I Do Declare: Every Lent, it seems the question is “Where is God in all this?”

My guided journal for Lent is available in Kindle/Amazon (click here). And until Thursday, 2/18, it’s FREE. (If you have Kindle Unlimited, it’s free anyway.)

On any given day, we can find ourselves preoccupied with financial or relational challenges, physical or emotional trials, or vocational or social issues – sometimes several at once. Such concerns can sidetrack us and keep us from enjoying a fulfilling relationship with God and with each other.

Each week in this guided journal, the focus is on a different area where we tend to encounter distractions. The aim is to help you become aware so you can deal with them and turn your attention to God.

This booklet is designed to be a prompt to get you into the Word and into a conversation with God to explore your relationship more deeply.

Only the Bible verse is given (rather than the entire passage) so you can get into the Word yourself and see what God wants to tell you.

Here are a few sample prompts:

I Do Declare: Snark-watching entertainment is becoming my new favorite hobby

Everything I ever needed to know about snark-watching I learned from Vim & Verve, expert snark-watchers.

Bored from frequent quarantines? Tired of the never-ending job hunt? Inability to gather with friends got you down?

I have a suggestion that might perk you up.

Turn on the TV and start snark-watching. There are no limitations. TV shows, movies, documentaries, commercials – it’s all good. You can even snark-watch the news. In fact, I highly recommend it just to keep from throwing things at your TV in frustration.

And now that awards season is upon us, there’s no better time to take up snark-watching and get really good at it. (At very least, it’s a great skill to have for the pre-show red carpet.)

Snark-watching has become one of my favorite activities. Over the holidays, our household snark-watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Three movies back-to-back. The extended version. That’s roughly 14 hours of “That was a stupid thing to say” and “They have to know they’ll end up in trouble going that way” and “Gee, if only there was something like giant eagles in this universe that they could call on to help out.”

It’s best with shows and movies you’ve already seen, so you know what’s coming. It’s more difficult to snark-watch something on a first watch. Unless the production values are that cringe-worthy. Then snarking is to be expected.

Now, here’s something to keep in mind. It doesn’t have to be a TV show or movie you don’t like. In fact, it’s better if it’s something you love. Lord of the Rings is one of my all-time favorites. This makes the snarking even better. Plus, all the snarking won’t stop me from watching it again – with or without snarking during that viewing. That’s the beauty of snark-watching. You can turn it on and off at will. And it’s free.

Pro Tip: It helps to have a mimosa or three when watching. The snarking will get really creative.

Do you participate in snark-watching? Tell me all about it in the comments.

I Do Declare: Being mistaken for Naval Intelligence isn’t as great as it sounds

The following is an excerpt from a book I wrote with my dad, from a chapter titled “When you’re mistaken for NIS simply because you commute to the ship via helicopter.”

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After Dad made chief in New Jersey, he was stationed on the U.S.S. Guam, a helicopter carrier. Even though it was based in Norfolk, every Monday it went down off the coast of South Carolina to test the new vertical-lift helicopter (now known as the Harrier) that were being developed in Beaufort.

And that’s where he was involved in a rather amusing case of mistaken identity.

But I’ll let him tell the story:

It just so happened that Pete was stationed on the ship the same day I was. He and I had a lot in common. Not only were we both in communications and both chiefs, but we also were both from South Carolina (he was from Florence).

We also had the same NEC (Navy Enlisted Classification) code for classified equipment, and that got us into different places on the ship that not everyone had access to.

Because we were repairing teletype machines, it was better for us to work in the middle of the night (when incoming messages were less frequent), and the captain let us do as we pleased as long as we kept the machines running.

Most of the time we worked about three hours a night, and otherwise we just wandered around not doing any other work. There were other chiefs on board, so we rarely went into the radio room.

All of that – odd hours, having free reign, the captain leaving us alone – led some people to believe we were with Naval Intelligence.

At first, we didn’t notice. But before long we had a hard time finding people to play pinochle with. And then people started giving us worried looks when we tried to strike up conversations.

Well, by then we knew something was up. Finally, one of the men in communications told us why some people were wary of us.

And then our reputation was sealed when Pete and I requested – and received approval – from the captain to take the mail helicopter out on Fridays to Charleston and come back on Monday mornings.

Who else could do that except somebody working undercover?

Pete and I figured it wasn’t all bad. Being mistaken for NIS did keep the aggravation to a minimum. The officer on watch never bothered us. No one nagged us for reports. We could do pretty much anything we wanted.

Except make any money on cards. For some reason we couldn’t find anyone who would admit to playing the game.

~ ~ ~

Want to read more? You can order it here.

Click here to see my other books.

I Do Declare: No one proves the power of words like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today we commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the civil rights activist who delivered one of the most powerful speeches in history in front of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963.

The speech is a total of 1667 words, every one of them meaningful, and not one of them wasted.

You can hear the speech thanks to this recording from the U.S. Archives.

Learn more here, here, and here about the occasion of the speech, the man, and his legacy.

I’m hard pressed to come up with a favorite part, because all of it is magnificent. However, if I HAD to choose, these two would be among the top contenders:

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

This one too:

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.

It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I Do Declare: Christmas decorations illustrate how I can go from sentimental to pragmatic at warp speed

The calendar says today is January 4, which means Christmas is over and we’re into a new year. This much we know to be true.

And yet: There are technically a few more days of Christmas left. And by technically, I mean if you follow the church calendar, Christmas keeps on keeping on until Epiphany (January 6). Which is why some people keep their decorations up until then.

Ha! Not me.

Sure, I follow the church calendar too, but when it comes to the trees and lights and garland and elves (whether on shelves or not), it’s high time they all went back to their storage bins and hibernated for about 11 months.

Not that I’m anti-Christmas or anti-holiday or anti-anything. My official policy is that the holidays are delightful. Enchanting. Blessed. And let’s be honest, a season of good cheer and good will to all is a pretty darn good thing, especially in this day and age – and this is only one reason why I celebrate it.

In fact, I’ve mentioned before how I love the magical tranquility of the days before Christmas.

But here’s the thing. It’s a season. Which is to say that it has its moment in the sun, after which it is meant to fade into the background, at least for a while, to be replaced by the next season.

And that next season is known as: Okay, everybody, up and moving, time to get organized. Or, as some call it: the new year.

For me – the consummate organizer – that season can’t come too soon. Almost as soon as the gifts are unwrapped, I’m ready to move on and get the house back in order. That table has been over in that corner making room for the tree for far too long. That garland wrapped around the banister is becoming an eyesore. The candelabras in the picture window are getting on my last nerve.

I need my house back, y’all. My surroundings require a place for everything and everything in its place.

The new year is here. I have a colossal project list, along with a daily planner that, if all holds true, indicates I will have to schedule my headaches. So be it. I’m ready for a substantial to-do list and the work it will take to get it done. I need checklists is what I’m saying.

As we move away from the meandering of the holidays and pick up the pace toward efficiency and productivity, I have a strong urge to enter the new year unfettered by the ghosts of months past.

My breakup letter to the past year notwithstanding, I’m done with excoriating 2020, as if continuing to rake it over the coals would mitigate one millisecond of the angst it caused.

To everything there is a season, so the scriptures tell us. Maybe the time for beating up 2020 is over. You’re forgiven, 2020. Go in peace.

Let bygones be bygones, I say. Let’s start fresh, with no past recriminations, no grudges held, no burdens of regrets and misgivings to carry around.

There’s a year to take hold of and make the most of.

Let’s get on with it.

I Do Declare: It’s not sweet sorrow if it’s 2020 you’re parting with

Dear 2020:

I’ve been thinking about our relationship a lot lately, looking back at all the hopes we once shared, all we’ve been through. It’s quite a bit to mull over: lots of emotions … regrets … tears … hand sanitizer. And in the end I came to a decision.

There really isn’t any easy way to say this, 2020, so I’ll just state it as clearly as I can.

After consulting a few online therapist websites, Dr. Cloud’s “Necessary Endings” book, and a couple of friends over a glass or three of wine, I realized it’s time to make a change.

You and I need to go our separate ways.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all bad. There were happy times, especially in the beginning.

I started the year with high hopes and firm plans for a productive 12 months.

I even made jokes about your name – all in good fun, nothing hurtful, of course – like how we could see our futures so clearly (playing on the “20/20” theme) and the old saw about hindsight and how history would point to this year as a moment of clarity.

It’s weird, but now it seems like more of a joke that I ever thought that way about you.

I know that sounds a bit cold, but let’s be honest, I’m not the only one who’s been cold in this relationship. Clearly your mind has been elsewhere this year. Maybe we should just accept that things have changed and both of us move on. Or if it helps, we can say it’s not you, it’s me.

Wait a minute. I take that back. It is you. All you.

I’m not trying to be cruel, but some things need to be said. And you need to hear them.

I mean, what happened? We met, we were having fun, and then your whole personality changed. Like someone flipped a switch. There we were, moving merrily along in the first few weeks, and then – wham! out of nowhere – you shut me down.

You were so controlling. I hate that. And at the same time, I had to deal with your wildly erratic mood swings. You’d set arbitrary rules over how you thought I should live my life, and then you’d change them the next day. How selfish and inconsiderate! And you never discussed any of that with me beforehand. Did it ever occur to you that I don’t want restrictions like that in my life?

Sometimes it was frightening wondering what the next day would bring. You made me fear for my life, my financial security, and even my toilet paper stock. Seriously, 2020, what kind of relationship is that?

And then you got really dysfunctional. You tried to drive a wedge between me and my family, especially during the holidays. You kept me from gathering with my friends. You barred me from restaurants. You forbid me to go to church. I could hardly go out in public, and when I did, I had to shield my face.

So yeah, I’m over this. I think it’s best to part ways before things get toxic.

And yes, before you ask, I am seeing someone new. It’s serious enough that we’re making plans and dreaming big dreams – far more than you and I did in the last few months. 2021 holds more promise, more hope, and – bonus! – 21 is drinking age. Who wouldn’t be happy with someone who can stop by the wine store on the way home?

By the way, we’re not on a break. This is a breakup. I’ve already returned all your CDs. Please don’t call me again.

Good luck.

I Do Declare: Outside God’s birthing room, I ponder what it means to wait

The last few days before Christmas tend toward an almost magical tranquility.

A peace begins to seep into the general holiday milieu. A wispy cloud of serenity settles over the bustle, slowing the frantic pace for all, with the possible exceptions of clergy with unfinished sermons, last-minute shoppers, and travelers whose itineraries have been usurped by weather.

Neck-deep in the season of goodwill, I send them good thoughts and press on with the holiday baking.

It’s a gentle glide into the most silent and holy of nights. All things calm. All things bright. Accompanied by the unhurried tinkling of bells, of course.

At least that’s how it is most years.

This year, though. This year is … well, let’s just say it’s different.

This year my experience is not so much enveloped in magical tranquility as dumped into a hospital waiting room. Sure, it may be a metaphor – and I can’t promise it won’t end up mixed – but it’s still the last place anyone wants to be at the end of an excruciating year of delays and pauses and postponements.

In most waiting rooms, it’s bleak and drab. The passable furnishings and nondescript wall décor fail in their one job to comfort and reassure. And it’s isolating, with interpersonal connections alternating between idle chatter and weighty silence. Worst of all: the exit is nowhere to be found.

The one cheerful exception is the maternity floor, where no one cares about chairs and paintings and intellectual level of chitchat, because joyful anticipation is front and center.

A quick glance around, and I wonder how my normal holiday good nature morphed into an incessant wait-wait-wait. Has all that happened this year conditioned me to see only a lackluster passive waiting area, even in this merry time of year? What am I waiting for now?

Conversations may be shallow, but the question begs to be asked: Is it because the inert activity of waiting cannot generate more depth, or is it because I have switched all rapport to receiving mode? When small talk subsides, do I prefer to flounder in the silence or accept the quiet invitation to reflect?

So many questions, so little patience I have these days to ponder them.

But I can reflect. Reflections lead to observations, which turn to insights, which become discernments – some of them pretty wild, like the one that screams out in answer to my questions:

Girl, you are outside God’s birthing room. Get on your knees.

And here’s how I know this is true: Waiting is a torment – unless you’re outside God’s birthing room. Out here, exasperation and indifference evolve into expectation and hope. Even the relatively quiet actions of meditations and prayer can be energizing if you’re working with God’s playbook.

And inside the birthing room? In there, it’s active and alive and spirited – literally. A great labor is happening, with precise detail. God is creating life – a prerogative that belongs solely to Him – as a deliberate choice.

Amid the pain and blood, with all the preparation and provision happening in that birthing room, we cannot lose sight of the fact that God is doing a new thing for the singular purpose of saving us.

God chooses us. And He keeps choosing us. Every year. Every day, actually.

This insight isn’t new. I’ve always known this as truth.

But maybe my head needed my heart to hear it too.

Maybe that’s what the wait was about.