Monday, November 30, 2009

Is Christmas Really the Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

What is the first word that comes to your mind when you think about Christmas? Joy? Family? Friends? Pain? Loneliness? Debt? How do you feel about celebrating Christmas this year? Christmas can be one of the most difficult times of the year for many people. For some Christmas is a time when poor and difficult family relationships are magnified. Once again the wounds are open. They feel sad and alone—and it’s all intensified by Christmas, a family-oriented holiday. Others wish they didn’t have to celebrate Christmas at all. Family relationships are strained by past angry words and actions. If they invite family over, what’s it going to be like? Are they going to be kind to one another? Will they argue? They fear another ordeal. Some people have lost family members in the past year. The thought of trying to celebrate anything, let alone a holiday, without that dear person distresses them. In these times with many people out of work and the general economic downturn, the thought of having to buy gifts even for family members adds much stress for people with limited funds. Retailers fill the airwaves and print media with ads telling us what items we “must have” to be cool and up-to-date. Have you thought, “Why can’t I experience the joy so many others seem to have?” Don’t be taken in by commercials telling you what your Christmas should be. Christmas is not Santa Claus, mistletoe, or a beautifully decorated home with lots of presents under the tree. It’s not even getting together with family. Christmas is all about a baby who was laid in a manger with the shadow of a cross looming over it. Jesus was born to die so that you and I might be forgiven of all—every last one—of our sins and our failures. He came to reconcile us to God, our Creator, and to make us new creations!
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 (NIV)
Christmas is about the gift of unconditional love. A love that heals wounds and transforms hearts. It’s about receiving the love of God and then giving it to others. And if you know this and accept it and live accordingly, Christmas can become one of the most wonderful times of the year. The genuine love of Christ is so needed in our world where many are hurting and desperate for love. You are beloved of Christ. Reach out and touch others with that love. Make Christmas your most wonderful time of the year.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

God's Paintbrush

It’s October and God has taken his paintbrush to northern Virginia and she is showing glorious colors! I find it a joy to drive along the roadways here in Stafford County and observe the gorgeous hues displayed on the trees. It reminds me of a poem called October’s Party written by George Cooper. Years ago when I was teaching, I built a lesson around that poem every October. After the dog days of August, the summer monsoons, and the Indian summer of September, I can hardly wait for October to throw her party each year. As the crispness creeps into the morning air, the trees and shrubs begin to dress for October’s party. October's Party By George Cooper October gave a party; The leaves by hundreds came— The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples, And leaves of every name. The Sunshine spread a carpet, And everything was grand, Miss Weather led the dancing, Professor Wind the band. The Chestnuts came in yellow, The Oaks in crimson dressed; The lovely Misses Maple In scarlet looked their best; All balanced to their partners, And gaily fluttered by; The sight was like a rainbow New fallen from the sky. Then, in the rustic hollow, At hide-and-seek they played, The party closed at sundown, And everybody stayed. Professor Wind played louder; They flew along the ground; And then the party ended In jolly "hands around." I’ll have to admit that it’s been a few years since I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy the full-blown glory of October. Living in the Southwest doesn’t offer much in the way of fall colors like those that you get in the east where there are many deciduous trees. Therefore, I am soaking up lots of memories to relive in my reveries when I go back to southwestern New Mexico among the juniper trees and other evergreens. Several times lately I have taken my camera with me when I went out to do errands. I’ve posted an album of the Virginia’s colorful array of fall leaves on Facebook. You can enjoy them at this link: Virginia Fall Colors Thank you, God, for providing such beauty to feed our spirits!
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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Not Just for School Kids

Late Friday Hubby and I decided to go into Washington, DC to visit some of the Smithsonian Museums on Monday. The thought of driving 45 miles through weekday traffic did not appeal to us at all, however. With a little research, we learned that Virginia Railway Express (VRE) has a line between Fredericksburg and Union Station with several morning and afternoon trains. “Great!” we said. “Let them do the driving.” Being novices at riding commuter rail, we decided it would be wise to purchase our tickets and check out the nearest station on Sunday afternoon as all the trains leave the local station to go into Washington before 7:30 AM. (Being more of a night-owl, I don’t function well at those early hours!) More research revealed we could purchase “senior citizen” tickets at half price. (That was good news. Who doesn’t want to save money these days?) The next hurdle was to locate a ticket vendor who would be open on Sunday afternoon as the commuter rail stations are open only on weekdays. We found one there was one in Fredericksburg, so after church we headed out to get some lunch and to purchase our tickets. After that we found the train station and checked out where to “validate” our tickets to actually ride the train. Sunday evening we found our backpack and selected a few “necessary” items to take along—camera, ID, VRE schedule, map of the National Mall area, camera, a snack (in case of low blood sugar), water, cell phones, and a few grooming items (girls need such things). We figured we’d look like school kids lugging around a backpack, but we needed to have those items with us. We decided to swallow our pride and look silly for sake of convenience. Monday morning Hubby woke me well before my body wanted to be awake and I stumbled through getting dressed. We ate a quick breakfast of cereal before grabbing our backpack and hopping into the car for the ride to the train station. We found a parking spot and headed for the waiting platform. To my surprise, we saw many people with backpacks. Well over half the people waiting had backpacks plus others had large tote bags or computer cases—even a few with wheels and handles. Soon the train arrived and we boarded. We had a relaxed and easy ride into Washington—no traffic to deal with. Actually, I don’t know why anyone wants to drive in day after day. The cost of the ride was no more than what one would spend on gas, not to mention parking and the aggravation of bumper-to-bumper traffic enroute. We had a wonderful day exploring three of the Smithsonian buildings—and we saw more people there lugging their backpacks. A little after 4:00 PM we caught the train back ahead of the rush of late afternoon commuters with their backpacks and we enjoyed another hassle-free trip. I think it’s safe to say,“Backpacks aren’t just for school kids anymore!”

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rambling Through Hometown USA

Having lived in the western U. S. for many years now, I have grown accustomed to desert landscapes and very low humidity. After all these years in arid climes, I’ve come to think of ways to create a “xeroscape” that minimizes the need for water instead of a “landscape.” The last few months we have been working and traveling through the Heartland. It has been a pleasure to see the lush landscaping with lots of green everywhere and the expansive lawns. (They must have riding mowers with so much to mow!) We enjoyed the wildflowers lining so many roadways in Illinois and Indiana and the Kentucky horse farms that looked like calendar pages. With the many rain storms that refreshed us came a healthy dose of humidity. What a difference! Traveling through the small towns of the Midwest reminds you that you are truly in Hometown USA—and the people are so friendly. For example, we attended church in Litchfield, IL and were invited to stay for the luncheon honoring their new vicar. As we visited, we found some new friends who knew other people that we know. The old saying is true: It’s a small world! We took the opportunity to tour a little in various places along our route as well as spend some time catching up with relatives along the way as we traversed the Midwest and North Carolina on our way to a project that we’ll begin soon in Virginia. I recommend these places that you might also enjoy visiting: 1. Springfield, IL is celebrating Abraham Lincoln’s Bicentennial this year and they are hosting many events as well as special displays in the museum. We visited the Lincoln House and nearby neighborhood houses that have been restored. We also toured the Lincoln Museum and Library where we learned a few things about Abraham Lincoln that we didn’t know: He started the Department of Agriculture and established land-grant colleges. Our time in Springfield was educational. To get more information, see the website: Abraham Lincoln Museum & Library 2. The Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY is just a little west of Cincinnati. All the displays were interesting and well done with multimedia presentations, but our favorite part was the presentation we viewed in the Planetarium. Another exhibit we enjoyed the replica of Noah’s Ark with the cutaway view. If you are interested in learning more about this museum, check out their website: Creation Museum. You can find many helpful videos-on-demand on the website as well. We enjoyed our day touring this museum. 3. The Western North Carolina Farmers Market west of Asheville is a wonderful place we discovered on a previous journey. There are several large buildings lined with booths displaying a variety of wares and produce. We couldn’t pass by without stopping to pick up some sourwood honey and a few other items, like a huge cantaloupe that measured 11” long! If you’re ever in the area, be sure to allow a few hours to meander through this market. Visit their website to get more information Western N C Farmers Market. 4. The Billy Graham Library in Charlotte, NC was the best place we toured this summer. It is a wonderful tribute of how God used one ordinary Carolina farm boy to take His message to the world. The tribute to Billy and Ruth Graham is done in good taste with state-of-the-art presentations and with the emphasis on God’s message of love for us. I’ve never been to any museum or library where the staff was more gracious and thoughtful to the visitors. This place is well worth your time to visit. You can learn more on the website: Billy Graham Library. If you are within a day’s drive of any of these places, any of them would make a good vacation location that is manageable on a small vacation budget—and we found them more enjoyable than some expensive places we have been in our lifetime. Happy trails to you!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Reach Out to Caregivers

I have read that 4 out of 10 of us have a family member who has some form of dementia. There are other medical conditions, like strokes and cancer, which leave a patient needing a caregiver as well. Family members assume the care for over 80% of these patients, many of them in their 70s and 80s. When people step into the role of “caregiver,” every aspect of their daily life is impacted. Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or another major medical condition can be overwhelming, Caregivers face tests of their stamina, their problem-solving, and their resiliency as patients lose one ability after another. Without a strong support system to offer relief and assistance, caregivers wear out and their health begins to decline also. One of the best things you can do for the caregivers you know is to really BE THERE for them, not just give lip service about being there. It’s easy to say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” It’s quite another thing to step up and actively help. So you ask, “How can I actively ‘be there’?” Here are a few suggestions I have gleaned from some caregivers with whom I am acquainted. ♥ Remember to visit and phone the caregiver often. Call before you visit to be sure it is a good time to stop by. Many caregivers report that family members and friends stop visiting because they feel inadequate to deal with illness. Think about this—the caregiver deals with the patient ALL the time and probably feels no more adequate to deal with the illness than you do. The caregiver had to learn about the disease from medical literature and internet sites like the Alzheimer's Association or the Helpguide.org websites. If you care about the caregiver’s well-being, you can learn about the disease and help caregivers by being actively involved. Educate yourself about community resources available to help the caregiver; however, reserve this information until the caregiver asks for your advice.

♥ I learned another reason people stop visiting is they fear being stricken with the disease themselves. None of us knows the future, but we can deal with the present in an honorable way and leave the future to God’s care. Put yourself in the situation of the caregiver and be supportive, even if you do have to summon extra courage. At least, you can call and send short e-mails or notes of encouragement. A simple thing like calling to ask the caregiver “How are you doing?” can be encouraging. Most people focus on the patient and forget about the caregiver’s well-being. ♥ Believe caregivers when they tell you about symptoms or behaviors they observe. After all, they live with the patient every day and they see the changes as they happen. It is common for those around the patient for short times not to notice changes unless they are pronounced. ♥ Refrain from giving advice unless you’ve been in the same situation or the caregiver asks for your advice. Spouting off unsolicited advice can cause a caregiver feel more inadequate in handling things when they are doing the best they can. Caregivers deal with an overwhelming task and need encouragement from the people around them. ♥ Just LISTEN! Let caregivers talk about their frustrations in dealing with the patient and the disease. Sometimes they just need to talk with someone who is functioning well cognitively, especially those who deal with dementia patients. Sometimes people need to talk through problems to sort out options. Sometimes people need to share their feelings and to be reassured they are handling things as well. Refrain from negative comments and offer encouragement, like “You are handling these challenges well.” or ask “How can I best help you?” ♥ Instead of saying “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” ask to do a specific task. Here are some examples: “May I bring dinner over for you?” (in disposable containers) “May I do a load of laundry while I’m here?” “May I sit with the patient a couple of hours so you can shop or take care of business matters?” “May I run the vacuum for you?” "May I mow the yard?” “May I shovel the snow from the driveway?” “May I wash the car?” Someone else can do many routine tasks to relieve a caregiver. ♥ Encourage caregivers to celebrate the good things in their lives—like friendship. Invite them out for coffee or lunch from time to time. Help arrange for someone else to sit with the patient for this outing. (If the patient is male, ask a male relative or friend to sit with the patient. If the patient is female, ask a female relative or friend.) A little time of respite refreshes the caregiver. ♥ Remember that many behaviors seen in Alzheimer’s patients are beyond their control and beyond the control of the caregiver. Caregivers deal with changing behaviors and many needs as the diseases progress. Be supportive of caregivers and remind them that they are handling the changes as well as anyone can. Ask how you may help rather than giving advice. ♥ Encourage caregivers to give themselves credit when they say they should do more. They are doing the best they can and should not feel guilty because they can't do more. Remind them they are there to help their loved one and that you admire them for that. Remember, you could find yourself in the caregiver role without much notice. I encourage you to respond to caregivers the way you would want people to respond to you. As the slogan of yesteryear suggested: “Reach out, reach out and touch someone.” Caregivers will appreciate your interest.

Monday, June 15, 2009

God Still Has Surprises for Us

During these first two weeks of June, God has provided me with several new experiences to spice up my life. Imagine that—at this stage of my life I am still experiencing some “firsts.” It all started last week on Sunday with experiencing my “first tornado watch.” For people in this part of the country, tornado watches are routinely occurring events; however, I have not been in a location before where an official tornado watch was announced. We are currently in a campground in Des Moines, IA. Last Sunday evening the security guard came to our door to tell us of the tornado watch and explain where to go if we heard sirens. I’ll have to admit I was a bit uneasy and kept checking the clouds for quite a while that evening. Praise God, the night passed without any tornadoes in the Des Moines area. Last Monday I ate Oryx meat for the first time. Some of you may be wondering what Oryx is. I was in the same boat until late May. I learned from Wikipedia.com that Oryx are species of antelope, typically having long straight almost upright or swept back horns. Two or three of the species are native to Africa, with a fourth native to the Arabian Peninsula. Small populations of several oryx species, such as the Scimitar Oryx, exist in Texas and New Mexico, USA as captive populations on wild game ranches. My brother-in-law, Mike, drew hunting tags that allowed him to hunt Oryx in the White Sands area of New Mexico last year and he bagged one. He has the skull (with horns attached) prominently displayed on his wall. He and Pam graciously shared a couple packages of their Oryx meat with us just before we hit the road again; thus, we enjoyed Oryx stew from the crockpot last Monday for supper and repurposed the leftovers into a tasty vegetable soup later in the week. The taste of Oryx is somewhat similar to beef in taste. The next “first” on my list was camping near a group of carnival workers. Midweek we saw several “campers” that looked like repurposed U-Haul trucks pull into the campground as well as some fifth wheels that looked a lot like converted horse trailers. All these so-called “campers” had been partitioned off into small compartments. As I was taking a walk one afternoon, the door was open to one compartment. What I observed was a very small room with only enough space for a single bed or cot and a narrow walkway across. I didn’t get a close-up look, but it did not appear to me to be a very comfortable place to live. I am thankful I don’t have to live in such a small space. Living in a 36-foot motor home is tight enough quarters for me! Another “first” was meeting a food editor who works for Better Homes and Gardens magazine, which is based here in Des Moines. It was great fun to visit with her over dinner on Friday night. She happens to be a member of the church where we are working on the LFC project. Life continues to be an adventure and we never know what lies around the corner. We just enjoy each day as it comes and leave the itinerary to God. He continues to surprise us in the most delightful ways. I hope He is providing wonderful surprises for you too.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Family of the Heart

My husband and I participate in a group within our church body called Laborers for Christ. Through this group, we go to building projects at specific churches. We recently finished working on a building project in which the Laborers erected a Family Life Center and Preschool building. During the project, we live in our motor home on the construction site along with the other Laborers for Christ who are participating. We count it a blessing to be involved in the Laborers for Christ group. We are privileged to help the congregations extend their outreach capabilities to the community while getting acquainted with some of the finest people you could ever hope to meet, both in the Laborers and in the congregations. Leaving at the end of a project is always difficult for we feel like we’re leaving behind many dear friends. On this last project, we felt especially blessed by the generosity, kindnesses, and hospitality of several very special people from the congregation throughout the time we sojourned with them. It brought to mind the verse of Proverbs 27:9 that tells us “A sweet friendship refreshes the soul.” Our souls have certainly been refreshed by the love shared with us during this project. People who practice such sweet friendship touch our lives with their love and creep into our hearts to stay. They become part of our “family of the heart.” We enjoy spending time with these people. We feel comfortable enough with them to be ourselves without pretense. It is rare to find such people and it is indeed an event to celebrate. So, here’s to you, dear friends at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Hemet. You have left your footprints on our hearts. We look forward to the time our paths cross again. Readers, have you taken time lately to tell the people in your “family of the heart” they are a blessing to you? Now would be a good time to share such thoughts with these special friends. Perhaps they need the encouragement of hearing that they have ministered to you in a special way. Let us remember to encourage one another and build one another up. May there be blessings on you this day!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Intelligent Design or Evolution?

Recently I read a newspaper editorial that discussed the Texas Board of Education discussion related to teaching creationism in schools. It seemed to me that the writer thinks anyone who doesn’t agree with theory of evolution is intellectually challenged. I am offended by that attitude. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t evolve from the monkeys. I am an intelligent design of a Supreme Being (God) who created me with enough intelligence to graduate third in my college class. I don’t consider myself “intellectually challenged” even though I do not agree with the theory of evolution. Personally, I am amazed that anyone can look at the magnificence intricacies in the world around them and not realize all this didn’t just evolve by chance. It was planned. All the details of nature that interact to sustain life were created to function together in extraordinary ways by a Supreme Being with intelligence . Consider the millions of details of the human body that interact to keep us breathing and functioning. People can’t really believe this all happened without an intelligent plan, can they? One small detail that astounds me is how well my feet fit together when I lie down. The instep of one foot nestles around the heel or the ankle of my other foot in a comfortable fashion. I am awed and humbled that God paid attention to such little details for my comfort. Let the editorial writer believe the theory of evolution if he chooses. If the theory is true, then surely it can stand up to scrutiny of scientific discovery. After all, our youth need to learn to look at all sides of issues in school—not just the politically correct side. That’s how they learn and become intelligent thinkers. Putting people down who do not believe as you do is not what I consider a sign of intelligent thinking. It sounds more like intolerance to me. Now isn’t that an interesting word? Many people like to talk about “tolerance” and think it is a great idea as long as it means you are being tolerant of their beliefs. When it comes their turn to be tolerant of your beliefs, it’s a different story. They don’t want to allow you the same privilege that they expect you to allow them. They belittle your beliefs and are not tolerant at all. In the Bible in Matthew 7:3-5, we read: "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.” Perhaps now is a good time to look at our own attitudes and see if there is a need to revise our modus operandi to align our actions more closely with what the Bible teaches.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Care and Feeding of Relationships

When I was young, Mama told me “To have a friend, you have to be a friend.” Her statement is as true today as it ever was. However, many people seem to have succumbed to the notion that forwarding cute e-mails constitutes “being a friend.” I think most people have become downright lazy about cultivating friendships and family relationships. Look in your own e-mail inbox. Each time you check it, you probably find several “forwarded” e-mail messages from friends and family members, as I do. How many of these same people send you personal e-mail notes or call you to say hi? My guess is very few or none—unless they want you to do something for them. Yes, I live in the real world. I am aware that people are busy and don’t have time for everything. I also know that people make a little time for people they value, even though they are busy. Many people probably rationalize that forwarding a story is “keeping in touch,” but it’s not really nurturing a relationship. If you call me “friend,” I want to be more important to you than another name to help you avoid the curse promised if you fail to forward an e-mail to ten people the next ten minutes. As your friend, I want to hear about your joys and your hurts, your accomplishments, and your prayer needs. I want the opportunity to be a friend to you. One short personal note or phone call from you has far more value to me than a hundred forwarded e-mails. Most forwarded stories you send have circulated through my inbox several times already. No matter how “cute” or “good” they seem, these e-mails do not replace personal interaction. Your contact does not have to be long to be effective in cultivating a relationship. A three-line note or a five-minute phone call can do wonders to help you really keep in touch with those whose friendship you value. A relationship is a two-way street, a give-and-take situation. Building a healthy relationship requires that both sides invest effort into developing the relationship. If I want a good relationship with you, I have to be willing to invest some of my time into communicating with you; but unless you are also willing to spend some of your time in developing our relationship, it’s a lost cause. Lately I’ve been reflecting on how this situation affects my life. I’ve decided it’s a waste for me to keep devoting energy to several “lost cause” relationships. I’m focusing my time on those people who are working on our relationship from their side too. This means I’ll have fewer relationships to look after and fewer people on my “Friends” list—and more people on my “Acquaintances” list. It means relatives won’t be getting many personal notes and phone calls from me unless they act in response by sharing their family news and ask how things are going with us. If there’s someone in your “Family and Friendship Circle” you haven’t heard from in a while, perhaps it’s because they haven’t received meaningful contact from you in a long time and have given up on getting real communication from you. If someone is not important enough in your life to deserve a wee bit of your time for genuine interaction, they’ll soon get the message and leave you alone. If it’s been a while since you heard from someone whose friendship you value, take a few minutes to write a personal note (by e-mail or snail mail) or give a phone call. If they are interested in a sincere relationship with you, they will respond in due time. That old adage still holds true: To have a friend, you have to be a friend.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A "Maxwell House Moment" to Remember

As we celebrated New Year’s Eve recently, I was reminded of a funny incident that happened last year. On that New Year’s Eve we were in an RV resort in Arizona where we were spending some time as we tried our wings at being snowbirds. We joined friends who were also snowbirding to attend the New Year’s Eve church service at the local affiliate of our church body. As we entered the sanctuary, the pastor jokingly commented that there were “lots of seats down front,” so we decided to sit in the front pewt. It was a good service with lots of singing and a message that I found meaningful. The last part of the service offered communion for those who wished to commune at the dawning of a new year. A man and woman who served as ushers for the evening prepared the chancel for communion by closing the altar rail gate and placing a kneeling pad in the gate area. Then they returned to the aisles to usher people from the pews down the center aisle to commune at the altar rail. As communicants departed from the altar rail, they placed their used communion cups in baskets at the sides of the chancel area and proceeded down the side aisles to return to their seats. When all who wished to commune had gone to the altar rail, the ushers went to the altar rail to commune. As they finished, the man took both their cups and walked over to deposit them in the basket on our side of the church while the organist went to the altar rail as the last communicant. After the man dropped the two small cups into the basket, he licked his finger. I looked at my friend whose grin told me she had also observed this. I could not resist whispering, “It’s like Maxwell House--good to the last drop.” At that, both of us struggled to keep from bursting into laughter; but I must say we did an admirable job of not controlling our need to laugh out loud until we were outside the building. As we discussed the incident later, we decided this “Maxwell House Moment” would be a memory we’d enjoy for years to come. Joy comes in small things--open your memory book and laugh a little.

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