Now is the perfect time to get ready for one of our favorite Christmas traditions, the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party.
It’s never too early to start shopping for just the right sweater. In fact, if you don’t find one by the end of November then forget it. The thrift stores run out early, and face it, the only thing worse than wearing the ugliest sweater you can find is paying full retail price for it.
Although if you want to hold your head up in public wearing a Christmas montage I suggest you design your own.
A few years back this concept was an affront to my sensibilities. Why would anyone want to go to a party and meet new people wearing something tacky?
No one has ever accused me of being a slave to fashion. However, this took some real mental adjusting over a period of years just to actually enjoy it.
The first two years I bought very traditional, and very ugly, sweaters. The first one was made out of some sort of cheap fuzzy red yarn that made me look like Elmo on Sesame Street. The following year was equally as bad. A black, button-down sweater covered in snowmen made of varying sized white buttons and ribbons.
Would you believe that there are people on this planet that actually thought those sweaters were “cute”?
At the first party I was accused of not playing along.
To this day, I’m not sure if I should be offended or not. Did they really think I came dressed like Tickle-Me-Elmo thinking I was NOT participating?
The following year proved a little more embarrassing and another complete fail. Neglecting to make my own dish to bring to the party, a quick stop at the local grocery store seemed like the easiest fix. That is, until we pulled up and not one of us wanted to get out of the car in our Christmas sweaters.
Somehow, I got elected.
As I grabbed the first pie I could find and dashed to the
finish checkout line, I thought I made it undetected. Then the clerk remarked in a loud voice, “I love your sweater! That is so cute.” Apparently, it was assumed this was part of my normal Christmas attire.
I mumbled a stunned and bewildered “thanks” and hurried out of the store.
Then there was last year when my girlfriend decided I needed help…
Inspired by a dream in 1943, Philip Van Doren Stern wrote a heart-warming short story titled “The Greatest Gift.“ When he failed to find a publisher, the author sent it out as his Christmas card the following year, no doubt inspiring friends and family alike. You probably recognize the movie version of the story that came out in 1946 as It’s a Wonderful Life.
In the film, George plans on traveling the world and then dabbling in college before heading off to build skyscrapers. He offers to “lasso the moon” for his sweetheart. Then life, as it often does, gets in the way of his plans. As dilemmas and circumstances come at him from all angles, he is confronted with decisions to make. One by one, he makes the right moral choice. There is always a price to pay for doing what’s right, rather than what seems pleasurable. Bit by bit, George’s future is exchanged for the needs of the present. Until at last, there is nothing left of the future he once envisioned, and he becomes suicidal.
In spite of all that, George is extremely lucky. He lives in the world of fiction where a rosy-cheeked guardian angel can change his entire life by altering reality for him. Then, when the hard lessons are learned, he can change it back again so George can enjoy the rest of his life in the light of his newfound knowledge.
What exactly did he learn?
Each life has a profound impact on the world around him. His angel scolded,
You had the greatest gift of all conferred upon you—the gift of life, of being a part of this world and taking a part in it. Yet you denied that gift.
Viktor Frankl learned a similar lesson that very same Christmas. However, it did not come in a dream. Frankl lived in the real world, where some of life’s most profound lessons are not taught by kind men with peaceful blue eyes. Instead, they are learned at the cruel hand of fate and a reality that allows no escape from sorrow.
The death rate in the week between Christmas, 1944, and New Year’s, 1945, increased in camp beyond all previous experience…the explanation for this increase did not lie in the harder working conditions or the deterioration of our food supplies or a change of weather or new epidemics. It was simply that the majority of the prisoners had lived in the naive hope that they would be home again by Christmas.
Unlike George, these men were not denying the gift of life they had been given. They were clawing for it. For the prisoners of Auschwitz, their salvation was within their grasp once they realized what it was.
For most of our adult lives, television at the Robinson household consisted of a large antenna in the attic. We jokingly called it “farm vision.” Then we did what all old people do when their children are grown–we moved into town. I really enjoyed the luxury of cable–that is for about two years. Then I started to feel a bit cheated.
This past year forced us to reevaluate almost every aspect of our lives: our health, our lifestyle and our spending habits. When assessing the cost of cable, and the value it brings–cutting it was a no-brainer.
However, my husband and I both have favorite programs we enjoy. I’m not going to lie, as an information-junkie, my withdrawals from news and commentary hit fairly hard.
We’ve had AppleTV, and enjoyed streaming Netflix and routinely mirrored videos or live streaming church services or breaking news. But it really doesn’t offer a whole lot more than what’s on your computer or iPad.
Pronounced Row-Koo. If you’re considering Apple TV as an alternative to cable or DVD rentals checkout Roku first.
Roku is a little black device about the size of the palm of your hand and it streams Internet “channels” to your television. Roku comes loaded with access to over 1000 channels.
It’s a mixed bag of hundreds of free content and paid subscriptions. The best part about it, is you can add the channels you want and you’re not forced to weed through hundreds of channels to get to the couple you prefer. You can get Netflix, Hulu Plus, VUDU, Amazon Instant Video, PBS, The Blaze and Fox News. There are no fees connected with the device itself after the initial purchase. You will have to have wi-fi of course, as it is a streaming device.
Roku currently offers four different devices starting at $49.99. You can add a few bells and whistles at a time.
Currently, we have a yearly subscription to Amazon Prime, and are in the process of comparing Redbox (which offers four DVDs and unlimited streaming for $8.00 monthly) and Netflix. The subscriptions or combination you choose all depend on your viewing habits.
We have enjoyed the ability to watch entire seasons of television shows, watching episodes back to back without commercial interruption. Who cares if they are last year’s season–I’m no longer subjected to ED commercials or dating sites no matter how late we stay up.
You now have several options.
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs, to mark seasons and days and years…” Genesis 1:14 (NIV)
Having a real aversion to doomsday predictions, I’ve never paid any attention to people claiming to know when the end is near–and I still don’t.
Frankly, or maybe shamefully, I’ve never explored the book of Revelation much either. As a mother of nine natural born children, I filed it under the same category as giving birth: nobody gets to sleep through it–you’ll know when it happens.
However, as a Christian who believes in the God of Israel, it’s becoming glaringly obvious we need to understand how the Creator of the universe records timenin the heavens. The “expanse of the sky” is a mathematical clock by which all creation keeps time.
Apparently, that’s why our Jewish friends keep a separate calendar. Good to know, right?
In 2008 Mark Biltz saw an image circulating on the Internet of a blood-moon over the Dome of the Rock. It struck him. As a pastor, his first thoughts went to scripture that describes the moon turning to blood.
“I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
So he did what any man of faith would do–checked NASA’s website. What he discovered has Christians around the world checking their calendar–and looking over Jewish shoulders at theirs’.
“Fundamentally, therefore, any man can even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him–mentally and spiritually. He may retain his human dignity even in a concentration camp. Dostoevski said once, ‘There is only one thing that I dread: not to be worthy of my sufferings.’”
The common charge against the goodness of God, is that of human suffering. Could only a world without pain provide evidence that God is good and loving? The underlying assumption is that all suffering and sorrow is evil.
A distinction must be made — evil inflicts suffering. Not all suffering is destructive–or evil.
“You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect’, is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes us to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artist’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child…”
– CS Lewis, The Problem of Pain
It’s human nature to desire comfort and happiness. Most of us spend our days seeking the sort of happiness in this world as Lewis calls ”comfortable guests” who live “happy in our own way.” And yet often we can have that along with many physical comforts, and still hold misery deep inside that can’t be explained or fixed by anything external.
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
“‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Matthew 2-11
In my series on Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus, the author explains that one of the primary reasons Jews refuse to accept Jesus of Nazareth as the promised messiah, was his failed attempt at liberating his people from the oppression of the Roman Empire.
However, in ancient times, not everyone used Boteach’s litmus test.
Some looked for the sign of the coming messiah in the stars. The story goes that three “wise men” came from the east bringing gifts, following a star to worship a new king. And so it goes, the rich historical account of the birth of Christ is watered down to a manger scene, reenacted every year by Sunday school children and illuminated in plastic on lawns everywhere.
But what if we read the book of Matthew as an accurate historical document? What, if anything, actually happened on December 25th?
Using Matthew as his guide, indisputable historical facts and today’s technology, one man did just that– what he found will astound you.
If you were to place a knife under your jaw and begin to slowly cut– with the intent of slitting your own throat, at some point before the deed was done your hand would stop. The searing pain, mingled with fear would make it physically impossible for you to continue–at least, unaided. Neither your physical body, nor your mind would allow you to continue on that unthinkable path.
So it is, when considering what it would be like, to lose a child. It’s simply impossible to accurately express the depth of that pain. There is a threshold, which your mind will not let you cross. Only by the blunt-force trauma of reality can that barrier be breached. Even then, the assault of reality must prove itself before the mind will allow that agony admittance.
In the same way, we are prohibited from truly grasping the atrocities suffered by the souls in the Auschwitz concentration camp. The mind simply will not permit us to grasp the sorrow of so many empty shoes.
In Viktor E. Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, the author, having survived Auschwitz, writes of his experience– not to record the atrocities, rather to answer the question as to why anyone at all would survive.
The preface to the 1992 edition explains:
“This book has now lived to see nearly one hundred printings in English–in addition to having been published in twenty-one other languages. And the English edition alone has sold more than three million copies.
These are the dry facts, and they may well be the reason why reporters of American newspapers and particularly of American TV stations more often than not start their interviews, after listing these facts, by exclaiming: ‘Dr. Frankl, your book has become a true bestseller– how do you feel about such a success?’ Where upon I react by reporting that in the first place I do not at all see in the bestseller status of my book an achievement and accomplishment on my part but rather an expression of the misery of our time: if hundreds of thousands of people reach out for a book whose very title promises to deal with the question of a meaning to life, it must be a question that burns under their fingernails.” [Emphasis mine]
Although the smoke from the Auschwitz crematorium has long ceased, evil still thrives in seats of power today. In the midst, is a new generation growing up in a culture that sends everyone home with a trophy. The relevance of Frankl’s work, and the lessons of the past may be the very thing missing to change the future.
You are cordially invited to walk with me over the next few Sundays, as we explore Man’s Search for Meaning.
While you’re contemplating Christmas, you might want to consider which side you’re on.
No doubt you’ve heard all about the war on Christmas. Every year there’s a new battle over “holiday trees” and Christmas carols. The latest skirmish is school board meeting in Wausau, WI over new rules on “religious songs”.
While Bill O’Reilly may consider this a real attack on Christianity, I don’t think it compares to the Christian-on-Christian attacks Christmas has endured over recent years.
Do you put up a Christmas tree? Do you hang a wreath on your front door, or kiss your beloved under the mistletoe?
Christians in-the-know will tell you that December 25th is NOT Jesus’ birthday, and your Christmas tree is an idol.
The fir tree was worshiped in Rome as the same new-born god, named Baal-Berith, who was restored to life by the same serpent. A feast was held in honor of him on December 25th, observed as the day on which the god reappeared on earth — he had been killed, and was “reborn” on that day, victorious over death! It was called the “Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.” Thus, the annual custom of erecting and decorating evergreen trees was brought down to us through the centuries by the pagan Roman Catholic Church — the paganism of Tammuz and Baal, or the worship of the sun, mingled with the worship of Aesculapius the serpent. Whether erected in private homes or in churches, decorated or not, the evergreen tree is a glaring symbol of this false god.
According to this same website, Christmas wreaths are also a direct descendant of the unholy marriage of paganism and the Christian church. The wreath stands for the eternal sun, also the sign of female. A stolen kiss under the mistletoe, dates back to the ancient Druids, and represents a false messiah.
The mistletoe symbolized the reconciliation between God and man. And since a kiss is the well known symbol of reconciliation, that is how “kissing under the mistletoe” became a custom — both were tokens of reconciliation. The mistletoe, being a sacred plant and a symbol of fertility, was also believed to contain certain magical powers, having been brought to earth from heaven by a mistle thrush carrying it in its toes (hence the name). It was once known as the “plant of peace,” and in ancient Scandinavia, enemies were reconciled under it (yet another reason why people came to “kiss under the mistletoe”). It was supposed to bring “good luck” and fertility, and even to protect from witchcraft the house in which it hung.
I’ve heard others go so far as to say that by bringing a tree into your home, kneeling down to put presents under it is a form of worship.
This kind of drivel is as close to reality as the ridiculous cartoon manger scene above.
Trust me, by the time an Amish man peddles to the phone shed, to call and tell you his wife is in labor you’d better hurry.
About a lifetime ago, I had the privilege of assisting a wonderful midwife that served the nearby Amish community. Not all Amish have their babies at home. Those who did seldom had any trouble.
With flashlights in hand and heavy medical bags over our shoulders we would make our way through the dark up to the big house. Slipping in through the kitchen door we still needed our flashlights to make our way around the dimly lit house. We were silent as mice, for fear of waking a houseful of sleeping children. Once in the bedroom, with little said, we would begin to set up the birthing supplies.
The rooms were lit by kerosene lamps, and usually heated by propane or wood stoves. The smell of wood burning and the warm glow always made their homes feel so peaceful.
Part of my job entailed keeping the mother comfortable. I carried a bag of tricks in the form of essential oils for just that purpose. Soon we would add the aroma of Lavender, Frankincense and Ylang-ylang.
A Thermos lunch bucket filled with hot water spiked with oils and several warm washcloths, kept fragrant, healing hot compresses close at hand. A cloth handkerchief doused with just the right combination of oils, tucked tightly in the laboring mother’s hand, took the place of modern pain relievers.
The chapter “Biblical Medicine: Herbs, Essential Oils, Hydrotherapy, and Music Therapy“ in Jordan S Rubin’s book The Maker’s Diet, took me back to those simple rooms and peaceful deliveries.
It seems so odd, I know. We are just so far removed from the simplicity, and bounty of creation it sounds foreign:
“Send someone from our Western civilization for medicine, and they will head for the nearest pharmacy. Send someone from East Asia or Central and South America (who has not been “Westernized”) for medicine, and they would more likely head for the nearest herb garden or herbal outgrowth in the wild. They may return with herbs or essentials oils extracted from herbs of the field.”
The good news is you don’t need to give birth to benefit from essential oils or be a midwife to learn to use them.
Here are my favorite blends for pain, sleep and concentration.
It’s never been my habit to argue religion–in public or private. I hold a deep personal faith as a follower of Christ, for which I feel no need to defend. Nor do I wish to push anyone else into defense mode. My intention was to provoke my readers to introspection, not to challenge convictions, but to test assumptions–especially about a faith not personally held.
Like many of my readers, I knew this type of a series could easily degenerate from lofty ideals and restoration to falling into the same deep crevices of ignorance and hate that has divided us for centuries.
Thanks to the nature of the vast majority of the PJMedia readership, that fear never materialized. Instead, they deposited nuggets of wisdom within the comment sections.
Several readers suggested resources for further study such as Dr. Michael Kogan’s Opening the Covenant, and The Life of Messiah, From a Jewish Perspective the DVD series by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum. Many sources were cited, and I found much of the commentary compelling and thoughtful.
Prof.lw wrote in the comments on ”Could We Restore America If Jews and Christians Accepted An Hyphenated Jesus?“:
Prof.lw points to the real fork in the road for the two faiths.
Unfortunately, the good rabbi discredits himself with Christians by deconstructing the gospels, painting Paul as a lying opportunist and giving no credence to the accounts of the resurrection rendering a quite different Jesus.
The Boteach-Jesus that the author constructs is not the Christian-Jesus. Not because of Judaism, as the author presumes– rather, as Prof.lw asserts, because of the vast and profound difference between “WAS” and “IS.”
In this rapidly changing and hostile world, Christians and Jews alike must let go of real and perceived hurts from history. We have to accept our differences as our strengths.
One last quote in closing:
“The world today needs both a philosophy of peace and leaders of peace. I feel deeply that Christians and Jews can supply both in great measure– and together form the visible vanguard for real tik-kun olam, healing of the world. Surprising as it may sound to Jews, one of the important keys to it all is Jesus.”
Then the hyphen between us becomes a linking of arms.
Photo Credits Shutterstock Carlos E. Santa Maria
Do you remember the segment on Sesame Street where they presented a zoomed-in view of an ordinary object? Then you were supposed to guess what it was?
You couldn’t recognize it at first, because the camera came in so close, it distorted the picture. The focal point is only one small portion of the object. Its details become the entire picture. Then your mind interprets the part as a whole, and renders it something completely different than it actually is.
That’s what often happens to Christmas. You have to take in the entire picture, to view it clearly and appreciate its true beauty.
If you start planning too soon, you zoom-out too far and all the details seem meaningless. Zoom-in too close, like the days before, and it all becomes distorted.
That’s when we become zeroed-in on one aspect and Christmas is in danger of becoming hollow and superficial, which is the complete opposite of what it is supposed to be — and what children need it to be.
Last minute shopping is the usual default focal point. That’s also when we fall in the trap of over-buying, debt and stress.
Focusing on just the gift aspect doesn’t just do damage to your bank account. I’ve heard more than one person complain, and become hurt, because of the gifts they were given — usually by a spouse.
While that sounds shallow, it’s not. Gifts wrapped in thoughtlessness do more damage than good. Ask the lady whose husband shops at the hardware store three days before Christmas — she’ll tell you who’s selfish.
In “13 Week Countdown To Christmas: When Something’s Just Not Right,” I explained that I love the “feel” of Christmas. I truly enjoy creating an atmosphere in my home that illuminates what Christmas means to our family. However, I get in trouble when I wait to start planning until I get in the mood for Christmas.
With 12 weeks to go, it doesn’t feel a bit like Christmas — frankly, I’m not in the mood yet. But we have the advantage of the right distance to view it with the proper perspective.
Let’s create a Christmas that our families will cherish.
“I once heard a man say that the creation of the refrigerator was one of the worst inventions for our health.”
At first glance that statement seems preposterous, and at face value it is. According to Jordan Rubin, the essence of the man’s lamentation was not the actual refrigerator, rather the loss of fermentation as a preservative and all the health benefits that we once derived from it.
As more people are seeking new and healthy lifestyles, the lost art of fermentation is making a comeback.
There is a new trendy drink that is actually centuries old, it’s called Kombucha. Kombucha starts out as little more than a sweet tea that would make any southerner smile. Then, with the help of a pale colored disk a “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast,” otherwise known as a SCOBY, your sweet tea transforms into a probiotic-laden powerhouse.
Health food stores carry shelves of the stuff in all flavors. One of my favorite coffeehouses actually sells Kombucha on tap and it costs about the same as a Latte.
In this week’s mining of The Maker’s Diet, the author explains that every long-lived culture in the world consumed fermented vegetables, dairy and meat. Fermentation reaches back six thousand years into Chinese culture, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia buried sweet potatoes, and ancient Roman manuscripts describe lacto-fermented sauerkraut.
“Fermentation is especially effective in releasing important nutritional compounds through “pre-digestion” that would otherwise pass through the human digestive system, undigested and unused.”
According to the author, our modern large scale vinegar-based fermentation techniques won’t do the trick. It’s the lactic acid fermentation, driven by the beneficial microorganisms that we need to break down foods into usable compounds and inhibit “putrefying” bacterial growth.
It’s common knowledge that prolonged heat, processing and pasteurization kills all enzymes. What isn’t so well known is that, according to Dr. Howell, author of Enzyme Nutrition we are all born with a finite number of enzymes. That’s why it’s important to consume as many outside enzymes as possible from raw food sources.
My PJ Lifestyle colleague Charlie Martin explored the need for a healthy gut in his popular 13 Weeks post “I Got Bugs“:
“One of the interesting research areas recently has been a number of reports that obesity, type 2 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, and more serious problems like various kinds of inflammatory bowel disease all seem to associate with differences in the population of the bugs in your gut.”
Charlie’s approach is to use probiotics from Garden of Life Raw Probiotics 5-Day Max Care– and so far he is having great success. This isn’t surprising, Garden of Life was founded by our featured author Jordan Rubin.
We’ve also used probiotics over the last year and the benefits are numerous. So much so, I really don’t want to be without it.
The problem is that probiotics are expensive — especially a good quality brand. My philosophy on dieting and health is that it must be a sustainable change that can last throughout a lifetime. Call me cheap or rebellious, but I just hate being dependent on any product, no matter how good it is.
A healthy gut is vitally important. So over the last couple of months I’ve been experimenting with Kombucha for a more natural intake of “good” bacteria, yeast and probiotics.
Making it at home is ridiculously easy and inexpensive. Here’s how I did it.
The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities, an intricate knot of German-Americans, Irish-Americans, English- Americans, French-Americans, Scandinavian- Americans, or Italian-Americans, each preserving its separate nationality, each at heart feeling more sympathy with Europeans of that nationality than with the other citizens of the American Republic.
No one is arguing that legitimate immigrants who come to America for its ideals and opportunities are unwelcome. However, the exhausting list of differences between the legal migration of the Roosevelt era and the illegal infiltration we are experiencing today makes his sentiments all the more relevant.
However, there are hyphens that bring division and there are hyphens that bind us together.
In spite of popular belief, America was founded on principles. All men are “created” equal. The God that created us in His image, the Judeo-Christian God, gave us what we call our American values. Is it any wonder those very values are under attack from evil on all sides?
In the closing chapter of Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus, the author suggests that a Jewish Jesus is the hyphen that binds the two faiths together. Two separate and distinct religions united by Jesus of Nazareth. These two faiths ever locked together are the genesis of American values.
Here’s how following Jesus can unite rather than divide us.
As I walked into Costco, there it was–the Christmas aisle. Like a great-aunt showing up on my doorstep, Christmas in September brings a mixture of irritation, anxiety and familiarity.
It’s happening everywhere. Christmas stuff is quietly slipping in through the back door. I’m still mourning the loss of summer and trying to find my fall decorations–it’s just not right to start throwing Christmas at me. I’m not ready for it.
Then again, it seems I’m never ready for Christmas. You’ve probably caught a glimpse of me across the aisle and laughed. Yeah, I’m that lady. Shopping the last days, even minutes before Christmas with a closet full of unwrapped presents back at home. Sure, I’ll tell you it’s because that’s when all the great sales are–truth is, I always wait until it “feels” like Christmas.
This is problematic. I want to create the “magic” of Christmas for my family. I love the aroma of cloves and cinnamon mingled with fresh pine. Who can resist the warm glow of candles burning, a fire in the fireplace or a good excuse to dress up and go to a party? The problem is, it seldom goes quite like I imagine it.
Christmas always takes me by surprise. Each year brings new
excuses reasons. The common denominator is failure to plan. Instead, I let it sweep me away.
I’d really like this year to be different.
If I’ve just described you too, you are welcome to join me over the next thirteen weeks, as I attempt to create a holiday season that inspires family closeness rather than debt, feasts that bring communion and health rather calories, and beauty that inspires rather than commercializes.
Here is what we will accomplish together.
Our 25-year friendship ended in a hospital bed — after a double amputation. Her heart, they said, simply stopped beating.
Although she had ten years on me, Mary and I shared something in common that perplexed us daily — our rambunctious little boys. As a baby, hers would crawl around on the floor looking for cords to yank. The louder the lamp would crash the more it delighted him. Mine was a happy little guy that walked every edge he could find, and crossed every line I drew. To no one’s surprise, they also became instant friends.
After a long morning of shopping together, we sat down hoping to relax and enjoy a little quiet, a cup of coffee and some grown-up conversation. It didn’t happen. Instead, her four-year-old boy began to run in circles. Up over the chairs, across the couch rounding the coffee table and back again. Over and over, around and around he went, howling at the top of his lungs. This went on for what seemed like an hour. He couldn’t stop.
This was bad behavior, even for this kid. The year was 1981. If ADHD was invented then, we hadn’t heard of it. It was also long before it was popular to look anywhere other than a pyramid for nutrition. Mary traced his behavior back to a red Kool-Aid and a hot dog lunch and a sugar cookie for dessert.
Few people, at that time if any, were correlating behavior with diet in children. She didn’t look for an excuse for his behavior — she looked for a catalyst. Through trial and error this mother found what foods would transform her boisterous little boy into an uncontrollable little monster. The most obvious offenders were dyes, sugar and any processed foods.
What Mary knew so many years ago, is almost common knowledge among mothers today. What Mary didn’t know, what Jordan S. Rubin explains in his book The Maker’s Diet just might have saved her life.
I didn’t realize it, but apparently my son asked a theological question that divides Christians and Jews. Only fourteen at the time, and obviously contemplating the tempting life of a teenager looming before him, the boy asked,
“If there is no heaven, would being a Christian still be worth it?” He went on trying to clarify, “I mean, what if we’re all wrong? What if when we die there is no heaven? Would you be sorry that…”
“Sorry I didn’t have ‘fun’?” I interrupted.
“Well, yeah,” he said sheepishly.
To his surprise my answer was an emphatic “Yes.” I didn’t become a Christian for the gold star at the end of the day or a mansion in the clouds for that matter.
In this week’s reading of Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesusthe rabbi spends several chapters explaining why Jews can never accept Christ in the manner Christians do. He states that the differences between Christianity and Judaism could fill volumes. I get that, and have no interest in debating or highlighting our theological differences. Rather, it’s my intention to find common ground and promote our shared values.
Boteach cites a separation between the faiths,
“Christianity is extremely concerned with heaven and the afterlife. This urgency entails a list of things people can do to ensure that they receive the best rewards in the world to come. This is very different from Judaism, which focuses almost exclusively on proper behavior in this world.”
I see an opportunity for unity. It’s tempting to divide Christians and Jews along these lines. However, it is an unnecessary division. Here is where we can learn something from the Jewish side of the family.
Well folks its been fun.
This is the final installment of our 13 Weeks to Family Financial Freedom After a Crisis series. Although I can’t honestly say, after just 13 weeks of effort, we are now flying high; I can say we are not in a financial free fall. We are gliding to freedom on the wings of God’s grace–and frankly, the view has been both frightening and exhilarating.
In “5 Rules for Lifting Your Family Out of Economic Hardship” I rolled out my “13 weeks” goals: Track daily my progress on a Seinfeld calendar, write a new budget, assess our lifestyle, cut living expenses by 40 percent and increase our income by at least that much.
Tracking my daily progress on a calendar didn’t work out as planned. Turns out, my inconsistency is the most consistent thing about me. My failure could be attributed to my personality type or the fact that my stated goals for marking-off days needed to be more concrete (low-tech operator error). Did you do it? Yes is an X, no is a blank spot or a “broken chain.” Which is, of course, its original purpose.
It did serve as sort of an invisible timer constantly running in the background of my mind. The designated days combined with weekly progress posts certainly kept me focused. In that, I’m declaring it a success.
The new budget is still in flex, as 13 weeks is only three months of budgeting with an inconsistent and unreliable monthly income. However, it is in place and we are growing more comfortable living within its bounds. I found a combination of using the YNAB, and good old fashion pen and paper works the best for us. We already owned YNAB. I added the phone apps so my husband and I have equal access and responsibility in maintaining the budget.
The only downfall to using YNAB, is that it does not allow you to project income or plan for next month’s bills, that’s where pen and paper comes in handy.
Gone are the days of dining out regularly, recreational shopping and living comfortably under a mortgage. In assessing our lifestyle, I’ve realized the best safety net we can have is a mortgage free home.
In retrospect, the goal of cutting our cost of living by 40 percent is unattainable–expenses fluctuate and there’s no way to cut unexpected expenditures by any percentage. I held a misconceived presupposition that I could control living expenses. Control is almost always an illusion. A more accurate and obtainable goal– remove all unnecessary spending and reassess. Repeat as needed.
The real success of our 13 weeks together didn’t come in achieving my stated goals.
Instead, it was in the lessons I didn’t know I needed to learn.
Have you ever heard a child say “I can’t wait until I grow up so I can do whatever I want.”? You may have said it yourself or at least thought it.
What an irony. When you think about it, at no other time in our lives than childhood do we have more real freedom. Our days are spent in self-indulgence, playing, learning and growing into who we are meant to be. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to go.
Children tend to bristle under rules, testing their validity usually by breaking them to see if consequences will follow. Some of mine bucked up against them on a daily basis. In a child’s eyes, adults make the rules. Their narrow view of life makes incapable of understanding the multitude of laws adults abide everyday.
Since most traffic laws are color-coded, children catch on to what means stop and what means go fairly quick. When the rambunctious toddler doing the back-car seat driving squeals to “Go faster!” the sign along the side of the road or the police car you just passed, makes a good visual aid for explaining the law you are currently trying to follow.
However, not all laws are as visual or as well enforced. A society runs on a host of laws. There are moral laws, social and criminal laws. All must be followed, the extent to which they are written or enforced does not, in any way, negate the law.
The same goes for dietary laws. Our heavenly Father put them in place. I don’t believe they are meant for our salvation, but for our health and happiness. Much the same way we as parents place rules in our homes for our own children.
Being our human condition lends us with a natural bent toward rebellion, most of us would prefer to roll the dice on our health. Then when the consequences — such as pounds or a frightening diagnosis — we cling to the newest fad diet hoping it will serve as a get out of jail free card.
WWJD? became a
irritating wildly popular slogan that garnered untold millions in T-shirt and bracelet sales to teens. Supposedly, the idea was to remind someone to think about how they should act — like Jesus — in any given situation. As far as I can tell, its real success was only a grand slam for marketing.
Don’t get me wrong. If a kid’s going to be a walking billboard, then a Christian slogan is my first choice. However, I do have a real problem with bumper-sticker or T-shirt theology.
In this week’s reading of Kosher Jesus, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach not only puts forth his admiration for the courage of Jesus but also challenges Christians to look closely at what Jesus is actually saying.
What would Jesus really do?
“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…” Luke 6:27-28
People that hate, curse, and mistreat are not the same as people that rape you in the street, throw acid in your face, or fly airplanes into your office building. Boteach points out that Jesus is not talking about everyone. Too often, this verse is used to portray Jesus as someone who just loves everyone. That he’s not willing to fight. That’s not the author’s impression of a man reaching for the mantle of a messiah.
But Jesus does not tell us to love God’s enemies. It is one thing to love an irritating colleague, a very different thing to love their murderous Ahmadinejad or Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the abominable head of Hezbollah. For Jesus to argue in favor of loving such a man, or any enemy of his people, would be immoral. He neither says nor means anything of the sort.
The author explains:
In Matthew “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword…” Jesus was calling his men to arms. An armed insurrection against Rome was his battle cry, even if such armed struggle tore families and communities asunder. Evil has to be resisted.
While we can debate whether or not Jesus came purely for the redemption of souls, or if his disciples thought he came to free them only from Roman rule, in both events he had to hate and fight against evil.
Christmas came up at a church meeting this week. We were all sent home with a question to ponder:
“How can we as a church love and serve the people around us this Christmas, both inside our walls and out?”
When the idea of a toy drive came up, I immediately found myself immersed in conflicting emotions. Caught off guard by my own reaction, I had to go home and unpack some baggage I didn’t realized I carried.
If you’ve been following this series for the last 11 weeks, you know our family has lived a traditional, small town American lifestyle for most of our married life. My husband, Mike, and I have raised nine children mostly on one income. I say “mostly” because as a police officer in a small community, Mike often worked in more than one precinct so I could stay home.
We were used to making sacrifices for our chosen lifestyle–a large family, country life and one wage earner. Together we made it work and took pride in our calluses. Even through the Carter years, Mike never went without work until a pulmonary embolism knocked him down.
For the following two years, we depended on the grace and support of our church, friends and community as he recovered. That first Christmas, I suppose a similar meeting was held in another church. Someone must have brought up the local police officer living outside of town with his house full of children.
Unbeknownst to us, our names went on their list.
Just a few days before Christmas, a strange car pulled into the drive. A man and his wife came to the door carrying a large bulging garbage bag and a cardboard box. They dropped the bag on the floor and handed me the box with a cheerful “Merry Christmas” and went on their way.
The box was filled with a frozen turkey, a canned ham and various canned goods. In the bag we found a wrapped present for each child. The tag on the gift didn’t have a name on it– just an generic “Girl age 9″ or “Boy age 3.” I was so thankful. It’s been so long ago I don’t remember– but I probably cried.
We locked ourselves behind a closed door and unwrapped each gift. Determined who would like what, and then wrapped them again with his or her name on the tag. We all felt blessed beyond measure.
Then it all turned on me.
“You can always tell a first time mother,” she said, as we sat in the kitchen sipping our coffee. “They’re always jumping up, running after the baby, worried about every little thing she touches. By the time the third one comes along, she’s like, ‘Oh look, the baby’s licking a shoe–isn’t that cute?’”
A quick glance at my toddler revealed the source of my friend’s caffeinated blurt of wisdom–my eight-month old daughter, sitting quietly at my feet was teething on a sandal.
No, I didn’t give it to her; she slipped it off my foot without me noticing. And no I didn’t think it was cute, but I didn’t panic either.
She was right.
You might be tempted to say a mother of several children just gets lazier. I say, she gets wiser or she won’t survive.
It always seemed curious to me that children in small families, living in town with mothers that kept immaculate homes and doted over them– were constantly sick. I noticed these families because, well in some ways, I envied them.
Although I couldn’t stand the thought of raising a large family in a subdivision, raising kids in an old farmhouse was a lot of hard work.
Open windows welcomed the dust in from the fields, and a constant stream of little feet imported dirt and mud from every corner of the yard. It was hard enough to keep the house clean, but keeping it sterile was not an option.
Oh, and their favorite place to play? The barn. Followed closely by the large eight-by-eight foot sandbox under a magnolia tree. The boys built
treetop shanties tree houses and played army barefoot in minefields of manure the pasture.
In this week’s reading of Jordan S. Rubin’s The Maker’s Diet I found the reason my kids were seldom sick. To this day, even as adults– it takes a lot to knock them down. I used to think it was because I was such a good mother. Wrong. It was because God is such a good Father.
Rubin explains how science is just now discovering how the Creator designed our environment to keep us healthy. Which, it turn, also explains how we’ve messed up the process.
What are Judeo-Christian values? How can Jews and Christians learn from each other to strengthen one another’s faith? What are the obstacles that stand in the way? Rhonda Robinson explores these questions and more in her ongoing series on Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus. Check out her previous installments in the series:
July 21: Jesus a Pharisee?
After over two thousand years of Christianity, the historical character of Jesus remains shrouded in mystery. Scholars, clergy, and lay-people have used many methods in an effort to unlock the secrets of Christianity’s founder.
– Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Kosher Jesus
Perhaps the most famous mystery surrounding Jesus, as the risen Christ, is the shroud of Turin. Whether you accept its authenticity or believe it is a forgery, the controversy itself bears witness to the impact that Jesus of Nazareth still has on the world to this day.
As all good authors do, Boteach has loaded the bases to drive home his theory. But first, let’s underscore the few simple points we can agree upon. Jesus lived. Jesus was a devout Jew. He lived as a carpenter and a rabbi (a teacher). Jesus was crucified.
The answers to questions such as “Why did he die?” and “Who killed him?” should be what separate Judaism and Christianity in faith — not hatred. This, I believe, is the heart of what Boteach is trying to convey.
The bulk of the author’s work points to the Christian text (New Testament) revealing Jesus as a devoted Jew. Comparing his knowledge of Jewish laws and tradition with the life and words of Christ, leads the author to conclude that Jesus should be embraced as a beloved Jewish son. Followers of Christ should have no problem with this.
However, Boteach paints a picture of a bipolar Jesus by contrasting the scripture where Jesus called Jews “a pack of vipers” with his instructing the disciples not to go among the gentiles but rather go to the “lost sheep of Israel.”
“The two Jesuses– the anti- Semitic firebrand condemning Jews to hell, and the soft shepherd of Israel with no interest in proselytizing gentiles– are utterly irreconcilable. One is authentic, the other manufactured.”
I have a different theory.
This week, in our ongoing series of 13 Weeks to Family Financial Freedom After a Crisis, I was reminded of a lesson learned by watching my daughter and her young family as they made the hard transition into military life.
Soon after my son-in-law enlisted, he got stationed in Hawaii. Needless to say, they were elated. Undaunted at the prospect of leaving friends and family an ocean behind, they all flew off to paradise to live happily ever after.
It took several months, but something most unexpected happened. Gradually, they went from living in paradise to being stuck on an island.
What, you might ask, could you lack in a tropical paradise like Hawaii? After all, they’re living in a place most people can only dream of visiting. They had a good income and a nice home. Weekends were filled with family outings to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Every day, almost without fail, a rainbow appeared in the sky. What changed? What’s missing that was there before?
Simple contentment. For a brief time, they lost sight of that secret ingredient.
“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13
Discontentment will take a wonderful life and turn it sour. That’s not to say that military life is a piece of cake. Neither is raising young children separated from extended family–it’s hard. So are job losses, sickness and all the other trials that cause economic distress. But contentment is even more vital in those times.
In fact, faith and contentment are the key ingredients to happiness. Sound too simplistic? Well, if being content in all circumstances were easy, everyone would be doing it.
However, it can be done.
Have I ever mentioned how much I hate to cook? If I haven’t, I’d be really surprised. I say it often. In fact, I’ve said it so often, that at one point, my husband fired me from cooking for the family.
It’s true. Although he did do it nicely. He offered me a deal I couldn’t refuse. “You keep the kitchen clean” he said, and then promised, “I’ll do all the cooking.” What fool wouldn’t jump on that? Especially since, at the time, we had four young children and I owned and ran a small business.
Mistakenly, I took his offer as a sign of his love and appreciation. When I excitedly thanked him with a kiss on the cheek, the truth fell out: “I’m just tired of the [expletive] you’ve been feeding us.”
He was right — it was bad. My motto at the time, “If I can’t nuke it, or pick it up in a hit-an-run, we don’t eat it.” When asked, what do you want for dinner? My children would call out names of their favorite restaurants rather than actual food.
His cooking and my cleaning arrangement only lasted until I closed my business to take care of our growing family full time. Once back on my own, and without the means or excuses for eating out all the time, I began complaining again — this time to the neighbor.
She didn’t offer me the same deal.
However, she did make me her pet project. Her new goal in life: Teach me to cook and love it. She only partially succeeded. Much to my family’s delight, she taught me how to cook venison, make homemade pizza and twice baked potatoes. But most of all, she showed me the happy faces of my children around a dinner table.
After expressing my sentiments on cooking to a recent houseguest, she looked at me in total disbelief. In fact, if she wasn’t such a lady, she might have called me a liar.
She may be right, and I just really didn’t notice the change. Preparing food for my family has taken on a completely different meaning now. It has become a life saving medicine for my husband, and a new way for me to see God’s provisional hand in every area of our lives. Taking extra pains to be sure we have meals that are as rich in nutrients as they are in flavor has become a small pleasure.
In this week’s reading of Jordan S. Rubin’s The Maker’s Diet I realized why what we eat, and eating together, actually brought joy to a drudgery I hated. The author has a scientific explanation:
We all have a “second brain” in our gut that controls more than we think.