Wednesday, December 30, 2009

10 things I want to do in 2010

Instead of a New Year's Resolution that will last maybe 30 hours, I've decided to make a list of 10 tangible things I want to do in 2010. Please inquire from time to time to hold me accountable and ask if I've accomplished any of these things.

1) I want to memorize these 5 Scripture passages in the month of January. Anger tends to be one of my major issues in my life, marriage and parenting. Psalm 119:11 states "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you."

The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. Psalm 145:8

But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Psalm 86:15

But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore you did not desert them. Neh. 9:17

Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity. Joel 2:13

He prayed to the Lord, "O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Jonah 4:2

2) I want to go to Big Bay Point Lighthouse B & B for my birthday/our 16th wedding anniversary. I've always wanted to see Lake Superior in the winter and I can't wait to stay in a Lighthouse right on the big lake!

3) I want to start a Financial Peace University class in our home.

4) I want to further my writing skills by writing a Bible study for women. I'm not sure of all the details yet but it's been churning in my heart for a few months.

5) I want to hone my bread making abilities. I love baking bread and would love to learn to make more varieties of artisan breads.

6) I want to develop more scheduled times of purposeful prayer with others.

7) I want to take another great camping trip with Chad and the kids.

8) I want to be purposeful in showing Chad and the kids how much I love them.

9) I want to be more purposeful in our children's program at Oak Grove Community Church.

10) I want to be more willing to be used by God and be quicker to obey His voice.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

the blessing of friendships

I am truly blessed with great friendships! Just today, I had 4 friends in my living room while their kids were sledding. They were laughing, chatting and building into my life. I was refreshed and renewed just by having them in my home. After everyone left, all I could say was "thank you LORD!"

One of my goals in life has become...never forget the valleys, never forget the hard times! I often remind myself of the valleys because when I forget the valleys, I also forget the blessings that have come because of the hard times.

Several years ago, I made the decision to home school Eric through Kindergarten. What I first thought was a simple decision became a hard journey. Every single friend, at that time, sent their kids to conventional school. Instead of hearing things like "I respect your decision." I would hear things like "If you would just put him in school, you could go shopping with us" or "I can't believe you would risk our friendship over school. Why can't you just do what we do?" I spent many days with tears streaming down my face saying, "God, I just can't do this. I know you have called me to home school but the cost is too much. I am losing my friends over this!"

I did lose some friends. It's easy to look back now and recognize that they weren't deep friendships. We didn't discuss deep heart issues, we discussed TV shows. We didn't share Bible truth with one another, instead we gossiped and slandered others. Most discussions were no deeper than what the next day's weather would be. However, at the time, I didn't recognize what a deep God-honoring friendship looked like and so the loss hurt greatly.

God used that experience to show me that He doesn't call us to obedience without coming along side of us. He doesn't leave us alone. I feel like that first year of home schooling was a year of falling in love with Jesus. He came alongside me and helped me in my unbelief and in my inadequacy as a mom and teacher. By the end of the school year, I KNEW that I was called to home school my children and losing friendships was worth the love that developed in my heart for Him. My life was complete with Jesus by my side, not my shallow friendships.

Soon after that school year, God started blessing me with incredible friendships. I have so many deep friendships now that I am blown away. I have friends that will confront me on issues that I need to work on in my life. I have friends that pray for me and with me. I have friends that have stuck with me through thick and thin. My home school, marriage and personal Bible study has been enriched by friends who have come alongside me and taught me. And, if all of that were not enough blessing, He keeps bringing friends into my life. He has even renewed old friendships for me. My prayer partner in our home school cooperative is one of my best friends from high school!

I am so thankful for the blessing of friendships. Though I KNOW that Jesus is enough, I also never want to forget the valley of loneliness. When I remember that hard time, my friendships become even more of a blessing. Thank you LORD!

Monday, December 28, 2009

a kernel of wisdom gleaned in 2009...

When I have the opportunity to listen to Chad discipline our children, I think I learn more than the kids do! Sometimes I even think that God specifically allows those times just for me (probably because I learn best when taught in child-sized portions. And, when it's not about me, I don't get defensive and when I'm not defensive, I can listen quite well....).

One of the big lessons of 2009 in our home has been this... IT IS NOT ALL ABOUT YOU! I've heard Chad and I say this more times than I can count. I love the way Chad says it to the kids..."Do you realize how small you are in God's great plan? It's not about you any more than it is about me or anyone else. We are all so small compared to God! It is all about Him!"

This is my kernel of wisdom gleaned in is not all about me! I am but a kernel in God's plan for mankind and when I allow myself to live by this, I allow Him to orchestrate His good work without me butting in to "help" Him get it done. When I remember my relative size in creation, I remember He is the Creator, I am the created. When I remember that it is all about Him and glorifying Him, then it is nothing about what I deserve. When I remember He is God, that means that I am not!

I am confident that this lesson will continue into 2010 and beyond. There is so much I have yet to learn and so much to let go. Thankfully, I serve a God who is willing to give it to me lessons and wisdom in child-sized, kernel-sized, pieces!

What is your "kernel of wisdom gleaned in 2009"?


A few years ago (I can't remember exactly when, so it very well may be more than a few years ago...), my sisters went together and bought me a beautiful framed calligraphy print of a quote of Mother Teresa for Christmas. We were on a Girls Weekend with our mom and I saw it in a cute shop and asked specifically for it. I loved it then and I love it now.

Because it is always hanging on my living room wall, I often forget about it. Months will go by between times of reading and meditating on this thought. However, each time I go back to read it, I am again reminded of my place in this journey called life.

There is so much more to my journey than what I can see or even imagine. God requires much of me because He has given me much (Luke 12:48). And, yet, He doesn't work in a vacuum. So, my obedience to Him may be part of someone else's journey. Much of this I won't know this side of Heaven. All I am required to do is obey....the rest is up to Him!

People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For in the end, it is between you and God. It never was between you and them anyway.
~Mother Teresa

Saturday, December 26, 2009

my shoe collection...

I think there are a lot of ways that I am not a stereotypical woman. For instance, I truly dislike shopping, I don't fuss about my clothes, hair or makeup, I love driving my Ford F-150 and I don't like shoes. I don't like buying shoes and I really don't even like to wear them.

There is an old proverb that states...don't judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes. Though this old proverb isn't found in the Bible, I have seen God use it in my life over and over the point that my spiritual closet is overflowing with shoes. Imelda Marcos has nothing on me!

God has an incredible sense of humor to take me, a woman who hates to wear shoes, and then have me walk in another's shoes for a while. You see, I tend to be very judgmental. I told you in the last post that I have lived most of my life assuming that everything is either black or white, wrong or right. I have often looked at someone and made an immediate judgment based on my limited perception of their life. Of course, I assume that if I were in that situation, I would do it differently. Here in lies the humor...God often, then, puts me in that very same situation and rarely do I do anything different.

Let me give you some examples from my life. As you see the humor, picture a spiritual closet of shoes overflowing because there are many more examples of this in my life!

*All through high school, I couldn't imagine why anyone would go to a Christian school. I loved my years in public high school. However, I made a fool of myself, more than once, speaking out on why public high school was so much better than Christian high school. God gave me a pair of Christian school shoes to don when I went to college. They are some of my favorites in my spiritual closet. I learned that though they are different, there are joys in both types of educational institutions.

*Chad and I married when I was 25. This gave me a few years of being single. Unfortunately, it also gave me gave me a few years to develop bias against married couples who seemed to "forget their friends" after they got married. I loved being a newlywed, but I know that I lost at least one friend because I forgot her.

*When I was expecting Eric 13 years ago, I would watch parents in public places (restaurants, stores, church, etc) and think, "I will NEVER let my child behave THAT way!" Ha! God must have just been chuckling knowing that by the time my third child came, there was no misbehavior that hadn't been done by my own children!

*I used to have a big soap box that I would drag out to any audience that I could find and preach against the dangers and disasters of home schooling. I thought there was no greater sin a parent could do against their own children than to keep them home and not "socialize" them. Most days I feel like my home school shoes are worn out but some how God keeps me going in them!

*Self-discipline is not one of my strong suits. A few years ago, I would not have been able to imagine denying myself anything. When I would see people chose not to buy something because they were waiting for something else, I would think "they're crazy! You only live once and if you can afford it (or if you have enough credit) go for it!" After spending a couple of years paying off dumb debt, I now wear a pair of frugal shoes. These shoes are very freeing and comfortable but I never thought they would be in my shoe closet!

Those are just a few examples. It seems like most every time I have judged someone for how they respond to a situation in their life, God has given me a pair of their shoes and had me start walking in them. There are shoes in my spiritual closet that totally embarrass me and I hate talking about them. There are others that have become favorites even though, at one time, I would have refused to wear them. There are some that I wore for a season and others that I still wear.

I joke about my overflowing spiritual shoe closet, but, honestly, I am so thankful for each and every pair of shoes. Though several of them pinched my toes and left blisters on my heels, they also helped shape me. These shoes have taken me places I would not have gone on my own and led me to people that I wouldn't have met on my own.

More than anything else, my overflowing shoe closet has led me to be less judgmental. Some day, I hope, I won't be walking in anyone else's shoes because I have learned the meaning of...don't judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes. I hope I don't have to ask God to build me a new shoe closet before then!

Friday, December 25, 2009

It's black and white and red!

I've been thinking a lot about grace lately. Do I give as much grace to others as I want them to give me? I want to be graceful and gracious but what does grace lived out look like?

I've spent much of my 40 years thinking that everything is black and white. It is either wrong or it is right. Period. There hasn't been much room in my heart to consider any other view than just my own. My attitude has been a lot of "I am right and you are wrong!"

Sometimes God needs to hit me over the head with a 2 x 4 and that was my Merry Christmas gift today...a small glimpse of how grace works. My friend, Kalene, and I were chatting on facebook this afternoon and she mentioned that things are not always black and white. Ding! If my life were a comic strip (which it closely resembles most of the time...) you would have seen the light bulb above my head light up! Life in Christ isn't black and's black and white and red! The blood of Christ that was shed on the Cross for my sins should be what I see when I see people. If I look through my blood-washed heart I would see red all over my black and white issues. I would see Jesus and Jesus' grace instead of my own self-righteous legalism.

Grace is seeing and responding to people and situations with Jesus' sacrifice for me foremost in my mind. When I see through His redeeming blood, I don't see black and white issues, I see people who need Jesus. I see their needs rather than my own rules. I see their hurts rather than my own self-righteousness. I see their God given abilities rather than my own pride. I see them as hurting people in need of God's love rather than lowly creatures to whom I am superior.

I want to be a gracious and graceful woman. I want to give more grace than I expect to receive. I need to let the grace of Jesus' sacrifice bleed red all over by black and white world!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

realizing the "richness" of my life...

My new 10-year old friend, Betsy, stood in my kitchen and said, "You have a garbage disposal? You must be rich!!" Though my first thought was a defense, "we're not really rich...", God gave me a glimpse of the truth of Betsy's statement....I am rich!

When I look around me, I see hurting people, broken families, marriages in trouble, children in turmoil. I see families striving to simply stay together for Christmas. I see lines of people trying to buy happiness for their children or themselves. All of these caught in the whirlpool of trying to maintain a happy facade while hiding the hurt in their hearts.

The richness of my life goes so far beyond an appliance in my kitchen. At the very core of my existence, I have been showered with grace and mercy. It's the grace of a loving God and His never ending mercy that make me rich. It's knowing that He has given me the gift of eternal life through the perfect sacrifice of His Son for my sins that makes me rich. It's God's constant work in my life changing me and molding more into His image that makes me rich.

When I look at the true richness of my life, my garbage disposal becomes house, my clothes, my vehicle, my possessions become nothing as well. My answer to Betsy becomes, "Yes, Bets, you are right! I am rich beyond my own comprehension!"

My desire is to recognize this richness of God in my life daily, not just during the season of Christmas...for it is the gift of Christmas all year long that makes me rich!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

the postscript

Just in case today's post didn't convince you that I do not have it all together and I'm not all that great, I thought I would share a bit of my experience this evening with you. When I am done, I'm sure you will agree, that I'm a work in progress (I am a serious construction zone!)....

We are experiencing a little ice here in Northern Indiana tonight and driving home from church was a bit treacherous. Chad is working through the night tonight, so I had to take my truck to the hospital and leave it there and drive the diesel home to plug it in. I hate the diesel-it's a one ton dually and it's a beast!!! So, we get in, I look down to check the emergency break, put it in reverse and away we go slipping and sliding out of the hospital parking lot. Because, of course, any time I would engage the clutch to shift, we would slide to the left or slide to the right....

We made it home slow and easy and turning onto our road I thought, "This truck is working hard like the brake is on. So glad I checked to make sure it wasn't!" ha! When we pulled in our driveway, the brakes were hot enough to smell. arrrrggggghhhhh!! If this were the first time I had ever done this, it would be bad enough but it's the second time! The first time was over 3 years ago and we finally got it fixed this summer. OUCH!

Chad called to make sure we got home okay and my first question to him was "how much do you love me?" His answer, "More than you know... what did you do?"

I hate that I do stupid things like this, and often do them more than once. Just had to share my postscript just in case anyone still thought that I had everything in my life under control.

a partial tour of my home and life...

I think that people often have the wrong impression of me. I'm learning that there are individuals who think that my life is pretty close to perfect and that I have it all together. They seem to think that I'm an amazing woman who has an amazing life. Women have actually told me lately how much they admire me and my life. "How do you do it? I want to be like you!" is what I've heard. I'm not sure if I have said or done anything to give this impression but I think it may be time to set the record straight. C'mon in and I'll give you a tour of my home and my life....

As I open my front door to your knock, I glance around and cringe (my house is so far from the picture perfect "House Beautiful" that I had always dreamed I would have). Last night's snow clothes are strewn all over. In fact, you will have to step over Eric's size 11 boots just to get in the door. My front door opens directly into my living room/kitchen and so there is no hiding the clementine peel that Ellen left on the arm of our broken recliner or Ebony's remnants of bones and rawhides and dog hair that are all over the living room floor.

As I take your coat, I quickly open the coat closet and stuff your coat in before everything else falls out. I'm too late and I have to kick Emily's snowpants back in, put the door back in the track and close it quickly. I would love to invite you to sit at the table for a cup of tea but today the table is covered in mail, recipes and computers. Most days it is covered with puzzles on their way to completion, school projects that are being built, or computers that are being rebuilt but rarely is my table bare and ready for a cup of tea with a friend.

Not that my kitchen counter is any better... milk and cereal are still sitting out. School books, papers, bills, and "stuff" clutter it. The sink has dishes that didn't fit in this round of the dishwasher and clementines and bananas are falling out of the "snack basket" and rolling into the sink.

I would continue giving you a "tour" through my house but the laundry room is next..... just can't go there with you and there is NO way I would let you see my basement! Then there are the kid's bedrooms (which the are supposed to be "cleaning" right now) and my room, which tends to be the community center. I didn't even mention our office... well, actually Chad's office. I would just like to forget that it exists....

My life mirrors my house in so many ways. It's not the picture perfect life I once dreamt I would live. Instead, I'm always underdressed and over stressed. Neurotic chaos seems to be the norm. Even on the Lord's Day I can't seem to get it all together to get out the door with a smile and a joyful heart. On more than one occasion, I have arrived at church only to realize that my daughter's hair hasn't seen a brush in this last decade and Eric's teeth haven't seen a toothbrush either (one would think that at 12 years old, you wouldn't need Mom to remind you to brush your teeth!). Then there are the mornings I arrive to be reminded that I signed up for donuts...donuts? what donuts?

My spiritual life isn't much better. There are times of great growth and personal quiet times. Times when I feel like God is a breath away and I bask in His presence. There are also times when I pull the covers over my head and hide. I feel like He is a million miles away and I can't find Him. There are times when I have a hunger for the Word that is ferocious and times when I dust my Bible off when I pick it up. I'm not proud of any of this, just stating the facts as I see them.

There are parts of my personal and spiritual life that I will open the door and let people see (although I do cringe whenever I look around at the junk in my life that they may see) but I don't let them in very far. Once they are past the "kitchen" of my heart, the rest is off limits. It's just too dirty, cluttered, out of control to reveal.

Even now, this is as far as I will go with the tour. I just hoped to give you a glimpse that things are not what they seem. My life is no picture perfect Monet or Norman Rockwell. It tends to look more like a Rembrandt. It's a life of failure, disappointment, sin, pride and selfishness that God is some how, some way making a beautiful piece of art that looks like Him not me. So, please don't think it is because of anything I have done or am...instead, any beauty that you see, any thing that looks like I have it all together is where you see Jesus in my life.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

...the beauty of relationship...

Relationship. Have you ever really noticed that Jesus was all about relationship? The very fact that He came to be Emmanuel (meaning "God with us") reveals His intent. He was relational, even to the point of being born as a screaming, wrinkled newborn laid in a manger just to be with us.

The Bible tells us that the boy Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:52). Even as a child, Jesus was about relationship with others. Later, as an adult, His ministry was focused on being with people, teaching them and healing them. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John record many stories of Jesus spending time with people in their own homes... developing relationships with them. He set the perfect example of being a person willing to invest time in building relationships with people; rather, than offering a "quick fix" and walking away, never to look back.

If the Bible is our standard of living, and if we read about Jesus' emphasis on relationship, why, then, is it so difficult for mainstream American Christians to develop relationships with the lost and the hurting? Why is it so difficult for me? Have I bought into the lie that if I meet people where they are, I will be "enabling" them to continue in their broken lifestyle? Have I deemed my life "better" than their life? Do I actually believe that I am better than they are? Do I look at their life, and think that they have brought their problems upon themselves? Do I act as if I can "fix" their problem if they would just get out of the way and let me do it? Am I looking for a "quick fix" so that I can spend my time on something more "meaningful"?

I hate to admit that I have been able to answer a resounding YES to all of those questions in the not-so-distant past. I have stood on my self-righteous pedestal thinking that I was so much better than others. I seriously believed that God needed to use me to save people from themselves. I lived as if I was doing Him a great favor by being willing to do it (oooohhh....that is almost to ugly to admit out loud!). In His great grace, He has humbled me and He continues to remind me that only Jesus came to be perfect and to save. He is God, I am not. I need others to sharpen me as much or more than I need to sharpen others (Proverbs 27:17 "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.").

My dearest confident, Julie, has set an incredible example for me to follow. Julie is a relational person. She is willing to give of herself and of her time in order to develop a relationship and hence, to earn someone's trust. She walks alongside a person in a mentor role, all the while, pointing them to Jesus. It is life-style evangelism at it's greatest and it is incredibly effective! Julie came alongside me in a mentor role and pointed me to Jesus as God used her to teach me how to value relationship with others.

I am so thankful for Julie's impact in my life. I pray that I won't return to my self-inflated platform of judgmental thoughts and pride. I don't want to live there anymore. I have had a taste of being relational and I love it because as I am walking alongside someone else, that means they are walking beside me. As I mentor them, they mentor me. They are building in my life just as much, or even more so, than I am building into theirs. I am changing because of their impact into my life.

This is the beauty of relationship and I have a lot of changing that I need to do.

Monday, December 21, 2009

...glimpses of life through the eyes of my children...

I love that God occasionally gives me glimpses of life through my children's eyes. Undoubtedly, I could use more than an occasional glimpse! Every glimpse is a lesson my heart needs to learn....

In my children's world, I tend to be like Charlie Brown's teacher. In fact, I am sure that this is what my children hear, "waa WAA waa WAA". I see it in their eyes. I tend to be a "lecturer". Truly, I hate this about myself!! So, when I start in, I see my kids eyes glass over and their heads start bobbing up and down. A peek into their hearts would probably reveal, "here she goes again! If I agree with everything she says, she'll stop." The more they react with stone silence, the more I rant and rave. Why?! I think it's because I have conditioned myself as much as I have conditioned them. If I rant and rave enough, I feel like I have "dealt with" the issue and "taught" my children the correct way to handle it. It seems to be the quick way to deal with the wrong issue so that we can move on to an illusion of peace and quiet.

I am so thankful that God showed me this a few evenings ago. I saw Emme's eyes glass over and when I stopped ranting and raving and began talking and asking, tears fell down her cheeks. Yes, it took a little more time than ranting and raving but it was worth it. I wish I could tell you that my kids have a new mom. I wish I could say that I immediately changed my ways and things have been soooooo much better. I still fail. I failed miserably this morning with Ellen but thankfully my kids are the forgiving kind of kids and my Savior is the forgiving kind of God!

My glimpses of life through my children's eyes are not always so serious. Today I laughed inside (but not out loud, of course) at the way my girls were dressed to go to the post office and to the bank. Without a single thought of what anyone would think of them, they went clomping through the door in their snow boots and coats, proudly showing off their new hats that Penni made! They thought they were as gorgeous as models on a runway in Paris. You know what.... they are!

I'm sitting here in a quiet house listening to giggles and sledding screams outside as I am given another glimpse into their world. My two girls and a borrowed one are laughing and playing without a care. Their world only exists right now and right now is a lot of fun! They are not inhibited with worries or the "what ifs" of life. Instead, they are simply enjoying the moment of snow together. How different would my day to day life be if I simply enjoyed other's company and had fun, rather than allowing myself to get caught up the "what ifs" and worries of life?

Jesus, please give me many, many more glimpses of life through the eyes of Emily, Eric and Ellen... my heart has many more lessons to learn!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I hate him!!

So struggling to find words tonight. Struggling to sort out the emotions in my heart. Struggling to make sense of things that make no sense to my human heart... to my human understanding.

I know two things for sure in this storm in my soul. First, and always foremost, God is God! He loves me. He loves others. He loves my friends and family more than I could ever hope to love and His love is never EVER compromised, no matter what His archenemy tries to do.

Secondly, I know, this enemy of God has come to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). His name is Satan and he doesn't play fair and he doesn't have favorites. He goes for the kill each and every time. He's after my loved ones and I hate it!!

This enemy, this low-down scum, is attempting to destroy a beautiful family. A family that was placed together just a year ago. A family that is trying to show God's love to broken and bruised young hearts. The very foundation of this family is being challenged this week in court (the very court system in this good ole U S of A that the enemy seems to have infiltrated already). He's here to steal, kill and destroy this family. This family includes my cousin and her wonderful husband. I am so proud to be related to Kevin and Susan! They amaze me in all that they do and I do not want the enemy to have any victory in their I pray because 'greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world!' (1 John 4:4)

If one family were not enough to destroy, Satan simultaneously is seeking to destroy a family in our church. Chad and I have had the privilege of getting to know these precious friends. They have allowed us to walk along side them over the last 6 months or so. I feel like we've built a friendship that is now being compromised by miscommunication, hurt feelings and pride. Ultimately, compromised by the enemy... by the one who wants to steal, kill and destroy.

I hate him! He makes me so mad! I know that Jehovah wins the war but I sure wish Satan didn't win any battles. However, I guess I have lived enough to know that he does. He wins when each of us give into him. He wins when we allow him to convince us that we are failures. He wins when we allow him to convince us that others are out to get us. He wins when families are destroyed and marriages are killed. He wins anytime our focus and attention is on ourselves and not on Jesus.

He also wins when our attention is on him and not on the One who is in control. I give him the victory too many times and so tonight I will not dwell on the deceiver but on the One who gained the victory over death and over the grave. I will praise Him, my Jesus, my Redeemer and I will stand in the gap for those who are under incredible attack from His archenemy and mine and I will pray for victory in their lives from the enemy. But, just for the record... I still hate him!!!!!!!!

1 Peter 5:8-11 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

let it snow...let it snow...let it snow!

I love snow! I spent the greater part of my childhood in Michigan where we had snow, lots and lots of snow! I've now lived in Indiana for 26 years and I can tell you, I'm still disappointed. If not for our church family, homeschool cooperative and Chad's job, I could be very persuaded to pack up and head north. Especially on days like today....

It's snowing here! It's our first snow (can you believe that December 19 is our first snow?!) and I have to say, it is absolutely gorgeous!! Because it has been so damp lately, the snow is sticking to all of the trees and big, fat snowflakes are falling. There is only about an inch on the ground and the weatherman is only promising one more inch but it is enough to cover the ugly brown ground and the junk lying around. My view is splendid! If the camera were not out in Kansas on a bird hunting trip, I would post a picture for you.

I think one of the reasons I love snow, is that I love the word picture the Bible paints.
Isaiah 1:18 says
"Come now, let us reason together,"
says the LORD.
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool."

Only an amazing God could take something as visible as scarlet and make it white. Only a loving Creator could cover my ugly junk with a blanket of beautiful forgiveness, much more splendid than the snow scene out my window. He does it more times than I would care to admit and more times than I will ever remember! Every time the beautiful snow scene becomes slushy and ugly, with big chunks of frozen debris, He covers me, again. He even covers patches as ugly as the "yellow snow" my dogs leave. Only Jehovah could make something beautiful out of someone so ugly and stained.

Thank you God! Let it snow...let it snow....let it snow!!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

an epiphany, thanks to Ebony

Meet the 4th E in the family~Ebony. Ebony is our 9 month old black lab/chow mix puppy, affectionally referred to as "princess puppy".

This picture was taken this summer in our camper. When given the chance, Ebony will always chose a pillow or blanket to on which to lay. Even if we don't always think so, she is sure she is royalty.

Last night, for the first time, Ebony slept in our bed. Since it is only me this weekend, I figured she would keep me warm. She did but it took her a while to settle down. At one point, I had enough of her 50 pounds pacing back and forth across the bed and the turning in circles to lay down. When I got up to take her back to her kennel, she sat on the edge of the bed and looked at me as if to say "you have got to be joking!"

This morning, I had a bit of an epiphany thanks to Ebony. Until I introduced the idea of sleeping on the bed, Ebony was completely content to sleep in her kennel. Once she got a taste of the king-size bed, though, she acted as though she was entitled to it and didn't want to give it up.

I thought of all that I have been blessed with, including a wonderful bed on which to sleep. If I were to travel inside and outside of these United States, I would find many, many people who sleep on cots, mats, rugs, and even dirt floors. For the most part, I think these people are content with where they sleep. It's all they have and it's all they've known. The problem isn't with these people, the problem is with me.

You see, I have experienced the wonderful king-size bed and I KNOW I would not be content with a cot, a mat, a rug or a dirt floor! Not only have I experienced this great sleep arrangement, I have allowed myself to feel entitled to it. It's my bed, right? I have been known, on many occasions, to sleep somewhere away from home and say "I can't wait to get back to MY bed". Therein lies the problem... my sinful heart that feels like it is entitled to the best in life rather than a thankful heart that is appreciative of all the blessings in my life~including my bed.

It's easy for me to read a book like "Advent Conspiracy" and say "This is a great book! We should all change the way we view Christmas!" It becomes hard when I say "Yes, LORD! I want to live differently. I want to worship fully, give more, spend less and love all." It's hard because He will hold me to that statement. He will show me where I am selfish. He will point out blessings that He has given that I take for granted. He will change my heart... and heart surgery is always good and always right but it always hurts.

My epiphany, thanks to Ebony, is this...I don't want to live a "princess puppy" life. I don't want to feel entitled to pampering, pillows and pleasure. Instead, I want to worship fully, spend less, give more and love all with a heart full of gratitude. Please bear with me, I think I'm on my way to the operating room for more heart surgery.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Advent Conspiracy

I tend to be an "all or nothing" type of person. Actually, if the whole truth were known, that may even be an understatement (I'm sure my family is laughing out loud as they read this). When I find a cause I believe in, I tend to shout it from the roof top and persuade (okay, maybe push) people to agree with me.

I found a book last night that is life changing and it is my new message from the rooftop. Forgive me if you feel like I'm being pushy. I don't mean to push, I'm just excited to find a book that sums up how I feel about Christmas.

You see, about six years ago, I had a very disappointing Christmas. Seriously, the disappointment came because I didn't get what I wanted. Pathetic, but true! I had young children so I tried my best to be happy and jolly but Chad knew that he had blown it. Really, he hadn't blown anything. I had allowed myself to develop expectations that were practically impossible to meet. In my selfish state, I cried in the shower after we had opened gifts (I can't believe I just admitted to that...).

I've said this before, and I hope I say it many, many more times.... I am so thankful that God continues to work on me and hasn't given up on me! He allowed that experience to begin to change my heart towards Christmas. I had bought into the lie that Christmas is all about getting what we want rather than being all about giving and worshipping Him! Now, looking back, I am so thankful for the Christmas that I didn't get a diamond (yep, that's is what it was all about...).

A year or two later, Chad and I were convicted about our financial situation. We were in debt to our eyeballs and living on credit cards. We began a 2 year journey of living towards financial peace. Part of that journey required scaling back on Christmas. I was afraid. Afraid of what my kids would think, afraid of what our families would think, afraid of being "different". Christmas came and went and we had a wonderful Christmas with no bills in January--there was nothing to fear (for me, that is the way it usually is....).

Now, we chose to scale back Christmas so that we can help others. I thought I was doing so good in this area until my extended family's Christmas celebration this year. Honestly, we don't spend a lot on gifts. But, this year my dear sister (I hate the term sister-in-law) came to Christmas with a way to give gifts that keep on giving. She gave a gift to be used through Samaritan's Purse and she also gave a gift to be used through a micro business loan in a 3rd world country.

Susy's thoughtful gift persuaded me to do some serious soul-searching and praying of how our family of five could do something that would be giving less but doing more. Yesterday, I found the Advent Conspiracy website and was impressed enough to go out and buy the book. The book is the explanation of an American grassroots effort to change the way churches celebrate Christmas by worshipping fully, spending less, giving more and loving all.

Because I am an "all or nothing" person, anyone in my path today has heard about this book. I even called Chad and told him I think we need to buy the book for the other elders of our church. I'm so thankful for my husband. His answer, "we can suggest they read the book but you can't give them a gift to persuade them to change". He was right, again! So, instead of buying everyone a copy of the book, I'm suggesting it (sorry Nikki, no book for Christmas).

Here's a link to the promotional video. I hope you take a minute to watch it and prayerfully consider spending less and giving more. I'd encourage you to buy a copy of the book for yourself and one to give to a loved one this advent season.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

all is calm, all is bright

Tonight I am sitting here in a warm house with just the not-so-little one and the puppy. Chad and Eric left today for a 6-day bird hunting trip with my brother and Emily is away with her accordion choir to perform at a children's Christmas party and then have a sleep over. All is calm and quiet in our cozy abode.

It's times like this that "recharge" my battery. I love quiet! Most days, I crave quiet! My life is such, though, that the quiet is often lost in the daily noise and ruckus. I am often on the run... often involved with people and activities and such. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy those. It's what I do and I have fun doing it. But when it's all done, I'm usually done in! When I reach the point of being "done and done in" my craving for peace and quiet becomes ferocious!

I think it's because I don't get evenings like this much that caused me to look forward to tonight all day. Ellen and I talked about it all day. We couldn't get home fast enough this evening to come in from the cold and lock the world out. She's in the bath now and then we will both don our pj's and climb into my big bed and read together until we fall asleep. The morning will bring a rested body and a refreshed spirit.

My soul longs for silent nights... holy nights where I abide in Him... where all is calm... and all is bright!

crunching the Toy Time numbers...God's way

Toy Time 2009 ended today. Once again, God multiplied in amazing ways! Here are the numbers....
**We took in, cleaned, priced and sorted 9,187 toys.
**The profit from the sale plus donations equalled over $5,100 with which to buy new toys.
**At the end of the day, 2059 children in the area received new toys for Christmas.

I love seeing how God's math works. Let me just tell you that Ami spends as little as possible on new toys. She goes to Big Lots and cleans them out of all of their inexpensive toys, spending between $5 and $8. So, if you were to divide the $5,100 available to spend by $5 for each toy, you answer would be 1020. According to mathematical reasoning, then, 1,020 children could each receive a new toy. Instead, over 2000 children have each received a new toy and a small stocking stuffer and all of the new toys that were purchased or donated left the building.

I love the way God crunches the numbers!

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.
Isaiah 55:8

Your ways, O God, are holy.
What god is so great as our God?
Psalm 77:13

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What it is all about.

Today is probably my favorite day of the year! Today was day 1 of toy giveaway. All of our hard work last week paid off in huge dividends today.

Last week we took in over 9,000 toys (who knew there were that many toys around?) and over the weekend, the toy sale was a big success. When all the dust settled, Ami and Tena had over $5,000 dollars to go buy new toys. Last night we spent about 4 hours sorting used toys from new toys and marking out all UPC codes on all of the toys. We also prayed over the toys, asking God to multiply the toys the way He once multiplied 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed 5,000 people. And then we all went home for a good night's sleep before the stampede today.

Anyone, regardless of economic status, can come get new toys. Ami refuses to refuse anyone toys because "You don't know their story. We give them Jesus and toys and let God take care of the rest". So, this morning people began lining up in the cold and in the dark around 6 a.m. When I arrived at the building at 8:20 there was a line of people! We didn't open the doors for the giveaway until 9 a.m.

I wasn't kidding when I said "before the stampede". It was amazing to watch today. People were arguing and pushing in line, much like a line in a kindergarten room. I kid you not, I heard these quotes:
"She cut in line...."
"He's pushing..."
"That lady, she doesn't even have any children and she's here to get new toys!"
And, this was before we even let them in the building to fight over used toys that didn't sell during the toy sale!

When we finally opened the door, we had four lines going of people signing in. As the people signed in, we would find out the ages and genders of their children. Then they were allowed to look for 2 toys per child among the toys that didn't sell during the sale. While they were looking, our children would run behind a closed door and "shop". They would chose toys by age and by gender. When they had finished "shopping" they would go back in the main room and give the toys to the person as well as tell them about Jesus.

Within 10 minutes I had a woman return her bag of toys to me angrily and accuse me of short-changing her children. Since I really couldn't say "you get what you get and you don't throw a fit!", I took her toys back and found the specific toys she asked for. I figured I might as well make this an opportunity for telling her about Jesus. So, I returned with her new toys and gave her a hug and told her "Jesus loves you. Merry Christmas!" I'm not sure she knew what to do with that! ; )

Between this woman, the woman I had to confront (not once, not twice but FOUR times because she was taking too many things), and the people pushing and shoving in line, I was about done in! We had not even been passing toys out for 30 minutes and I was already losing my focus of why we do what we do.

I'm so thankful that God restored my focus. For each of those negative things, He gave me a positive that makes my heart sing and restored today as my favorite day of the year. In the hustle and bustle, I walked up behind my 10 year old friend, Rebecca, and heard her say "We do this because we want you to know about Jesus!" to a beaten and worn out man waiting patiently for his toys.

I saw a mom hug Ami on her way out of the building and say "Ami, thank you for doing this. I lost my job this week and I wasn't sure how I was going to provide Christmas for my kids."

When I blogged about Toy Time last week, I mentioned that every year we have a story or two to share. This story is my story of the year.... My almost 9 year old friend, Cassadi, was choosing toys for a mom whose husband had been hospitalized last week. Since he can't work, there is no money for this family right now. The mom came in hoping for a few little things to wrap up for her kids. Cassadi was able to give this mom a brand-new bike that had been donated for her little girl. Cassadi gave the lady the bicycle and boldly told her about Jesus~how He loves her and came as a baby to die on a cross for the sins of everyone. The lady cried and thanked Cassadi... Cassadi cried and hugged her... and all those watching cried because this is what it is all about!

It's not about adults acting like impatient children who can not wait their turn. It is not about selfish and greedy people snatching up anything they can hide in their coats or bags. It is not about unsatisfied "customers" who throw a fit when they don't get what they want. Amazingly, it's not even about toys. Instead, it is all about Jesus and making Him known by giving away some simple toys for needy families. It's all about Him and it's totally amazing!

Monday, December 14, 2009 won't matter!

Today I am struck with how depraved my mind really is. Seriously, depraved. My always loving LORD gave me a glimpse of my own selfish depravity this morning. I've been ruminating on it since.

While doing 1o1 things around the house this morning, I allowed selfish thoughts to manifest in my thinking. The thoughts went something like this..."Does anyone ever realize/care what I do? Does anyone notice?"...those thoughts immediately went to "Why bother because no one ever notices." .... the next thought "I sure hope everyone who comes to my funeral thanks me for what I've done and I hope God will give me a glimpse of that from Heaven." Yes, my mind really does skip around like that (so glad I warned you ahead of time how depraved I am)!

I am so very thankful for my Savior! So very thankful that He hasn't given up on me. Before my pity party became a full-fledged fiesta, the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart and gave me a mental picture that I can not dismiss.

You see, the mental picture was me at His feet in Heaven while there was a funeral for me here on earth. Instead of my hope that He would give me a glimpse of people singing my praises over my dead body, He gave me a vision of myself praising Him oblivious to anything on earth. Because, it is truly all about Him!

When I get to heaven and I am able to start my eternity with Him, I want it to be all about Him and none about me. If I want that in Heaven, shouldn't I want it here on earth too? If it won't matter in Heaven, it shouldn't matter here.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Merry Christmas to me!

The LORD is so gracious to me! As if it isn't enough to simply have a day set aside to worship Him and praise Him, He also gave me the greatest Christmas gift EVER~He gave me a healed relationship with one of my best friends on this earth.

I'm not going to go into much detail but I made a choice of obedience to Him over a year ago and I thought that it had cost me a friendship. While my friend and I continued to speak to each other and laugh together, the relationship had be changed and we both knew it. I can't tell you how many tears I've cried over this. I know He knew every tear and He heard every prayer. I just prayed and prayed and prayed. I was too afraid to say anything because I thought I would screw the relationship up further. So, I prayed and waited.

I didn't go to church today with the intent of finding a restored relationship. Instead, God surprised me! He does that! He is so good! Today was incredible and we both were able to voice hurts and apologize. It feels so good. Merry Christmas to me~thank you Jesus!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

details, details, details

Details. I used to love them. I loved dotting the I and crossing the T. I loved finished projects that were finished well. I loved clean and orderly. Then became a wife and then a mom and then a homeschooler, and the details got lost in the daily survival of being a stay at home wife/mom/teacher of little people. And, for some reason, I haven't been able to find those beloved details again.

For a long time I have been lamenting this area of my life. Wishing that I could pull it all together to live in the details again. To live a detailed life--house, closets, laundry room, bedrooms all clean and orderly with everything exactly as I had left it an hour ago. Unfortunately, the other four people and two dogs that live in my house are not missing these details and have no reason to want to live a controlled and detailed life.

You know what? I serve a merciful God who continues to mold me and shape me in His image. He's a God of detail but the details don't control Him. Instead, He saw fit to include the story of two sisters in His inspired Word, the Bible. The sister's names are Mary and Martha. Martha was a detail woman! She was all about putting on a perfect meal for Jesus when He came to their home to visit. Mary, on the other hand, chose to sit at Jesus' feet and learn from Him instead of worrying about endless details. Jesus commended Mary for she had chosen the better way. Sometimes I think He included that story in the Bible just for me. I need the reminder often.

Tonight we had 3 families over for dinner. I panicked this morning because the house wasn't in order and I had a long list of things to do. Then Jesus calmed my heart and showed me that there were more important things today~ like relationships with my family and with friends. So I spent the greater part of today with others and then 27 people crammed into my not so clean house this evening for a great meal and memorable fellowship. Of the 27 people, only 8 were adults. There were children EVERYWHERE. My friend, Annie, was so concerned for my house. I don't know how she missed the fact that my counter was covered in mail and such from working Toy Time all week. Not even sure how she missed the sticky, dirty kitchen floor or the dog hair from front door to back but it sure felt good to not worry about it. It wasn't even an issue for me tonight. I was free to enjoy my company and it felt great!

My merciful Savior showed me tonight that it is okay that details have been lost at my house. I know I will always struggle in this area but it sure was wonderful to taste the freedom of letting go tonight. It is much sweeter to enjoy than to obsess and I hope to someday find complete freedom from being controlled by details.

Friday, December 11, 2009

God in the details...

I love my sister's blog name "in the details". Since I read her first post, I have been trying to consciously look for God in the details of my life. He is there! I know He is but I don't often recognize or thank Him for His involvement. I don't want to ever, EVER take Him for granted, and yet I do. So, I'm attempting to train my mind, my eyes and my heart to see and recognize Him where I wouldn't have previously noticed Him. I'm also working on training my mind and heart to thank Him when I do see Him at work in the details of my life.

Here's the story of one of the times that I recognized Him this week.... Tuesday I went to the doctor because of this bronchitis I have. Of course, going to the doctor usually means stepping on the scale (need I say more?). Seriously, I always consider the scale before I decide if I am sick enough to make an appointment. So, when it began to hurt to breathe, the pain outweighed the fear of the scale and I went... and I got on the scale.

I feel like I need to tell you a little of my journey. Almost four years ago, God made me face my dieting/exercise obsession and my love of food (they were hand-in-hand best friends in my heart). It's been a slow process. It's been a painful process. It's been a life-changing process because for 3 1/2 years the weight didn't come off but my heart fell more and more in love with Jesus.

In the past, I obsessed much more about my weight than I did about God. I have been known to weigh myself 4-5 times a day. My outlook on life directly reflected what the scale said. The biggest obsession for me was the actual number of my weight. I didn't care so much the size I wore but I have cried bitter tears more times than I care to remember over the number on the scale. The answer after the tears was to diet. I've tried every diet imaginable and then some.

So, 3 years ago, I threw away my scale (again, I had already done that twice) and committed to spending every single day with God. I agonized over the fact that my husband dropped 45 pounds in 3 months but I still kept to my promise and I didn't get on the scale or start a new diet. Instead, I took one day at a time, ate healthy, and trusted that somehow, some way, I would learn to be okay with never losing weight or dieting again.

Finally, this summer and fall, God allowed some weight to go. I'm now 2 sizes smaller than I was but here is the big clincher.... Remember the scale at the dr's office? I seriously am 2 sizes smaller but according to the scale...I dropped a whopping 7 pounds. Is that not God in the details? It just goes to show me that I still need more heart surgery. I need the Great Physician to continue working on my heart so that I love Him and obsess about Him more than any number on any scale at any doctor's office.

I'm so thankful my sister challenged me to look for God in the details of my life. Now it's my turn to challenge you. I hope you can find Him when you seek Him with all your heart!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

I can't wait!

Not a day goes by that I don't beat myself up about one thing or another. Today is no exception; rather, it seems to be the rule in my life.

Here's the story... today was day 4 of Toy Time. I wish you could experience it. To see a building filled with over 7,000 toys and twice as many children (not really, but when we all bring our kids to "help" it seems like at least 14,000 children!). To hear the dull roar of kids laughing & playing, mom's chatting, feet running and wheels (of roller blades, skates, scooters, and ripstiks) clattering over the concrete floor. Obviously, the volume increases as more and more people come to help. By 5 p.m., the noise reached record level. And, yet, I wish you could experience it. It is the organized chaos (a bit oxymoronic...) that ensues and encompasses Toy Time.

Equally obvious, by day 4 we are all getting tired. I've been battling bronchitis all week and though I am on a potent antibiotic, I still am not even close to feeling 100%. I've worked less this week at Toy Time than I ever had and I am much more tired. Everyone is getting tired! It's par for the course and we are all right on track. I just wish I could handle my weariness with a smile like my friend, Rachelle. I wish I could be a mom like Rachelle...she NEVER yells (how does this work?)!

Unfortunately, I am not Rachelle and unfortunately for my kids, especially the almost 13 year old, they're not Rachelle's kids. So, sick and tired mom hit the wall today. I don't know if it was the high decibel level in the building or if it was because I had just sorted and priced 485 Beanie Babies (seriously!). Whatever the reason, I snapped (in front of God, my friends, my kids and their friends....). You probably heard the yell that ensued. It was loud, it was angry, it was wrong. I over-reacted. Again.... and this time the almost 13 year old was the recipient. The result, an embarrassed kid who wished the floor would have opened and provided a hole in which he could have crawled.

Why do I do this to my kids? I hate it when I do and yet, I do it again, and again, and again. I confess, I repent, and I make wild and crazy promises to myself that I will never do that to my children again. Not much time goes by at all and I find myself repeating the confession, the repentance, the promises....

I know this is the battle of my sinful will verses my redeemed soul. I know that this battle will not be conquered on this side of being in His presence. Can I just say, I can't wait! I can't wait until I'm ushered into His presence and presented with a perfect body! I can't wait until there are no more tears, no more sin, no more reason to yell, scream or cry. I can't wait to be 100% redeemed and rescued from my sinful self!

In the meantime, I will apologize once again and hope for my son's forgiveness. I will throw myself at the mercy of my Savior and asked for Him to make me more like Him and less like me. And, I will cling, again, to the promise "I am confident of this, He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it" Philippians 1:6. And, I will wait.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

wordless Wednesday

All tuckered out!

Here are some pictures from Toy Time today. To date we have over 6,000 toys for sale and we still are collecting tomorrow and Friday!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The story of Toy Time....

It's the most wonderful time of the year! There will be parties for hosting, marshmallows for roasting and... toys, toys, toys and more toys... it's Toy Time in my neck of the woods!!

I love Toy Time! I love my friends, Ami and Tena, who have organized a misfit bunch of volunteers year after year! I love seeing God multiply dollars and multiply toys to provide toys for hundreds (actually thousands) of needy children in our area! It's incredible to be a part of this effort year after year.

The Toy Time story goes like this.... Once upon a time (say 15 or 16 years ago), a woman named, Ami, took over a Christmas toy consignment sale. The founders of the sale would price used toys and offer a sale. The consigners would receive a part of the sale of their used toys and the organizers of the sale would earn Christmas spending money for themselves. When the founders no longer had children at home, they looked to someone else to run the consignment sale. They found Ami. And instead of simply maintaining the toy consignment sale as it was, Ami dared to dream big.

Ami enlisted the help of her cousin, Tena, and their children, and together they started the first year of what we now know as Toy Time. These two women took the toy consignment sale and instead of using the 40% profit for their own Christmas shopping, they opted to use this money to buy brand new toys for needy children in the area. Over the years, Ami has relentlessly pitched her idea until she has gotten our area community assistance organizations, the Salvation Army, area churches, the local media and the Marine's Toys for Tots to join in and be a part of an incredible community outreach. Within a few years, Ami and Tena needed more help in cleaning, pricing and sorting toys. They now have a small army of trained volunteers who consider it an honor and a privilege to be part of the fun!

Throughout this week, people in the community will drop toys off in a heated building at our local fairgrounds. Inside, smiling and laughing adults and children busily clean, sort and price the used toys for the sale this coming weekend. By the time Ami and Tena open the doors for the sale, there will be thousands and thousands of toys ready to sell over the weekend.

Next Monday, Ami and Tena will take the profits from the sale, along with cash donations that were made and go shopping! Last year, Tena's husband, Mike, took his semi-trailer and these two ladies filled it with brand new toys! Volunteers met them and unloaded and sorted the new toys by category (ie baby toys, toddler toys, 2-4 year old toys, etc.). When they return with the new toys Monday afternoon, there will be hearts rejoicing because it will be time to give away!!

Hundreds of people will come and stand in line in the cold next week to receive a brand new toy for each of their children for Christmas. When they receive the toys, they will also receive the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With adult supervision, the children volunteers go behind closed doors and pick out gifts for the children and pass them out to the parents who have come. The children will have Bibles and tracts for the adults and all day long the sound of "Merry Christmas! Here are your new toys. We want you to know that we do this because of Jesus. He loves you!" fill the building. I wish I could adequately describe the thrill of seeing children proudly proclaim Jesus Christ! Every single year, tears of joy run down my cheeks.

At the end of two full days of giving toys and the Gospel, we will have no toys left. With tired bodies and joyful hearts we will clean the building. Ami will turn out the lights and lock the door and we will all travel home to rest and to prepare for our own Christmas celebration with new "Toy Time" stories ringing in our hearts. Stories like the year that Rissa gave up her shoes to a little girl that needed them or when Bryce was able to give a bike to a boy who had none.

As I said, I love Toy Time! I wish everyone could experience the privilege that God has given us. I wish that everyone could pray in a circle with children volunteers thanking God for a bunch of brand new bikes that were donated, or witness their own children boldly proclaiming Jesus Christ! I do know, though, that God uses the Body of Christ in different ways to complete His work on earth. He gives us all ministries to complete. Though they may look different, they are all for the same goal~spreading the love of Jesus and telling others the story of His birth, death and resurrection. So, my heart is joyful and thankful that God has given this ministry opportunity to my family. Our lives are blessed because of the vision that Ami and Tena have had and have allowed us to join. I am forever grateful to these dear friends for telling me the Story of Toy Time and for allowing me the privilege of being a part of their dream. This truly is the most wonderful time of year!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

things are not always what they seem....

Today I had the privilege of watching my seven year old friend, Sadie Jo, perform in our community theater's production of The Sound of Music. Sadie was a very convincing Gretl and the production was WAY better than the movie!

Watching Sadie today got me thinking.... Because Sadie's family is close to our family, I've had a bit of an "inside" view of this experience. I knew Sadie was auditioning for the part and had a chance to hear her practice "Do Re Mi" several times before the big audition day. I prayed all audition day for Sadie and I rejoiced with her when, hours after auditions began, she was chosen to play the part of Gretl.

I'm sure that you can imagine that there were some envious girls among us, moms and daughters. Who wouldn't be? The thrill of the stage, the lights, the cameras, the action. Not to mention the newspaper write-ups and the adoring fans. Sadie was living the dream!

One of my dearest prayer partners is Sadie's mom, Nikki. Nikki has shared with me what the last few weeks have been like for our little Gretl... Thanksgiving weekend was 12 or more hours of practice a day for Sadie. All this past week she has had long, long days of practice some going until late in the evening. Including demanding technical rehearsals and dress rehearsals. Each rehearsal was closed to Sadie's family; they would drop her off and hours later return to pick up a worn out 7 year old. This weekend, Sadie had 4 performances and she has 12 more to go before the musical closes. What seemed like a dream has become just plain hard work.

Have you ever had an experience in life similar to Sadie's? An experience that you thought would be a dream but instead it turned out to be hard work? I think we all have. Often we buy the lie that this or that will bring us happiness, fame, glory, etc., only to find out that that thing was not what it seemed. Instead of being the dream that we imagined it to be, it turned out to be a lot of grunt work with long hours and late nights.

So much of what the world promises is not what it seems. After 40 years in the "school of hard knocks" you would think I would have mastered this. There are so many times that I buy into the world's lies... chase the allusive dreams... only to realize that that dream was not what it seemed.

Today was a great reminder to "count the cost". I want to abide in Him and stay close to Him. For He says "come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." When I stay close to Him, I don't chase the dream that promises me lights, cameras and an adoring crowd, because in Him I am fulfilled. I'm learning it's a lot easier to abide than to chase the allusive dream and find out that things are not always what they seem.

Sadie, I hope you look back on your experience as Gretl with fond memories! Thank you for allowing me glimpses of how hard you have worked and thank you for the joy you brought to us while you danced and sang on the stage!! Thank you for being used of God to remind me that things are not always what they seem. I'm proud of you and I love you!!! ~Heidi

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Christmas traditions in our home...

I love Christmas! I have always loved Christmas. Even in college, I would be the one to wake my family at 6 a.m. on Christmas morning. For me, it's not about the gifts, it's about the entire celebration. I love celebrating my Savior's birth!

As much as I love Christmas, I equally hate Santa! Honestly, I feel like Santa is the greatest thief in the world. He steals the spotlight from Jesus' birth year after year after year..... I will not go any further in this little tirade except to say that I know it's not Santa but Satan, the father of lies, who truly steals the spotlight but the fact that he uses a jolly old elf named Santa just makes me mad! Last night, Emily said, "Mom, what do you think of the idea that Satan and Santa have the same letters in their name?" Hmmm..... Okay, enough said....

Because I love Christmas so much, our family has many Christmas traditions that I thought I would pass on. Each year, it seems, we add a new tradition. These are not listed in any particular order, just as they come to mind.

1) All three of our kids get their "own" wrapping paper. I choose three different patterns that remind me of each child and then wrap their gifts in their paper. Some years I even manage to surprise them with their paper until the gifts are under the tree. Other years, they pick out their paper. I started doing this because I got tired of writing out gift tags but apparently this has become an important tradition in our home. Just yesterday I asked Eric (soon to be 13) if it mattered if they all had their own wrapping paper. His response, "yeah!". So, I guess this will be something I do for years to come.

2) We celebrate Advent all month long. Fourteen years ago, I found a great book called "The Story of Christmas" in Advent form. There are 24 little book that all tell part of the story of Mary and Joseph's journey and Jesus' birth. Once we had kids, that book became A LOT more fun to have! Each night we read one little book and hang it on a small tree in our hallway.
Over the years, I have added other things to read in the evening and hang on our tree. I did this mostly to stop the arguing over who got to get the book, who got to read the book and who got to hang the book on the tree (necessity is often the mother of creativity at my house). We now have four Advent readings in the evening and four different small ornaments to hang on our little tree. Aside from the books, we also have wooden stars that have 24 names of individuals directly involved in the Christmas story and we have 24 little pamphlets that have 24 names of Christ on them. Ellen has a set of paper stars that she made in Sunday School that have all the names of Jesus' lineage on them.
Though the kids are getting older, this is another tradition that they love.

3) Last year we added an Advent study to our Advent season. I found an incredible advent study on the web and printed it out. Not only does it teach the kids more and more about Christ's birth, it also teaches them how to do the Inductive Method of Bible study. There are beautiful coloring pages that go with it and so little ones can color while older ones worth through the lessons. Here is a link to the study advent study

4) Each year we make homemade Christmas ornaments. A few years ago, I took this a step further and the homemade ornaments actually have pictures of the kids from that year. We make a set for ourselves and often a set for Chad's mom.

5) Starting the first full week of December, we are involved in our community's annual toy drive. Years and years ago, my friend, Ami, began an incredible ministry to our community. For 10 days we work hard cleaning, pricing, sorting and passing out new toys and the Gospel to needy kids in our community. It is an incredible undertaking and one that you have to see to believe. Last year I think we took in over 10,000 used toys and we passed out new toys to over 1800 needy children in the area. By the end we are exhausted but it is an incredible opportunity for us to give back during this season.
I'll post more about this next week.

6) Each year the kids get new Christmas pajamas. I wrap them in their "own paper" and give them on Christmas eve. Apparently this is another tradition that you don't out grow.

7) We make our own stockings and have stocking gifts as well as gifts under the tree. On Christmas morning, we all meet in our bedroom to open the gifts in our stockings.

8) Christmas morning is slow. We open, we play, we eat hot cinnamon rolls or hot monkey bread and then open some more. I love to savor the experience!!

9) We do one home made gift. We draw names among the five of us and are required to make a gift for the person whose name you drew. You can not spend more than $10 on supplies. It's been incredible to see what the kids come up with year after year. Last year, Emily sewed me a purse out of some scrap fabric I had.

10) We also make gifts each year for our cousins. We have 10 cousins total and we make the same gift for each of them. This year it was toothbrush travel cases. Some of the gifts that we have made in years past are placemats, painted sweatshirts, I SPY bottles, soaps, monogrammed towels and Christmas poppers.

11) We do not travel on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. We have family in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Ohio. However, since Chad is a nurse, he works either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I love being able to stay home for Christmas.

12) We go to church on Christmas Eve. This has become one of my favorite times at church! The entire service is focused on the children. They perform special music, do special readings and dress up as the characters in the Christmas story. I leave with a heart full of gratitude for my Savior, His birth, my family and my church.

13) We read Luke 2:1-20 with the kids. I've read this passage so many times that I have parts memorized. It's beautiful!

As I said, I love Christmas! I would love to hear what some of your Christmas traditions are.

Blessings this season!

Luke 2:1-20 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Friday, December 04, 2009 and obey, for there is no other way...

This last 18 months have been a "field trip" for me. I've been a Believer for over 30 years and apparently I had not learned the lesson of "trust and obey" in the classroom. I learned all the verses of that old hymn in VBS and can still sing (though not on key) the entire song. Somehow, the idea of trusting and obeying God unconditionally was only an idea in my mind, not a choice of my heart.

So, gently, graciously and with lots of love God took me on a field trip to an emergency room in the middle of the night on my wedding anniversary with my beloved. The outcome was fear, uncertainty and doubt. My greatest fear had been losing my best-friend. That fear became a potential reality when he was diagnosed with an ascending aortic aneurysm. At 4:30 in the morning I followed an ambulance to the nearest hospital with a heart center. Tears streamed down my face as I said over and over, "God, do you realize my heart is in that ambulance?" I honestly felt Him holding my right hand through the 40 minute drive. What I didn't realize then was that the hard part was yet to come. Learning to live daily knowing this anomaly exists in my husband's body was the greater lesson of "trust and obey".

As I said, He is gentle, He is gracious and He is loving. Not only has He been with me every step of this journey, He has graciously given me glimpses of other's journeys. I've watched my friend, Donna, struggle in a marriage to an unfaithful unbeliever. I've gotten glimpses of my sister's life as a foster parent who has no control over when their foster baby with be with them and when he will be plucked from their hands and returned to the very environment deemed unsafe. I've prayed with my cousin as she walks a journey that no mother's heart should have to go; a journey of a perpetrator brother victimizing his two younger brothers in unspeakable acts. I've been privileged to witness a young girl rise above the ashes of molestation to become a beautiful young woman of God who is seeking to use her experiences to help other children of sexual crimes.

In these glimpses of lives close to me, I have seen that though this world is evil, God is bigger. He is in control and He loves unconditionally. He is a God who takes our fears and failures and can turn them into a powerful testimony of His love. There is nothing... Nothing.... NOTHING that is beyond Him. In that very thought, I find peace.

Peace, for me, comes in trusting Him and obeying without knowing what my next step will be. There is freedom for my heart when I relinquish my fears and my desires to control everything and allow Him to be the one who holds the reigns of my life. Contrary to what my selfish heart tells me, there is also freedom in obedience. When I say "Yes, LORD!", I have the freedom to be His vessel without being hindered by my own sins.

All of this sounds great, huh? Guess what? The lesson continues. I know that I will not reach this until the day that I see Him face to face. I'm so thankful that He is willing to keep teaching me. So, today, my heart continues the song that I learned over 30 years ago...

When we walk with the Lord
in the light of his word,
what a glory he sheds on our way!
While we do his good will,
he abides with us still,
and with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there is no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey!

Not a burden we bear,
not a sorrow we share,
but our toil he doth richly repay;
not a frown or a cross,
but is blest if we trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there is no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

But we never can prove
the delights of his love
until all on the altar we lay;
for the favor he shows,
for the joy he bestows,
are for them who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there is no other way
to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet
we will sit at his feet,
or we'll walk by his side in the way;
what he says we will do,
where he sends we will go;
never fear, only trust and obey.