…for the Camera (re-posted for my Traveling Buddies)

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Our Trek to the Manger has begun, and as I reflect on the small group discussion questions for the first chapters of our adventure, I’m reminded of my long-time traveling buddies: My precious family.

This post, originally shared a number of years ago, is especially appropriate today. It makes me wonder who your traveling buddies are? Reach out to thank those smiling faces today!

My Smiling Children

My husband and I just celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary. Besides the family we’ve created together, many of the best gifts we’ve been given over the years are memories that have been marked in living color by Kodak (or, more recently, in digital form). This year, our daughter spent hours putting photographs to music so that she could give us this gift of memory-on-DVD, commemorating our years together as a couple and as a family.

Watching this beautiful collection of photographs emerge onscreen brought more than one tear to my aging eye (especially poignant because our daughter wasn’t actually home for the viewing, but had just moved into her dorm room three states away). It was easy to count our blessings as we watched images of our family in its many ages/stages of life, dancing across the screen to carefully chosen music (songs like ‘Never Grow Up’ by Taylor Swift). The speed with which these years are being spent washed over me with each sweet lyric, each milestone passed.

Perhaps most striking to me, though, were the smiles… what GREAT SMILES! My husband and my son – smiling! My kids standing right next to each other – smiling! Age 2 and age 12 – full of happy, toothy smiles in such a variety of locations and situations and events. I admit to thinking, as I watched our lives play out onscreen (smiling all the while), that I must be a better parent than I give myself credit for, to have so many happy moments to remember – so many smiles for the camera.

We do a pretty good job of putting on our happy faces for the camera, don’t we? Is it because we know this photo is going last and become a memory, so we’d better make it count? Or maybe we want so desperately to be seen as happy and at our best that we ham it up for the camera (and take advantage of the delete option when a captured moment hasn’t captured us looking quite like we want to look)?

If you’re like most grown-up children in America, you’ve been told a million times to ‘smile for the camera!’ This simple yet repetitive directive certainly has created a muscle-memory over the years, making our cheesy smiles almost instantaneous whenever a camera is pointed in our general direction.

After years and years of being reminded to ‘smile!’ before the flash goes off, it’s no wonder that our automatic response to the camera is almost always a grin. The consistency of this message, though a silly cultural phenomenon, has resulted in beautiful collections of family photos like mine (well, maybe there’s some good parenting in there somewhere, too).

It makes me wonder, though… what if we were as consistent with other messages to our children? Things like:

‘LOVE your sister!’

‘HUG your brother!’

‘CARE for others!’

‘People MATTER!’

If a simple command like ‘smile for the camera’ can predictably produce a legacy of family memories, imagine the world-changing potential of the family whose repeated messages produce behaviors (not just expressions) that last!

As much joy as camera-induced smiles can bring years later, imagine the joy that our lives lived in loving relationship could bring to a world full of hurting, broken skeptics whose only smiles come when a camera is involved.

Today I challenge you, no matter how old your children may be, to harness the power of the consistently spoken message in order to plant seeds of loving, smiling action in the gardens of your homes.

And while you’re at it, linger over the last family picture that made you smile – and thank God for the ‘Cheese!’

Expect MUCH?

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Expect Much?

 

With the season of Advent just around the corner, the question that keeps popping up for me is this: What am I expecting?

I’m afraid that many of us, if we’re honest, might answer that question like this:

  • I’m expecting cancellations and disappointments. Again.
  • I’m expecting family gatherings on screens instead of around our table and tree.
  • I’m expecting a season tainted by a frightened, angry, polarized world.

In other words, many of us aren’t expecting much from Christmas this year. It’s easy to fall into expectations built on Christmases pre-pandemic and past. Yet even in relatively ‘normal’ times this season of comfort and joy is so often hijacked by stress and consumerism, to the detriment of those who really are seeking the Christ child, that we just get distracted along the way. Caught up in these tangents, in today’s groundless world, it’s easy to lower our expectations of Christmas 2020.

Psalm 31:24 might be just the cheer we need this season, in order to raise our expectations to the level of God’s great provision:

“Be brave. Be strong. Don’t give up. Expect God to get here soon.” (The Message)

Expect God to get here soon? Really?! Is that what we are supposed to expect the next month to deliver? Not presents? Not parties? Not a few days off from work? This isn’t at all what the world around us is expecting.

What would we DO if God were actually to arrive – and soon?!

In Ancient Rome it was customary for a young woman after marriage to wear a snug-fitting band of some rigid material – gold or brass – around her neck. Often nicely adorned, as jewelry, this necklace was both ornamental and diagnostic. Borne of an old wives’ tale, the understanding was that once pregnant, the necklace would become tight to the point of discomfort. Removing the necklace, then, was a tell-tale sign that she was expecting. It was her public birth announcement, you might say. A sign of her coming joy. An evidence of her new family’s ongoing journey of creation. An invitation for others to join her in anticipation of new life, which she expected to be here – soon.

Believers, it’s high time we remove our chokers and consider the ways that our lives are ‘showing’ the anticipated glory of God! Like an expectant mother, you and I are called into this season of Advent by God’s promise of new life, great light, and a future full of hope!

Yes, things are bleak in the dark world around us. Yes, people are missing the point once again. Yes, expectations are low as we enter into this particular Christmas season. But…

BE BRAVE!

BE STRONG!

DON’T GIVE UP!

EXPECT GOD TO GET HERE SOON!

What eager, young mommy-to-be tries to cover up her coming joy? Let it show – let HIM show!

Expect MUCH!

Pants on Fire

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I still can’t hear the word liar without hearing the rest of the rhyme:

Liar, liar. Pants on fire. Nose as long as a telephone wire.

Proof that making something rhyme gives it staying power – possibly undeserved.

I don’t use the word much. Don’t even hear the word much. So when it shows up in Scripture five times in the petite book of 1 John, it grabs my attention. I’m listening.

li-ar (n): a person who has lied or lies repeatedly. Synonyms include: deceiver, trickster, cheat, beguiler, fibber, storyteller.

Anyone come to mind?

In the world you and I live in, lying is fairly commonplace.

We struggle with ways to get our kids to tell the truth, and we wonder how we’ll know if they don’t.

We fail to tell the whole truth sometimes, hoping that a partial lie (or incomplete truth) will pass for the real thing in a pinch.

We weigh the value of a relationship before deciding whether this one is deserving of the facts, or just a camouflaged version of the truth.

We’d like to think we’re fairly wise in how we present ourselves, but we’re always open to the possibility of an aesthetic touch-up here or strategic adjustment there, to insure that we’ve put our best foot forward.

What we fail to acknowledge is that manipulation of the truth in any way, shape or form is actually a lie.

Apparently John had witnessed, on more than one occasion, behavior that warranted the use of this strong, descriptive word: liar. The Greek language definition of the word, which reflects John’s objections to its appearance in the church, is slightly different than the English dictionary version printed above:

Liar: One who breaks faith. A false and faithless man. To lie, to speak deliberate falsehoods. To deceive one by a lie, to lie to.

I may not think of myself as a liar, but have I ever broken faith?

Surely I’m not a trickster, but is there anything about my persona that could be considered false? A misrepresentation of who I am or what I believe?

Sometimes I tell a fib or two, but does that make me faithless?

I might use artistic license at times, but it’s not like I’m deliberately misleading others!

“Deceiver” is a name given to the evil one – God’s enemy. Not to people like ME!

What was John thinking when he offered up this four-letter word?

I Am A “C”

I am a “C H.” I am a “C H R I S T I A N.” Which implies, I belong to Christ. I follow Christ. I am His. Yet my claims of belonging to the family of Christ ring hollow and tinny when my life itself fails to confirm it.

“If someone says, “I belong to God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and does not live in the truth.” I John 2:4 (NLT)

We are liars in the eyes of God when we confess Him with our lips and deny Him with our lives. When the life I live is a misrepresentation of the One I’m living for, and still I claim to be a member of the Body of Christ, I’m fooling myself.

One of John’s names was John the Evangelist. If he was known as such, he must have spent years of his life proclaiming the Name of Jesus and lifting up the Gospel of grace before those who were hungry for a bit of good news. John knew that it was as important to preach without words – through a life lived authentically for the glory of God – as it was to speak the Message in audible ways. Actions speak louder than words, you know. John knew it, too.

And just in case we forget or begin to think that we’re somehow exempt from this truth, John is here to remind us that words are not enough for a watching world to be convinced. They’ve got to see it to believe it.

I Love You, Lord

“And I lift my voice to worship You, oh my soul rejoice! Take joy, my King, in what You hear; may it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear.” (Lyrics by Laurie Klein)

We sing the songs on Sunday morning. We pray the prayers that express in words the love we believe we have toward God. And we just can’t stand that annoying person sitting in the pew behind us.

“If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen?” I John 4:20 (NLT)

John uses this word liar to describe someone who claims to love God but fails to extend that love to people. I wonder if it’s just that we’re… confused. It’s not difficult to see how we might have become confused – after all, love in our culture is best described as the warm, fuzzy feeling that wells up in our hearts when we think about someone who is special to us – right? If we claim to have the warm fuzzies for God, surely we can muster up a tepid fleece for those who worship with us, right?

Unfortunately for us, it’s going to take more than a feeling to qualify as a lover in the Kingdom of God.

In God’s world, love is an action. Love is a lifestyle. Love is a choice.

We can’t love outside of relationship, which means that we must be in relationship with the people of God in order to truly be in relationship with God Himself. Only through the act of loving real people can we even come close to knowing how to love the God who made them in His image.

Loving God is the result of loving those who bear His likeness and are known by His Name; not the other way around.

Denial… That’s a River in Egypt, Right?

I know – it’s tempting to play dumb. That must be why John was driven to use such hard words to drive home such a critical point to those who filled the worship centers of his day.

“And who is the great liar? The one who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Such people are antichrists, for they have denied the Father and the Son.” 1 John 2:22 (NLT)

When it comes right down to it, I wonder how many people actually deny that Jesus is the Christ. Think about it with me. ANTICHRISTS. That’s quite an accusation. How many people in our communities today would explicitly deny the Lordship of God? If they were totally honest? If they were asked?

I don’t think we’ll ever know unless we, like John the Evangelizer, wander out of our Christian bubbles of comfort and safety and start asking the questions that beg our attention.

Sure, there are great liars out there. But not so many, I suspect, as we might think.

There are those whose god is themselves.

There are those whose god is their appetites and passions.

But there are also those who are just waiting to be approached.

To be looked at. To be asked. To be loved.

To belong.

With hearts (not pants) on fire, may we demonstrate today that we are lovers, not liars.

(And spread the news from the telephone wires!)

A Different Path through Advent (aka: Who Needs a Traveling Buddy?)

Advent begins on Sunday, November 29th, unleashing a “tradition” of holiday chaos in households across America. Will you join in? Or will you join me in taking a different path through the season of Advent this year?

Trek to the Manger is a daily devotional guide for busy women during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Each chapter is bite-sized, giving women who are hungry for meaning and purpose plenty of food-for-thought without adding too much weight to your already jam-packed holiday schedule.

Admittedly, Trek was written pre-pandemic, so some of the content may resonate differently with us this year. Still, who among us doesn’t need a little help right now to FOCUS on the Light of the World?

Check it out here! Consider taking this Advent journey with family and friends who may be missing your presence, but who would relish the opportunity to take this ADVENTure with you from afar.

So… invite a few friends, visit Amazon for your books, and gear up for a journey to the manger that just might birth something new in you!

Even if you’ve Trekked with me before, consider joining the Facebook Group this year. We need each other!

This could be a beautiful thing.

Discipline is not a Four-Letter Word

I just signed up for a Diet Bet. I know, I know – “diet” actually is a four-letter word. I guess I’m in a place right now where I need a little bit of external motivation, and maybe some accountability, in order to keep myself on track. Quarantine life isn’t exactly conducive to stellar eating behaviors. At least not for me.

This Diet Bet has gotten me thinking about discipline. Not the “go to your room!” kind, but the kind rolled out with love by a parent who has my best interests at heart. The kind Richard Foster unpacks in his classic book “Celebration of Discipline.” The kind that shapes a life and creates space for the God of everything to breathe holiness into an otherwise messy (and these days, often fear-filled) existence. The kind that’s good for you. That kind of discipline.

Recently, I’ve become acutely aware of the way I rush into each day’s work, many times without taking time to meet with God in prayer or listen to His voice through Scripture. Once the clock has been punched, even from my home office (read: couch), I’m checking off to-do lists in a swell of momentum fueled by my own steam. Productive? You bet! In step with God’s good plans for me? I don’t know. I forgot to ask.

This is not okay! As I shared with many of you at our virtual women’s retreat last month, our first response to trials and troubles and stressors and life’s various plot changes ought to be prayer. The thing is, I do pray and seek God when things aren’t going well, but on a normal everyday… I skate. Right into it. “I’ve got this, God. No worries! I’m good.”

But I’m not, actually. Good. Without Him.

So, in terms of discipline, I’ve decided I need more of God and fewer carbs. More guidance from His Word to start each day and a few extra laps around the block at night. You might say I’m training myself to pass on empty calories and to savor more of what feeds my faith.

The really beautiful thing is that it’s predictable – when I start my day praising God and searching the pages of His Word for Him, everything is different! How I feel about the challenges I face. How I prioritize the work He’s gifted me to do. How I care for those who share my home. It’s all colored by how I start my day, and whether I invite God to share in that first, sleepy cup of coffee.

“Show me your faithful love this morning. I trust in you. Show me what I should do. I put my life in your hands!” Psalm 143:8 (ERV)

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Make Good Choices

There’s a sign hanging over the door that leads from my laundry room to the carport, reminding my family to “Make Good Choices” out there. You might think I’m the kind of Mom who raised her kids on these words, but frankly, you’d be wrong. That sign hangs there – always slightly askew, never mind my countless efforts to straighten it – reminding me of the many times I heard my daughter say these words to my son while the two were growing up. Always with a hint of playful sass, these words were shouted through open car windows at school or before the front door slammed shut, letting her brother know she cared about what he would do that day.

Make Good Choices.

You may have noticed that Lent began today. Driving home from church, ashes imposed on my forehead in the shape of a cross, I started to wonder whether a Lenten discipline makes sense for me this year. Should I give something up? Take something on? Running through the list of past seasons in my head, I recalled the year I gave up coffee and considered whether God might be pleased with me doing that again… My very next thought was actually to figure out what I would replace that habit with, for the next 40 days plus weekends. (It also felt weak given that I had to give up caffeine last fall, which was definitely a greater sacrifice than giving up decaf would be now. Seriously.)

I remembered the year I gave up my wardrobe from Fat Tuesday until Easter (no – I didn’t pull an Isaiah 20:3). Failing to consult with my daughter first, I chose seven outfits to wear during Lent, ignoring the rest of my closet for the duration. About two weeks in, she said something that sounded like: “What were you thinking? I would not have picked that shirt. Why didn’t you ask me for help?” Good memories.

I could recap the entire monologue that played out in my head for you, but let’s not waste your time. Here’s where I’ve landed tonight…

Life has been a challenge these past couple of years. You haven’t heard from me because I’ve spent a disproportionate number of days grieving losses and struggling to create a sense of normalcy around the person I see in the mirror each day and the life that she now leads, which often doesn’t feel familiar to me. The old Brita would already have an idea for a Lenten adventure, which she would have invited you to join her in, and trust me – it would have been deep and meaningful. I catch glimpses of her every now and then, and she makes me smile.

The Brita we have to work with, however, is acutely aware of the fact that life is hard and she has changed and nevertheless – God can use what she’s got left to make a difference in the world.

Third-person references aside, I realized on my way home tonight that I have been so focused on just being okay that I’ve failed to create anything new. I don’t think there was a healthy workaround for this – I’ve had to walk this road of change and loss in order to get through it. But if there is something I can do that will please God during this season of Lent, it isn’t going to be a discipline that shines the light on me, my addictions and shortcomings.

If there is anything missing in my life right now, it’s everyone else.

I have what I need – and most of what I want – most days. I could easily exist quite comfortably in the little bubble I’ve created, tending to my knitting (correction: to my husband’s knitting) and risking implosion at some later date. But when I asked God on my drive home tonight what would please Him for me to do for Lent, I’m pretty sure I heard: “Make the world a better place.”

So, that is what I’m going to try to do. For the next 40 days, I am going to ask God to show me how I can make the world better for my being present in it. I might share some of my stories with you, but I kind of feel as if the world (and probably you) are weary of words and starving for proof of life instead. Jesus’ life, that is.

I don’t know if you have already decided on your Lenten discipline, but if you haven’t, maybe you’ll do this thing with me. Invest your energy and creativity in the people and problems that others are content to criticize and condemn.

Less talk. More action.

Let’s make the world a better place.

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Want What You’ve Got

“Thou shalt not covet.”

For today’s woman, there is plenty to wrestle with when it comes to applying the wisdom of the Tenth Commandment to everyday living. Teacher and retreat leader Brita Hammit invites readers on a 30-day devotional journey toward embracing what we’ve got – which is everything! – in Christ.

Start the adventure – get your copy on Amazon today!

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An Unlikely Mentor

At William “Bill” Alfier’s memorial service today, memories flowed freely and were peppered with laughter, salted with tears. Bill was a colorful guy for whom appearances meant nothing, but whose family and friends meant everything to him. He lived exactly as he pleased and gave permission for others to do the same, and whether or not he intentionally chose to mentor three young men, including my husband, the return on Bill’s investment of time and attention touches my own life every single day.

People like Bill Alfier are a rare breed, yet today more than ever we need these unlikely mentors to grow the next generation of engineers, leaders, teachers, world-changers; people who see potential in everyone and are willing to pour into a few lives the best of what they’ve learned. These exchanges might take place at the conference table or over a working lunch, but it’s all the better when they happen during the course of a real and imperfect life; for my husband, this included countless rides in cigar-smoke infused vehicles and many hours spent seated on bar stools, listening to the shaping-stories of a man who held nothing back.

It was a beautiful thing to hear my husband, Dallas Hammit, speak the following words in honor of his mentor, Bill Alfier. We share them with you now in hopes that you, too, will consider the power your life still has when you make the choice to give it away.

If you knew Bill, you know he had strong opinions on many subjects: politics, the Marine Corps, and building roads, but what stayed with me were his thoughts on people. Bill often said “God did not make any junk.” Bill looked for the best in people and was constantly watching for ways to assist people in their personal and professional development. This help came in a number of forms:
        Pushing you to start or complete college,
        Providing a work schedule that would allow for continuing education,
        Providing coaching to advance one’s career, or
        Taking a backseat to allow a young engineer to learn and grow.

Bill lived servant leadership. It was not a fad or the trending thing to do, it was a belief.  “A leader must put their employees first and allow them to grow.”

Bill liked to tell stories, and I heard most of them in the car as we drove through the District. Many times it would start with Bill calling loudly down the hall, “I’ve got roads to build!” and we would be off. There were lots of stories. Stories of the days when he worked in the carnival. Stories of going to Montana to mine copper. Stories of stripping down to his underwear at the bar, to win a bet with Mr Higgins. Stories of changing the way things were done at ADOT. One of those lasting changes was the Maintenance Servant Leadership Team. Bill – and others – believed the people closest to the work should have a larger say in what goes on and how we do things in maintenance. They formed a team of engineers and superintendents that met regularly and set policy for the way their department would do business, from dividing the budget to advocating for worker’s pay. This group is still active today.

And if there ever was a question about whether Bill had a lasting influence at ADOT, just look at the current leadership: a District Engineer, State Engineer and Chief of Operations all grew and developed under Bill’s leadership.

Bill Alfier will be missed.

William “Bill” Peter Alfier, July 22, 1944 – January 22, 2018

Trek to the Manger (DQ29)

We can only imagine what awaits us at the end of our own Trek to the place where Christ is present.

“Only Christ can get rid of the veil. Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are – face to face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.” 2 Corinthians 3:14b-18

May you arrive at the manger – in your heart – and be so much more full of Light and energy and life this year, for having taken this Advent-ure with us.

And remember – from this day on, it’s you and God on a road revealed milepost by milepost – the adventure of a lifetime!

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If you registered for the Trek and posted at least three times in response to the daily questions during Advent, stay tuned for the results of our nifty prize drawings! Recipients will be posted on the Trek to the Manger page by January 2, 2018.

Trek to the Manger (DQ28)

Trek to the Manger 28You’ve heard the saying, “there’s safety in numbers,” right?

Maybe. But on this Trek to the Manger, I’ve become a firm believer that “there’s energy in numbers,” too.

Think about it! Together, God’s light in the lives of believers shines more brightly than a life lived – however passionately – alone.

I wonder, is God leading you toward others who share your passions? Energy? Vision? Who are they, and how are you going to respond?

Over the past week, I’ve also decided to adopt a new mantra in 2018: Follow the Energy! Where God’s good stuff is happening, the Spirit is stirring, and even if you can’t see it with your eyes, you can feel the power surging as you move closer to the action.

I’m pretty sure that’s what happened at the manger, all those years ago.