Sunday, December 31, 2017

Year End Encouragement

Depending on where you are in the world this may already be 2018.  So, just in case...


Actually, I'm aware this post will make it online just under the wire to be counted with the 2017 posts.  But I did promise an encouraging story to end on.  You will love this.  I share it with permission.

I was recently talking with a dear lady who's part of our congregation.  She and her husband are newly retired from the business world and from many years in education.  Their four adult children are raising healthy families of their own in locations all around the U.S.

Mary and her husband travel frequently these days; making memories with all the grandchildren.  She lights up when talking about them.

Their most recent journey was to visit their oldest son and his family in Arizona.  He serves as a worship pastor for a church of over 10,000 members.  This is a position he accepted after many years on the road with an internationally known band.

He and his wife follow the Lord closely while leading their children in the same way.  With good reason, mom and dad celebrate the choices their son has made over the years.

But things were not always so idyllic.

You see, this particular son was an inquisitive child.  Always on the move.  Always learning.  Always searching the world around him.

Keeping up with him was a full-time job for mom.  By the time he hit kindergarten, it was obvious he was also extremely intelligent.

But his first teacher was more concerned with maintaining an "orderly" classroom than with developing the different learning styles of the children entrusted to her.  Her declared objective was to teach this five year old boy to sit still in a desk so she could teach uninterrupted.

(Simple note: Little boys are designed to climb, explore, ask questions, touch icky bugs and run.  Seldom ever do they enjoy sitting still for long periods of time.)

Mary and her husband were very intentional about teaching discipline and respect to their children.  So they tried to support the teacher.  But for their active son, this classroom became a miserable experience.

Mary said that she began watching the light go out in her son's eyes ever so slowly.  He became quiet and withdrawn, even at home.  He started having stomach aches on a regular basis.  Getting ready for school was a time they both dreaded each day.

And almost every afternoon the teacher would meet Mary in the car line with this phrase, "Another bad day, Mrs. Arnold.  He had another bad day!"  

Just remembering caused Mary to drop her head ever so slightly as she told me about it.  The words still piercing all these years later.

Day after day the scene was repeated.She would manage to get her precious boy to school each morning only to get the same disappointing report each afternoon, "Another bad day, Mrs. Arnold.  Another bad day."

They survived the year but knew serious changes would have to take place before the next school year began.  So they searched and found a different school that was better equipped to develop the learning style of their child.

Still, through the years, the words of that first teacher often rang in her ears, "Another bad day, Mrs. Arnold.  Another bad day!"

Eventually, their son grew into a fine man who completed high school and college with honors.  His love of music led him to connect with three other young men and they developed an unconventional Christian band.

Their objective as musicians was to reach a young audience using songs with strong moral messages, including the Gospel.  They rose quickly in popularity and began playing in huge venues around the world.

At one of these concerts, Mary and her husband were given box seats.  They relished every moment watching their dear son sing to the packed house.  Each original song had some message of hope; pointing the listeners to Christ.

His parents were beaming.

The crowd loved the music, too. They applauded wildly after each number.  In fact when the concert concluded, the crowd rose to their feet calling out for an encore.

The band came back out on stage to sing one last song.  The applause was thunderous as the final notes faded.  Mary's son took another bow expressing his appreciation for the crowd.

That's when it happened.

He looked up into the box where his beloved parents were seated.  He pointed to his mother and said, "Another GOOD day, Mrs. Arnold.  Another good day!"

His words meant nothing to the crowd.  But with those two sentences, he erased all the discouraging declarations of that first teacher.  All the self-judgments of that young mother were washed away.

Mary and I cried together as she told me of the incredible moment.

Don't give up, dear reader.  No matter what the obstacles were in 2017, a new year is beginning.  No matter how many times you've heard a similar report of discouragement, don't give up.

Your "Good Day" is just around the corner, I'm sure.  Just keep moving forward.

Scripture puts it like this, "Weeping may last for the night.  But JOY comes in the morning."

Isn't that a great story of hope?!

May 2018 bring great blessing for you and all those you love!


Saturday, December 30, 2017

It's COLD!

"Baby, it's COLD outside!"  And I live in a state that's considered tropical.

When I see that people from Minnesota, Alaska and Ukraine are reading this blog, it makes me embarrassed to admit it - but I'm COLD!

Of course, we also just spent several days in North Carolina where the temperatures were below freezing.  They say your blood doesn't "thin out" when you move to warmer climates but I disagree. We lived in the mountains for twelve years.  We endured numerous blizzards and smaller snow storms.  We made chairs in the snow and ate ice cream, for Heaven's sake! 

But I just don't think I could do that so easily now.

John and Joy are visiting his family in New York where the temperatures are hovering in single digits daily.  Honestly, those of you who work and play in these conditions for four or five months each year.... my hat is off to you!

(Please, don't take off your hat as you'll immediately start losing precious body heat!)

This post isn't about the cold weather, although I had to mention it.  This post will be eclectic in nature as I've been so negligent in writing this month.

I must start out by wishing my darling husband -- Happy Anniversary!  We committed our lives to one another 38 years ago today.

Ours has not been a made-for-movies sort of love story.  But we are happy to report that in spite of all the normal ups and downs of living in an imperfect world, we arrive at this day still liking each other and looking forward to many more years together.

And for that, we're thankful!

Now an explanation of why I haven't been posting.  December 2017 felt like someone hit the nuclear reactor button on the 2nd and it just quit firing yesterday.

Don't get me wrong.  Most of the events were ones we planned and I thoroughly enjoyed every single one!  But today is the first truly quiet day I've had all month.  Well, here's a little synopsis:

  • Gingerbread houses with grands
  • Church Christmas Party
  • Family Communion (2 nights)
  • One Lovely Wedding
  • One Vow Renewal (10 Year)
  • Area Ministers' Banquet
  • Board/Staff Dinner (We cooked)
  • Grandparents' Day @ School
  • Shopping Adventures
  • Progressive Dinner
  • Several special lunch dates/coffees
  • Christmas Eve Service
We took a deep breath, then Frank and I got into our little red car at 5:30 A.M., drove 10 hours north and made it to NC in time to have dinner with his sweet mom.  Her big smile and warm hug made the trip worth every long mile.

Mom's new apartment is too small to accommodate her large family.  And all the siblings went back to work on the 27th.  So each of our meetings was at a restaurant in the area.  The waitresses laughed at us when we came in the last day.

Oh, I almost forgot.  While in Carolina, we drove another hour north to meet up with Amanda and Webb (adopted family.)  We needed to squeeze their newest little one which we hadn't met.  Also, my sister and brother-in-law drove over from Charlotte for a lunch date before we left.

I hear some of you saying, "Are you guys NUTS?!"  Believe me, we ask ourselves that all the time.  But no one ever accuses us of wasting opportunities to connect, either.

Our own Christmas was celebrated on December 23rd.  The children decided on a breakfast this year instead of Christmas dinner.  So we changed the time and menu to accommodate six tiny people who are more pleasant during morning hours.

What a time we had!

So much laughter.  So many smiles and hugs.  Such great surprises.  A few gag gifts.  Huge eyes and a couple of happy tears.

I think my favorite moment was after breakfast while we were still at the table.  As a family, we celebrated with our own advent wreath.  (Children love lighting candles and blowing them out.  Perfect way to capture everyone's attention.)

Frank assigned each of the young husbands an advent scripture.  Then one member of each family lit a candle and we all repeated aloud the identity of that candle.  Such delight to hear the blending of baby voices with more mature ones as together we declared,  "Jesus came to bring light, peace, joy and hope."  

Don't get me wrong.  It wasn't quiet or what you would usually consider "reverent" around our table.  We're a normal, loud family.  We have two budding drummer boys who think utensils are perfect substitute drum sticks.  One baby needed to nurse - NOW.  Two little girls were giggling.  And all the bigger ones were aware that beautiful gifts were waiting........just in the other room.

Our perfectly imperfect moment closed as we sang "Oh, come let us adore Him...."  Even with all its "blemishes," I think a new tradition was born that morning.

As your own Christmas season comes to a close, I pray you'll feel the warmth of Christ's Love wrapping you closely.

As you make your way through icy conditions, may His Peace serve to keep your heart un-frozen and beating with tenderness.

As the lights are packed away for another year, may His Joy flood your soul and brighten every corner.

As the new year begins, may His Hope keep you anticipating great days of blessing ahead.

It may be cold outside but may all our hearts and homes be a different story because of God's wonderful Grace!

(During one of our friend encounters this month I heard a story that will surely become part of my repertoire.  I immediately asked permission to share it here and have been saving it for the final day of the year.  Please check back tomorrow.  You won't be disappointed, I promise.)

Friday, December 8, 2017

Celebrating Vs. Surviving

Just LOOK at what I read this morning.....

"Mercy, Peace and Love be yours in abundance."  Jude 1:2

Simple.  Powerful.  Longed for.  Offered.

I sat and pondered this scripture for a long time this morning.  Then I immediately set about trying to memorize it.  Those eight lovely words were exactly what my heart needed for today. That small passage offers in Abundance so much of what we hope for at Christmas:
  • LOVE
It really holds such an important Christmas message.  Sometimes this season can quickly move from being a time we celebrate to being a time where we simply hang on and try our best to survive.  I don't think that's what the Architect of the Christmas story had in mind.

Most likely your Christmas celebrations are in full swing just like ours.  Looking over my calendar has been daunting during these three weeks following Thanksgiving.  

Since Nov. 26th we've.... 
  • Held a dinner for Southeastern University students. 
  • Hosted our five oldest grands for dinner and gingerbread house building.
  • Hosted the all-church Christmas party.  
  • Spent two full nights sharing communion with individual church families.
  • All while keeping pretty regular office hours.
This weekend we have a wedding.  And on Sunday I'll prepare/serve a meal for our board members and ministry staff families.  

Now you understand why (in the last post) I encouraged you to select and schedule your Most Important celebrations early.

Our Most Important - time with the grand babies - was marvelous indeed.

Frank and I spent most of that morning preparing.  Although there were a few extra errands mid-day that threatened to derail us, the prep time paid off.  When they started arriving, we were ready!

It's still lovely, outside weather here in central FL.  So Papa and babies spent a good half hour on the swings while Noni got the pizzas and fruit ready.  (Yes, real fruit to keep mommies happy.)

After dinner, we painted ornaments.  Oh, what a glorious mess!

Then came the main attraction: Ginger Bread Houses!!

"How wonderful!  You baked authentic gingerbread?"  

Are you kidding?!  Not a chance.

Why do you think they invented Gingerbread House KITS?  And why do you think I would need to re-invent the wheel?  Besides if we had to wait for me to do all that baking, we'd have to miss the experience all together.

Some corners are okay to cut.

There were five children ages 6, 5, 4, and two 2 year olds all trying to capture Noni and Papa's attention at the same time.  It was chaotic to say the least.

We had pre-made each house on Friday.  When it was finally time to start decorating, Frank and I were both twirling frosting guns like the original cake boss. 

Unbelievable mounds of candy completely hid the center of the work table we had lowered to a kid-friendly height.  And everyone was talking at the same time - Loudly!

After about ten minutes of leaning over the table helping first this one then the next, I glanced at Zachariah's little house.  It had almost nothing on it.  I straightened up (slowly) and looked around to find him.

"Frank, where's Zach?  There's nothing on his house."  (We've already established in an earlier post that I have been known to lose a child. Please don't judge.)

At that precise moment, Zach brought his chubby little two and a half year old self around the corner from the playroom.

"There you are!"  I scooped him up, kissed his sweet face and he flashed his signature grin.  "Let's get going on your house."

His huge blue eyes widened and he pointed while saying his best version of "My Howsh?!"

"Yes, your house.  Do you want these skittles on the windows?"  He answered with another big smile and a serious nod.  So I started gluing skittles.

It didn't take long to get distracted by someone's need for green frosting on their Bugle chip tree.  And Zach went missing again.  This time, Papa knew exactly where he was.

"Don't say anything to him.  Just watch," Frank whispered to me as Zach strolled back up to the work table.

Our brown-haired boy glanced first at his sister's colorful house, then at Noah's.  His nonchalance was epic as he reached up and silently filled both little fists full of candy.  A slow, casual turn and he was on his way back to the playroom; candy-laden hands by his sides.

Frank and I both followed him around the corner just in time to see the second fistful of colored sugar being crammed into his mouth.  We struggled to stifle our laughter.

"Zach!" When I said his name, he wheeled around.  Can't you just see the little chipmunk cheeks packed to capacity and the wide-eyed innocent stare he gave me?  "Come on, let's put some candy on your house."

It was a stellar and memorable evening for sure.

Perhaps your calendar isn't as full this year as usual.  Maybe you're dealing with sickness or some life event that has altered your normal Christmas activities.

Dear friend, may I challenge you to still choose Celebrating over Surviving this season?  With the help promised us all in Jude 1:2, you can do it.  Even in the midst of difficulty, the Father longs to shower you with:

  • Mercy
  • Peace
  • Love

Knowing that the Creator of the Universe sees and cares for each of us is abundant comfort indeed.

Blessings on you and those you love as we move toward Christmas finding something to celebrate each step of the way.