My 2016 Blessing Jar ~ quite a work this year

 

IMG_1850In the middle of last year I went blessing jar minimalist. I wanted to get the all mighty me out of the way. I took a pickle jar that struck my fancy and simplified the entire blessing jar phenomena. Slapped a label on it and took my list out of the old jar and rehoused it.

2016 is the third year I’m involved with a blessing jar. I say ‘involved with’ because to me a blessing jar is so much more than creating a jar reflecting one’s essence, or mood, or with ribbon in one’s favorite color.

A blessing jar is a spiritual adventure. The past two years, they have been my spiritual vision for the year in lieu of new years resolutions.

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This year it went further than that. I knew something was taking hold of me but didn’t quite know what. So, I went to Michael’s and bought some glass painting pens and painted a few flowers on my jar while I ruminated. I’m no artist but I think it’s kinda cute.

 

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Then the real deal took hold of me and I began writing out what would be inside my blessing jar. This year it was far more than a list of spiritual goals for the new year. It became a prayer of petition as I’d never done one before. You see, I had just come across Jerry Savelle’s teaching on The Prayer of Petition as a formal, written out spiritual document according to God’s will. So, I prayed about God’s will for me and sited Scripture for each point in the petition. This took the better part of January. Then I sewed a financial seed toward it, signed it, and took communion over it.

IMG_1866Like in past years, I folded it up and put it in my blessing jar. In past years it had been one sheet of paper with a list on it. This year it became a letter to God with a petition attached… three sheets, on both sides, because I sited Scripture for the points listed in my prayer…as to how my petition was according to God’s Word.

I’ve always kept my blessing jar near my computer and referred to it throughout the year. The document I write at the beginning of the year deals with my life for the upcoming year and my hopes and dreams for my loved ones. However, during the year, as I pray for others, I often write their names and the prayer down on a piece of paper, date it, and stick it in the blessing jar. Then from time-to-time I’ll open my blessing jar, refer to what I’ve written inside, and thank the Lord for everything He’s doing in my life and for the people I’m praying for.

Habakkuk 2: 2-4 [NASB] ~ Then the Lord answered me and said,“Record the vision And inscribe it on tablets, That the one who reads it may run. “For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay.

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Blizzard of 2016 ~ NYC up and running in 24-hours

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Avenue S, Brooklyn ~ 24-hours after blizzard

 

With over two-feet of snow (Central Park measured 25.1 inches), you’d think New York City would be stopped in its tracks. Not so. The city was up and running the very next day. This is due to pre-planning and snow removal crews that know what they’re doing.

The city-wide 24-hour travel ban helped in the clean up. I had to laugh having read a piece calling the police hauling away 25 drivers who disregarded the ban evidence of a “nanny-state”. I’m pretty conservative politically. Yes, there are a few of us in New York City. Let me tell you, the travel ban is not evidence of tyranny. Seriously, we must use some common sense. Eight million people live in New York, with over 6,000 miles of the world’s busiest streets, 840 miles of subway tracks (much of it above ground in the outer boroughs) , not to mention railway tracks anchored to Grand Central Terminal and Penn Station.

The 25 drivers who ignored the travel ban should be ticketed and fined. The Sanitation department had the Herculean task of plowing and salting not only the major avenues (some of them four lanes), but also the side streets and dead end streets. This they did in 24-hours. Plows and sanders shouldn’t be slowed down by selfish drivers on the road, or have to go around those vehicles.  With freezing temperature and winds whipping snowfall sideways at speeds up to 40 mph, police had to deal with the homless who were in crisis during this blizzard.  The gas and electric companies had to come to the aid of buildings that had lost heat. The travel ban was for the public good and of public safety. By Sunday, the next morning, anyone who had to report to work, could. Residents could get to local stores, if need be. It wasn’t business as usual, but it was on its way back to normal.

With a city the size of New York, the only way to deal effectively with a blizzard or hurricane is to have a travel ban during the worst of the storm. That’s the how essential city services get out in front of it. However, just to keep things in perspective, this wasn’t the worst NYC blizzard on record. February 11-12, 2006 recorded a record 26.9 inches of snow; and December 26-27, 1947 recorded 25.8 inches.

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When the ‘Strong Ones’ Come to the End of Self ~ and let Jesus take over

Wonder Woman Doll

I think often its Christians who see themselves as the ‘strong ones’ who have the biggest problem surrendering totally to Jesus, and I include myself in that group. It’s not that we don’t believe, we do. It’s not that we don’t honor Him, we do. It’s not that we don’t see Him as Savior and Lord, we do. It’s that we have a human history of taking care of everyone’s mess that gets in the way of us giving it all to Him.

Here we are saved, in some cases saved for years, and the mess around us is getting worse and worse. Family members not only are not saved, they’ve had numerous sexual partners, are having abortions, getting arrested, drinking excessively or taking drugs. Our spouse just asked for a divorce. We have aging parents with encroaching dementia and since we’ve always been the ‘strong one’, the siblings have abdicated all responsibility…and we’re now at the point where our knees are bending under the weight. Or, we support not only ourselves, but also an out-of-work sibling and now we’ve had a job loss and the fear the bank will soon foreclose.

The so-called ‘strong ones’ have been running from pillar-to-post picking up the pieces, holding it all together, but now, after years of this, are literally shaking apart. We might even be developing mental health symptoms. We think, how can that be? I’ve been saved for years. As we sink to our knees in utter defeat, I kinda think God says, “Finally, you’re handing it to Me. I couldn’t do anything with what you were holding on to.”

I think sometimes we have a secret sin (missing the mark), which involves shame…shame for things we could not control. We could not control our mother’s or sister’s or daughter’s promiscuity. We could not handle, heal, or successfully hide our father’s, brother’s, son’s alcoholism or drug abuse. We could not have prevented our own sexual abuse as a child. Yet we are dying inside from shame. Literally dying. We developed agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some of us have cleaned and recleaned our homes until they sparkle. We’ve literally been on the verge of losing our minds. But how could that be when we are saved? And not only saved, we’ve always been the ‘strong ones’.

And Jesus says, “I’ve been waiting for you to hand it all to Me. My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” When we come to the end of our own strength and admit we do not in fact have the stamina or the wherewithal to fix everything, we can finally surrender to Him and begin to heal.


Christmas Cheer ~ it’s spreadable

Xmas Angel

 

Christmas cheer means different things to different people, but usually has a “spreading it” connotation. Wanting to spread happiness and joy, for so many, goes hand in hand with the Christmas season. It’s about making family, friends, associates, and even those we don’t know happy, doing nice things for others, having an overall joyous attitude and demeanor during this season.

Jesus exhorts His disciples to “be of good cheer” several times in the Bible. Using modern vernacular, we could say Jesus was spreading the message about the spiritual power that’s in being of good cheer.

I think all Christians have felt at one time or another they were sinking, that they could not rise above the waves or get through the storms of life. The Bible tells us Jesus walked on the water, which basically freaked the disciples out. Their imaginations ran wild thinking a ghost was about to set upon them in the midst of the storm. Matthew 14:26-27 [KJV] ~ 26 And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. 27 But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. How on earth could they be of good cheer? They’re boat was about sink in the storm? Yet, Jesus didn’t say to them, “Row harder,” or “Turn the boat eastward.” He said “be of good cheer” and “be not afraid.” Deciding to be of good cheer no matter what the circumstances is the spiritual act of making a firm internal commitment to God and to ourselves. I suspect that once we get into the good cheer mode, it’s a lot easier to ‘be not afraid’. It’s fear that often paralyzes us.

Have you noticed how angry people are today? I sometimes wonder why so many people have anger as their default. Don’t they want to be happy? Why wouldn’t they want to be happy? It’s a mystery to me, but I suspect they have a wrong assumption about life. We’re all going to have troubles in life and some people feel they’re so special that they shouldn’t have those troubles. It’s kind an overall, pervasive societal notion that things should be made easier, noncompetitive, less harsh. The reality is life is tough and harsh many times. They can protest and erect a physical a safe zone on campus, but they can’t create a safe zone in life. Ain’t gonna happen.

For Christians there is a safe zone. We are a peculiar people, set apart. We live in a kind of “Jesus bubble” and in that bubble (call it the Blessing, the favor of God, or the grace of God, if you will) we are sheltered from life’s storms. However, we do have spiritual guidelines so that we don’t walk out of this spiritual safe zone. We are called to love God, self, and others. We’re called to be of good cheer and to have joy, among other things. These are not mere emotions, they are dynamic spiritual forces that dispel fear.We’re called to spread this fear-breaking joy and cheer around…not to hide our light under a bushel. red bowSomething of historical interest from the American White House at Christmas, which traditionally has been used by First Families to spread cheer, joy, and even courage in the nation, especially in times of trouble.

White House Front Gate

White House Front Gate

In 1958 Mamie Eisenhower had 27 decorated Christmas trees in the White House. In 1961, First Lady Jackie Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the main White House Christmas Tree. Since the early 1970s the White House has included an enormous gingerbread house as part of it’s Christmas decor. In 1971, under Pat Nixon’s direction the confection was an A-Frame. Under Betty Ford’s direction in 1975, to honor America’s upcoming bicentennial celebration, the National Christmas Tree was decorated with 4,600 red, white, and blue ornaments. On the top of the 45-foot blue spruce sat a 4-foot gold and green replica of the Liberty Bell, donated by General Electric. The hostage crisis in Iran dominated the holiday celebrations of 1979 and 1980. In 1979 Rosalyn Carter’s National Christmas Tree and 50 surrounding trees each showed but a single light, one for each of the hostages. The other lights on the trees would be turned on when the hostages were released. But the following year the hostages were still in Iran. The Carters turned on the Christmas tree lights that year for 141 seconds. One second for each day the hostages had been held. For seven of the eight Christmases Nancy Reagan was in  the White House she arranged for residents of the drug treatment program in Virginian and Maryland Second Genesis to decorate the White House trees. In 1985, Second Gensis made 1,500 ornaments from holiday cards sent to President and Mrs. Reagan in 1984. In 1989, out of Barbara Bush’s concern for national literacy, the theme for Christmas presened a “Storybook Christmas”. The White House staff created figures of famous storybook characters such as Peter Pan, Curious George, and Alice in Wonderland, and underneath the trees were books tied up with red bows. In 1993 renown American quilting artisans contributed squares at Mrs. Clinton’s request to make a green velvet skirt for the White House tree.  In 2001, Laura Bush oversaw decorating the White House after the national tragedy of 9/11. The theme that year was ‘Home For The Holidays’. One highlight were scale models of all of the American presidents’ homes. The 18-foot White House Christmas Tree, which was grown in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, was decorated with hundreds of original ornaments depicting historic homes and places of worship throughout the United States. Michelle Obama’s 2015 theme is ‘A Timeless Tradition’. The decorations throughout the White House inspire visitors to celebrate long-held traditions while also creating new memories.red bow

Wishing you a blessed and merry pre-Christmas holiday season filled with joy, from the Crime Fictionista, who is on the road to greater greater cheer, gladness, laughter, and who hopes to spread this good cheer all year long.


DESERT DUET by Debra E. Marvin ~ a Christmas novella

Desert DuetHaving Christmas stories out in print is such a cheerful feeling during the holiday season. So, I’m thrilled to be interviewing Debra E. Marvin about her newly released historical Christmas novella, DESERT DUET.

Nike:  You once told me DESERT DUET was “mystery lite”. What do you mean by that?

Debra:  I enjoy romantic tension in a story and a happy ending, but I love mysteries first and foremost. Because Desert Duet is part of a collection by Forget-Me-Not Publishers, I knew readers would expect romance. Myself? I wanted to play with a light mystery plot. There’s a suspicious death, a crime or two, and good reasons for the hero and heroine to figure it all out, but mystery is certainly not the dominant plotline. That’s for another day!

NIke:   Give us an insight into your main character(s). What does he/she do that is so special?

Debra:  DESERT DUET has my version of a classic, old-Hollywood movie couple. Eugene is a nice guy who’s taken a chance on pursuing a dream career rather than sticking with something solid. He’d like to be sure he’s done the right thing—but that remains to be seen. Thea is confident with good reason, and modern for 1933, not because she’s ahead of her time, but because she’s already learned some lessons the hard way by her early 20s. Like Cary Grant and Claudine Colbert, or Tracy and Hepburn, Eugene and Thea had an instant meshing…a need to tease each other. I just had to keep up!

Nike:  Any amusing story to tell about the writing of this novella?

Debra:  I’d done quite a bit of online research. (1933, Humbug, AZ, an abandoned mining camp up in the Bradshaw Mts.) I discovered the Castle Hot Springs Hotel, a getaway resort and spa for the wealthy, starting before 1900. One of my best friends lives in Arizona, so we planned a road trip ‘for research’. Off we went on unpaved roads, miles up into the mountains. “Off the grid” territory. Just as I warned her we should be “getting close” to what’s left of the resort, we came around a curve and saw the transplanted palm trees in the distance. It was a magical moment to share. My characters go to a Christmas dance at the hotel. There’s nothing better for an author than to experience what you imagined your characters experiencing. Please check out my Pinterest page and see what I mean.

Nike:  If you could have lunch with your favorite author (living or dead) who would it be, and why?

Debra:  Right now, it would have to be Louise Penny, author of the Inspector Gamache/Three Pines mystery series. I’m completely hooked. I read a few out of order (I borrow audiobooks from the library) before deciding I needed to start over with book one, Still Life. She’s just delightful, and her writing is amazing. Audiobooks have one drawback though—you get to work in the morning and you don’t want to turn off the vehicle and get out! It seems I’m always at a ‘good part’ when my journeys end! She writes weaving, multi-threaded mysteries with a cast of characters that keep me entirely enthralled. Lunch with her at the Le Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City would be my choice! Can you set that up?red bowLet’s get a sneak peak of DESERT DUET, or as Debra puts it: a Merry Christmas from Humbug. Wish You Were Here!

It’s 1933 in the good old US of A. In the midst of drought, the Depression, and gangsters on the lam, America finds solace in Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Ex-pilot Eugene Tanner, determined to pen the lyrics for the movie industry’s first “Best Song” award, books a rushed December stay at the remote Humbug Creek Guest Ranch (A Gold Mine of a Getaway!) Where better to find inspiration for an epic Western, than amid all that trail dust and burnt coffee?

Thea Knight gives up her short holiday break from the studio’s costume department to play cowgirl hostess at her family’s struggling guest ranch. But instead of helping their witty and handsome guest, she becomes his biggest distraction. Old flames and past regrets take a backseat when the pair become embroiled in a ghost town mystery marring Humbug, Arizona’s rustic Christmas. Thankfully, the cowgirl is as fast with her Winchester as she is with her comebacks.

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Debra E MarvinDebra E. Marvin tries not to run too far from real life but the imagination born out of being an only child has a powerful draw. Besides, the voices in her head tend to agree with all the sensible things she says. She’d like to live a wee bit closer to her grandchildren, but is thankful that God is in control, that He chooses to bless us despite ourselves and that He has a sense of humor.

Other than writing light-hearted romances and gritty gothics, she has rather normal obsessions such as fabric, peanut butter, vacations, British dramas, and whatever mystery series she’s currently stuck on.

Website, Debra blogs at Inkwell Inspirations, Pinterest, Facebook


Joy To The World ~ The Lord Is Come!

gilr in light

Joy isn’t a mere feeling or a fleeting emotion. It’s a spiritual force. I didn’t always know that and that’s why my joy was constantly being robbed. Crabby, angry people robbed my joy. Difficult situations robbed it, hurtful or shameful memories from the past of failure and painful trials robbed it. I’ll be honest. these past 18 months have been some of the most difficult I’ve ever encountered. And at times I’ve been a whiney, blithering nincompoop. But, by clinging to the Lord moment-by-moment (quite literally) I have come through the worst of it, and I still have my joy.

Galatians 5:22 [King James Version] ~ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.The Living Bible translates it ~ But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness.

While some of these might have an emotional component, they are so much more. Love is not an ooey-gooey romantic feeling. God is love. Faith can move mountains. Peace isn’t a slogan to be used in political protests. We have watered these words down over the years. Peace translates from the Hebrew as shalom and means “whole, nothing missing, nothing broken.” These are fruit of the Holy Spirit. I had always looked at these words as something I should strive for…and there’s nothing wrong with the desire to have these traits. Actually, in the fullness of their meaning they emanate from the most powerful Being operating in the earth, the Holy Spirit. I’m beginning to see them as spiritual gifts offered to me, but I have to receive them. I have to chose them.

Xmas horse in hatThe Amplified Bible, in Galatians 5:22, further defines joy as “gladness”. And Psalm 118:24 [KJV] ~ This is the day the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. It says “we will rejoice”. Not maybe, or if everything goes right. So, because it’s put that way, this is something believers can do. Something I can do. We can laugh more and cry less if we put our minds to it. The battlefield where we engage the enemy is between the ears. I’ve learned I should never let the enemy see me down in the tooth. I’m getting better at chosing to be in a state of joy. I’ve discovered the good feelings, the laughter comes after making the choice.red bowIt might interest you to know the lyrics to that favorite Christmas carol, “Joy To The World,” was written by Isaac Watts in 1719. The music was written by George Frederick Handel. Handel also wrote the “Messiah,” the marvelous English language oratorio.red bow

Wishing you a blessed and merry pre-Christmas holiday season filled with joy, from a recovering whiney, blithering nincompoop who is on the road to greater joy, gladness, laughter


Frugal at Christmas ~ doesn’t mean you’re a Scrooge

Christmas candes

I’m a believer in God’s blessing. I believe He delights in blessing those who love and follow Him. That said, I also believe in good stewardship. And I don’t believe ‘frugal’ and ‘blessing’ are opposed to each other.

I’m also a list maker and one who always has Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C.

If statistics are correct, a great number of people, when the January bills came in last year, nearly had a stroke? Their Christmas spending literally wiped out their savings? It would be a good idea not to do that again this year. Proverbs 21:20 [The Living Bible] ~ The wise man saves for the future, but the foolish man spends whatever he gets.

Tips For A Wonderful Christmas Than Won’t Break The Bank:

Tip #1: Decide what you can afford to spend…and then pay with cash. People who use cash spend less than those who pull out the plastic. Paying cash insures you won’t go into debt.

Tip #2: Make a list (not a naughty or nice one). Simply divide your budget by the number of people on it. You might have to make two lists, one for the people you’ll be giving more expensive gifts (loved ones), and one for associates you’d like to bless but you intend to spend less. With either list, if the ideal gift for one is less than you’re spending for others (but is still in the ball park and doesn’t look cheap), don’t try to compensate by throwing in a bunch of pointless do-dads that eat up money. If it looks cheap, then perhaps you should question if it’s ideal. Remember frugal doesn’t equal cheap.

Tip #3: Have your list in your hand when you shop for gifts (or for food, for that matter). Stores will have incredible Christmas sales and you’ll be tempted to overbuy. This is also where shopping with cash will help you. You can’t buy it if you can’t pay for it. Leave your credit cards home.

Tip #4: If you have an aging parent, get all the “kids” together to purchase one big, more expensive item mom or pop might be yearning for but can’t afford, rather than a bunch of smaller gifts.

Tip #5: Create a Christmas menu for your holiday dinner(s) and/or buffet(s). Make a list . Don’t wander around the super market picking up whatever catches your eye. If you do that, you’ll wind up with items you won’t use and have to come back for what you should’ve purchased the first time — a costly mistake.

Tip #6: If you shop with coupons (and that’s a real good idea) throw away those for items you don’t usually use. Don’t wait until you get into the store because you might succumb to the temptation to purchase those items because they’re a bargain…and honestly, you’ll be staring at them on your shelf for a long time until you finally throw them out.

Don’t forget to include in your budget a gift to whatever mission or charity your church is sponsoring this Christmas. Send a check to a TV or radio ministry you’ve watched for years but have never financially supported. Give to your local food bank. Whenever you see a Salvation Army worker ringing a bell, throw a dollar or two into the pot. A wonderful idea is to fill a shoebox and send it to Samaritan’s Purse/Operation Christmas Child. Or you can fill a box online, or simply make a small contribution. While we’re cautious about spending, we can budget in ways that honor the Kingdom of God.

Nativity figures

 


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