Christmas Offerings:5 tips for living a life dedicated to God

 

By Erika Rizkallah

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2

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For many, New Year’s Eve is the day to leave the things of the past behind and start fresh. But for me this process begins on Christmas Eve.

December 24 is my “Dedication Day” and is the most important day of the year to me. It’s become sort of a ritual over the last seven years. It happened like this: In 2009, I left my old life in the D.C. area behind to follow God to a new place.

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It was a big deal because not only did I leave family and friends, I left my job in ministry. I’d been on staff at a church when I heard the Lord tell me to GO. It didn’t make sense to me then and it certainly didn’t make sense to my boss.

My family and friends were also skeptical. After all, why would God send me to an unfamiliar place when I was succeeding where I was? Especially when I had no idea what I was going to do!

But go I did.

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That leap of faith has rewarded me in ways I can’t express. However, I went through a tremendous identity crisis with buckets of tears and confusion. I didn’t know how to just “be”. . . without a home, career or support system. Ironically, He sent me to North Carolina whose state motto is: Esse Quam Videri which means To be, rather than to seem.

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Isn’t God wonderful?!

He sent me here for that purpose. To be my authentic self – his daughter in Christ.

After a period of loneliness and settling in, I had a “moment” with Him I’ll never forget. I was in the bedroom of my rental home praying about the year ahead. I said, “Okay Lord, I followed you here. I’m waiting for my new assignment.” I didn’t hear anything. So I thought, Well, I’ll just serve you in whatever thing you place in my path.

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In that moment, I was filled – and I mean filled – with a sense of overwhelming joy. I literally danced! I carried that joy into the new year and I served my “old self” off.

Since then, I’ve rededicated myself to the Lord – to his plans and purposes for me – each Christmas Eve.

If this sounds like a welcome adventure to you, here are five tips to help get started . . .

Pray – All conversation with God begins and ends in prayer. Ask him to reveal His will for you in the upcoming year. He’s kind and generous and wants to lead us to authentic life in Him.

Remember – What is it about the current year you want to revisit or leave behind? Remembering needs to be done in a place of solitude with plenty of time set aside.

Listen – Bend your ear toward Him, keeping in mind His voice is often soft. You may not hear anything immediately but when you do make sure to write it down!

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Commit – With a heart intent on heeding his will, devote yourself to the task ahead. Even just “being” is hard work and requires trust, perseverance and faithfulness.

Obey – Obedience isn’t a word we like to hear or practice in our culture but it’s a requirement for all God’s children. You may need to clear your schedule, distance yourself from toxic people or learn to say no to good things so you can say yes to better ones.

That first year of service wasn’t always butterflies and jellybeans. I served in obscurity, behind the scenes on every occasion. I scrubbed toilets, ran errands, served meals and babysat the neighbor’s kids.

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But through obedience, I experienced overarching peace and clarity. Best of all, my relationship with our Heavenly Father and His son, Jesus, deepened my faith and soothed my soul.

How about you: What offering can you give to Jesus this year? 

 

 

Visiting Dubai – Part 2

“Twelve days is not enough time to visit Dubai!”

Before we embarked on our journey I heard this statement from different relatives (and cab drivers) several times. I thought No way, twelve days is more than enough. My kids start to beat each other up after five! Terrible but true. We seem to have a limit to how much time we can be trapped together in one place.

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Notice the irritation on my husband’s face. He’s saying, “Take the damn picture already.”

Boy was I wrong. I think we could have spent an entire month in Dubai and still not seen it all. It’s packed with opportunities to sightsee, shop and entertain yourself in ways not available in other countries. After all, how many times have you skied inside a mall? How about visiting an aquarium or petting penguins . . . also inside a mall?

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Because of the variety of options I highly recommend visiting a site like TripAdvisor to plan how you’ll spend your time. In some places reservations are required and are easily secured online before you go. Like the time we had tickets to go inside the Burg Al Arab. They took one look at my husband’s t-shirt and turned us away from the guard station.

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So we had to watch this rich person land his helicopter from the outside.

Our family each picked a few “must do” items. On our list was: dune bashing, strolling in the Miracle Garden, petting penguins, mall shopping, skiing, riding the world’s fastest roller coaster at Ferrari World, swimming in the Gulf of Oman, seeing the fountains at Burj Khalifa and sightseeing in general.

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The inside view of dune bashing.

Twelve days was not enough.

If you enjoy people watching the place is a smorgasbord. I swear I felt like the whole world was there: Saudis, Americans, Kuwaitis, Indians, Europeans, Asians and people groups I couldn’t even identify. It was mesmerizing.

 

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I don’t think we have this store in America.

We went during high season so if you’re not into crowds, I’d suggest going another time. But not in summer or during Ramadan (June 6  because as one Bengali cab driver told me, “You can go dancing at the club but music is not allowed.” Nor is eating or drinking during the day. So . . .yeah.

Whenever you go be aware that Dubai is a city under construction – they’re even building in the ocean. Our view was obstructed by the building of the Dubai Eye which is like the London Eye – only bigger of course. But our view from the hotel was amazing.

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The view from the Amwaj Rotana in JBR

It’s fast and noisy place with few truly peaceful moments but a unique opportunity to see a city taking shape before your very eyes. We will definitely go back again . . . and again.

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!

 

 

 

 

The one word standing between you and your dreams.

By Erika Rizkallah

Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Psalm 37:4-6

Years ago when I was thinking about my life plans and goals, this verse shone like the noonday sun on my dreams. After all, who doesn’t want God to give us the desires of our heart?

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Certainly not me, I want it all! I want the full life Jesus wants for me and I must say He’s done it. He has given me the desires I desired and even ones I didn’t know about. But first I noticed three things were required of me:

Delight – To delight means to take great pleasure in him. I first needed to get to a place of joy in him, to take great pleasure in his presence and in his word. I achieved that by devoting my life and spending quiet time with him each and every day.

Commit – Next, I determined to commit my way to him. This means I decided to make his cause my cause. I needed to obey his requirements and plan for my life – not choosing my own path, but seeking to know his will for me in Christ.

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Trust – Trusting in someone we can’t see is difficult but our God is the living God. When we spend time in his word and prayer and then follow Christ’s lead, he hears and makes himself known to us. We obey and see him working everywhere. Trust then follows.

When I was in second grade my teacher introduced me to other worlds and cultures through studying two countries: Japan and Ghana. I loved my lessons and decided to be a world traveler so I could see places with my own eyes. Pippi Longstocking was my adventure hero and I wanted to be just like her.

The answer to my 7-year-old heart’s desire came much later, but now I do travel the world. I want to share my experiences with you through my writing. I want you to know that God is waiting for you to delight, commit and trust in him.

Sometimes there’s only one word standing between you and your dreams. That one word is . . .

YES!

Your turn: What desires are hiding in your heart? Do you believe he wants them for you as much as you do?

 

Life verse: Do you have one?

Isaiah 58:11 is my life verse. One day, many years ago I was reading my Bible and this verse pierced my heart. God led me to it and I felt His presence and promise. It’s been stuck there ever since.

Note: If a particular scripture pierces your heart, God may be trying to tell you something.

My verse says: The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

I need to apologize for my lack of blog postings; I was getting dry and felt like I couldn’t write anything. In my home I have a beautiful tropical plant called an anthurium. They’re supposed to look like this…

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See those beautiful leaves? How lush and shiny they are nestled among the flowers? This is what mine looks like…

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There are no flowers and the brown and yellow leaf tip means they’re not getting enough water. I am at fault. I’m the gardner. Every time I pass by this wimpy, neglected plant I’m reminded that God never forgets to water.

He’s the perfect gardener all the time and He knew I was lacking and needed some refreshing. A little TLC and spritzing to encourage me and help me endure. Life has been tough for the last several months so my husband and I took a quick getaway to San Juan, Puerto Rico.

On one of our excursions, we went to the Castillo Del Morro which is an old fort overlooking the sea. It was built in the 17th century and is one of those crazy beautiful old places. While we were there peering over the walls of a closed cemetery I noticed these beautiful ferns growing from the massive stone walls.

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It was a reminder that God sustains all things. If you know about ferns you know they mostly grow in damp shade with well drained soil. But here they were, growing without any human help along a sun scorched stone wall. It reminded me of my life verse.

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I was looking at some other things growing outside of the cemetery walls and came upon this strange tree growing these gorgeous flowers and I thought, yes – this is me blooming again!

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It’s great to be back!

So how about you? Do you have a life verse to share?

A Decade of Desire

I have been trying to get to Sedona, Arizona for ten years.

I’m not kidding.

When I got married twenty years ago, my husband and I decided to travel all 50 states together before we die. It’s harder than it seems and we go someplace every year – not always in the U.S. – but we try to hit at least one new state a year. The one place I’ve always wanted to see is Sedona. I can’t explain why. I’ve never been there, but it attracts me like a magnet to metal.

So a few weeks ago when my husband said, “Where do we go next?” I gave him the standard answer.

“Sedona.”

“Ok, book it.” (yeah, right).

So, I pretended to do research. Again. We went back and forth about dates and blah, blah, blah, I thought. Same ‘ol, same’ol.

But he surprised me and my patience paid off. With the exception of Palestine and Paris, I’ve never been so excited!

And when we landed in Phoenix and he didn’t feel well, I didn’t panic when the paramedics were called. Nope. I waited patiently while five paramedics/EMTs hooked him up to an EKG machine, right there in the middle of the terminal.  A couple of the cops made small talk and I could tell they were trying to assuage my fears. Instead, I peppered them with questions about Sedona.

And my kids took selfies.

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I’m pretty sure, they thought we were a little too casual about the situation. But you have to understand, we’re used to stuff like this. Almost every year before or during a trip, we have to call the paramedics for him. We have an enemy who comes to kill, steal and destroy. (John 10:10)

Our dreams are his for the taking unless we stand firm, trust in God and believe that only He holds the key to life.

Pursuing my dream was worth it and I have so many stories to share with you. As soon I recover from my jet lag, I’m going to post photos of this incredible area so please stop by and visit again.

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The gorgeous view from my room!

 The Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: To do what is right, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8