We each have a life story, penned without ink, read by the people around us. Who's writing your story?

Monday, December 4, 2017

When the Passing of Time Brings Change

The emotion I felt surprised me.

Another first since my husband passed away. . . which should have been the first clue this would trigger some feelings of nostalgia mixed with loss.

The last two years, our youngest daughter and I "decked the halls" of our home, but this year she and the others plan to arrive for an early Christmas on the same day. Our time is short so I planned to have everything ready - and honestly looked forward to decorating the house. Umpteen trips up to the attic and back saw me pull out the old familiar simple, homespun Christmas garlands, stockings, and lighted village. And, of course, the wooden manger my dad made when the kids were little . . . and all the holiday stories. 

I cranked up the Christmas music on Pandora and went to work . . . but instead of seeing my hands sort lights and greenery, I saw little-girl hands hanging their stockings on designated hooks by the fireplace. Added to the carols, I heard their voices and laughter. I watched their daddy in the recliner, taking it all in, giving his two cents now and then, snacking on popcorn, and feeding the fire. I smelled pizza in the oven and freshly baked cookies as the celebratory ending to our annual tradition. 

Tears ran down my cheeks. Those busy, hectic days slipped away so quickly . . . only memories now. 

Even as I reached for the tissue box, I thought of our girls and how proud I am of each one. Two of them are now mothers, creating their own family traditions. I thanked God for the privilege of being their mom all these years.

And I rehearsed the blessings God has offered me today . . . family, friends, community, health, the ability to do my work and help others. . .  and even events to look forward to over this holiday season . . . blessings I want to receive with gratefulness and contentment.  

Even though time changes so much of life, Christmas is still about Emmanuel, God with us. It's still about a loving God who sent His only Son to be our Savior. It's still about joy and peace . . . and everlasting hope. 

When the family all comes trouping through the back door in a couple of weeks, the house will be festive, the tree bright, the frig stocked with their favorites, and the gifts wrapped. The little grandboys will dress up as shepherds, and we'll read the familiar story from Luke 2 together. We'll ponder the miracle of Christmas.

I plan to savor every minute!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Stories for Christmas

There's something about Christmas that makes me want to enjoy a warm, wonderful story. Down through the years I have collected a file folder full of Christmas stories from magazines and newsletters along with a stack of holiday books. Every day during the month of December I would read to our daughters by tree light. Every year we looked forward to the stories, stories that became more and more dear.

My parents began our story-telling tradition. Early on, they read the same stories to my sister and me--and then to our children. A timeless tradition for multiple generations.

Here's a list of a few of the stories we've come to enjoy. A click on the book titles will take you to Amazon.com. I hope you'll add your own favorites in the comments below. 

Our Grandson as a Shepherd, 2016
The Christmas Story written by New Testament authors Matthew and Luke

SHORT STORIES:
"Charlie's Blanket" by Wendy Miller (from a book compiled by Dr. Joe Wheeler: Christmas in My Heart: A Timeless Treasury of Heartwarming Stories)
"The Good Things in Life" by Arthur Gordon (from a book compiled by Dr. Joe Wheeler: The Best of Christmas in My Heart, Vol. 2)
"Out of the Ivory Palaces" by Dr. James A. Hunter
"Why the Chimes Rang" by Raymond MacDonald Alden
The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
"The Shoemaker's Christmas" by Corrie ten Boom (from her book Christmas Memories)

PICTURE BOOKS:
The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski
Punchinello and the Most Marvelous Gift by Max Lucado
The Candle in the Window by Grace Johnson
The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell (This title is linked to my childhood edition.)
How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore


NOVELS AND NOVELLAS:
A Miser, A Manger, A Miracle by Marianne Jordan  
Christmas Past by Robert Vaughan
The Yuletide Angel by Sandra Ardoin
The Christmas Note by Donna VanLiere
The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans
A Father's Prayer by Linda Rondeau
The Easterly House by Beth Livingston

What Christmas stories can you add to the list?


Oh, and if you're looking for a gift idea for that special middle-schooler, check out Cindy Noonan's book. She gives history a heartbeat in Dark Enough to See the Stars, a story of escape on the Underground Railroad.

I met Cheryl Elton at a writers' conference several years ago, and we've kept in touch ever since. She's crafted a thought-provoking book titled Pathway of Peace: Living in a Growing Relationship with Christ.

And my inspirational memoir, Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story, may be just the right gift for a friend or family member who could use a bit of encouragement. (And it's been free or $1.99 on Kindle, so grab a copy for yourself, too!)


This Christmas we have the opportunity to give gifts that offer a lasting impact . . . 




Thursday, November 16, 2017

Savoring our Blessings Just a Little Bit More . . .

I wonder how many times we don’t fully appreciate something until it’s gone. Said another way, we often realize how much we value people, abilities, and even things after we lose them. And sometimes the seeming littlest losses bring a grief that surprises us.

So, how can we be more intentional about gratefulness. . . ahead of time? 

As a child, I could run—fast. I loved to hike in the woods, climb up and down ravines, and hop from stone to stone in the creek. In my forties, I took brisk early morning walks with my husband and jogged with our daughter, Sharon. I enjoyed those times, but now my hips complain. I never thought about the blessing of being able to climb and run until I couldn’t do it anymore. Yet, every time I put on my sneakers and head to the park or even around the block, I find myself thanking God. I can walk! (If you've read my book, you know that after a car accident, I had to learn to walk again. I don't take it for granted.)

After that same crash, our family no longer enjoyed the security of health, routine, and predictability. We lost the normality of traditional roles, family suppers, and even the ability to ambulate unaided, drive, and independently care for ourselves. When some of these things returned, I felt blessed beyond measure—and still do.

Several years ago, watching my sweet mom go through chemo treatments helped me appreciate the blessings of an appetite, a bad-hair day, feeling half-way decent, and the ability to do my work. 

The quiet of my home echoes with memories of the man I loved for nearly 36 years. I miss his sacrificial love, his advice, his strong arms around me. When I'm not sure what to do about a matter, I often think, "Now, what would Barry say?" Sometimes I ask God to whisper my thanks to him for all he did for our family, what he taught us, and for his faithfulness. That's a lot to give thanks for. 
  
Perhaps we don’t fully appreciate what we have until something happens. We take running water and electricity for granted until a pipe leaks or the lights go out. We underestimate the efficiency of working with two hands until one is injured. We may not fully realize the comfort of a friend or family member until circumstances take him or her away from us. When we find our lives altered, in big matters and small, we see things from a different perspective.

Today, I want to be intentional about savoring the blessings in my story just a little bit more.

How about you?


Sunday, November 5, 2017

The Secret of Greatness . . .

We've seen and heard it over and over the past couple of years . . . in speeches and newscasts, on TV talk shows and radio interviews, on T-shirts, ball-caps, and banners, and on Facebook and Twitter.

"Make America great again." 

There's no question who coined the phrase in this generation, but Mr. Trump is not the first to talk about America's greatness.

Nearly two centuries ago, in 1831, two gentlemen visited the then-fledgling United States, sent on a mission by the French government to check out the criminal justice system. Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont spent nine months here, visiting both urban cities and rural villages. Mr. de Tocqueville chronicled the trip in Democracy in America.
I discovered a copy among my husband's course notes, still lined up straight and tall on a shelf in the basement. And I also found a "commentary on modern America" in the stack I saved from his side of the bed. I'm reading through the latter . . . and that's where I came across these words  penned by de Tocqueville: 
I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.* 
I think he had a point, don't you? 

What makes anything or anyone great? Isn't greatness linked to moral excellence, virtue, kindness, honor, and benevolence?

Jesus dialogued about the essence of greatness with his followers. "Whoever desires to be great among you must be your servant" (Mark 10:43). Service to others makes up the foundation of goodness. On this true greatness is built.

America can only be great when its citizens individually choose to take up the cause for goodness . . . in the ordinary-ness of every day with our families and neighbors, in the workplace, and in the marketplace. You and I can make a difference.


*Going Somewhere by George Grant (Nashville: Cumberland House, 1999), page 185.

**This post is not intended to be a political statement.

***First and last photo from bing.com/images.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

A New Thing - Part 3

Dirt . . . Grime . . . Stains . . .

Have you ever considered how much time you spend cleaning? We wash dishes, scrub floors, power-wash siding, scour sinks, tubs, and toilets, dust furniture, sweep garages, vacuum floors and hard-to-reach corners, steam-clean and shampoo carpets . . .

And what a difference it makes . . . for a while, anyway!

This past week my bedroom carpet underwent a transformation. Some dear friends came to help me do a "few things" in the house. The top priority on the list? Shampoo my 25+ year old carpet. They worked their magic with a rented machine from a local grocer, and in a matter of hours the rug looked bright and clean. I could hardly believe the difference.

In contrast, the water turned black! To be honest, I felt a little embarrassed. How could my upstairs carpet accumulate so much dirt.? I vacuumed it regularly. I kept it picked up. But the honest truth showed up in the water.

I'm so very grateful for my friends--not just because they accomplished what my limitations won't allow me to do but also for the sweet fellowship we enjoyed. We chatted about many topics, not the least of which centered around God's goodness as we looked back over many years. 

They headed home Friday morning, leaving me with wonderful memories of our time together along with a now-finished bedroom (See Part 1 and 2.), a new medicine cabinet and light in the bathroom, a few new hinges in the kitchen, steam-cleaned kitchen and basement floors, and a number of surprise repairs that weren't on my original list. Saying "thank you" seems like such a meager way to express my appreciation.



Over the past few days I've been thinking . . . My limitations kept me from deep-cleaning my carpet. My methods, noble as they appeared, could not do what my friends did to get rid of the dirt. The same is true in a higher realm. No matter how much I try to clean up my life, I cannot do it on my own. Just as I relied on my friends to deep-clean my rug, so we are dependent on Jesus to deep-clean our hearts (1 John 1:9).

And in the process, He does much more than forgive us. He brings new life to our routines. He surprises us with His goodness and ever-present grace and guides us through those problem areas that surface along the way.

bing.com/images
So the next time your cleaning efforts yield a bucket or two of dirty water, remember that we have a God who not only offers His cleaning services but desires a loving relationship with us . . . now and forever.



Monday, October 16, 2017

A New Thing - Part 2

Up and down, up and down the stairs again and again with boxes of ceiling tiles, cans of paint, tools, a shop vac, more tools, long strips of molding, and more.

The man who remodeled my upstairs bedroom got his exercise . . . 

I, on the other hand, held the front door open.

It took less than thirty hours for my helper to work his magic. Every day he decreased the old and increased the new. From the tidy ceiling to the freshly painted woodwork to the crisp updated look of the walls to the transformed radiator cover to the curtain rods, he changed my early 1990s bedroom into a modern inviting retreat. I took photos every evening to send to my daughters.

After the contractor left, I just sat on the bed for a while, enjoying my new nighttime surroundings and thanking God for providing another of His good gifts. I couldn't help but think of the verse in Ecclesiastes 3:11: "He has made everything beautiful in its time." Well, as "beautiful" as possible for a 1940s house with few, if any, square corners!
As I've been slowly moving my belongings back into closets and drawers, it's dawning on me that 25 years ago my husband and I felt the same satisfaction after doing this room over the first time. Back then the shabby wallpaper was bright, the chipped woodwork uniform, the carpet new, and the faded quilt vivid with color. We never thought all of our hard work would someday look dated and dingy. 

But new has a habit of aging . . . whether it's a room, a home, a car . . . a life.

Kinda puts it all in perspective, doesn't it? We try to maintain what God has given us, and at the same time, how essential to evaluate how we're investing our time and talents. "For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18).

I still need to put some finishing touches on my room . . . shampoo the carpet, hang a few pictures, organize the closets. I plan to enjoy the newness and also use my remodel job as a reminder of Jesus' words: "Let not your hearts be troubled. . . . In my Father's house are many rooms. . . . I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:1, 2).

Someday, we will enjoy our new heavenly home, grander than any earthbound remodeling job could ever be!


"Behold, I am making all things new" (Revelation 21:5).


Top photo by Julie Manwarren
 


Saturday, October 7, 2017

A New Thing - Part 1

"Just let me know if you want to pull the trigger."

He descended the stairs from my second story bedroom, legal pad and a tape measure in hand. I didn't need much convincing. I'd been planning and saving up for months. 

"I'm ready to begin any time," I answered. "Thanks for your good ideas. I never thought of these options."

I always liked our spacious room. We had wallpapered over dark paneling in the late '80s or early '90s, and I pieced and hand-quilted the quilt, creating a cozy B & B look.  

But after Barry passed away and I began to feel the full responsibility of caring for our home, I was advised to let the wallpaper go. It might be a deal-breaker when it came time to sell (NOT anytime soon!) . . . and I may as well enjoy the updated look in the meantime.

So how does one go about making wallpaper disappear? Steam if off the walls? Wallboard over the top? Gut the room? And what about the textured ceiling paint that was slowly giving way to gravity? I pondered the options, asked advice, and . . .  still didn't have a satisfactory plan.

Do you ever feel like there's no good answer? And you really want to get the job done and go back to the important things in life?

I finally mustered up the courage to call a recommended contractor, who came in, looked around, and right off the bat presented a plan I hadn't considered. "We can put in a new ceiling like the ones you have downstairs and paint over the wallpaper. It's on there pretty tight." He laid out a few more details, and I began to smile.

It look a while to empty out the room (although he is graciously working around the furniture). My sweet dad unscrewed all the hardware, and a few more-than-willing friends helped me remove the heavier items. 
As of today, the new ceiling is up . . . what a difference! And the old wallpaper? Well it's shabbier than I realized. It'll be painted over by the end of Monday. If the layers underneath could talk . . . wallpaper covering liner covering paneling covering the brightest 1970s orange you can imagine . . . All of this will be hiding beneath my new neutral light gray walls and white trim!
Like me, do you find yourself satisfied with the statue quo? Sometimes we don't realize how dingy our joy has become or how yellowed our outlook is . . . until we muster up the courage to try something new, to make a few changes, and to let God's Word give us a fresh perspective.

"Behold I am doing a new thing . . .
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."
Isaiah 43:19, ESV



Top photo by Julie Manwarren