Ringing Out the Old: 3 things to leave behind us in the new year

By Erika Rizkallah

Goodbye 2016. I’m not sad to see you go!fireworks-1759

The lessons and difficulties won’t soon be forgotten. I learned a lot – and I’m thankful for that – but I won’t make the same mistakes this year.

I’ll ring in the new year quietly working the Christmas puzzle I started yesterday, eating Mexican food and hitting the hay. Right after I let my son shoot his paintball gun into the midnight sky.

Some of you will gather with friends, dance your heads off and watch the ball drop in Times Square.

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Our family tradition is to kiss one another at midnight. Sometimes we watch the worldwide celebrations on television. And sometimes, we mumble the words (we remember) of the song, Auld Lang Syne . . . but I have no idea why.

I don’t even know what it means!

So today I looked it up and it’s not at all what I thought it was. Reader’s Digest has a good article about the origins. And an informative post from the Scotland website provides the full lyrics in case we want to sing along. In English the words translate, “old long since.”

Truthfully, I’ve always thought it was about leaving things behind – hence the title of this post. So as far as these three things are concerned, let’s give them a farewell kiss . . .

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Sin – Sin separates us from God. He won’t tolerate it because it’s against his nature. He is holy. Let’s separate ourselves from it!

Despair – I’ve had my fill of despairing people this year. It may come across as mean-spirited but that’s not my intent. Never have I encountered as many dismal souls as I have this year. Despair doesn’t belong in Christ followers. Let’s toss it out!

Deceit – I’m no stranger to the power of deceit. As I reflect on 2016 I see how the enemy’s lies crept into my spirit and mind, like a lion waiting to devour. I’m sure I’m not the only one. Let’s shoot that sucker in the heart!

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Auld Lang Syne is actually an ancient Scottish reunion song . . . and a good song to drink to. It’s about friendship, a sense of belonging and thinking about days gone by. 

I think it’s an apt metaphor for the here and now.

In the end, when Christ comes again, we’ll be reunited with Jesus and all the other believers – past and present. We’ll sit down at a banquet together with a cup of wine in hand (both hands for me) and toast the days gone by.

We’ll say goodbye to the old earth, the old ways and the old life. We’ll celebrate the new life and catch up with old friends.

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What a lovely picture of heaven!

But make no mistake, we’ll find ourselves weeping and filled with anguish if we don’t renounce sin, despair and deceit now. We’ll never make it into God’s kingdom with those burdens in our spirit.

Let’s do the work.

There’s one glorious celebration ahead!

Happy New Year and God bless you friends!

 

 

Travel: Visiting Dubai – Part 1

“How was your trip to Dubai, did you feel safe?”

“How do they treat their women? Did you have to wear a burka?”

“Can you drink alcohol?”

“Where exactly is Dubai anyway?”

“Did you see that hotel fire on New Year’s Eve?”

These were just some of the questions friends and acquaintances peppered me with when I got home earlier this month. The questions were interesting, amusing and made me aware just how little we Americans know about the Middle East. So here’s a snapshot and quick history of this fascinating place.

 

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Some of the many skyscrapers

Dubai is one of seven emirates that make up the federation of the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). Six of them were founded in 1971 and the seventh in 1972. Emirate is another name for sheikdom and each one is ruled by a sheik – an Arab ruler or prince. It’s located along the Persian (Arabian) Gulf and borders Saudi Arabia and Oman.

This vibrant, innovative and luxurious place is defined by its wealth and extravagance. Although it’s Islamic, they are very tolerant of other religions and welcome tourists and expats with warm hospitality. It may surprise people to know they’re strong allies of the U.S.

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This Christmas tree in our hotel was too big to fit in the picture!

I wore my every day outfits and of course didn’t have to wear a burka, although they’re prevalent among religious Muslim women. However, in respect to the country, it’s important to wear modest clothing in most places. We actually bought my daughters some clothes before we left because we live in a beach town and flaunting shoulders and bellies isn’t acceptable there.

Dubai defied my expectations and I was surprised to discover how “western” it seems. Picture a clean (and by clean I mean sparkling) New York City. I felt safer there than I have in any other city I’ve visited. They’re extremely safety conscious and security cameras are everywhere because tourism is their chief export.

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Christmas display at JBR

You can get anything you want but pork is hard to find – a pork license is required! Alcohol isn’t served in restaurants but is easily obtained in hotels. Drinking is allowed in private homes, however, drunkenness is frowned upon. Not only will it get you in trouble from the police, you can be expelled from the country. Also, alcohol is super expensive, often costing more than the meals itself. If you want to drink, I suggest purchasing some liquor from the duty free shops at the airport for personal use.

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Diamonds are a girl’s best friend

We stayed in the Jumeira Beach Resort (JBR) area located on the gulf. We left our hotel early on New Year’s Eve as it’s a prime party area packed with tourists. Instead, we went celebrated with family at amazing party in the suburbs. Like many people, we watched the inferno at The Address Hotel on television. It was a real testament to the ability of the fire department – with no loss of life, thank God! At midnight, several of us kissed our loved ones and drove to the side of the highway and watched the fireworks with hundreds of other folks. Months of planning and millions of dollars were spent on the dazzling display.

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New Year’s Eve with family

It was an incredible way to start the new year!

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving: What would Jesus do?

By Erika Rizkallah

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday for many reasons, but mostly because it reminds me of my dad. He was an amazing cook and at each celebration he tried to outdo his efforts from the previous year.

In addition to the traditional turkey with stuffing, his artfully set table was laden with food for a variety of tastes. However, the best part of the day was receiving company. Our dinner wasn’t limited to family only. My dad made it a point to invite a hodgepodge of interesting people who had no place else to go.

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After dessert, my brother and I were sent to the kitchen for dish duty (washing by hand), but mostly I did it myself. I loved to eavesdrop on the grown-up conversations and learn a bit about the lives of our guests.

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I can’t count how many stories I heard about estranged and hurting families.

Dad died 26 years ago, shortly before his favorite holiday. It felt weird to sit at the table without him, and yet we were comforted by carrying on the tradition of an open home for others.

The holidays are joyful times for many, but can be miserable for the lonely and those separated from family.

Jesus was mindful of this. Banqueting was a popular ritual for wealthy ancient Romans. It was an honor to be invited and the host would produce a lavish display for his guests, who lounged on couches. The next banquet host would reciprocate and try to outdo him at the same time – a kind of competitive dining experience.

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One time Jesus went to such a dinner and told his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do they might invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” Luke 14:12

Most of us will gather with family and friends this year – myself included – giving thanks to God for all his blessings. But wouldn’t it be awesome to try to include some of those people he mentioned at our feasts? What an awesome way to show God’s love to those who need it most.

Your Turn: Are you planning to invite someone special to share your holiday meal?

 

Mother’s Day: One woman with a flower changes history

In two days, Americans will celebrate Mother’s Day, one of the most noted “female” holidays in the world. While walking through a local store I was astounded at the sheer number of greeting cards offered to shoppers.

A thought occurred to me – all these cards are filled with the words of other people writing sappy sentiments to someone else’s mom.

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Has our country become so lazy or illiterate that we can’t write our own heartfelt words?

Now, before you think I’m being snooty, I sent one of these cards to my own mom this year with my heartfelt words tacked on for good measure. I love her card; the artwork is beautiful and the writer managed to create a sentiment that expressed my heart exactly. Crazy!

The history of the American Mother’s Day is fascinating. It started with an idea by a woman named Anna Jarvis, and a simple white carnation worn as a badge by people visiting their mothers. The white carnation symbolizes purity and innocence.

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However, like many other holidays, Mother’s Day has been over-commercialized, something Anna Jarvis fought against for the rest of her life. She even petitioned the U.S. Government to remove the holiday from the calendar.

She’s probably rolling in her grave right now.

Even still, I have to admit I enjoy it. My children and husband usually concoct a wonderful breakfast in bed – gifts included. Then, they give me the best gift of all – a day to do anything I want!

One year I gave this “gift”of a day to my own mother and you know what she asked for? She asked that my brother and I accompany her to an opera in the park. I’d rather send a card any day! It was torture on us, but we did it because we love her and ultimately that’s what it’s all about.

On days like these, I’m sad that my mother and I live so far apart. I’d love to pin a carnation on, visit her in person and tell her how much she means to me.

I think this little poem by George Cooper says it best:

Hundreds of dew drops to greet the dawn,

Hundreds of bees in the purple clover,

Hundreds of butterflies on the lawn,

But only one mother the wide world over.

Your Turn: How will you celebrate Mother’s Day this year?