As we come to the table

Just a few days left before we celebrate Thanksgiving in all of our varied and crazy ways. Relatives and friends of all shapes and sizes will gather with food dishes that range from vintage recipes to gluten-free concoctions.

101_1203 I’ve been making my efforts at having a thankful heart during the month. I’ve tried to be disciplined to write three things that brought me joy at the end of each day. At least I’ve tried.

I started my annual Joy List this morning, counting God’s graces one by one on paper. There are so many, I could write forever. I had to stop for breakfast with the promise of “to be continued.” Tomorrow my prayer partner of many years will call on the phone, and we will look back at the prayers prayed and how God answered them this year. Our voices will be full of “thank you’s.”

From Old to New Testaments, we read instructions to remember how God has been  faithful. It’s easy to forget sometimes when we are in the throes of difficulty, tragedy, or grief. And honestly, sometimes it can be simple neglect or a lack of contentment.

Just as our menus will be different, not everyone will do Thanksgiving the same way. I read one blogger who thought making a daily count of grace was too regimented, and she was definitely not putting kernels of corn beside each place settings for a round robin of being grateful. She preferred more spontaneity and daily mindfulness. She did her thankfulness in a different way.

There isn’t a prescription for how to have a grateful heart, but we are told to practice it regularly. And in the same way God’s commands are good for us, being thankful brings joy to our lives.

The method is not as important as the message. It’s the heart of the matter that matters. Be thankful in your own sweet way, dear friends.

This year has brought much loss to my friends and family. I feel it in my own heart, the tears flowing unexpectedly this morning. At many holiday tables this year, there will be an empty place.

Life can be hard during the holidays. Especially during the holidays.

And yet God is good even in this present circumstance. His grace is still sufficient. He remains the God of all comfort who gives us comfort in all our troubles. His presence in our days continues as a promise.  He still walks with us in the valley of the shadow of death. And we are never, ever alone.

If there is nothing else today or this year, there is Jesus who is God’s love demonstrated in tangible, relatable, identifiable form. He wrapped himself in skin and bone and showed us the glory.

Give thanks with a grateful heart. And have a blessed Thanksgiving.

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Sunday grace

The sun shines in the afternoon, and I feel it in my bones. Cold dark days are hard to navigate sometimes.

Thanksgiving anticipation looms in my view. Most of the shopping is finished except for broccoli that needs to be crisp and fresh. Recipes have been pulled from books and boxes. They are old and spattered with years of memories. I recognize my mother’s handwriting on one of the folded papers.

I remember other Thanksgivings. Some are full of wonder, like last year when my dear ones drove long to be here around the table. Others years found me with an ache in my heart, like the year when my mother first became sick or when there was one less person at the table.

Holidays are a mixed menu of sweetness and salty tears. It is the stuff of real life. The rain and the clouds can suddenly turn into rays of brilliant sunshine. And vice versa.

When we gather at the table this year, let us give thanks for those who are there. Whoever they are, whether relatives, long-time friends, or new acquaintances, they are gifts God has given us for a time, this very moment.

They are more important than the food or the table settings. More important than the football game or the black Friday ads. More important than the Christmas gifts we are hoping to get at a bargain.  More important than Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

We will set across the table from one another, face to face with daughters of Eve and sons of Adam, God’s image breathed into human form.

Let us give thanks for each one and love them with all of our hearts.

Sunday grace.

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Together is a good place

{This is my monthly book review.  Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts.}

Being an only child, mother had plenty of time to spend with me. She didn’t have to divide her attention between multiple children. And let’s face it, one child does not create that same work as three or four.

One of my sweetest childhood memories is coloring with my mother. She patiently sat with me and colored in the large pictures designed for the very young, a box full of crayons scattered on the table between us. Just being with my mother in a shared, fun activity provided more stability than I can probably understand.

The BIG and Little Coloring Devotional, written by Rachel C Swanson and illustrated by Jacy Corral, provides just such opportunity for an adult and a child to experience togetherness in a bonding activity. What is unique about the book is the way the pages are put together.

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On one side is an adult graphic to color. On the opposite side is a less detailed coloring page just right for a child to enjoy. The perk of the book is the written devotional captured within the adult side.

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Imagine this picture: You are sitting at the table beside your child, or someone else’s. The crayons, pencils and markers are scattered about. The child colors and you color, each of you having your own page. Both of you begin to relax into the activity, breathing deeper as you fill in spaces with brightness and beauty. Pausing a minute from coloring, you read the devotional right there on the page, never leaving the table. You let the words penetrate your thoughts. You listen as the Holy Spirit speaks.

On the other side of the book, the child is deeply involved in her activity. You notice how her page coordinates in a simple way with what you’ve just read. Now you begin to ask questions that give her a chance to talk about the topic, whether that is sadness and tears, obedience, God’s love, or seeking Jesus with the whole heart.

The two of you are now sharing time with God together. Tenderly, unhurried, simply conversational. These moments carry eternal weight as she opens her heart and you open yours.

In our busy, task-oriented culture, slowing down long enough to color a page may seem insignificant, unnecessary, or even time spent foolishly. However, whenever we slow ourselves, give ourselves permission to relax and fall into the rhythm of a leisurely pace, when we connect with another person, young or old, through our words and animation, something significant happens in the atmosphere of life. Something important that outlasts our latest project on the to-do list.

BIG and Little Coloring Devotional provides the vehicle for being together.

Give time to the people you care about the most, especially during the rush of upcoming holidays. Ask questions and listen, linger with the conversation, turn off technology and experience life together.

Being together is a good place to be. In fact, it is the best place.

 

P.S. BIG and Little Coloring Devotional is currently on sale for only $5 at Lifeway.com. Pair it with pretty pencils or markers and you have a great Christmas gift.

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NOTE:   I received a copy of BIG and Little Coloring Devotional, provided by B&H Publishing, for an honest review.  The book was free.  The words are my very own. 

Sunday grace

The sun sets early and darkness settles over us. We are safe and warm inside.

As a child I was afraid of the dark. I wanted a nightlight on. I didn’t want to be alone at night.

I learned to overcome my fear by quoting Bible verses when mother sent me next door to borrow a cup of sugar, or whatever it was she needed. I ran as fast as I could, saying the 23rd Psalm all the way there and all the way back.

Working a third shift job for a few months out of sheer necessity, I parked my car in a dark lot. Only thirty minutes ago I had tucked my young son into bed for the night. I felt alone waiting for my shift to begin. It was more than the physical darkness that threatened me then. It was a gloom over my soul.

Each night in the few minutes before I exited my car to walk to the plant, I read the same chapter from the small Bible I carried with me. Psalm 139. And this verse particularly comforted me:

12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

God is with us whether it is day or night. He shines the light of His love around us showing the way, the next step, the places of resting. In the shadow of death He walks beside us. No place on this earth, not a depth of sadness or the height of joy, can keep us from Him.

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
— Romans 8:38-39

I am never separated from His love. Never. I don’t have to be afraid any more.

Sunday grace.

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A thankful journey

The nightly news is full of heartbreak, calamity, death, confusion. Sweet William and I feel the weight of tragedy in the world, in our communities, and among our own friends.

Digging a hole and burying our heads sometimes seems a viable option.

On the other hand, this is November, and I remind myself during this month especially to look for the light in the darkness. And so, I write out my blessings.

  • My piano students practicing to play difficult Christmas pieces and sounding good.
  • Attending Joy Group for the mature in body/young at heart and being welcomed by many.
  • Sitting at lunch with Karen and us chatting up a storm.
  • A meet-up with Amy at Panera Bread for coffee and a cranberry-orange muffin.
  • Lunch with Shirley, her flavorful potato soup, and the encouraging conversation.
  • Recital where my students were awesome!
  • Laughing and having fun with Helen as we visited a local craft fair.
  • Sweet William being sassy and fun, causing me to chuckle.
  • Time change and falling forward, enjoying that extra hour I’ve been waiting for since spring.
  • My granddaughter’s 17th birthday, pictures on Facebook of her opening the birthday box we sent, and her saying it was just what she wanted.
  • Grace to endure the distance and the miles between us.
  • K and M coming on their day off from school, talking, playing piano, making crafts, listening to music, them shedding their light all around.
  • Early prayer time with Julie who knows the highs and the lows of me like none other and loves me still.
  • Sweet Anna here to help me, her bringing her own brand of joy to us.

Life is hard, no doubt. There will always be trouble and problems. I could focus on that while despondency begins to wrap its bone-chilling arms around me.

Or I could pray for those in need, giving them to the God who is strong enough to carry the weight of the world on His shoulders, who knows what each person needs before I try to tell Him, who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all I can ask for or imagine.

Then I am free to count blessings and look for His gifts. Then I can rejoice and be very glad.

Guy Penrod sings Count Your Blessings.

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Sunday grace

I am in need of grace this morning.

And so I count gifts as Maisie and I walk the familiar lane of our home, because grace is recognized in the numbering of blessings.

  • The beauty of the fall trees even as their colors fade.
  • The red leaves reflected in the lake.
  • This warm day in November.
  • Pictures from a distance where I see smiles and happiness.
  • The reassuring Word of God this morning and the Holy Spirit giving me strength.

I glance out the window, watching as golden leaves gently fall from the giant maple at the edge of the little woods. I had no hand in planting this one. Creator God did that through his birds. It has grown tall in a few short years.

I want to be like the tree, releasing the leaves in proper season without fighting the process. The wind blows and its branches sway and turn loose. Yet it remains strong and steadfast in the changing. It remains a strong maple.

Can I allow the days of my life to reflect what God is doing in me even through the changing, even when sometimes it is hard, even when I have to turn loose and let go? I long to.

Solomon said it wisely. To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under Heaven. There are periods of beauty and new growth, of flourishing. It is followed by the season of letting and bareness. It is a circle of life.

There are days of victory and rejoicing. There are days when my heart hurts and I wonder what and why. It will be easy to count my blessings sometimes, and other times it will be a hard eucharisteo, looking for the beauty in the ashes.

I can learn to be content in plenty and in want. I can do all things through Christ who strengths me. He lives in me and works through me, showering grace upon grace.

I am in need of grace today. And He gives it abundantly.

Sunday grace.

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It’s November!

Yesterday morning, after two cups of strong coffee and an hour of quiet time and Bible study, I greeted Sweet William with enthusiasm. “It’s November!” I said. I was fully caffeinated and ready to face the day and the month.

As the cold temperatures become the norm, I admit unashamed that I don’t miss the garden work at all. Not. At All. Oh, there’s plenty I could do, things left on my outdoor to-do-list. But November gives me permission to stay indoors in fuzzy socks and flannel shirts while I think about projects that were laid aside when summer called to me.

This month of November, I want to focus on November and not stress about December coming close on its heals. One of my piano students told me yesterday, “Christmas is only 54 days away!” Please, I’m not ready to think about that.

November is the first pumpkin pie of the season, hot cocoa, fireplaces glowing (even if it is gas logs), shorter days that naturally cause our bodies to long for cacooning. I say, “Let’s do that.” Could we actually slow our pace in November instead of speed it up?

The anticipation of Thanksgiving will encourage me be more grateful for God’s bountiful grace and mercy. He is over and above the best gift giver. A sign over one of our doorways says, “Count Your Blessings.” Thinking about my blessings throughout the day and recording them in my Joy Journal each night will help keep me accountable to having a thankful heart, especially this month.

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I want to sit at the table with family and friends and enjoy those precious occasions. Eat slowly. Talk much. Listen well. Laugh often. Treasure friendships. Appreciate family. Marvel how the children are growing. Wonder where the time goes. This is the stuff of life. I don’t want to miss it.

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November is my time to leisurely shop for Christmas gifts, thus leaving December less stressful. Shopping on-line is the preferred method, avoiding the traffic, crowds, and advertising glitz that entice me to buy something I really don’t need. I’d rather be thoughtful about gifts and not just add to someone’s clutter and over-abundance of stuff.

I will consider how I might give to ministries I endorse: World Vision, A Woman’s Choice, Voice of the Martyrs, Christian Library International. These are the organizations that are doing something positive in our world. I’d like to be part of that by planning how I can fit it into the budget.

November calls me to celebrate in its own way. I will make an effort to stay focused on this month and what it offers, not allowing myself to feel pressured as December approaches, sapping the joys I could be experiencing today.

Part of my happy perspective in a season that has found me stressed in years past is due to a podcast I heard recently. Kendra at The Lazy Genius Collective talks about Opening and Closing Ceremonies on her podcast, making the most of each holiday. She has wise counsel to offer me.

If you are interested in getting a boost of happy as you move into these last two months, then give a listen.

November is Thanksgiving, Family and Friends, Snuggling with Hot Cocoa, Turkey and Dressing, All Things Pumpkin.

Let’s slow down and enjoy it.

 

 

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