Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Meet my friend Lilyan and the Holy ghosts family

Earlier in December, Jerry sat behind the wheel of the car as we
rolled down our street. From the passenger seat, I had my gaze fixed on something my neighbor, Lilyan, was doing on her front porch. “Jerry, I think Lilyan is making nativity figures out of sheets.”

“The Holy ghosts family,” he cried.

We laughed. No irreverence intended.

It turned out she did make an entire creche with sheets and old draperies on her veranda.

In other more eclectic areas in our town, the Holy ghosts family art installation would be heralded with enthusiasm. Here in our traditional hood, the neighbors have been strangely silent.

My friend didn’t care. She responded by putting up more lights and adding another angel.
Let me tell you about Lilyan. She is in possession of a master’s degree in art from a large university. She was chosen for a prestigious residency program and studied in Cordona, Italy one summer. Her work is accepted at galleries and shows that I will probably never get into with my work.  She recently illustrated a children’s book.

She is not an “outside the box” thinker. She is an “I didn’t know there was a box” thinker. Her brain is an idea factory. If I’ve needed a theme for a luncheon event, I can call her and she can spin off a hundred possibilities. Ninety-eight of them would require a cast of thousands to execute, but two are always humdingers.

She uses her God-given gifts and puts her work out there with little regard to raised eyebrows, whether it fits the status quo, or others' applause. She is an artist extraordinaire. My daughter says she is the kind of person that most don’t understand now, but one day, someone will name an art wing at a university after her.

I came across a quote from Madeleine L’engle this week, that reminds me of her. “If we turn away from the child, the poet, the artist in ourselves, we lose the ability to believe the glorious mysteries that lift us . . . to children of light, creatures called to create along with our Creator.” Lilyan creates along with the Creator.

I’ve taken every Christmas gathering at my house this year down to see the Holy ghosts family. Lilyan acts as docent and tells us how she made her figures of cast off mannequins, milk jugs, old draperies, sheets, and other found objects. The head of one angel is her front porch light.  The manger is a wheelbarrow with glitter glued on it. You gotta give that woman credit.

She makes sure to draw attention to the scripture  projected on her garage wall, the point of her whole presentation. “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given . . .” Isaiah 9:6. It’s her way of sharing the gospelof reminding us of the reason for our celebration.

As we move toward Epiphany, let your light shine a little. In the New Year, let’s all be challenged to use our gifts for God’s glory. Whether, it’s art, or writing, or music,  or something unexpected like leather tooling. Let’s put it out there. On the front porch or wherever God might lead you. Even if others are silent. Even if they don’t applaud.

Because you see, we do this seeking only One’s applause. As Max Lucado writes, do it with the hope that some day, “. . .the One who would rather die than live without you will remove his pierced hands from his heavenly robe and . . . applaud.”

From the Holy ghosts family and all of us on this street, Happy New Year!!!

A Plan for Everything! is now available for presell 
in ebook HERE. Print available soon.

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

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The True Soundtrack of Christmas

Last week I had opportunity to hear The Georgia Children’s Chorus sing their stunning rendition of Benjamin Britten’s, “This Little Babe,” from A Ceremony of Carols. I have loved this piece since high school when I first played it for an ensemble. Back then, I appreciated the complexity of the music, the pounding rhythm, and the overlapping rounds. Today, I love it for much more than that.

With the exception of a few pieces in the Messiah, “This Little Babe,” almost stands alone in capturing what I think is the true tone of Jesus’ birth.

The first line gives a clue. I can’t copy verbatim for copyright reasons, but paraphrased it would be Jesus came to eviscerate the camp of the enemy. As we sing our tinkling “all is calm, all is bright” tonight at our Christmas Eve service, I wonder if in the heavenlies, the actual event was anything but calm. I believe when God shot through the night to take on the frailty of flesh,  it was a cacophonous horn blowing, drum beating, cymbal crashing all hands on deck event. Angels must have crowded to the balconies to get a view, and the peak we have of the celestial beings that sang before the shepherds might have only hinted at the enormity of the angel choir.

As the song suggests, this baby came to do battle—to take back what was His—to set up the greatest offensive known to humankind and to do it from the lowest, meanest stage possiblea stable. His arrival would split time and splinter the grip of evil.  John said it best. "The Son of God entered the scene to abolish the Devil's ways" (I John 3:8 The Message).

The accompaniment to the song is simple, only a piano or harp, mirroring the simplicity of God’s plan, but there is no mistaking the driving urgency.

Tonight as we sing our lullaby carols, might we listen hard, and perhaps hear in the supernatural a percussive rumbling, which would be the truer soundtrack for what we celebrate. Remember, here’s the thing. He did this for us, so if it comes over you to shout a Hallelujah, all the better.

Merry Christmas, friends!

This Little Babe lyrics are HERE. Listen HERE.

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, December 17, 2019

The case of the mssing shepherds and what that has to do with us

“The shepherds are missing,” my daughter said with a perplexed look on her face.

The week before we’d gone through her Christmas box and she’d pulled out a few things she wanted to take with herher childhood nativity set being part of the haul.

Later when she went through them, she discovered the problem.

“Let me see if they were put away with your brother’s set.” I sifted through a box of ornaments and found Aaron’s nativity, but his didn’t have shepherds either. Could it be they were never part of the set?

I scouted around to my assorted sets and found not one of them included shepherdsonly wise men.

I guess from an historical perspective, you have to choose. The shepherds and the wise men were never in each other’s company. One can deduce from scripture that the shepherds followed the star to the stable to worship the baby Jesus on His birth. But it is not clear how much time elapsed until the Magi arrived. Some historians say ten days, others claim as much as two years elapsed.

So, I guess all the nativity set makers decided to go with the more flashy wise men and rather than a shepherds only scene.

Poor shepherds. Scared out of their minds by an angel who made the amazing announcement about a Savior being born. The NIV uses the word terrified, which is supported by the original Greek. Then the heavenly hosts show up. Mercy. These men were probably not the sheep’s owners but rather hired to do the work, a job not highly regarded in that daypretty low on the food chain. But it was to these almost-outcasts that God decided to make this grand announcement. They rose to the occasion and found the Bethlehem baby. Luke 2:20 reports they returned to their sheep herding, “…glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

They went. They saw. They told.

For all this, they are left out of nativity sets because they wore ratty clothes.

The case of the missing shepherds speaks today. Sometimes God will ask us to do something and we may be unlikely candidates for the job. Like the shepherds, we may be terrified at the outset and not very flashy in appearance. However, like them we need to rise to the occasion. We need to follow through.

Also, like them, no one may award us a certificate of achievement or make a little ceramic statue of us. What God has asked us to do may seem mostly forgotten, at least on this side of heaven.

On the other side, it’s a whole different story. I imagine the shepherds might have a front row seat on the other shore. And God made sure that we would know their story by including it in Luke’s gospel.

Yes, in the temporal, they may be left out, but in the eternal, they are present and accounted for.

Be encouraged. In the case of the missing shepherds, they are not missing at all.

Neither will what you do for Jesus be forgotten, either.

Merry one week before Christmas!!

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, 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!

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