5 Friday Faves – Beyond the Guitar Christmas, a Prayer for the Grieving, Experience and the Brain, Complaining Exposed, and Gift Giving

It’s Friday! Days before Christmas. So no time to lose…here’s this week’s five favorite finds:

1) Beyond the Guitar ChristmasNathan Mills of Beyond the Guitar has given us 4 sweet Christmas videos over the years. The latest is a medley of 3 Christmas movie classics on guitar. Watch it here:

A Star Wars Christmas – a Classical Guitar Mashup

December Song (Peter Hollens) – Classical Guitar Cover

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (w/ Surprise)

2) A Prayer for the Grieving – This Christmas more than any other I can remember is marked by multiple losses…friends who have died and family members of friends. Words are tricky when you want to reach out to those wounded by loss. Writer Dena Johnson Martin‘s prayer for the grieving at Christmas is a just-right-to-share piece for these dear ones who are still in the throes of grief right now. Especially those looking to God for help but don’t have the words either.

Photo Credit: YouTube, Dena Johnson Martin

A Prayer for Christmas Hope – Dena Johnson Martin [another prayer]

20 Messages of Advice for Suicide Loss Survivors During the Holidays – Sarah Schuster

What Grieving People Wish You Knew at Christmas – Nancy Guthrie

3) Experience and the Brain – You know the saying, “Practice makes perfect”? Well, that has been found to be true only with the right kind of practice. Another saying “Use it or lose it” however does continue to hold true. Exercising our brain and building our brain through experiences are both still vital for brain health and aptitude – from childhood through old age.

Author and brain injury survivor Debbie Hampton has given us 5 Ways Experience Changes the Brain. [It is a ton of cool science. I decided not to list those points out because you really need to read it – to glean just how we can power up learning through experience, intentional and meaningful experience, from early childhood through late adulthood.Photo Credit: Experience Life, Jon Spayde

Neuroplasticity is a fascination of mine. It is defined as “the ability of the brain to change throughout an individual’s life, e.g., brain activity associated with a given function can be transferred to a different location, the proportion of grey matter can change, and synapses may strengthen or weaken over time.”

“It refers to the physiological changes in the brain that happen as the result of our interactions with our environment. From the time the brain begins to develop in utero until the day we die, the connections among the cells in our brains reorganize in response to our changing needs. This dynamic process allows us to learn from and adapt to different experiences.” – Celeste Campbell (n.d.).

What I love about the potential of experience’s positive impact on brain function is that we can be strategic in our own actions and responses. Building healthy and meaningful mental responses rather than being passively reactive to whatever stimuli comes our way.

What Is Neuroplasticity? Definition + 14 Brain Plasticity Exercises

Use It or Lose It – Exercising Your Mind Becomes Even More Important in Old Age – Dawn C. Carr

Upgrade Your Brain – Jon Spayde

Monday Morning Moment – Neuroplasticity – Resetting Your Brain for Success at Work and Life – Deb Mills Writer

4) Complaining Exposed – When it comes to complaining, we all think of someone else who does it…not us. It is an irritating habit, and (like we saw in #3 on neuroplasticity), it only gets worse if unchecked. Poet writer Anne Peterson talks about complaining and how it flows out of 6 heart attitudes. Complaining reveals that:

  • We feel entitled.
  • We are impatient.
  • We hold on to resentment.
  • We compare ourselves to others.
  • We don’t think life is fair.
  • We are conformed to this world/culture.

Read her article for the particulars. Be prepared to rip the excuses off your complaining.

What Your Complaints Actually Reveal About Your Heart Anne Peterson

Photo Credit: Gary Vaynerchuk

Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk writes about how his mom and wife seem to be incapable of complaining and it’s one of the things he loves about them: “Complaining has zero value. Looking at the negative, seeing the glass as half empty, and complaining are some of the biggest wastes of time a human being can engage in. Instead, tackle the problem head on. Assess it, see what you can do about it, and then do just that. ‘Woe is me’ is truly one of the biggest things that can stand in the way of success both professionally and personally.”

Gary Vaynerchuk

One of the Few Things I Complain About: Complaining – Gary Vaynerchuk

5) Gift Giving – My shopping for Christmas is probably about as done as it will get. As for what I want for Christmas? Forgive the song reference, but all I want for Christmas…is you.Photo Credit: Facebook, Kelly’s Treehouse

When you can’t always have your family around…if you have friends who are generous and genius gift-givers, you can still wrap up all cozy with your family [photo fleece] anyway.

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Happy Christmas, y’all. Thanks for spending this bit of time here. It means a lot to me. May God’s richest Christmas blessing find a place in your heart.

Bonuses:

Who Is Jesus? – Explore God

Marwencol – the website and the feature-length film: Welcome to Marwen – What a story!

2018 Lights on Canoe Brook – The Greatest Showman

I Fit the Description – The Good Men ProjectPhoto Credit: Steve Locke, The Good Men Project

Photo Credit: Facebook; Pal’s Blountville

Photo Credit: Facebook, Christmas comes to Aleppo, Syria under reconstruction.

Photo Credit: Twitter, Music Notes

December Daffodil and Narcissus shoots in December at Lewis Ginter Botanical GardenPhoto Credit: Lewis Ginter Twitter

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Worship Wednesday – Our God Is With Us, Emmanuel – Steven Curtis Chapman

2013 December Christmas with Grandparents & Christmas Town 048

[Adapted from the Archives]

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

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

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 for an Audience of One.

When Steven Curtis Chapman’s song Our God Is With Us comes on the radio at Christmas, 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…

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.*

*Lyrics to Our God Is With Us – Songwriters Steve Curtis Chapman & Michael W. Smith

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.]

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Monday Morning Moment – Lessons on Life From a Grieving Husband

Photo Credit: National Institute on Aging

Time can be so fluid…like water in our hands. Hard to hold onto. This is evidenced often in this blog as Monday Morning Moments are posted on Tuesdays at times, and Friday Faves don’t make it up until Saturday or Sunday…or not until the next week.

Life happens…and is punctuated by significant and not-so events. One full-stop experience is the death of a loved one. It stops us in our tracks. We are shocked by it even when we see it coming. Death turns our feet into concrete and yet at the same time moves us to action. Necessary action that drags us forward in dealing with the loss of that one so important to us. Someone has to make arrangements; someone has to make decisions.

When that someone is you, a grand narrative is born in the darkness of loss. It is a gift from God in the wake of bereavement.

We who are bystanders, or close watchers, in the company of one grieving can learn so much about life…and the attentiveness of God over that one in distress.

In Genesis, an account is given, centuries ago, of the death of Sarah, the beloved wife of Abraham. This Abraham is considered the founding father of three major world religions today. In the Scripture he was considered a friend of God (James 2:23), and his faith was counted to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

The lessons on life that we learn from this husband grieving the loss of his wife include the following:

  • Death of a loved one reorients us to the transient nature of life. Even though Abraham and Sarah had been married for 90-100 years, the day would come that death would separate them. Their lives had taken them far from their home of Ur, in Mesopotamia. For many years, they lived in Canaan, always in tents. Always “foreigners and outsiders” (Genesis 23:4). As Abraham wept over the loss of his wife, he realized he had no place to bury her. Should he take her back home or make some provision for burying her where they lived? No matter how long we live, how long we may be married, or how wealthy we are…in this life, in many ways, we are simply sojourners…passing through.
  • The loss of someone we love moves us to put down a stake. In Abraham’s situation, this was a literal “planting a stake”. He negotiated with the men of Hebron to purchase a burial cave (and the land surrounding it) to lay his Sarah to rest. This was huge for him because, although he was wealthy, he had not bought any land, waiting on God. God had promised the land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants. Now, because of the necessity of a burial tomb, Abraham would stake claim to God’s promise by exercising his faith that Canaan would be his family home for all time. The cave for Sarah would also be where he and others in his family would be buried as well. In this land, Canaan. For many of us, the reality of losing a loved one brings into sharp clarity what all is lost with them. My mom was an incredibly faithful prayer warrior for her family and friends. She also lived a life of self-less service to others. It was joy for her that God would allow her such a life of purpose. When she died, I realized that putting down a stake, in her passing, would be to enter into the spiritual work she left behind. Taking hold of the baton my mom passed to us. Praying for and serving others. I’m not where she was in that…but growing.
  • Even in our pain, we can trust God to give us wisdom and care in dealing with those around us. When we are grieving, life doesn’t feel normal. It’s as if we operate on slow-motion. Our thoughts are muddled. People are saying things to us but we can’t seem to hear correctly. In the depth of his grief, in order to secure a burial place for Sarah, Abraham had to deal with people not like him in a culture not his own. Yet, he negotiated with sensitivity and clarity. In fact, the way he did his business that day is a lesson for any of us in working with others. He was gracious and generous. The sale of that land to Abraham went very well for the seller, and the ownership of it should never come into question in the future. When we are faced with responding to others, in the midst of our grief, we can take his example. God will lead us to be our best selves, even in the hardest of situations…if we keep our eyes on Him and we treat those in front of us in good faith. When we lose someone, people usually mean well…even when motives are suspect, we can respond graciously. If, like the owner of the property Abraham would buy, the person seems focused on their own gain, we can act with wisdom and expedience. Abraham needed a burial place that would forever be considered his property. He did what needed to be done…and God gave grace.
  • Lastly, whatever the loss, we can look to the future in hope and confidence. Abraham had a great promise from God for the future. He had only begun to see the promise unfold, but he trusted God for the rest (see Hebrews 11:13-16 below). When we lose someone the idea of never seeing them again would be horrific. In fact, I don’t see how people, who believe that this life is all we have, can survive the death of a loved one. Everything in this life gives evidence that we are made for eternity. I rejoice in the knowledge that this life is not our forever home. We have another homeland…a better place. God has it ready for His children – for that loved one we are mourning now and for us on another glorious day.

“These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they were thinking about where they came from, they would have had an opportunity to return. But they now desire a better place—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”Hebrews 11:13-16

Made of the Stuff of Eternity – A. W. Tozer

Our Hope in Grief – Ross Rhoads

Dealing with Death – Bob Deffinbaugh

Death of Sarah and Abraham – Ralph F. Wilson

Mourning the Death of a Spouse – National Institute on Aging

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Worship Wednesday – How Many Kings? – Marc Martel with Downhere

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[From the Archives]

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

Two out of so many favorite December experiences are Christmas songs on the radio and Christmas cards in my mailbox. For some maybe, all that Christmas music on various stations gets old…but for me, it’s a continual feast. Then those old-fashioned cards in red or green envelopes transform our mailbox from bill and junk mail holders to a wonder of news from friends and family.

[Most of the images you see on this blog are from treasured old Christmas cards.]

As to Christmas songs…there are so many beautiful ones – both standards and newer ones. Songwriter Marc Martel‘s How Many Kings, out since 2009, performed by the Canadian Christian band Downhere is one such song. My favorite radio station pops this one up often during the Christmas season. The lyrics allude to a visitation of some number of wise men from the Far East. Through their knowledge of both the ancient Scriptures (Micah 5:2)and the stars of Heaven, they were able to chart a course right to the baby Jesus, in his home in Bethlehem. How Many Kings speaks of their amazement and wonder…and ours…at the coming of the Christ Child. It is the story of such love as God had…has…for us in that even His own son He would not withhold from us…to make a path for us back to Him.IMG_0048

God sent His son to us. Our triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – perfectly One in unity through the ages – would somehow include 33 years of life on earth to bring Himself close to us. God with skin on – that we might understand better what love looks like and how we can live because of that love… Glory! Blog - Worship Wednesday - What KingsPhoto Credit: Quotesgram.com

Worship with me:

Follow the star to a place unexpected
Would you believe, after all we’ve projected, A child in a manger?
Lowly and small, the weakest of all
Unlikeliest hero, wrapped in his mother’s shawl – Just a child – Is this who we’ve waited for? ’cause…

How many kings step down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
And how many gods have poured out their hearts to romance a world that is torn all apart – how many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Bringing our gifts for the newborn Savior All that we have, whether costly or meek because we believe.
Gold for his honor, and frankincense for his pleasure and myrrh for the cross he will suffer Do you believe?
Is this who we’ve waited for?

Only one did that for me
All, all for me…
All for you…

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I am not sure Downhere is even performing together currently, but thank you, Brothers, for this song…and thank You, God, for giving Your Son…for us all.Blog - How Many Kings - DownherePhoto Credit: Downhere.com

Lyrics to How Many Kings – Songwriters – Marc A. Martel and Jason Germain

Story Behind the Song How Many Kings

Downhere Band Website

Bethlehem Skyline – album including How Many Kings

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An End-of-Year Leadership Checklist – Priority for Your Team, Your Organization, and Your Own Longevity and Effectiveness

Photo Credit: Wild Apricot

[This is the followup piece from yesterday’s Monday Morning Moment.]

It’s December. Back to the office after the snow day. The squeeze is on our calendars as we march toward the end of the year. Here’s the question: how do we truly finish strong with the hope of an even stronger start in the new year?

If it’s all you can do to just try to finish…then you do what you can, for sure. Reflecting on this year may have to come in January. We all know the pressure doesn’t change just because we have new planners to fill. If we make this a priority, it actually could have great impact on the pressures…and the people under your watch, experiencing a similar pressure. We can change it up.Photo Credit: Gryphon Networks

Here are summaries of 5 end-of-the-year checklists from 5 business leaders. We can choose one or choose from each. In brief:

Lolly Daskal, founder of the leadership consulting firm Lead From Within, is one of my favorite writers/speakers on leadership. Her end-of-the-year checklist is in the form of 18 no-nonsense questions on your own leadership and character. Penetrating and informative. Here are a few of my favorites from that list:

  • Did you act decisively?
  • Did you build others up?
  • Did you listen before you speak?
  • Did you cultivate leadership in others?
  • Did you lead with positivity?
  • Did you navigate or fix?
  • Did you value the unique contributions of others?
  • Did you lead by example? – Lolly Daskal

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Marcel Schwantes, founder of Leadership From the Core, gives a rapid read, 5-point checklist which follows. Everything he writes is golden, so you definitely want to click on the article to fill in the blanks on how you execute these points starting now and into the new year:

  1. Shine the spotlight on your employees.
  2. Give direct and actionable feedback.
  3. Get to personally know your employees.
  4. Get in the habit of recognizing and praising your people.
  5. Create and communicate a shared vision of the future. – Marcel Schwantes

[We all think we do the 5 above well. Re-assessing, especially at end-of-year is key to truly being who we think we are for those we lead.]

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“As leaders, we often move from one year to the next with little or no time spent reviewing the year just past from a purely leadership perspective.”Les McKeown

Business writer, Les McKeown, also prescribes a brilliant 5-point end-of-the-year checklist for leaders:

  1. Manage the narrative.
  2. Straighten the angels.
  3. Cull.
  4. Restock.
  5. Center yourself.

McKeown gives practical examples and exercises on how to finish the year healthy…for your benefit and that of your employees and organization. Honestly, this is creative and illuminating stuff…worth every minute of what you invest in it.

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Business consultant and writer Terry St. Marie offers a 10-point end-of-year checklist that covers all the bases. The following are my 3 favorites from his list:

  1. Read Your Fine Print – Every leader’s strengths, if overplayed, can turn out to be a negative – I call that the leader’s “fine print“; things that we need to be careful about.  Sort it all out early and become more aware of your “fine print“.
  2. Put The Right Team On The Field – Take stock of your team and their strengths and weaknesses, and ask a few hard questions:  Is everyone committed to the new year and the new plan?  Did you have some unresolved issues from last year that are still hanging out there?  Do you need to reshuffle a few things now before things get too busy? Answer these questions NOW,  take whatever corrective action is necessary, and give your team a better chance for success.
  3. Clean Out Your Ears – This one’s real simple – prepare your ears to listen, with this virtual “Q-Tip”.   Sit down at your desk, close the door, and turn off your handheld and computer.   Feel and “hear”  what it’s like to not multitask, and just take in what’s happening around you.   Make a mental note to recreate this “listening environment” every time you are in the presence of your teammates.

Don’t miss the other points of St. Marie’s checklist. Again, brilliant.

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Following are my favorite 5 of the 15-point end-of-the-year checklist formulated by the Forbes Coaches Council.

The end of the year is the perfect time for a SWOT analysis — a review of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. (Forbes Coaches Council)

Celebrate – If we don’t take time to celebrate (even the small things), we become burnt out, frustrated, and ineffective. Do something special for your team to celebrate their strengths. – (Forbes Coaches Council)

Show appreciation for your employees – Go beyond the usual card. Offer your clients and employees something of significance that you believe will make them feel special…valued. – (Forbes Coaches Council)

Get to know someone new in the company – While the holidays are full of food and stories, leaders should take the time to meet others downline in the company. Brown bag it with someone you don’t know. Invite an employee out to lunch. And talk about everything other than work! This will help you relate to others who typically don’t see you every day. This can improve the culture, as you challenge others to do the same. – (Forbes Coaches Council)

Budget for leadership development – At the end of the year, take time to add leadership development training in the next year and invest in your upcoming talent. This way, you increase employee retention and employee engagement. Plan for the future, invest in your talent.(Forbes Coaches Council)

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There you have it. My hope is that this is more encouraging than burdening. If we carve a chunk of time to do this, both privately and with our team, it will yield all kind of good with which to enter the new year. Both relationally and strategically for the sake of the organization.

A Year-end Checklist That Will Make You a Much Better Leader – Lolly Daskal (2018)

15 Things to Top Your Business Checklist for the new Year – Forbes – 2017

A Year-end Checklist That Will Make You a Much Better Leader – Marcel Schwantes (2016)

A Great Leader’s Year-end Checklist – Les McKeown – 2012

A Leadership Checklist – 10 Things to Do Right Now to Make it a Great Year – Terry St. Marie (2010)

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Monday Morning Moment – a Snow Day and an End-of-the-year Leadership Checklist

Monday morning. Quieter than usual. 11+ inches of snow has closed down much of the goings and comings of Richmond life today.

Although we know it’s not really a gift of time, snow days sure have the feel of a free day. Work still goes on for some (thank you all in the service industries), but for others we will catch up another day.

Today I am working on Christmas cards but they can’t be finished until husband Dave and I do our end-of-year reflection. We both look back separately, over the highs and lows of the year, and then come together to write a summary for our Christmas newsletter.

[If you hate those newsletters, just throw them in your recycling. They are probably more for the sender as the receiver…so the good has already been done. Happy Christmas.]

Dave works for an international organization. If we had kids or grandchildren at home, he may have just called it a snow day as his office, like many others in the city, is closed. However, because much of his day was already scheduled conference calls with people in different parts of the US and the world, he could work, from his office at home.

I say all this to emphasize how challenging it is to do any sort of review of the year…even on a snow day.

Still, year-end reflections are such a positive and productive activity, both for ourselves and for our workplace.

By year’s end, we are often just trying to appease the tyranny of the urgent. The dilemma is that a work life of putting out fires rarely puts in place barriers that can prevent further fires.

A year-end checklist used by leaders in concert with their direct reports can make a huge difference in accountability, employee engagement, evaluating practices, and planning for the next year.

Otherwise we live and work in the insanity that comes when we don’t block out time for reflection, evaluation, celebration, and development or planning.Photo Credit: Twitter, Seven Quotes

We think we’re doing all those things…but are we?

Below, you will find five links with five different end-of-the-year checklists. Some are longer than others. Some require deeper reflection than others. They are a nice mix written by brilliant thought leaders. [two have the same title but they are very different, by two different leaders].

Tomorrow, I will post my favorite points of the checklists below. Today, maybe you would take the time to look at them, like me, and come up with a checklist you would use…or one of your own making.

A Year-end Checklist That Will Make You a Much Better Leader – Lolly Daskal (2018)

15 Things to Top Your Business Checklist for the new Year – Forbes – 2017

A Year-end Checklist That Will Make You a Much Better Leader – Marcel Schwantes (2016)

A Great Leader’s Year-end Checklist – Les McKeown – 2012

A Leadership Checklist – 10 Things to Do Right Now to Make it a Great Year – Terry St. Marie (2010)

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5 Friday Faves – Red Dead Redemption 2, National Day of Mourning, More Christmas Adverts, Holiday Musical Evenings, and Family Gatherings

Here we go! My 5 favorite finds of this week:

1) Red Dead Redemption 2 – A Western-themed video game, Red Dead Redemption 2, debuted this Fall. The score written by Woody Jackson has a classic feel to it – reminiscent of old western films some of us grew up with. Beyond the Guitar, Nathan Mills‘ classical guitar arrangement of the video game themes does justice to the romance of the Old West featured in the score. Have a listen:

2) National Day of Mourning – For one day, the ugly partisanship in our country fell silent in the shadow of a gracious leader’s life. The 41st US president, George H. W. Bush, died this week. On Wednesday, December 5, 2018, a national day of mourning was called for us to remember him. A two-time vice-president under Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush would only serve one term as President himself. How he will be remembered in history, only time will tell. I remember him as gracious, always gracious. The eulogy for him by his son, 43rd US President George W. Bush, was beautiful and gave the reflection we all needed of a “kinder gentler” man and time in America. May it be so again…Thank you, President Bush.

YouTube Video – Alan Simpson  Eulogy for Preside George H. W. Bush

Bret Baier – George H. W. Bush – a Letter to Live By

3) More Christmas Adverts – I couldn’t resist pointing to a few more Christmas adverts. So sweet and fun. Take time to watch. They will lift your day if you’re having a hard one.

This Hallmark Crown keepsake ornament commercial made me cry:

4) Holiday Musical Evenings – There is nothing like little children, in angel or shepherd garb, singing Christmas songs. We are all proud of them, whether they belong to us or not.Photo Credit: Weldbham, South City Theater

This week marked an annual musical tradition for our family – the VCU Holiday Gala. This evening of rich sacred and secular Christmas songs performed by most all of the current musical groups at VCU is a feast for the ears…and eyes. The students and faculty fancy up nicely. http://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Blog-VCU-Holiday-Gala-John-Patykula-2.jpg

I would love to share video of the VCU Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, under the direction of Dr. Terry Austin – best performance ever. Since that’s not possible, you just have to come. For the moment enjoy the versions by the United States Marine Corps Orchestra and André Rieu ‘s Johann Strauss Orchestra. Mark it on your calendar, if you’re local, for next year!

Also if you’re local…there’s still time for more. Here’s one not to miss:

Annual Advent Lessons and Carols – Cathedral of the Sacred Heart

Any of your favorites? Please give a shout-out in the Comments.

5) Family Gatherings – My growing-up family had its times – good and not so good. We have always had strong beliefs, and sometimes even stronger opinions…and we were not shy about them. As the years have gone by, we have gentled the opinions for the sake of relationship. We have lost some precious family members, too, which has made us more conscious of the fragile nature of life and the gracious gift of family. We’re none perfect but we belong together. That’s why we block out time on the calendar, buy the plane tickets, and soak up family in all its craziness. The young adults we’re so proud of, the sweet new babies, the siblings and spouses.

We don’t always get to see everyone (so we will buy more plane tickets)…nor do we get to see all the friends…but the hope of “next time” is something we build on.

Along with the family time is the Christmas festiveness alongside. My sister-in-law goes all out for us, and we welcome her welcome.

How about you? Home for the holidays?

_________________________________________________________________________

That’s my five (plus the quick bonuses below). Any of your own you want to share? My hope for you this month is you savor the good in your life and let go of what are lesser things. We can’t get it all done. So…no matter. We can be gentle with ourselves…and each other.

Bonuses:

Henrico Christmas Mother – my favorite local community outreach:

The Birth of Jesus in the New Testament – One Event, Four Narratives – Dr. Corne J. Bekker

Eating Cheese and Butter Every Day Linked to Living Longer – Kashmira Gander

This Holiday Season, $16 Billion Will Be Wasted on Unwanted Gifts – It’s Time for a New Approach – Joshua Becker

Raising Children Near Their Grandparents Is One of the Most Valuable Gifts You Could Ever Give Them – [We didn’t raise our children near their grandparents; so thankful for siblings & siblings-in-law who did. What a blessing for both grandparents and the kids/grandkids.]Photo Credit: Elisabeth Elliot, Facebook

How to Declutter Your Home to Reduce Stress and Anxiety

Jimmy Stewart’s Beautiful Short Film on the Nativity (a comment on the YouTube video: “From IMDB: James Stewart approached the scene where Mr. Kreuger talks to the infant Jesus very seriously. Before filming this scene, he told the producer Michael McLean, “I’ve got only one of these in me. Everyone who doesn’t need to be here, get them out. Tell them I want this to go well. I can do other takes, but this will be the right one. There will only be one.” After the scene was finished, McLean asked the cameraman, “Did you get it?” “I hope so,” was the reply, “because I was crying.””)

 

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Worship Wednesday – Jesus, Thank You – Sovereign Grace Music, Pat Sczebel

Photo Credit: The Apologetics Group, Eric Holmberg

Thank You, Jesus, for the creche, the cross, and the crown.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. That light shines in the darkness, and yet the darkness did not overcome it…The Word became flesh and dwelt among us [creche]. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! [cross] the Son of God; the King of Israel! [crown]John 1:1-5, 14, 29, 49

A middle school in Virginia won’t subject its students, staff, or families this year with any holiday songs having the name Jesus in them. Some students reportedly were uncomfortable singing the songs in a school program, so instead of giving them the freedom not to sing those particular songs, the songs themselves are banned. The school officials felt it appropriate given the increasingly diverse nature of the student body. So what if most religions of the world recognize Jesus in some capacity or another?! I don’t understand removing such a world-impactful historical figure from a school curriculum or extra-curriculum.

The movement of our culture and its sensibilities toward the secular is obvious in so many arenas. Whatever one ends up believing at the end of their lives, to miss the person of Jesus altogether is a terrible thing, a brutal consequence of living in a post-Christian world.

Today, I wanted to highlight a simple song with a glorious message. As I write, it’s Christmas time and images of a Christ child in a manger are everywhere (even in a town where a middle school won’t allow such a thing as part of its programming).

A child in a manger…such an extraordinary birth. One part of the triune God, separated for a time into humanity. Thinking about that in front of the fire this morning, it hit me again what that birth must have meant to God the Father…and for all of Creation.

Jesus was born to give us a closer look at the God of the universe – the beauty of a sinless life, the mystery of justice perfectly balanced by mercy, the love that never turns from His own.

In celebrating the birth of Christ, we have the creche, the cross, and the crown [to which the Scripture above points]. The creche demonstrating a God-life made small so we could even begin to fathom a God who loves us His frail ones. The cross displaying a God-love that withholds nothing – “the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” – that we may have everything – forgiveness and life forever with Him. Lastly of the three, the crown signifies the risen King, who is seated triumphantly by the Father, interceding for us, until the day we all enter His Kingdom.

Thank You, Jesus is a song by Pat Sczebel, of Sovereign Grace Music. Its focus is Jesus and what He did for us on the cross. Still, the first time I heard it was a couple of weeks ago as part of a worship service in a small downtown church in Tennessee. It was the beginning of Christmas time, and the merging of the creche and the cross touched our hearts so deeply.

Worship with me:

VERSE 1
The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend
The agonies of Calvary
You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son
Who drank the bitter cup reserved for me

CHORUS
Your blood has washed away my sin
Jesus, thank You
The Father’s wrath completely satisfied
Jesus, thank You
Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table
Jesus, thank You

VERSE 2
By Your perfect sacrifice I’ve been brought near
Your enemy You’ve made Your friend
Pouring out the riches of Your glorious grace
Your mercy and Your kindness know no end

BRIDGE
Lover of my soul

I want to live for You*

This Christmas time, don’t let our culture silence our rejoicing. Jesus did not come just for Christians (as some would like to argue)…He came to the whole world to point to a loving and holy God. Jesus, thank You.Photo Credit: AZ Quotes

*Lyrics to Jesus, Thank You – Songwriter: Pat Sczebel

Who Is Jesus, According to Other Religions? – J. Warner Wallace

Creche, Cross, and Crown – Eric Holmberg

Cradle, Cross, Crown – Liz Giertz

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5 Friday Faves – December Song, Christmas Adverts, Food Insecurity, God’s Purposes, and Giving

This week and the month of November has come to a chilly close. December brings in the the season of Advent and the countdown to Christmas. I will do everything possible to slow down time, to savor the month ahead, and to remember, as Thanksgiving already prompted us, all the reasons we have to be grateful. Here are this week’s favorite finds (also revisiting some old precious ones):

1) December Song – This time in 2016, singer Peter Hollens introduced an original Christmas song. It is now one of my favorite songs of the season. How he introduced it was quite creative. He orchestrated a contest for people to do covers for the song and he had the entrants juried by a small hand-picked group of judges. Nathan (Beyond the Guitar) submitted an arrangement, and in the hundreds of contestants, he came in 16th in the hundreds of contestants. Here is the beautiful December Song and Nathan’s arrangement as well.

2) Christmas Adverts – Remember the Hallmark Christmas commercials of years past? Like this one. I am a sucker for sappy Christmas adverts. Tear up like clockwork. Many of the very best commercials come from Europe and other parts of the world. Here are some faves from this year and years past:

[The one below was produced with a pittance of $65 cost. Brilliant.]

3) Food Insecurity – This is the social dilemma of not having adequate access to fresh, healthy food. When marked by geography, the phrase food deserts is also used.Photo Credit: Mary Lide Parker

A simple Facebook post by a friend generated a thought-provoking, rich conversation on this topic.

Photo Credit: Alee Swanner, Facebook

I share the links from that conversation below.

The Root of the Problem – an Interview with Lindsey Haynes-Maslow – Mary Lide Parker

The Role of Local Food Availability in Explaining Obesity Risk Among Young School-aged Children – Helen Lee

School and Residential Neighborhood Food Environment and Diet Among California Youth – Ruopeng An & Roland Sturm

Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity – Gina Kolata

Should the Concept of a Food Desert By Deserted? – Layla Eplett

Always being aware of those who may need food is important. This time of the year, we are more likely to give to food banks, church food pantries, and other outreach ministries. This is just a beginning place…but it is a beginning. The family below introduced “canstruction” to us, and we do it every Christmas because of them.Photo Credit: Brenda McEwan, Facebook

4) God’s PurposesWisdom Hunters writer Shana Schutte has posted a fascinating list of 12 ideas on the purposes of God. Please take the time to read them. Comment below which ones were the most meaningful to you at this time. Mine were #1, #11, and #12. [For those of you who rarely click on my links – you know who you are – this one is not to miss.]

Photo Credit: Shana Schutte

Look Up, Child – [Speaking to Culture’s Preference to Youthful Leadership – Samuel D. James

To Survive Our High-Speed Society, Cultivate ‘Temporal Bandwidth’ – Alan Jacobs

5) Giving- On a trip to Walmart this week, I heard the Salvation Army bell ringing for the first time this year. Looking for the ringer, I saw the kettle but not the person. Finally saw him. He was an older black man standing away from the kettle, beyond the shadows of the building, to be able to soak up the warmer rays of the afternoon sun. He was very thin, “breath and britches” my mom-in-law would say. Ringing that bell for the sake of others less fortunate. Sure inspired me to give.

This is the season. I love the video below because we are not always open to give of ourselves…sometimes we need a nudge. Thankful for the nudges and the nudgers.

10 Overlooked People You Should Give Gifts to This Christmas

Baptist Global Response – Gift Catalog

That’s it for this week. Have a lovely weekend – this month fills quickly with all sorts of activities and adventures. Choose wisely and leave space for the unexpected. Maybe even a Christmas miracle.

Bonuses

Eight Blue Zone Lessons for Slowing Down – [Disclaimer: One of the 8 is “Do Happy Hour” – I don’t drink (lots of alcoholism among people I love and have loved – figure I’m vulnerable). So for those like me, I’m thinking any sort of afternoon break in the day – teatime, Happy Hour sans alcohol – would also work.]

FAQA – Frequently Asked Questions by Atheists – Six Day Science

Snowman Memories – This pic reminds me of a wonderful Christmas memory when our kids were small and we lived in Tennessee. Our Delaware family would arrive sometime over Christmas Day. Uncle Mark and Aunt Stacie didn’t make it until the evening because of a Christmas snow that blew in and complicated their travel. Almost immediately after they arrived, they took the kids outside and built a huge snowman out of the fresh and sticky snow. The kids named him “Oatmeal”. By morning, with the temperatures rising, he was quickly diminished but that sweet memory remains.Photo Credit: Beth Taylor, Facebook

…and the seed catalogs arrive:

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Worship Wednesday – Is He Worthy? He Is – Andrew Peterson

Photo Credit: The Henry Luke Journey

“Then I saw in the right hand of the one seated on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides, sealed with seven seals. I also saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even to look in it. I wept and wept because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or even to look in it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Look, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so that he is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”

Then I saw one like a slaughtered lamb standing in the midst of the throne… He went and took the scroll out of the right hand of the one seated on the throne.

When he took the scroll…they sang a new song:

You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slaughtered,
and you purchased people
for God by your blood
from every tribe and language
and people and nation.” – Revelation 5:1-9

So much of Scripture is plain and clear in its teaching such that any of us could follow it and apply it to our lives. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, written by the Apostle John under the direction of the Holy Spirit…is not like any other text. It is full of the mystery of God and yet can yield great truth to the least theological of us.

The passage above from Revelation 5 is derived from a God-infused vision that John experienced and then transcribed for us to learn from it.  We don’t know for sure what the scroll represents – is it the purposes of God? Is it the finale of world history? Is it the judgment for the sins of all humankind? We don’t know for sure, but what we do know, is the scroll could not be opened…except by One worthy. Not just able to open it, but worthy to open it.

Jesus, the sinless Savior, was worthy. He is given many names in Scripture. The spotless Lamb of God is one. The perfect sacrifice. He alone could give His life for ours. He alone could pay our debt to a holy God. He, without sin, gave Himself in our place for us to be reconciled to God. Jesus is also called the Lion of Judah. One day He will come for us in the might and majesty of a conquering king – this lion of God, unmatched by any foe, wholly able to deliver us to the Father.

Earlier this year, we were in Tennessee visiting our home church in Kingsport. Indian Springs Baptist Church (ISBC) has two campuses. The Hill Rd. campus is the larger of the two. It is our home church. Our family grew to five in that church. We love the people there. The Glenwood Church campus is new to us. It is now under the ISBC umbrella, although originally it was the mother church.  We worshiped happily at both campuses that weekend. It was at Glenwood that we heard and sang the song, “Is He Worthy?” for the first time.

In this beautiful old church building, being led by a praise team (and a Baptist Hymnal sweetly propped up in a window), Dave and I worshiped God as intimately as we would have in our own church. God was present…and this small congregation sang this song as, I’m sure it will when we are in His presence in Heaven..

When I came home, I looked up this song and its writer, Andrew Peterson. He wrote this song for a congregation to participate as deeply as the worship leader would. The responsive reading or singing of this song is liturgical in form…something I’m not used to.

“One of the things I like best about liturgy is the more or less constant involvement of the congregation. The word “liturgy” means “the work of the people.” It’s not so much about us coming to sit while the pastor and the elders do everything, but about all of us together rehearsing the story of redemption, edifying each other by reading Scripture aloud, reaffirming what we believe, embodying worship by kneeling or singing together—all of it culminating, of course, in the Lord’s Supper. I can’t overstate how much I crave the moment at the end of the service when I kneel at the front and a friend of mine places the unleavened bread in my open hands, looks me in the eye and says, ‘Andrew, this is the body of Christ, broken for you.’

Every week my wayward, hungry soul is confronted by the love of Jesus. Like clockwork.” – Andrew Peterson

Photo Credit: GodTube, Andrew Peterson

Let’s worship together with this glorious anthem by Andrew Peterson.

[Verse 1]
Do you feel the world is broken? (We do)
Do you feel the shadows deepen? (We do)
But do you know that all the dark won’t stop the light from getting through? (We do)
Do you wish that you could see it all made new? (We do)

[Verse 2]
Is all creation groaning? (It is)
Is a new creation coming? (It is)
Is the glory of the Lord to be the light within our midst? (It is)
Is it good that we remind ourselves of this? (It is)

[Chorus]
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave

[Refrain 1]
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy of this?
He is

[Verse 3]
Does the Father truly love us? (He does)
Does the Spirit move among us? (He does)
And does Jesus, our Messiah hold forever those He loves? (He does)
Does our God intend to dwell again with us? (He does)

[Chorus]
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave

[Bridge]
From every people and tribe
Every nation and tongue
He has made us a kingdom and priests to God
To reign with the Son

[Refrain 2]
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Is He worthy of this?
He is!
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
He is!
He is!*

[Sidebar: If you worshiped God with the help of this video, you saw a sea of white faces as the singers. Andrew Peterson wrote an apology worthy of your time. Let’s none of us falter from what he calls a misstep and miss the larger message of this beautiful song.]

Jesus…You are worthy.

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slaughtered,
and you purchased people
for God by your blood
from every tribe and language
and people and nation.”Revelation 5:9Photo Credit: The Rabbit Room

*Lyrics to Is He Worthy? by Andrew Peterson

Story Behind the Song Is He Worthy? by Andrew Peterson – Kevin Davis

Waking Up to Is He Worthy?: an Apology – Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson’s New Song for the People – The Gospel Coalition – Andrew Peterson

Revelation 5 – The Lion, the Lamb, and the Scroll – Commentary – David Guzik

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