Category Archives: All Good Gifts

This Quiet Girl – To Know Her Is To Love Her, and I Know Her Very Well

30 years ago, I knew this would be the day. Our baby was coming. It was still the wee hours of the morning, but labor wakes us. I let Dave sleep until it got to a place that I knew we probably needed to go. It was a windy pre-dawn drive to the hospital. That first day of March.

“It’s a girl!” How would I have known then how much she would change our lives? We had an inkling when, just days into parenting, and my hormones all over the place, I looked up at Dave, with her in my lap and tears in my eyes. “What if something were to happen to her?” – asked the new mom on the edge. Dave brought me back to myself when he said, “Look at how much joy she’s brought us in just these few days. We treat each day as precious…” It was something like that. He doesn’t remember, and all I can say is that each day has been precious.

This quiet girl spent her preschool years in East Tennessee enjoying friends from the neighborhood and church. She didn’t require much entertaining. The world of her imagination was rich and deep. She welcomed two little brothers in that time.

As their big sister, she created elaborate make-believe games, and they loved following her lead in play. This, of course, would end in time, as teen years would find all three off doing more of their own thing. Fun times together and shared memories.

Other times, the boys thought of her more like an old aunt…a third parent…rather than sister. Fortunately that season passed with them all still friends.

This quiet girl has known God since she was tiny. She’s always been an old soul, and that sensibleness and understanding about life informed her grasp of God. She isn’t perfect, by any means, but she carries into adulthood a faith that both anchors her and moves her toward His purposes.

She loves music and for all her life she has filled our home with singing or piano playing. I don’t know if that influenced her guitarist or harpist brothers. Their music has just been a joy…for the most part…our musical tastes have all had their own journeys. Remembering her high school girl band days still makes me smile. She plays the radio now more than the piano, and she isn’t pursuing a choir or praise team experience…but I hope she does again one day.

When we pulled her out of her lovely small-town life, along with her brothers, to move to Africa, this quiet girl took it in stride. We were always grateful to see the hand of God in these adjustments. There were tears…great, gushing cries over missing friends and family and grieving precious things left behind (even her dog once)…my heart would almost break over those tears. Then, like the sun breaking through storm clouds, she would give in to laughter. That would break the tension for all of us…that crazy-sweet laughter from a tear-drenched face. Her own wrestling through the many moves of our lives had to have helped our boys do the same. She helped us, for sure.

Making friends was sometimes challenging for this one whom we bounced around from country to country. Always having to start over was hard for her. She’s not one to push in or draw attention to herself. How thankful we were for the friends who opened up to friendship with this quiet girl. These are some of her most cherished friendships. When she does feel comfortable enough to be herself, she probably surprises people with her resoluteness, strong opinions, and deep loyalties. These are actually things I appreciate about this quiet girl. She is not going away. As we get older, it is a tremendous comfort to know that she has settled that. She will be there, God willing. With this one, you get life-long friendships and forever love.

When this quiet girl went back to the US for college, we would miss her terribly. Our home re-configured and the boys became the young men of the house. Her visits home were dear for all of us…as she perched around wherever we had landed at home and told us stories of life at school. I never tired of those stories.

After college, she would teach for several years (both inner city and county schools). Lots of crying followed by laughter in those days. The friendships that came out of both college and teaching are precious to her…lots of battle scars and victories to share there.

This quiet girl fell in love. She never really dated in high school. We as her parents were glad she, or the boys, didn’t suffer serial broken hearts. To find one so right for her as the quiet young man she married gladdened our hearts for her…and for us all.

Then she finally got a much-longed-for sister when one of her brothers married (and another when her husband’s brother married).

…and our first grandchild has this quiet girl as mommy.

[No pics of this little one on the blog yet. One day… The grandparents, I can tell you, are smitten with this little one not-so-quiet as the parents.]

I guess it’s a 30th birthday that made me want to write about this quiet girl. To know her is to love her, and I know her very well.

So Sweet Girl, Dear Daughter of ours, when you read this blog (and you do, so thanks for that), on this your 30th birthday, hope you’re having a Beautiful Day and know how Priceless you are to God Himself and to all who know and love you.

5 Friday Faves – Reversing Diabetes, Circle of Gratitude, Love Songs, Asking Good Questions, and the Ideal Team Player

1) Reversing Diabetes – Maybe you don’t think about diabetes. I do.
So far I have held it off. Not because I’ve mastered a healthy diet or an active lifestyle. Just teetering probably on the brink. Diabetes is one of those diseases that, if we live long enough, will probably hit one out of three of us. 1 in 3. So when I come across a great article about reversing it (which is rare), I jump on it. Lou Schuler has written a powerful piece for Mens’ Health on How to Reverse Diabetes. He writes in a non-shaming, matter-of-fact way with lots of pragmatic counsel and success stories. Our problem is we don’t think we can reverse it…we figure it is inevitable if we continue with reckless eating and holding our couches down so they don’t get away. I was encouraged by Schuler’s article.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

We can reverse diabetes with three specific interventions – lose the weight (or don’t gain the weight over our lifetime); especially control our belly fat; and exercise (even just walking after we eat can make a big difference). I have loved ones who are diabetic or pre-diabetic. I hope they are encouraged by this….I am. Resolved not to be 1 in 3.

Photo Credit: Flickr

2) Circle of Gratitude -Gratitude is a terrific gift all by itself. What’s really fun is when our expression of gratitude actually triggers gratitude in the person for whom we’re thankful. Justin Kanoya describes this as a circle of gratitude. You have been the recipient of some great service or other good thing (fill in the blank) and you want to thank them well for what they did for you. You don’t just send an effusive text or Facebook message. Nor do you pick up a one-card-fits-all-purposes to send them. You want it to be reflective of what they did themselves. Kanoya carefully picked out some hand-made cards from local artisans. He then wrote specific detailed thanks for each person’s generosity toward him. Lastly, he slipped in gift-cards for spa treatments.Photo Credit: Flickr

Kanoya describes how satisfying that was, but the circle of gratitude closed for him when he received back all manner of thanks for his thanks, from those who received his cards. Sweet. Have you had this experience – when someone’s gratitude felt even more generous than what you did for him/her? That’s a circle of gratitude.

3) Love Songs – Do you have a favorite or meaningful love song? For Dave and me, it was the oldies song playing on the radio when we first kissed. I Only Have Eyes For You. He tells me he actually waited for just the right song because we would remember it always (not like “Hotel California”). That was a long time ago. It was such a moment that, after we married, we even asked a local artist to do a painting for us as a reminder of that sweet song and sweet moment. Photo Credit: Artist – Betty Skaggs

Facebook has become a bit redundant for me lately – not just the political parlay but all the videos. Still there was one this week that touched my heart. It was a homemade video at a church Valentine banquet. A couple was standing at the mic and the husband was singing a karaoke version of Lionel Richie’s Truly to his wife. So funny and deliciously dear.

Do you have a favorite love song and moment? Please share with us in Comments below.

4) Asking Good Questions – There was a season in my professional life when my husband and I directed a study abroad program with young adults right out of college. They would return to the US to attend graduate school but wanted a deeper understanding of the Middle East, through an immersion experience. During those sessions, we would often have visits from their parents. One mom gave me surprising and difficult advice. She said her son (along with these other 20=somethings) prefer coming up with their own answers (solutions to their own problems). The key for us in supervision and mentoring was to ask them the kind of questions that would get them to those answers. I wanted the easy way out; I wanted to just tell them what they needed to know. Saves a lot of pain for all of us, but didn’t help them become better problem-solvers. Ever since, I’ve been trying to figure out how to ask good questions.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

When leadership coach and blogger Paul Sohn interviewed talk radio host and author Ken Coleman, they talked about this very thing. Asking good questions.  about asking questions.  – What’s the greatest question a person can ask/answer? “Why am I here?”

[When you read Sohn’s interview, don’t miss the Comments. Really fascinating.]

One Question: Life-Changing Answers From Today’s Leading Voices – Ken Coleman

5) Ideal Team Player – Pat Lencioni’s book The Ideal Team Player is one of our favorite books lately, and I’ve already written about it here. It’s a fave again this week because I discovered some helps for discovering just how humble, hungry, and people smart we are. On Lencioni’s website, he offers several free resources and tools. Photo Credit: Pexels

One tool was a free self-assessment of these three virtues of an ideal team player.  It was very helpful, especially in pointing out areas where I tend to hold myself back. Check it out. Seriously.

Photo Credit: Table Group

Monday Morning Moment – True Humility in Leadership – So Not Cliché

Those are my five faves for this week. Below you will find a bonus from one of my favorite documentary makers – Andrew Morgan. He’s directing a series of short films on Untold America. This past month, he focused on the many sides of democracy in America. Next, I believe, he is covering immigration stories. Follow him and Untold America on Facebook or Twitter. You don’t want to miss any of these films and the people whose stories they capture.

Have a safe and refreshing weekend, Friends.

Bonus: Untold America’s Documentary Series on Democracy

Untold America – Facebook Page

Valentine’s Day – Making It Ours

Blog - Valentine's Day & Love

[Adapted from the Archives]

Valentine’s Day, as a holiday, is ripe with all sorts of possibilities… and potential frustrations. It’s a day that picks at our contentment and whispers in our ears, “Is this enough? this love I have? these loves I have?” I say we take this holiday, turn it on its head, and totally own it.

What do you love about Valentine’s Day? Most probably, you are women reading this blog, because men seriously don’t want any more information on how to celebrate this day. We women have this totally lovely day thrust upon us once a year to do with it how we want. ..so let’s get after it.

Here’s what I love about this day:

1) I can be as effusive and gushy as I want on this one day of the year. It’s allowed…tolerated…appreciated even. Cards, phone calls, and social media shouting out to those we love…there’s a lot of relational muscle pumped on this day…wouldn’t hurt to keep this going through the rest of the year. Words. Are. Powerful.Blog - Heart & Love Much

2) It’s a golden opportunity to hang with our best buddies. Not just husbands or boyfriends, but moms, grandmoms, the widow neighbor down the street. Those glorious women in our lives… Valentine’s Day is a fine excuse to have lunch together, cake together, movie night together. Whatever. How thankful I am for the great women in my life…from lots of places in the world.Blog - Morocco friends2014 Phone pics July-December 119

3) This day lends itself to a total indulgence (guilt deferred) of sugary delights. Valentine’s Day blesses all excesses. I don’t eat chocolate these days, but Hershey’s Kisses still speak. Whether I eat those foil-wrapped happy little candies or not, they still generate lovely thoughts for me on this day…as do the other treats that come out especially on this day of the year.Blog - Valentine Goodies

Blog - Valentine Hearts

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4) I love how cheery people are toward each other related to Valentine’s Day (kind of back to the gushy/effusive side of this day). Whether it’s decorating a colleague’s cubicle wall or lavishing gifts on your child’s teacher…it can make for a sweet day. Whether there’s a dear man in our lives or not, we can use this day to bless others…just for the fun of it (for them AND for us).Blog - Valentines on a cubicle by Heather TeaterPhoto Credit: Cublical Decorating – Heather Teater2013 Feb Valentine's Day 001

 5) Last thing I love about Valentine’s Day is its celebration of love itself. The history of Valentine’s Day is far from the romance and roses we expect today. Yet, if there is something worthy of setting aside a day, it is love – real, deep, sacrificial and satisfying love. Maybe it’s a stretch to consider that sort of love on a day that’s been riddled with commercialism, but that’s where I would like to end. Today, more than anything I celebrate the God of love who teaches us best how to love. First loving Him and then, because of Him, loving each other as we love ourselves. Blog - Valentine #2

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:37-39

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up;  does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil;   does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth;   bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Happy Valentine’s Day, Friends.Blog - Friends - Valentines #1

The Single Way to do Valentine’s Day – Mandisa

A Tribute to Charlotte Ray – Cal Thomas

Saturday Short – Love Notes – From Mom

IMAG2718 (2)

[From the Archives]

Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. – Hebrews 3:13

Our family has never lived close to the grandparents. This was never easy…for any of us. Before I married, I did live close to home, and my mom was my best friend. She died several years ago, and I often say to people who knew her that “when I grow up, I want to be just like her.” Still working on that.

Mom and I shared a weakness for words…they are probably excessively important to us, delivering both positive and (sometimes) negative weight. She was an amazing encourager. She rarely missed an opportunity to lift another’s spirit or to speak loving truth to someone desperate for God’s touch.

When I moved away to take a teaching job, she and my dad helped me move. New Haven, Connecticut was a 2-day drive from Georgia. It’s the farthest I had ever wandered from home. She stayed a week to help me settle in.  While there, she was such great company. We explored the city together and laughed over a new culture and cried at the missing that was ahead for us.

She filled my freezer with her baking, and, while I was at work, she wrote notes. Then she hid them everywhere. After she flew home, I began finding them. In my coffee mug. Under my pillow. In the pocket of my coat. Among my reference books. Behind my music on the piano. She was with me in the love notes she left, and it made the distance between us…less.IMAG2720 (2)

My mom and I also had a weakness for bits of paper. I kept every one of her notes. These from that move over 30 years ago are fading…red ink on pink paper. There are a lifetime of notes between my mom and me. The tradition she started on that first move has become a life-long tradition for our family. Our visits back and forth, across the US and then the globe, have been papered by these little notes.

Our children, from the time they could write, entered into this tradition much to the joy of their grandparents. Before we would leave again, these three young ones would write of their affection for their grandparents and hide them all over their houses. I delighted in their cooperation in this conspiracy of love.

Mom always wrote notes…not just to us but to so many. She and her Sunday School Class ladies would send cards every week to the sick ones or the sad ones. She had a special burden for the elderly, for widows (including functional widows, deserted by husbands) and for fatherless children (again including those “orphaned” by still-living fathers). She inspired me by her humble ambition .

Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world. – James 1:27

I am so thankful for my mom’s bits of paper…for her love…and for her perseverance in encouraging and serving others. Her generation is aging, and it is for us to pick up these traditions and pass them on somehow to the next generations…Maybe there won’t be bits of paper or love notes like in the past. I do hope we still take the time to write. Definitely, the call to serve and to encourage is as current as today. My life continues to be rich with those, young and old, who reach out to those around them with words of affirmation and kindness. Written or not, they are love notes to my heart.

Thanks, Mom. Thank God for you.

Mom pictures for website 012

The 59 “One Anothers” of the New Testament

This Quiet Girl – To Know Her Is To Love Her, and I Know Her Very Well

30 years ago, I knew this would be the day. Our baby was coming. It was still the wee hours of the morning, but labor wakes us. I let Dave sleep until it got to a place that I knew we probably needed to go. It was a windy pre-dawn drive to the hospital. That first day of March.

“It’s a girl!” How would I have known then how much she would change our lives? We had an inkling when, just days into parenting, and my hormones all over the place, I looked up at Dave, with her in my lap and tears in my eyes. “What if something were to happen to her?” – asked the new mom on the edge. Dave brought me back to myself when he said, “Look at how much joy she’s brought us in just these few days. We treat each day as precious…” It was something like that. He doesn’t remember, and all I can say is that each day has been precious.

This quiet girl spent her preschool years in East Tennessee enjoying friends from the neighborhood and church. She didn’t require much entertaining. The world of her imagination was rich and deep. She welcomed two little brothers in that time.

As their big sister, she created elaborate make-believe games, and they loved following her lead in play. This, of course, would end in time, as teen years would find all three off doing more of their own thing. Fun times together and shared memories.

Other times, the boys thought of her more like an old aunt…a third parent…rather than sister. Fortunately that season passed with them all still friends.

This quiet girl has known God since she was tiny. She’s always been an old soul, and that sensibleness and understanding about life informed her grasp of God. She isn’t perfect, by any means, but she carries into adulthood a faith that both anchors her and moves her toward His purposes.

She loves music and for all her life she has filled our home with singing or piano playing. I don’t know if that influenced her guitarist or harpist brothers. Their music has just been a joy…for the most part…our musical tastes have all had their own journeys. Remembering her high school girl band days still makes me smile. She plays the radio now more than the piano, and she isn’t pursuing a choir or praise team experience…but I hope she does again one day.

When we pulled her out of her lovely small-town life, along with her brothers, to move to Africa, this quiet girl took it in stride. We were always grateful to see the hand of God in these adjustments. There were tears…great, gushing cries over missing friends and family and grieving precious things left behind (even her dog once)…my heart would almost break over those tears. Then, like the sun breaking through storm clouds, she would give in to laughter. That would break the tension for all of us…that crazy-sweet laughter from a tear-drenched face. Her own wrestling through the many moves of our lives had to have helped our boys do the same. She helped us, for sure.

Making friends was sometimes challenging for this one whom we bounced around from country to country. Always having to start over was hard for her. She’s not one to push in or draw attention to herself. How thankful we were for the friends who opened up to friendship with this quiet girl. They are some of her most cherished friendships. When she does feel comfortable enough to be herself, she probably surprises people with her resoluteness, strong opinions, and deep loyalties. These are actually things I appreciate about this quiet girl. She is not going away. As we get older, it is a tremendous comfort to know that she has settled that. She will be there, God willing. With this one, you get life-long friendships and forever love.

When this quiet girl went back to the US for college, we would miss her terribly. Our home re-configured and the boys became the young men of the house. Her visits home were dear for all of us…as she perched around wherever we had landed at home and told us stories of life at school. I never tired of those stories.

After college, she would teach for several years (both inner city and county schools). Lots of crying followed by laughter in those days. The friendships that came out of both college and teaching are precious to her…lots of battle scars and victories to share there.

This quiet girl fell in love. She never really dated in high school. We as her parents were glad she, or the boys, didn’t suffer serial broken hearts. To find one so right for her as the quiet young man she married gladdened our hearts for her…and for us all.

Then she finally got a much-longed-for sister when one of her brothers married (and another when her husband’s brother married).

…and our first grandchild has this quiet girl as mommy.

[No pics of this little one on the blog yet. One day… The grandparents, I can tell you, are smitten with this little one not-so-quiet as the parents.]

I guess it’s a 30th birthday that made me want to write about this quiet girl. To know her is to love her, and I know her very well.

So Sweet Girl, Dear Daughter of ours, when you read this blog (and you do, so thanks for that), on this your 30th birthday, hope you’re having a Beautiful Day and know how Priceless you are to God Himself and to all who know and love you.

Worship Wednesday – I Will Rise – Chris Tomlin

Photo Credit: YouTube

Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”Revelation 5:11-12

“I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” – Jesus – John 16:33

Chris Tomlin is a songwriter and worship leader. He writes for worshipers…and has since he was 14.  My own worship life with God has been strongly influenced by Tomlin and his collaborators.

The song, I Will Rise, is a lyric that personalizes the experience of a Christ-follower laying this life down for the next. When our dad died recently, we were comforted by the truth of this song as we thought of what Dad must be experiencing entering Heaven. No more sorrow. No more pain.

Just as Chris Tomlin’s song I Will Rise gives us a sweet glimpse of Heaven, Ann Voskamp’s books point us to the beauty of life here…even when broken. Author of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, she has written another very different book. Raw in its honesty and transparency, this book The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life delves deep into brokenness. Uncomfortably deep. Yet, that is where we find healing.Photo Credit: Ann Voskamp

At the age of 16, Ann was broken…grieving the little sister who died suddenly, missing her mother in her own world of mental illness, and her father, though near physically but far into his own dark thoughts. To even feel anything, Ann….this exquisitely beautiful girl with the brightest of futures on her horizon….sank into harming herself, through cutting. The Broken Way reveals all this brokenness and more…yet with the loveliness of God’s provision in brokenness…His own good brokenness.

Years later, a long way down the road from her own childhood, Ann writes about a dark day as a mom. Her farmer husband drew her close to him and responded in this way:

“You know – everything all across this farm says the same thing, you know that, right?…The seed breaks to give us the wheat. The soil breaks to give us the crop, the sky breaks to give us the rain, the wheat breaks to give us the bread. And the bread breaks to give us the feast. There was once even an alabaster jar that broke to give Him all the glory…Never be afraid of being a broken thing.” [p. 25, The Broken Way]

Photo Credit: Melanie S. Pickett

We all have some measure of brokenness…as I turn the pages of Ann’s book, I realize we can’t compare our broken with another’s. God meets us in the darkest places…I know that from my own experience and seeing it, over and over, in the lives of others. Like Ann Voskamp. Reaching up our hand, we find God reaching down.

Watching Dad in the last year of his life…his Alzheimer’s taking more and more of his memory, and his cancer roaring out of remission…God was there. To experience the grace in those days…with Dad…and to watch family members and friends rally around him…was seeing God move in close to him…and to us.

In the brokenness of Dad’s life in those last days, we saw God’s glory shine through the cracks and imperfections of age and illness. In our brokenness, serving Dad in our weakness, God gave us more love, more grace, more strength…than we ever had before.

Back around to Tomlin’s song, I Will Rise. In death…and in life, we have this anthem.  What confidence, joy, and peace are ours in Him. Hallelujah!Photo Credit: The Gingham Apron

Worship with me.

There’s a peace I’ve come to know
Though my heart and flesh may fail
There’s an anchor for my soul
I can say “It is well”

Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead

[Chorus:]
And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

There’s a day that’s drawing near
When this darkness breaks to light
And the shadows disappear
And my faith shall be my eyes

Jesus has overcome
And the grave is overwhelmed
The victory is won
He is risen from the dead

[Chorus:]
And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise

And I hear the voice of many angels sing,
“Worthy is the Lamb”
And I hear the cry of every longing heart,
“Worthy is the Lamb”
[x2]

[Chorus:]
And I will rise when He calls my name
No more sorrow, no more pain
I will rise on eagles’ wings
Before my God fall on my knees
And rise
I will rise*

*Lyrics and Chords to I Will Rise – Songwriters: Chris Tomlin, Jesse Reeves, Louie Giglio, and Matt Maher

YouTube Video – Chris Tomlin Talks About I Will Rise

YouTube Video – I Will Rise – Chris Tomlin (Live)

YouTube Video – Laura Story – Open Hands (Lyric Video) ft. Mac Powell

YouTube Video – The Broken Way – A Daring Path into the Abundant Life – Take the Dare

Worship Wednesday – Beneath the Waters (I Will Rise) – Hillsong – DebMillsWriter

5 Friday Faves – Stuff I Like to Do – Had to Think About It

Happy Friday!

A friend asked me yesterday about what I like to do around Richmond….this small city big on events, restaurants, and natural beauty. I had trouble coming up with things. Not because I never get out…but just don’t think in terms of stuff I like to do. It made me realize that my life these days is more reactive/responsive than intentional and proactive. Really got me thinking…

Here are 5 favorite things I like to do…not bound to location…

1) Team/Family Activities – As much of my life is spent in solitary endeavors, creating, serving, and playing as a team energizes me. I love to learn from others and the momentum and synergy of a group work inspire me to push through. This isn’t just doing sometime collectively as a group of people…not really invested in each other. This is working together as a team! It’s serving a great purpose…together, not just alongside other people.  Love that process. Also in play, game nights are special fun for the chatter and laughter around the table as much as for the adventure of the gaming itself.

2) Being Able to Support and/or Encourage Our Adult Children – There’s a strange tension in this. We are glad for our children to launch as adults and they are glad to be on their own and pursuing their own careers and interests. Still, after so many years of being under the same roof and intimately in each others’ lives, I’m glad for touch-points. Praying for them always (my privilege and special responsibility). Babysitting for a grandchild. Listening to their hopes and dreams. Offering counsel on a struggle (when asked…and sometimes not even). Supporting financially within healthy and honoring bounds. You hear a lot about Nathan in here. I long to be able to support him in his musical career…but didn’t really know how. Just this week, he made that easier by affiliating with Patreon. Now we’re a part of his small but growing community of patrons.

3) Travel and the People We Travel To and With – I’m not an experience or destination collector, so travel to tick off a bucket list isn’t a motivation. However, it’s possible that’s because we have had the great fortune of travel as a normal part of our lives over the years. We have lived in Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco. Dave and I spent our 25th wedding anniversary in Paris, France. As a family, we’ve shared incredible destinations…from the Red Sea to the Sahara Desert, from trips in Europe and to Africa. My international travel has been curbed a bit, but there is still tremendous joy in trips to Laurel, Delaware and Hoschton, Georgia (to see family) and to such places as Midland, Texas and Nashville, Tennessee to see friends. Etc., etc., etc. It’s less the destination…as what the travel brings in times together.

4) Food Events – It’s my birthday today, and there will definitely be food events. Food itself is a delight, of course. The sweet side-benefit of food events is that person sitting across from me. Or the children and adults gathered close around the long family table. Or the folks cozied on couches around the room. Or even (gasp) the long-legged obstacle course of men filling the floor space in front of a televised football game. What food does to draw out conversation or bond people together is a marvelous thing. I have favorite restaurants, like you…but it’s the event itself that blesses the heart (less the work of it, more the people of it).

5) Divine Appointments – Okay…these are not within our control, really…so they can’t be scheduled into one’s happy life. Or, maybe they can. We can definitely grease the tracks to experience them. How? I know my whole day can be altered – both in awareness and experience – if studying Scripture and praying is part of my early morning routine. “Bible before breakfast” was a routine, growing up, of a friend of mine. Not in any kind of legalistic or ritualistic sense… as much as spiritual habit that can change a person’s thinking, choices, and engagement with God and others. That early morning time with God sets the tone for my day. His activity in my life and that of others around me becomes more obvious. God is a good and active agent in His creation and among his people. All we have to do is tune our minds to see Him…and He is there. Even when my early morning quiet time is on the lean side…or neglected altogether, it’s still possible to reset our sights on Him through the day and experience wonders. I just hate to miss Him from early on…because I’ve chosen other lesser activities…like even sitting down and writing…

There are my five favorites… They didn’t include writing…which is sort of a given (as in this blog). They didn’t include photography – also a given (in my desire to document everything). They didn’t include movie and popcorn nights which I actually LOVE as well….that will definitely happen on my birthday. Thanks, Friend, for stirring my thinking yesterday. Being more proactive in pursuing these five is now on my list! Do you have a list of favorite things you fill your life with? Please comment below. If you live in Richmond, maybe you could also share your favorites about this city. It’s possible I need to get out more.

Happy a safe and restful weekend!

80 Years Young – A Birthday Tribute to One Extraordinary Woman – My Mom-in-Law

Mother-in-law jokes are lost on me. They’re just not funny and are so rude, really, given they are perpetrated against the mother of the person we chose to spend our lives with… Makes no sense to me.

My mom-in-law may be extraordinary, but she would never think so. Her name is Julia and she grew up in a farm family. She married young and had two sons (after miscarrying a first child). I married her oldest. Her life has always been centered on her family…loving them, serving them…and always pointing them to God.

My own mom gave me wonderful counsel when I married – about how to treat my mom-in-law. She told me to love her like I loved my own mom. Now, you have to know my mom has been my best friend from childhood. She was wise, funny, loving…and I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. To even try to love someone like I loved her seemed impossible…but I knew she was right to point me in that direction.

This other young mom of the man I loved started out a stranger to me…but that didn’t last long. She welcomed me into her circle from the beginning, and I’ve been inside that circle for over 30 years now.

Julia has always treated me as something special…she somehow does that with each one of us – her husband, sons, daughters-in-law and now grandchildren and great-grands. It’s not a “something special” that puffs us up…like we’re the best out there…She marvels in a sweet humility…again, reveling in the goodness of God in bringing us all together. I totally feel that way about her as well. Grateful.

On this birthday, Julia becomes the youngest 80-year-old I know. She is as sharp and engaged in life as ever. Always a beauty, she is still lovely…smaller as the years have passed, but even cuter in her petiteness. Yet, she doesn’t draw attention to herself…ever. It’s just not her nature. She serves us…we are her joy…and visits home are always an occasion. A bountiful table. Beautiful touches all around the house celebrating the season. Special treats not just for the littles, but for all of us. She seriously thinks of everything. It used to tire me out, but through the years, I have relaxed in that I am not her, and that’s very o.k. Only one Mom-Mom is all we need.

A few highlights:

  • We are both picture-takers…so we’re not always in the picture. Still we are partners in this, as annoying as it is for the men (especially) in the family. We get those pictures…together.
  • With each child born/adopted into our family, Julia made the trip to spend a week with us – to help, love on us, celebrate the new babies and the big sister/brother. She cooked and cleaned, with zero fanfare – absolutely no drama – just lots of love.
  • She made birthdays and Christmas so special for our kids. There came a time that we finally insisted, “One package each, Mom”. That Christmas, when she and Dad John pulled into the driveway, that “one package each” was enormous…with lots of goodies tucked inside. Who could get mad at that? Such a heart she has!
  • When our lives took us in a direction that we would move overseas for a job, I was so afraid that heart of hers would break. It was painful at first, as she and John absorbed the shock of the news. Yes, we would be taking their only grandchildren to Africa… So hard… By the next day, she had steeled her heart. Not in an unfeeling way but in a hopeful trusting way. Distance would change nothing about her love for us…except to grow stronger.  
  • She and John would visit us in three countries. Complete with two 70-pound bags full of treasures for those grandchildren of hers. She had no ambition to visit the Pyramids of Giza, or Matmata, Tunisia (where Star Wars – a New Hope was filmed), or Rick’s Cafe in Casablanca. Still…we did all that, and so much more. She marveled…at the beauty of the places we love and even more so at the people we called friends and neighbors.
  • Part of her winsomeness to me was seeing the gentleness in how her husband and sons loved her. Once on a family trip to the Egyptian desert, we climbed Mt. Sinai. We took a slow, meandering route up to the top. It was amazing. However, on our return to the bottom, we chose a quicker (but unfortunately more brutal) route back down. 3,750 “steps of penitence”. At some point, over half-way down, Julia was feeling the burn of all that pounding down those stone steps. When Dave, my husband/her son, saw her struggle, he pulled back and helped support her the rest of the way down. Gently, quietly. That love and care for his mom spoke volumes to me…about him, and especially about her.Photo Credit: See the Holy Land
  • Julia doesn’t quit on people or things that matter. She is quick to forgive and always ready to reconcile. She is also brave, willing to do the hard thing, even when she wished it wouldn’t have to be hers to do. She and John have been a part of the same church for many, many years. As the membership aged, the church suffered  a lack of vision…and, in fact, began to die. Julia was one of a handful that continued to serve and believe God that He wasn’t finished with their church. She persevered…and when a revitalization program took off, with young pastors and many new members, she stayed the course with them. Oh I’m sure she may not always be easy on these young leaders…but they are wise to keep counsel with her. Her commitment to God, to the church, and to the nations is as passionate as ever…at 80. Think what a force to reckon with she might be at 90!
  • Finally, I want to speak of her servant heart. When she married John over 60 years ago, she took her vows very seriously…and continues to do so. In recent years, John has had to deal with Parkinson’s Disease…but not alone. She is right beside him… helping when he needs help, encouraging when he can do himself. She is there…”in sickness, and in health”…and she will be…there.

I can’t begin to say how much she has taught me about loving my husband and serving my family. When my precious mother died too many years ago, Julia drew even closer to love me through that… She has continued to teach me, on the foundation my mom laid, to put others first and to pray my heart out for those God has placed in my life. What stewardship I have learned from this sweet mom.

Mother-in-law jokes?! Please! What a grace God has given me in her. Is she extraordinary? She would definitely balk at that. Maybe she is just a picture of what God can do in an ordinary life surrendered to Him. She models for me a wife, mom, and mom-in-law I want to be.

Many things I leave unsaid. Some of the tears, and some of the laughter are ours to cherish privately… She did teach me her pie crust secret for which I’m forever thankful…on this side of life. As for the other side of life…and the other side of this 80th birthday…I am so grateful for our times together, for the witness of her life, for all she has taught me, and for the memories…all the sweet memories.

Happy birthday, Mom/Julia! Many more memories to make ahead!

Her children rise up and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the gates.” – Proverbs 31:28-31

Love Is a Laid-Down Life – Slowing Down for a Season – Deb Mills

New Year’s Day – Rewind – Sometimes Christmas Makes Me Cry

Blog - Mom's funeral“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”Matthew 5:4

It’s New Year’s Day – the first day of 2017. Yet, this Christmas was altered with the death of our father. All the observances of family gathering and celebrating his life sidelined some of Christmas for us. There just wasn’t room in our hearts for both. This leaves me, on New Year’s Day, not quite ready to close Christmas for 2016…including savoring the memories, not just of Dad, but of Mom as well.

[Following adapted from a previous blog]

It’s been 14 Christmases since Mom died. With all the joy that’s wrapped up in the great gift of being her daughter, there is that mix of sadness, especially at Christmas. I miss her still. After 14 years.

This Christmas, we have two wee grandchildren. What a gift again are these little ones. I knew it would be so from all around me with grandchildren…and I knew it first because of the deep joy her grandchildren brought to Mom.

When we boarded a plane, over 20 years ago, taking 3 of those grandchildren overseas, there were tears all around. We would miss so many Christmases together. Joy and sadness are a strange mixture but a deeply human, common experience. Common to us all.

As we celebrate the wonder of Christmas – the birth of the Messiah, the Savior – we know penetrating joy, infusing and informing all else in our lives. Entangled in that joy are the sorrows – the family we won’t have with us this year, the disappointments we never imagined, the loves in our life fighting to live to another Christmas.

So many stories we bring to the table with us. So many longings are unwrapped along with the gifts under the tree. There is an unspeakable silence in the Silent Night of Christmas… Both the joy of celebrating the coming of Christ and the ache of dealing with what is not yet.

As we prepare our hearts for Christmas, we must be gentle with ourselves and each other in the sorrow and the joy… We are all together in this very human in-between.

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted And saves those who are crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

“We try so hard to fight for our joy, don’t we? …But underneath, many of us still carry wounds ripped open by the reminders of relationships and situations that are no longer. And it hurts. And it’s hard. And we’re not sure what to do with it all. But while it can try its best to turn those beautiful gifts into bitter reminders of what’s missing, the sadness can’t compete when we remember that today is full. Full of pain, yes – sometimes. But also full of blessings and joy and things both big and small that God has given us to remind us of His love and faithfulness.” – Mary Carver

Blog - When Christmas is Hard - Holley Gerth - 90.5 PERPhoto Credit: Positive Hits PER

Singer/songwriters Mandisa and Matthew West collaborated on the song Christmas Makes Me Cry. It’s not a worship song but more a narrative on our lives. Still, it takes us to the God of all comfort.

Worship with me as we pause a moment in this celebration of Christmas and reflect on the side of it that brings tears, either on the inside…or out…tears of joy or tears of sorrow.

I think of loved ones who’ve passed away
And I pray they’re resting in a better place
I think of memories of years gone by
And sometimes Christmas makes me cry

I think of soldiers across the sea
Sometimes I wonder why it’s them instead of me
But for my freedom they give their lives
And sometimes Christmas makes me cry

Tears of thankfulness, tears of hope
I cry tears of joy at Christmas because I know
There is peace on earth for every heart to find
And sometimes Christmas makes me cry

I think of family, I think of home
And say a prayer for those who spend this time alone
‘Cause love can reach out into a silent night
And that’s why Christmas makes me cry

Tears of thankfulness, tears of hope
I cry tears of joy at Christmas because I know
There is peace on earth for every heart to find
And sometimes Christmas makes me cry

I think of Mary and the virgin birth
And I’m amazed by how much God thinks we are worth
That He would send His only Son to die
And sometimes Christmas makes me cry

Tears of thankfulness and tears of hope
I cry tears of joy at Christmas because I know
There is peace on earth for every heart to find
And sometimes Christmas makes me
Oh, sometimes Christmas makes me
Christmas makes me cry
Christmas makes me cry *

YouTube Video – Christmas Makes Me Cry – With Lyrics

*Lyrics to Christmas Makes Me Cry by Mandisa and Matthew West

When the Holidays Make You Sad

Jason & ChristmasMundane Faithfulness Podcast with Blythe Hunt as Jason talks about  community-building, grief, processing loss with children, and his first Christmas without Kara.

Just Drop the Blanket by Jason Soroski

Saturday Short – One Year Ending, Another Beginning – and Those We Love

We close out this year – 2016 – with one missing. Dad, and Papa, died on Christmas Day. I have written about him many times…today I write about what he leaves behind.

Death is strange – even for those of us who have lives transformed by God and who trust His Word that we will be with Him forever in Heaven. Death feels final…and solitary… Dad is not with us, yet we gather because of him. We grieve together…we will miss him together.

Already a father of five, our dad took on four more children when he married our mom. For decades now, nine children grew up and through adulthood under his influence. We and our children are linked because of this man…some loosely, some tightly.

Rend Collective’s album Campfire Christmas – Volume 1 was a gift this year, and the last song is a re-do of Auld Lang Syne. The song For All That You Have Done For Us  is both a perfect benediction for this year…and for what we’ve lost and what we’ve gained. In our earthly father in part…and wholly in our Heavenly Father.

Listen (and sing along if you choose) to this prayer and battle-cry.

Verse 1:
Your grace will never be forgot
Your mercy all my life
Will be my soul’s forever song
My story and my light
Verse 2:
From mountaintop to valley low
Through laughter and through tears
Surely the goodness of my God
Will follow all the years
Chorus:
For all that You have done, for us
For every battle won
We’ll raise a song to bless Your heart
For all that You have done
Verse 3:
In all our failures and regrets
You’ve always led us home
Redemption’s arm has raised us up
Our triumph in the storm
Verse 4:
In unity we’ll stand as one
As family we’ll go
Shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand
Into the great unknown*
…..As we said goodbye (for now) to our father, grandfather, uncle, and friend…we were sobered by the reality of that generation gone from our lives. All the old ones on my side of the family have died…
What’s left?…our faith, our friends, and our family. What comfort…and what joy! I am so thankful to God that He doesn’t leave us alone…ever.
 As you count down to the end of this year and look with hope to the next…may you find yourself surrounded by those who will love you, no matter what…and may you grow closer to a God who transcends suffering and death. In this week of parting…He has come close to us.