Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Look Back at 2013

2013... Seems I've blinked and the year has ended!

Such a year of changes.  A season of unknowns...and a few storms.  In any of the uncertainties though, they just brought us closer to Him.  Whenever life knocked us down this year, God was always there to pick us up and dust us off.  And with any storm cloud, sunshine soon follows. 
2013 was also filled with its share of blessings and JOY. 

Looking back, here are a few of my favorites...

January... Choosing to SUBMIT as my word for the year and being wowed at how appropriate that word would be in 2013.  A birthday blessing that will always hold a place in my heart.  My baby turned a teenager!  We finally made it to a Harlem Globetrotters game to use Noah's free ticket for being a 2000 baby.  And the kids experienced their first mosh pit at Winter Jam with their youth group.

February... Tina gets a birthday-palooza hotel fest weekend.  I bravely started my first Bible study.  We found lots of joy from a teeny tiny source.  And our Upward Season came to an end.

March...  The kids were surprised with a No Snow-Snow Day.  Our family started cleaning the Big House.  My first scripture journal was started (goal to be better at this in 2014!) 

April... I attended my first Women of Joy conference.  
So many things discovered there, including a new found love for author Liz Curtis Higgs.  We started a tradition of pillow talk before bed with the kids.  And we hosted our first youth Bible study at our home.

May... spring showers, dirt therapy, and the annual joy of window boxes.  We made it through another Mother's Day.  Tina graduates middle school!  Impromptu date night returns.   Hello boat season!  Firsts for Tina...entering a local pageant and making the high school dance team.

June...  Sweet summertime.  VBS.  Swinging in the sunshine.  The kids experience church camp together.  Fishing on the river.  Cinema on the square.  20 years together!

July...  Austin's 19th birthday in Heaven.  Our first trip to Florida with Mom & Tina.  Noah takes home an unexpected souvenir

August... Back to school.  The ending of my job and beginning of a stressful season.  A beautiful addition to our family - my littlest niece!

September... a long weekend on the lake.  Bike Nights at the Fire Dept.  A new ministry for me at EHBC.  Tina's first dance performance

October... Glorious Autumn!  Fall Break.  A mini vaca.  A free John Michael Montgomery concert in our little town.  Festivals, apples, leaves, Hay rides and a Great pumpkin chase.  Honored to be chosen as a monthly contributor at Still Standing Magazine.  Our first Trunk or Treat. 

November... Thankfulness begins.  A visit to school.  My first experience with unemployment.  Purpose driven acts for Austin.  Thanksgiving meal deliveries to those without.

December.... Christmastime.  Another possible ice storm.  Chosen for a book review.  And another book that chose me.    The blessing of a job offer for the new year!  Our annual no-presents present day.  And an unexpected, upside down Christmas that's given us an extra gift of time.   

"I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord,
    the deeds for which he is to be praised,
    according to all the Lord has done for us—"
What a year!
Thank you for joining me along the way.
Wishing you a Happy New Year
filled with, of course, lots and lots of JOY!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Faithful Friday: Upside-down Christmas

The holidays are almost never what we imagine them to be. 

On Christmas Eve, children go to bed with visions of sugar plums, while parents dream of picture perfect celebrations.  But often when we awake, our reality lacks luster.  The magic we'd hoped for just doesn't arrive.

Such plans I'd had for this Christmas.  My heart was in the right place.  It wasn't about what was under the tree but who was around it.  I entered the season prayerfully.  Prepared.

Traditions of pajamas, appetizers, and seasonal movies kicked off our holiday.  That eve, between the light of the tree and fireplace, I'd planned to linger over Luke 2 with the family.  And we'd end with a late night candlelight service at church.

Yet brakes were put on with the start of a fever.  Try as I did to ignore it, by the end of the evening, I was beyond faking through. 

Unexpected.  UnplannedUpside-down Christmas.

Tim took the kids to church without me.  I wanted them to go and yet wanted them to stay in the same breath.  Proud of them for going on, missing them before they pulled away. 

I sat teary under the light of the tree and fireplace, fever elevating, and finished "The Women of Christmas."  Reminded of my blessings, praying for a better tomorrow.

But Christmas didn't come as planned. 

No sparkly Santa surprises.  No shouts of excitement and glee.  No Hallmark moments.
No seasonal spread calling us to the kitchen.

Why is this what we wait for?  
After all, the very first Christmas arrived so humbly.

There was no glitter but it was most certainly magical.

Our Plan B Christmas included a breakfast casserole, thankfully already prepared and awaiting the oven.  And I was grateful for somewhat-blasé teens, who appreciated sleeping in a bit later than normal.  Who didn't mind a mid-morning nap after opening gifts, as the flu continued to attack my energy and strength. 

By the afternoon we tried to salvage what remained.  Turkey frying outside and games at the table.  Laughter and a fever reprieve. 

But a page sent Tim out the door, someone else's Christmas turned upside down and inside out.   A house fire on this day of all days...

We waited.  We prayed.  Kept playing the game best we could. 

And then the call came.  The one where the lump still comes back into my throat just thinking about it.  The one where my husband is on the other end and sirens are in the background.  The one where I could hear in his tone that something wasn't right even before I heard the words. 

The call a firefighter's wife never wants to get...

Then the pettiness of being frustrated with this Christmas goes straight out the window.  In rushes humility in reminders that I still didn't have it right.  The season is not about me.  Or my plans.  Or my traditions.  Even if I had the best intentions in mind.  All while I push through and get the kids out the door and into the ER. 

Tim's injury, thankfully, wasn't as serious as I feared but seeing him on the table still brought me to tears.  To my knees. 

If we had nothing this Christmas, we still had each other. 
Sometimes things need to be turned upside down to remember all that you have. 

And in the center of it all,
the best gift,
already given all those years ago. 
Not wrapped, just swaddled in rags. 
With only the spotlight of single star.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Faithful Friday: Love One Another

When the boys were little we counted down the days to Christmas by building Santa's beard.  Each day their chubby fingers would grab a cotton ball, ask for a dot of glue, and stick it to the construction paper face of St. Nick.

Now we have a Hallmark ornament that is flipped with the passing of each day. 
"5 days until" dangles from our tree. 

The next several days will be filled with busy.  Good busy.  Fun busy.  Holiday busy.

Shopping for goodies to make cookies, candy and stocking stuffers.  Date night with hubby, which I've been looking forward to all month.  Christmas Eve candle-lighting service at church.  Forming all those goodies into seasonal delights.  Driving around to view the lights, hot cocoa in hand.  PJs, appetizers and movie-fest.  And of course, the big day, celebrating the birth of our Savior!

But the celebratory countdown has been tainted whenever I peruse the social media news feed.  A recent story and comments by Duck Dynasty star, Phil Robertson, has created a slurry of mixed emotions.  No matter what side you stand on, there's no excuse for the hatred and anger that is being doled out. 

Everyone is entitled to their own beliefs, whether you agree with them or not.

Being that this blog is all about joy, I'm not about to jump on the mud-slinging bandwagon.  I'll just add that I don't believe Phil said what he did out of hate.  Some of his comments were harsh; but as a writer, I also know how things can be paraphrased and taken out of context.  Some of his comments though were from scripture, which is Truth, no matter how hard or politically incorrect it is to hear. 

What I'm against is that because his comments involved his faith/beliefs, and offended some, he's under attack.  Yet people like Kanye West can compare what he does as an entertainer to that of a soldier and nobody cares.  And the world doesn't seem to blink when Miley Cyrus dances in her underwear on tv; instead she trends on Twitter and her record sales increase. 

Again, I'm not judging.  It isn't my place to.  We're all sinners.  Those of us who accept and believe in Jesus Christ are just saved by his grace.  Doesn't make us any better than anyone else.  Doesn't excuse the sins we've done.  It just gives us assurance for our future.

What stood out most to me in Robertson's interview was a line that has been lost in this media firestorm and it's maybe the most important sentence from the story

“You put in your article that the Robertson family really believes strongly that if the human race loved each other and they loved God, we would just be better off. We ought to just be repentant, turn to God, and let’s get on with it, and everything will turn around.”

That, and the fact that the interviewer openly admits to being godless. 
His comment is perhaps the saddest of all.

As we draw nearer to this Christmas, let us pause and remember why we celebrate the season.  And realize, wherever you stand, stereo-typing someone's beliefs is wrong.  Christmas is the most beautiful example of love and hope and should be what we are all sharing, not just the next five days, but every day of the year.

“I give you a new command: Love one another.
Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. 
By this all people will know that you are My disciples,
if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35



Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Good News: Great JOY

Have you ever been so excited to share something good that it feels as if you may burst keeping it contained?  As if you can just feel the bubbles of joy spilling out from you?

Even the word JOY brings forth a smile, remembrance of past experiences, happy moments...

Are you there this season, friends?
If not, I know...
there was a time not long ago, joy seemed nearly impossible. 

As I set out on the journey of blogging through my grief, joy was the furthest thing from my mind.  When the whisper of finding joy came to me, it seemed so foreign at the time, but I didn't question it. I knew in the moment it was a God-nudge and he's guided me through it every step of the way.

"Weeping may spend the night,but there is joy in the morning."  Psalm 30:5

And this journey has been transforming.  Looking back at where I was in 2010 to where I am now, the only explanation I can give someone is that it has been of God.  He's the reason for my joy.

"the joy of the LORD is your strength!”   Nehemiah 8:10

In the beginning, I thought it was just about seeking out joy.  Staying positive.  Finding the good in any situation.  Attitude, as they say, is everything.  But it didn't take long for me to realize there is no joy without Him. 

It is ok to have joy in your life, no matter what you're facing.  You are allowed to smile, even laugh.
If you're still needing inspiration, pull up a chair and browse here awhile.

This week of Advent season, my wish for you is that your heart is open to overflowing JOY that God has to share with you...

"Behold, I bring you good news of great joy!" Luke 2:10

Friday, December 13, 2013

Faithful Friday: Slow Down, Christmas

I'm grabbing the reigns of the seasonal sleigh and yelling, "Whoa!"

Carefully, I tiptoed into the season.  No rush, no fuss.  But time passes without our permission.  The clock ticks whether we will it to slow down or not.  And now I find myself at the last chapter of Christmas.  Twelve days until...

My heart's prayer is that I soak up the most precious gift of Christmas.  That I hear God's still small voice in the hustle and bustle of the holiday. 

When I tune the radio of my life into Him and truly listen, he has so much to say...

God has shown this to be so, as he's certainly been speaking to me this week.  The consistent theme I've heard is "Trust God."  Easy to say, harder to do. 

Wednesday, I came to him in tearful prayers and with a heavy heart.  It seems to be raining on my extended family as of late, with clouds of insecurity on the future.  Having a couple of big decisions to make, I needed his guidance on where to go next.  Truly, I'd already heard his answer, but being the stubborn, head-strong woman I am continued to ask, "But are you sure, God?"

That morning I opened my Bible to read the passage my daily devotion led me, Genesis 22.  At the top of the page were three words written in my hand..."Trust God Completely!"


The message continued throughout the day, as passages and whispers of trust came to me.  The night ended at church, with our pastor sharing the familiar story of Jesus' birth, but focusing on how difficult it was for Joseph and Mary to Trust God.

Then, this morning, as I nestled into my spot beside the fragrant Christmas tree, God whispered again.  In the stillness of the morning, before dawn has fully stretched awake, I opened a recent gift, "The Women of Christmas" by Liz Curtis Higgs.  One of my favorite authors, her words just reach out and grab me.  No other writer can make me chuckle and tear up one paragraph from the next.  She is real -authentic- and I could sit at her feet to listen to her read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

Today, she shared the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah.  How I can imagine their struggle to believe the news God shared.  When you've prayed so long for something, you almost can't believe it when the answer comes.

There's no easy way to paraphrase Liz, as you feel guilty for leaving off any of the nuggets to share.  But these are the parts that God chose to highlight for me...

"Fear not.  Calm down.  Why do we fear the worst from God,
when he loves us completely and always gives us what is best?"

"...your prayer has been heard."  Luke 1:13

The promises of God seem "too good to be true-too hard to believe!" 
 Yet believing is what Christmas is all about. 

And I'm praising God this morning for an answered prayer. 
A prayer that I expectantly waited over 9 months for. 
Pregnant with anticipation, in God's timing, the answer came. 
A new job in the new year! 

While I didn't intend to write two book reviews in a row, I can't help but give praise for this work.  If you buy yourself one gift this Christmas, this should be it. 

I know I'm beyond blessed to have this gift of time at the close of the year to curl up and reflect on the many presents of His presence.

Merry Christmas, friends....

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Book Review: #Praying4husbands

In my life I've said many prayers for my husband, even before we were married.  Thinking back over the course of those twenty plus years though, most of my prayers have been reactive.  I've gone to the Lord for Tim in times of need, or at the result of something he, or we, were struggling with.

I've prayed selfishly, for changes I wanted in Tim, but not always for God's will.

For my husband, I've prayed for his health, in times of sickness.  But not enough in times of health.

God has heard many prayers for my husband's faith.  And in His sweet and perfect timing, he's answered them.  But still I pray...for his continued walk and relationship to grow in the Lord.

I've prayed for our marriage.  So many, many prayers for this marriage.  Prayers said for not just my husband but for me.  From early fights over burnt mac & cheese to the heart sob prayers through depths that could've easily broken us.  God's grace has covered our unity and kept us together, despite the trials of this life.  Or maybe because of the trials...

But when there hasn't been valleys to dig out of, or mountains to climb, have I really prayed for my husband daily?  Have I been proactive in prayers for him? In the plateaus of life, have my lips uttered prayers for my husband from head to toe? 

And on those ordinary days, what even do you pray?  Am I the only one that feels God grows tired of my stale prayers.  Like a repetitive record, sometimes just going through the motions, I wonder if my God rolls His eyes at my monotonous requests.  Or worse, in the times I've taken him or our marriage for granted and not bowed in prayer at all.  Forgive me, Lord...

Back in November, I shared with you that I'd been selected to receive an early copy of the book, "Praying for your Husband from Head to Toe."

If you follow me on social media, I've been sharing excerpts from the book, even before it arrived.  Friday night, Tim brought in the book from our icy mailbox.  Part of me wanted to dig right in and devour it all.  I hungrily got through the first section.  By Saturday, I began day one and quickly discovered this is not a speed read book. 

Can I even do a review justice after only reading through Day 2?  I think so.

God has spoken to me so much with just the first sixty pages of this book.  So much so that I don't want to skip ahead.  My husband deserves the investment of time to take it day by day, to fully soak up each prayer and lift every one of them to God.  For him.  For us.

I find myself conflicted, wanting to read the next sentences but needing to close my eyes in prayer with each paragraph. 

And that's exactly what this book is.  A book of prayers.  Sharon doesn't just give you a guide, she lays out each beautiful prayer for you.  God surely worked through her pen to provide prayers that He knew every single wife would need.  Whether you are newly-weds or celebrating a golden anniversary, there is good in this book for your marriage.  I would even say that a single woman could use this book to pray for her husband to be. 

A Wow God moment happened today as I prepared this post.  Searching my blog for "husband, prayers" I came across one written almost a year ago.  Guess what it was about

Just as He guided me to those prayers last January, He knew I needed this book now.  I'm so blessed to get to share it with you.  It is my prayer for each of you to share in the joy of praying for your husbands.  Amen and Amen.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Faithful Friday: Storm Preparedness

A winter storm warning is headed our way.  In our neck of the woods, this could go either way.  We could get nothing and everyone will complain they worried unnecessarily, or we could be snowed in for days.  The real concern though is ice.

I've only experienced one ice storm in my life, at least that I can remember.  It happened in 2009 and caused us to go on an impromptu camping trip in what felt like the middle of Antarctica.  As with any successful camping trip, preparation is key.  With this storm, it came out of nowhere and we had blind faith that underground power would somehow protect us.  Even though we had a fireplace, our meager woodpile wasn't prepared for the record low temperatures.  Or length of the power outage.  Or the lack of communication as phones were inoperable. 

In the end, our family had to make the choice to separate.  Tim, between his paid job and the volunteer fire department, was basically on constant call.  He shipped us to my mom's in what was the scariest ride of my life, feeling like I was strapped into a giant ice skate.   But we survived.

Yesterday, as I headed to gather a few needed supplies and to restock my pantry, fear and worry began to creep in.  But I was reminded, the best way to prepare for any storm in life, is to face it in prayer.  And God whispered, "I got this."

It is so easy, and the enemy is ever-ready, to let situations in life we can't control overwhelm us.  No amount of worry can change the course of a storm.  But I know the One who can calm the seas with a wave of His hand. 
Sometimes we can see the storm coming, like the forecast we have this weekend.  Sometimes storms come without warning.  Whatever you are facing right now, know that you can lean on the One who is stronger than any storm.
This girl's winter weather storm kit includes a heat source, through our fireplace (gas converted), a light source, through extra candles, a food source (and a manual can opener), but most of all, a life source, my Bible.  Sure to be good reading for all the peaceful quiet time -and the ultimate resource, should this weekend's storms arrive.
The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble;
he knows those who take refuge in him.
Nahum 1:7   

Monday, December 2, 2013


Tis' the season for all things Christmas.  A time for nostalgia.  A busy schedule of activities.  Of traditions like baking cookies, crafts, and movie marathons.  Of dinners and parties, gatherings and more.  So many seasonal moments I look forward to all year long.

But, if I'm not careful, the calendar can soon become overwhelming and I find myself wishing the month away for a slower pace.  Or putting on the imaginary brakes to soak up just a little more time. 

Tim reminded me of this as I was penciling in our December and I commented how busy we were going to be.  He said, "We're as busy as we choose to be."

Then God whispered the same.  Yesterday, December 1st, would see my devotional all about time.  It's not a dated devotional but I know the timing of the message is not coincidental. 

From that whisper, I shared a post from a few years back about a changing tradition we began at my mom's to stop buying presents and instead spend time. 

To top it off with a pretty bow, our pastor's sermon would seal the lesson of ensuring Christmas is much more about Who we celebrate than what.  This I know, this my heart says is what I want remembered most of our holidays.

But the unexpected part I pulled from yesterday was that it was ok if I couldn't do it all, especially in helping others. 

Now, we've never had an extravagant Christmas.  The kids don't put big ticket items on their lists because we've always had a modest budget for presents.  We do however like to help those less fortunate and it's been a family tradition for us to give more this time of year. 

It's humbling to find ourselves in a place where we can't afford to do that this year.  Having recently lost my job, I find myself having to shift plans and traditions, declining yearly gifts for charities, and remembering that helping doesn't always include just writing a check.

Our pastor, through the voice of the Wonderful Counselor, prompted us to remember...the ultimate gift we can give someone is Jesus.  No presents, no food basket, no help can compare.  Yes, this is my Christmas wish.  This I can share.

So, this gift...the BEST gift, full of hope, peace, love and JOY I share with you. 
and you.  and you.

Hoping Christ is in every minute of your Christmastime.

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