5 Friday Faves – Rey’s Theme by Beyond the Guitar, Letting Go of Expectations, Together at Christmastime, Christmas Memories, and Christmas Words

It always happens. We are halfway through December, just 10 days until Christmas, and life is in a bit of disarray. I’m way behind on John Piper’s daily Advent readings, and the only present under the tree is one given to me by a house guest. However, from another vantage point, there is still this moment to redeem and still 10 days until Christmas. Although a week has gone by without writing or posting, today will be different. Here are five of my favorite things of this week. I hope you can take a moment, with your favorite hot beverage, and just soak up what’s here. With love and blessings!

1) Rey’s Theme by Beyond the Guitar – As the much-awaited film Star Wars: The Last Jedi lights up the screen, a new arrangement by Beyond the Guitar is also posted. Rey’s Theme performed on classical guitar by Nathan Mills, surrounded by sand dunes, is lovely, both musically and visually. I’m even more ready to see the film.

STAR WARS: Rey’s Theme – Classical Guitar Cover (BeyondTheGuitar)

2) Letting Go of Expectations – Part of what makes any family tradition tricky is that family is a very fluid organism. It grows and changes, and traditions will reflect those changes. Marriage, babies, sometimes divorce and death. Work and school schedules. Altered preferences through the years. They all have an impact. The most beautiful part of family traditions is not the year-to-year repetition of treasured events or rituals – it is the people. Sometimes people get lost in the planning or pulling off of traditions through the years. Just today my friend Kathy alerted me to Suzanne Eller’s piece Don’t Make Your Grown Kids Hate Christmas. It came at an excellent time. In fact, the author could have included a byline And the Same Goes for the Parents. Being gentle with each other goes a long way. Letting go of expectations…especially when a tradition warms our hearts, and the people we love are attached to those traditions…is not easy! However, for the the sake of the relationships, we wrestle our expectations to the ground. We will refuse to be robbed of the joy meant for us in this season…that joy transcends traditions.Photo Credit: Clarity With Charity

I’m Dreaming of an Imperfect Christmas – How to Release Holiday Expectations – Clarity With Charity

Be Kind – Ken Sande

3) Together at Christmas –  When Christmas morning dawns this year, it will be just Dave and me. We will have had our kids all together two days prior. Our youngest works Christmas Day, and when he gets off, we will have dinner together and then it’s off to see Dave’s parents and extended family later in the week.

At first, my heart went to ache right off, thinking of a too-quiet Christmas morning. Now, I am settled. This month like so many Decembers has filled up with hectic, and quiet was way elusive. Maybe this Christmas morning, in the seeming too quiet, we will find what all month we’ve longed for…like Mary and Joseph, alone in that stable, we will welcome the Christ child.

Beyond that sweetness?

Still looking forward to all the laughter, familiarity, beauty and noise of being together with family at Christmastime. Amy Grant’s song To Be Together says it perfectly.

Looking back, early in our marriage, we were states away from both sets of parents. We made that young couple decision of not traveling with little ones on Christmas and our parents were kind to do the traveling. As the time for their arrival got close, our kids would stand like little soldiers, pressed against the living room window, watching the street for their grandparents. As they got older, both the children and the grands, we did more of the traveling. Little compares with that long-awaited reunion with our family.

Ever how imperfect our family situations may be, there is profound hope and love in our continued showing up, no matter what. I love that about Christmas. That opportunity. That possibility.

4) Christmas Memories – The memories are part of the legacy of those family traditions and coming together whenever we can. I’m thankful for memories of my own childhood with parents who loved us generously. Even with limited resources, they made Christmas magical. When their faith in God was rekindled, they reconnected with church, and us with them. We discovered in that community what really makes Christmas worth celebrating. The birth of the promised Savior.  What was once magical became both mysterious and miraculous. All through the years, the wonder of Christmas has multiplied for me.

Last Christmas, our Dad died. Fourteen years prior to that, our Mom.

The memories of all our times together seem to blossom especially at Christmas…like Dave’s mom’s cactus. So thankful.

5) Christmas Words – Every year we watch the short film A Charlie Brown Christmas. In it, Linus explains to Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about:

Simple and profound…taken straight out of Scripture (Luke 2:8-14).

You can be sure I love words. In fact, I will even risk difficult to hear words over silence.  Quiet is appropriate at times, but neglecting to speak when words could make a difference is just wrong. Even when we don’t know what to say…I think people will understand our hearts when our words don’t quite hit the mark. What do you think?

On my computer, there’s a folder entitled Christmas Blessings – quotes I’ve collected over the years. Below are a sample (all these I originally found in Good Reads). Hope these words bless you as they do me.

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.” ― Sigrid Undset

“The reality of loving God is loving him like he’s a Superhero who actually saved you from stuff rather than a Santa Claus who merely gave you some stuff.” ― Criss Jami, Killosophy

“Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we’re here for something else besides ourselves.”
Eric Sevareid

“Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weaknesses and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself if you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do these things for a day? Then you are ready to keep Christmas!” ― Henry Van Dyke

“What’s special about a story if I could have thought it up? What’s special about a story if I was actually courageous enough to play a part in it? What’s special about the Christmas story is that I am incapable of doing either but God did both.”
Craig D. Lounsbrough

“Odd that a festival to celebrate the most austere of births should end up being all about conspicuous consumption.”
Jeanette Winterson, Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days

“But I don’t like it, okay? I don’t like how everything is changing. It’s like when you’re a kid, you think that things like the holidays are meant to show you how things always stay the same, how you have the same celebration year after year, and that’s why it’s so special. But the older you get, the more you realize that, yes, there are all these things that link you to the past, and you’re using the same words and singing the same songs that have always been there for you, but each time, things have shifted, and you have to deal with that shift. Because maybe you don’t notice it every single day. Maybe it’s only on days like today that you notice it a lot. And I know I’m supposed to be able to deal with that, but I’m not sure I can deal with that.” ― David Levithan, The Twelve Days of Dash and Lily

“What images do I associate with the Christmas music as I see them set forth on the Christmas Tree?… An angel, speaking to a group of shepherds in a field; some travelers, with eyes uplifted, following a star; a baby in a manger; a child in a spacious temple, talking with grave men; a solemn figure, with a mild and beautiful face, raising a dead girl by the hand; again, near a city gate, calling back the son of a widow, on his bier, to life; a crowd of people looking through the opened roof of a chamber where he sits, and letting down a sick person on a bed, with ropes; the same, in a tempest, walking on the water to a ship; again, on a sea-shore, teaching a great multitude; again, with a child upon his knee, and other children round; again, restoring sight to the blind, speech to the dumb, hearing to the deaf, health to the sick, strength to the lame, knowledge to the ignorant; again, dying upon a cross, watched by armed soldiers, a thick darkness coming on, the earth beginning to shake, and only one voice head. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do!”
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Tree

Quotes About Christmas – Good Reads

Bonuses:

Gut Check Podcast – A podcast like no other – with Ted Kluck and Zach Bartles

Life On the Other Side – The Humbled Homemaker – Erin Odom

The Brain Benefits of Your Child’s Dinosaur Obsession – Kate Morgan

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5 Friday Faves – Star Wars Christmas, Jimmy Stewart’s Prayer, Hamburger Joint, Liz Wiseman on Accidental Diminishers, and Pulling Up

It’s Friday. Well…it was. As I write, it’s pre-dawn on a snowy Saturday morning. Our first snow of the season fell last night, and more is expected today. Our youngest son and I took in the VCU Holiday Gala last night, walking to and from the parking deck in falling white loveliness. It’s been a family tradition for us for a few years now, but with precious babies and a heavy work schedule for Dave, it was just Dan and me. Still, so much fun.

That’s pretty much how this week has been. Unexpected alterations of days and the emotional highs and lows that came with them. Still…Friday came (and went…oops!). Welcome to Saturday, and hopefully you will find something here to lighten your load, make you smile, or remind you that we are all in this together.

1) Star Wars Christmas –Beyond the Guitar continues to surprise and delight with his latest arrangement. A mashup of Star Wars themes and Christmas carols. So fitting in this season and as Star Wars: The Last Jedi hits the big screen in a few days. Shout-out to the video directors – Tyler Scheerschmidt and John Shutika. If you love all things Christmas and Star Wars, you’re in for a treat:

2) Jimmy Stewart’s Prayer – What should come to mind is actor Jimmy Stewart’s classic portrayal of the consummate good guy, George, in the film It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). However, a short film entitled Mr. Krueger’s Christmas (1980) has a particular scene in it that is riveting. In the scene, Mr. Krueger finds himself present, along with the shepherds, at the birthplace of Jesus. It’s reported, Stewart did this scene in one take saying he only had one take in him. He talks to Jesus in this scene and at one point drops to his knees, overtaken by the moment, and stammers, “I love you…you are my closest, my finest friend.” Take 4 minutes and watch this sweet scene:

Mr. Krueger’s Christmas – 25 minute complete film

Jimmy Stewart’s Other Christmas Movie – Jeff Westover

3) Hamburger Joint – We all have our favorites, right? What’s yours? I have a few favorites, but when we lived and had babies in Kingsport, Tennessee, it was Pal’s Sudden Service. Both of my biological children probably have Pal’s hot dogs and fries in their original DNA. Their business model (see links below) is very forward-thinking without settling for trendy. Not just about the quality of the food but also about service and employee training. Pal’s is a total carry-out restaurant. You order not over a speaker but face-to-face with someone. By the time you round the building, in your car, of course, the food is ready. It’s so good, I doubt many folks get back on the street without grabbing a one of their fries out of the bag, and definitely not without their first long sip of Pal’s sweet tea. So good. Have you ever experienced Pal’s? Or another favorite? Please comment below.Photo Credit: Pal’s Sudden Service

You’ve Probably Never Heard of One of America’s Top  Burger Chains – David Landsel

Pal’s Sudden Service – Taking Fast Food to the Next Level – Gary Pisano

Pal’s: America’s Least-Known Well-Run Burger Chain

Using Pal’s Sudden Service Model Can Make You Famous for Service, Staff Retention – The American Genius – Roger Jones

4) Liz Wiseman on Accidental Diminishers – Who hasn’t read Liz Wiseman‘s book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter? Well, maybe you don’t need to read it. If you work with two or more people, this gem of a book is an excellent assist in helping you be better able to work wiser with those two or more. Revised since the original publishing in 2010, Multipliers continues to be timely. in a recent Leaders Get Read podcast, Wiseman was interviewed again about the the two ends of the spectrum at work – the multiplier and the diminisher.Photo Credit: Slideshare

Give it a listen especially if you haven’t read the book – she gives a great synopsis of the concepts. At 18 minutes into the podcast, Wiseman talks about the accidental diminisher. Those times when all of us, even being well-intended, do or say things that diminishes another person. I do that sometimes in tweaking a plan or decision made by another colleague or friend. Tweak, tweak, tweak. It happens in my direction when someone, even one who I know cares about me and what I bring to the table/relationship, communicates that I’m not needed or my input isn’t desired. Tricky. On a good day, this actually frees me to focus on other things; on a bad day, it causes all kinds of anxiety, insecurity, and paranoia (it’s true…hard to believe, I know).

Leaders Get Real Podcast – Interview with Liz Wiseman

Monday Morning Moment – How an Accidental Diminisher Becomes a Multiplier – Deb Mills Writer

Liz Wiseman’s Leadership Book On Multipliers – and the Story of a Multiplier in Our Lives – Deb Mills Writer

5) Pulling Up – Given my #4 fave, this has been a week where I have struggled with some low points. There were occasions where it’s possible I was an accidental diminisher (very sad face here) with people who should never be diminished. [Well, no one should ever be diminished. Full stop.] Then, also had a few experiences of being diminished myself. For me, in such situations, a downward spiral begins in my thoughts and emotions. Maybe you struggle with this as well. Often this shows up at bedtime and I find myself trying to sort out how to fix a situation. Finally sleep comes…and resolution begins when I “pull up”. Dave coined this phrase with me, and the family has taken it on as a reminder too. As with an out-of-control plane spiraling dangerously toward the ground, the pilot has got to figure out a way to “pull up”.

Photo Credit: Aviadarts

Two Scripture passages help me:

Bring every thought captive to what is truth.We tear down arguments, and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God; and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”2 Corinthians 10:5

Focus your thoughts on what is true, honorable, right, admirable… – Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think on these things.” – Philippians 4:8

Pulling up may mean going to that person to sort things out. It can also mean just correcting course in our own thinking.

A God-send in this situation was finding an old lyric-rich and musically outstanding musical still available from the days of cassette tapes (1994). Saviour – the Story of God’s Passion for His People – the dvd is in my Amazon shopping cart right now.

Saviour – the Story of God’s Passion for His People  – composed/written by Greg Nelson and Bob Farrell (musical actually starts after 9 minutes of the above video – it is all magnificent; the solos depicting God and his creation are not to miss).

YouTube Video – My Heart Belongs to You – Whitney Phipps & Larnelle Harris [from above cantata]

YouTube Video – Larnelle Harris, Steve Green, Steve Amerson – “Kings of the Earth” [from above cantata]

Saviour – the Story of God’s Passion for His People – DVD

Bonuses:

Photo Credit: Micah Eckerd – Actually friend Joshua Griffin took the shot, but this is ALL Micah. Just makes me smile. A friend & a tree.

Harvesting Olives by Machine – If you’ve ever seen olive trees harvested by hand, such a machine would be amazing to have. We had an olive tree in our yard in North Africa, and just the work of pulling olives off that one tree gave us pause – thinking of all the olive groves near us and the hundreds of trees loaded with fruit.

A Spontaneous Christmas Pageant – No Rehearsal, everyone who wants to participates and this one with the script in rhymePhoto Credit: TheresaEcho

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Worship Wednesday – God Himself Came Down – Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery

Blog - Condescension - Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery - thegospelcoalition.orgPhoto Credit: The Gospel Coalition

[Adapted from the Archives]

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Philippians 2:5-8

 

There are words, it seems, we can’t use any more in polite company – words that have changed as culture changes and have been altered, perverted, in the common language. I have happened on such words by using them and then being gently corrected by my 20-something-young friends. “That word doesn’t mean what you think anymore.”

Condescension seems to be one of those words. In today’s usage, it  has come to mean “an attitude of patronizing superiority; disdain”. Merriam-Webster has retained some of the fuller meaning of the word: voluntary descent from one’s rank or dignity in relations with an inferior.

Hang in there with me as we go through a quick study of the word…with the help of others much smarter than me.

“God is condescending. It’s true. However, the problem is not that God is condescending, but that most people have no idea what condescending really means, nor why it should be a good thing that God has such an attitude.

If you were paying attention during high school English class, you know that there are actually two definitions for every word. One is the denotation, which is what the word actually means. The other is the connotation, which is the way the word is usually used in popular conversation. Condescension has a pretty bad connotation; it’s usually used to refer to someone who thinks they’re better than you are, and talks down to you as if coming down to your level is a major chore for them.

The denotation, however, is quite different. The word itself merely means “to come down [descend] together.” The prefix “con-” means “together with.”

If you split the word up and look at its parts, “to descend with,” you actually get a pretty good idea of what God’s interaction with humanity is all about. While it might be offensive for me to act as if I was in any way superior to my fellow humans, it would be silly for God to pretend that he was not superior to us in every single way.

Descending to our level is the only way he could possibly have a relationship with us at all. There is certainly no way that we humans, imperfect as we are, could otherwise ascend to his level. Unless God comes down to our level, we’re stuck with this gigantic gap between God’s holy perfection and our miserable imperfection.” – Jim Barringer

“Christ did not receive us because we were perfect, because he could see no fault in us, or because he hoped to gain somewhat at our hands. Ah, no! But, in loving condescension covering our faults, and seeking our good, he welcomed us to his heart; so, in the same way, and with the same purpose, let us receive one another.” – Charles Spurgeon

“There do meet in Jesus Christ, infinite highness, and infinite condescension.”Jonathan Edwards

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich. 2 Corinthians 8:9

Condescension, when applied to Redeemer God, is a word that must be reclaimed from the common vernacular of this culture. God, in sending His son, did not just descend. He condescended…He came down to be with us. He came as close as it was possible for a holy God to come to His people…bridging the great gap we could not bridge in our own helpless estate. He came down to be with us.

Thank You, God, for your glorious transcendent condescension. We are forever changed.Blog - Worship Wednesday - Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery 2

Worship with me to Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery“.

Come behold the wondrous mystery in the dawning of the King,
He, the theme of heaven’s praises, robed in frail humanity.
In our longing, in our darkness, now the light of life has come;
Look to Christ, who condescended, took on flesh to ransom us.

Come behold the wondrous mystery: He the perfect Son of Man,
In His living, in His suffering, never trace nor stain of sin
See the true and better Adam come to save the hell-bound man,
Christ, the great and sure fulfillment of the law, in Him we stand.

Come behold the wondrous mystery: Christ the Lord upon the tree;
In the stead of ruined sinners hangs the Lamb in victory.
See the price of our redemption; see the Father’s plan unfold,
Bringing many sons to glory, grace unmeasured, love untold!

Come behold the wondrous mystery: slain by death, the God of life;
But no grave could e’er restrain Him, praise the Lord, He is alive!
What a foretaste of deliverance; how unwavering our hope:
Christ in power resurrected, as we will be when he comes.*

In this season of celebrating Christmas, we marvel at the tenderness of God to come down for us, to condescend, in the form of a human…even a helpless baby. He came to us through Jesus to redeem us back to Himself. That redemption carried with it a death. A sacrifice for our sins. A payment for the debt we could not pay for ourselves. To be restored to the one true holy God. The high cost of our sins was covered by the Christ of Christmas – through His condescension to life with us and death for us. Words fail in view of His indescribable gift…Hallelujah!

Explore God – Is Jesus really God?

Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery by Matt Boswell, Michael Bleecker, and Matt Papa

God Condescends – Charles Spurgeon

Jonathan Edwards: The Infinite Highness and Condescension of Christ

God Is Condescending by Jim Barringer

Messiah, the Condescension of God Transcendent

The Condescension of our Transcendent God by Lee Tankersley

The Condescending God?

Does Condescend-Condescension Always Have a Negative Connotation?

Lady Catherine’s Condescension

*Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery: Hymn Wednesday

“In our longing, in our darkness
Now the light of life has come
Look to Christ, who condescended
Took on flesh to ransom us”*

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Monday Morning Moment – Are Customers Loyal to Your Company or to Your Employees?

OK, any of us familiar with Chick-Fil-A restaurants know the yummy goodness of their chicken sandwiches and waffle fries. However, the stand-alone deliciousness of the food can not actually be separated from the quality of customer service. If I lived in Lenoir, North Carolina, for instance, I would drive across town to dine at operator Mike Sheley’s Chick-Fil-A. His character, kindness, and community commitment infuse his staff. “It’s my pleasure” is part of their heart language and also our customer experience.

My loyalty to Southwest Airlines is similar. The free bag check and cheap fares definitely matter as I choose what airlines to book.  Then there is the customer service as fleshed out in Southwest employees like Candace Hewitt. She reached out to me, sitting at the gate, in a time of grieving over two years ago…and she still does from time to time.
That’s the kind of employee that inspires customer loyalty to a company.

Companies these days are often focused sharply on business processes that streamline innovation and the quality and availability of the product or service. Competition is a constant stressor.

What if we are missing the opportunity to nurture our hidden customers? The employees themselves.

Thought leader Michael Lowenstein researches and writes extensively on this. This making employees “ambassadors” of our companies. For those interested in exploring what he and others recommend, I’ve included links below.

In brief, if you’re thinking this might be an issue to address, here are Lowenstein’s recommendations for building such a workplace philosophy and ethic:

Some years ago, my colleague Jill Griffin and I identified nine ‘best practices’ for generating employee behavior which extends beyond loyalty to contribution and commitment.

1. Build a Climate of Trust – That Works Both Ways
2. Train, Train, Train and Cross-Train
3. Make Sure Each Employee Has A Career Path
4. Provide Frequent Evaluations and Reviews
5. Seek To Inform, Seek To Debrief
6. Recognize and Reward Initiative
7. Ask Employees What They Want
8. By All Means, Have Fun
9. Hire The Right Employees In The First Place

To build more of the first best practice, employee trust and empowerment, into the company culture, consider the following:

• Insure staff trust and empowerment are key values in the firm’s mission and vision statements
• Practice effective story-telling
• Create company rites and rituals that help reinforce the rewards of employee trust
• Maintain a free flow of information between management and staff to reinforce the trust factor and help prevent negative communication and gossip.
• Actively expose all employees to customers’ perception of experience value
• Teach senior managers the importance of ‘walking the talk’ and inspiring employee trust. – Michael Lowenstein

Whatever our company or organization, cultivating practices which enhance employee loyalty will yield the fruit of customer loyalty. Whether or not we can measure that, in the end, the former is a worthy goal all on its own.

Research: Are Clients Loyal to Your Firm or the People in It? – Joe Raffiee

Why Managers Should Care About Employee Loyalty? – Timothy Keiningham and Lerzan Aksoy

Does Employee Loyalty = Customer Loyalty? And, Did It Ever? – Michael Lowenstein

World-Class Customer Service – The Key Is Caring – Horst Schulze on a Culture of Service – Deb Mills Writer

Eyes on the Customer Experience Prize: Will 2016 Be the Year of the Emotionally-Driven Employee Ambassador? – Michael Lowenstein

Jeffrey Pfeffer: Why Companies No Longer Reward Loyal Employees – Eilene Zimmerman

8 Reasons to Keep Your Customers Loyal – Rama Ramaswami

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Saturday Short – Sweet Christmas Nostalgia – Somewhere in My Memory – Michael W. Smith

In our attic, there’s a space is filled with bins of Christmas loveliness. Tree decorations, wall and room decor, linens, and nativities from around the world (including a few of the made in China sort).

This year I decided to clear out some of the stuff, albeit still lovely but nothing my kids would cherish, should they be the ones clearing it out one day.

The bag of someone else’s treasures in my car headed to Hope Thrift yesterday was my front-seat passenger. While Christmas music played, I occasionally looked over at that bag, and my thoughts filled with memories of Mom.

In the bag were several sets of vinyl Christmas placemats and cloth napkins. During our childhood, Mom used to decorate our small rancher with so much beauty at Christmas. Most of it either homemade or bought at the local discount store. Still…when the family gathered around all the tables scattered through the house, it was magical. Color and light. Wonder at how she brought the fragrance of loveliness out of so little.

Even though I don’t use those red and green placemats, I had a hesitation in the thrift store parking lot. Could I let go of them? In that moment it was like peeling away a part of my memory of Mom and my heart ached.

Then while still in the driver’s seat, with the car running, a song I’d never heard on the radio came on. It was Michael W. Smith’s Somewhere In My Memory (from his 2014 album The Spirit of Christmas.

In this song, his granddaughter Audrey sings (when did Michael W. Smith get old enough to have a granddaughter?!). The song was actually originally featured in the film Home Alone. The musical score was composed by John Williams.

Have a listen:

Candles in the window
Shadows painting the ceiling
Gazing at the fire glow
Feeling that gingerbread feeling

Precious moments, special people
Happy faces, I can see

Somewhere in my memory
Christmas joys all around me
Living in my memory
All of the music, all of the magic
All of the family, home here with me

Precious moments, special people
Happy faces, I can see

Somewhere in my memory
All of the music, all of the magic
All of the family, home
here with me*

What a gift music is (right, Nathan?). It was one of those “Christmas comes” moments. I sat and listened to that song, remembering a mom who could stretch her income better than anyone I knew. Probably because it was always about bringing joy to others. I didn’t have to have those placemats to remember what a gift Mom was to all of us.

[Now the cloth napkins she made…and the crocheted Christmas ornaments…still with me.]

So Happy Saturday, kind readers. If you can’t afford the gifts you’d like to give your family, take heart. Christmas still comes for us. Most probably what your loved ones want most for Christmas…is you.

If finances aren’t an issue for you this Christmas, then still we have good advice in this image of a holiday bucket list:

I am so enamored this year with the graces God gives us in this season – small remembrances of what matters more than trying to find that perfect Christmas gift…or having every minute of your December weekends filled with parties or other invitations. One such grace for me that also happened yesterday was waiting for my order at Chick-Fil-A. I was standing at the end of the farm table in their dining room and saw the plaque below for the first time. Surprised by the joy of this.

A Better Way Ministries -a place of refuge for men struggling with life controlling issues such as drug and alcohol addictions

Anyway….there you have my Saturday morning rambling on this second day of Advent 2017. I do celebrate you amazing and persevering shoppers for just the right presents for your loved ones. It is such a joy for us on the receiving end of that.

One day a Christmas book for my children (like the one below I found in an estate sale) is going to be my gift to them. Until then, gifts of some sort, probably severely lacking imagination, will make it under the tree…and the best part?

“All of the music, all of the magic
All of the family, home here with me”.

*Michael W. Smith – Somewhere In My Memory Lyrics | MetroLyrics

YouTube Video – Michael W. Smith – Somewhere In My Memory Feat. Audrey Smith

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5 Friday Faves – Advent Readings, Beyond the Guitar, Preventing Type 2 Diabetes, Family Hospitality, and Christmas Outings

It’s Friday, and the first day of Advent this year of our Lord 2017. My plan is to stretch and savor every single day of this December. I won’t write about every one of those days, but hope to be present in each. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually. No sad memories, regrets, wishing something to be that probably won’t be will sully this bright beautiful series of days. So there’s my hope. Care to share yours?

Following are my 5 favorite finds of this week, culled from so many. Hope you enjoy and please share yours in Comments…for our delight.

1) Advent Readings – I love the daily moments of reflection on Advent (“coming” of Christ) and wrote about it here. If I can be so bold, it’s worth a read today. Resource choices abound for reading and listening on these 25 (oops….24) days to Christmas.

Advent – Welcoming the Savior at Christmastime – Holding a Place for His Coming – Deb Mills Writer

John Piper has taken his Advent readingsGood News of Great Joy – and put them on podcasts. I’m starting those today.Photo Credit: iDisciple

As well as other readings (see that previous blog) in these days I’m determined to seize and savor.

Not celebrate?

Your burden is too great to bear?
Your loneliness is intensified during this Christmas season?
Your tears have no end?

Not celebrate?

You should lead the celebration!
You should run through the streets
to ring the bells and sing the loudest!
You should fling the tinsel on the tree,
and open your house to your neighbors, and call them in to dance!
For it is you above all others who know the joy of Advent.
It is unto you that a Savior is born this day,
One who comes to lift your burden from your shoulders,
One who comes to wipe the tears from your eyes.
You are not alone,
for He is born this day to you.Ann Weems

2) Beyond the Guitar – Nathan’s latest arrangement – a lovely piece from the videogame Final Fantasy X – feels like Christmas. Enjoy To Zanarkand! Looking forward to more Christmasy arrangements from this guy this month.

YouTube Video – Final Fantasy X: To Zanarkand – Classical Guitar Cover – Beyond the Guitar

3) Preventing Type 2 Diabetes – If there is a way to prevent Type 2 diabetes, I want to try. I’ve watched this disease chip away at the health of too many. Sugar is the culprit, I believe. We all love its intoxicant qualities…the anticipation of eating a sugar-laden food and the memory of the experience which cycles back to anticipation of the next experience (I’m that way with my morning cup of coffee as well). Dealing with our sugar dependence isn’t easy nor simple.Photo Credit: Flickr

However, it is doable…if we want to prevent pre-diabetes…and we want to live longer than diabetes will allow us.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

A fascinating podcast with nutrition science journalist Gary Taubes will encourage and empower you – he’s not just another trend-setting diet guru either:

Is Sugar Slowly Killing Us? My conversation with Gary Taubes

Is Sugar Slowly Killing Us – My Conversation with Gary Taubes – Podcast – Shane Parrish of Farnam Street

Don’t Wait Until You Have Diabetes to Make Lifestyle Changes

4) Family Hospitality – Holiday seasons lend themselves to company of various configurations, coming and going, all space to land and food. I love gathering folks together. When our children were growing up and we were overseas, it wasn’t always their preference the enormous numbers of people who came and went from our home. Still they dealt with their parents with grace, most of the time, and we learned gradually to respect their own need for space, for quiet, and for our undivided attention. It was a family process and we all grew through it. I highly recommend exercising hospitality as a family…with everyone involved in some capacity and tempered by the stage and age of family members.

Photo Credit: MaxPixel

Lisa Chan has written a beautiful defense of hospitality in family. It’s entitled “Would You Let a Stranger Live with You? Laying Aside the Fear of Hospitality”. Not all of us would live as Lisa and Francis Chan live – but there is much to learn from them on loving outside our comfort zone.

5) Christmas Outings – Last night I had the pleasure of participating in an international potluck supper. My car was packed with a dear Sudanese family who I’ve grown to know and love in the process of helping the mom with her English in trying to find a job. We had so much fun eating foods from various cultures, meeting new friends, and watching the kids play games together. We drove by some of the Christmas light displays on the way back to their apartment. This is the kind of experience that truly starts the clock for Christmas. The images that follow depict some of the not-to-miss experiences for us in our part of Virginia: Lewis Ginter GardenFest, Maymont Victorian Holidays, VCU Holiday Gala, Henrico Christmas Mother, Busch Gardens Christmas Town, and the Tacky Light Tour – complete with family, neighbors, and friends (old and new).

That’s it for this week. Would love for you to subscribe to this blog if you haven’t already, and would love to have you share your favorite finds from this week (Comments below). In the meantime, as you take in all the brilliance and wonder of this season…be safe and gentle with yourself and each other.

Bonuses:

YouTube Video – Selling a 1996 Honda Ad – hilarious!

YouTube Video – CarMax Response to Above Video – brilliant!

7 Powerful Ways How to Give Yourself Permission to Be Happy – Lolly Daskal

Hardcore History Podcast – Hours long – fascinating – for your Christmas car rides

Estate Cleanouts – Checklist – Legacy Navigator

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Worship Wednesday – Desperate Faith – Healing Is In Your Hands – Christy Nockels

Photo Credit: Everyday Theologian, Rod Ovitt

When Jesus had crossed over again by boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around Him while He was by the sea. 22 One of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at His feet and kept begging Him, “My little daughter is at death’s door. Come and lay Your hands on her so she can get well and live.”Mark 5:21-23

Photo Credit: Free Bible Images

So Jesus went with him, and a large crowd followed and pressed around Him. And a woman was there who had been afflicted for twelve years by an issue of bleeding. She had suffered greatly under the care of many physicians and had spent all she had, but to no avail. Instead, her condition had only grown worse.…Mark 5:24-26

The Biblical accounts of two desperate daughters are found in three of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). In Mark 5, we see Jesus in a throng of people pressing in to be close to him. Jairus, the local religious leader, manages to get to him on behalf of his very ill 12-year-old daughter. Jesus agrees to go home with Jairus. He would heal this beloved child.

Then the drama escalates as a woman, plagued with a bleeding disorder for 12 years, also pushes through the crowd to get to Jesus. For all those years, she had tried everything to be well, to have the sentence of “unclean” removed from her daily existence. Just imagine being this woman. Refused admission into any religious service. For 12 years. Known and avoided by all in her village. For 12 years. If married, even unable to cook for her family or have the nearness of their company.

In desperate faith, this unnamed woman, having heard of Jesus, believed in his ability to heal her. She reckoned that all she needed to do was to touch the edge of his robe, and she could be healed.

She squeezed through the crowd, surely having to conceal her identity…and reached just far enough…to touch the hem of his garment. She was healed immediately.Photo Credit: Magdala

The riveting account of this divine encounter goes on to reveal to us that Jesus knew power had gone out of him. In the teeming crowd, he recognized one, in particular, had touched him. When she came forward to identify herself, he greeted her with the tenderest of words:

“Daughter,” he said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be free from your affliction.” [Mark 5:33]

Desperate faith is not about working up to enough faith for God to move in a miraculous way. The most critical factor in faith is its object. Both Jairus and this afflicted woman had faith in Jesus – they believed he could heal and they leaned on him in their struggle.

Photo Credit: Preparing the Way

Did we forget about Jairus? No we did not. However, within this story there is another truth. Sometimes, we have to wait…what seems an eternity…but not really. Even in the short delay to get back home, his little daughter had died. While he waited on Jesus’ encounter with this woman (whom he surely knew and knew she was unclean), he must have been aghast at how her touch would make Jesus unclean.

No…that isn’t how it goes. Nothing we bring to Jesus changes his nature. Jesus transforms our uncleanness. He moves us, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves, from death to life. In our desperation, when we know there is nowhere to go but to him, he is there. Present. Ready to release his power on our behalf…because he loves us. In turn, we love him…and whatever is causing heartache in our lives fades in comparison.Photo Credit: Free Bible Images

Jesus didn’t keep Jairus’ daughter from dying, but he brought her back to life. Neither she, nor her father, nor anyone else who witnessed this would ever be the same.

One last thought…what about all the rest of the crowd jostling Jesus? Only two pushed through in faith. Only two had life-changing encounters with him. The rest must have been merely curious. May it never be so for us. When our struggles leave us grasping desperately for help…may our reach find the One who knows exactly what we need and responds with love and power.

Worship please with me to the song Healing Is In Your Hands by Christy Nockels:

No mountain, no valley, no gain or loss we know
Could keep us from Your love
No sickness, no secret, no chain is strong enough
To keep us from Your love
To keep us from Your love

How high, how wide
No matter where I am, healing is in Your hands
How deep, How strong
And now by Your grace I stand, healing is in Your hands

Our present, our future, our past is in Your hands
We’re covered by Your blood
We’re covered by Your blood

How high, How wide
No matter where I am, healing is in Your hands
How deep, How strong
And now by Your grace I stand, healing is in Your hands

In all things we know that
We are more than conquerors
You keep us by Your love*

Dear Ones, if you find yourself in a desperate situation right now, lean on the One who would go to a cross for you. Don’t give fear or evil pin you down…push through and, in faith, in belief in Him…touch your Healer. He is just that near to us.

*Lyrics to Healing Is In Your Hands – Songwriters: Chris Tomlin, Christy Nockels, Daniel Carson, Matt Redman, Nathan Nockels

YouTube Video – Healing Is In Your Hands – Christy Nockels

What Is the Meaning of the Story of the Woman With an Issue of Blood? – Got Questions

The Tale of Two Daughters – Mark 5 – Betsy Barber

The Woman With the Issue of Blood – Luke 8:43-48 – Shane Martin

YouTube Video – All I Need – Brian Courtney Wilson

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Monday Morning Moment – Turning Ordinary into Extraordinary – The Fred Factor

Photo Credit: SlideShare

Happy Monday, Friends! This weekend’s activities included a visit with friends in their home in the Virginia mountains. The wife is an artisan, and the husband is on staff at a nearby university. He, in fact, mentors student leaders as part of his work. In my little gift bag for them was a favorite leadership story by Mark Sanborn. Its odd title is The Fred Factor: How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary

Sanborn uses his experience of a mail carrier named Fred as the hero of his story. Fred, because of his commitment to personal care and service, elevates a seemingly mundane job into the stuff of excellence and fulfillment. On the long drive over, I opened the book and re-read the bits of wisdom we can learn from such a person’s character. We actually have such a mail carrier in our daily lives, and the mail delivery when he is on vacation is very different than when he is on the job.

[Our leader guy friend is a deep thinker who actually referred us to one of his favorite books as well: The 33 Strategies of War by Robert Greene. When we returned home we promptly ordered it and will be reading it by mid-week. Our friend can easily read the little book we gave him in a quick evening. My re-reading it on the drive over stirred its wisdom in my heart and my desire to share it with you as well. One day, I’ll share what Robert Greene teaches us from The 33 Strategies of War.]

The Fred Factor includes five distinctive features:Photo Credit: SlideShare

We can determine to deliver excellence in our action and attitude at work, no matter our situation. Mail carrier Fred demonstrated that and modeled the content for Sanborn’s book.

Just to give you a taste of his writing, I list four quotes from the book:

1) “When those who know are able to show, those who learn are able to grow.” – Mark Sanborn

A clear lesson here is to note your personnel who have shown mastery in their work and make opportunities for them to mentor those who are eager learners. It is a perfect win-win. Leadership development is an often-discussed topic but isn’t always executed in effective ways.

2) “When people feel that their contributions are unappreciated, they will stop trying. And when that happens, innovation dies.” – Mark Sanborn

Excellent employees don’t need appreciation or acknowledgement to keep them at the task. However, over time, they will weary of the task (and the vision meant to inspire innovation) if they don’t see how what they do fits in the larger picture. One strategy that prevents stagnation or disengagement is going back to 1) – teaming up mentors and those ready to learn.

3) “You are the spark that sets others on fire when you initiate.” – Mark Sanborn

Initiative is rewarded in a culture where there is freedom to create and ownership of work. Control is at a minimum and inclusion in problem-solving is high. For us as employees, nurturing our initiative is huge. For us as leaders, we do ourselves and our employees good when we guard against waning initiative.

One Behavior Separates the Successful from the Average – Benjamin P. Hardy

Six Simple Ways to Rekindle Your Employees’ Love For Their Job – Lama Ataya

4) “Faithfully doing your best, independent of the support, acknowledgment, or reward of others, is a key determinant in a fulfilling career.” – Mark Sanborn

At the end of the day, for all of us, we are the masters of our own work, in terms of excellence. The greatest challenge to how our day goes is our own attitude. We all know this. Still, it’s easy for us to allow the negative impact of others diminish who we are or what we do. We are wise to keep learning on the job, especially from folks like Fred (and writer Mark Sanborn).

Photo Credit: SlideShare

The Fred Factor – SlideShare – Jitendra Gupta

GoodReads Quotes – The Fred Factor: How Passion in Your Work and Life Can Turn the Ordinary into the Extraordinary by Mark Sanborn

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Saturday Short – Small Business Saturday – Franklin Engraving

What do you do when you meet up with an artist you admire? 1) You get a picture with her, and 2) you buy up a chunk of the inventory in her store. That’s how today went!

In America, we celebrate Thanksgiving on a Thursday. Then comes Black Friday with huge sales in all the major retailers. After fighting the crowds on Friday, we rally again to shop Small Business Saturday. That’s how I spent today. Shopping via my favorite small business.

Franklin Engraving is the creative venture of a petite powerhouse of a woman. Katie Franklin is a USAF veteran and mom of two. She clearly loves people and it shows in her personalized, made-to-order creations. Her love for other cultures is also obvious in her ease with all comers and her eye for what appeals to her wide range of clients.

I had the opportunity to visit her studio today. The fragrance and beauty of wood welcomed us in. Katie specializes in laser engraving and matches the wood to the designs she creates. I especially loved seeing some of the old reclaimed wood pieces, wondering what barn or old house yielded them for Katie’s repurposing.

Seeing her work was intriguing. Her designs are programmed into the engraver, and then she must set up the laser field to etch the pattern accurately, as designed, on the piece of wood.

It was a little unnerving for me, watching her. No wonder the end products are so beautiful. Unique and exact in expressing the design.

I bought two etched wall hangings that she had fashioned for me. They were more beautiful than I had imagined when I commissioned her to do them. Other gifts caught my eye, so I left happily with more than I had planned originally.

She even threw in some apples from a local orchard for our trip home.

If you appreciate the beauty of natural wood, and if words are a language of love for you, Franklin Engraving is a business you will engage again and again.

Katie, owner-designer, can be reached through her Facebook and Etsy pages. You are going to love her work…and be enchanted by her joy in creating products personalized for you or those you love.

Since it’s Small Business Saturday, take advantage of today’s discount as well… If you miss it, there’s always Cyber Monday.

Franklin Engraving Facebook Page

Franklin Engraving Etsy Page

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5 Friday Faves – Thanksgiving Edition – the Gathering, Family Recipes, Table Talk, Living Room Sprawls, and Thanksgiving Day Naps

It’s Friday! The day after Thanksgiving. Otherwise known as Black Friday, the biggest shopping day in the US. Personally, I try not to even enter a store on this day. If you did, then you’re in better shape with your Christmas gift-buying than I am, so congratulations. For me, just one more day of Thanksgiving reflections. Another day of being thankful to God for this life…and for traditions that help us hold tight to each other…in the best of ways.

1) The Gathering – Our celebration of American Thanksgiving always involves some sort of gathering. When children grow up and start their own families, we parents are obliged to share them with their greater extended families on various holidays. I’m very thankful for the inlaws/in-loves I inherited through marrying Dave and we’re also thankful for our children’s inlaws. Whatever configuration you had this week, either for Thanksgiving Day or another occasion this week, I hope you had sweet times.

2) Family Recipes – It’s all about the food, right? My mom-in-law lavishes many lovely traditions on us with each holiday. One yummy one is her strawberry salad (a dessert, disguised as salad) served with the meal instead of after it. This year, we had Thanksgiving at home instead of at MomMom’s. Our youngest son Daniel followed her recipe and served up that dish of goodness, full of sweet memories for us. Also on our table this year was my mom’s turkey dressing and a sweet Southern cornbread from our daughter-in-law’s grandmother’s recipe.

The dilemma is when the recipe is a bit sketchy…as in this video below (so reminded me of how my mom cooked – a little bit of this and a little bit of that…to perfection).

Do you have any favorite family recipes you’d be willing to share? Even if it’s just the story? Please! In Comments below.

3) Table Talk – With so many around the table, the conversation is never dull. There’s always some variation of the theme of “what are you thankful for” – and then we turn to topics as varied as the feast spread before us. We hear about new girlfriends, new babies, new jobs, etc., etc. Always fascinating and occasionally we learn something outside of the good news category. This time, I learned about this thing called net neutrality. It’s defined as the principle that Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication.

Photo Credit: Flickr, Electronic Frontier Foundation

Basically, in the U.S., we have been able to access any type data we choose (whether it’s live-streaming, or an online game community, or an uploaded video of your nephew’s Christmas program). What puts net neutrality in the news is that the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is moving to deregulate the internet such that internet service providers can have more say in their treatment of data. We may have to pay more for some services, internet speed could be affected, and we might not have the final say on what is available to us (data-wise). It’s an interesting issue because there’s big money companies on both sides.

My husband and I were talking about it today as to what the motives would be on wanting net neutrality vs. wanting to get rid of it. He brought up the issue of privacy and how willing we are to give up personal information over the internet. Right now, for instance, Facebook is free…or is it? Dave quoted someone in regards to this:

“If something is free, you are the product.” Are the internet service providers after our money or our information  (personal data)? It is one or the other. Later this month the FCC will make their decision, and we’ll see what comes out of the loss of net neutrality…if that happens. What are your thoughts?

What Happens When ‘Net Neutrality’ Rules Bite the Dust? – Tali Arbel

A Primer: Just What Is Net Neutrality – and Why All the Fuss? [Here’s What You Need to Know About the Fight for an Open Internet] – BillMoyers.com Staff

A Net Neutrality Primer: Should the Internet Be Regulated Like Ma Bell? – Ryan Radia and Jessica Melugin

Net Neutrality – Why Are Americans So Worried About It Being Scrapped? – Alex Hern

4) Living Room Sprawls – After we leave the dinner table, and the dishes are washed and food put away, it’s find a place to sprawl in the living room. Either for a football game or a nap (see #5).

What favorite activity do you have besides those I listed? A walk outside? Table games? Talking family history with the old ones? Playing with the babies?

One activity I would love to add to Thanksgiving is singing around the piano. We do that at Christmas time, but the video below, by People and Songs, below got me excited about pulling folks together to sing at other times of the year as well.

People & Songs – Revelation Song – FB Live living room

Hear this popular worship song like you've NEVER heard before! Eight distinct voices worshipping God in a living room!

Posted by Sean Carter on Tuesday, November 14, 2017

YouTube Video – People & Songs – Revelation – FB Live Living Room

5) Thanksgiving Day Naps – My husband has a gift for naps. Not just after a big meal. He is one of those work hard/play hard kind of guys, and when he finally sits down…sleep can quickly overtake him.

It’s sweet to watch…until I, too, nod off.

Also, by the way, it turns out that tryptophan, the supposed sleep-inducing culprit in turkey, is actually found as much in chicken as in turkey…so tryptophan is not the agent bringing on sleep every Thanksgiving Day. What causes us to sleep after dinner this day – the HUGE carbohydrate load, right? Something along the order of 3000 calories in one meal for most of us. Makes me sleepy just thinking about it.

YouTube Video – Does Turkey Make You Sleepy? – Dr. Daniel Barone

Verify: Does Turkey Make You Sleepy? – Abigail Curran

Now that Thanksgiving is properly celebrated it’s on to Christmas! Cranking up the radio for 24/7 Christmas music! Just heard Josh Wilson’s Jesus Is Alive for the first time today. One of these days, our son Nathan (Beyond the Guitar) will hopefully acquiesce to our badgering for a classical guitar Christmas album…so stay tuned. Also on the weekend post-Thanksgiving, Christmas lights seem to magically appear on houses all around this city (see Tacky Light Tour). How about yours?

Bonus: The Dennehy Family (here in Virginia)- “Family Is Adoption.”

Loving Parents Adopted 9 Special Needs Children

‘That Armless Guy’: Guitarist George Dennehy’s Inspirational Journey

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