Monday, November 28, 2016

Here Comes Christmas

We bake, cook, decorate, plan, buy presents and get excited…or not. 

Maybe you’re worried about how you’re going to afford gifts for others. Maybe you feel pressure to meet others’ expectations. So you go through the motions, counting the days until January 1st, missing the whole point of it all. 

Last week, as we prepared for Thanksgiving, I promised to make my own gratitude list after I encouraged you to. After all, how can I suggest you do something if I don’t do it too? Right? So I'm sharing a portion of it at the end of this post.

If you missed last week, simply scroll down below today's post to catch up.

So how’s your list coming? What kind of things were you surprised by as you began jotting down what you’re thankful for?

Or did you tell yourself it was a nice idea, but it wouldn’t change anything?

While that might be true, that your circumstances won’t change right away, what will happen is, you begin to change. The peaceful contentment you long for rises up in the midst of being grateful.

This time of year will always bring mixed emotions for me. And I know I’m not alone.

I’ve found that when I focus on the real reason I’m baking,  planning get-togethers, buying gifts or making them, I’m less vulnerable to disappointment or sadness. 

What is the real reason? The real reason is all because of Jesus Christ. He's all the reason. It's to Him I give thanks and to Him I celebrate His birth at Christmas. 

Apart from that, all the activities I'm doing become pointless and empty.

Not to negate cherishing the time with family and friends, wishing peace on earth, and good will toward all men. But if these are all we're hoping for, we're headed for disappointment and depression at the end of the year, rather than peaceful contentment that only Jesus brings.

Throughout the holidays and beyond, I try to focus on all God has given me; done for me and continues doing in my life. Not what I think He should do or give me or work out on my behalf on my time table. 

Comparing my life with others isn't allowed either. I wasted a lot of years doing that and believe me when I tell you, it DOES NOT help.

I’ve come to love Christmas again because, while I bake, decorate and buy a few gifts for loved ones, it’s Jesus I’m celebrating! 

The lights, music, time with family and friends are all part of it. Joy and peace are mine as I make it all about Him. 

Despite extreme commercialism and the skirmishes over saying Merry Christmas versus Happy Holidays, it's a joyous occasion. Like it or not, it's Jesus Christ we celebrate; nothing else. 

Will you, with me, not get sucked up in the societal hype of this season? Will you give yourself permission to enjoy celebrating Him with each dish you pull out of the oven, present you wrap or get-together you plan?

Will you join me in thankfully preparing for Christmas and allow yourself to enjoy every single part of it? 

Now, for my gratitude list. I tried to focus on less material things and zoom in on God’s everyday blessings that I take for granted. I’m not listing loved ones here, but they are on my extensive written list. 

So here goes:
  • Pansies (it amazes me how they endure harsh weather)
  • Front porch
  • The two colorful maple trees in the front yard
  • A crisp blue sky against fall trees
  • My Bible
  • The owl that lives nearby. He calls out at night and dawn. It’s soothing.
  • Geese in a stagnant pond below our house. They leave every morning, but always come back at sunset.
  • God’s unceasing pursuit of me, despite me.
  • Forgiveness
  • Hot coffee
  • Prayer
  • God’s unchanging love
  • The upstairs room
  • 93.3 Joy FM
  • Celebrate Recovery
  • Hope. There’s always hope where God is concerned
  • Written words
I shared mine, so now I invite you to share in the comments below, some of the simple things that you’re grateful for.

Feel free to also share how you handle the Christmas season without getting sucked in to the commercialism. I could always use some fresh suggestions.

Staying the course during the holidays and beyond,


Monday, November 21, 2016

When Being Thankful is Difficult

Being thankful during this time of year can be difficult for some. Especially if you’re newly single, divorced or simply longing for a special person to share the holidays with.

Hardships are magnified. When it’s all you can do to keep the bills paid, buying a Thanksgiving turkey with all the trimmings can be burdensome, knowing that budgeting for Christmas is just around the corner.

Family conflicts can also suck the joy out of holiday gatherings.

As Thanksgiving approaches this coming week, for some of you it might be a reminder of some things lost, rather than things to be thankful for.

This season marks a lot of losses for me. Dating back to November of 1988, my divorce was final, just days before Thanksgiving.

Several years later before the holidays, my house was foreclosed on and we had to move.

As a single mom, money was already tight, but the holidays added extra financial pressure.

I remember another time when my kids and I had to move right before Christmas because the house we rented was sold right after Thanksgiving.

Two years ago, my mother-in-law passed away two weeks before Thanksgiving. That same year I had my last Thanksgiving meal with my Mom, as she passed away 12 days before Christmas.

What does this time of year mean for you? Do you have mixed emotions of nostalgia and sadness or does it mean all things cozy and wonderful?

Are you full of thanksgiving and gratitude or are you having a difficult time finding something to be thankful for?

As I mentioned above, some of the hardest times of my life were during the holidays, beginning with Thanksgiving. 

But as sure as I sit here today, I remember those were the times when God leaned in close and intimate, meeting me in the midst of my mess, filling me with gratitude that could only come from Him.

The Lord would always allow me to see someone else whose difficulties were worse than mine. I never had to look far to see someone whose struggles and hardships were far worse.

I read somewhere that making a gratitude list could have a thankful-snowball effect.

So I tried it.

I started with one simple thing. It snowballed from there. A sunny day. A roof over our heads. My kids. My job. Good friends and church family. Coffee. (Yes, coffee too)

You might feel like the things you should be thankful for, you're not. Don't pretend. Move on to that one simple thing for which you are grateful. 

Once I began my list I discovered I could keep going till the cows came home. (a southern expression)

This list was a mighty focus changer. All these little things I was thankful for I realized were provided by God. My greatest and most humble of all things I was thankful for was my salvation in Jesus Christ and personal relationship with Him.

Out of that would flow peace and comfort during the most difficult times. I’d end up awestruck at the goodness of God in my life no matter what my temporary circumstances were.

So what about you? Whether things are on the upside or you’re in a dark time, today is a great time to begin your list. Start with the simplest of things and go from there.

I'm going to start a new list. I really am. 

So grab a pen and a notebook and let’s get started.

May you discover the joy of a thankful heart. I pray God’s comfort and compassion overwhelm you as He turns your desert into a garden. And I pray joy and gladness are yours this coming Thanksgiving and beyond.

The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look 
with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts 
like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord
Joy and gladness will be found in her, 
thanksgiving and the sound of singing.
Isaiah 51:3

Staying the course with a thankful heart,


Monday, November 14, 2016

The Aftermath

It’s difficult to write a relative blog post in the aftermath of this past week. We’ve witnessed and experienced a historical event of epic proportions.

I confess, I’ve been distracted and enthralled by the events following the election of our next President of the United States.

I am humbly grateful to have the honor and privilege to be able to vote in this country and exercise my freedoms.

As the past week has unfolded, my focus is blurred. My attention is challenged by my attempts to ignore social media and restrain from commenting.

Some Americans’ hopes are dashed. Some are celebrating. Some are appalled and saddened while some feel a sense of relief and hope.

We’ve seen images of distraught young women, college students and adults running violently rampant throughout our cities.

This causes me to be deeply alarmed.

Those who place their hope in one person to solve the problems of our country, are setting themselves up for profound disillusionment and disappointment.

It’s like building your life’s foundation on top of quick sand. You never know when you’re going to sink down into the earth with no hope in sight.

The old hymn written by Edward Mote, The Solid Rock, comes to mind. We sang it in church this morning and I’ve been hearing it in my head all day.

The first verse of the song goes like this: 
My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood 
and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, 
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
The chorus continues:
On Christ, the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is 
sinking sand…all other ground is sinking sand.
This is where true peace and assurance that God is in control is found.

While standing firmly secure on this foundation, we are then able to pray for those who lead us, and trust Almighty God with the outcomes.

Will you stand with me on this foundation? As women in need, this is what we truly need. To be firmly and securely held by our Heavenly Father who has everything all worked out.

Will you trust the Lord Jesus Christ with me as we forge ahead with fresh determination to be all about God’s business while He tends to ours?

Will you pray with me for our newly elected President who has an exponential task set before him?

Will you work with me to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to all who will hear and become one of His own?

Now is the time to stay the course more than ever!


Monday, November 7, 2016

Doing, Building, Working: Is it all in vain?

Welcome friends, to this Monday's Marker. I'm late with my post this week and I apologize. I promise it's for good reason.

I'm a Nana again!! I now have three beautiful granddaughters. The newest one (Aubrey Elise) made her entrance last Wednesday afternoon. I was on toddler duty with her big sister, Sadie, who's two and half.

When I'm with Sadie, nothing else happens or gets done. I threw multi-tasking out the window a few years ago. All my writing, working or making phone calls goes to the to-do stack when I'm in Nana world, which I love.

While waiting for sweet Aubrey to arrive, my world outside of Nanahood kept spinning. Events beyond my control surfaced, such as:
  • The single parent ministry I founded lost its director. 
  • Important schedule conflicts surfaced on my calendar. 
  • An upcoming event at my house my husband and I host each year was happening in several days.
  • My "real" job still awaits, along with priority writing projects.
  • The head cold I'd been fighting all last week finally won.
I ended my week hitting a wall of fatigue. When I got home from my daughter's on Friday, I crashed, knowing Saturday was coming along with about 30 people for our event. Which is tons of fun and all good, but nevertheless required me to keep going.

When my head hit the pillow last night (Sunday) I had nothing prepared for today. I always have a blog scheduled for you to go live every Monday morning.

This morning when I got up, still nothing. I sat in a stupor before the Lord during my quiet time, somewhat overwhelmed with stinking thinking, a bad attitude and questioning why I do all that I do.

I struggle with over committment and have to be careful. But sometimes when I honestly inventory all I'm doing, I feel there's nothing I can let go.

When I begin feeling frustrated with God, asking, why He called me to do this thing or that thing, I know the issue is with me. There's something I can and must let go.

I rely on God's word and His spirit in me for guidance every morning. It's not because I'm such a devoted, godly woman, but because I need Him. I need His fellowship. I need Him to fill me up each day. This is the only way I roll.

I turned to my scheduled reading plan for the day and in Psalm 127:1-2, this is what I read:
Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor 
in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, 
the watchmen stand guard in vain. 
In vain you rise early and stay up late, 
toiling for food to eat for he grants sleep to those he loves.

I just love it when God does this!

So I asked Him, "Am I laboring in vain?"

I felt His gentle nudge and reminder about the wise woman.
The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands 
the foolish one tears hers down. Proverbs 14:1

"Lord, am I being a foolish woman?"

He reminded me that doing, building and working in vain is when you're doing it to people please, for appearances sake; or out of fear of man's rejection. It was as if He said, "just be careful." 

God cautioned me that I was headed in that direction...again. I immediately removed one small event off my plate that I knew wasn't necessary, even though it was good.

God's reminder also kept me from assuming a certain role with the single-parent ministry despite losing our director. 

The reality is there will always be a schedule conflict, requiring me to prioritize prayerfully. 

Do you struggle with over-committment? Do you feel that all you're doing is in vain and fruitless?  

When I'm seeking only to please my Heavenly Father, the frustration fades. I am fulfilled and fellowship with Him is sweet. When I seek to please only Him, He shoulders the responsibility of the outcome; not me.

If you're like I am and need to be careful to not overload yourself, be encouraged that God does not call us to "all these things." He calls us to Himself...first. 

Then all we do will be an overflow of His work in our life. 

Will you stay the course with me by pleasing Him only? 

Feel free to share in the comments below your experiences with over committment.