Sunday, December 30, 2012

Twister Tongue Tied

What's up with this photo?
(This article appears in Christian Home Magazine, Issue 94. Check it out!)

     I'm always getting my words garbled. Once when my second son was an infant, I handed his wet diaper to his older brother. "Here, buddy," I said. "Go put this in the fridge please."

     Yes, I told my son to put the Pampers into the fridge.

     My two year-old took the diaper, headed to the kitchen, then stopped and turned around. "What yous said?" Nate asked in confusion. (Apparently even toddlers know that dirty bottom pants do not belong on the shelf next to the milk.)

     I blame it on sleep deprivation whenever I tell the story. 

     Unfortunately, I don't have the excuse of a restless newborn who allows me only a few hours of sleep anymore. Nevertheless, just a few days ago, I got my toddler dressed, handed him his dirty underwear, and said, "Here, buddy. Go put this in the potty."

     Two year-old Thomas just stood and stared at me with a furrowed brow.

     "Go put this in the potty," I repeated, holding the dirty underwear out for my toddler and wondering why he wasn't obeying immediately like he should.

     Eventually, Thomas just wrinkled his nose and shouted, "Ewwwww!" At that point I said something like, "Thomas, I told you go to put this in the ... Oh." (Embarrassed pause.) "Never mind. Go put this in the laundry bin please."

     And he did.

     Thankfully, I'm not the only one in the family getting twister tongue tied. In practicing good manners, my boys have so many responses pre-programmed into their little systems that the results can be quite amusing when they get their auto-replies mixed up. For example:

     "I love you," I told my son a while back.

     "You're welcome," he mumbled, never looking up from his book.

     Or, more recently, Thomas accidentally hit his brother with a toy. "Thomas," I reminded my toddler, using my manners-police sing-song voice, "what do you need to say to your brother?"

     "I forgive you," Thomas replied factually.

     Poor Thomas got even more confused when he accidentally bonked his dad a few minutes later. (We were all having our morning blanky time, which is unarguably the most dangerous part of the day if you are a tired parent with three active, very awake little boys in bed with you). "Thomas," I told my son in the same instructive tone, "you just hurt Daddy. What do you need to tell him?"

     "Yes, sir," Thomas said, frowning because he wasn't sure he got the answer quite right.

     "No," I coaxed, "you hurt Daddy. What should you say now?"

     "Yes, ma'am?" my two year-old tried again.

     "No, Thomas," I repeated and decided my son needed a little more coaching. "You need to apologize to Daddy."

     "Oh," said Thomas, still looking uncertain.

     "Apologize," I prompted.

     Thomas looked at me. He looked at his recently-bonked dad. Then finally his blank expression turned jubilant; he remembered what he was supposed to say. "Dear Jesus, Amen!" Thomas shouted enthusiastically and gave his not-so-injured father a vigorous hug.

     It's comforting to know I'm not the only one getting my words all garbled up. I think Moses and I have a lot in common. I could have written Exodus 4:10 myself: "I have never been eloquent ... I am slow of speech and tongue.” Yet God gave Moses the boldness to confront Pharaoh and lead the Israelites to freedom (if freedom is what you can call forty years of wandering through deserts and eating tiny dew-drop wafers).

    Similarly, I love what Paul's accusers in Corinth note about him: “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing" (2 Corinthians 10:10). Are you saying that the same man who wrote that enemies of the gospel should go castrate themselves was just a ho-hum kind of an orator? That is speaking amounted to nothing? (I've also read actual historical documents that say Paul was bald, bow-legged and unibrowed. How's that for an impressive speaker's resume?)

     Of course, it's a typical Sunday-morning pastime to pick on poor Peter, the disciple who is known for constantly sticking his foot in his mouth. As kids putting on plays for our parents, my friends and I always wanted to be Peter because his was the funniest role. Whoever played Peter would deliver his lines, put his finger on his chin, and then say, "Hmmmmmm" in a convincingly thoughtful way. (Peter never thought before he spoke - or so we heard our pastor say - so we concluded he must have done all his thinking afterwards.)

     It's an encouraging truth that even though my kids and I get tongue-twisted as often as some of our favorite Bible heroes, God still can use us in spite of our linguistic imperfections. When I think about God's power to use someone as unimpressive as me, it just makes my soul want to cry out, "Yes, Sir."

     Oops. I mean, "Thank you, God."

What about you? When have you gotten your words mixed up? (Feel free to leave your comment below.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

One Christmas Mourning

     Before I share what's been on my mind, first: a disclaimer. If you've been reading "Lightly Salted" lately and have come to this post expecting another light humor article, you may want to click that back button right about now. There is nothing funny about what I have to say. Trust me; I'm deadly serious.

     Three days ago, twenty little children and some very brave adults lost their lives. Their murder was brutal. Even more devastating, it was pointless. Senseless.

     Half of the children who died were born the same year as my son. Like Nate, some of them were probably missing a front tooth or two. They had dreams bigger than most adults dare to imagine. Maybe, like Nate, one of them wanted to be the first human being to travel to Mars. Maybe, like Nate, one of them wanted to be a real, live super hero.

     Unfortunately, there were no super heroes to save these twenty innocent children from the bullets that flew at them on Friday morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

     We think about this tragedy, which chills the heart of every single parent in America, and wonder what kind of horrific Christmas the families in Newtwon will face this year.

     Unfortunately, the Sandy Hook shooting was not the first massacre to taint the celebrations of Christ's incarnation. Just two years ago in Egypt, Christians comforted bereft relatives with a poem: “Don’t cry for me, mother; to a martyr you’ve given birth. Murderers killed your son, on a night of Christmas mirth.” The poem was written as a tribute to Christians shot during a Coptic Christmas Eve service.

     Last year on Christmas Eve, a Nigerian church was bombed as Christians gathered to "worship Christ the newborn King."  

     Such accounts are not unique to contemporary history. When your family gathers to read the Christmas story from the Bible this year, you can hear about yet another Christmas massacre:

     "When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under" (Matthew 2:16). 

     Two years old and under? That means some families may have lost two children, a toddler and a baby as well. It wasn't just the sweet, helpless newborns who were killed. Included in the stats of the Bethlehem slaughter were boys like my two year-old, Thomas: precious boys who love jumping out to "scare" their daddies, precocious little boys who wrestle with their big brothers but still cuddle with their mamas, darling little boys who love to run and spin and jump and somersault to the proud applause of their families. 

     Unlike, the Bible does not include interviews with the victims' neighbors, speculations about the suspect's motive, or photographs of the mourning parents whose children were brutally slain by Herod's henchmen. It does, however, describe the general reaction of that little town of Bethlehem: “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more" (Matthew 2:17).

      Thankfully, with the full revelation of Scripture, we don't have to conclude that those little children from Newtown, Connecticut are simply "no more." We can rest assured that "their angels in heaven always see the face of [their] Father in heaven" (Matthew 18:10). It won't make Christmas easier for the bereaved folks in Newtown. It won't make the tragedy any less gruesome. 

     But it at least gives room for hope.

     Jesus was born on Christmas Day in order to reverse the curse of sin. All the blood that has been spilled - including the blood of the innocent children of Sandy Hook and the brave adults who died protecting them - will one day be washed off the face of the earth by the power of Christ's perfect life.

     On that day, Christians will be reunited with those they lost. Parents will embrace children long-since dead. Fear will be wiped away. Death will be destroyed. 

     All because a little baby was born in a stable in Bethlehem.

     Christ was born on that holy night with a plan. His plan was to comfort the mourning and break the chains of the oppressed. His plan was to abolish evil and establish justice upon the face of the earth. His plan was to obliterate sin and overcome the gruesome power of death. If ever the world needed the message of hope, it is now.

What about you? What prayer would you offer the families in Newtown this Christmas time? (Feel free to leave your own prayer below.)

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Jingle Bell Blues

What's up with this photo?
      Over the past five years, I have wasted at least thirty hours of my life searching for the perfect Christmas radio station.

     I have yet to find it.

     I admit my expectations are set pretty high. I'm not opposed to some of the secular standards like "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" and "Jingle Bell Rock," but I'd like to find a station that plays primarily sacred music. Since I've got something of a scientific background, I don't even mind putting a numerical ratio to it; my ideal station would have a 10:1 mix of sacred to secular music. Unfortunately, most of the local stations seem to have that ratio completely reversed. If I want to hear one nice rendition of "O Holy Night," I've got to suffer through eight ditties practically worshiping Santa and one love song lamenting about lost holiday romance.

     Unfortunately, when I try the Christian holiday stations (both locally and online), I find myself even more disgruntled. Thankfully there's no Santa serenades, but there's a whole bunch of contemporary songs (that would never be played at a Christmas Eve service) and bad Christmas carol covers aplenty. Christians should be leading our culture when it comes to music and art (think Handel's "Messiah"). Unfortunately, the quality of Christian holiday music today - much like the Grinch's heart - needs to grow a few sizes in my humble opinion.

     So, this year I've made up a list of suggestions for Christian radio stations, in hopes of making everyone's holiday listening experience a little more enjoyable ... and a little less painful on the ears as well.

1) I have no idea if Bing Crosby was a Christian or not, but he can sing "Silent Night" and "O Come All Ye Faithful" better than anybody else. Period. Please don't waste your time (or ours) with sub-par renditions of Christmas classics just because they're sung by the same artists you play the whole year long.

2) All Christmas songs have a melody. Believe it or not, we are supposed to actually hear that melody. Yet so many new Christian covers of standard carols are sung just in harmony (and an awkward harmony at that). Rule of thumb: if you can't sing along with it the first time you hear what should be a familiar carol, why allow it to clutter up the airwaves at all? 

3) Holiday songs aren't Christian simply because they're sung by a Christian group, just like the trashy romance novel that somehow found its way into our church library is not a Christian book simply because it is on the shelf next to "The Prayer of Jabez." To throw out a hypothetical example, if BeBe and CeCe Winans decided to record a cover of "Baby, It's Cold Outside," that still would not transform a (somewhat disturbing) secular song into one that glorifies God or points to the real meaning of the Christmas season.

4) A song does not have to be new to be powerful. The Bible never says Christmas songs have to be less than one year old to be considered "good." Nor do traditional carols have to be revamped, resynchopated, and reharmonized every year to be worth listening to. (Please refer to point 1 above.)

     I'm sure it's too late to occupy the airwaves this year, but maybe the Christian stations will take some of my advice to heart next holiday season. Otherwise I may just have to buy a few Bing Crosby albums for myself and call it good.
What about you? Where do you turn to find great Christmas music? Do you have any other complaints to add to my list for the contemporary Christian music industry? (Feel free to leave your comment below.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pondering the Incarnate

What's up with this photo?

     This Christmas season, my two year-old Thomas has been asking me all kinds of deep, philosophical questions about Christ Incarnate.

     Like, Did Jesus have a pee-pee?

     Now, I’m used to my kids attacking me with inquiries from way out in left field (and sometimes from way out in the bleachers as well). And I know it’s perfectly natural for a little boy to wonder about the anatomy of the Christ Child, who was in fact another little boy. But there are some questions that just don’t seem very reverent to ask about Mary’s perfect, sinless child.

     I hardly wondered about Baby Jesus when I was younger. I knew Who He was, I knew Where He had come from, and I knew why He had come. What was left to ponder?

     Then I had sons of my own and started to imagine what it would be like to have a child who was truly perfect. Jesus the Baby had no sin nature whatsoever. Does that mean the carol is right after all, and Mary and Joseph looked at each other a few days after Jesus’ birth and remarked, “Wow, what a great baby! No crying He makes!”?

     Jesus was perfectly sinless, but He was also flesh and blood. So did Jesus spit up on Jospeh? Did He give Mary a little morning shower when she went to see if His swaddling cloth was dry? Did He get colic and keep His parents up all night with His shrieking?

     What about His circumcision? Did Jesus scream His head off in pain and anger? Did He spend the next few days fussier than normal? And what about nursing? Did Jesus cry whenever He got hungry, even though as God He must have known Mary was busy at times and couldn’t tend to Him right away? Did His cries get louder and louder the longer Mary tarried, as if it were possible for God in the flesh to demonstrate impatience? If Mary’s ducts got clogged, did Jesus heal them immediately with a thought, or did He just holler because He was hungry and wasn't getting what He wanted?

     And what about His life as a toddler? Did Jesus cry when He scraped His knee? If Joseph tried to comfort Him, did Jesus pout and demand Mommy instead? Could the just and perfect Divine have had a favored parent?

     Did the Christ Toddler get scared? Did He cry during storms? Did He cling to His mother's skirts whenever Mary tried to leave Him for a few hours with friends or relatives so she could go shopping at the market or fix Joseph up a nice dinner without the "help" of an active two year-old?

     Jesus was sinless, but He was born into a weak body. Did He get sick just as often as the other children in Nazareth? Or was His body naturally stronger because it was free from sin and its consequences? Did Jesus have many friends as He grew up? Did He play with his neighbors? Could He read their thoughts, know their fears, sense their insecurities? Did children like Him? Did Mary stay up late at night wondering if Her Son "fit in" with the Nazareth crowd?

     The mother in me would like answers to these mysteries, and more. But my pedantic side assures me that if God wanted us to know all these details, He would have included them in the Scriptures. Maybe when I get to heaven I'll ask Mary to join me for a cup of hot chocolate and whipped cream and ask her some of these questions myself. 

     Then again, maybe I'll just sit back in silent awe, try once again to grasp the enormity of Christ Incarnate, and do my best to meditate on the one Mary called "Immanuel —which means God With Us" (Matthew 1:23).

What about you? If you could ask God - or His mother - one question about Jesus as a youngster, what would it be? (Feel free to leave your comment below.)

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tinkle Time

 (This article appears in the Christian Home Magazine, Issue 92. Check it out!) 

What's up with this photo?
     Our family has been diaper-free for exactly three weeks.

     Sort of.

     Which is a huge deal, since Nate (my oldest) is almost seven, and this is the first time since his birth that we have not had at least one child in diapers. (Yes, there was one month during which all three of our boys were in Huggies. How would you like that strain on your family budget?)

     Should I also mention that for one and half years we lived in a village so remote that disposable bootie-covers cost over a dollar? That's per diaper, by the way. Have two boys who need bottom cloths? You do the math (the boys and I have already done our multiplication practice for the day). Why didn't we just get cheaper diapers shipped to us, you might be wondering? Oh, how naive you are to think internet companies bother to ship to rural Alaskan villages like Sanford. Nope, we were on our own.

     Well, not entirely on our own. We did have each other. My friend and I made up our own little diaper co-op. If she was planning to make the four-hour drive to Walmart, I'd give her enough cash that she probably should have been driving an armored vehicle and ask her to bring back as many tinkle-poopers for my boys as she could fit in her car. When I went into town to restock, she would do the same for me. "Security," she liked to say, "is knowing that you have enough diapers to last until your next trip to town."

     Yup, that's how we do it living out in Sanford, Alaska. We program our internal calendars based on the size of our diaper stash.

     Thankfully, I now live in a real city with real roads and even a real Walmart. I don't have to plan a four-hour drive to stock up on Pampers, or else pay a dollar a pair at the local convenience store. But still, I've been looking forward to DF (Diaper-Free) Day for years. When it finally came, you could have heard me whoop for joy all the way back in Sanford, I'm pretty sure, where my poor friend is still paying a buck a shot for her family's crinkle pants.

    So three weeks ago, since I knew at least 299 of my 312 friends on Facebook were clutching their smartphones in anticipation, I made my announcement to the world: Thomas is out of diapers! 
     And then he wasn't.

     Thomas' path to regression was so subtle I never saw it coming. (If I had, do you think I would have spent twelve buckaroos for his brand-new Spiderman underwear?) It started with a leak every three or four days. No big deal, I told myself, he's still learning.

     Then he was "accidentally" soaking his friendly neighborhood hero every other day or so. I guess we are busier than normal, I figured and blamed our hectic holiday schedule. Before long a masked Pete Parker was getting rained on once or twice a day. Finally, I got so fed up with the amount of laundry I was doing that I decided to put a Pull-Up on Thomas after his first offense of the day. And what do you know? Thomas realized it was a lot easier to do his little thing (or things, as the case may be) on the run instead of walking to the bathroom, turning on the light, pulling out the stool, and so on.

     It wasn't until yesterday (call it denial) when I realized: Thomas isn't potty-trained anymore. At first, I was able to step back and look at the situation rationally. He's still only two, after all. My other boys were three (and yes, even four) before we celebrated their DF Days. And all the books say regression is quite normal for early toilet trainees. (They also say that most babies learn to sleep through the night by the time they are five months old and that some mothers experience slight discomfort the day their milk comes in, so you can bet how much I trust these "experts.")

     Anyway, there I was, changing another Pull-Up and thinking magnanimous thoughts to myself like, Thomas will let me know when he's ready to be toilet trained, and It really isn't a big deal if we keep having to buy diapers because we're so used to it. We've been doing it for nearly seven years, after all.

     Sometime after I said the word buy but before I said the word diapers, something snapped. Wait a minute! I was supposed to be celebrating my new-found freedom. The money we'd save by going completely diaperless could be enough for a date night a month if we planned things right! And I was going to just let Thomas off the hook, stick him back in Pull-Ups full time, and allow him to decide when he was good and ready to piddle on the potty like a big boy?


     Isn't that so like human nature? On the surface, we love the idea of forgiveness. We love the idea of extending grace. Until we realize that it costs us something. And don't let anyone ever fool you. Showing grace is an expensive line of business.

     How much hurt does it cost the housewife to forgive her husband for his Internet "accident" ... again? How must energy does it cost the mother of a wayward child to keep on loving and praying ... with no visible results? How much pride does it cost the church member to forgive that one person who is always making Sunday mornings so difficult ... and every other day of the week too?

     I don't know about you, but I can be a lot like Scrooge when it comes to extending grace. I was totally willing to "forgive" Thomas for his constant toiletry slip-ups ... until I thought about the cost of keeping him in forty-cents-a-pair Pull-Ups for another year. I'm totally willing to be a great friend ... until I realize how much humility it takes to keep on overlooking what I perceive to be snide remarks. And I'm in love with the idea of constantly extending grace to my family ... until their minor annoyances overdraw my patience account.

     Unfortunately, grace is never free. We shouldn't be surprised. After all, God's grace cost Him dearly. He purchased our forgiveness with the blood of His beloved Son. Think others have  overdrawn your forgiveness account? Just remember what God did for us.

     I'd like to think that in the coming weeks I'll find peace with whatever potty route Thomas chooses for himself. But if I'm stuck buying diapers by the loadful, I have to admit I'm going to have a hard time feeling magnanimous about it. I guess that's when I'll think about those poor mothers back in Sanford who are spending up to three times as much as I am for their children's bottom dumpers.

     If I'm feeling ultra generous, maybe I'll send them Thomas' leftovers once I've got him back in his fancy Spidermans.

What about you? Do you have any good potty training tips? I'm all ears! Or maybe you have a story to share about a time forgiveness cost you something. (Feel free to leave your comment below.)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

He Stepped Down Into Darkness

What's up with this photo?
     As a culture, we are addicted to Christmas lights. We put them on our trees, on our houses, on our windows ... some of us go so far as to put them on our earrings and  brooches! We give and receive scented Christmas candles with labels like Arctic Pine and Mrs. Claus Cookie Dough. We attend candlelit services on Christmas Eve and hope our toddlers don't burn down the sanctuary curtains ... again.

     I love Christmas lights too ... except when they tangle, break, and jack up my electricity bill every December. Truthfully though, I love just everything about Christmas. It's all so feel-good, what's not to love? For the average American Christian to say she doesn't like Christmas would be like the average American turkey saying he doesn't like vegetarians.

     Even for those of us who not only love Christmas for the flashing lights and free gift wrapping at the mall, but for its spiritual significance, it's still hard to keep from getting distracted by all the neon lights and general hype. How many of us, like Snoopy in A Charlie Brown Christmas, "go commercial" once Black Friday announcements start arriving in our mailboxes (and inboxes, and Facebook newsfeeds, and Twitter accounts, etc)? We waste our time - and money - at the toy store and body shop, not to mention the post office, and feel pangs of guilt because we know we should also be preparing our heart for worship, meditating on the inconceivable concept of Christ Incarnate.

     How do we keep from pulling a Snoopy and going completely commercial? Advent devotions don't come with a guarantee ("If you read one devotion a day, you will not go into debt this holiday season, you will get all your shopping done with a cheerful and peaceful attitude, and you will refrain from decking the man who tries to cut in front of you in the USPS line") but at least they help you spend a few minutes each day focusing on the real reason for this joyous time of Christmas.

     Well, we started our advent devotions this morning (a day late, but don't tell the neighbors). And I came to a striking conclusion: No matter what advent devotional you use, no matter how many different advent books you buy and go through over the years, no matter how hard you try to "spice it up" and add variety to your family's advent experience, the first day of advent will always include a Scripture reading from Isaiah. I find this only slightly ironic considering the fact that Isaiah lived hundreds of years before the angels appeared to the shepherds with the urge to "go tell it on the mountain."

     This morning while eating stale leftover cereal (I'm trying to make room in the cupboards for all our extra Christmas cookie ingredients) the boys and I read Isaiah 9:2. "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light." Again with the lights theme. You'd almost think Isaiah was getting some kickbacks from Walmart's home decorating department, wouldn't you?

     If you're like me, you've probably heard this verse in regards to advent a few dozen times. Unfortunately, we're so obsessed with Christmas lights that we try to forget about the darkness that consumed the world at the time of Christ's birth.

     Do you have a nativity scene? So do we. But it certainly doesn't include the soldiers who slaughtered all the boy babies of Bethlehem. It doesn't have the crucifixes in the background where Romans tortured Jews by the hundreds - those who were guilty as well as those who were innocent. 

     Christmas is a beloved holiday, and rightly so. Believers and unbelievers alike adore Christmas because it makes us feel so darn good. We light up our trees (and our garage doors, and our window sills, and our roofs, and yes, even our brooches) and we sit down and watch George Bailey promise Mary the moon. Why? Because we all are living with the absolute certainty that Christmas is supposed to make us happy. (Case in point: Nobody has ever watched Schindler's List in order to get into the Christmas spirit, right?)

     Now don't get me wrong. I'm as much a sucker for the steroidal-sized endorphins running rampant this time of year as anyone else. Show me the Ghost of Christmas Present blessing the feast of even the humblest of London's poor, and I'll probably choke up. (I've even been known to cry listening to Junior Asparagus singing Christmas carols on our boys' VeggieTales album.) And, lest there are any thinker-judgers out there reading this article, crying because something sappy tugs at my heart actually means I'm quite happy, thank you very much.

      But with our addiction to feeling good at Christmastime, have we forgotten the truth of Isaiah 9:2? The people of Jesus' day were walking in the darkness of sin. They were oppressed by a horrific regime. They were in slavery - to their fears, to their sin, to their captors.

     Is that description jingling any bells in your head? 

     Jesus was born into a dark world. That's the whole point. So this advent season, as you plug in your flashing Christmas decorations and light up your gingerbread and allspice candles, don't forget that Jesus came for us, "a people walking in darkness" - the darkness of the world around as well as the darkness of our own personal sins.

     Are you walking in darkness or light? Are you crouching in secret, hoping no one will discover your guilt? Jesus said that "Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed" (John 3:20). Maybe this advent season is the time to confront that sin that's been holding you in bondage. "Bring it into the light" by confessing your struggle to someone you trust.

     Are you harboring hatred or forgiveness? John tells us that "Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble" (1 John 2:10). Are you living out this season in the light of love or towards darkness of unforgiveness? Are you ready this advent to let go of the pain and hurt of bitterness? Are you willing to extend grace to someone who has wronged you .... again?

     Are you a flaming light on a stand, or a flickering candle under a bowl? Jesus reminded his disciples that nobody lights a lamp just to cover it up. "Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light  everyone in the house" (Matthew 5:15). As Christians, we have been given the light of Jesus Himself. But are we letting it pierce the darkness around us? Who do you know this advent season who needs the peace Immanuel brings? Pray for opportunities to introduce those who are walking in darkness to the true Light of the World. 

     Are you broken over the darkness around us? This advent, while we spend money on fancy presents that our kids will play with for a day, a week, or a few months if we're lucky, there are parents worried for their children who have run away, who have been given devastating diagnoses, who have been shipped overseas to fight dangerous wars. While we fret over how much weight we'll gain this holiday season and go out and buy our turkeys and hams, there are literally millions of people starving in the world today. Some of them reside in our very own zip codes. Are we willing to mourn over our neighbors' misfortunes? Are we will to break the yokes of their oppression through prayer?

     Are we willing to weep this Christmas ... not when Clarence gets his wings, but when babies die in senseless wars, when children starve in horrific famines, when families suffer in ruthless regimes? To truly prepare our hearts to worship the Light of the World, we need to start by realizing just how deep the darkness here really penetrates.

     It's a darkness that will take much more than blinking brooches to overcome.

What about you? What advice can you give others who want to shine more brightly this advent season? What area will you be focusing on this advent to make the world a brighter place? (Feel free to leave your comment below.)