged to her. She allowed me to live there, but in return for her gracious hospitality I was required to provide her with two meals a day, treats on demand, fresh water always, and an impeccably clean commode. As long as I kept my part of the bargain things went fine, but if I strayed, even a whisker, from her routine, she found ways to punish me.

Freckles did cat things. She chased ghost mice up the walls, she walked precariously on curtain rods, and she opened my kitchen cabinets. Whenever I scolded her, she found a way to get to my eye level. She'd jump up on a counter top, or worse, climb up my back! Then she'd stare at me as if to say, "Deal with it, Lady. I'm a cat." Freckles stole things. If I left a piece of jewelry on my dresser, it was gone. If I rolled a pair of clean socks into a ball, they ended up in a dark corner under the sofa. She took food, money, underwear, keys, pencils -- anything she could get her teeth into. Each new season brought new things to steal. In the spring, she stole from the Easter baskets, in the summer she took packets of flower seeds, in autumn she took the gloves I wore to keep blisters from forming on my hands while I raked leaves for endless hours. But, by far, winter was her favorite time. Winter brought Christmas.

Christmas was prime time for my naughty, little cat burglar. The house was filled with exciting new toys: ornaments, candles, papier-maché angels, peppermint candy. It was a rare occasion when I saw Freckles without something dangling from her mouth. But I was good about it; I dealt with it in the spirit of the season: I found her stash, I returned things to where they rightfully belonged, and I didn't say a word about it -- until she stole Jesus.

Baby Jesus has the place of honor at the center of my nativity scene. Each year, I put him gently into the tiny, straw-filled manger on the fireplace mantel. Then, I carefully place Mary and Joseph at his side.

At first Freckles showed no interest in Jesus, but then He became the object of her intent. I saw her planning it. She lay there in front of the hearth looking angelic, but her mind was full of a sneak, snatch, and run routine. Silently, she'd climb up the wing-back chair. Then, she'd leap softly onto the mantel. After that, she'd pussyfoot around the wise men and past the donkey grazing on the hay, and then -- she'd seize Jesus! Before I'd know what was happening, she'd run off with him someplace where I'd never find him again. Shrewd is the mind of a cat.

Her scheme went off without a hitch, except that she knocked over a shepherd when she absconded with our Lord and Savior. I saw her just as she jumped from the mantel with Jesus held firmly in her teeth. He was visible only from the waist up, His tiny arms outstretched and pleading for rescue.

"Hey!" I cried. "You come back here with Jesus!"

What followed was a wild chase around the house. I was determined not to let her out of my sight, and I stayed in hot pursuit. Finally, I cornered her. Knowing she'd been had, Freckles dropped Jesus with no remorse and no look of guilt. She glared at me. Her eyes said, "Deal with it, Lady." Gently, I placed Baby Jesus back in his bed. It was the last time Freckles would steal Him from the manger. (I quickly learned that double-faced tape does wonders.)

When Freckles stole Jesus, it made me realize that I too have stolen Him from the manger. I've done it by giving in to the commercialism of Christmas. The familiar trappings of the season -- presents, parties, decorations -- distract me from the true meaning of the holiday. I find myself complaining about how much I have to do and how little time there is. I wonder whether the gifts I bought are good enough. Did I buy enough for everyone? Is the wrapping paper pretty enough? Did I get enough tags and bows? Are there enough lights to trim the tree? Will one pie be enough for Christmas dinner? All these concerns are like Freckles stealing Jesus from the manager and hiding Him somewhere out of sight, out of mind.

Even in the antics of our pets, God teaches us. My lesson that day was that Christ is Christmas. As much as I hate to admit it, I forget that sometimes. Christ gets lost in the gaiety, the bright, flickering lights, the dulcet carols, the mountains of gifts. But Christ is Christmas. He sees everything we do. He watches us. He speaks. In the middle of the sounds of the season His voice might only be a whisper. But listen. He says, simply: "Remember me."

Dear Jesus:
Forgive me for not putting you first on your birthday. Teach me that your light shines more brightly than the holiday lights, and that your voice is sweeter than the carols.

[Come back next week for an inspiring guest post by my friend and fellow author, Shari Barr.]

Book Review Week: The Tallest of Smalls

[Thank you to Thomas Nelson for sending me a review copy of Max Lucado's The Tallest of Smalls.]

"Even if we are small, or don't feel like we fit in, we matter to the only One who matters."
That is the message at the heart of Max Lucado's new children's book The Tallest of Smalls. It is a delightful story about Ollie, the smallest of the Two-Smalls who live in a land called Stiltsville. Every evening at six, the Too-Smalls meet in the town circle where they hope they’ll be picked to receive stilts to strut about above the stilt-less masses. They come to see if they matter -- if they’re awesome, if they’re pretty, if they’re clever, or funny. Ollie begs to be picked. He wants to be like the high-ups of Stiltsville who are proud of their stilts and their ultimate status. But once he gets stilts, oh how it hurts when he stumbles and tumbles and loses them.

Listen to what Max Lucado has to say about how Jesus helps the smallest of smalls:

The Tallest of Smalls is a useful book for parents to share with their children. The message is clear: You are fine just the way you are! You don't need to be in the cool-crowd to matter, and when you feel left out or bullied, you are not alone. Jesus is right there, smiling, putting his arm around you and walking with you everyday.

Children will enjoy Max Lucado's rhyming text and Maria Monescillo's whimsical, detailed illustrations. Visit this link to preview the book. Then order a copy for your child's bookshelf. It will come in handy on those days when he or she comes home from school feeling like Ollie in need of some stilts.

The Tallest of Smalls includes a Note to Parents and also a page where it can be personalized, if given as a gift.

This book for kids coordinates with Max's adult trade book, Fearless, which released in September 2009.

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages

Publisher: Thomas Nelson (November 3, 2009)

Technology vs. God

"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." – Psalm 46:10.

Our local cable company just added the Retro Channel to its lineup. I've been enjoying old television shows like The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Dragnet and even old news broadcasts featuring the late Walter Cronkite. Compared to today's shows, the production value of these old programs is primitive. Technology has come a long way since the 1950s and 60s when television had simple stage sets, limited special effects, and news reports without live video.

I watched a few episodes of the Superman series from the late 1950s. Superman was the fastest thing around back then. He zoomed through the sky with supersonic velocity, faster than a speeding bullet, soaring past blurred images of the Empire State Building and other New York skyscrapers. When I saw him whooshing in front of those buildings, it reminded me of my life. My days are a blur. They go by so fast that I'm not aware of all the things in the background, the things that I pass along the way. I'm not alone. We've all become super men, women and children zooming through life at breakneck speed.

In the 50s and 60s, life was slower. There were fewer choices on television, and when you watched it, you weren't multi-tasking. You watched with fixed attention. When you watched the nightly news, you understood that the images were real and the stories were the heart of someone's life. You let it all soak in, and you thought about it for a while. You remembered.

When I was a kid, Mom and Dad often talked about Pearl Harbor. On the anniversaries of the attack, they remembered how horrendous it had been, and they reflected on the lives that were lost. Every year on Pearl Harbor Day, their generation remembered and relived where they were when it happened. Back then, in the age of propeller airplanes and steam ships, Pearl Harbor was an imagined faraway place in the South Pacific. There was no television to convey news about the attack. Special reports ("Bulletins," they were called) came by radio. The images arrived as stills in newspapers or short newsreels in movie theaters. Yet, my parents' generation remembered Pearl Harbor, year after year, as if it were yesterday. The death toll at Pearl Harbor was 2300. That was about the same number of people who died in Hurricane Katrina.

Pop quiz: On what date did Hurricane Katrina strike New Orleans?

These days, "big" news stories appear on television in a flash and quickly retire to the history books. There's little time to let them soak in. Think about it. Almost 300,000 people died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. That's about half the number of soldiers killed in the American Civil War. About 3,000 Americans died in the attacks on September 11, 2001. That's similar to the number of people who died in the Protestant/Catholic conflict in Northern Ireland. Making these comparisons puts things in perspective. In the last decade we have lived through several "Pearl Harbors." So why don’t we remember the dates like our parents remembered?

We watch major news events on TV (the tsunami, Katrina, 911) in real time as if we're watching a movie with awesome special effects. After days, or maybe a week or two, of watching the same event, we're ready to move on to something else. It's a lot like watching a movie on DVD and then putting it away on a shelf. Our lives move fast, and we're always looking for the next action adventure. I think, sometimes, we miss the reality and magnitude of current events. We get so caught up in the show that we don't take time to be still and reflect.

I wonder how God feels about the pace of things here on Earth. I wonder what He thinks when we're too busy to be still and when we put all of our business ahead of Him and His creation.

I think about the scripture verses in Mark 4:35-39 where Jesus calms the storm: That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, "Let us go over to the other side." Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?" He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, "Quiet! Be still!" Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. (NIV)

Technology through television brings fiction to life, and it allows us to see reality as it happens. That's an awesome accomplishment and in many ways a blessing. But I think we need to be careful. With news events whizzing by on television, like Superman at record speed, we risk not seeing the buildings in the background and all the people and lives held inside. I wonder what would happen if God got up, rebuked the technological wind and waves and said, "Quiet! Be still!" What would we do if technology shut down and all of us were left with nothing to watch but the face of Almighty God?

Dear Heavenly Father, In this fast-paced age of computers, cell phones, and video games, I often have no time for you. Forgive me, please, and remind me to put you first in everything I do.

Fires in the Fall

In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The gray smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!
-- Robert Louis Stevenson (1913)

Yesterday, I pulled out my copy of "A Child's Garden of Verses" and read "Fires in the Fall." The memories stirred by Stevenson's poem drew me back to childhood autumns when I raked leaves into piles, then jumped and rolled in them, delighted by the crackly sounds they made. Yesterday, I drove to the country where sugar maples are dressed in gold and red oaks and sumacs are on fire. Everywhere I looked, leaves were breaking free from their branches and raining down to Earth. In the country, people burn the leaves or let them lie. I followed a scent that was sweet and stinging until I saw a fire at the side of the road. I rolled down the car windows, let the smoke drift inside and soak through my clothes. I wanted to take it home with me. In the city, people rake leaves and haul them curbside. The City trucks come, suck them up and grind them into compost. You can't burn leaves in the city. You can't savor that lovely smell.

When I was little, my grandmother lived with us. Leaf burning was allowed then, and grandma burned leaves with a passion. She even had a fire ring in our backyard that she'd made from old bricks. Grandma and I spent sunny October afternoons together raking leaves and piling them high. When we were done, Grandma poured gasoline onto the pile and told me to stand back. She lit a wooden match and tossed it onto the heap. (Had my parents known, they would have been horrified.) Poof! The leaves burst into flames releasing white smoke to the clear, blue sky and that wonderful earthy smell.

I love that fire warms campsites on cool, summer nights and causes firewood to pop and crackle. I enjoy fall bonfires on the beach and roasting hotdogs over an open flame. But, I know to stand back. I know that fire has a dark side. It eats up possessions and steals lives. We live in awesome fear of it. We install round, white discs in our houses that scream out warnings if fire comes near.

When I think of fire, I remember the story of Moses leading the Israelites toward the land of Canaan. During the day the Lord went ahead of his people in a thick cloud, and during the night he went ahead of them in a flaming fire. That way the Lord could lead them at all times, whether day or night [Exodus 13:21-22 CEV]. Imagine that; God in a pillar of fire leading His people home. I also remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, three believers who refused to obey a king's command to worship a golden idol. The king had the men tied up and thrown into a blazing furnace. As he watched, the king saw not three figures engulfed in flames, but four. He said, "Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods." [Daniel 3:25 NIV]. Not a son of the gods! It was God Himself. He was the One in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. When the men came out of the furnace the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them [Daniel 3:27b NIV]. God was in the flames shielding the men from harm.

Look around during this lovely autumn season and you will see God. He is the colors of the autumn leaves and also the fires that burn them. When you find Him in the sights and smells of the season, remember that God has power over everything: He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants [Psalm 104:4]. In the darkest nights, He lights our way, and when our lives are ablaze with troubles, He stands in the fire with us.

Dear Lord
Please be the spark that ignites the fire in my life: the passion to do your work and to follow your will.

YA Book Review: Take Your Best Shot

In the introduction to his book, Take Your Best Shot, fourteen-year-old Austin Gutwein writes:

"Something is happening in our generation. Kids are really trying to make a difference in the world. They're reaching out to people in need, and they're stepping out of their comfort zones. Something is happening in their hearts. They want to take their best shot at life; they want to do something bigger than themselves."

That's exactly what Austin did. He was just nine years old when he watched a video about an African AIDS orphan named Maggie. That video led him to take his best shot, and when he did, he changed the lives of AIDS victims on the other side of the world. Austin made a difference by shooting two thousand free throws in a local gymnasium. His friends, family and community sponsored him, and he raised $3000 to help African children orphaned by AIDS. But Austin didn't stop there. He founded "Hoops of Hope", an annual event to further help AIDS victims. Since then, with God's guidance, Austin and his "team" have accomplished far more than he ever imagined. The events he's organized have built a school and a clinic in Africa, and his vision continues to grow. Austin wrote a book about it. Here's what he has to say:

Austin's book, Take Your Best Shot, is his personal narrative. It tells the story of how "Hoops of Hope" grew into a miracle, and it includes a sub-story about Austin's faith in God. With the help of co-writer Todd Hillard, Austin writes in a teen-friendly style that encourages kids to search for their own ways to make a difference as well as introduces them to a purpose-driven life through faith in God. Each chapter ends with thought-provoking questions, activities and links to additional information.

Near the end of his book, Austin writes:

"Who would have dreamed that one kid, one video, a basketball, and a hoop in America could be used to change lives half a world away?"

His book is proof that one kid with a vision can indeed change the world.

I highly recommend that you buy a copy of Take Your Best Shot and read it with your kids. Then have a family conference to answer the question: "How can we make a difference?"

The video that changed Austin's life was about girl in Zambia. Her name was Maggie and, like Austin, she was nine years old. Maggie was orphaned. Most of her family members had died of AIDS, and she lived in poverty in a mud hut slightly bigger than a walk-in closet. Maggie's only living relative, her seventy-three-year-old great-grandmother lived with and cared for her. Watch this video that inspired Austin to make a difference in the lives of children orphaned by AIDS.

To learn what happened to Maggie, be sure to read the last chapter of Austin's book.

Take Your Best Shot is published by Thomas Nelson
© September 2009

Reading level: Young Adult
Paperback: 240 pages
ISBN-10: 1400315158
ISBN-13: 978-1400315154

You can preview the book by clicking here.

Read Austin's blog.

Note: Each chapter in Take Your Best Shot starts with an inspirational quotation. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook this week. I'll be posting some of the quotes.

What's in a Name?

"No eye has seen, 
no ear has heard, 
no mind has conceived 
what God has prepared for those who love him." -- 1 Corinthians 2:9

"God is in the Compost Pile." That's a strange name for a Christian blog, isn't it? Why would someone connect the wonderful name of Almighty God with a stinking pile of rotting plants and kitchen waste? I was asked that question recently, and if you've been reading my blog for a while, you know that I wrote a post about it last April. God takes the things in our lives that are dying, dead and decaying, and He recycles them to nourish new life. Look around and you'll see countless examples. Here's the best one of all: Jesus Christ gave up his life, with great suffering, so that our destinies could be recycled from certain hell to eternal life. We all go through times of personal hell, but if we can look beyond those bad times, the times that stink, it is possible to see Heaven.

In August, thousands of people prayed fervently for an 18-year-old kid named Josiah Berger who was injured in a one-car accident near Franklin, Tennessee. Twitter was alive with prayer requests and updates during the four days that Josiah lay in a coma on life-support at Vanderbilt Medical Center. Many of those praying were strangers. They'd never met Josiah Berger or his family, yet they were compelled to pray for this young man who lay near death in a hospital room in Tennessee. Hundreds of believers crowded the hospital and prayed for a miracle. So many people showed up at Vanderbilt that they had to be moved from the hospital lobby to an auditorium big enough to hold them all. Updates about Josiah's condition were posted by the minute on Facebook and Twitter, and people all over the country, and perhaps all over the world, prayed asking God to spare this young man's life. There was was hope, and even belief, that God was going to work a miracle. Josiah Berger would live! Everyone waited and watched for it to happen.

In spite of all the prayers, Josiah died of irreparable brain damage. And to make that even worse, he died on his 19th birthday, the day before he was set to leave for his freshman year in college. That stinks, doesn't it? It smells just as bad as vegetation decaying in the compost heap. But the story doesn't end there.

Josiah's dad is Steve Berger, the senior pastor at Grace Chapel Church in Leiper's Fork, Tennessee. At Josiah's "home going celebration," Pastor Steve announced that his son's decision to be an organ donor saved or improved the lives of 77 people. At the end of the forward-looking, music-filled service, Steve Berger did something very unconventional for a funeral. He offered an alter call. He asked mourners who wanted to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior to stand up. One hundred people did, many of them teenagers. One hundred more lives were saved that day because of Josiah Berger's death. More than six-thousand people attended the funeral, 2000 in person and another nearly 5000 via a live stream on the Internet. One can only imagine how many silently bowed their heads and accepted Christ, or how many believers were motivated by Josiah' story to lead others to the Lord.

After the service, Josiah's dad said this: "I want people to know Jesus, and if somehow my son's going to heaven can help them know Christ, then it's all worth it. It's all worth it. My son would bear the pain and I will bear the pain if just a regular old dad who loved his boy can see someone come to Christ because of his death. That means everything to me." (Read more about it or watch the video below.)

[Note: This short video takes 10 seconds to load.]

So you see, God is in the compost pile. He's not only in the good things, but also in everything that stinks in this world. The promise lies in His name and in that familiar scripture verse Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Yes, God is in the compost pile and other ordinary places. I hope that through my blog (with its strange name) you'll see God where you least expect Him. We travel difficult roads in our lives, but if we just trust Him, all those roads will lead to the one road where death is recycled to nourish new life. Take time this week to think about that....

Dear Heavenly Father, As I walk down lonely, difficult roads, help me to find the one that leads to you.


Josiah Berger Memorial video from:
"So Many Roads' video from:


I'm proud to be a contributing author to the following series of humorous devotionals.
And check out my "Kid's Bible Dictionary" and pre-teen mysteries, also from Barbour.

See all the books in the Camp Club Girls series.

See all the books in the Camp Club Girls series.
Click on the picture.
I am the author of these books, but I have not been compensated for mentioning them on this blog or linking them to the seller's website. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

By Max Lucado, Published by Thomas Nelson
Max Lucado has a unique way with words, and his children's book Hermie A Common Caterpillar is no exception. With simple text and bright, watercolor illustrations, the story of Hermie unfolds.

Hermie wonders why he looks and feels so common. Whenever he asks God why, God simply answers, "I'm not finished with you yet." Then, one day, Hermie feels very tired. He gets into his cozy, leafy bed, and he sleeps. And while Hermie sleeps a transformation takes place. When he wakes up, Hermie discovers that God has done something grand. You can guess what it is. Every caterpillar that lives to adulthood knows the end of the story.

Parents, please share this book and its powerful message with your children. We are all special because God loves us, and He has a unique purpose for our lives. Whenever we slump into feeling ordinary, we know that we have hope because . . .God isn't finished with us yet!

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

©text on this blog copyrighted 2012 by Jean Fischer unless otherwise credited. You may link to the blog, but please don't reprint the text without my permission.

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