So, how’s your walk?

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Your word is a lamp before my feet
    and a light for my journey. – Psalm 119:105

One of the questions that constantly comes up when I talk about faith is, “How do I transition from someone who checks in with God once in a while, to a disciple who quite literally walks with Jesus?”

It’s a challenge no matter who you are, or how you structure your life. Dads, moms, teens; preachers, teachers, construction workers; politicians, lawyers, musicians; engineers, army generals, pilots…. We’ve had the same conversation.

That’s why I always start with the very beginning of the day. It makes more sense to get on board with God and then remain there – going forward – than to leave the decision (and it’s always a decision, even when we don’t think about it) for another time.

It’s this idea of trajectory. That’s why I took the above photograph of the kitchen counter this morning before I poured the coffee. My Bible was already there. No matter where my journey takes me today, I know I have started it in the presence of God and with a portion of the scriptures.

Simply put, the only way to walk with Jesus is to invite him to be our guide. It’s an invitation that needs to be renewed daily, and it is an intention that requires a constant stream of incremental adjustments, not just day by day but moment by moment.

When I hiked five-hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail I was always looking for the white blaze on the tree that told me I was on the right path. A double blaze signaled a shift in direction.

We were always looking ahead for the next blaze; it didn’t stop us from enjoying the view, talking with other hikers, or taking a brief lateral trail to see something along the way. But the blaze was always our reference and constantly on our minds. If we had waited to check for the next marker around lunchtime – like saying grace before a meal -we’d have been hopelessly lost in no time at all.

That’s Jesus. His intention is to walk with us, not just meet up later for lunch, or wait to check in Wednesday evenings at church, or in response to a hurried request when things aren’t going our way.

Ten years ago this month my first book was released. GET REAL documents my understanding of this following-Jesus journey, and these few words still challenge me today:

img_8032“It’s about engaging the Spirit because we are hungry for God. It’s about becoming disciples so that Jesus can pour his life into us. It’s about learning to love God with our heart, mind, body, and soul. It’s about having the courage to actually follow Christ – to place one foot in front of the other, to dare to live a life of grace” (p. 30).

Every morning, every hour, every day, every opportunity – DEREK

 

Get RealA Spiritual Journey for Men
by Derek Maul
Get Real A Spiritual Journey for Men by Derek Maul

 

purpose, and the alchemy of tragedy…

IMG_9277I may have said this before – oh, about a bazillion times over the past month – but what an amazingly beautiful day it is here in Wake Forest, North Carolina!

The sky is the perfect Carolina blue; everything is fresh, clear, and clean after the long rains; the temperatures are perfect for lingering on the deck with one more cup of coffee; the birds are singing; it’s a morning just bursting with promise.

So what am I going to do? Well, in yesterday’s post I talked a little about personal mission statements (Cold French Fries do not Define Your Story!). Then – just before lunch – Rebekah came into my study and said, “I want to read this to you.” Here’s what she shared:

When I woke up this morning I had a clear vision of God’s purpose through my living. Though I often fail, and I have a lot to learn in the years to come, I have no doubt that my contribution to this world is meant to be the strengthening of love, the turning on of lights in its darkness, the opening of closed spirits; and I believe that this is God’s special purpose for all of us.

I also know, without a doubt, that this is possible, and that God will endow us with his Spirit as we extend ourselves with purpose to this mission. Our task is clear. The starting place is simple…

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute—if there is any excellence and if anything is worthy of praise—let your mind dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen… practice these things;. and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).

A Long Path:

IMG_9144“I think I recognized the voicing,” I said. “That sounds like me.”

“It is,” she replied. “You wrote this in 1989.”

Context. Rebekah was home yesterday morning preparing the words she’s sharing in today’s funeral service for our friend Sandee Hagen (we left the house at 4:15 so she could catch the early flight to Minneapolis). Rebekah was working to bring some closure to a message that finished not so much with a period but with ellipses (….) back in 1989, at the memorial service after the tragic deaths of Sandee’s husband and son.

I had shared the above words (and Rebekah saved them) just a few days after the accident, as part of a devotional for the young families Sunday school class we were all a part of at Trinity Presbyterian Church.

“That was the moment,” Rebekah said to me yesterday as we talked about it, “where your personal mission became clear (the strengthening of love, the turning on of lights in [the world’s] darkness, the opening of closed spirits).

ALCHEMY?

She was right. Today I’m wondering if there’s a kind of spiritual alchemy to all of this? I’m wondering if maybe dramatic – often tragic – events serve as a catalyst, where common elements already in place are then transformed in ways that are otherwise impossible?

Rebekah described such moments as a great ax coming down, rending time and space, creating fission and fusion and heat like a lightning bolt; and the ground shakes, and sparks fly, and the air is split, and the wind rushes in, and…

… And there go the ellipses again.

Like a long walk in the woods….

– DEREK

the secret to deep, sustainable, joy…

“So then, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation, but it isn’t an obligation to ourselves to live our lives on the basis of selfishness. If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the actions of the body, you will live. All who are led by God’s Spirit are God’s sons and daughters. You didn’t receive a spirit of slavery to lead you back again into fear, but you received a Spirit that shows you are adopted as his children. With this Spirit, we cry, Abba, Father.” Romans 8:12-15

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this morning

Today is a perfect example of exactly why I love living here in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

  • At almost 10:00 in the morning, it’s just 55-degrees – one of those overcast days with just a small chance of rain.
  • I have a full schedule of interesting writing ahead of me, and the promise of church supper and meeting with my men’s Bible-study group this evening.
  • Then – while I’m posting this blog – Rebekah is over at City Hall, speaking to a group of student leaders from our local high school.

We are both doing exactly what we were called here to do. Essentially, understanding what it is that God is calling us to do, and then being able to follow through, makes life rewarding and meaningful more than absolutely anything else.

Many aspects of life bring pleasure, fun, and happiness; but there is a deep joy to engaging God’s purpose for our lives that is – I believe – unique to a life of discipleship.

We Have a Covenant with God:

Each time we meet, the men’s group reads the following as part of our covenant: “Knowing that Jesus Christ died to save me from sin and death, and knowing that he saved me for his great purpose, I pledge myself to be his disciple, holding nothing back….”

A covenant is something we agree on, an intention that we promise to one another. But I often wonder how clear we are about this great purpose? We have a common Great Purpose, as followers of Jesus, and that is – in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism – to glorify God and to enjoy God forever. I think we can all own that as a background initiative that is constantly in play. But what about my great purpose? What about your great purpose? I think it’s critically important that we consider this, that we give it some deliberate thought, that we reevaluate our conclusions on a day-to-day basis, and that we invite Jesus to help us to understand, to claim, and to live out his purpose for our lives.

But what about my great purpose? What about your great purpose? I think it’s critically important that we consider this, that we give it some deliberate thought, that we reevaluate our conclusions on a day-to-day basis, and that we invite Jesus to help us to understand, to claim, and to live out his purpose for our lives.

  • To understand my purpose as a  follower of Jesus;
  • To claim that understanding for myself;
  • To live out God’s purpose in my day-to-day life.

We can be “successful” in many ways, accumulate lots of the stuff advertising tells us will make us happy, hang around the cool people, look really good on social media… and so much more… But, dedicating ourselves to serve God by engaging our calling as disciples of Jesus, and living out God’s purposes in our day to day lives, now that is satisfaction, that is meaningful, that is rewarding.

“So then, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation, but it isn’t an obligation to ourselves to live our lives on the basis of selfishness. If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the actions of the body, you will live.”

Peace, blessings, and promise – DEREK

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another beautiful cool morning in Wake Forest!

Will you be called, “Repairer of the Breach”?

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The Lord will guide you continually,
    and satisfy your needs in parched places,
    and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
    like a spring of water,
    whose waters never fail.
 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
    you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
    the restorer of streets to live in. – Isaiah 58:11-12

Monday afternoon, and for the first time in 2017, I got outside for a few hours of serious yard work. I didn’t accomplish all that much in the great scheme of what needs to be done, but it sure felt good to make some forward progress. Usually – and very much in line with yesterday’s post (Good Questions and an Invitation to Live) – it’s less important to have finished than to (at least) have started.

First spring gardening....
It must be springtime…

Because, in the garden especially, there is no such thing as done. But that’s okay, because it really is all about being out there, getting my hands dirty, making a noticeable difference, and understanding how much a part of it all that I am. I’m not an outside person imposing order so much as a participant, as if I’m a part of the garden myself.

It’s a lot like that with my writing. I know a lot of authors who talk about how they like to “have written” more than actually “writing.” But that’s not my experience at all. I love being immersed in the process: the research; the prayer; the waiting for inspiration; the “uh-huh” moments; the magic of a powerful phrase or idea working its way from my soul, to my consciousness, into my fingers, through the keyboard, and onto the screen. I even enjoy editing, re-writing, reprocessing, nuancing, and – sometimes – starting over.

This is my spiritual life too. The psalmist writes about God satisfying my needs in parched places, watering me like a garden, rebuilding my life… and then – awesomely – turning right around and using me to the extent that I will be known as “The repairer of the breach.”

I like that a lot. What a wonderful descriptive phrase to live by: “Repairer of the Breach.”

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author Derek Maul

Because there is this chasm, this break, this separation, this breach between the Creator and the creation. But Jesus has stepped in and made reconciliation possible. We could have all these arguments about doctrine, about which church gets it right and who gets it wrong, about all the divisions, and “isms” in our culture… or we could simply trust Jesus, thank God for the repair work Jesus made to close the breach, and live as grateful people.

I may go back into the garden again this afternoon. And I certainly intend to live forward as a repairer of the breach.

Peace – in every way – DEREK 

 

writing my first novel…

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London in WW2

Today I have been completely immersed in my novel. That’s right, Mr. Inspirational Non-Fiction is writing a novel.

The story is actually finished, in terms of plot and outline and first draft. Now I’m re-writing (for the third time), fleshing out some of the scenes, fact-checking, and tightening the prose.

My dilemma at this point is that of audience. When I was a teacher, I used to read aloud to my students, and – invariably – I found myself dreaming about a Newbery winning book with my name on the cover. (A Newbery Medal citation comes from the American Library Association for, “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”). I know that sounds far-fetched, but dreaming is a huge part of writing – and why write at all unless I intend to write the best?

01 A group of boy evacuees with their gas masks, September 1939
kids evacuated from their homes

As a literature consumer, I understand that if a book is a good read for children – in this case it would be young adults – then it also needs to be a great read for anyone. My story is about the adventures of a 15-year-old boy living on the south coast, in World War Two England; but I’m hoping it captures the attention of readers from ten to one hundred and ten.

I’m not sure how much more I can/should say about the story in this post, other than that I’m placing it in parts of England I know well, that I love deeply, and that I want my readers to appreciate too.

  • Every historical fact in my novel is accurate (the story covers the days before Dunkirk and the summer thereafter);
  • Everything that happens reflects the experiences of real people in real places, caught up in the crisis of real war.
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shelling in my hometown

If you are at all interested in this project, let me know and I’ll make sure to post the details just as soon as my novel is available.

Writing a book, without a contract in hand, is a huge investment of time and resources. But in many ways I feel compelled to do this work. There’s something about a great story, especially one that addresses themes of human conflict, love, exploration, faith, and the yearning for reconciliation. I want to lift people up – that’s always my intention when I write – and this is one more way that I can invite people into healing.
Peace – DEREK

What’s Your Story? (You are a body of work…)

Surely we do not need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you or from you, do we? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. – 2 Corinthians 3:1-3

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it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood

Today I’m excited because – if all goes as planned – sometime this afternoon I’m probably going to complete my novel (pause for the applause to die down… thank you… no, really, you’re too kind… thank you….). I’ll still have some work to do on a few parts of the story, but it’s going to be mostly tweaking, and proofing, and fine tuning.

Then – and this happened just a couple of days ago – I opened a new document and started to work on the first few paragraphs of my latest non-fiction project.

Wrapping up the story that’s been a few years in the works; launching something else that’s going to take most of this coming year; writing shorter pieces every day, or weekly; thinking about the Christian Voice column that runs monthly in Tampa (my last toehold in Florida!); fleshing out the series of talks I’ll be giving at an upcoming retreat.

Everything runs on its own timetable, and is prepared for a specific audience. Yet, and like a series of cogs in a machine, each one turning at a different tempo yet all contributing to the one great end, somehow everything interconnects with a thread of consistency that tells its own story.

Our lives tell a story too; they are a body of work – and that is the point of today’s post. What story is it that you tell, simply by living? There are a lot of pieces: relationships, work, family, commitment to church, social media, community, recreation, politics, hobbies, entertainment, etc. But what is the story? What is it that your life is saying? What’s the underlying narrative?

When people get to know us, do they catch the meaning? Do you live a story that reads of confidence… of hope… of grace…of light…  of belief… of faith… of compassion… of love… of kindness… of mercy…?

Or do people read confusion… or cynicism… or unbelief… or anger… or self-righteousness… or despair… or fear… or hate?

If we respond to our calling to follow Jesus, if The Greatest Story Ever Told is the foundation on which we build everything else, if we invited Jesus to live in and through us each and every moment, then people are going to read us like a letter from God, “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts…

So, what is your story? – DEREK

living faith in ALL CAPS and with bold font!

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Derek Maul

First, a note to my readers: Posting in this blog is seldom an end to itself ; the writing that shows up in this space is usually part of a bigger picture that’s playing out in a new book I’m writing, a class I’m teaching, a conference I’m scheduled to speak at, or simply stuff I’m trying to sort out in my own consciousness. Blog readers get to engage with my thinking because I need to hear myself stringing the words together; it has to be articulated in some fashion, said out loud, or worked out “on paper.” 

So thanks, you are in a very real sense my sounding board. I’m warming up my writing engine for the day. This is a safe space for me, and – hopefully – a thoughtful place for you.

We don’t preach about ourselves. Instead, we preach about Jesus Christ as Lord, and we describe ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. God said that light should shine out of the darkness. He is the same one who shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. – 2 Corinthians 4:5-7

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Derek’s happy place!

Living Like We Mean it!

I love to cook (especially in the amazing kitchen Rebekah custom designed, so I could prepare great food for her to enjoy!). But sometimes there’s not a lot of time, and I’m involved in several overlapping projects, and I’m behind in all the deadlines, so I say, “I’ll just throw on a couple of burgers.”

img_7936But then I remember that even simple food has the opportunity to either be mundane or exceptional. So I take just a little extra time, and a lot of extra care, and the result is the very best hamburger we’ve had in a long time.

It went that way last week, too, when I said, “I’m just going to make some soup for supper.” But then I found a turkey leg in the freezer and used it to make some stock, which became the foundation for gumbo, involving fresh onions and carrots and celery and garlic and tomatoes and okra, and more vegetables, and then shrimp, and all the turkey that fell off the bone, and an afternoon of simmering, eventually served over rice, with some fresh baked bread.

What I’m thinking about this morning, what I’m “working out” in the context of this post, is the important idea that the small things that fill up so much of our time, the unglamorous routine of getting up, doing household chores, preparing meals, and going to work – our everydayness – always sit on the balance point of ordinary and extraordinary, meaningful and meaningless, life abundant or humdrum, time that is disposable or moments lived to the full.

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gumbo

More relationships are saved via simple day-in, day-out decisions for kindness than the grand gestures of great occasion. More good is done for the Kingdom of God in the consistent witness of regular people practicing grace and peace than the flamboyant theater of the televangelist. More truth is told about the good news of the Gospel through believers engaging the averageness of daily life with above average love….

Fact is, there’s no such thing as ordinary, mundane, throw-away, second-rate, or not-worth-the-trouble when we live as children of God and followers of the living way of Jesus.

Fact is, there’s no such thing as ordinary, mundane, throw-away, second-rate, or not-worth-the-trouble when we live as children of God and followers of the living way of Jesus.

To live “into” the dynamic truth of our salvation is to LIVE with ALL-CAPS and in bold font! If the way that we engage our daily life fails to communicate something invitational about the good news of Jesus, then maybe we need to go back to the beginning, fall on our knees in humility, and invite Jesus to come into our hearts again… like we should every new morning of every new day.

“Here I am, Lord; fill me, and then pour me out again for this world. Amen.”

– DEREK

 

 

“You can’t improvise unless you have something to improvise from”

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Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. – Romans 8:35,37 CEB

I’ve shared before how vitally important it is for me to launch each new day out of the context of my relationship with God. Prayer; scripture; meditation – it’s a simple practice.

And, typically, I start with some kind of a daily guide. I read a daily devotional, The Upper Room, and I also go to the front page of BibleGateway.com, where I read their “verse of the day.” That doesn’t account for all the scripture I read any given day, but it’s where I tend to start. Fact is, if you don’t start somewhere, you typically don’t go anywhere at all. I try to write these passages on my heart, and reflect on them often during the day.

Talking about this practice, recently, one of my friends told me that, “Memorization really isn’t my thing; I can use Google search to help me find something, or just pick up my Bible when I need it.”

“But Google – even on your phone – is a peripheral resource,” I said; “and so is the Bible. Your Bible may be sitting on your desk, and your phone is likely in your back pocket. But unless God’s word inhabits your conscious – and unconscious – self, it’s still essentially separate from who you are.”

WRITE IT ON YOUR HEART!

img_7859-001Here’s the point I was attempting to make – albeit clumsily. The more conversant we are with the scriptures, the more accessible they are when we need them. We don’t have to actually memorize chapters, or paragraphs, or even individual verses – but it is critically important that we become increasingly familiar with the content of both the Old and New Testaments.

Simply put, we need to know the story. We need to be able to find key passages. We need to write God’s word on our hearts, and saturate our minds with the beauty, the wisdom, the inspiration, the guidance, and the truth held there.

If that’s not enough to convince you, read the following excerpt from my first book, GET REAL: a spiritual journey for men. It’s about jazz; it’s about spiritual discipline; it’s about doing the day-in, day-out work of filling ourselves up with what is good, and true, and life-giving; it’s about making sure we are well-equipped to follow up on the promises we have made to Jesus.

– DEREK

Get RealA Spiritual Journey for Men
by Derek Maul
read more

What I really want to do is learn how to play blues and jazz on my guitar. I love the way jazz musicians lay out a simple theme and then play all around it. I’m fascinated by the virtuosity, the unbounded freedom, and by the way new ideas seem to pour out of a deep well.

I told Don, the trombone musician, about it. The next week at rehearsal he handed me a book. “Everything you need is right here,” he said.

So I dove in. I was devastated to find that 75 percent of the pages contained nothing but scales. “What’s up with that?” I complained. “I want to learn the part where I can just take off and get all bluesy.”

“You don’t understand,” he told me. “You can’t improvise unless you have something to improvise from. If you don’t memorize all the scales first, you’ll be pulling from a dry well.” (GET REAL: a spiritual journey for men, pp 61-62)

 

 

love and respect (no quid pro quo)

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David watching the nativity with his class

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. – Isaiah 9:6

One of my ongoing dilemmas as a writer goes something like this: If I want to write, I need uninterrupted time to be quiet, reflective, and creative; however, there’s nothing to write about if I don’t actually live! Ergo yesterday’s problem of not being able to squeeze a post in before I was up to my eyeballs in life, and then never finding the time to turn on my computer and write about the day.

img_6793Yesterday was one of those days where I ran just a beat or two behind – consistently. Then, every time I came close to getting my head above water, something unexpected would come along and I’d be gasping for air.

Serendipity, however, came in the form of my first ever opportunity to see our grandson David in a program at his preschool. I drove to Richmond first thing in the morning, and was able to surprise him: “Grandaddy, how did you manage to come here?” Then, after the program, there was a reception in his classroom. “David is loved by his peers,” his teacher wrote in her report, “and he shows much respect for all…”

“David is loved by his peers, and he shows much respect for all…”

LOVE & RESPECT:

If my grandson can begin, and continue, his schooling career with those two qualities seared into the way he responds to the learning community, then (accompanied by his bright spirit and insatiably curious mind) it’s going to be a case of, “the sky’s the limit” – both in education and relationships.

img_6775All this – of course – begs the question, “What can any of us do to be loved by our peers….?” Well the answer turns out to be disarmingly simple: “Love them; just love them – no quid pro quo. Love others without expectation, love them generously, love them as a gift.”

We can’t make someone else love us. But we can choose to love others, and to love without reservation. And we can also make the choice to treat others with respect.

This also happens to be the message of Christmas. We love him who first loved us. Jesus gave everything; he came into this world without any agenda other than that of loving, and giving, and inviting. Receive him or reject him, Christ still loves us without holding back.

So, You go, David! Just love your little heart out, and respect without all that judging the adults seem to get caught up in. Your peers already love you. So don’t let up with your generous heart.

In love, and because of love – DEREK (Grandaddy)

Light, life, love, & healing

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Rebekah with the wreath

I’m always reluctant to employ hyperbolic language (no, seriously, I really am…), but I have no alternative than to use words such as “unprecedented,” “overwhelming,” and “epic” to describe the number of views garnered by this blog over the past few days! This is the first time ever I’ve seen three consecutive posts register more than 1,000 hits.

  • “What if all those people bought your books?” my daughter, Naomi, said earlier today.
  • “Then I’d move from being a freelance writer to a lance writer,” I said.

So, assuming lots of people look at today’s post, here are three photographs of Christmas love that I believe will touch your heart. And, yes, I’ll put a link to my Amazon author site at the end!

HEALING: This is what I told the congregation at WFPC this weekend: “Rebekah sends her love and greetings, and she wants me to tell you she’s consistently more encouraged this week than at any other time during her recovery. Her goal is to be here for the 11:00 candlelight and communion service Christmas Eve. She loves you, and she misses everyone so much.”

And it’s true. We’re making progress, we’re encouraged, and there are signs her voice is beginning to heal. Every day a little better, every day a little stronger, every day a little closer to returning to all the promise and excitement of growing God’s Kingdom with God’s beautiful children at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church.

img_6639LIGHT SHINING FROM THE SOUL: I believe small children are direct conduits for the light and life that comes from the heart of God.

When I say that children shine, I mean that they are luminous; not only do they reflect God’s light, they are sources of light. When I say that children are full of life, I mean they not only own uncontainable life – the kind that spills over, they also generate life in a way that gives a charge of vitality to those around them.

My grandchildren’s official names are David and Rebekah, but they could just as well be known as Light, and Life. I’m fairly sure that, given a power failure in their neighborhood, their Christmas tree would light up regardless, the moment they stood anywhere in proximity.

I’ve never agreed with the idea that, “Christmas is for the children…” as if grownups are simply spectators; but I do believe that children often tend to “get it” more completely than many adults. Just look at them shine!

img_6638SCOUT LABRADOODLE: It’s been a while since I posted a photo of Scout Labradoodle. That’s mostly because nowadays she does essentially the same thing all day long. Sleep on the couch. Sleep by the front door. Sleep on the couch. Sleep in the kitchen. Sleep on the couch. Sleep at the top of the stairs while I work. Sleep on the couch.

It really doesn’t matter where we put the Christmas pillows, she fetches them, rearranges them the way she likes them, then wiggles around until she’s in the exact position for maximum comfort.

We must be getting soft in our old age, because it looks like we’re going along for the ride. Mercy and grace again, always getting the upper hand around Maul-Hall.

I’m okay with that. Merry almost Christmas! – DEREK

(Find Derek Maul’s books here)