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
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.

Worship Wednesday – Remembering Dad At His Passing – Grateful to God

Papa on 90th

In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge. – Proverbs 14:26

Our dad, George Thomas McAdams, died on Christmas Day. Less than a month before his 94th birthday. He’d been persevering through both cancer and Alzheimer’s for a long time. He died at home with my brother and sister-in-law. When Dad’s condition had deteriorated such that he couldn’t stay in this beautiful assisted living situation he had, these two brought him home with them. They would care for him during “the long goodbye” of both diseases he had.

The hospice team said 3 weeks…it would be three months. I will always be grateful to my family for caring for Dad so well. My multiple trips coming in to assist probably helped me more than them…but those trips are done.

Now we gather and he’s gone.

We are just beginning to grieve fully. In recent years, we grieved by degrees as he lost parts of his memory and and his independence – both of which served him well for most of his long life.

I’ve written about Dad other times. The following glimpse of his life is adapted from a previous blog. [I left the “present tense” verbs…he was…and he is…and we will see him again in Heaven.]

Born in 1923, Dad was six years old at the start of the Great Depression. He would have to drop out of school in the 6th grade to help his father with their farm. He worked alongside his little sister and marveled how she seemed to always pick more cotton than he did in a day. A mischief was born in my dad in those days that continues today. When he and his sister talk about these lean years growing up, they both have such a joy in them remembering those days. This sweet aunt also has Alzheimer’s, and although her memory, like Dad’s, has worsened, her personality continues to be untouched, again like Dad’s. It’s such a joy for me to see her face light up when Dad remembers a story that she also remembers. Blog - Dad & Aunt Rosie[Dad with his beloved little sister Rosie – both with Alzheimer’s in their last years, both dying within months of each other]

Dad only finished 6th grade, but he schooled himself in life, learning farming from his dad, and then in the years since, carpentry, plumbing, electrical work. To me, he could always do anything.

As a teen, he went with the Civilian Conservation Corps and  worked on various road and park projects with other young men. Then he joined the Army during World War II. He fought in the Hedgerow (or Hedge Grove) Battles of Normandy with the 315th Infantry. He was a machine gunner and worked with a rocket launcher team. When we were younger, Dad wouldn’t talk about the war, but in his elder years, and until Alzheimer’s dulled his memory of details, he would tell us about those days. He even once had a brief conversation with General George Patton. His stories sent me searching for details about those battles. Amazing stories.Dad in Military - BLog

He married very young and has 5 children from his first marriage. [They have their own stories and memories which make Dad’s passing hard as well.] Some years later, when he married my mom, he took on her four children.  He’s the only dad I’ve ever known. I’m so grateful for his love, and work ethic, and determination in life. He and mom made a good team. The years of growing up with them married were the years that I learned about Jesus and became a Christ-follower.Blog - Debbie, Mom, & Dad (2)

Dad always had a servant heart. If he wasn’t out on a service truck somewhere helping someone, he was on the phone, talking someone through how to fix something. Like I said, he loved to work, and never minded calls from family, friends, neighbors who needed him.Dad - Blog

He and my mom would do a lot of serving together. They were very active in their church and also had a special heart for widows and the elderly. Their home was always open to people who needed a good meal or an encouraging word. Mom and Dad cared for her older brother and wife, as well as an elderly friend. Two grandchildren also lived with them for awhile, along with their dad (my oldest brother) during a difficult time of his own.Mom pictures for website 014aMom and Dad traveled overseas together to see other grandchildren (that would be our children) while we were living in Egypt and then in Tunisia. Then Mom was diagnosed with cancer and for the three years she endured that disease, Dad was right there for her. We were home the last year, and as hard as it was for all of us having to say goodbye to Mom, we were so touched by the sweet love they had through all of it. Dad would come twice more to see us, while we lived in Morocco, before he put his passport away.Dad - 2009 - Blog - Checkers

Dad has always been a character. Until his health started flagging (having had two cancers and severe cardiac issues), he was remarkably strong for his age. He says it’s from all the hard work he did all his life, and I believe him. He loves the Atlanta Braves (especially the years of Chipper Jones) and Southern Gospel music (the Gaither’s, in particular). I have never beat him in checkers. In fact, the only one who I knew could beat him was Mom. We don’t play checkers any more because when his memory started dimming, I didn’t want to take the chance that I might win. It would be so wrong.Dad & some of the grands on his 90th bday - Blog

He LOVES his grandchildren and great-grands. Full stop.  Blog - Dad & grandchildren - Jaden

Before his eyesight worsened, he read the Bible most days (studying his Sunday School lesson) and he read the newspaper every day. He loved to go out to  eat – fried fish, okra, chicken livers (emphasis on fried) and hot dogs at The Varsity. He had coffee every morning and loved whatever anyone set before him (his favorite being a sausage egg biscuit from Martin’s). The servers all knew him at his favorite local restaurants, and it was fun just sitting across from him, as they came around to wait our table and just to talk. He preferred Ford pickup trucks and always wanted a red one (his last truck would be a red pickup but this time a Dodge Ram). He had a poster of a red Ford truck on his bedroom wall for as long as I can remember. Blog - Dad or Papa - red Ford pickup truck (2)

At 92, Dad entered assisted living. Dad, Steph, & I with Mr. Wally at assisted living - Blog

All the family, his pastor, and friends would make it a good transition for him. He will make a place for himself there, and we will all come see him and tell the stories back to him that he’s told us all these long years.

2013 January Papa's 90th Birthday - Dad sleeping - BLog (2)

 I have a little of Dad’s mischief in me because one of the things I do that annoys my family is to take pictures of them when they’re napping. Just like we love to watch children sweetly sleeping, that’s what moves me to capture these images. There in the middle of all his loud family gathered happily for his 90th birthday, Dad nods off. Maybe because of all the cake he put away (did I mention his sweet tooth?)…but more so, I think he sleeps safe in the sweet company of those who love him.

Finally, I love his hands. He used to have rough, work-worn hands. Strong and capable. Now, they are soft…and not so strong. That doesn’t matter. They are still beautiful…and now we hold his hands, like he once held ours. How thankful we all are that he’s still with us…in this different season of life.Dad's hands edited - Blog

With the ravages of cancer, his age maybe, and Alzheimer’s Disease, Dad became very small before he died. Still amazingly strong, but small. Never mind that. We celebrate this man across the long years God gave him.  He’s had a very large life.

Understanding Alzheimer’s in 3 Minutes (video)

Alzheimer’s Disease – Caregiver Advice by Marie Marley, Author of Come Back Early Today: A Memoir of Love, Alzheimer’s and Joy

5 Tips for Talking with a Person who has Alzheimer’s

Website for The Best Friends Approach to Alzheimer’s Care by Virginia Bell & David Troxell

The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for People Who Have Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementias, and Memory Loss by Nancy Mace & Peter Rabins

Poem – I Am Standing Upon the Seashore – Henry Van Dyke

Photo Credit: Pinterest

5 Friday Faves – Answered Prayer, Christmas Cookies, Rogue One, Christmas Babies, and Unconditional Love

The Friday before Christmas…only children long for this day to come quickly. The rest of us try to balance work and to-do lists with the celebrations and the sweet kindnesses of this season. Sometimes our health doesn’t cooperate as I am fighting a cold writing this. Still, the weekend has arrived and Christmas fast approaches. Here are my faves for this week.

1) Answered Prayer – What an incredible thing that we can cry out to Almighty God, the Creator of all things, and He hears and responds. For several weeks, I’ve been wearing a prayer reminder on my wrist to keep a young woman in my thoughts and on my lips before God. She has been going through an unimaginable trial over many months and it seems only a merciful intervention from a loving God was going to make her situation turn around. Who knows how many people prayed for her….hundreds, for sure. I have never met her, but we were bonded together by her need and a God who calls us to come boldly to His throne…in prayer (Hebrews 4:16). We can’t presume on how God should move in a situation, but we can absolutely trust His wisdom and goodness. Over the last several days, we were able to see a miraculous turn of events…and her situation is redeemed. Does God always act in such a way? No…but He always acts on our behalf…

Any prayer that you have had answered that you could share in Comments below? Anything you continue to wait for God’s intervention? I would be pleased to pray with you.

2) Christmas Cookies – I don’t make Christmas cookies but love that others do. Just this week, we received several from sweet friends and my daughter. They are so cheery. It seems they also taste especially nice with coffee in front of a fire on a cold winter day. Hope you got to sample some this year.

3) Rogue One – On the Christmases when a Star Wars film is released, viewing it as a family has become one of our traditions. Photo Credit: Independent

Rogue One was really good. No spoilers here. It could definitely stand alone but also had several happy reminders of other Star Wars films. It is actually a prequel to one of the films, but I won’t give it away. We still get to look forward to more from LucasFilm to follow the 2015 A Force Awakens.

I love Bill Peel’s article Christmas Truth in Star Wars where he points out the themes of these films: “extreme evil, great good, desperate danger, genuine love, hopeless odds, and costly sacrifice”.

“Star Wars’ heroes are nobodies from nowhere, insignificant and irrelevant individuals as far as the world is concerned. Yet they change history.

Like Star Wars, the key characters in the Christmas story are nonentities: powerless peasants who live far from the halls of influence. A homeless couple with a powerless child born in an obscure village. Yet in fiction and real life, things are not always as they seem. These seemingly rag-tag nobodies are part of a web of cosmic events they cannot understand nor resist and take center stage in God’s kingdom.”

YouTube Medley Star Wars Medley – Beyond the Guitar

4) Christmas Babies
– A friend of mine had her first child this week…and on her birthday. This Christmas baby had a Christmas baby. Babies any time of the year are lovely, but at this time they dress up Christmas cards so beautifully. So darling, right?Photo Credit: Nameberry

Nathan of Beyond the Guitar posted a special Christmas greeting in his rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. Enjoy!

Photo Credit: YouTube

YouTube Video – Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – Beyond the Guitar

5) Unconditional Love – Christmas and the birth of Christ remind us of a love that we don’t deserve and cannot earn. Our parents showed us that kind of love and introduced us to the love of God.

Mom went to be with the Lord 14 years ago, and our Dad is days away from that same Homegoing. So thankful that because of what Christ did for us, we will see them again…and we can one day be face-to-face with the Lover of our souls.

YouTube Video – Noel – Chris Tomlin – Featuring Laurel Daigle

Photo Credit: Pinterest

May you have a blessed Christmas, drenched in the joy of the truth of the season…whatever your circumstances currently might be. For those who read this but do not celebrate Christmas, my prayer is that you know the love of Jesus…through those who follow Him…until the day you are personally acquainted with Him.

Hollens Family Christmas, a Music Contest, and a World of Collaboration

Photo Credit: Deseret News

One of the great joys of the long dark month of December (talking Northern Hemisphere here) is the music. There is so much gorgeous Christmas-related music that lights up our lives and warms our hearts – both sacred and secular. One album released this year is especially winsome to me because it incorporates multiple sweet elements. It is Hollens Family Christmas and I wanted to share a few particulars about why I bought it.

I didn’t know Peter Hollens until our son Nathan told us he was submitting a cover of one of Hollens’ songs for a music contest. Still, until his arrangement was published and the competition results were announced, I didn’t pay much attention.

Until yesterday…

Peter Hollens is a YouTuber, an acapella singer, and collaborator. All of things parts of who he is resonate with me. So now, I guess I’m a part of the Hollens Family…more a distant relative compared to being a part of the Beyond the Guitar family…but definitely won by the winsomeness of this other musician, Peter Hollens.

[Sidebar: one more sweet bit of trivia about him is that he is married to Evynne Hollins who was co-founder of the University of Oregon women’s acapella group Divisi. She and the group Divisi are featured in the book and later film Pitch Perfect. Clearly Evynne and Peter make beautiful music together.]

Back to yesterday…I had forgotten about Nathan’s arrangement submission for the music competition. Peter Hollens had sponsored this contest offering the grand prize of a collaboration with him on a future music project. Yesterday the results were announced.

Nathan didn’t win… There were 600 contestants who had submitted covers for Hollens’ composition December Song. Nathan landed in the top 17. We’re proud of him.

Not surprisingly for you who know me/read this blog, I listened to Nathan’s arrangement of December Song before even listening to Peter Hollens’ own version. The melody was so beautiful…wow!Photo Credit: YouTube

Searching on YouTube, I found Peter Hollens’ official version of the song….and we bought the album. Just like that.

A Pentatonix Christmas was our 2016 Christmas album…but now it has to share the spot with Hollens Family Christmas. Acapella and more.

Besides the beauty of Hollens’ music, his inclusion of others and his joyful exuberance are so winsome to me. December Song is a celebration of the Christmas message of “peace on earth, good will toward all”. It also expresses the longing for that to continue past this season…this season of Christmas.

Peter Hollens, in his own way, owns that desire through his many collaborations…lavishing love on and delight in others through the medium of music.

We see that in Nathan with his family. No fans here. Family.Photo Credit: Pinterest

“to Silent Nights
Holy Nights
And Angels Singing
Lullabies and
Heaven and Nature
Singing Good Will To All… To All”*

December Song arranged by Nathan Mills

*Lyrics by Peter Hollens and Anna Gilbert (lyric video)

Hollens Family Christmas Album


Worship Wednesday – I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day – Casting Crowns

Blog - I Heard the Bells - Worship Wednesday

Photo Credit:

Adapted from the Archives

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord… And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” – Luke 2:10-11, 13-14

In December, 1863, American poet and scholar Henry W. Longfellow received his wounded son home from battle. It was Christmas time, and the U.S. Civil War raged on. Having already lost his wife years earlier, Longfellow nursed his son, Charley, back to health. His own thoughts, in turmoil over all that was happening around him, he poured out in the poem “Christmas Bells”.

Longfellow clearly took comfort from God as he wrote, ending the poem with this stanza:

“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
        The Wrong shall fail,
        The Right prevail,
    With peace on earth, good-will to men.”*

I Heard the Bells is a Christmas carol, not a worship anthem. Yet, given the continuing wars and hardships of our day, we must tend the fires of our hope. God is the “lifter of our heads” (Psalm 3:3). He is the One who gives strength to our “weak hands and shaking knees” (Isaiah 35:3). He will do as He’s promised. He is faithful. When you hear the bells ring where you are this Christmas season, take heart in that. We must continue to pray for His peace on earth…and in our own hearts.  We can be vessels of His good-will toward our neighbors, both very near…and far away.

Worship with me…

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day (Lyric video)

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play
And mild and sweet their songs repeat
Of peace on earth good will to men

And the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (Peace on Earth)
In my heart I hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men

But the bells are ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir singing (Peace on Earth)
Does anybody hear them?
Peace on earth, good will to men

Then rang the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead, nor doth He sleep (Peace on Earth, peace on Earth)
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men

Then ringing singing on its way

The world revolved from night to day
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men

And the bells they’re ringing (Peace on Earth)
Like a choir they’re singing (Peace on Earth)
And with our hearts we’ll hear them
Peace on earth, good will to men

Do you hear the bells they’re ringing? (Peace on Earth)
The life the angels singing (Peace on Earth)
Open up your heart and hear them (Peace on Earth)
Peace on earth, good will to men

Peace on earth, Peace on earth
Peace on earth, Good will to men

YouTube Video – Casting Crowns performing I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

Casting Crowns’ Mark Hall On Christmas (Teaching Vignettes)

Christmas Carol Soldier – Story of Charley Appleton Longfellow & the occasion for H. W. Longfellow’s writing of the poem/lyric

The Story Behind I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day – Tom Stewart

*Longfellow’s poem Christmas Bells

Monday Morning Moment – A Word of Wisdom for the New Year – Holding Onto Good Employees

Photo Credit: Forbes

It’s the end of the year…anyone who is able is grabbing those vacation days and running with them. Probably few people are reading leadership posts this week, but even on end-of-year time off, I still think about the workplace. Occupational hazard (so to speak).

Thinking about the coming year always sets momentum for change for me. Not just wishful New Year’s resolutions…but actually taking strategic steps toward some change or another. When I came across Ron Carucci‘s post this week on leadership, he got me thinking about what keeps us on our jobs…and what causes us to pull away.

Thinking about work, we gravitate to what challenges us more than what satisfies us. Having interesting work, close colleagues, and a good boss would be a wonderful way to start the new year. If that’s your situation, then you should be off sipping hot cider, head in that new book, or playing games with your grandchildren.

If the challenges of your job are causing you to rethink whether to stay or look for other work, take some time to evaluate what is it that would put you on such a course of action. Having a job at all is no small thing. Go slowly in changing course and know, for sure, why you would make such a change.

There’s a cliché that surfaces in leadership articles (like the ones linked below) which speaks to the reasons why employees quit. It goes something like this: “People don’t leave jobs; they leave managers.”Photo Credit: Pinterest

Bosses have their own struggles – balancing the bottom line with keeping their employees equipped and engaged. It can be complicated to keep the customers, employees, and investors all pleased with their efforts and the product/service provided. Still…it is those in leadership that have the onus of keeping the best employees on the job.

So much has been written about this, because losing good people is hard on everyone in the workplace. Carucci talks about the three types of power that bosses wield: positional, relational, and informational. Using their power, managers can do much to assure fair treatment throughout divisions, to invest personally in individuals and teams, and to keep information pathways open and multi-directional. Read more of Carucci’s advice here…and here.

I’ve had some great bosses across my career – bosses that made me want to stay even when the work had become too hard or too same and colleagues had become too wearisome (or maybe it was me). There were times I stayed because of my relationship with that boss.

One of those bosses was Mary Florence Woody. In my first job after graduate school, she was the director of nursing of an 1100-bed inner-city teaching hospital. I interviewed with her for the oncology clinical specialist job. In my mid-20s, full of youth and confidence with little understanding of how much I didn’t know, I presented myself to this great lady. She was a giant in nursing in those days, and for all of her career actually. She asked me big questions that day and listened deeply, and somehow I got that job. It was a tremendous launch into a profession that was very kind to me.

Photo Credit: WHSC

Ms. Woody gave me some great counsel that day. She told me not to let my youth or inexperience define me. “If you determine to get to know and revere the people and their work, at all levels, then respect and regard will be returned to you.” Over the whole of my seven years working there, in the role of educator and practitioner, I did as she had advised. Mopping up spills, delivering food trays, making beds, troubleshooting equipment, rounding with physicians, nurses, dietitians, and chaplains. In whatever capacity the patients were served, I tried my hand at it. Not always well…but with persistence. That’s how I learned how valuable each person was on the team…and it helped me have perspective on the piece of care I provided as well.Photo Credit: Massey

Mary Woody helped me from that first day. Did we hang out together? Absolutely not. She had enormous responsibilities and time constraints, but she communicated what mattered.  Ms. Woody cared about her employees and it was obvious to all of us. She also let us find our own way, but not without applying her position and influence on our behalf.

Was I a “keeper”? Not sure…but I never had to guess whether Ms. Woody had confidence in me. She did…and the strength of that kept me out of the ditch for months into that new role. In fact, opportunities came my way that I could never have imagined. Thanks to Ms. Woody and other colleagues like her, I left that job to teach at Yale University…having so much more to offer than before.

All that to say what? When we look to the future as to whether we stay in a job or leave for another one, we must reckon with what matters most to us. There is no guarantee we won’t find a similar set of circumstances in the next job, so there’s that…

I hope you’ll read the Carucci, Bradberry and Myatt articles below. They all resonate with the same message, just different aspects of it. What can make a difference in keeping quality personnel on the job? Care and control are the critical components – more caring and less controlling. Something we can all consider in the new year…whatever our position…

Photo Credit: LinkedIn

Hold onto that resignation letter for a bit.  What would compel you to stay? When the right next job presents itself, take it…absolutely …but know for sure why you’re leaving this job. Then leave burning as few bridges as possible…like Jon Acuff advises, “Make sure you leave with one finger raised high: your thumb. As in, ‘Thumbs‑up guys. Thanks for letting me work here. I’m off to a different adventure, but you guys are awesome.'”

If you stay, maybe you can influence others by genuinely caring for them and by letting go of some control yourself. If your boss struggles in these areas, she could learn from you. Who knows?

Happy New Year…done with thinking about work for today… Bring on the apple cider.Photo Credit: Foodie Misadventures

Bad Mistakes That Make Good Employees Leave – Travis Bradberry

9 Things That Make Good Employees Quit – Travis Bradberry

10 Reasons Your Top Talent Will Leave You – Mike Myatt

Christmas Newsletters and the God of Christmas

I love Christmas newsletters – that art of drawing all the particular happenings of a year into the confines of one page. It’s a delight for me to sit in front of the fireplace and read what friends and family report on their lives in this year – the highlights and the hard places.

Not everyone writes newsletters nor send Christmas cards, and that is understandable. Still, when we get a letter from a friend like David Martin whom we rarely see but whose friendship we will treasure forever…life takes a pause as we read the particulars of life in East Tennessee…and of his walk with the Lord in these days.

I asked his permission to share this portion of his newsletter with you. David has always been very clear, in our conversations of both the holiness and love of God, and our total dependence on Him as Savior. Allow his words to help clear your head…they did my own.

What a year! Many have said that this was the worst election in our history. Our country is more divided than any time that I can remember in my life. The world has never seemed more unsafe. As I write this, wildfires (something we used to read about in other parts of our country) are burning Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. There have been days here that the smoke is so thick that you cannot stay outside for long. You could say that the storm is raging around us, but a storm reveals what you trust in. The storm has always been a way for God to remind us that He is bigger than us and our surroundings and He is in control. God’s sovereignty is never subjected to our circumstances. Our response shows if we trust Him. “Life is hard when you are the biggest person you know.” (my friend Neil) It is easy to focus on the waves, wind, and rain and forget who can calm the tempest with a word. It is our relationship with the one who controls the storm that allows us to be life-changers. Through our relationship with Him, we can remain calm when all around us panic. We bear fruit, not out of effort, but out of identity. It is not our effort that redeems us, but God’s grace. “Christianity is not about learning how to live within the lines; Christianity is about the joy of coloring.” (Mike Yaconelli)

Photo Credit: AZQuotes

Sinclair Ferguson wrote, “Our greatest temptation and mistake is to try to smuggle character into God’s work of grace.” There is nothing we can do to earn this gift, before or after accepting it. To add anything to God’s grace diminishes the gift. By understanding the nature of God and His gift of grace, we can see it for the wonderful gift it is. However, we must also keep a view of the holiness of God. My friend Neil said, “Modern worship has lost its sense of the Holiness of God because we sing about wanting to see God, touch, God, be with God, be wrapped in His embrace; anything Taylor Swift can write about we have come to believe we can do with God. Whenever I hear that, I hear an insufficient theology of the Holiness of God. We have disconnected the Grace of God from the nature of God and in so doing; we have made God approachable in the worst of ways.” To view God as your best friend or to try to relate to Him as you would any other friend or family member is to build your own idol in your image. Think about it.

As we enter this season, John Stott reminds us, [in his book The Cross of Christ], “Divine love triumphed over divine wrath by divine self-sacrifice.” God’s gift of His Son as a baby in the manger who would grow to a man and be the sacrificial Lamb of God is God’s grace in flesh. Photo Credit: Vance Christie

We live in a culture that wants the Grace of God, but not the Person of God. Everyone wants a free will until something happens that they cannot handle. Then they ask why did God let this happen to me? Yet the question should not be why there is suffering in the world, but why does God tolerate us in our sinfulness. The answer is grace! God’s amazing grace.

Unless you can see yourself as one of those in the crowd, full of hostility, anger, and hatred for the holy, innocent Lamb of God, Photo Credit: Free Bible Images

you really cannot understand the nature and depth of your sin, the necessity of the cross, or the extent of God’s grace offered freely to us.

As you celebrate the birth of Christ this year, remember the Father’s grace that demanded the sacrifice of His Son, so that He could restore us into a relationship with Him. Celebrate your identity in Him and extend grace to others.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Lois and David

Christ’s Gracious Condescension For Us – Vance Christie

5 Friday Faves – Spoken Word, Final Fantasy Guitar Arrangement, Kindness, Becoming a Super Achiever, and Acts of Service

Friday Faves is a highlight of my week. Just like my reading and life experiences are enriched by other writers’ weekly favorite finds, I take pleasure in thinking mine also encourage and even delight you as well sometimes. Unfortunately, in the last few weeks, I’ve run out of steam by week’s end. Travel is part of the drag on my writing, and some grieving over a very ill dad. Not many words to float my faves. Thanks to you who continue to stop by. It means the world to me. Following are five of my favorites for this week…enjoy…

1) Spoken Word – A poetry form, spoken word is defined as “an oral art that focuses on the aesthetics of word play, intonation, and voice inflection – includes any kind of poetry recited aloud, including hip-hop, jazz poetry, and traditional poetry readings”.  Glen Scrivener is poet and performer of spoken word. He’s Australian now living in the UK, so he’s got the accent and all.  He also has to be a very cool minister, given his gift with words that grab the heart. I just discovered him this week as one of his videos crossed my Facebook news-feed. It is entitled Santa Vs. Jesus and follows:

He Came Down and Christmas in Dark Places are two others that will minister to your heart…especially if life isn’t going as you thought it would. You can read more about Glen here and here.Photo Credit: Mackellars

2) Final Fantasy Guitar ArrangementNathan Mills of Beyond the Guitar has added another haunting arrangement to his guitar repertoire. His inspiration this time was the main theme (“Somnus”) of the video-game Final Fantasy XV. Nathan is an accomplished classical guitarist who has also applied his craft to arranging themes from movies, TV shows, and video games – music he’s loved over the years. I am still astounded at the beauty of these pieces when they are rendered through his skill, heart, and classical guitar. So lovely.

3) Kindness – When you are distracted by the stresses of life, and you’re just not yourself…every kindness is a great mercy. I’ve certainly experienced many over the last year during the illness of my dad. This week was not an exception. Traveling to Georgia to help care for dad, I was struck again at all the kindnesses extended to him by other family members, hospice staff, and friends. His pastor has become a pastor to me even. It got me thinking again of how we teach kindness to our children… I have the book Each Kindness by  Jacquelin Woodson and E. B. Lewis about a young girl, new to a school, who didn’t quite fit in. Although she was kind herself, she was shunned by other children. That tension and the story’s resolution captured so much about the transforming nature of kindness.

Modeling kindness is foundational as children see and then do. Reading about kindness can also strengthen that message. Joanna Goddard and her commenters have listed a treasure trove of books on kindness lessons for children.  A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead is a sweet story about a man caring uniquely for various animals in the zoo. Also The Empty Pot by Demi speaks of both kindness and truthfulness. Lastly, Mo Willems’ My Friend Is Sad speaks to a tenderness found between true friends. 

What books or experiences do you recommend to help young ones learn to be kind? Please comment below.

4) Becoming a Super Achiever – Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield have authored a book on how any of us might become a “super achiever” – The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do It So Swell. I have not read this book yet (nowhere near a superachiever in this skin…yet). However, thanks to Forbes writer Tanya Prive, we have a great intro to the subject in a quick list of 10.

Photo Credit: Amazon

Sweeney and Gosfield interviewed several highly successful individuals across many fields and discovered ten practices common to “super achievers”. They are:

  • Good Storytelling
  • Dedication to a Vision
  • Listening and Remaining Open
  • Pursuing Happiness
  • Intelligent Persistence
  • Testing Ideas in the Market
  • Fostering a Community
  • Constantly Evolving
  • Managing Emotions
  • Practicing Patience

Read more on each of these from Prive’s article, or better yet, check out the book. From the reviews so far on Amazon, it’s less a “how-to” for us and more a “how they did it” – as a myriad of super achievers tell their stories to the authors…worth the read for me to hear those stories.

5) Acts of Service – Years ago, I read this book 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. He talks about how we express and receive love in five major ways – time, touch, gifts, words of affirmation and acts of service. My husband, Dave, and I both experience love most deeply through words of affirmation and acts of service. Photo Credit: Pinterest

Christmas is a huge gift-giving holiday in our culture. I’m not the best at that, BUT I understand it, especially for those who experience love most happily through receiving gifts (our youngest son, for example). For me…acts of service and words of affirmation. Now…that can come through gift making or buying. [I need socks, etc., like everyone else.] Or, it can come through the raw work of serving. Dave has taken on a much harder job of giving me a requested act of service for Christmas, and the time he’s putting into it is already like receiving this gift every day, even before Christmas arrives. I won’t go into details, but we are both “pilers“. It’s just hard for us to expediently go through and get rid of stuff we’re no longer using. Order is a lovely thing, and as we get older, it is even more calming to a stressed and tired mind. He is giving the gift of “order” to me this Christmas…and hasn’t even asked the same from me. What love!!Photo Credit: DawsonandDawsonInc

So….there you have it…another Five Friday Faves…and on a Saturday. That’s just the kind of week it’s been. Enjoy the rest of your weekend…and receive every kindness as the gift it’s meant to be.

Worship Wednesday – Our God is With Us – Emmanuel

2013 December Christmas with Grandparents & Christmas Town 048

From the archives:

Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.  But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying:  “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” – Matthew 1:18-23

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. – Isaiah 7:14

I worship in my car. You know when you are stopped at a traffic light, and your windows are buzzing with the sound of the bass in the car next to you? You look over and they’re rocking out to some cool song? Well, I sometimes do the same…on a quieter less rockin’ level…but there’s still a lot going on in my car, too. Just to an Audience of One.

When Steven Curtis Chapman’s song Our God Is With Us comes on my Christmas music radio, my thoughts rein in to this great truth. We are not alone. God is always present with us.

He brought that reality as near to us as possible in the birth of Jesus, the God-Son, born to the virgin, Mary, over 2000 years ago. God revealed Himself personally through Jesus. I am no theologian, but this is very clear to me – everything I have read in Scripture on the life of Jesus, and everything I have experienced of Him myself. My heart resonates with the words of this song. Jesus is the “Immanuel” – He came to be with us – to save, to heal, to restore us to Himself. Hallelujah!

Worship with me…

Our God Is With Us

One of us is cryin’ as our hopes and dreams are led away in chains And we’re left all alone. One of us is dyin’ as our love is slowly lowered in the grave, oh, and we’re left all alone.

But for all of us who journey through the dark abyss of loneliness There comes a great announcement, we are never alone. For the maker of each heart that breaks, the giver of each breath we take, Has come to earth and given hope its birth.

And our God is with us, Emmanuel He’s come to save us, Emmanuel and we will never face life alone. Now that God has made Himself known as Father and Friend, with us through the end, Emmanuel, oh.

He spoke with prophets’ voices and showed Himself in a cloud of fire But no one had seen His face. Until the One Most Holy revealed to us His perfect heart’s desire and left His rightful place.

And in one glorious moment, all eternity was shaken as God broke through the darkness that had kept us apart. And with love that conquers loneliness, hope that fills all emptiness, He came to earth to show our worth.

And our God is with us, Emmanuel He’s come to save us, Emmanuel and we will never face life alone. Now that God has made Himself known As Father and Friend, with us through the end, Emmanuel, oh So rejoice, oh rejoice, Emmanuel has come.

And our God is with us, Emmanuel He’s come to save us, Emmanuel and we will never face life alone. Now that God has made Himself known as Father and Friend, with us through the end, Emmanuel.

Our God is with us, Emmanuel Our God is with us, oh Emmanuel Our God is with us.*

Steven Curtis Chapman & Michael W. Smith

*Lyrics to Our God Is With Us

YouTube video of Our God Is With Us – Full song – 6:43 minutes

YouTube video of Our God is With Us – shortened audio, with lyrics

Website for Steven Curtis Chapman [Our God Is With Us was a title on his first Christmas album, 1995, The Music of Christmas]

The Title Emmanuel and the Name Jesus

God Is One – the Wonder of Trinity [Tri-Unity] – God the Father, God, the Son, God the Holy Spirit – a simple lesson on an amazing reality

“Best of all, God is with us.” – John Wesley [for more great God-glorifying quotes by the John & Charles Wesley, click here.]

Monday Morning Moment – Them and Us, How Can That Be? Could Them and Us Become a We?

Blog - Work Culture - delta7Photo Credit: Delta 7

From the archives:

Recently, I was in an odd conversation with a friend from work. The more we talked, the more we sounded like a Dr. Seuss book. It went something like this:

“I don’t know how to be us with them. To be with them is to just be them. We must lose us; us no more will be. There’s no us in them; it’s so strange to me. How can they be them, with no us, you see? To give up us is too hard for me. So I can’t see a way to get to we.”

[Seriously, the conversation went like that…but better.]

Battling the us-them assignation is an ongoing workplace discipline. Even in the happiest, coolest companies, there is still an intentionality to keep work life positive for every employee. That inclusiveness is a hallmark for high morale and low walls (read: no silos).

BLog - Us vs Them - Work Culture - Silos - prolearn academy

Photo Credit: Prolearn-Academy

In a work culture where silos still exist, an us/them mentality can grow as each team or department draws in on itself and ignores or suspects the actions/values of others. It’s not a healthy situation for any of us…whether it’s the executive team insulated from others or the [fill in the blank] team hunkered down in its own mode of trying to survive. The first can be as unaware as the subject of the story “The Emperor’s New Clothes“, the second, well, is just miserable, and growing more so by the pay period.

So much has been written on this problem in the workplace – about that culture where us/them thinking and operations color productivity and morale. I have included several links below describing various recommendations and protocols to restore health to such organizations.

Blog - Work Culture 2Photo Credit: My Turnstone

I’ve always been that person who says, “Why can’t we just all get along?” In reality, we don’t have that situation always, but we can grease the tracks in that direction. Here are my own workplace rules regarding moving us and them to we:

  1. Make a practice of assuming the best of your bosses and colleagues. “Refuse to think ill of others” is my goal…and my accuracy in hitting that goal comes with practice and determination…and grace.
  2. Lean in to those with whom you struggle the most – the “thems” in your worklife. Especially the most powerful ones. Study them. Learn their language. Know them as well as you can. NOT for self-serving reasons, but for the benefit of the work itself. Any motive that only serves your personal situation will only make matters worse… ‘Nuff said.
  3. Refuse to get caught up in us/them complaining. Don’t make a big deal about it, but do your best to turn the conversation toward a positive end, change the subject altogether, or bow out if all else fails. Those negative conversations just bring you and your colleagues down and don’t accomplish anything. A short-lived “misery loves company” satisfaction isn’t worth the fall-out of such conversations.
  4. Bring down the silos, one brick at a time, if necessary. Maybe you aren’t experiencing any us/them anguish, but you know it exists. What can you do, individually and as a work team, to move to “we”? We have lots of work models out there for this. In fact, silos in the workplace are “so 80’s” (whatever that means…I hear it a lot, so I’m using it here). Use some of that meeting time, or talks over coffee, to be creative in how you can work better across teams…how you can learn more from each other…how you can defuse territoriality? If the “them” is management, you initiate dialog on setting work culture values that maximizes product excellence and employee engagement.
  5. Put processes in place – through your culture – to keep silos down. I would love to hear what your situation is and how you are making positive steps to grow/keep a healthy culture. Please comment below.

Sure…there are times we need to process a difficult situation at work with a trusted friend. Yes, us/them scenarios are painful…and wrong, honestly…especially in the workplace where we are meant to have shared goals, working toward the same outcomes. Maybe, the us/them relationships in a company are too distracting and we can’t see any solution (back to the Dr. Seuss-like conversation above). In that case, it’s possible we look outside our company for another situation. However, you take with you a piece of the us/them dilemma. You take you along to the next job. Better to develop muscle memory on how to “be we”, whenever possible, right where we are.

[Sidebar: I’ve written a lot about work culture – too many to mention – but you can search work culture under Blog – Deb Mills and learn as I have about what is possible if we stay engaged in our workplace.]

Blog - Work Place Culture - open.bufferPhoto Credit: Buffer

Overcoming Us vs. Them Challenges

Breaking the “Us and Them” Culture

How to Avoid Us vs. Them – Huffington Post

The 10 Buffer Values and How We Act on Them Every Day

The 4 Elements That Make Great Company Culture

How to Save a Broken Work Culture

From Us and Them to We Participative Organizational Culture

Them and us – How to use Trust as a Competitive Advantage

How CEOs Can End an Us Them Mentality

Us vs. Them – a Simple Recipe to Prevent Strong Society from Forming