Friday, December 29, 2017

Embracing the Change

The days after Christmas are quiet.  The fireplace makes the house snug and the pace is slow.  Before the calendar moves full steam ahead again, I enjoy finding time for reflecting.  This post began, in my thoughts, as three things I learned during Christmas.  I started a mental list of "notes to self" that had become clear to me over the last few weeks of Christmas - and holiday celebrating, in general.  I like to process, to ruminate and, yes to over-think things.  But these notes were good things and helpful - not only for my family but, particularly, for me.

As my list began to take shape, it quickly became obvious that my thoughts, and lessons learned, easily all fell into one category.  Change.  Not simply change, but my willingness to not only accept change but to embrace it. Even to enjoy it.  For me, this was huge and it had a major impact on our holiday.

The first one, or two, or five Christmases after you lose a loved one are hard.  They are forever different and it can take several holiday celebrations to process the changes and to establish the new.  Of course, this was true for me as a grieving mom.  Christmas would never be the same - but there would still be Christmas, and even the reason to celebrate Christmas.  It just took me quite awhile to reconcile that in my heart and to find the ways my family could "do" Christmas differently.

But grief is not the only thing that can bring change at the holidays.  It might be that married children want to stay at their home, begin their own new traditions, or even spend the holiday with "the other side." Numerous other changes in family dynamics - divorces, marriages, new babies, etc. - can impact everyone.  Perhaps a job or other move has you continents away from what is familiar and "traditional" for you at Christmas.  Finances, health or other circumstances might force you to do things completely different.  For someone like me who not only thrives on routine but really depends upon it...these type of changes can threaten to do more than drain your holly-jolly but they can truly rob your joy.

One silly example for me, this year, was food.  Food has always been a cornerstone of celebrating in my family - my family growing up and my family now.  The place might change.  The people around the table might even change from year to year.  But, the food.  The food you could depend on.  I'm not a cook and I'm not even claiming the food I serve is amazing - but it is a huge part of traditional celebrating.  For years, I have been battling to save the tradition and still please my family of "diverse" eaters.  My grown children do not eat like they did when they were younger.  Nor do I make them.  Our house can quickly become a paleo, vegan, sugar-free, meat-lover, dessert-lover, gluten-whatever nightmare.  No two agree and most are completely opposite of another.  This year was different.  It was not about the food.  Yes, I served food.  Only one food purely for sentimental purposes.  The rest was...well, interesting.  And, it was fine.  Truly, I think everyone was relieved that the "white elephant" of another holiday buffet had left the room!

The real joy was not in the food served - or what was not served - but in being able to enjoy a holiday that did not fit my mental image and expectation of the perfect Christmas.  Yes, change can be hard.  Change can even hurt.  But sometimes, change be okay.  Even enjoyed - and the beginning of something new.  One more note to self:  some things, however, are sacred. Cinnamon rolls, with Tyler's recipe, will never change.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Quick Christmas Thought

But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.  Luke 2:19

This verse has been in my Bible reading repeatedly these last few weeks.  This makes sense seeing it is a part of the Christmas story but this idea of pondering has been on my heart - and in my thoughts - too many times not to recognize it.  I just love the King James Version of scripture so much - for so many reasons....but the language is beautiful.  Much like the word ponder. To think about, contemplate, reflect or meditate on.

That is exactly what we need to do today, tomorrow and the rest of the hours of Christmas.  There is so much to do, to enjoy and to engage in as we celebrate Christ's birth and, if we are not careful, we forfeit the opportunity to really ponder that God himself took on human flesh.  Was born in a manger.  To save us from our sins.  I encourage you...take time to ponder.

Have a blessed and very merry Christmas!!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Remember. Be Grateful: Erica's Visit

Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year....and one of our most favorite weekends of the year, too!  My husband's daughter (and her family, as in - the grands!) live in Florida and we do not get to see her (or them) very often; however, every year just before Christmas, she comes to visit her dad.  We all look forward to it every year and, then, enjoy every minute of her visit.  I thought I would document some highlights here - to remember and be oh so grateful for.  Honestly, the best part of her visit is always how much my husband enjoys it......that just makes my heart happy!  Here are some of the other "bests"......

Best part of DC:  We always take a day to go into our nation's capital.  Very touristy but she loves it!  I think she has a picture of the White House from every year she has been here, although it pretty much looks the same every year.  The White House is a drive-by but we try to find a different place to explore each year.  This year we went to the Eastern Market and to the Holiday Market.  Both were a lot of fun but the Holiday Market was our favorite.  It was packed and full of Christmas.  Christmas sights, sounds, gifts, dancers, food! and holly jolly people....the atmosphere was fantastic!  It was also cold that day.  I'm not about the cold but it did make it feel even more Christmasy:)

Side note - the churros at the Market were ah.mah.zing!  I don't suppose stuffed churros are new, but they were new to me and I totally approved.  Yum -

Best new tradition:  We went out two different evenings to ooh and ahh over the Christmas lights.  Thank you, neighbors, for doing an extra nice job this year!  Apparently, people have time to not only cover their yard and homes in lights but to also synchronize them to holiday music.  Who knew.   But on the second night, we stepped it up a notch and had a Christmas lights scavenger hunt.  (Thank you, Pinterest!)  We laughed and yelled and got a little competitive - and had a great time!  Next year, it will be game on.

Best food of the weekend:  Youtube for the win.... thanks to Nicki at My Bashful Life, we all got in the kitchen and made an upside down apple pie.  Mind you, I don't really care for pie but this really was delicious.  We made it as a family - which was fun - and we devoured as a family, too!!  I am definitely not a food photographer...but it really was just that good!!

Best mall moment:  Our weekends always involve eating, lights, sight-seeing (of sorts), eating, gifts, laughs, etc., and we always make time for shopping.  Adults-only shopping is a treat, in itself, for Erica:)  I have been trying and retrying (to no avail) to take a photo that could possibly work for New Year's cards.  We were walking past one of those high-end furniture stores....they have super expensive furniture but they also have beautiful displays, including trees.  We were those people taking photos in the displays.  The sales lady was even helping:)  Funny, but embarrassing.

Best hallmark moment:  "I'm dreaming of a white weekend in Virginia" is pretty much Erica's theme song.  It was cold but a no-snow weekend - except for the fifteen minutes after she landed.  Not kidding.  The whole time she was taxing into the gate, and as we walked to the car, the lightest, prettiest flurries were everywhere.  Straight out of a Hallmark movie.

She was beside herself - over flurries.  I was just as thrilled that was the extent of it.  (I'm not really a scrooge but my heart does long for palm trees and sunshine.  In December.  Especially in December.)

Best gift:

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Making Ready

I hope I can express my thought this morning without sounding completely trite...but I have spent the morning getting our guest room ready.  (The candy dish still needs to be filled but, yes, the photo by the bed is my sweet Tyler when he was five - and cute as a button!!)  Amid all the dusting (not my favorite chore) and even the laundry and fresh linen, not only was my heart so happy but I could literally sense the excitement of "company" arriving on Friday!!  We've been planning this visit for months but, this morning, the anticipation was real! 

Two things I noticed - besides the fact that I really enjoy singing Christmas songs and jingles while I work!  One: the cleaning was not a chore. Let's face it, on an average Tuesday morning, dusting and vacuuming are simply housework.  But, today, I was getting ready for someone we love. I want the room to not only be ready but to be welcoming, comfortable and to have that "feel at home" atmosphere, and so I was enjoying working toward that goal.  Two:  the little things I've ignored or overlooked in the past weeks really stood out.  Where do those little stains come a room we so seldom use??  I should have been more on top of it.

Doesn't that really embrace the month of December - the Christmas season that leads up to celebrating Christ's birth?  For weeks, we are preparing and making ready so we can truly remember, reflect and rejoice in Jesus' birth.  Making our homes say welcome and, then, preparing our hearts as is a joy and not a chore.  We can use these weeks before Christmas to run ourselves ragged and to deplete our joy (as much as our bank accounts) or we can meaningfully anticipate the birth of the One who loved us so much to take on flesh, arrive in a stable and dwell among us.

I think that is a reason to sing just a little louder!!

Friday, December 8, 2017

How Many Gifts for Christmas?

The prompt for this week's Five Minute Friday is only.  Random question:  have you ever looked up the definition of only?  This is what I got:

"and no one or nothing more besides; solely or exclusively."

That certainly makes things crystal clear??  Even without an official dictionary explanation, I think we all understand what only means - but I don't know if it is just me...but "only" seems to carry with it a negative connotation.  Only one cookie.  Only one winner.  For some, even "only one life" or one chance to get it right.  Only seems limiting or restrictive and something in our human nature just seems to balk at that.  Or, at least, exhale a heavy sigh.  Hopefully, this post will not of the negativity of "only" but it will be an encouragement.

GO - When my husband was a boy, he received one gift at Christmas.  One gift.  But he never thought of it as "just one gift" but, instead, as "the one gift!"  It was the highlight of the year for him.  One gift designed to not only excite and please but to also show much love to him.

(Hmmm - there is some real application to the real meaning of Christmas there, but that wasn't exactly the point of my post.)

My husband remembers, even now, many of those gifts.  Even the year surrounding each gift.  In contrast, how quickly have the multiple gifts of my children's childhood been forgotten?  We have been guilty of many - as in too many - gifts.  Too much wrapping, too much spending and just too much.  ( do not help with this problem!!)  :)

Although we have gotten much, much better, I have often wondered how it would be to simply choose one perfect gift and then give (and receive) "only" one gift on Christmas morning??  I've even mentioned this to my family before.  Their (sincere) question in response was "why?"  Why, indeed?

STOP - It is not necessarily a specific a number of gifts that I seek.  A limit of five gifts, three gifts, or simply (only) one gift is not, by itself, making Christmas more meaningful, drawing me closer to the savior or making any of us the least bit holier.  But there is much to be said about limiting the excess of Christmas.  Excess can be all throughout Christmas:  excess baking, eating or indulging of sugar.....excess shopping and spending what we cannot afford.....excess social events or parties with calendars far too committed.....even excess in trimmings, decorations, and efforts to create the perfect display of Christmas.

This type of excess is exactly what does draw our hearts away from the true joy, the real peace and the actual reason for Christmas.  I seek it every year but there is no magical formula, or the perfect number of gifts, for creating a heart to really celebrate the manger and the babe born there...born to be our savior.  I have to guard my heart.  Guard my time.  Choose carefully.  Examine motives.  And be willing to let go, say no and eliminate the excess.  That is my pursuit this season.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A Little Christmas Q&A

Something just a little different today - at least, for me.  I saw this Christmas Q&A and thought I might join the fun.  My real goal for this blog is not to be "about me" but to encourage others in their Christian walk and life of faith and, ultimately, to be "about Christ."  But I do write the blog and so a few personal thoughts, now and then, could be helpful....and certainly, you will know me so much better when you discover if my tree is real or fake?!?:)

Let's get started:

1.  Real or Fake tree?  We always had a real tree and some of our best Christmas memories are taking the kids to hunt for the perfect tree - especially the cut your own ones at a tree farm!  It was a highlight.  Several years after it was just the two of us, my husband and I were visiting a Christmas holiday show and saw the most beautiful white tree - obviously decorated in splendor by professionals.  We immediately began trying to recreate that tree.  We bought our first (and only) fake tree.  Pure white.  And then spent way, way too much money for pink and purple ornaments - which were all gorgeous but looked not only out of place but garish (um, ugly!) in our home.  We used it twice (just to soothe the regret of our impulsiveness) and, believe it or not, we have not had a full-size tree since.  We have several small, relatively undecorated, trees that work into displays around our home.  And I'm okay with that.

2.  Favorite Christmas Cookie?  I love snickerdoodles.  Actually, I love oatmeal cookies, any cookie with coconut and even Oreos.  I just love cookies.  But my favorite at Christmas is actually Haystacks.  It is the only time I really enjoy butterscotch - but melt it over Chinese noodles and its Christmas magic.

3.  Home on Christmas Morning or Travel?  At home.  We traveled when the children were little..."Over the River and Through the Woods" we often went but now we let them come to us!

4.  Clear or Colored Lights?  Clear.  Only and always.

5.  Send Christmas Cards?  This is something I stopped doing after Tyler died.  We have tried sending New Year's Cards but they require a photo worth sharing....and those don't often happen around here:(

6.  Stockings or No Stockings?  No.  We never had a fireplace and stockings just seemed out-of-place without one.  We now have a fireplace and we have some stockings but they are completely decorative!

7.  Favorite Christmas Carol?  All I Want for Christmas is You- not sure if that counts...but when my daughter was a teenager, or thereabouts, she loved this song. We would get silly listening for it and then sing along at the top of our lungs - and now it just brings a smile to both of us.  (Okay - sometimes, I'm still singing along!  She is much more mature.) Its usually one of the first songs you hear in stores, etc....and our holiday season has begun once Mariah sings! 

8.  Christmas PJs?  My husband is a good sport but I'm pretty sure he would draw the line at family pjs.  Never have done that.  Everyone does get a new (silly) t-shirt on Christmas Eve - and, sometimes, there is a new pair of cozy pajama pants to match - like this year:)

9.  Favorite Christmas Present Received?  After our second child was born, my husband had a jeweler friend design and make me a mother's ring.  It was not only beautiful but, for my gift-challenged sweetheart, it was just the sweetest. (And, he had it re-done when our third baby arrived!)

10.  Favorite Christmas movie?  Home Alone.  The original.  The real reason I like this is because my husband loves it.  Loves it. He does love him some slapstick comedy!??!   No matter how many times he sees Kevin outwit those burglars, he dies laughing.  Then, we do too!!

And last:

11.  Early Shopper or Last Minute?  I tried shopping early one year.  Totally forgot about those gifts - found two strays.  In February.  Can't shop last minute either.  Way too stressful.  I'm pretty much done and almost finished with the wrapping this year.  Wrapping is the one thing I tend to put off.  I just don't enjoy it but my husband has been all about wrapping this year!  Hooray for wrapping elves!!

Are you finished shopping?  How about wrapping?  This week is baking for me.  Time for some haystacks??  Actually, I have four new-to-me recipes to try!!  Fingers crossed......

Friday, December 1, 2017

Draw Near This Christmas

December first.  Hard to believe...for so many reasons.  Thanksgiving has come and gone - and seems like it was months ago (not just seven days!).  I missed my Thanksgiving recap and my
look back at November.  These things stress me out - and I told myself this was the year of no stress!  So, with that as my push to move-on.....I'll jump straight to Five Minute Friday.  It is a great way to push reset and to start this new (and final) month!  The prompt today is near.  Writing for simply five minutes....and without (excessive) editing - which I will not allow to stress me:)

GO -   It's a familiar scene.  You are excited and anticipating a wonderful visit with someone special.  You find the comfiest seat in the room and pat the spot right next to you.  "Come - sit here," you suggest - inviting that someone to come close.  To be near, making your time together even more intimate.  These visits, conversations and time together (side by side) are the ones of extra connection.

Of course, you first have to be sure the space right next to you is clear.  If there happened to be "stuff" - laptops, magazines or that load of fresh laundry waiting to be folded - in the way, you would quickly move it aside (or stuff it behind the couch...depending on the guest!).  Left strewn about, all that day to day stuff would come between you and the close visit you want.

As I mentioned, this year I am wanting an intimate holiday.  With my family, friends and, especially, with my savior.  God himself born as the babe in the manger.  I have already started trying to re-focus and to reclaim the calm - to savor the beauty and holiness of Christmas. I want to draw near to Jesus. But,  in the blink of an eye (or 100 tiny white lights), so much "stuff" can pile up between me and my best intentions.  Between me and the Christ of Christmas.

END - the five minutes are gone....but my final thoughts.  To-do lists are not wrong nor are most of the things-to-do on those lists.  The extra activities of Christmas - they are fun and even meaningful.  But all of it must be put - and kept - in its proper place and in perspective.  The things of Christmas aren't supposed to draw us away from Christ.  The activities of the season should have meaning - creating memories and bringing extra joy...not simply stress.  And there should be purposeful, intimate quiet times with the savior.  Drawing near.

There are several ways to be more intentional this year but one suggestion is a Bible reading plan - one specific for Christmas.  Or perhaps a devotional for the month of December.  These type of plans keep you on track, help focus your thoughts and give you direction during your quiet time.  Over the years, I have read some very helpful and practical, as well as wise and thought-provoking devotions.  Of course, there have been some I have started that I did not enjoy as much.  That's okay - just keep looking.  I suggest you find something that leads you to scripture so you can get in God's word and allow Him to speak with you personally as well. 

Certainly - the true reason for this season - for Christmas - is found near the manger.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Do You Need a Mentor?

Sometimes we need to make ourselves available and become a mentor.  I hoped to encourage each of us to do so in this post.  I also mentioned having felt inadequate, as I'm sure most of have felt at one time or another; however, without a doubt, when we are willing to mentor someone else, we end up with the largest portion of blessing.  It happens all the time! 

For me, even more of a struggle than mentoring is being mentored.  At any age or any stage of life, we can all benefit from the wisdom and experience of someone else further down the road...or someone who has already been through a phase you are facing.  When my son was first diagnosed - and certainly when we began our journey through grief - how wonderful it would have been to know someone that had already been down that dark and unknown path.  Someone who could understand and empathize.  Someone who could offer advice - or could simply hold my hand.  Yes, I had a wonderful support system but I did not know, at that time, another grieving mom.

Your phase might be a new mom or a mom of three under the age of four.  Perhaps you are nearing the empty nest stage of life or even being widowed.  No matter your age or how long you have been a Christian, life is always moving forward and always has its share of challenges.  Having someone you can trust and confide in...having somewhere you can share your heart or simply share a story...all of these are of great value and a tremendous blessing.

Being mentored means making yourself vulnerable - and I think that is the challenge for most.  Of course, this puts us at risk or being hurt.  But I think the potential reward far outways the risk.  To minimize the risk, pray carefully about who might mentor you.  Ask God to open doors or to point you to someone specific that you could ask to mentor you.  Your mentor does not need to be the wisest, or even the godliest, Christian you know.  Sometimes the perfect mentor simply needs to be willing to listen and pray alongside you. Let God lead you to the right one.

Some mentor relationships might be as simple as chats over coffee and may only last a short season.  Others may develop into a life-long friendship that you could never have expected.  Either way, take advantage of relationships where you can be mentored.....stretched, encouraged, supported and molded more into the image of Christ.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Without Excuse

Five Minute Friday and the prompt is EXCUSE.  How much could be written about excuses...the seemingly good ones, the sad and lame ones and all the in-between that comes with excuses...but this just a five-minute post.  So, these are my condensed thoughts:

GO - Why is it the excuses I offer - whether to myself, those I disappoint or even to the savior - so often seem to be a re-worded repeat of the last excuse?  Sometimes I am genuinely wanting to be forgiven and, yes, other times my excuse is more of an appeal for understanding or sympathy.  Whichever it is, so often, my excuses seem to be for the same offensive...or type of offensives. (Sigh.)  I think that is often true for most of us.  We all have those things which easily beset us  - trip us up, cause us to fall, to sin and which hurt others, our testimony and our fellowship with Christ.  Sometimes confessing hurts or is hard.  Sometimes it just seems pointless - so we offer excuses.

However, we are without excuse.  I know Romans 1:20 talks about being without excuse - and it is the first verse I thought of when I read today's prompt - but I do not want to take that verse completely out of context.  The we who without excuse I am referring to.....that's the Christian - those who are born-again and have the gift of the Holy Spirit.

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  I Cor. 15:57

We have all we need to live victoriously!!  We don't have to live entangled by sin, under the weight of shame and regret, or defeated by an enemy that God has overcome.

STOP - If you are a child of God, live a life of victory today....and be sure to thank God for the victory!  We don't need more excuses - and that's a pretty nice way to head into Thanksgiving week!!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Bookends of Silent

I began discussing relationships - and mentoring ones, in particular - on Tuesday and had planned to finish that post today.  I thought I would skip the Five Minute Friday.  But why would I do that?  I really enjoy FMF - the way the prompts make me think and I enjoy the community and how the other bloggers interpret the prompt.  So, today is FMF and Tuesday will be "the rest of the story....."  Today's prompt is:  silent.

When our children were little, we would make the trip one state south to visit my parents as often as we could....usually every few months.  Somehow it became a routine, after the long road-trip home we would order pizza.  It doesn't sound like a big deal but for my little people, it was a treat!  When the doorbell would ring with our delivery, the squeals of delight from our children would make you think we had not fed them for weeks.

One such evening as I was answering the door - with much less enthusiasm and even less energy - the older gentleman, aka delivery boy, greeted me with a huge smile.  He said, "Ah, I remember when my house with filled with those sounds of life!  Enjoy every minute while you can!"  And, just like that, he was gone....but his words have stayed with me.

Fast forward 15-18 years and the sounds of life around my home are much quieter.  But there are still the voices of the ones I love and the simple sounds of every day creating a steady rhythm of routine that I cherish.  The sounds of life - whether clamorous or subdued - make each house unique and home.  However, I truly do enjoy the bookends of each day - and the silent times of morning and night.

Each morning, before the sounds of the day begin - even before the Keurig begins to warm - the house is silent.  Natural light has not yet started to peek through the blinds but the morning begins.  It is such a special time of day for me.  My soul thrives on morning and I soak in and enjoy as much of this part of the day as I possibly can.  And then again each evening, the sounds begin to wind down until it is bedtime and the house is silent. After noise all day long, I love the absence of sound at bedtime.  It makes for perfect sleep.  The silent times - the bookends of my day - are how my body and soul thrive.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Should You Be a Mentor?

Community and relationships.  Our Christian walk is dependent upon and, in many ways, seen in our relationships.  Of course, there are many kinds of relationships and we need not only multiple relationships but a variety of types.  I don't think this is extremely difficult for women but there is always wisdom in looking at the friendships, bonds, and associations that we have.  It gives us cause to be thankful and, as well, to ask the Lord's wisdom wherever we might be lacking.

We all have one very close friend.  A kindred spirit or a "bosom friend," as Anne would say about Diana.

 "A bosom friend—an intimate friend, you know—a really kindred spirit to whom I can confide my innermost soul. I've dreamed of meeting her all my life."   Anne 

When you have been blessed with that friend, you need to thank the Lord often.  Sometimes these friends last a lifetime.  But I have also found that such friend may only be in your life for a season.  That was a hard lesson for me to learn.  Instead of mourning the loss of that type of relationship, I am learning to appreciate and savor the lasting impact it had on my life.

There is also that circle of friends that we simply connect well with - whether for fellowship or for ministry and serving as well.  These relationships are mutually encouraging and strengthening.  Paul found this type of bond with Aquila and Priscilla.  As Christians, these relationships are often with other believers but they do not have to be.  They might be in your neighborhood, at work or in other associations. The Bible has much to say about living alongside - and in harmony with - even those with whom we might not completely agree.  These relationships have a place in our life.  They can be strengthening - and a blessing.

My primary focus of this post - and Friday's as well - is mentoring-type relationships...being a mentor and being the one mentored.  Both are needed in our lives, however, I will confess that for a long type of steered away from both.  I think the Bible challenges us to not only seek out mentors but to also make ourselves available to be a mentor.

Being a mentor.  

“The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness.......that they may teach the young women...."  Titus 2:3-4

All of us have others coming behind us.  Some in age.  But perhaps simply in their Christian walk.  All of us are in different seasons.  All of us have our own life experiences and we have the responsibility to share how God has led us - the good that has come from our faith - and to allow our experience to be a help, a challenge and an encouragement to others.  It's easy to think we don't have anything to share or that we don't have to personality to be a mentor (or a host of other excuses) but we need to all, at least, be willing.  Willing to allow someone into your life.  Being a mentor does not mean having all the answers.  It does not require you to be the woman with the most wisdom.  It simply means you have been through life (a little or a lot!) and you are willing to come alongside another and share however God leads.

If you have someone in your life like that already, thank the Lord for the opportunity to invest in someone else's life.  Ask for His wisdom to be a mentor that is not only helpful to the other person but also is a benefit to you.  If you don't have that type of relationship, make yourself available and open to it and see who God might lead your way.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Blessing of Needs

Another Friday - already.  It has been a beautiful autumn week.  Maybe it is Thanksgiving season or simply the beautiful trees, but it often seems easier to see God's goodness - in all aspects of our lives - this time of year!  I hope your days have been blessed.  We are, indeed, blessed and interestingly the prompt for today's Five Minute Friday is NEED.  As always, all of the thoughts on "need" can be found here.

GO - I love missions and I have a real heart for missionaries.  I love to read missionary prayer letters and updates.  I love to read how God is working not only in the lives of the missionaries but how the gospel is changing lives, families, whole villages all around the world.  As well, in these letters, there is never a shortage of needs.

Whether a missionary just beginning on deputation or a veteran missionary with many years of service on the field.....whether serving in a metropolitan city or in a remote village of South matter who or where, there is always need.

Financial needs, of course.  The exchange rate can affect support monthly.  But also the need for more laborers.  "The laborers are few" has never been truer than today.  There is the need for supplies - materials in native languages, building supplies and even the need simply for Bibles.  There is the need for encouragement and friendship.  The mission field can be very lonely and, yes, missionaries are all as human as the rest of us.

I often wish there was a way to do meet more of the need or even to supply it all.  Wave a magic wand or some such.  Of course, I know that God can supply and meet every need.  Abundantly even.  But without any need where would be cause for faith?  For deeper dependence on Him?

God supplied the Israelites just enough manna for each day.  Each morning, the children had to gather again what God had given.  God filled the widow's cruse of oil each day to meet the need for her, her son and for Elijah.  The oil would be used but graciously given again each morning.  God did not fail or forget.

STOP - and my take away.....

Deuteronomy 31:6:  Be strong and of a good courage......the LORD thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

Even if there were a way to give enough, send enough, or do enough to meet all of the missionary needs, would that be best?  Their needs keep them humbly praying, teach them to trust deeper and help grow their faith in the Christ who never fails.  And our needs can do the same for us as well.


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Remember. Be Grateful: October 2017

Another month has come to an end....and this one is my favorite so I am extra sad to see it go.  I thought it only appropriate to end with a look back at a few of my favorites - from fall and from October.

Fall favorites - every year:

Pumpkins are everywhere!  The white ones used to be a bit rarer but I have been seeing them a lot this year.  It seems the new "trend" in pumpkins are the lumpy, bumpy ones.  I'm not sure how much I love those but I am always (always!) a year or two late when it comes to embracing, I'm sure I'll have a porch full of them year after next!

Actually, fall decor, in general, is my absolute favorite.  I would say even more than Christmas decorating but I might risk losing all my readers.  Fall decorations just make me happy.  Wondering the aisles of any home store this time of year is my complete happy place.

Fall clothes are another favorite.  Cozy sweaters (but not the bulk of winter ones), cute tights, outfits of burgundy, grey, navy, yellow or orange - I enjoy it all.  Clothes that actually cover a body are just one more thing to like about fall.  Just sayin.

Some specific blessing from October this year:

The return to Bible study.  I met every Tuesday this month with a great group of ladies - several I met for the first time -  and it has been a blessing.  The actual study has not been particularly deep or challenging but anytime you get into the word, there is something to learn and this study has certainly held its nuggets of wisdom.  The real blessing has been sharing with the ladies each week.  Each one of us seems to get something different from the lesson and it is great to learn from one another.  Today is the last study until after Christmas and I will admit, I'm sad for it to end.

Another trip to Lancaster.  Yes, it is one of my favorite places:)  This month's trip we shared with some of our dearest friends.  We laughed, and ate, and shopped and ate and had the perfect day!  Definitely a highlight of this month!  We also spent another evening out with them earlier in the month.  We are blessed with their friendship.

One year anniversary.  My brother had cancer surgery a year ago this month - and convalesced at our house.  I'm not sure if it was the excellent post-op care or not, but this month marks one-year cancer-free and doing great!!  I have only the one brother and I am more grateful for him that I ever say.

Oreos.  Yes, that is random.  And, yes, I am thankful for Oreos any month.  In any season.  But this month, we received Oreos (decorated and everything!) - delivered to the door.  From our daughter and "just because"!  She knows what speaks to our hearts!  Both of our children are such a joy.......I would be remiss if I did not mention them in this list of many blessings this month! 

It has been a wonderful October!  I am looking forward to all God has in store for November!    What has been your greatest blessing this past month??

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Three Suggestions to be an Effective Listener Next Sunday

Whether you've been attending church and listening to sermons for years and years, or you only recently started attending church, there will always be times when simply paying attention - much less actually getting something from the preaching - is just a challenge.  It happens to everyone...and can even be expected.  We have a real enemy who wants to distract us and certainly wants us to leave a preaching service totally unchanged or challenged by God's word.  Usually, he starts early - before you even arrive at church.  It takes a determined effort to stay focused and to have our hearts prepared for the message.  The effort is more than worth it!

Here are three suggestions I think can help anyone - veteran or new church member - get the most from a sermon:

ONE - Prepare your heart before you even get to church.  For years, I was faithful to my devotion
time six days out of seven.  I never seemed to make the time on Sundays.  I definitely was in a stage of life (getting my littles ready) where it was more difficult to set the time apart but, truthfully, I just did not appreciate the need on Sundays.  I thought being in God's word corporately, at church, was enough.  But time spent alone with God is needed every day.  Getting in God's word and spending time in prayer before I go to church helps prepare my spirit to receive something fresh from the Sunday morning message.

TWO - Participate in the worship service.  Sing - even if you are not a singer.  Think about the words rather than singing mindlessly.  The hymns.  The choruses.  The special music.  They are all designed to continue the preparing of our hearts to receive the Word.

THREE - Take notes during the preaching.  I have had friends tell me they just can't take notes (because it is distracting, etc.) however, those same friends cannot remember what the sermon was about three days later.  Notes do not need to be fancy, long and all-inclusive, or even written in a journal. But simply writing down the key thoughts helps to keep you focused and listening for those points.  Taking notes allows you to be an active participant - keeping your mind engaged.

No doubt, everyone has a different idea what to do with all those sermon notes.  Many people keep them all.  Few actually ever look at them again.  I like to read through my notes later in the week and write down one or two particular points that challenged me, encouraged me or, for some other reason, I really want to remember.  The goal is not to, one day, be able to recite the entire sermon but to gain wisdom - and to recall that nugget of truth.  You might write your nugget in a notebook, on an index card or put it in your phone but make it available throughout the week. 

Throughout the week, reflect on what you learned.  On how you were challenged and on anything the Holy Spirit might have led you to do.  Let a song from Sunday morning repeat in your head all week.  It will help bring the sermon thoughts to mind.  And, instead of having merely attended church on Sunday, the time spent there will continue to impact you all week.  That is truly benefitting from a sermon.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Discover Why

Time for another Five Minute Friday.  All of the encouragement can be found here...and I hope you do take a minute or two to enjoy at least a couple of the other posts.  This week's prompt is DISCOVER - and remember I'm writing for only five minutes!


"There are two great days in a person's life - the day we are born and the day we discover why." William Barclay

Yes, I completely believe that God has a very unique and specific purpose for each one of our lives.  I am also learning that purpose evolves, matures and can look completely different as we go through our days.  Each stage of life is different.  Since quitting my job back in May, and a new phase has begun, discovering my purpose has been a new experience.  It is not that I didn't desire to know His will in years past but I have definitely had to more actively seek these past months.  What I may have thought was His plan, and His purpose is being tweaked, fine-tuned and, in many ways, changed.

STOP - I really did not get much said there -I was afraid that might happen.  This subject gives me much cause for pause, reflection, and some over-thinking.  I think that is okay, as long as the "pause" does not allow me to become stagnant.

I know many posts end with, I am curious - what ways or tools do you use to help you discern God's best and His purpose for you?

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Living a Frugal Life

I mentioned last week Crystal Paine's webinar and how much I had taken away from that hour...including the motto "Live frugally so you give generously."  That simple phrase continues to impact me.  I want to be not only willing but also able to give generously - to give of my time, my talents and, yes, my treasure.  I think there is much wisdom in the idea of living frugally so I am able to do all three.  What does it look like to be frugal with my time...or my talents...and my money? 

The definition of frugal includes:   sparing with regard to money or food (oh my - one more way to consider being frugal!); careful; prudent, sparing and unwasteful.

My time.  I certainly don't need to be wasteful with my time.  And I want to be prudent how I schedule my to-do list and the commitments I make with my time.  If every hour is scheduled, and even over-scheduled, I will not able to give my time.  Every week opportunities arise where I can give my time to meet someone else's need or to simply be a blessing.   The senior who doesn't drive but needs to get to the pharmacy.  Oh, and then the grocery store.  A friend who would like to share her heart.  Sitting with an acquaintance during medical tests because they have no family close by.  And plenty of other little bits of needed time in between.  I want to have time available to give - and to give generously.

My talents.  This looks a bit like giving my time but when I am asked to use my gifts and talents,
as much as I am able I want to be able to do so.  This might be simply planning the next Sunday school class outing (and they do love their outings!) or organizing another ministry related activity.  It might be the Lord laying on my heart to lead a Bible study or plan a missions trip.  It might be any number of things, but if I am already depleted and spread too thin - meaning, I have not been frugal and careful making commitments and becoming involved - then I am not able to give generously with my talents.

My money.  The result of not being careful and frugal with my resources is much easier to identify.  I am unable to give (above my tithe, etc.), unable to support missionaries or special missions projects.  If every dollar is spent or already promised, there is not even a chance to meet unexpected needs of others or to be a blessing financially when opportunities arise.  No matter what the budget, all of us can live in a way that allows us to be givers.  I want to make sacrifices as needed so I am always in a position to give generously.

Live frugally - so you can give generously.  Wise words to keep pondering this week.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Inviting Ourselves In

The assisted living facility has a beautiful lobby and living room.  The gas fireplace is massive and is always on and is homey and inviting no matter the weather outside.  Every afternoon I arrive, there are always two or three residents gathered there.  Simply spending the hours before dinner is served.  Often someone has dozed off in an upright position.  I usually go by quietly so I don't disturb the napper.  But, what about the others who are awake? 

Yesterday, I stopped and started talking.  Apparently, it is much easier to begin an easy chat, or even a discussion, than it is to try and end it.  No one wants to be lonely.  No one wants to be least, not for too long.  We want to be included. We want to belong. But not everyone is able to connect - even with folks sitting close by.  Or has the courage to join the conversation or the group - even if invited.

Sometimes we have to invite ourselves into their world.  It might sound socially incorrect and may, initially, even feel awkward but there are so many around us who not only need us, but also want us, to engage them.  The new member at Bible study.  The visitors sitting by themselves before church begins.  Neighbors who just moved from across the country.  The senior waiting alone in the doctor's office.  The list is endless.

STOP.  We need eyes that looking for others.  Hearts that are sensitive to needs and a willingness to invite ourselves into their lives....for a just a few minutes, for a time or even for a friendship.

This week's prompt is INVITE.  You can find the others joining this week here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Three Words to Help with my To-Do List

Last week, I watched not one -  but two! -webinars!  For many (most) of you, that is not big news.  But for this technologically deficient was impressive.  To log on with over 4000 other viewers - from literally all over the world - and have someone share with me (from the comfort of their own couch) was, for me, totally cool!!:)  After I got over the awe of it all, there was so much good information!

Monday night's webinar was with Crystal Paine - she blogs at Money Saving Mom.  I took so much away from all she shared, including this quote "Live frugally in order to give generously."  Why didn't I come up with that!!?!  It not only inspired me but really expresses my heart.  However what I wanted to mention most today was a phrase she used for reaching your goals:  FOCUS AND FINISH.

I realize the phrase is not original and probably not new to many but I think those three words have rumbled through my thoughts at least ten times every single day since she shared them.  I don't consider myself overscheduled or even "too busy" - which I know makes me a bit of the odd one out - but I do have a "to-do" list (whether mental or written) and things I hope to accomplish each day and through the week.  Several of these things are specific tasks I believe the Holy Spirit has placed on my heart to be done.  However, even with enough time planned on my agenda, it is surprising, and often discouraging, just how much does not get finished and is carried over to the next (or the day after that!)

No doubt, simple procrastination can always be a problem.  But, often it is all the distractions.  The internet.  The cell phone.  Any and all types of media.  Interruptions.  The cell phone.  Oh, right.  Distractions are constant and endless.  If I am not careful, they will interrupt my devotions first thing in the morning and just follow me all day.  I tend to guard my quiet time carefully and set aside all possible distractions the best I can.  And I'm realizing I need more of this purposeful focused time throughout the day.

Set aside 30 minutes that will be focused and free of distractions and see a task finished.  I try to "schedule" as many of these focused blocks of time as the day will allow.  If a task takes more than 30 minutes, break it into smaller bites and finish one part each day.  Its only been a week since I started becoming aware how easily I lose my focus, and that I've been committing to "focus and finish" for blocks at a time - and things really are being finished.  Taming the distractions, staying focused in order to finish is another way to help me be a wise steward of the time I have each day.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Everyone Has a Story

I noticed him in the parking lot.  I had stopped for a quick errand on my to church and was in a bit of a hurry.  He had already found a full-size shopping cart and was pushing it across the parking lot.  He seemed to be in a hurry as well.  Perhaps, just very focused.  He was older, dishelved, and his too large sneakers made his gait a bit awkward.  Once we were in the store, we went opposite directions as I rushed to grab my two items.  But we ended up side by side at the check-out.  His full-size cart held a gallon of milk and five foot-long thin sticks of beef jerky.

I have to admit, my first thought was something along the lines of "a full-size cart from across the entire parking lot for that?!?"  Sad, I know. (My critical spirit never can seem to keep silent.)  But as the clerk bagged my things, I began to wonder if that was his dinner.  Was he going home to a meal of beef jerky sticks?  Maybe he had stopped for a gallon of milk and simply grabbed a few of his favorite snacks.  I have no idea.  He put his things back in the cart and left.  Was he using the large cart as a walking aid? Again, I don't know.  But that gallon milk and sticks of jerky nagged at me.  My heart wanted to know his story.

We all have a story.  The folks we notice at the grocery store.  And even the ones we don't.  Each senior now living at the assisted living center.  All the new ladies I'm meeting at Bible study each week.  My neighbors.  The servers at lunch and the obviously overtired hostess at dinner.  The young woman walking the neighborhood to endorse her political candidate that I am too quick to dismiss.

STOP...and my take away.  Everyone does have a story.  If we are going to live people-centered lives or we ever hope to connect with people, meet them where they are and have any hope of sharing Christ with them, we need to hear their stories.  Yes, it takes time and sometimes it takes sacrifice on our part but the reward is beautiful.  It also can be eternal.

This week's prompt for Five Minute Friday is (can you guess?) STORY.  You can find everyone's thoughts on STORY here. Funny how quickly five minutes speeds by when you are trying to tell a story!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

In Their Easter Finest

With the best of intentions, I have tried posting every Tuesday and Friday.  And then I did not get a post up yesterday...which made the day feel just a bit off.  However, it was a full day - plenty of things on the "to do" list but, even more, just a day full of little surprises...and gifts from God.  Not a parting of the red sea type of day but an ordinary day with an extra amount of blessings and smiles from Heaven.  So, although I may be a tad off schedule, I do not want to miss the opportunity to praise my heavenly father....truly He is so good to me!

Among those smiles yesterday, a sweet friend sent me this picture she stumbled across....

That cute redhead - in his Easter cardigan (and blue shorts, with white socks to his knees), and his mouth full of cookie, I suppose....never fails to make my heart happy!!  I hope your day has had an extra smile, or two, from Heaven today!

Friday, September 29, 2017

September 2017 - By the Numbers

Another month finished - and, hopefully, finished well!  I thought it would be a good time to look back at the the numbers again!  The pictures included have little (or nothing!) to do with the numbers but are just a few that were taken in September.

TWENTY FOUR - the number who attended our Sunday School class spaghetti dinner.  This was a first time for this activity - and apparently well-liked!!  Put that one down to do again!

THREE - the number of years it has been since I was able to attend Tuesday morning Bible study.  It was great to return and see several familiar faces.  I really enjoy small group Bible studies and being able to join this group again has already been a blessing

TWO - the number of setbacks.  Not once, but twice, our vacation plans were interrupted by hurricanes.  Obviously, in the scheme of things, an altered vacation is nothing.  So much devastation this month!  However, when the car refused to start on the morning before vacation attempt number three...we took it as "a sign" and just accepted no Hilton Head for us this year.  We did several other day trips instead and have loved it!

SIX - the number of figures (as in over a half a million) representing the faith promised pledged during this year's missions conference!  It is staggering (to me!), humbling and, yes, exciting to be part of something so incredible!  We had a wonderful conference and my heart is stirred - once again! - for missions, for missionaries (I love both....missions and missionaries!) and for the potential to reach so many with the gospel.  This year, I was dumbstruck by how many people and people groups around the world that are completely unreached with the gospel!!

NINETY-TWO - the number degrees in
the temperature - in the last week of September! - when we tried to go hiking!  In my opinion, hiking is no good (if not impossible) when it is 92 outside!  Why is it 92 in September??!

TWENTY-NINE - the number of candles on my beautiful daughter's birthday cake (er, cupcake!)..whether she owns up to them all or not!  If she thinks "pushing 30" is too much for her to handle - how old does it make me feel!!?!  As trite as it sounds, it truly seems like yesterday that she rushed into the world - catching us all by surprise and forever filling our hearts with love!

THIRTY-TWO - the number of years married to my sweetheart.  Thanking the Lord for another anniversary, a night away to celebrate and another year of memories.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Falling for the Trap

September is a full month at our house.  Virginia weather is gorgeous in September.  Festivals and fall fairs can fill in every blank on your calendar.  Our church missions conference - which is always a highlight - is every September.  We celebrate two birthdays and our anniversary.  With those celebrations, I have extra opportunities to reflect on family, God's goodness and on this life my husband and I enjoy.  September is a month to simply enjoy my blessings.

The month started off just that way - feeling blessed and loved. Then one random afternoon - I cannot even recall the details - we were headed out to wherever.   My husband did not open the door car for me. And I was just a bit more than miffed.  When it happened again, I was flat out annoyed.   I even felt insulted.  I'm pretty sure that I responded with a much larger than necessary huff and hard shut of the car door. 

Mind you - my husband has never been in the habit of opening the door for me.  More importantly, until one random day in September, I have never cared one iota about it.  Where had these emotions come from?  I think it had only been a few days before that I had witnessed a friend's husband open her door for her.  I noticed it and, evidently, it only took that one, innocent thought to nudge open the gate to the comparison trap.  I fell right in.

My husband and I are in a wonderful season of our lives - the one where we now can finish each other's sentences.  We have routines and habits that make life comfortable and secure.  We know who washes and who dries.  Who opens the blinds each morning and who starts the coffee.  We know who walks the (grand)dog when she is here and who fixes the "decorative" pillows every day after we make the bed.  And we have used the same routine for getting in and out of the car for decades.  I know all of this perfectly.   This post is not about whether or not a man should open the car door for me - or any other lady.  For some, that might be very important.  But for me, that was not the problem.  The problem was choosing one (for us, insignificant) thing and choosing to compare my husband to someone else.

I used to think the comparison trap was for much younger wives.  How quickly I learned the truth.  Satan is just that tricky and oh so subtle.  My heart - even as a middle-aged wife - must always be on guard.

As for the dog, the blinds, the coffee and the pillows - that is all him!  He even washes the dishes but we let them dry themselves.  I am, indeed, blessed and I'm choosing to make that my focus.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Wanting to Number My Days and Hours

It's Friday!  Time for FMF...that time to write for five minutes - (largely) unedited and (for the most part) unrehearsed.  If you haven't yet, you really should check many of the other links here - it really is interesting to see how one word can evoke many different thoughts.  And many similar ones, too!

This week's prompt:  ACCEPT

GO:  After I quit working - or at least working at a job with a paycheck:) - I found myself in somewhat of a new season in my life.  Suddenly, I was a SAHM...but not really "M" as that acronym implies.  My children are adults.  So, I am a Stay At Home...what?  I've thought much about a correct title but defining this time of my life has been tricky - even trickier than finding initials to identify it.

For sure, I have more time.  And, for sure, I want to be busy.  I have the time to accept all types of invitations and to say yes to lots of opportunities.  However, I don't want to simply be busy, I want to be productive and, more importantly, I need to be a wise steward of my time.


God has not allowed me extra hours in my day to simply occupy - or preoccupy myself.  Even in this phase of life, I need to seek His guidance and accept only those offers to be engaged or to get involved or make those choices "to do" that would be a wise use of my time and would be pleasing to Him.  I want to accept - or decline - invitations and opportunities that help me "number my days" - use my days - wisely.

Psalm 90:12  So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

My Thought Exactly

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Birthdays Can Be Hard

Birthdays are kind of a big deal.  Not everyone celebrates them the same way.  No doubt, not everyone feels the same about marking another year.  But, at our house, birthdays are cause for celebrating.  To show our love and acknowledge the gift that each person is to the little group that we call family!  Like most families, we have our little traditions for making birthdays more than "just another day" for whoever is celebrating.  We look forward to birthdays.

But some birthdays are hard.  Tomorrow will be our Tyler's birthday.  He would be 25.  Twenty-five.  How can that be?  It has taken several birthdays to find what felt comfortable or seemed "right" to acknowledge the special day when God gave us Tyler.  We could never just let the day slip by but celebrating was hard, in different ways, for all of us.  But as with all things that have challenged our hearts through grief, God has been faithful.  We have learned to laugh again.  We have found joy in the every day things and reason to celebrate the special days as well.  God has caused my heart to sing again.  Just yesterday morning during my quiet time, He reminded me of just that.

Psalm 126: 2  "Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing:  then said they among the heathen, The Lord hath done great things for them."

He has done great things.  He will continue to do great things.  Tomorrow I will have reason to I remember Tyler and the day I became his mom!!