Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Old Christmas and putting baby Jesus back in the box

I heard a pastor say this week that in hard times, we need to return to what we know. As we get ready to flip the calendar page this difficult year, more than ever I'm clinging to Christmas and all Jesus's coming into the world means. For that reason, I'm bringing back this post one more time. Dear friends, praying no matter what challenges we encounter, that your new year will be full of the "wonders of His love."

Up and down my street, wreathes, and bows are disappearing from doors and mailboxes, and former brightly lit trees are stripped of their twinkles and headed for the recycling center.

Not me.  

Being of strong English-Scotch-Irish descent, I’m hanging on to Christmas. My ancestors used to celebrate Christmas on January 6, the date we observe as Epiphany when the wise men found the baby Jesus in the manger.  

When Christmas day arrives, I’m just beginning to celebrate. I can’t bear to put all the baby Jesus figures back in the box until at least January 6.  

Just the other day, I overheard someone in a store say, “I’m so glad it’s over.”  

It’s not over.  

It’s just beginning.  

This morning I read these words from The Message in Romans 8: “With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah… Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death… In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all.”

That little manger baby is here to put it all straight. What all the king’s horses and all the king’s men could never put back together, an infant comes to restore.  

In my life. And your life.  

Thank you, Jesus.

After Scrooge’s life altering encounters with the three ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, Charles Dickens writes, “It was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well..”

May it be said of us that we keep Christmas well, that we allow Jesus to enter the garbage heap of our lives with his beauty and power and restoration.  

And so, old Christmas or new, no matter which day we put the clay baby Jesus back in the box, let's allow the eternal One to reign in our hearts.


 My new novella available in print and ebook HERE . 


Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Beautiful Star

This week, the nights are the longest and darkest of the year in what has seemed the longest and darkest year in our lives. But even as the Psalmist prayed “Give me a sign of your goodness. . .” (Psalm 86:17) It seems He has.

In a beautiful example of the heavens declaring the glory of God, last evening Jupiter and Saturn aligned in what astronomers call a “conjunction” to form what appeared to be a giant star.  Though the planets were closest to each other last night, if you missed it, the celestial event can still be seen every day this week in the southwestern sky about 45 minutes after sunset in your location.

According to NASA, “It’s been nearly 400 years since the planets passed this close to each other in the sky, and nearly 800 years since the alignment of Saturn and Jupiter occurred at night . . .”

And to cite Forbes, “A ‘great conjunction’ in the year 7 BC is often thought to be the inspiration for the tale of the “Christmas Star” or “Star of Bethlehem.” This would have been the alignment of three planets, Saturn, Jupiter, and Venus.

On my mind in recent days, is a song I first learned about when I inherited one of my grandfather’s music books, Inspired Melodies. Written in 1938 by Fisher Boyce, a dairy farmer, the lyrics of “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” talk about how the Bethlehem Star shines on us through the shadows, how it guides us as it did the wise men, and how the star was a metaphor of the light that is Jesus. To contradict Forbes, the “Star of Bethlehem” was no tale. It was real.

And so is Jesus.

Here in what might seem “the valley of the shadow of death” for so many we know this year, Jesus is still shining and guiding.

After my mother died one October years ago, I struggled as Christmas approached. I wrote a song which I’ve sung through the years and it seems especially appropriate in 2020. The chorus is:

“Every shining Christmas, yes every blessed Christmas,

I’ll take my place with those who sing His praise.

And through tears of joy or tears of sorrow,

The bright star of Bethlehem I’ll follow,

And worship Him with all my heart once more.” ©BeverlyVarnado

So, as we gaze at the star this week, let’s allow it to remind us of Jesus. Let’s worship and praise Him, the creator of this planetary spectacle and let’s allow him to shine through us.

And despite the circumstances, may each of you have a blessed Christmas!

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned" (Isaiah 9:17).

"We saw His star in the east and have come to worship him" (Matthew 2:2).

Enjoy Emmy Lou Harris singing “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem” HERE.

 My new novella available in print and ebook HERE . 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

A Tribute to Terry Kay

Only last December, I sat on the stage with the Athens Symphony Chorus and marveled again at Terry Kay’s narration of his wondrous children’s story, To Whom the Angel Spoke, set to music, and performed by the Athens Symphony. His marvelous voice filled the hall, and his story was ever a crowd pleaser. And though the Athens Symphony and Chorus produced an amazing online concert this year after in person performances were canceled, I was still getting ready to shed a big alligator tear because I miss my friends I sing with in shows. Now Terry’s death has really turned on the waterworks because no one and I mean NO ONE will ever be able to match his performance or his presence.

There are many who knew Terry Kay far better than I did, but no matter where you thought you fell in the hierarchy of his friends, he made all his acquaintances feel as if we were in his inner circle.

Our lives also intersected in other ways besides the symphony—most of them related to writing. We occasionally met for coffee through the years to discuss writing and I was amazed at how generous he was with his time. I was one of many he made this allowance for, because an array of authors cued up to meet with him. Inducted into the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame, writers sought his wisdom and counsel. Because of his willingness to be available, I sometimes forgot how widely known and admired he was. I heard him speak at the Decatur Book Festival one year. When I left the building, the line for Terry’s book signing stretched around the vast hall.

And speaking of the Georgia Writer’s Hall of Fame, what a joy it was to attend inductions at the invitation of my friend, Jane Kilgo, whose husband Jim (also a lifelong inspiration) was one of the inductees. What an incredible privilege and seeing Terry there was always a delight.

I will remember several things about Terry.

An idiosyncrasy comes to mind. He once told me he could only write in a room if there was a typewriter in it. Don’t you love it? I’m thinking of dragging my dad’s old college typewriter out of the attic if it will help me write like Terry.

 I will remember his unparalleled sense of humor. I once took a screenwriting class that Terry taught and his anecdotes were as entertaining as his instruction was informative.

He was known for saying, “The strength of the sentence is in the verb.” As I’m noticing the passive voice I’ve used several times in this piece, I still have a way to go with that one.  

Another piece of advice I’ve probably quoted a hundred times when I’ve been teaching, “You don’t write to tell a story. You write to discover a story.”  If you read any of Terry’s books, and I hope that you do, you will find he discovered gems.

But most of all, I will remember him for something he lived rather than something he said.  Or maybe he did say it, but through one of his characters. I’ve been reading Terry’s books in reverse order, because I only read his first book this summer. In The Year the Lights Came On, a novel of how electricity came to rural Georgia, his character Colin says, “But I know what Wesley would say: ‘The problem with walking backward is that you see only where you’ve been.’”

Terry didn’t walk backward. He walked forward. And his gaze was ever on the next book, the next project. At any point after his first novel, he could have put away his pen, and rested on his laurels. But he didn’t. He kept working. Because of that, three of his books have been made into Hallmark Hall of Fame movies including the well-known, To Dance with the White Dog, and many have garnered awards with his most recent work published this year, The Forever Wish of Middy Sweet. Terry was 82.  

His greatest inspiration to me was his ability to keep pressing ahead, despite aging or any other challenge, his eyes ever sparking with anticipation and hope. To use a cliché (sorry Terry), he died with his boots on.

I’m reminded of a verse from Philippians 3. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

A man of faith, Terry has reached the goal and is probably right now gathering a group of angelic heralds in heaven and teaching them how to sharpen the prose in their announcements.

Terry left us a lifetime of work to read and reread and he has taught so many writers. His influence will be exponential.  

Thank you, Terry, for everything. We remember you with gratitude and much love.

More at TerryKay.com

 My new novella available in print and ebook HERE .

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

The cure for a "dark winter"

Several times in the last few weeks I’ve seen the same words repeated in the news, that we’re heading into a “dark winter” because of the pandemic.

Not exactly what you’d call inspirational.

Those words weigh heavy, especially when we already know so many suffering and grieving because of the pandemic as well as other reasons.

But we’re not the first ones to be faced with looming darkness.

In first century Bethlehem they’d been in what might have seemed a spiritual dark winter for quite some time.

It had been over 400 years since the prophets had spoken. Israel had long waited the promised Messiah. And maybe more than a few were beginning to wonder about those earlier prophecies. But in ways that no one could understand at the time, God was setting the stage for Jesus.

As the Apostle Paul said, “. . . when the set time had fully come . . . “, God showed up. Light began to spark and the darkness split, first with the announcement to Zechariah and Elizabeth about their son, John the Baptist, who would point the way to Jesus. Then God dispatched an angel who appeared to Mary to announce she would give birth to the Messiah. On the night of His birth, Jesus shattered the darkness with His appearance and His coming was proclaimed to shepherds by angels who shone with the glory of the Lord. And let’s not forget it was a luminous star that guided the wise men to Bethlehem.

Dark winter, take that.

Some may be wondering today with our potential dark winter if God is still at work.

Yes, yes, and yes.

Jesus’ words are these: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

We have a duty to act responsibly for others and ourselves, and to that end, there may be sacrifices we have to make. I hope we are willing to make wise choices. But no matter what happens, there is a light that can never be extinguished, and His name is Jesus.

During this Advent season, let us not focus on the darkness, but let us focus on the light. Jesus will see us through, and no darkness can ever overcome Him.

My new novella, A Season for Everything, has just released. The ebook is available HERE and the 
print version is currently available HERE. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

A ham, a lamb, and when everything seems haywire

In this edited repost, I'm bringing a blast from the past, but it seems appropriate for Christmas in a pandemic. We won't be doing a church Christmas play this year and oh, how I miss it. 
However, I am hosting a Book Bash at the Friends of Anaiah Press site on Facebook. I'd love to have you join me today, December 1, from 4 to 9. I'll have giveaways and you may also enter for the grandprize, a $50 gift card and 4 free books. See you there. 
The last of the turkey leftovers have been put in the freezer and we've pulled the Christmas decorations from the closet. 
The Christmas Season is upon us.
Actually, I've been thinking about my Christmas plans since July. How's that for long term planning? 
To that end, I’m helping to direct the children’s Christmas play at church this year.

We have our challenges.

The shepherds have a disposition to shoot down the aisle early preempting Mary’s “Away in the Manger” solo. One lamb would rather be with his mom than a bunch of diminutive sheepherders, so he tries to slip the clutch of his handler. And it seems that in the spirit of the classic children’s story by Barbara Robinson, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, we may find ourselves with a ham on the altar the evening of the performance. (If somehow you missed The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, find a copy and read it to any kids you can round up. It will definitely unlock the child in you, too.)

But, despite the crowd control issues, there are poignant moments when these precious kids who grip my heart have me dissolving into tears almost making me forget who I’m supposed to cue on stage.

All this has made me reflect on the original cast. I can see many opportunities for things to have gone haywire then, too.

Instead of saying, “Be it unto me even as you have said,” Mary could have told God she wasn’t going to the prom carrying an infant. After learning of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph could’ve simply defriended her. After recovering from their angelic appearance shock, the shepherds might have sought greener pastures--in the opposite direction of Bethlehem. And the Wise Men? They could’ve thought it wiser to keep their distance from a baby who had Herod in such an uproar.

But God was the original long-term planner.

Somehow, from the beginning, God knew this motley bunch of characters would play their part in the unfolding of a story that split history.

He knew we’d need to see that ordinary people could play an extraordinary part in God’s plan of redemption for the world.

And He knew a baby would change everything.

There’s a culminating moment in our pageant when we understand that every line and action in the play points to the baby Jesus. All eyes are on the infant King. That’s when I almost lose it.

God chose to become Jesus, a vulnerable, tiny person in the care of a teenager and a carpenter, and included farmhands, astronomers, and livestock in the celebration of His historical entrance. You gotta love a story like that.

When life seems to be going off the rails, it’s a comfort to know the God, who became one of us, sees, knows, and is always working even through the difficult circumstances to accomplish His purpose.

So, the night of our pageant, if a ham shows up, it’ll be okay. Because we’re going to be looking for Jesus, God with us, and there’s nothing like a child to show us the way.

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

My new novella, A Season for Everything, has just released. The ebook is available HERE and the print version is currently available HERE. 

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