THE LENTEN SEASON

In our life, I think it is a good thing to take time to reflect on our journey, what can be improved, and what changes we can make to become better people.
As Christians, I think the season of Lent provides for us a good time to do that.  Lent can provide us all with a specific time to refocus the direction we are headed. But, we certainly don’t need to wait until Lent to make changes we feel are needed. Anytime we feel inspired to change is a great time to start doing things differently.
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 Photo credit by brett jordan under Creative Commons License (CC BY 2.0)
Are there changes you can make to improve and deepen your relationship with the Lord?
Are there changes you can make to help you be a better you?
Would reflecting on the supreme sacrifice that Jesus made for you make you more thankful?
Some ways to help us refocus can be:
Fasting
Repenting of our sins
Spiritual discipline
Almsgiving
As Christians, it is a given that our salvation is based on our acceptance of Christ as our Savior. Participating in the above actions are things we can do to grow closer to Christ in that relationship. Doing these things will not get us to heaven but they are more of a by-product to enhance our relationship with Christ.
It is interesting to note that Christ fasted, would take time out to pray to God, His Father, and helped the poor that He encountered.  If Christ did these things, can’t we learn from His example?  He spent 40 days in the desert where He fasted and was tempted by Satan, yet He knew the Scriptures and defeated Satan each time with Scriptures.
I love celebrating the holiest of days reflecting on the events of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and then Easter which are the pinnacles of our faith. For me, it is the most special time of year.
Thinking of how Jesus washed his disciples feet at the Last Supper was such an act of being a humble servant….commanding us to do the same. Reliving the Last Supper, where He sacrificed Himself, is always a powerful event for me.
Thinking about Jesus carrying the cross on Good Friday is such a humbling experience….to feel the agony that He endured for us.
And then there is Easter Sunday when He rose on the Third Day! He was victorious over sin and death in order to set us free!
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Photo credit by Art4TheGlryOfGod under Creative Common License (CC BY-ND 2.0)
So, I view Lent as a time to make us more aware of things we can do to grow closer to Christ…a time of reflection, growing even deeper in our relationship with Christ, and becoming better people following in His footsteps. And then when we celebrate that glorious Easter Sunday when Jesus rose from the dead, we can join in His victory over death and truly be Easter people!
For me, being Easter people means sharing in Jesus’ resurrection and the joy that comes with knowing that He paid the ultimate price for our salvation! We have the privilege of proclaiming and sharing Him with all we meet by the way we live our lives. Knowing that we are also filled with the Holy Spirit who is always there to encourage us and give us power is a huge blessing.
I pray that you may have a blessed Lenten season growing in your faith, and then on Easter Sunday be filled with the love and joy of the Risen Savior!
Jesus said to her (Martha), “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”  –John 11:25-26
Here is a link to a new song by Third Day entitled Victorious. It sums up what Jesus’ death did for us all.
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JHkFa8l9dQk

THE BLESSING OF CAREGIVERS

A few months ago I talked about some Inspirational People in my life. At that time, I did touch on the specialness of one particular caregiver, but I wanted to expound on that importance of the caregiver a little more. I truly believe they deserve a special shout out, and they need to know what a blessing they are.
I also mentioned in another writing, about the Bible Study I’m involved in this year encouraged us to do some type of “ministry” work outside of our comfort zone. The jail ministry did not work out, so when a Deacon in our Bible Study mentioned about praying for a gentlemen who used to go to our church who has had cancer for the last four years, right away, I felt compelled to go visit them.
To do something outside of ourselves and our little, familiar comfort zone can be scary but I am really finding that I need to continue to follow that little prompting and step out in faith. I will admit I kept going back and forth in my mind if I could really call them to see if they were open to a visit and then go and do that. And then I’m thinking, what will I talk about or say to them. Thankfully, I got brave, did call, not just once, but twice (as nobody answered the first time). The wife was more than happy to accept an invitation for a visit, and so I was off to their house the next morning.
It just so happened that the lady used to babysit my eldest child..only about 18 or 19 years ago!  It seems hard to believe that it was probably about two years ago when I ran into her at the grocery store and we conversed for a bit.  Other than that, I have not seen them too much through the years.
As always, it is delightful to see how God works things out. I had scheduled the visit around a birthday lunch with a friend of mine, allowing an hour visit before meeting my friend. In the end, it really worked out that my friend could not make the lunch date. That way, I did not have a time constraint with the couple I was visiting.
I brought some cookies for them, which they greatly appreciated, she made some coffee, and though at times I felt like maybe my words didn’t come out right, I know the visit meant a lot to them. We all had a wonderful time catching up on each other’s families, and reminiscing about the “old” days, and just being there for them.  More than three hours flew by before I left!
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Photo credit by garlandcannon under Creative Commons License (CC BY-SA 2.0)
During my visit, I was very blessed to see the two of them interact, as well with their one daughter that was home helping them out. It made me realize once again how special the role of a caregiver is and the extreme sacrifices they make. The caregivers that I know personally, care for their loved ones with such love and devotion.
I’ve witnessed the caregivers:
–Serving their loved one with respect
–Serving their loved one with dignity
–Serving their loved one with such love
–Serving their loved one with such patience
–Serving their loved one with gentleness
–Serving their loved one with kindness
–Serving their loved one with such faithfulness
–Serving their loved one with words of endearment
I know the caregivers often sacrifice their own wants and desires in order to be there for their loved one. Many times, the caregiver can not just go when they want because they might not be able to leave their loved one without someone being there. This can be so draining on the caregiver, but they continue to give us a great example.
It really is a special person who cares for another with such a humbling, loving spirit. What a true example of being Christ to their loved one.
So, I would just like to thank the blessed caregivers who give so much of themselves for their loved ones. They have touched my heart, and I know they are certainly following Jesus’ humble example of serving others.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  –Galatians 5:22-23

THE SEED

Our lives can be parallel to that of a little tiny seed.  That seed is just being planted into the dirt when we realize the true purpose and meaning of life—life in Jesus Christ.

Growth of the seed will continue when we read and share God’s Word and reach out to one another.  This is the water and food that nourishes the seed.

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 Photo courtesy of  Andrew_Writer under Creative Commons License (CC NY 2.0)

In reaching out to others, we help ourselves grow, as well as bringing others to know and love Jesus more.  This is the “sun” which, when it shines brightly, helps the seed to blossom into something beautiful.

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Photo courtesy of Rennette Stowe under Creative Common License (CC BY 2.0)

At times, clouds and storms may come and shake us, but with the “Son’s” help and with friends to hold us up, the storm will pass, and soon the sun will shine again.  These storms help us stand taller and be stronger than before.

Again, He said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest see you plant in the ground. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds of the air can perch in its shade.”  –Mark 4:30-32

THE BLESSING OF MINISTRY

I think one of the many blessings we, as Christians, have is the gift of ministry that Jesus so beautifully personified in His life on earth. Have you noticed how He was always reaching the lost, the lowly, the infirmed? He had compassion on them and wanted to heal and help them. Shouldn’t we follow His example?

Do you find joy or happiness when you are ministering to others? You have probably heard me say before that I really am happiest when I am helping others.

I think it is really neat to see how our ministry can have a ripple effect and bless others and maybe even inspire others to do more along the way.

It is such a blessing to be able to minister or look at some different things that you do as ministering to others.

What are some types of “ministry” that you do?

–Do you work at a soup kitchen?
–Do you help serve food at a bereavement ministry?
–Do you read books for little children at the library?
–Do you send cards to the lonely or sick?
–Do you sponsor a child in another country to help them get an education?
–Do you sincerely and faithfully pray for particular people you know that are sick or in need of special prayer?
–Do you volunteer bringing food to the shut-ins?
–Do you give money to people in need?
–Do you pay for someone’s coffee anonymously?
–Do you visit the widow you know?
–Do you help some little ones and their teacher at school?
–Do you make pies for your Bible Study prayer partners?

There are really so many different “things” that can be considered ministry. I think maybe it has to do with your mindset and what you do with it. If you’re doing it to give honor and glory to God and because of what He has done in your life, I think it qualifies as “ministry.”

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Photo credit by Ed Yourdon under Creative Common License (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I never really thought about the different “ministries” I’ve done through the years until now, but I’ll share them in the hopes it might inspire you or help you reflect on some different things you’ve done in your life.

When I was a teen, I enjoyed volunteering at the local hospital. It was then that I started to learn the joy of helping others. Meeting people who couldn’t do things for themselves because of either physical disabilities or being sick enabled me to help others and opened up a whole new world for me.

I remember helping my grandmother and great aunt as a teen as well. My great aunt’s eyes failed as she aged so I even got to be her “eyes” with taking care of paperwork and her finances for her.

As a young adult, I recall helping at our youth group because of some older friends we had made who encouraged us to help out. Speaking in front of a crowd or group of people is definitely out of my comfort zone, as I tend to be a more “behind the scenes” helper. I enjoyed helping in the little ways at youth group retreats and different functions.

There was a time when a coworker, at work I ended up befriending, and his friend started a Teen Gospel Mission. We would have several talks about the Lord and faith. They needed help remodeling a building to use and help with little details along the way. It was a blessed time of fellowship, laughs and trying to help minister to teens.

And, how could I forget trying to teach the little kids religion classes? Trying is the key word! My teaching days quickly ended after the year one girl wanted to be removed from my class. There were several rambunctious boys in the class that year. Needless to say, I guess God knew I would not make a good teacher..the profession I thought I was going to go into.

When my kids ranged in age from 9 to 1 1/2 years old, I felt a calling to do some type of family ministry because of a sermon at church. I knew the youth group at our church had worked at a soup kitchen as part of a fasting and sleeping in a cardboard box for a night to experience the feeling of homelessness, so I contacted that church. Thankfully, there was a couple that so graciously accepted our whole family as helpers. That was 12 1/2 years ago, and we are still blessed to help out once a month there. Many times, my little one would be asleep on my shoulder as we helped prepare and serve the food to the people. I find myself praying for the people as we’re serving them, asking God to meet their needs and provide for them. Some day, I know I should do something outside my comfort zone, and sit down and talk with one of them.

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Photo credit by bighornplateau1 under Creative Common License (CC BY 2.0)

This past Christmas, I was blessed to be asked to help go Christmas caroling with some people from our Bible Study. It really showed me the ripple effect that ministry can have.

There was this one lady, Kelley, who was talking with a Deacon from our church who shared a person, Marian, who needed some prayer. Kelley prayed for Marian, a widow, who is in a nursing home. Kelley felt the Lord inspiring her to go meet this stranger, something definitely outside her comfort zone. Kelley has been visiting Marian almost every week from that day on. At Christmas time, Kelley got the idea Marian would be blessed by Christmas Carols. So, Kelley poked around to find someone willing to play the guitar (aka my husband) and gathered some singers. (aka me among those.)

It was a very touching experience. Marian’s son and three out of four grandchildren were there. I often find myself praying as I’m doing these “ministries.” It was so touching to see Marian’s son tear up as we were singing and to see how nicely his teen children were joining right in with the singing. It was so beautiful to see Marian join in singing and raising her hands in praise to the Lord, despite her pain and frail condition, as well as missing her husband. We happened to originally go to the wrong floor, but it was neat that I saw another friend’s father-in-law that was there. I really wanted us to go sing to him but we were on a time crunch because at the last minute we decided to take the troops to another shut in on the way home to sing to them. It just happened that Kelley had also been praying for this gentleman (Greg Pedroza, who I wrote on in another blog), so she finally got to meet him and his wife. While there, Greg had the idea to call another man in a nursing home, so we got to minister to him as well. One small thing can have such a big ripple effect.

As I volunteer at a school a few hours a week, I enjoy helping the teacher and then interacting with the kids and helping them do things. They are such a joy to watch…to reflect on their innocence and love they share with you. This year the kids are so friendly and will come give you a hug and grab your hand to walk somewhere. It is a blessing to pray for them and to think about their future as I’m there too.

In our Bible study, we are suppose to do a ministry outside our comfort zone and then share that experience with our group. Going to a jail would definitely be outside my comfort zone so I was kind of disappointed to learn that you have to be approved and go through lots of things to really be able to go into a jail nowadays.

It was neat to see how in one person’s life, God used his two children to confirm that he should go visit and deliver a poinsettia that had been at church to a lady in a nursing home, who turned out to be none other than Marian! So, it is amazing to see how one simple act, say praying for someone, can lead to changing and affecting so many other lives.

I encourage you to continually think and seek ways to minister to others. Your life will definitely be blessed in unexpected ways, as well as blessing other people.

The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” –Matthew 25:40

A GIFT TO GIVE

Most of the time, New Yorkers look after their elderly citizens

Photo credit by Ed Yourdon under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

A smile will do so much

   to brighten someone’s day.

And a hug will make such

   a warm difference in today.

You might send a card

   that says just what you feel.

And the receiver won’t find it hard

   to make the feeling lasting and real.

If you listen for awhile,

   you’ll show someone you care.

When you see that smile,

   you’ll know the problem’s easier to bear.

So let’s begin today

 and reach out in God’s love,

To brighten someone else’s day

   with graces from above.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
–1 John 4:7

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Photo credit by BK under Creative Common License (CC BY-2.0)

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.  –Galatians 6:3

A TIME OF GRACE

Can you think of a time in your life when despite a rough, stressful season you could still see God working and helping you through it all? Maybe you would consider it a time of grace in your life?

In the last year and a half there have been three times where relatives have been in the hospital for extended times, as well as relatives being in the ER for various reasons. I’ve come to know my way around the hospital pretty well. Being there also brings back memories since it is the same hospital where I used to be a candy-striper/volunteer for many years back in the day! That was certainly a highlight in my life where I got to meet many people and help others.

Times when loved ones are in the hospital and there are so many unknowns of what is going to happen are tough. It is definitely an opportunity to pray for the person individually and to ask others to join you in prayer for your loved one.

During times like this, it can also be stressful to be there to support the person yet be there for your immediate family. But, they can also be times of experiencing God’s grace and love. This was definitely what I experienced this past April and May.

My father in law was in the hospital for a total of 32 days followed by 7 days in a local rehab place. He ended up having two abdominal surgeries within 9 days.

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The first surgery seemed to go really well, and he was even up and walking the same day! But, as time went on, things weren’t progressing as expected internally, so they did the second surgery.

The second surgery did not go so well. The doctors were really only able to open him up, and shortly after, just stitched him up, because he started bleeding too much. The doctors were unable to see well enough to do anything. That was pretty devastating to think they couldn’t fix him anymore, and we were unsure where that would leave him.

We really thought we were going to lose my father-in-law this time because they couldn’t do the second surgery and because his mind was not functioning properly after that surgery. He was “seeing” things that weren’t there….like mashed potatoes hanging from the ceiling! He was not too coherent and couldn’t remember too much. He even thought he was on a boat! We really thought his mind was not going to be “normal” again. This went on for many days.

Thankfully, he gradually came back around to the guy we knew. It was really hard to see him struggle so much, lose his strength and especially his mind for so long. But, somehow he bounced back slowly. He was so weak that he had to go to rehab for a week to regain some strength. We were truly blessed that there was a local place that had an opening for him. Finally, he was ready to try returning to home with the help of a walker.

My in-laws have a total of seven kids, three of which are local, one about 1 1/2 hrs away and three in Massachusetts. It is always so remarkable to see all through the years that all the families get along well and support each other, especially in being there for their parents to aid them in whatever way they can.

With the local families around, it seemed people were always there to support my in laws and try to help pass the long days in the hospital. It seemed someone was always there visiting my father-in-law, trying to fill his time and eventually to try to get his mind working again. We would bring trivia questions to help stimulate his mind, ask him crossword puzzles, since he couldn’t even write at the time, and the likes.

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Celebrating Mother’s Day 2014 at the Rehab Courtyard.

Things were slow going when he was finally able to come home, and we still wondered if he would return to a normal lifestyle, but we are so thankful that he was pretty much back to normal after a good three months. It has really amazed us all to see how far he came. Family members took up the mowing and house duties that he was not able to do.

For me, this time of grace seems magnified because I was able to share it with a friend as well. It was really one of those God-incidents that at the same time my father-in-law was in the hospital, I ended up finding out a friend’s mother, who I had never met, was in the same hospital. A little prompting inside me had me go visit her mom’s room once I found out. Quite the opposite from our situation that had lots of local people to support them, this friend was really the only one there for her mother. Her one sister lives out of town. So I really felt compelled to visit my friend most every time when I would visit my father-in-law. Being there to listen to my friend and share in her journey and show I cared really blessed me. It was kind of a special bond that strengthened our friendship. It was also a joy to meet her mother who was a very special, sweet lady. I felt blessed to have met her even for such a short time. Every time I would visit, she too, would ask about how my father in law was. Despite her condition, she cared about someone she never even met.

When my friend’s mother went to a nursing home for a few days before reentering the hospital a second time, it just didn’t feel the same not being able to visit her. It was hard to see my friend’s mom’s health decline before our eyes and at the beginning of May she ended up dying. But, I feel my life was enriched and graced through knowing her for such a short time. Meeting my friend’s sister was also a blessing and it seemed like we’d known each other forever. It was my privilege to attend the funeral for this family and try to show my love and support for what they were going through. The same day of the funeral, I was suppose to go out of town to attend a conference, but I knew I wanted to share in the funeral instead. I truly was so blessed through being there and the luncheon after with the family.

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Photo credit by DRAMOS19 under Creative Common License (CC BY 2.0)

It was special to see how my friend was there all the time for her mother….to see that special bond between a mother and her daughter. I know it was hard for my friend to leave her family and three children home so much during her mom’s hospitalization, but she did what she had to do at the time…be there for her mother. I know their Easter was not quite the same this year, but my friend was sharing in her mother’s journey at the time.

I am so thankful for this time of grace that accompanied the sharing of the hard struggles of seeing people suffer. Trying to be there to support one another and help in whatever small way are such blessings in our lives, and God is always there to provide what we need.

Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. –Hebrews 4:16

LOVING MEMORIES

The Lord places special people in our path–whether it be members of our family, close friends or merely acquaintances.  I truly think some lessons can be learned from each one of our lives–every person is unique and has something to offer. 

It is always hard when we lose a loved one or even a dear friend to death, even if we know the person was a Christian. Their absence leaves a big void in our lives. I think it is always harder on us not being able to be in their presence anymore while on this earth or being able to share life as we know it with them.  But, I think it is important to keep their spirit alive in our hearts through our loving memories of them.   

Maybe you, too, can identify with some of the following thoughts, and reflect on some special people in your life who have gone before you, as I reflect on two special people in my life–my Grandma Palmiter and great aunt, Aunt Hazel.

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Great Aunt Hazel & Grandma Palmiter

I am filled with joy and happiness in knowing that they are spending eternity in heaven with God our Father and Jesus.  I have comfort in this fact since they proclaimed Jesus Christ as their Lord while on this earth, and their life also confirmed this.

Knowing that they are no longer suffering and in pain is a blessing and a prayer now answered.  I look forward to the day when their bodies will be transformed into the likeness and image of God.

The hardest part of losing them is the pain and loneliness that is a part of the lives of those of us who are left behind.  The memories of past years together are such a treasure that is indeed hard to measure.  I will always hold close to my heart the memories of all the Sunday dinners, games and outings, as well as listening to the music played to Jesus on the organ.

The most important memories to me are the ones of the way they lived their life which we can all benefit from.

–Faith in Jesus is most important–He is always with us and will help us.

–Whatever happens in life, we need to make the best of it without complaining.

–Our lives can be made happier in knowing that we helped someone–no matter how small the need may be.  Jesus would do the same.

–By truly listening to someone–whether an acquaintance or even a stranger–you can help ease their burdens.

–Having a good laugh every day is healthy!

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Grandma Palmiter

I thank the Lord for both of them and the inspiration their lives are to me.  They certainly helped me grow closer to the Lord and to become a better person!

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Great Aunt Hazel

The memory of the righteous will be a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot. –Proverbs 10:7

PRESENCE not PRESENTS

As another Christmas season is upon us, I wanted to try to share what is in my heart about Christmas.
For me, Christmas is the second most special time of year. Personally, Easter time would have to be #1 in specialness and sacredness.
Christmas is such a special time because it is the time when we celebrate Christ’s birth. God sent his only Son to earth, as a babe, to live like you and me, and eventually save us from all our sin.
My heart wants so much to capture that true meaning of Christmas each year rather than focusing on gift giving. In recent years, it seems I’ve struggled with how to make that happen, especially as my kids are now older.  It is almost like when Christmas Day arrives it is a let down because we just end up staying home together as a family; it feels like we should be out helping.
Even when my kids were little, we didn’t really promote Santa or extravagant gift giving.  Santa would bring one small gift for the kids, and they would get a few more. I realize for some people their “love language” is gift giving, but I’m sure you can guess that is not mine. For me, I think it’s that I don’t want “things” to get in the way of what is really important to me in life.  I don’t want to be rushing around all the time shopping and miss out on sharing the true spirit of sharing Christ.
Christmas is about PRESENCE, not presents.
It hit me this past Sunday as our pastor was talking about making people feel welcome at church so they want to return again. What hit me the most about what he was saying and finally clicked with me about how I feel, is that for me, Christmas is about being the voice and heart of Christ, through PRESENCE not presents . That is what makes my heart happy and sums up Christmas!
At Christmas, as well as year round, I find joy in focusing on sharing with those less fortunate and reaching out to help others in whatever way possible.
All of these thoughts really were solidified for me the Christmas of 2011, the year that Christmas had a big impact on me.  Our area was hit with a somewhat minor flood back in June of 2006, and then suffered a major flood in September of 2011 from Tropical Storm Lee.  It was the first day of school for two of my children, while my oldest was away at college, where he was spared from any storm experience.  Many people lost so many of their possessions and even worse was losing their physical houses.
We were blessed that our house is located on a slight hill, so our house did not take on water.  We did have a few trees at the far corner of our backyard, near our shed, that got uprooted and fell over into the creek.  Our shed is still standing, though the land underneath the one end of it, is still eroding away from the flood and now any rain. The major thing that was the hardest for us was being without electricity for a good four days. Considering we have a well, we did not have running water for the four days. We are thankful that a ways behind our house, probably a good 180 feet, is a creek, so we made many trips trying to haul water into the house so we could at least flush the toilets.
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Destruction and flooding of streets was located as close as at the end of our road, so we could only walk or bike (yes, my youngest son was crazy enough to try to bike through the water!) to get out of the house for a good two days. Trying to find passable roads to finally get dry ice on the third day was quite a challenge. The normal ten minute drive took one and one-fourth hour!

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All that to say, Christmas 2011 was a different year for sure. One of my son’s coaches through the years and his family, were one that ended up losing all their possessions, along with their house. That year, we spent my birthday trying to help clean up their house, but eventually they were told the house was too far gone to be livable. It was so hard to see all they endured losing everything they had, even the place where they lived, as well as the many years (actually three years!) of anguish trying to get money from the house that had to be demolished eventually and left a brownfield.
Christmas 2011 was the year that we did not put up a Christmas tree.  It just didn’t seem “right” when so many people truly were left with nothing.  Our family presents were kept simple, and we tried to help those that we could who lost all they had.
Christmas is about PRESENCE, not presents.

Even today, we know people who are so sick, confined to nursing homes or their homes, along with those who continue to be unemployed and seeking employment to help keep their families afloat.  With such hardship all around, it seems our voice and heart of being Christ for them, along with our PRESENCE is the best thing we can offer them.

I can honestly say this Christmas season seems like I am the most aware of the true Christmas spirit and feel I have been blessed with Christmas spirit personally.  I attribute this to the art of music being more meaningful in my life.

I have been blessed to be listening to a new, original Christmas EP that has helped me get more in tune with the Christmas spirit. Attending a “Home for the Holiday” musical as well as experiencing a wonderful production of Handel’s Messiah has also contributed to that experiencing the heart of Christ in my life. Taking time to also go to a Holiday museum to see various Christmas trees decorated in many different ways was very spirit filled as well.

Helping others in need continues to be a way we can be the voice and heart of Christ this holiday season.  Singing Christmas carols and praying for people at a nursing home and a shut-in’s house is always a blessing which helps my heart feel the true meaning of Christmas. I was blessed to be a part of that this year.  Bringing our PRESENCE more than presents is a joyous blessing.

Bethlehem in the  St. Anthony of Padua Church in Istanbul

 Photo credit by Pi Istavan Toth under Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

And so this Christmas season, I am thankful to try to be the voice and heart of Christ, sharing PRESENCE more than presents, and for experiencing that through the gift of others.  I pray that you and your families may be abundantly blessed through the birth of Christ.

And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.  –Luke 2:7

Here is a link to one song on the Christmas EP that I am really blessed by.  It is called Joyful Eyes.

WAITING

Often times in life we spend a lot of time waiting for things, especially during the hustle and bustle of preparations for Christmas.

Waiting….

-In line at the grocery store

-To get gas for your car

-For your car to be fixed

-For a friend to get off the phone

-For someone to stop and visit you

-For a repairman to fix something

-For the school day or the work day to end

-For vacation to start

-For the day you can get your license

-For the day you will get married

-For your first child to arrive

We can learn some things in our waiting.

Sometimes the Lord may be showing us

–that we need to slow down a little and

–shift our focus to Him.

We can do this, especially when we’re waiting in lines.

Have you ever said a little prayer for the cashier or taken a moment to talk to the person next to you in line? Try it next time you are waiting; you will be blessed as well as blessing another!

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Photo credit by Tito & Eva Marie Balangue under Creative License (CC BY 2.0)

I think it is also interesting to think about how the Lord could also be calling us to reflect on how He waits for us so patiently…

–For us to recognize Him in our lives

–To surrender our lives to Him

–To talk to Him

–To spend time with Him

–To recognize Him in our lives

–To accept the great love He has for us.

“The LORD waits for you to come to Him so he can show you his love and compassion. For the LORD is a faithful God. Blessed are those who wait for Him to help them.” (Isaiah 30:18)

LESSONS FROM A THIRD DAY CONCERT

For anyone that kind of knows me, you probably know that I am a huge fan of Third Day, a Christian band.  Since first hearing them at a Women of Faith conference in Rochester, NY in Sept. of 2013, I have been blessed to attend six more concerts of theirs.  One even included a two day event at a Friend & Family Faith Camp in Atlanta, GA with my 13 year old son!  Their song’s messages seem to speak to my soul, encourage, and uplift me.  Yes, I admit I listen to them everyday and the songs always speak to my heart and never get old.

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The most current adventure took my traveling buddy and friend, Mary-Jo and I to Youngstown, OH in mid November, which was a good 5 1/2 hr trip….one of our furthest treks together.
This writing was inspired by a friend wishing me a great trip and saying she was expecting I’d come back with some writing/learning experience from my trip. With her comment in mind, it made me stop and reflect on events as they were happening to see what I was inspired to write and share.
More inspiration came from our trip home when Mary-Jo and I were listening on CD to the book called “Lessons from the Road” by Nigel James, road pastor for Third Day.  So, I thought it would be neat to list some “Lessons from a Third Day Concert” that I thought about.
1-It can be a real blessing to get away for a day from the routine of life.
Most of our trips are only 24 hours long due to the fact we have kids at home and the different responsibilities that being wives, and mothers entails.  The traveling usually ends up taking longer than we expect, so there is usually just time to check out the hotel, grab a quick bite to eat somewhere, and head to the concert. But, our time is always blessed.  The car rides gives us a chance to catch up on what is happening in our lives and then to have some good, more in-depth conversations about faith, etc. as well as quality time listening to some great Third Day music. Having a quiet hotel room with no kids is always refreshing. Though short in time, we do come back refreshed and inspired once again.
Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  –2 Corinthians 4:16   
 
2-We need to trust the Lord in our travels.
As I said, this last adventure was in mid November, and of all years, what did we have here in the northeast that early?  Yes, cold and snow the day before our trip. Thanks to my oldest son’s advice, I had snow tires put on the car the day before in anticipation. When I checked in with Mary-Jo finalizing plans that day, and I told her about the snow tires, she said, “Are you expecting a blizzard or something?”
When we left for the trip, the sun was actually shining.  But, it wasn’t long into the trip when the clouds started coming, then some flurries, then more sun, snow showers, and eventually a period of snow covered roads with low visibility causing us to go 35-40 mph on the highway.  Mary-Jo & I couldn’t help but think of her comment the day before!  Later, we could chuckle about it! There was no choice but to continue on, slow and steady, even though it was difficult because each time the conditions got bad, we had no idea how long it would last.  We didn’t know what would be next. We did have our boots, hats, and gloves in the car just in case.
It comforted me knowing that we had people at home praying for our safe travels and that we were prepared as best we could be to brave the elements. It was also comforting having someone to share the adventure with. Together is better!
When I am afraid, I will trust in you.  –Psalm 56:3
 
3-Meeting “stars” can be intimidating, but they’re humans just like you and me!  We’re really all the same.
I have been thoroughly blessed to have been part of the VIP experiences with the four main guys of Third Day. Each time, I still get nervous, and feel that I probably appear scatter brained, but I also need to remember that they are really people just like you and me.  The guys are so down-to-earth that they make you feel comfortable, but it’s just that you see them for such a few seconds, it’s hard to say what you want to say, shake their hand, and get your picture with them. It is easy to put them on a pedestal, but they don’t look at it that way.  Their lives reflect that God created us all equal, though we do all have different talents or gifts.
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Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right.”  –Acts 10:34
 
4-It is a blessing to meet the “behind the scenes” people too.
At this last concert in Ohio, I had the honor of having my picture taken with Third Day’s road pastor, Nigel James. Through social media, I have had the privilege of learning from his wisdom when he posts parts of the devotionals that he does with the guys.  I truly believe that Nigel is a humble, man of God.  It is so special that the guys have him to tour with them.

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…All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. –1 Peter 5:5-6
 
5-It is a huge blessing to make others feel special.
The guys of Third Day are very good at making all their fans feel special and like they are important to them. It always amazes me to think about how often this group does these concerts.  At most of them, they take time to do meets & greets, and often, even signing autographs. The tour manager or road pastor will help get everyone organized so that things move right along. Doing this day after day must get so tiring, especially after an intense concert with no intermission, but the guys never let you feel less than special!  They introduce themselves, shake your hand, ask your name, and even thank you for coming.  They, too, are humble men of God.
One of the things that made me feel most special was at a concert in Lancaster, PA back in August 2014 when they were doing autographs.  Mac, the lead singer, put his hand out to shake my hand, and said “I know you from Twitter.” That blew me away.  From the many, many fans and followers that he has, he actually recognized little ole ME!  Since that time, he even calls me by my name. And, he has been gracious on two different occasions to let me get a picture with him.  Those things have really made me feel so special and appreciated.

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Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  –Philippians 2:3-4
 
6-It is important to let others know how much you are blessed by them.
As a fan whose life has been touched by Third Day’s music, I always wish there was a way to convey to them how blessed my life has been through them and their music.  The first time I met them in person, I had the idea to share with each of them, including some “behind the scene” people of theirs, one of my verse books that I had recently printed up that I had written years ago.  It was fun to write each of them a personal message in the book.  I hope they were blessed in some small way through it.
I wish I knew what else would bless them, but the best I can come up with is to just try to convey to them with my words, whether in person or via social media, how much their music, and they bless my life.
It is more blessed to give than to receive.  –Acts 20:35
 
7-Third Day concerts are great times of worship.
Having front row seats or fairly close to front, certainly adds to the specialness of the concerts. You can just focus on the guys and their music, it becomes quite a time of worship.  I found this especially true at the last concert in Ohio.  I’m not really musical, but I was there singing along and trying to clap on beat!  I think I was actually doing it a little bit!
Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.  Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song.  –Psalm 95:1-2
 
8-Getting out of your comfort zone and sharing your faith with other fans can be such a blessing.
My life has also been enriched through meeting more long time fans of Third Day, called Gomers.  The reason I was originally going to the Ohio concert was to meet one such Gomer, who I had been friends with on social media, but never talked to in person. We had been conversing back and forth, and actually inspired each other to attend the concert.  Because she was going, I was going, and vice versa.  It was a great blessing meeting her in person, along with a few other Gomers at that show.  Doing something out of my comfort zone, like talking with these strangers over a late night dinner was a blast!  When we reach out to others and support one another, I think we are certainly blessed in ways we don’t expect.

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For where two or three are come together in my name, there am I with them.  –Matthew 18:20
 
I am truly so thankful for the many ways my life has been enriched the last year and half since seeing Third Day in person for the first time.  It has truly had a ripple effect on my life…..
–Seeing Third Day for the first time
–Getting inspired with Third Day music
–Meeting Third Day in person
–Expanding horizons to more social media
–Meeting many wonderful people through social media
–Inspiration to write again and share what is in my heart
–Joining a Christian blogger group to spread joy
–Meeting and reading inspiring posts
I can’t help but be amazed and so thankful!!
So, to the guys of Third Day (Nigel included!), I end with this…..
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  –Philippians 1:3-6 
This is one of my favorite Third Day songs called “Offering.”
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cBzbN_Krh7M