Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Fragrance of Christmas

I thought of this post from the archives recently when I learned the Sears store in my town was closing. I won't get to make my pilgrimage there at Christmas as I have in years past. However, in an unexpected turn of events my son now lives in walking distance of the old Ponce de Leon store which is now called Ponce City Market, a reinvention of the old Sears and Roebuck where we often meet for family dinners. My children have to listen to me tell of my reminisces there. This post is included in a collection called One Ringing Bell at Christmas available at my Etsy store, Beverly Varnado Art. 

The scents of Balsam and Fir trees, candy canes, and cinnamon are almost universally perceived as the fragrances of Christmas.

But another aroma sends me to Christmases past just as quickly as these: the scent of the Sears automotive department.

More specifically, tires.

For several years when I was a child, my family lived near the big rambling Sears and Roebuck store on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Atlanta.

At Christmas, we always made at least one pilgrimage to the brick-faced multi -layered establishment, in which they would transform what I remember to be one entire floor into a seasonal toy department.

The thing is, no matter how big or small the store, Sears and Roebuck always smelled like the tires in automotive. So, as I carefully perused the dolls, games, and stuffed animals, which I hoped would wind up under the tree on Christmas morn, my olfactory nerves decided Christmas smelled like rubber.

Now, at least once during the Christmas season, I have to make a trip to Sears. I usually don’t buy much. I just want to smell the tires.

And remember.

Strange, I know.

My trip to Sears started me thinking about what the first Christmas smelled like. I had to laugh. I guess to get it; we’d have to go sit in a cattle stall. I can’t imagine anyone making manure scented potpourri.

We’ve really sanitized the birth of Jesus, haven’t we?

Very different from the scene conjured by the idyllic nativity figures I have displayed in my house; I believe in the natural, it was a gritty, smelly event.

But in the spirit, there was a transcendent sweetness about it. A sweetness the Savior has shared with us who have received his salvation.

Eugene Peterson puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 2:15, “Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life.”

Don’t you love that? “…an aroma redolent with life.”

What the first Christmas really smelled like was life.

Eternal Life.

That’s why the Son of God endured the grime and the stench.

For us.

I made my trip to Sears early this morning and just stood for a moment transported to my childhood by new tire smell. But one day, all those who know Him are going to be transported to their eternal home because of the fragrant life the incarnate God born in a cattle stall died to give us.


Tuesday, December 3, 2019

An interview with author, Christina Sinisi

My publisher, Anaiah Press, has many wonderful Christmas books releasing this season. Here’s an interview with Christina Sinisi, author of The Christmas Confusion, who was so kind to answer a few questions.  I love what she says in an interview about her writing on the Anaiah Press website, "I find inspiration everywhere, but specifically in little pieces of life-mine, people I know, people I read about, anyone I meet." The scripture she has on her website is one of my favorites: "God is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of" from Ephesians 3:20TLB. Oh, yes, He is, Christina. Can't wait to read The Christmas Confusion.  Welcome to One Ringing Bell.

Every family has its own unique way to celebrate Christmas. What is your favorite Christmas tradition?

First, let me say thank you to Beverly for hosting me! I truly appreciate it. I hope your readers enjoy The Christmas Confusion and have a very Merry Christmas!

My favorite Christmas tradition is celebrating the Savior’s birth, followed by spending time with family. It doesn’t matter where--we travel between my husband’s and my families--or with whom, whether it’s the big group or just us. I love cooking and seeing Christmas lights and putting up all the decorations that have been gifted to us over the years.

Music is so important to our family, and I wondered which Christmas song is most meaningful to you?

I think “Silent Night” because of its haunting beauty and its use in candlelight services. It also focuses on the Christmas story rather than romance or gift giving.

What inspired you to write Christmas Confusion?

In early June of this year, I saw a call for Christmas novellas on the American Christian Fiction Writer’s email loop. The novellas were due at the end of the month, and I saw a challenge. Then, I had to come up with a story--and one particular young woman at my church, whose faith has been an inspiration to me--came to mind. While she was the start, the story took on a life all its own. I got it done in those next two and a half weeks--challenge met.

Is this your first book?

This is my first book to be published. I’ve actually been writing my whole life--poems starting in third grade, a play in fifth grade, and my first (awful) novel in eighth grade. I’ve had poems and short stories, essays, and articles published before, but this is my first book.

Tell us more about Christmas Confusion?
When Tiffany Marano’s high school sweetheart drove off to join the Marines and never looked back, she swore off men. Now, she’s content to teach at Summer Creek, South Carolina’s local elementary school, lead a Sunday school class, and spend weekends with her niece—until Nick Walsh suddenly reappears wearing a wedding ring and with a daughter in tow. Everything about Tiffany’s calm, quiet life is now one disordered mess.  
Nick Walsh comes face to face with Tiffany after all these years, and sparks fly. But not the happy glittering kind, because each of them thinks the other responsible for their estrangement. Before they can work it out, though, Tiffany’s sister disappears. Left with custody of her niece and forced to work with new police detective Nick to find her sister, old feelings begin to resurface. As they start to unravel the truths that left them confused and apart for too long, Nick must learn to let go of his past. But can Tiffany let go of her fear and learn to trust that God isn’t the only one who won’t abandon her?  

About Christina:

A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Christina Sinisi writes stories about families, both the broken and blessed. Her works include a semi-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest and the American Title IV Contest where she appeared in the top ten in the Romantic Times magazine. By day, she is a psychology professor and lives in the Low Country of South Carolina with her husband and two children. She loves a good cooking challenge. 

Writers can connect with Christina at her website: https://www.christinasinisi.com/ or through social media Twitter: @ChristinaSinisi,  Facebook , Instagram: @csinisi123, Pinterest, or
Or Goodreads.

I'm so excited to share the cover of my new book releasing in January,
A Plan for Everything!


Wednesday, November 27, 2019

In the fine print

Jerry and I ran into our neighbor and former mayor, Mr. Dwain Chambers, at a restaurant last week. As we ate our chicken sandwiches, we shared stories with each other of how we were seeing God at work.

Just before we left, this Godly man passed on a gift. He leaned toward us and said with wisdom gained of walking with God a great many years, “Remember God is at work in the fine print. God is at work in the parentheses.”
Indeed He is.

His statement really resonated with me. We have recently been the recipient of an amazing blessing, the unfolding details of which are so incredible, no mortal could have scripted them.

In my last post, I wrote of being thankful for the things that never happened. This week I’m so impressed to thank God for what He is doing in the minutiae of life. Sometimes it is not the broad sweeps but the intricacies that shout, “Glory.”

Jesus said, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” John 12:7. In this tiny detail, we see God’s greatness. In a thing to which we hardly give thought, our great God has shown us how big He is.

If you’re in a situation where it seems God is not apparent, just know He may seem hidden right now, but He is working a mighty work in what may seem insignificant.

And as we’re giving thanks, let’s remember to be grateful there is no detail too small for God. It is often these elements that cause us to be slack jawed in wonder.

Many thanks to our dear neighbor for reminding me of this.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!
I'm so excited to share the cover of my new book releasing in January,
A Plan for Everything!

It is the sequel to, A Key to Everything available HERE.


Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The things that never happened

I’m at a friend’s house after returning from a doctor’s appointment with her. She had a major surgery a few weeks back and complications set in. According to information given her by the doctor earlier, we anticipated what might be a very difficult appointment. Perhaps even a return to the operating room.

But it didn’t happen.

Her status was better than expected.

I’m sitting on her screened porch as the sun sets and glints off a maple. So thankful. So very, very thankful for God’s grace in the things that never happened.

Perhaps this is a different take on Thanksgiving this yearbeing thankful not only for what we have but for what we don’t have, all that God has kept from us. Like the sickness we never had, the accident that never happened, the financial problem that failed to develop, the car didn't quit, or the friend that never left. The list goes on.

The sunbeams hit my hand as I type and leaves shower down around the porch. Up the street, a father plays basketball with his sun, their laughter scattering in the air. In the beauty of this afternoon, I’m taking time to remember God’s gracious goodness demonstrated in so many ways.

The Psalmist might have been experiencing something similar when he wrote Psalm 145:6-9. Here taken from The Message, “Your marvelous doings are headline news; I could write a book full of the details of your greatness . . . God is all mercy and gracenot quick to anger, is rich in love. God is good to one and all; everything he does is suffused with grace.”

As we enter this season of thanksgiving, friends, I pray we are more aware than ever of the all the ways God has “suffused” our lives with grace, especially for the things that never happened.

I'm so excited to share the cover of my new book releasing in January,
A Plan for Everything!

It is the sequel to, A Key to Everything available HERE.


Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Rusty, and what we won't forget

Rusty Griffin and Jerry Varnado in their early years.
This past week, Jerry lost a lifelong friend, Rusty Griffin.

Because Jerry is a pastor, we attend and/or conduct many, many funerals, but I can’t remember one that was more inspirational than Rusty’s service.

Here’s why . . .

Rusty grew up in a small town where his family owned a regional agricultural chemical business. Rusty’s father died when Rusty was in his mid-twenties, leaving him to run the company. One speaker at the service jokingly said many were just waiting to see how long it would take for the business to fold.

But Rusty took a hard look at the future of the market and made what might have seemed at the time unorthodox choices. Those choices enabled the company not only to survive but to thrive.

He took that company operating in three states to one that did business not only nationally but in eighty foreign countries.

Additionally, he sat on prestigious state boards, served on the board of directors for a large entertainment company, and served as chair for a private school among many other accomplishments.

Somewhere along the way, Rusty could have decided to exercise his Christian faith in terms of being a benefactor alone. But Rusty didn’t accept a position behind a desk simply writing checks. He didn’t phone in his service. The day of Rusty’s funeral, he was scheduled to be in a state prison ministering to inmates, a place he routinely visited to share his witness. He also participated in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, The Mailbox Club, his church, and many other ministries.

According to Rusty’s obituary, “He desired to spread the name of Jesus across the globe.” In Sunday school this past Sunday, we covered verses in Deuteronomy 4. Interestingly, those verses were also my daily reading yesterday. As Moses was giving instructions to Israel just before they entered the Promised Land, he said in verse 6, “Observe them (decrees and laws) carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations . . .” That's what Rusty did. He lived his life with an intention to spread the name of Jesus among the nations.

God honored that desire with enlarging his territory as the prayer of Jabez says. (I Chronicles 4:10). God allowed Rusty to realize his heart’s desire through his global business and ministry opportunities. I would imagine that many of those he conducted business with knew of his Christian faith. Who knows what God has done through those connections? Sometimes, I think we forget how big God is and that He desires for us, as he instructed the Israelites, to reach the nations.

John Wesley wrote in his journal in 1739, “I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.” I think it would be safe to say that Rusty followed Wesley’s admonition.

As family pictures scrolled before the service, the thing that most struck me was how joyful he seemed. His facial expressions were not “let’s all pose for the camera.” They were “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.” His love of his sweet wife, Barbara, his three daughters, and nine granddaughters was so evident. Rusty and Barbara’s fifty-two years of marriage are a glory to God and a witness to all who know them. Truly inspiring.

Though we lived a distance apart, I feel privileged because of Jerry’s friendship with Rusty that I was able to be included in Rusty’s orbit a few times through the years.

He has left me with a renewed desire to leave it all on the field, to live with intentionality, to touch as many people I can with the love of God, and to create a legacy that will last.

Thank you Rusty, for all you’ve given us. We've heard your message loud and clear. We won't forget.

I'm so excited to share the cover of my new book releasing in January,
A Plan for Everything!



Tuesday, November 5, 2019

My First World Problems

I returned home from helping a friend in Atlanta who had major surgery last week. I discovered as I exited my car I’d left my heart monitor doctors were using to determine the cause of a few symptoms I was having. I’m fine, but I needed that monitor. I turned around and went back to get it.

On my second return after around five hours in the car, Jerry and I did a quick turn around and went to an out of town high school football game. When we parked in the school lot, someone approached us to point out we had a flat tire. Jerry had to rush off to the locker room because he was the team chaplain, so I stayed to wait for roadside assistance.

As the mechanic wrestled with changing the tire, I was just about to stage a pity party for my challenging day. Then, I had the thought that these are first world problems.

Now that I’ve done a little research, I see that thought was right.

Only about a third of the households in the world have a working car. In many developing countries, that number drops to single digits. When a dear friend from Africa visits us, he will pass by a junkyard and want to stop and make a car. “Those cars would be on the road in Africa,” he says. The cars in our junkyards would be considered luxury vehicles in many places.

In fact, the car was only the beginning of the blessings I enjoyed that day. With this in mind, I give thanks for the surgery my friend had which was potentially lifesaving, for doctors who could do it, and for medical technology that even enabled me to have that heart monitor. I give thanks for our vintage but working car, for roadside assistance, which is virtually unheard of in many places around the world. The list could go on.

I say these things not to make us all feel guilty about our blessings, but to remember as we enter into this season of Thanksgiving to see clearly what God has provided. Let’s acknowledge His amazing blessings and to remember to share what we have with others. None of the aggravations I experienced a few days ago would have even been possible had not God already showered so much on our family.

Here’s to giving thanks in the middle of aggravating days and realizing we are so blessed.

“Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live” (I Thessalonians 5:18 The Message).

 I'm so excited to share the cover of my new book releasing in January,
A Plan for Everything!

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

An Explosion and the Joy that Comes from It

It's that time again--just two more weeks until Operation Christmas Child Boxes are due. My sister and I are about to put the finishing touches on our boxes. If you still haven't packed one or ten, there's still time. I have links below for you to follow in a post I've used from the archives. Happy Packing.

We’re going to have a big explosion around here this week. I’m opening the door to my front bedroom closet, which is so full, items are likely to shoot into the air. My sister, Tammy, and I are getting together  to put together our Operation Christmas Child boxes for Samaritan’s Purse. We’re hoping to prepare twenty-five boxes again this year. From that closet, I’m dragging bag after bag of school supplies, toys, and hygiene items to my dining room so we can assemble the boxes. It’s going to be a mess in there for several days.

In a wonderful turn of events, when I attended a Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference, I was asked to write a piece about the boxes we do for a Christmas Moments anthology Grace Publishing is producing called Merry Christmas Moments. I receive no royalties for this book, as all proceeds are donated to Samaritan’s Purse. This book is one in a series of Christmas Moments collections Grace Publishing has produced. I love that Gigi Graham writes the forward.

My article in Merry Christmas Moments is called, "Sharing the Gospel from my Exploding Closet." You can guess why. According to the Operation Christmas Child Website, “After receiving a shoebox gift, children have opportunity to enroll in The Greatest Journey Bible student course guiding them to what it means to faithfully follow Christ.” These boxes will bring joy to children in more than 100 countries around the world as they learn about God's love for them.

The boxes are quite an undertaking, but I love doing them. As I’ve written before, the way we are able to pack so many boxes is we shop all year at seasonal sales. My friend Dolly inspired me to do this. I don’t know how many boxes she packs, I’m sure in the hundreds, but she has turned her garage into Operation Christmas Child central and works on boxes all year.
So, get out there and pack your Operation Christmas Child boxes. You may not have shopped all year, but you can still do a few. Samaritan’s Purse has drop off locations all over the country. HERE is a link for them  and HERE is a link to the items needed for the boxes. If you don't have time to pack a box, they definitely take donations.
If you were wondering what to get your friends and family for Christmas, Merry Christmas Moments would make a great gift. It’s always great when you can give a great gift and help others at the same time.
"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations" (Matt. 28:18-20).

If you're looking for a Christmas gift, Grace Publishing has an anthology called Merry Christmas Moments. I have an article in it entitled, "Sharing the Gospel from my Exploding Closet." Authors receive no royalties from this collection. Instead, proceeds go to Samaritan's Purse. HERE if you'd like to order.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A sheep encounter and lying down without fear

When Jerry and I arrived at the football stadium where our grandson was playing one Friday night, we discovered that in conjunction with homecoming events, the school also offered activities for younger kids. This included bounce houses, games, and a petting zoo. The petting zoo caused me (a younger kid at heart at least) to veer off the stadium path.

I knelt, talked with a sheep who was lying down, and told her how cute she was--just a Mimi and a half dozen toddlers huddled around her. The sheep baaed contentedly in response. I think she understood me.

My thoughts turned to a book I’ve been rereading, the classic, A Shepherd Looks at the 23rd Psalm, by Phillip Keller. Keller grew up in East Africa watching native herders and later made his living as a sheep rancher. He uses his shepherding experience to draw insights into Psalm 23. I reached for the book while preparing a children’s lesson, and it had been years since I read it, so it was almost like encountering it for the first time.

There’s so much to glean from these pages, but I’ve been pondering his comments about  Psalm 23:2a, “He makes me lie down in green pastures . . .” Keller writes, “The strange thing about sheep is that because of their very make-up it is almost impossible for them to be made to lie down unless four requirements are met.” You can read the book to find out about other requirements, but I’ll focus on one of themsheep will not lie down if they’re afraid.

Since sheep have few ways to defend themselves, if there is even a small sense of danger, they will not lie down. Keller shares that two dogs have been known to kill 300 sheep in one night. He pens, “In the course of time I came to realize that nothing so quieted and reassured the sheep as to see me in the field. The presence of their master and owner and protector put them at ease as nothing else could do, and this applied day and night . . . In the Christian’s life there is no substitute for the keen awareness that my Shepherd is nearby.”

A quote from A.W. Tozer echoes this thought. “The only safe place for a sheep is by the side of his shepherd, because the devil does not fear sheep; he just fears the Shepherd.”

If fear has entered your life for whatever reasonfinances, health, family circumstances, or bad news, remember what Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life to the sheep” (John 10:11). By His side, we need not fear. He has made the supreme sacrifice for us. He is our protector, our provider, and the One who truly makes us lie down without fear.

Through the years, I have often gone to sleep with these words on my lips, “I will lie down and sleep in peace for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8). Until recently, I have not connected this verse to Psalm 23. But now, I get it. Jesus as the good shepherd makes this possible.

The football game announcer’s voice sounded over the speakers, and I knew game time approached. I said goodbye to my sheep friend and walked on toward the stadium, grateful for the sheep encounter and even more grateful for my Shepherd.

I'm so excited to share the cover of my new book releasing in January,
A Plan for Everything!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

When Change is Hard

A lot of balls in the air, so I reached into the archives for this post, which seems relevant to me, at least. Maybe I need to read it more than anyone else this week.

My friend, Dolly, asked me to write on the challenge of change when we’re stuck in a rut and looking for fresh strength.  My sister, Tammy,  and I just had a discussion on that very subject last week.  

I can’t cover the whole gamut of the difficulty of change when we’re entrenched in our bad ways, so I’ll just address one of the most enduring challenges for me—and that is abiding with God in the middle of screaming external pressures.

In a Bible study, I’m currently doing, Priscilla Shirer says, “True abundance is really seen when you’re sitting in a prison circumstance, when you’re eye to eye with an impossible situation, and right in the heart of your impossible, you experience the fullness of God.”

So, the time to experience abiding and resting in God is right in the middle of a to-do list that screams to be done. Right here. Right now.

“But . . . , “ you say, “you don’t understand what I’m up against.”

We’re all up against. We all hear that voice that if we don’t get it done, the walls will cave in.

When I was trying to recover from Posttraumatic stress, people would tell me I was always in a hurry.

I was.

I was in a hurry to run away from the way I felt. But, of course, I couldn’t. I had to face it. Part of facing it was to stop, to be intentional about quiet moments. Often, I didn’t even want to sit, but I knew it was an essential part of my recovery. Instead of fighting the way I felt, I had to accept it. The way I felt wouldn’t kill me. In time, my legs and hands stopped shaking as I stopped fearing my feelings and the peace inside me grew.

We are the ones who often set ourselves up for shaking hands by our over scheduling and our excuses for not taking time outs. It’s almost as if we’re addicted to busyness. The time to stop that is now. The time for change is now.

And yes, we’re going to fail. Change is hard. But God’s grace is always there. I still struggle with hurrying, with feeling life is an emergency,  but God’s amazing grace comforts me in ways I can’t even explain.

I’ve been waking up singing this song for days. It’s taken from I John 4:4 " . . . greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world." and it helps me to know that the One inside of me is greater than anything screaming at me from the outside. And when we’re trying to find fresh strength, when we’re trying to change, these words are great news.
There might be a commercial at the beginning. Just x out of it to get to the song, "Greater," by Mercy Me.

I'm so excited to share the cover of my new book releasing in January,
A Plan for Everything!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Saved from or saved in

A few days ago, I glanced at a green traffic light as I moved through an intersection. Just as I entered the cross roads, a black pick-up pulled right in front of me.
It seemed a black wall of disaster.

I stomped the breaks, tried to turn the car to navigate around the front of the truck, but it was useless.

The black wall rushed at me.

My tires screamed as they slid across the pavement and the scent of burning rubber assaulted my olfactory sense. I braced for impact.

Then . . .

The car stopped.

I leaned forward. My car was inches from the truck.

Shaking, I tried to take deep breaths. Yet, I marveled at how close I’d come.

I still had a ways to go before I reached home, but during that time, I reflected on all from which God saved me.

Later when I related the story to Jerry, he said an angel grabbed my back bumper to stop me.

I believe it.

Psalm 34:7 reads, “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.”

I had a very real sense of God’s deliverance and a memory of a mealtime prayer that day which contained a request for God’s protection in travel.

Metaphorically, our lives can be filled with something like that black wall I experienced when the truck pulled in front of me. It seems calamity is rushing at us at lightning speed. Yet, God gets the last word.

I’m well aware God does not always rescue us from something, but rescues us in it. If we belong to Him, he uses all that touches us for our good and His glory. Years ago, when I was diagnosed with cancer, God warned me in advance that I faced a big challenge, yet, he chose not to save me from it, but to work through it. That's what He did.

Every day we live gives us more reasons to praise Him for what He has done and is doing, no matter what we face.

So thankful, friends, to be with you today.


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