Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Having an Elizabeth Attitude This Christmas

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Happy December!  There is something so inspiring about a new month.  The fall months arrived with their glory, cooler weather and warm feelings of gratitude. Now we are embracing December!  

Early December is the time to set the tone for the holidays. If we enter in the season frantic, that hectic pace will keep us in a spirit of panic, stress and quickly rob our holiday joy.  But, if our attention is turned to focus on the true spirit of Christmas, our hearts tend to be more joyful, caring, giving and loving. 

Christmas is truly the most wonderful time of the year. There is an attitude (if you look for it) in others that binds our hearts together as we behold the wonder of the season. 

This month I began a Christmas devotional "The First Songs of Christmas". It is a 30 day advent devotional that focuses on meditations from Luke 1 and 2.  Some of the readings are just too good not to share.  

Luke 1:43 is the account of the virgin Mary, having heard she was pregnant, quickly visiting her cousin Elizabeth.  Here is Elizabeth's greeting to Mary... "But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"  

Elizabeth had her own amazing situation going on in her own life. She was older and considered barren - unable to have children. An angel announced to her husband that she would bear a child. He was struck dumb - unable to talk due to his disbelief.  Read her story in Luke 1.  Imagine Elizabeth living in a home of silence when Mary appeared at her door. Most women would be busting out, ready to share what as going on in situations like this.  But look where she turned her attention...to Mary. Elizabeth humbled herself and recognized the work in Mary's life and placed priority on meeting Mary's needs before her own. Elizabeth seemed to notice Mary needed love, reassurance and encouragement. She also understood the baby in Mary's womb was (and is) Christ the Lord. Elizabeth again demonstrated humility and declared Him, her Lord. 

Some age old advice passed through the ages is “When you’re with other people, ask them questions about themselves.” Not only is this an acknowledgement that people are usually more interested in talking about their own lives than ours, it’s really just a demonstration of love. Love is concerned about the other person first. Love focuses outward. 

As we enter this season, may we be reminded that God has placed His Holy Spirit inside His children to lead, counsel and show us words to say. His presence should affect the way we talk - to our family, friends, co-workers and store clerks. May our words and attitude be like Elizabeth's, gracious and life giving. May God employ our words this holiday season to bless those around us.  

Merry Christmas, it's not just something we say, it's a way we live that spreads Christmas joy!

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Thanksgiving for Real Life Families

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Hello November!  Welcome cooler weather, cute and cozy sweaters, autumn scented candles, open windows, fall baking and pumpkin everything!

I LOVE fall! The beginning of November is an exciting time as the beauty of fall is here but the rush and stress of the holidays are still at a distance. 

Of course we know that November means that Thanksgiving is close! It usually means gathering with friends and family to enjoy a meal and fellowship together.  It sounds so cozy and wonderful doesn't it?  But, in real life, families may be a bit more complicated!  Sometimes spending hours on end with family turns cozy into confined. Relaxed gatherings become stressful as conversation lulls and we begin to wonder, what are we going to do now? Age differences, various seasons of life and just a general difference in perspective can cause communication barriers. 

How do we prepare for those awkward Thanksgiving home moments?  It can begin with you! The universal language of love is giving full attention. One of the best ways to do that is by listening. This opens up an avenue to understand each other better, find common ground and learn the beauty of true fellowship. 

If you are ready to make this Thanksgiving gathering one of the best ever, here are five ways to  refresh your listening skills as you gather with friends and family this holiday season:

1. Turn off all technology. The TV, the phones, the tablets—anything with a screen! It’s hard to be fully present in any conversation with those kinds of distractions. The best gift you can give someone is your full attention.

2. Maintain eye contact. It sounds simple and obvious, but really, how many times has someone asked you a question and just as you were answering, they looked away at something or someone else? Listening involves looking. Listen not only to their words but their body language as well. Are they tense, relaxed, exhausted, fearful, anxious? These are all clues to help you with number 3: asking questions.

3. Ask questions. Invite them to go deeper into their story by asking clarifying questions. Not sure where to begin?  Instead of starting a question with “How’s (your job)…“ try, “Tell me more about (your job)…”

4. Practice active listening. Regardless of what you hear, suspend judgment and refrain from making critical opinion statements. Resist the urge to turn the conversation to yourself—even if you have a relateble anecdote. Listening without judgment does not mean you have to be in agreement with their statements; it simply means you are willing to let them be heard and respect their humanity.

5. Listen. Just listen. Don’t solve or fix. Listen to what they are saying and let that be enough. If your follow up response is, “You need to…,“ stop yourself. Instead, respond to what you are hearing and the emotion behind it.   Sometimes only two words are needed as a follow-up: “I’m sorry.”

As we begin Thanksgiving preparations, let's practice these listening skills and make this the best Thanksgiving ever!  Don't forget about gratitude....sharing and reflecting on what we are thankful for is a sure way to make those connections. 

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Monday, October 15, 2018

When the Storms Come

During a morning run last week, the radio program I was listening to continually gave warnings about a coming storm.  Hurricane Michael was expected to hit that day. The announcer shared "everyone in our listening area will be affected." It is a fact that every surrounding county is under either a hurricane or tropical storm warning. There WILL be rain and wind for all, but some may face catastrophic conditions. Just days ago, Hurricane Michael was a forming group of clouds and rain that quickly grew into a catastrophic weather system. In 24 hours, it will be completely gone from our area leaving only the aftermath behind.  Although our immediate area was spared from extreme damage, our neighbors in the panhandle of Florida are facing devastation that will take much time to rebuild from.

Storms are a fact of life, it is not a matter of if,it is more of a 'when' they will roll through. They are a certainty and they will come. They can develop suddenly or come with little warning and can always bring affects. 

Our lives have storms also that follow those same guidelines - they WILL come.  It has been said you are either in a storm, just coming out of a storm or about to walk into one.  Since we already know that they will come, our chance of successfully weathering the storms of life depends on our anchor - or what we hold on to as the storm rages. 

Last Saturday, the sun was shining so brightly in our lives. I was enjoying a new ministry, just completed a week of diligently preparing and training for an upcoming 5K, and simply feeling great in all areas. My son had recently started a new job he was loving, learning a new trade, working hard and loving life. Saturday evening our family went together to a wedding our son was a part of.  It was a time of pure happiness and joy.

Sunday morning found us preparing for church, excited about opening our home to some new friends through a Sunday lunch. The morning preparations were interrupted by a visit from 2 law enforcement officers. My heart began racing as they walked up and stated that my son's truck had been in a violent crash and that he could not be located. Panic and denial swirled around as they asked if we knew where he was or how to get a hold of some of his friends that may be able to locate him. Thankfully the surreal moments gave way to relief as through a few phone calls he was found. He was injured but alive. 

After speaking to my son on the phone and being assured he was ok, our family went to the crash scene to see if we could salvage any of his belongings. Upon arrival and setting our eyes on the damage, amazement and thankfulness flooded our souls. This became 'sacred ground' because viewing the damage to the vehicle, it is a true miracle our son walked away alive. All we could do is thank God and praise Him for His protection.

Meeting with our son at the hospital as he was treated for a broken arm, cracked vertebrae and several lacerations, we were able to take him home late that night. The storm had rolled through and although we were battered, we survived thanks be to the Lord.

After Hurricane Michael, there will be debris strewn all over. There will probably be flooding in many areas and much more damage. Once the storm passes, a time of rebuilding and replacing occurs.

In the aftermath of our family's storm there will be recovery, physically and mentally. Our son is scheduled for more tests, doctors appointments where they will determine how to best treat his injuries. My 'injuries' are internal - fear, the bombarding of 'what ifs', the flashbacks of the damaged truck and the vision of the officers words at my door are still vibrant and threaten to close in on me like huge waves which can easily overpower anything in their path.

The morning this post was written, I was squeezing in a morning run before the storm came, the radio show I was listening to brought powerful reminders and soothed my heart with peace and strength. The Anchor of my soul steadied my emotions with the power of His truth. God knows, sees and speaks peace in our storms.  He is a Chain-breaker - the only One who can break the bonds of fear and uncertainty. When our emotions clutch us so tightly and threaten to squeeze hope out - the God of hope will infuse our heart with His hope. Great is His Faithfulness, He is the Creator and Sustainer of all life. He is able to keep us when things are going great and He will walk with us when things are bad.

Before the storms come, set your anchor down by filling your heart with God's Word, surround yourself with godly resources.  What is put inside your heart is what will come out in times of storms. Be prepared, it may be a rough ride, but God is right beside you in and through it. Every storm of life will eventually pass through. The effects may linger, but new life, new hope and new strength can also be found on the other side. Now is the time to firmly plant your anchor in the Lord. 

Sunday, September 30, 2018

So Long, September

September is one of my favorite months of the year. It is my birthday month and usually marks the beginning of fall.  With the intense heat down here in the south, fall may not bring cool weather, but it assures us that fall and cooler weather are coming!  

This year, summer has held on and on. The temperature lows are still in the 70's with hot and humid weeks on end of 90+ high temps. But, I know fall, cooler weather and pumpkin everything is coming soon.

But the month of September did bring much joy in other areas.  My sweet hubby and I both have September birthdays, just one day a part. We celebrated with a birthday dinner and were surprised by our oldest son who lives away, but came for the weekend to celebrate with us.  Plus this year, I hit the big 5 0.  And it wasn't too bad!!

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I thought turning 50 would be a good time to experiment with a new hobby and decided to look into and try chalk painting. My project was taking a few wood tables and giving them new life and a new look.  This was a fun project and here is one of the results:

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It may not feel like fall yet, but it sure looks like it around here!

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So, Hello and Goodbye to September.  It passed by in a flash, but the memories are stored up in my heart! 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

September Hope - Never Forget

Today is September 11, which is a very emotional day for our country. This is a day where as a country, we pause and remember the horrific day our country was attacked. We remember the devastation, the loss of life, mourning and grief of so many families.  The pictures of the attacks still play in our minds when we remember this day, along with our feelings of helplessness and unbelief. 

On this anniversary of 9/11, the theme rings out "We will never forget".  This day is forever etched in the heart of America.  We are bound together by our memories and the strength shown through the selfless acts of unity. 

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In our family, September 11 is also a day we will never forget. It was a Sunday and as a family we went to church, enjoyed the afternoon together and then went in different directions for the evening. Our middle son Josh went to a get together at a friends house. My husband went to church services at our home church while I went to participate in a business meeting at a church I worked at.

Just like each person can tell you exactly what they were doing when hearing of the 9/11 attacks, I remember every detail of hearing the news no parent ever wants to hear.   The business meeting I was at was just dismissing and as I got up to leave, my husband was there.  "We need to go, Josh has been in an accident."  Moving swiftly out the door, more news kept coming.  It was a 4 wheeler accident and he had been life-flighted to a hospital an hour away. 

When those impossible moments of life come, God can bring unlimited help as well. As we gathered at the hospital, family and friends joined us. Josh had suffered a fractured skull and had a brain bleed. There was some ear and eye damage as well.  But he was alive and we were so thankful. After a week in the hospital he was able to come home to begin the journey to recovery.  During one of those days, this photo was shot of a rainbow outside the hospital room. 

The beginning days of this crisis felt like they would last forever.  But each day we continued on with therapy, doctor appointments and healing. Josh was down, but he was not out. He is a fighter and an overcomer.  We put our faith in God and He pulled us through. We will never forget that time and the feeling of fear and helplessness, but as we look back now, we see God's hand and help with us every step of the way.

There are times like today to look back and never forget.  But then it is time to turn back to look ahead and remember with thankfulness where God has brought us. And firmly resolve to follow and trust in the leading of the Lord.