The Season of Advent

The season of Advent, which comes comes from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming” or “visit,” begins four Sundays before Christmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year for Christians.

During Advent, we prepare for, and anticipate, the coming of Christ. We remember the longing of Jews for a Messiah and our own longing for, and need of, forgiveness, salvation and a new beginning. Even as we look back and celebrate the birth of Jesus in a humble stable in Bethlehem, we also look forward anticipating the second coming of Christ as the fulfillment of all that was promised by his first coming.

Growing up in the Methodist church it was always a treat to see the lighting of the Advent candles at church each Sunday.  Something about jewel toned candles and the smell of the wax candles still brings back fond memories.  This is the traditional representation of the Advent wreath:

Here are some other ideas for a twist on the Advent candle…

And, there’s always the Advent calendar which teaches people of all ages to join with the church in anticipation of the coming of Jesus Christ–the true meaning of the Advent season. They come in all shapes, sizes and varieties from traditional to modern.  Miss Bee enjoys getting one each year that she can lift the numbers and a piece of candy is inside. Some calendars focus on doing a new activity each day with the family or acts of service for someone else.

There are all sorts of fun twists I found to create your own. I’ve pinned them to my “Feeding my Soul” Pinterest board.

Ann Voskamp has a “Night before Advent” activity on her blog full of fun games and activities to do with children including a printable Advent calendar.

And here are some more examples of clever ways to put together an Advent calendar.

Adorable Woodland Inspired Advent Calendar using an over-the-door organizer. livelaughrowe.com
Don’t you just love brown paper bags!

And, then this adorable “Christmas Countdown” I purchased from Chip and Joanna Gaines at Target.  You can slip these downloadable activity cards and candy inside each pocket.

How do you like to celebrate Advent?  Do you have family traditions passed down through the generations that are special to you?  I’d love to hear them so be sure to leave a comment!

A Message of Grief, Hope, Gratitude and Thanksgiving

This time last year in 2016, I had the opportunity to share my story of grief, hope and gratitude at Arborlawn United Methodist Church during our Hope for the Holidays service.

It’s a personal story, revealing things about me you may not know, along with practical tips that have been helpful to me in learning to move through my grieving.  It’s a faith journey that has not been easy, but along the way I’ve learned alot about life and God’s love for me.  It’s about finding gratitude in the pain. To all the people struggling with loss and emptiness during this week of Thanksgiving, we hear your prayers and lift you up toward the Lord.

My grief journey began with the stillborn death of my son, John, on Thanksgiving Day 1998.  I hadn’t been feeling movement like I should.  I went in for a checkup and my husband and I were told the devastating news. There was no heartbeat.  I was sent to Labor and Delivery to be induced.  I remember watching the nurse place a “falling leaf” on the door as a symbol to others entering our room that this was not a celebratory moment for us. I had also suffered two miscarriages prior to John’s death so this was our third baby to lose.

Following John’s death, I suffered from depression and my world — which had stopped turning — was dark, very dark.  Time stood still like I was living in a silent movie.  Deafening with quiet.  I couldn’t function.  I couldn’t get out of bed without great effort.  I felt disconnected from anything pleasurable.  I was empty and I had nothing left inside of me.

This scripture from 2 Corinthians 12:10 says, “when you’ve done everything you can do, that’s when God will step in and do what you can’t do.”

I told God, “I need you.  I can’t do this by myself anymore.”  This was the first time in my life for me to say these words.

In 2006, my very active, vibrant Mother had a stroke.  Because my dad was blind from macular degeneration, we agreed as a family that my parents would come to live with me, my husband and our daughter.  For the next six years, we would be caregivers to my parents.

Daddy passed away in 2011 from complications related to his diabetes. To illustrate to you how much my faith had grown since the death of my child, the first emotion I felt after Daddy’s death was “joy” which may sound strange.  You see, I had four years to watch him deteriorate, become frail and slowly lose the ability to do things he once found enjoyable.  I had done much of the grieving during my caregiving — something called “anticipatory grief.”  I had also journeyed with him, and my mother, during his time in hospice.  Of course I was sad, but the joy I felt was from knowing he was in heaven, free from illness and pain, and free to to do all the things his physical body could no longer do.  Plus, I had my mother to think about.  I felt like I couldn’t grieve openly because I needed to be strong for her.

Two months later, my brother Jim, killed himself.  Jim had struggled most of his entire life with depression.  Losing my dad was probably more than Jim could bear.  I still cannot put into words the exact emotion his death left me with.  Suicide is so different.  It’s a raw pain, like someone pulling off a bandaid over and over again.  And the support you receive from others is different after suicide.  People just don’t know what to say.  In my heart, I wish Jim could have chosen a different solution, sparing his wife, son and my mother the pain of taking his life.  I will never forget the phone call I received from the police notifying me they had found my brother’s dead body, nor my mother’s face when I had to tell her that her child was dead.  Again, because my mother had lost her husband of 64 years and her 59 year old child within weeks of each other — I felt like my mother needed my strength, not my sadness.

In 2013, my mother died very suddenly from a brain aneurysm. We were literally telling each other “I love you” in the kitchen one minute and five minutes later I was calling 911.  That was a hard loss for me.  I had plans for many more years of living to do with her.  I hurt as deeply when I lost her as when I lost my son, John.  My mother was the first person that loved me, held me close, and knew everything about me. After she died, I felt like I lost all of that.  Right after she took her last breath, I remember this intense feeling of love I had for God.  Thankful that He gave my mother such a grace-filled ending to her life.  She died surrounded by her family with a tear and a smile on her face.  I am grateful God left me with that image of my mother’s beautiful face.

But, after her death I was left with three losses I needed to process and I crashed.  I was no longer a daughter or a caregiver — I struggled trying to figure out who I was anymore.  And, there were times I wasn’t sure I wanted to live anymore.

To put into perspective for you, in two years time, I lost half of immediate family.  Before I had time to process one loss, I was dropped into another, then another.

Okay, let’s set all that aside and talk about some things that have been helpful for me.

In 2006, an author named Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a memoir called, “Eat, Pray, Love” that was made into a movie.  She tells her story of the year she traveled to find herself again after a devastating divorce.  My suggestions are an adaptation of her story…

Eat — Feed Your Soul

Grief can be isolating.  Expect the opposite of who you normally are for a while, but it will get better.  Surround yourself with resources, attend a support group and rely on close friends.  Journal, sing, meditate, go for a walk, or just be still.  Sometimes if we are “doers” we think we should be replacing our grief with things to keep us busy.  But grieving will consume your free time.  Just because you aren’t active doing something doesn’t mean you are not being productive.  Your productivity right now revolves around grieving.  If you are a “to-do list” maker — plan on putting the word GRIEVING right at the top of your list everyday for awhile.  Be diligent in telling yourself “it won’t always be like this.  There is a better tomorrow waiting for me.”  This is an especially important message for you to tell yourself each night before going to bed.  Your brain needs this reassurance.

Pray — all the time

I prayed for sleep, I prayed to get out of bed, I prayed for strength, and I prayed for hope.  If praying is hard for you, or it’s not something you normally do, start small.  God already knows what’s on your heart before you even say it.  As my mother was laying in the hospital bed, I was alone in the room with her overnight.  The room was full of hospital sounds and smells.  I suddenly felt like I was going to be physically sick.  I was so overwhelmed with the reality of what was going to happen.  I closed my eyes and I just started saying over and over again, “God, please replace my anxiety with your peace.”  I must have said it 100 times.  I could feel my anxiety melt away and I was able to regain my composure to face the next moment.  On the days you feel like you can’t live because the pain is greater than you, for me those were the days I prayed the most.

Love — Love Yourself

One of the biggest emotions we struggle with after loss is guilt.  I should have known.  I should have noticed.  I should have taken the time.  I should have said something.  Did she know I loved her?  This is all normal, but remember to be kind to yourself.  We all do the best we can with what we have at that moment.  We cannot see the future, we leave that up to God.

Here are three important points:

  1.  Grieving is a full-time job and is very draining
  2. Lower your expectations of who you think you should be right now
  3. Accept that fatigue is to be expected

Jesus came to help the broken.  I am learning to live my life reaching out to God’s loving arms.  I am learning to find my gratitude through my brokenness. Every moment I choose to be grateful for the time I had with my son, John, my dad, my brother and my mother, is time I am not anxious or afraid about the future.  Because gratitude and fear cannot co-exist at the same time.  Just like He’s done for me, He will see you through this. It’s God’s promise to give you hope and a future.

 

Since the death of my son John, I was faithful in my promise to God to help others heal, find a sense of hope to move forward in their grief journey and to develop skills to help others in the future.   For 17 years, I have served as a lay facilitator for our Grief Support Ministry Team at Arborlawn United Methodist Church, in Fort Worth, Texas, where we have worked with hundreds of people by offering year around grief support groups along with the Hope for the Holidays services the week prior to Thanksgiving.  For more information, please visit www.arborlawnumc.org or email [email protected]

Lifeway September Devotional Calendar

Back to school means back to hectic schedules, homework, deadlines, lunches and what to make for dinner.  To help bring a sense of calm, it’s helpful if we go back to scripture.  It sounds so simple, but sometimes it’s hard to remember that God’s word can be just the balm we need for whatever we are facing.  These monthly calendars from Lifeway Women are perfect for posting on the refrigerator or keeping on the dinner table to foster conversation after a long day.  September’s scripture focus is on strength.  How perfect and timely after a summer of relaxed schedules and minimal structure that we can rely on God to help guide us back to a routine.   Here’s today’s thought, “Choose to seek the Lord’s strength and not your own.”

 

Best Day of My Life — Daily Devotional

Today marks the fourth anniversary of my mother’s death.  Every year I try to honor her memory by sharing her daily devotional.

I am no stranger to the searing pain that grief brings with the loss of someone you love dearly.  Through it all I have remained thankful to a God that has carried me on days I didn’t think I could walk, held me when I didn’t think I could stand, and filled me with hope when I was empty.  I’ve walked through darkness and I know I will do it again someday.

When I have someone like my mother Earnie, who was the best example of everything I could hope to be in a wife, mother and friend, I am thankful for each day I have to love as fully as I can.  Mother was a faithful servant of the Lord.  She welcome each new day in prayer, meditation and reading the Bible.  Everyday, she would recite the same devotional.  I know it would make her happy if you shared it with someone you love.

Best Day of my Life

Today, when I awoke, I suddenly realized that this is the best day
of my life, ever! There were times when I wondered if I would make it
to today; but I did! And because I did I’m going to celebrate!


Today, I’m going to celebrate what an unbelievable life I have had
so far; the accomplishments, the many blessings, and, yes, even the
hardships because they have served to make me stronger. I will go
through this day with my head held high, and a happy heart. I will
marvel at God’s seemingly simple gifts: The morning dew, the sun, the
clouds, the trees, the flowers, the birds.

Today, none of these miraculous creations will escape my notice.

Today, I will share my excitement for life with other people. I
will make someone smile. I’ll go out of my way to perform an unexpected
act of kindness for someone I don’t even know.

Today, I’ll give a sincere compliment to someone who seems down.
I’ll tell a child how special he or she is. I’ll tell someone I love
just how deeply I care for them and how much they mean to me.

Today is the day I quit worrying about what I don’t have and start
being grateful for all the wonderful things God has already given me.
I’ll remember that to worry is just a waste of time because my faith in
God and His Divine Plan ensures everything will be just fine.

And tonight, before I go to bed, I’ll go outside and raise my eyes
to the heavens. I will stand in awe at the beauty of the stars and the
moon, and I will praise God for these magnificent treasures. As the day
ends and I lay my head down on my pillow, I will thank the Almighty for
the best day of my life. And I will sleep the sleep of a contented
child, excited with expectation because I know tomorrow is going to be
the best day of my life ever!

Month of May Scripture Calendar

From Lifeway Women here is this month’s HomeLife Family Calendar.  May is such a busy month.  I think even busier than December, but in a different way.  Our children are finishing school, preparing to graduate and start new adventures away at college, taking tests, cleaning out desks and dorm rooms. We are planning year-end parties, putting together teacher gifts, and making sure kids stay on track with assignments and projects.  Creating family time this month will be especially important to keep everyone centered, grounded and comforted with the knowledge that God always provides.  Print a copy and put on the fridge as a reminder that God delights in spending time with you each day.

The Story and Celebration of Saint Patrick

Lifeway Women St. Patrick’s Day Sharing the Gospel

As a LifeWay Women Ambassador , I am sharing this story today directly from a beautiful post on the Lifeway Women site.  It’s the story of Saint Patrick, a missionary in Ireland.  

‘We don’t know a lot for sure about saints throughout history. What we do know is usually clouded and overshadowed by legends and myths passed down for generations.

Today, we celebrate Saint Patrick. Many of us in America faithfully don green clothing and maybe eat corned beef and cabbage. We don’t think a lot about the man behind the holiday.

Like most saints, the stories of Saint Patrick abound. He has been said to have driven all the snakes from Ireland, his fingers turned into some sort of flashlights on a dark night, and he turned an evil ruler into a fox. Or so the stories go. Blarney? Maybe.

What we do know about Patrick is that he was a missionary in Ireland. He was born sometime in the fourth century in England and was kidnapped as a teenager by Irish pirates. Forced into slavery in Ireland, he most likely worked as a shepherd before escaping to freedom. He was not very religious at the time, but he often prayed in the fields. He credits God giving him a vision telling him to escape.

Once free, he went to France where he stayed for a while in a monastery. He eventually (perhaps after a return to England) began to have dreams where the pagan Irish asked him to return to Ireland to teach them about the gospel. He did not have much education, so he first had to convince the church to allow him to be a missionary. He studied in France for a while, but was always known for his more “rustic” teaching methods.

Many people credit Patrick with explaining the Trinity using a three-leaf clover. He often baptized people in wells, some of which are still called “St. Patrick’s Wells.” Before his death on March 17 (year unknown), he wrote Confessions about his life and mission. His love for the Irish people was clear in his writings. By the time he died, Christianity had taken root in Ireland.

We celebrate saints on the days of their deaths, so today we wear green in honor of Saint Patrick, missionary to Ireland. When I think about Saint Patrick, I am always amazed by the love he had for God and for the people of Ireland. The people who had taken him captive and forced him into slavery were the very ones he loved enough to go back to. Patrick loved his enemies enough to share the greatest news with them.

God calls everyone to share the gospel. He called a former slave to go back to the place of his enslavement to tell them about the good news of Jesus Christ. Patrick knew the weightiness of his task—he sought out an education and approval from the church before going into a place where he may be the only believer. Perhaps because of his unconventional education, Patrick knew how to meet the people where they were. He used everyday items to tell deep theological truths.

May we remember this, too. God calls us to the weighty task of sharing the gospel with those around us—those we like and those we may consider our enemies. God equips us to tell others the story of redemption, how He gave His Son so that we might live with Him forever. This is our calling, on March 17 and every day.

May we also remember those who are risking their lives to share the gospel in hostile environments, who are getting an education so that they may be clear in their teachings, who are learning about the people they will encounter so they can meet them where they are. Today, as we wear green, let’s remember to pray for those missionaries and to look for opportunities to be a missionary right where we are.”

If you would like to be an Ambassador for Lifeway Women, click here to sign up. It’s a fun, free, new program that allows you to help LifeWay Women share the latest news and updates.  You’ll have the chance to earn prizes like Bible studies, event tickets, and other LifeWay Women goodies.

Lifeway Women March Devotional Calendar

With the first day of March coming on Wednesday, it’s time for a new daily devotional calendar.  Lifeway Women is a wonderful resource for inspiration, especially for women, and free art like this month’s family time calendar here.

March 1 — Exodus 14:14 “Sometimes, we wear ourselves out fighting battles that are not ours to fight.”  Pin it to your fridge and share it with your family.

February Devotional Calendar

Lifeway Women February Devotional Calendar

February is my favorite month!  It’s Miss Bee’s birthday month, along with most of the other women in my family.  Three is our family’s lucky number.  Most all of our birthdays are divisible by three, important events in our lives have occurred around the number three, and starting on Feb. 12 with Miss Bee’s birthday, every girl was born three days apart (the first birthday this month is my niece and she was born on the 3rd!).  Pink and red are two of my favorite colors.  I love chocolate and I love, LOVE!

To jump start your February, I am sharing Lifeway Women’s devotional calendar.  Be sure to print a copy and put on your fridge tomorrow and share the scriptures with your loved ones.

Lessons from a Vacation: You’ve Got This

Today was my first day back at work having been afforded the last two and a half weeks off for vacation.  It was so nice to spend time at home with my family in my cocoon of serenity.  Miss Bee returns to school tomorrow.  So, it will be back to early mornings, making breakfast and hurrying out the door. Christmas decor is, for the most part, put away but a pile of “other” stuff sits mocking me to make a decision as to its final resting place.

I am always conflicted the first part of January.  A part of me is glad to put Christmas away for the next year and simplify.  But, it’s also bittersweet because it’s time to stop listening to Christmas music (since it’s been on Pandora since November 1), the fun parties are over and the “spirit” of friendliness and cheer subsides.  The unstructured vacation and relaxation is over, back to the routine.

But, there are a lot of things I look forward to…. like organizing, re-grouping, cleaning and getting back into a routine.  See how that can be a positive, too?

One thing that never changes, is the love God has for me.  His calming nature is all around me if I will just stop long enough to recognize and acknowledge it.  I can choose to get worked up that my calendar is filling up again after a self imposed vacation, or I can take one day at a time and just roll with it.  When I saw the quote from Ann Voskamp in my inbox this morning — “Today, I am going to be a prayer warrior, not a panicked worrier” it was a reminder that I can make many choices today.  I can choose to remember the quiet I experienced during the last few weeks and keep it for the days and weeks to come.  I can remember to be more gentle with my teen when she is cranky and moody.  The quiet did her good this past few weeks.  I saw her funny, relaxed, inclusive, childlike side return — which made me realize that her stressful demeanor is coming from how hard she works at school trying to make great grades and please her parents.

This week I will be sharing things I always do every January to jump start my new year and a few things I would like to try this year. And, of course, we will hear from Haute Holley later this week, along with a few good recipes I have tried out recently.

Have a blessed day my friends.  I really do appreciate each and every one of you taking the time to visit my blog and share it with others.

January Gift List: Ann Voskamp Printable

After all the holiday over indulgence — buying the extra gifts the kids didn’t really need but we wanted to watch them open — more gifts — eating, eating and eating, and exhaustion of wanting everything to be perfect, it’s nice to be able to start anew every January.

This Ann Voskamp printable is the perfect way to re-center and put the focus on being a giver.  No, not more gifts to give, rather the gift of our compassion, grace and forgiveness.

Look at Wednesday’s to-do:  Pray three times today for a person that feels really overwhelmed.  Maybe that person happens to be you.  That’s okay. God delights in hearing your prayers.  Give it forward today.