My Favorite Websites in 2013

This time last year I wrote about five books that rocked my world in 2012. This year, I’d like to share some of the websites that have been valuable to me in 2013. It’s nothing formal. I simply thought of the websites that I visit most frequently and those that I find most interesting. Here are my favorite websites of 2013:

Goinswriter.com – Goinswriter.com has become one of my favorite sites. The author, Jeff Goins, provides support and inspiration for writers. He has a unique perspective on the writing life and becoming a writer. I find myself going to his site for encouragement, too. His stories about his life are inspirational and he has a way of relating truth in a very disarming way. If you are interested in creating anything, I urge you to check out Goinswriter.com.

SamSpurlin.com – I’ve been reading SamSpurlin’s work for years now. He is one of the bloggers that helped me to embrace minimalism. Sam Spurlin now writes about personal development and positive psychology. I enjoy his posts about productivity and development. His site is definitely worth checking out.

WritingForward.com – This is a great site for writers. The author, Melissa Donovan, posts educational and inspirational articles that have really helped me as a writer. If you write, or want to, visit WritingForward.com.

RelevantMagazine.com – I love Relevant. I subscribe to their magazine but I also enjoy the unique offerings on their website. Relevant is a Christian magazine that fully engages the culture. Because Christians don’t spend their lives in church, Relevant doesn’t restrict its focus to matters of church and Christianity. Relevant also discusses current television shows, secular music, politics, social justice, and all the other aspects of real life. Any time I am looking for something interesting to think about I go to RelevantMagazine.com.

These are the websites that I visit the most. However, there are several websites that I visit on occasion for entertainment, information, or inspiration. Here are a couple:

WaitButWhy.com – This is a site that I discovered through a friend’s post on Facebook. The author has unique viewpoints and I actually find his blog informative and entertaining. The author has caused me to think differently about some things. He has a great post about putting time in perspective. Check it out to see what you think.

ZenHabits.net – This is a great blog about simple but successful life. The author, Leo Babouta, has a great story of how he has changed his life. At one time he was a smoker, overweight, and deep in debt. He simplified and changed is lifestyle and he transformed his life. He lost weight. He has fewer possessions an is a much better place financially. I can usually find inspiration and good information when I go to ZenHabits.

There are so many wonderful blogs and websites that I could write for hours about things I find on the internet. In this post I just wanted to highlight a few of the sites I frequent the most.  They have helped me as a writer and as a person. What websites have rocked your world this year?

 

Thoughts of Christmas

Christmas is here. Two thousand years ago, the day of Christ’s birth was full of hope and beauty. While Christmas has become very commercialized, many take time to think about the message of Christmas.

The past couple of days have been busy with visiting and cooking, but I choose to pause and think about the significance of this special time of year. As I think about the message of Christmas, two things really resonate with me:

Fulfillment of promises. The Old Testament is full of prophecies about the coming Messiah. In the birth of Christ, all of those promises were fulfilled. God has a long history of fulfilling his promises. He has kept his promises until this point and he will continue to do so. The promises that God has made to you will come to pass.

The arrival of hope. So much of the message of Christmas is about hope. Because of Jesus’ coming we have hope for a new life on earth. Because of his death and resurrection we have hope for heaven in the life to come. Because of his promises we have hope for his return.

As you go though this day, take some timr to reflect on the meaning of Christmas. the birth of Christ cnahged the trajectory of the human race.  Let is change your heart as well.

Merry Christmas!

Lessons from A Christmas Carol

I love holiday entertainment. I love to watch Christmas specials on TV. I love Christmas music — even when it’s nowhere near Christmas.  And I feel that A Christmas Story is one of the best films ever made (“You’ll shoot your eye out!”).

This year, I decided to do something different. I read Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I have seen several versions of the movie, with Bill Murray’s Scrooged being my favorite. It’s old now but it is really hilarious.

The movies are great, but I wanted to experience the book. I wanted to experience Charles Dickens’ work. The book is always better, right? Of course, my time reading A Christmas Carol was well spent. I came away from this book with four important insights:

Invest in Relationships. Some of the most touching scenes in A Christmas Carol were from the Ghost of Christmas Future. The spirit showed Scrooge scenes from his death. Scrooge was really saddened by the fact that no one cared for him once he died. There was no tenderness or affection for him. The world seemed largely unaffected by his death. Scrooge seemed deeply affected by the fact that no one mourned his passing. His life seemed to count for very little.

There is joy in giving. Scrooge spent his lifetime amassing wealth. He was cheap and stingy. Before his encounter with the three ghosts Scrooge didn’t even want to use coal to keep his office warm. He hardly spent money on himself. He certainly didn’t spend money on others. When asked to give money to the poor, Scrooge nearly kicks the solicitors out of his office. After visiting with the three ghosts, Scrooge is much more generous, and he feels the joy that comes from helping someone else.

Money can’t buy happiness. When we struggle financially we often believe that if we only had more money we’d be happy. The truth is that money and happiness have nothing to do with each other. Too often, celebrities with lots of money commit suicide. Every year we hear about celebrities in rehab for substance abuse. In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge was wealthy but miserable. His nephew was poor but happy.  Money does not ensure happiness. Nor does poverty ensure misery. Relationships and purpose make our lives rich, even when we have little money.

There are eternal consequences for how we treat people on Earth. Jacob Marley wore a heavy chain in the afterlife because he loved money more than people. He warned Scrooge that his chain would be just as long, if not longer. Marley adjured Scrooge to change his ways. This was part of a fictional story, but the idea is very biblical. Luke 16:19-13 tells the story of a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. Lazarus sat at the rich man’s gate begging and the rich man took no notice of him. When both men died, the rich man went to Hades and the poor man was carried to Abraham’s bosom. Likewise, when Jesus judges the nations, he rewards or punished people based on how they treat others (Matthew 25:31-40).

A Christmas Carol was published in 1843, but it offers timeless truths to those with an open heart. This tale chronicles the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge. As we prepare for Christmas, may we remember the lessons found in A Christmas Carol and carry them all year long. As we do this, we may find ourselves transformed as well.

Merry Christmas!

Anticipation

Teavana tea is my guilty indulgence. I love tea. Teavana is my favorite so I ordered some on Cyber Monday. I carefully selected my teas (and got a great deal, by the way) and started dreaming about enjoying my tea once it arrived.

Well, it took Teavana two full days to process my order and another four days to ship it. During my time of waiting I had this excitement about my coming package. I waited with great anticipation of the arrival of my tea.

I stalked my email to see if I had received a notification that my order had shipped. When the notification finally came I started to track the package… several times a day. I wanted to know exactly where my tea was and when it would arrive.

On the estimated day of delivery I tracked my package first thing in the morning. I just couldn’t wait. When I got home from work the tea was sitting on my porch. I smiled as I took the package inside. I enjoyed every second of opening the box and looking through its contents.

I am glad to have my tea (it’s my favorite), but I miss that sense of eager anticipation. I miss the feeling of knowing that something good is coming. I miss having something to look forward to.

As I think about this Christmas season, I think about all the years that the people of Israel waited for the Messiah. The scriptures are full of prophecies about his coming. I’m sure that people looked everywhere to see if there were any signs of his arrival.

I think of Mary as she awaited the birth of Christ. The angel told her that she would bear a son, the savior. Still, she had to wait nine whole months for him to be born. I’m sure she dreamed of holding him and playing with him and raising him. Then she anticipated him growing into a man and saving his people.

When Jesus was being presented at the Temple, Mary and Joseph met a prophetess named Anna. This is what the scriptures say about Anna and her reaction to Jesus:

 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:38)

 She, like so many others, eagerly awaited the arrival of the Messiah. She lived in anticipation and she was full of thanksgiving when she saw her hopes come to fruition.

When I hear these stories I think about my own life. God has made some incredible promises to me about my life. He has spoken to me about calling and family and destiny. Though I really hate the waiting, I have to admit that I feel a great sense of anticipation about the things that God has promised. There is something about the anticipation of something good that really makes the time of waiting much more bearable. When I get weary in waiting, it is the anticipation of something good that sustains me.

As we experience this season of Advent, let us remember the anticipation of all who awaited the birth of Christ. Let us celebrate the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams.

Let us also wait with great anticipation for the things God has spoken to us, looking forward to good things and the fulfillment of God’s promises.

When Christmas Isn’t Merry

The Christmas season has officially begun. This is a happy time for most. It used to be a happy time for me. I used to love shopping for gifts, wrapping them, and watching people open them. I used to love the time spent with family and the amazing food. Christmas used to be a lot of fun.

Since my mom passed away, Christmas has lost much of its appeal. My life changed, and not for the better. I miss her every day and all the memories associated with Christmas make it harder. My grandmother passed away last year and this made Christmas even more difficult.

All of this is complicated by the fact that I am in a very bad place in life right now, and every Christmas marks the passage of another year in this place. It’s a reminder of all that has not changed in the last year.

I know that Christmas is supposed to be happy. It’s supposed to be a time of joy and hope. Unfortunately, Christmas now represents loss. It is a shadow of what Christmas used to be. It brings up memories of better days gone by and serves a painful reminder of how difficult things are now.

I understand holiday depression. I experience it though I know that there are many that experience it to a greater degree. This time of year has become known as “Suicide Season” in the medical field. It can be a time of great joy and celebration or a time of sadness and stress. So how does a Christian (that should be celebrating) endure a difficult holiday season?

Find Beauty. Though this time of year can be extremely difficult, there is beauty to be found. Many neighborhoods are beautifully decorated. Go out for a ride or a walk and take in the beauty. If you live in a colder climate, there is often snow. Some people find a snowy scene beautiful. The night sky is beautiful. Appreciate the beauty around you.

Give. I am not necessarily referring to presents (though gift-giving is great). I am talking about giving to those in need. Giving money at a local church or other charitable organizations can make a huge difference in the life of someone struggling with hunger, medical issues, or other problems. There are many organizations that help people around the world, for example, WorldVision and Samaritan’s Purse. Knowing that you are helping someone can be rewarding.

Escape. We all have to take a break eventually. Sometimes it helps to get absorbed in a really good book or a fun project. Do you enjoy scrapbooking, knitting, or a reading? Perhaps you have a favorite movie. It can be good to take a break from your life and get lost in something you enjoy.

Try to stick as closely as possible to your routine. The holidays are unlike any other time. We are expected to shop, decorate, and attend several parties. This is enough to throw a person off their schedule. During the holidays it is important to try to continue doing the things that structure your life: exercise, sleep, church attendance, family time, and healthy eating. These things can serve as anchors so that you do not drift too far off course.

Lean. Ask God to help you get through this season. Pray and study. Spend some time with your journal. Take one day at a time.

Get help. This is crucial. Reach out to a doctor or counselor if you need help getting though this season.

Nurture. When I was in graduate school I saw a counselor every week. During one particularly difficult time she urged me to do what is life-giving. For me, that means journaling, reading, and doing creative work. It may mean something different for you. The main thing is to do what is life-giving for you. Enjoy simple pleasures as often as you can.

The Christmas season can be difficult, but like every other season, it will pass. Hopefully, we can all find little pockets of joy as we journey through it.