Mary Did You Know…

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Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy has come to make you new?
This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.
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Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know
that your Baby Boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know
that your Baby Boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
The sleeping Child you’re holding is the Great, the Great I Am.
(Lyrics and music written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene)

Honest and Real and Raw…

Christmas letters.  That one time each year that you can summarize all of the fabulous things that have happened in your life over the past 12 months in one cheery, perfect message!

Susie made the Honor Roll… again… and had the lead in the school broadway production.  Jimmy was voted MVP in each of his 5 Club Sports travel teams.  Your spouse is the best thing that ever happened to you!  The family Disney Cruise was the highlight as you celebrated 30 blissful years of marriage!  Even your family dog was top in his obedience classes.  Ahhh, life is good…. no, according to your letter… perfect!

Can you feel the sarcasm dripping from my words?  If you are a cheery Christmas Letter writer, I apologize.  There was once a time in my life that I was able to write a letter that summed it all up in a perfect package.  Once upon a time.  Then life began happening and I found it more and more difficult to write a letter…eventually stopping altogether.

Do you really want to know how one’s year has gone?  Do you really want the honest truth about each family member and their struggles?  I’m always amazed that on an 8.5 x 11 sheet of cheery Christmas paper, a story can be told that paints a picture of perfection… even when it hasn’t been.

Being that person that wears her heart on her shirt sleeve and is as transparent as one could possibly be, I am no longer able to compose a Christmas letter.  If I did, you would immediately remove me from your Christmas card mailing list and would want to “unfriend” me from sending one to you!  At this point in my life, an honest compilation of our year would be too raw and real.

I joke that FB is like a 27/7/365 Christmas letter!  Amazing family celebrations… fabulous vacations… beautiful home remodels… daily reports of the many things accomplished… perfect children and grandchildren.  I’m guilty at times, for I only like to post positive things or words that encourage.  I don’t generally air my dirty laundry publicly.  When you post a cheery family photo the comments come back that you look so happy and your life is so great!  Really?

My recently posted family selfie at the Thanksgiving table portrayed us all as smiling and happy!  It must have been a beautiful day!  Well, there were moments that were sweet and then there were the other parts that were amazingly stressful and hard.  But the family photo spoke a different story.

What do we want people to really know about us?  Do we want people to know that our life is difficult and full of heartache?  Or do we want people to think that we’ve got it all together?  When you ask someone how they are, do you really want to know?

This Advent season I’ve been thinking about the extraordinary thing that happened to an ordinary woman 2000+ years ago in that plain stable.  What would Mary and Joseph’s Christmas letter have said?  Her journey was anything but easy and beautiful.  They traveled long and far to find themselves without a place to rest while Mary gave birth.  No resort upgrades for them.  No room service or WiFi.  Raw, real and full of grace.  A few visitors.  No family selfie to remember the event.

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I’m desperately trying to find balance in this world of social media.  I want to share in the joys and celebrations of my friends and family without feeling “less than” when I’m done.  I did not take a fancy vacation this summer, but found myself posting river pictures every weekend in hopes that you would all see that my life is not a total loss!  How sad is that?  While my Thanksgiving day was not at all what I’d hoped for, I forced a family photo so you could all think that my life is “normal” just like yours.  It’s not.  It’s the life I’ve been blessed with, but it’s not like most others.  We struggle and grapple and pray… every day.  Christmas this year will not be what my heart longs for, but the photo’s I post of my decorations will lead you to believe otherwise.  Again… how sad is that?

My hope this Advent is that I will not try to be anything but who I really am.  My cries to my Savior are honest and real and raw. I long for honest and real and raw relationships with people.  As the year comes to an end, I will once again re-evaluate whether or not I want to continue with FB.  I long for that connection, but need to figure out how to stay connected without losing my perspective on life.

My prayer for all of us is that this season can be a time to be honest and real and raw with ourselves and those we love. I am going to believe in God’s grace for those things that may seem impossible.

Silent Night…

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace

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Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Saviour is born
Christ, the Saviour is born

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Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

(Josef Mohr, author / Franz Gruber, composer)

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The Brother and Sisterhood of the Family Manger Scene

Growing up, my favorite memory of Christmas was our nativity set that sat inside the fireplace.  Baby Jesus hid behind the manger until Christmas Eve when he was born!  The angel Gabriel delicately hung inside the fireplace from the dampner.  It was a treat to set up and then spend hours watching and admiring.

My mom graduated from this life in November of 2009, 55 years after the birth of this family treasure. She was the keeper of this beloved nativity from 1955 to 2007.  She then passed it to my sister Megan for her family to enjoy.   Megan kept it until 2011 when she passed it on to our other sister, Kate who held it until her passing in 2012. We then decided that this very special nativity needed to be shared among the remaining seven.  So began The Brother and Sisterhood of the Family Manger Scene.  My sister Mary enjoyed it last year and passed it on to me in the new year.

Today, I found it in the closet and suddenly was transported back in time.  I cleared a spot on the buffet and began to gently unpack each piece.  Emotion flooded as each player of the Great Story was revealed.  Some are in great condition and others are chipped.  The donkey is missing part of his ear.  I remembered hiding Jesus.  I pictured the straw that was spread around the family.

So, this year…59 years after it’s beginning, I am the honored holder of The Family Manger Scene.  It has such a special place that I am not bringing out my own nativity this year.  I will treasure each day that I get to look, remember and rejoice in what it represents.

Upon opening the first box, I found a card.  Inside is the running record of the keeper of the manger.  Accompanying the card was a hand written paper that my mom had written, penning the history of the nativity.  It took my breath away to see my mom’s printing.  She was famous for scrawling notes on anything that was loose and had room!  She loved to chronicle life and for that I’m so grateful.

So, here is the story of The Family Manger Scene

In the Fall of 1955, my Grandma Katie purchased the manger at Kauffer’s Bookstore and the basic characters. This included the German made 3 piece set of Mary, Jospeh and the Baby for $8.50.

Grandma Katie tried for years to start a manger scene for the family and my mom said NO.  There were little kids and they would want to handle and break the figures.  Finally, in the fall of 1955 she started it and purchased the above mentioned set.  Shortly after that, Grandma Katie passed away, not waking up on Thanksgiving morning.

After the funeral, a family friend who was unable to attend, sent a card and check to finish purchasing the manger scene figures.  So along came the shepherds for $1.75 each.  The Wise Men were a bit more spendy.  The Incense carrier was $2.75.  The kneeling wise man was $3.00. The standing man was only $1.50 because he was damaged.  The 3 little lambs made in Italy and were $0.75 each.  Only one of them made it this far in the journey.

Only my mom would keep track of the prices and remember them 50 years later.  She noted at the bottom of the handwritten memoir that she wrote in 2005, 50 years to the day that Grandma Katie passed away.

I’ve been missing my mom more than usual lately.  It comes with the time of year, as she passed away 5 years ago on November 11.  To find her handwritten note was special, touching and sad all at the same time.  I am so thankful for the little treasures that she left behind… even the scratched handwritten notes.

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Changing Seasons…

The temperature and the leaves have fallen.  The trees are bare.  The ground is frozen and covered with the last of the leaves.  Most of them are not even ours.  They have blown from across the way… from the oak trees.  Today is the day to get the last of them up and gone.  The end of the autumn season.

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With a season change comes the time to put away things that you no longer need.  Rakes, flower pots, wheel barrows. All tucked away for the winter.  Some things you have to throw away, for they are not reusable when spring comes.  The two flower pots on my patio that have bloomed beautifully all fall, are now frozen in time.  They still look alive and well, but if you touch them they are brittle.  It’s tough to have to throw them away for they have been a source of life on my patio for many months.  IMG_6233

This change of season should feel a bit like cleaning out… simplifying.  There should be a feeling of excitement for winter and all that it will bring.  Clean yard, neatly stacked wood for the winter fires, snow shovels out, ice scrapers by the back door, scarves and mittens down out of the closet, hot chocolate ready to be made.

I wish it were that easy.  This season change feels more challenging than others have been in the past.  Life has gotten very complicated with all of the things we battle day in and day out – relationships, finances, responsibilities, memories of things lost and hopes for things to come.

Just when I think it’s more than I can handle, God steps in. Like the first evening of November when I walked outside into a glorious sunset.  All the worry that was heavy on my heart washed away for a moment as He revealed that it’s not about me… He’s with me in this change of seasons.

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Of course, I took all the worry back and continued on, waking early in the morning with anxiety and fear.  Wishing, hoping, wondering.  Then He steps in again and lands a letter in my mailbox from a dear friend struggling with breast cancer.  Her words were that of encouragement and love.  Once again, God reminded me of His grace and goodness.  My sweet friend’s words encouraged me to find the blessings throughout the day… to take my mind off the things that are weighing me down.

I’ve let myself get bogged down by all of the leaves falling on me at once.  What I need to do is take one leaf at a time!  Find the blessing and beauty, and do what needs to be done in each moment, covered in His grace and new mercies every day.  The seasons change whether I’m ready or not.

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How are you embracing the season change in your life?  Be encouraged and open to all that the new season will bring.

“For I know the plans I have for you, ” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you” declares the Lord.    Jeremiah 29:11-13 (NIV)

For Everything There is a Season…

Seasons come and seasons go. Some seem to last forever and some seem to be gone overnight. Some are dictated by the calendar and others by the events in our lives.

Today marks the first day of autumn… my favorite season. While is it just a date on the calendar, it feels different. The trees are no longer that deep rich green. Everything is beginning to take on the yellow and red hues. Because of our dry summer, the leaves are beginning to turn earlier and in some places that have been cooler in the evenings, raining down out of the skies.

There is a chill in the air. That chill that says summer is gone. This morning I awoke to a slight patter of rain… a sound I’ve not heard in a while. Squirrels are madly gathering nuts and cones to store up for winter. Friday nights are filled with football games, marching bands, warm blankets and pumpkin spice lattes. Weekends are spent putting everything outside away for the winter. Soon, we will begin the annual leaf-raking adventure.

Autumn… the season where things begin to die off and prepare to rest for the winter. The season of change.

Some seasons are not calendar driven. Some are seasons in our lives based on circumstances. Often, these seasons are not planned nor anticipated. Sometimes they just show up unexpected; catching us off guard. We may or may not have been given a bit of warning to prepare.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
(Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ASV)

God uses seasons on our lives to challenge us… strengthen us… give us rest… bless us. Some are more difficult than others. I’ve been through many seasons in my life… more in the past few years than I’d ever imagined. When I’ve been able to keep my eye on Jesus, no matter the difficulty I’ve never gone it alone. My faith and character have grown. I know that there are more to come, but I choose to live for today – the quiet season He has me in right now.

In the meantime, I’m going to relish this calendar season of autumn… for it’s my favorite! I look for this change to bring new challenges, growth and memories to cherish forever. (And maybe a pumpkin spice latter or two!)

What season are you in right now? Are you embracing it?
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Beautiful…

What defines beauty?

What qualities deem one beautiful?

Recently on FB, there is a game (for lack of a better term) going around.  If you are tagged, you are asked to post five photo’s of yourself in which you feel beautiful.  I have only seen a few people take on the challenge.  Is that because it is new and not challenged many women yet?  Or is it because women don’t feel deserving of posting photo’s in which they feel beautiful?

What makes a person beautiful?  Money?  Status?  Fame?  Hair color?  Character?  Size?

I posed a question to my FB friends recently. What do you think of when you hear the word beautiful in regards to a person? What is your definition of beautiful? Be honest! Go!

I received many replies, and for that I am grateful.  I wish I could post them all.  Here are a few of what people shared…

Fruits of the Spirit, love, joy , peace, patience, gentleness, self-control, all wrapped in a package of thankfulness. A beautiful person is born from times of trial that forge and season their hearts.

It radiates from the inside out. Someone who is beautiful, smiles and makes you smile, just because you are inspired through them. You can feel their beauty, not just see it.

I believe a beautiful person has all these qualities, but doesn’t “know” it; humble and selfless, gives to others even when they don’t have anything to give but a smile and their love.

Balanced in care for others and self. Gentle in spirit.

Someone, who even in the midst of ugliness and pain, manages to shine!

Someone who has joy in their life. It shows from the inside out!

I noticed as I read each person’s reply, that no one really made it about physical appearance.  It was about character and heart and attitude.  Yet, our society has made it all about appearance.

Our poor teens don’t stand a chance.  I have two stunningly beautiful step daughters… absolutely gorgeous.  Both of them struggle with being pretty enough.  They embody physical beauty associated with appearance.  Our world has made it very difficult. Beauty is about size, shape, hair color, skin tone, clothing, money/status… must I go on?  This breaks my heart.  We have a generation growing up that has missed the part about  “beauty forged from times of trial.”  Or “balanced in care for others and self.”  This generation does not think of others.  They’ve been trained to look out for number one!  And being beautiful is on the top of the list.

I know in my head that beauty is not about physical appearance.  Yes, there are people out there that are truly “beautiful” in a physical sense.  Our eyes are drawn to them.  We often compare ourselves to them, whether we know it or not.

While I KNOW that beauty goes beyond physical, I don’t always believe it for myself.  For others, absolutely!  I can see beauty in each one of you!  I can convince you that you are THE MOST beautiful person out there!  But when I turn the tables and see myself in that mirror, all that I know about what truly makes one beautiful goes out the window!

Am I going to be chosen for a cover spot on a magazine?  NO!  Do I turn heads as I walk down the street!  Oh gracious no!  Will I make the list for the most beautiful people?  Mum, NO!  Thank goodness!

I KNOW that my beauty comes from deep within and it was given to me and is nurtured by my heavenly Father.  I am infinitely precious to Him.  How very much He loves me.  He is with me.  He has cried tears and rejoiced with me.  I am worth it to Him.  I am beautiful.

Now to get my head and my heart to agree on this issue!  I am going to find five photo’s that I feel beautiful in.  I don’t plan on sharing them, but it is a challenge I want to take on.  I’ve got layer upon layer of issues in my life that coupled with the word beautiful, cause great agony and heartache.  I’ve got a long way to go.

My beloved spoke and said to me, arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.        (Song of Solomon 2:10)