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Daffodils, Decluttering and Miss Piggy

“Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world.” Virgil A. Kraft

“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Romans 12:2

This week, the smell of spring flooded my senses as I took a walk in my neighborhood.  It was the smell of the rich brown earth awakening while new growth tried desperately to peek through.  Not only could I smell spring, but I could see small buds appearing on bushes, chirping birds flying in trees and daffodils peeping through the dirt.  While the sun was shining down, I instantly felt a bounce in my step, soaking in the signs of spring, breathing in the fragrant air.

Sunday School Art Work

Spring always delights me.  I love to see the world awaken from winter, the drab gray of earth’s landscape replaced with succulent green verdure.  I love to see tulips, daffodils and hyacinths blanket yards, nodding their heads to the sun.  I am enchanted with the music of the birds as they sing to each other, building nests and starting families.

As the earth is awakening from its slumber, I feel a need to declutter my home.  I take a long, hard look at all my stuff and attempt evaluate whether it is something I need or something I love.  Some of this stuff might be books that I read years ago, but no longer capture my interest.  Other items might be kitchen gadgets that have remained untouched for the last year, crowding my cupboards and drawers.  Still other items might be beloved objects that are broken.  They sit in a corner of a closet, with me secretly wishing they were still whole and beautiful.  Whatever the reasons, I make decisions resulting in parting with the items that are no longer beautiful or useful.  The items then find a new home, leaving my house forever.  At the end of the process I feel a weight has been lifted and a burden gone.

It seems so easy to declutter my home, but much more difficult to declutter my mind of habits and ways of thinking that take up space, hindering me in my walk with God.  These thoughts and habits race through my mind, crowding out thoughts that can bring me new life.  They can halt creativity or be a doorway for bitterness to develop.  Some of these thoughts can be deeply rooted patterns of thinking that don’t reflect God’s word and principles, keeping me from reaching my potential.

Photo Credit: Margaret Collins

This decluttering of the mind might seem a little philosophical to you, but let me make it a little more practical with you by sharing with you some of the examples that I have been wrestling with in my own mind.  One of the thoughts that has plagued me since first grade is that I am not an artistic person.  My art teacher, an old-school thinker, had definite ideas of what colors things should be.  I have always been drawn to vivid colors, hoping to brighten my world by adding splashes of color to objects like tree bark and houses.  She persistently critiqued my choice of colors and chided me on my techniques.  I felt defeated in art, never feeling like my art work measured up.  I have carried this with me into adulthood, forcing me to rely on others to help me carry out my creative vision for projects such as decorating my Sunday school room.

This past Christmas, I shared with my husband my desire to attempt drawing again.  He believed in me and bought me artist quality colored pencils and a sketch book.  Weekly, I have tried to spend time working on my skills, creating little pieces of art.  I am by no means saying that I have uncovered a talent that matches Michelangelo.  I would not even put myself in the same category of some of my dear friends.  Yet, I have found sketching to be relaxing and fulfilling.  I even managed to sketch some silhouettes for my Sunday school class.  Granted, my cows looked a little more like sheep, but overall, the items were better than just recognizable.

Skinny and Fat Cow Silhouettes for Sunday School

Another area cluttering my mind is more personal and relates to my self-image.  I have lost a considerable amount of weight, equal to a whole person.  Yet, for decades, I was the biggest person in the room, taking up the most space, trying to match the space with a big personality.  Although I have lost a lot of weight, I still perceive myself as the morbidly obese woman of a year and half ago.  I still find myself gravitating toward the plus-size clothing sections in stores, dismayed when the items are too big on me and even more reluctant to try on large or even extra-large.  I look in the mirror and don’t see the new me because I’m still burdened by this imaginary weight that no longer exists.  This imaginary weight represents negative messages I received from stepfather, who remarked how the ground shook when I walked into the room, or who compared me to Miss Piggy and followed it with pig sounds.  These messages clung to the fat that enclosed my body.  As I shed the fat, I need to shed those thoughts with scriptures from the Bible that remind me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  I need to memorize verses that remind me that even at my heaviest, God saw me as worthwhile, a person of value.

Every spring, my mother-in-law would assign Terry the dreaded chore of cleaning the thatch in the yard.  Terry would spend hours raking the dead grass into piles and bagging it up.  The clearing of the thatch seemed pointless to a ten-year-old boy, but his mom knew that removing the thatch would allow fresh green grass to carpet the yard.  In Romans 12:2, Paul tells us, “be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  The Greek word “anakainosis”, translated as “renewing”, can also be translated as “renovation” or “a complete change for the better”.  I need to rake up the thatch in my mind, to make room for thoughts that validate God’s presence in my life.

Photo Credit: Margaret Collins

Recently, Terry bought me a beautiful journal, decorated with florals and the word “Thrive” on the cover.  I have decided to use this journal for both goal-setting and reflections on cleaning up the clutter in my mind.  When I find myself burdened with thoughts that don’t reflect God’s word, I am going to write down what the proper perspective should be, and fill the page with  corresponding scriptures and prayers to help me renew my mind.  Just like getting rid of items in my house that are no longer useful or beautiful, I need to get rid of thoughts that are not helping grow in God.  In essence, I need to focus on Godly thoughts that help me “Thrive”!

Algebra II and Compassion

“And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, ” Mark 6:34

This past week, a friend of mine lost her sixteen-year-old niece in a car accident.  I didn’t know the niece or her parents, but I do know a few people who loved and cherished her.  I was struck by how the body of Christ immediately rallied around this family, providing support in the midst of a terrible tragedy.  Immediately, a meal train was set up through the end of April.  A “Go Fund Me” page was started, raising almost $15,000 in a matter of days, not necessarily for funeral expenses, but for whatever the family needed to help them through this tragedy.  In addition, this family was covered in prayer from all over.

I recognize that neither meals nor money will ever lessen the immense grief this family is experiencing.  No casserole dinner would ever soothe my intense heartache if my daughter was the one who had died.  That family would likely give all the money in the world to have their daughter back with them.  Yet, the meals and the money will give this family the time and freedom to work through their grief without having to worry about the mundane things of life.  Instead, they can focus on supporting one another, grieving, and moving toward healing.

This is a beautiful picture of the body of Christ in action: a group of believers coming together to offer whatever is needed to support one another.  They aren’t hesitating, or counting the cost, or evaluating if this is too much, but instead sacrificing time and resources to minister to a hurting family.  It isn’t just feeling compassion, but putting compassion into action!

In the Gospels, the Bible records five times where Jesus was moved by compassion to minister to others.  He didn’t just say, “I feel terrible for that man with the lame foot.”  He didn’t mutter to himself, “It’s awful how that person struggles with blindness.”  Instead, even when exhausted, he acted upon his compassion by healing and ministering to those in need.  Later, in John 21:25, it records that “there are also many other things Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.”  I like to visualize scriptures.  Having been to the Library of Congress, I always envision that every book filling the shelves in that grand building records just a small amount of the miracles Jesus did in his short ministry.  Can you imagine the amount of books it would take to record all the miracles he has done since then?  It’s staggering!

To be completely honest, I don’t always act upon my feelings of compassion.  Too often, I say, “That’s terrible, I’ll pray for you.”  Then I offer a short cursory prayer and move on.  Or I think about doing something more tangible, but after evaluating the time and the cost, I provide only the bare minimum of support.  Even worse, I sometimes feel prompted to do something simple, yet neglect to follow through with the activity.

This past summer, I failed, once again, to act upon my feelings of compassion.  I was chatting with my uncle about an Algebra II teacher we both had had.  This teacher, Mr. Roeber, was famous for his mantra, “There are only three certain things in life: death, taxes, and Algebra II assignments.”  He was an excellent teacher who treated students fairly, did his best to explain hard concepts effectively, and challenged you to do your best.  Personally, for one month, he took the time to tutor me for half an hour before school in order to help me be successful in his class.  As much as imaginary numbers eluded me, he helped me understand how to use them and apply them in mathematical formulas.  This tutoring helped me not only pass the class, but to pass it with a “B”.  After the conversation with my uncle, I felt prompted to send Mr. Roeber a thank-you card.  I took a picture of his address in the phone book with the goal in mind to send a card when I returned home.

Then I forgot…. until my sister sent me a message that Mr. Roeber had passed away this past December.  I felt terrible and knew that there was no way to resolve the situation, but send an online condolence.  Somehow, this didn’t seem to rectify the situation.  The reality is that the card wouldn’t have cost me much, just a few dollars and time.  Yet, I let the cares of my life take precedence over a momentary moment of compassion.  I could justify it by saying that he might not have remembered me knowing he had a lot of Algebra II students over the course of his teaching career.  On the flipside, maybe that card would have given him just a few moments of satisfaction knowing he had made a difference in the life of one of his students.

I will never know because I didn’t act upon my compassion.  This may seem insignificant to many, but to me it was a warning.  I felt the Lord had admonished me by saying, “What if I had forgotten to show you compassion in your times of need?”  I knew that I needed to repent.  Repentance seems like such an ugly, old fashioned word, but the reality is when we violate God’s principles, we need to tell God we are sorry for this violation and resolve, with His help, to do better.

Some of my resolutions have included making sure I respond immediately in those moments of compassion.  Sometimes, it is a simple act of sending a text encouraging someone.  Other times, it is taking a few moments to write and send a card.  Still other times, it is making time in my schedule to proactively think about ways I can minister to someone in need.

I also determined to make sure that I have the tools needed to carry out my acts of compassion.  I have a stack of blank cards that can be used to write a short note of encouragement to someone.  I also make sure I have stamps available.  I keep staples in my pantry, so that if needed, I can quickly put a meal together for someone in need.  I also am keeping a prayer journal, containing names of people and situations, so that I can spend some quality time lifting up those needs in prayer.

I’ve been blessed by others with many acts of compassion, but, more importantly, I have been comforted by God in times of need.  He has given me peace and hope, and healed me of various heartaches.  He has used others to minister to me with cards, meals, visits and, in some cases, anonymous financial blessings.  In 2 Corinthians 2:3-4, Paul says, “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort.  Who comforteth us in all tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” If God takes the time to orchestrate acts of compassion in my life, the least I can do is follow through with ministering to others when I am moved by compassion. And prayerfully, I will no longer have phone calls that leave me with regrets.

Cinnamon Toast and a Legacy

“A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children.” Proverbs 13:22

This past week marks the second anniversary of the passing of my dear mother-in-law, Jane.  I was never a person who remembered someone’s death anniversary, instead choosing to remember them on their birthdays, celebrating their lives on that important day.  But for some reason, my mother-in-law’s death has hit me differently.  It could be that Facebook reminds me with pictorial memories of the last visit we had with her in January, 2018.  We drove to Texas and spent four days soaking up her presence, trying to cherish every second, knowing that this would be our last visit.  We took family pictures at church, the last family pictures we would ever have with her.  It could also be that I feel a responsibility to pray harder for my father-in-law, my husband and the rest of the family, knowing that this day will be rough for them.  Even though I think these things are part of why I remember her death anniversary, I think it is so much more.  It’s an unpleasant reminder to me of what has transpired in the last two years; celebrations, accomplishments, and heartaches, for all of which she has been absent.

Jane loved her family fiercely and protectively.  More importantly, in the last fifteen years, she became the family prayer warrior, often spending hours on her knees interceding on behalf of her family.  She prayed that all of her children would grow in God, develop strong personal relationships with the Lord, and be Godly leaders in their homes.  She prayed that her children would have strong families.  She prayed over each of her grandchildren, calling them by name, that they would grow in God, be anchored in His word, and be used in the kingdom.  She prayed for hours, not simple words, but powerful prayers connecting with God, prayers that have blessed our family and left a Godly heritage.

She was also my confidant and cheerleader.  If I was concerned about a situation in our lives, she would encourage me by reminding me that God was in control.  She would then tell me that she was going to add this concern to her daily prayer list.  I knew she meant it.  I also called her when there was good news, and hearing her rejoice with the words, “Thank you, Jesus,” was the icing on the cake!

Yet, for two years, I haven’t been able to call her.  I couldn’t call her to tell her that the law firm that Terry worked for closed down, yet within a few months, God opened the door for another job that was better.  She would have rejoiced knowing that Terry is in touch with some cousins from his father’s side of the family, helping him to connect to his roots.  She would have been proud to know that Terry has stepped outside of his comfort zone and is directing an Easter passion play in our church.

I wasn’t able to sit with her at Ethan’s and Rachel’s wedding, hear her remark on the beautiful wedding ceremony and what an incredible wife Rachel was going to be.  I wasn’t able to share with her the link to Ethan’s church, so she could listen to some of the messages that he has preached.  I wasn’t able to celebrate with her over the news that she was going to be a great-grandmother to Ethan’s and Rachel’s baby.  I knew that she could no longer pray blessings over this little one’s arrival in July.

I wasn’t able to tell her that Maggie was successfully completing nursing school, with a little over a semester and half to go.  I couldn’t express to her about Maggie’s compassionate desire to help patients.  I couldn’t ask her to pray for Maggie when she had her car accident, or when she broke her wrist.  I couldn’t convey that her prayers for Maggie’s future were being fulfilled as I watch Maggie’s and Will’s friendship unfold into a lasting significant relationship in her life.

I couldn’t share with her my burden to start a blog, or ask her to pray with me that I might reach others.  I couldn’t discuss with her what I have learned on my journey for better health.  I couldn’t ask her to pray that God would anoint my words as I write a book on restoration, a book that she would have passionately supported.

Seven hundred and thirty days does not seem like many days, especially since I have been a part of Jane’s family for almost 25 years.  Yet, as each day passes, life continues on.  Unfortunately, when you lose someone you love, it continues without that person sharing those precious moments with you.  Yet, in these seven hundred and thirty days, I have learned that a person’s legacy continues on if you embrace what their lives stood for.

Jane loved God and her family unconditionally.  I can carry on her legacy by loving God and my family unconditionally, extending mercy rather than judgement.  Jane rejoiced in victories and kept those moments as monuments to God’s faithfulness in her life.  Like everyone, she had struggles, but whenever she got discouraged she would recall that God had never failed her.  She would remind everyone of all the times God had seen her through tough spots.  She kept holding on to God’s promises.  I can carry on her legacy by marking moments in my life where God has given me a victory.  I can remember when I face a new trial, that God’s promises are true and that He is working this out for my good.

Jane cherished the time she spent creating memories with her grandchildren.  My children still talk about her famous cinnamon toast that I can’t successfully recreate.  I can’t seem to slather the white bread with enough butter, or cover it with the correct sugar/cinnamon ratio.  She made every visit special by focusing on them and listening to their stories, showering them with attention and love.  I can carry on her legacy with my grandchildren, lavishing them with attention and love, and creating my own “cinnamon toast” memories.

Lastly, Jane prayed and spent time in God’s word.  She prayed about everything.  I need to learn to pray like she did and be willing to sacrifice my time to commune with God.  I need to call on God, like she did, for my future grandchildren.  Only God knows the true legacy of her prayers, how they might have protected us from danger or poor choices.  I can carry on her legacy for my family by investing time in prayer, not simple words, but prayers of blessings and protection.

The spring after my mother-in-law passed, my husband planted some trees in our yard.  We found a beautiful flowering magnolia tree.  When we looked at the tag and read that this particular tree was classified as a “Jane Magnolia”, we felt as if God was gently assuring us that she would always be with us.  We planted the tree, and it has continued to grow and thrive.  In many ways, this tree is a memorial to me that, although she is gone, I need to carry on her legacy.  I need to continue to grow and thrive like the magnolia tree.

Jane has been gone for over 730 days now, but if I serve God as faithfully as she did, I can spend eternity with her.  I can hear her southern accent come out when she says, “Thank you, Jesus”, while joy floods her face as she watches her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren enter into heaven for eternity.  Her legacy will continue on if I learn by her life’s examples

Candy Hearts and Real Love

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love, But the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I had a sudden desire to buy a box of conversation hearts, feeling a bit nostalgic for the candy hearts with short “poetic” messages stamped in edible ink.  In grade school, it was guaranteed that one of your classmates would include these with their cards during the Valentine exchange party.  Romantic notions filled my head as I imagined the cute boy in my class purposely picking out for me the heart that said “I LUV U”.  As you can guess, I had an overactive imagination.  Fortunately, reality has set in over the last forty years.  After basking in my nostalgia and imagining placing a heart in my mouth, I vividly recalled the hearts having a flavor that was a combination of Bayer aspirin and chalk, and an aftertaste like envelope adhesive.  The memory of the repugnant flavor erased all sentiment, eliminating the desire to buy the box.  I have similar urges to buy Candy Corn each fall and Robin’s Eggs each Easter, usually resulting in similar conclusions.

I did end up buying the hearts for a picture and they do taste exactly like I remember.

Upon reflection, my conversation heart fickleness seemed eerily similar to how I treat Valentine’s Day and, more importantly, my husband.  Like most women, I love for my husband to spoil me on that day, with flowers and chocolate and a special card.  Besides being spoiled, I also like to pamper my husband, making him his favorite steak dinner, with baked potato and a gooey chocolate dessert.  After all, they say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach!

Yet, the thought plagued me.  Do I often treat my husband like the conversation hearts?  Do I spend a few days being nostalgic about our marriage, basking in my memories, but then get the awful “aftertaste” of disappointment in my heart when he doesn’t meet my expectations?  Do I send a quick text saying “I love you”, but get annoyed with him when he doesn’t take out the trash?  Do I imagine the perfect Valentine’s Day date, but get disappointed when the date doesn’t meet my romantic notions?

I am human, and often my answers to these question have been “yes”.  Yet, if I really want to be the honoring, loving wife for Terry that God wants me to be, I need to examine what God says about love in the famous love chapter of 1 Corinthians 13.  So please bear with me as I translate it into Sherry vernacular in relation to my husband.  Maybe you can relate…

1.  If I speak eloquently and with all poetic finesse expressing myself like the inside of a Hallmark card, but do not love my husband, I sound like pots and pans clattering on my kitchen floor.

2.  If I can predict when my husband is about to make a bad decision and have read all books on marriage and have a tremendous amount of conviction and do not love my husband, I am nothing.

3.  If I am constantly helping my neighbors and serving in church to the point I am exhausted, but give my husband all my leftovers, I am nothing.

4. I love my husband by being patient when he is still hasn’t finished my honey-do-list.  I love my husband by showing kindness when I’m irritable.  I love my husband by not being envious of what others have; making his contributions seem worthless.  I do not boast about my own strengths in my marriage and am humble enough to admit my faults.

5. Love does not dishonor my husband by complaining about him in front of my friends.  Loving my husband means I don’t manipulate circumstances to get my own way.  Love is not easily irritated by minor mistakes my husband makes.  Love is not bringing up his past wrongs when dealing with a current issue.

6.  Love does not relish when I am right and he is wrong, instead I love my husband by measuring my marriage to the Word of God, always allowing God to convict me of my own sin.

7.  Love is always protecting my husband’s honor by showing him respect.  Love always trusts that my husband will bless our family with the gifts God has given instead nagging him to fit my mold of what a good husband should be.  Love always hopes that in times of adversity, we will remain together, building our future.  Love always perseveres, never giving up when things seem hard.

8.  Love never fails.  This doesn’t mean I won’t fail or that Terry won’t fail, but that despite our personal failures, I will love my husband through the trial and stay committed to our marriage. I know that he is committed to us, and that he loves me and will continue to love me through my many failures.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Terry!  You are so much better than the conversation hearts!!!!

Wisconsin, Hygge and Loneliness

“So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”

2 Corinthians 4:18

               I’m a proud Wisconsinite.  Yes, I have lived in Pennsylvania for nine years, but when people ask me where I am from, without hesitation, I say, “Wisconsin!”  My accent is still strong, using long a’s in words like bag and wagon.  I love cheese and still cheer for Wisconsin sports teams.  I proudly talk about my Wisconsin heritage and still listen to talk radio based out of Milwaukee.  I miss the lake that looks like an ocean, Sheboygan hard rolls, good pizza, and my family and friends.

               One thing I don’t miss about Wisconsin is the long winters.  Winter in Wisconsin starts in October and lingers through the end of April, with an occasional snow flurry in May.  Dirty snow banks line the sidewalks, obstructing views, and treacherous potholes cover the roads.  And then there is the cold so bitter that runny noses freeze upon contact with the air, leaving slushy residue in your nose.  If your eyes would happen to water while standing outside, your eyelashes would stick together with frozen ice crystals.  Add to that the dark, cloudy skies and short days that left me sun-deprived and dreaming of eating citrus on a warm beach.

               Like many people, I struggle when I’m in the doldrums of winter.  I feel more lethargic and depressed, debating whether or not I should stay in pajamas all day.  Moving to Pennsylvania, where winter is shorter has definitely helped, but I still struggled and often felt depressed in the middle of January.

Creating Hygge in my home. Photo credit Margaret Collins

               That is until I had a change of perspective!  That change occurred when I discovered the Danish concept of Hygge (pronounced HOO-gah).  This little word has a big meaning and is hard to translate into English.  It means coziness, comfort, togetherness, and warmth.   It can be used as a noun, an adjective or a verb.  Denmark is land where winter prevails even more than in Wisconsin, with colder temperatures and darker days.  Yet, research has shown that the Danish people are some of the happiest people in the world!  How does this paradox exist?

               The Danes would explain this paradox by how they embrace the concept of Hygge in all areas of their life, from decorating their homes to preparing their food.  They hoard piles of warm woolen throws, create ambience in their living spaces with candles and soft lights, eat steaming bowls of soup, and embrace the art of conversation with friends.  They take walks in the cold, bundled up and grasping what little sunshine reaches their corner of the world, then come home to a cup of hot coffee or tea.  They decorate their homes with plants and wooden accents, trying to bring as much of the natural world inside as possible.  They don’t hibernate during winter, separating themselves from the outside world.  Instead, they create opportunities for fellowship and camaraderie.

Dark Chocolate, coffee and fuzzy ottomans= Hygge. Photo Credit Margaret Collins

               As soon as I heard about this concept, I created the usual Pinterest board and checked out a book about Hygge from the library.  I started to look at ways I could create a warmer ambience in my home.  I purchased plants, and made excuses to add to my fuzzy throw addiction.  More importantly, I started to think of ways I could enjoy the winter.  I made hearty stews and embraced the produce of the season in my desserts.  I looked forward to snowbound days, breaking out puzzles or games, and sharing quotes and ideas from books we are reading.  Homemade hot chocolate became a regular menu item, no longer limited to Christmas.  I even decided to bundle up on cold, sunny days and take a short walk in my neighborhood.  Soon, I started looking forward to winter: a chance to wear fuzzy slippers and burn candles.  This perspective boosted my morale and has made January seem less oppressive.

               It shouldn’t have surprised me that God would use a change of perspective to help me deal with another issue in my life: loneliness.  For the last few years, I have struggled with feeling lonely.  Not many people were aware of this struggle, in social settings I would wear a happy face and interact with others positively.  Yet, I often would return home, feeling dejected and not connected to others.  I felt myself turning inward, and for a strong extrovert, that is a scary place to be!  It became apparent to me when I returned to Wisconsin for a visit, laughing and talking loudly with my life-long friends while desperately soaking up conversations to recharge my soul, that this feeling of loneliness was consuming me.  I returned home in a deeper funk, wanting to escape my social circles and stay in pajamas.  And then God changed my perspective.

               Our Assistant Pastor preached a phenomenal message about the words Jesus used while he was on the cross.  In Jesus’ greatest trial, He gave us an example by His words, of how to handle trials.  I’m not even going to attempt to paraphrase his message, because I won’t do it justice.  One thing that stood out to me was that Jesus, while in the throes of agony and slowly dying on the cross, was concerned about his family, asking John to take care of his mother.  He chose to show kindness for others despite his circumstance.  This message, along with studying God’s word, woke me up from my slumber of loneliness.

               God started challenging me with thoughts, such as maybe God allowed me to be lonely so that I could be more sensitive to others.  Just maybe, others in my social circle were also feeling the same way.  And, just maybe, instead of wallowing in my feeling of rejection, I needed to reach out to others and be a voice of encouragement in their lives.

               I started sending text messages to others, letting them know I was praying for them.  I focused on being present in social settings, asking others how things were going in their lives, and truly listening instead of waiting for an opportunity to share my story. I started spending more time praying for people and asking God to bless them.  I looked for opportunities to have fellowship in my home, inviting others into my circle.  I also started a gratitude journal, focusing on the blessings I already have in the area of friendship.

               My perspective didn’t change overnight, but slowly things became clearer.  Soon, I felt God lifting my loneliness and turning it into joy.  I was focusing less on myself and more on ministering to others.  My external circumstances may not have changed, but God was doing a work inside me.  I like the quote from Tim Keller, “I do not think more of myself or less of myself.  Instead, I think of myself less.”  When I was wallowing in my loneliness, which was a legitimate feeling, I was more focused on myself, thinking of myself as being less in other people’s eyes.  Yet this legitimate feeling, if not dealt with, can lead down a path of bitterness and constant frustration.  This is not the place where God wants me to dwell.  Paul says it best when he challenges the church in 2 Corinthians 4:18, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”  In the scheme of my life, this season of loneliness is temporary.  I am a blessed woman, with a rich group of supportive friends.  Since I have a firm foundation, God used this temporary season to challenge me to think of myself less and of others more!  I just needed a God-sent Hygge change of perspective to lift me out of my doldrums and focus on what is eternal!

Photo Credit by Margaret Collins


“….Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

Hebrews 12:1

I have been a Sunday School teacher for almost 25 years, minus a few breaks.  I have taught all different ages, from toddlers to teens and everything in between.  It’s definitely been a learning curve and I am thankful for parents and pastors who have allowed me the opportunity.  I have had some incredible moments, such as when one young man convinced others in our class to be baptized, resulting in three of my class being baptized in Jesus’ name!  I also have had some epic fails; the Flying Marshmallows of 2014 tops that list!

You might ask, what do flying marshmallows have to do with teaching children about Jesus?  I’ll be honest, I don’t even remember what truth I was trying to illustrate with that activity!  The memory causes me to wince and I still shudder internally if I see marshmallows in a Sunday School room.  The gist of the activity was that the kids were divided into two teams, each with a pile of marshmallows.  They were given two minutes, throwing marshmallows across an imaginary line toward the other team, and when time was up whichever team had the least amount of marshmallows on their side of the line won!  Sounds like fun, right, and what eight-year-old wouldn’t love to throw marshmallows in Sunday School?  It was fun, until I realized that two minutes resulted in a 45-minute cleanup for me and my teenaged son, who was drafted to scrape marshmallow residue off the floor!

The original activity called for the use of ping pong balls, but in my “better judgement” I thought that marshmallows would be safer and a good use of the stale ones left over from a bonfire.  I didn’t account for a bunch of elementary children running like chickens being chased by a fox, leaving squished marshmallow goo all over the floor.  Since kids tend to wear shoes to Sunday School, it also meant the sticky residue was being tramped through the sanctuary as they left church!  Obviously, I didn’t plan for all the potential pitfalls of substituting marshmallows for ping pong balls!

When I told Terry about what happened, he looked at me in disbelief!  You need to understand that in our marriage, I am the idea person and he is the detail person.  I come up with grandiose plans, share my vision with him, and then leave him to figure out the details and make it happen!  He quietly admonished me with these words “Honey, next time you get an idea to adapt a game in Sunday School, please run it by me.  I might be able to see some possible problems.”

Knowing my tendency not to focus on details, when God convicted me to start this healthy living journey and to deal with my food addiction, I knew that I had to be more focused in this area.  In order to grow and change lifelong habits, I needed to set some goals, find ways to keep track of my goals and be introspective on the journey.  Starting off, I needed to set small, achievable goals, be honest with my heart in the process, and make sure that I was focused on pleasing God and not others.

I am going to share with you some strategies that have worked well for me.  These are specific strategies that I have applied to my journey, but if you are trying to break a food addiction, or any other habit that you need to change, these are general truths that can be applied in any area.   My prayer is that this list is a blessing to you, and also an encouragement for you to start your own journey.

1.  START TODAY BY STARTING SMALL: I shared in an earlier blog that I felt prompted from the Lord one morning to make some changes.  I didn’t change everything at once.  The first thing I did was download a tracking app to record what I was currently eating.  I also set a small goal on the app.  My first goal was to lose 25 lbs.  Slowly, but consistently, I incorporated healthier options into my daily menus by increasing vegetables and fruits, choosing healthier fats and reducing simple carbohydrates.  For example, I used to eat bagels dripping with melted butter for breakfast.  When I realized that bagels were loaded with calories that provided little nutritional value, it was easy for me to swap them out for scrambled eggs or oatmeal.

2.  MOVE AND KEEP MOVING: In the beginning, I was extremely out of shape.  I started by just moving a little more each day in my home.  I stopped using my downstairs bathroom, instead choosing to climb the stairs to the master bath on the second floor.  I stopped looking for a close parking spot, but chose to walk from the back of the lot.  Within a few months, I joined the gym.  My first attempt on the treadmill might seem pitiful to some, but I was happy with my ten minutes at 2.5 miles per hour.  I attempted to go at least three times a week and made it a priority in my schedule.  As I continued to go, I increased my level of activity and even tried new machines.  I now go 4-6 times a week for about an hour.  Find a way to move and make it a priority!

3.  LISTEN TO YOUR BODY, RECOGNIZE WHEN YOU’RE FULL AND SATISFIED: You cannot be as overweight as I was and be self-aware of your eating habits.  I was used to stuffing myself and then some.  I had to learn to listen to my body and stop before I was stuffed.  This was a trial-and-error process where I still have room to grow.  I have learned that certain foods fill me up more quickly.  I have learned that if I choose to have dessert at a restaurant, I have a tendency to eat the whole dessert, so it is better for me to share the dessert with my husband or ask for a to-go box, right away.

4.  BE DISCERNING ABOUT WHAT GOES IN YOUR MOUTH: This may sound odd, but follow along with me.  Many times, I found myself eating food because it was a habit to stick food in my mouth, without paying attention to whether or not I really liked it.  I don’t really like chocolate chip cookies, unless they are made with Lindt chocolate chips and are hot from the oven.  I had to discern that fact, and not eat the Nestle Tollhouse cookies just because they were available.  I have also decided, I don’t love French fries in abundance.  I enjoy a few off my husband’s plate, but don’t need to eat a whole serving.

5.  PICK A PLAN THAT WORKS FOR YOU AND DON’T BE SANCTIMOUNIOUS ABOUT IT: Every one of us is created uniquely by God, with different likes and dislikes.  It follows that each of us need to make an educated decision on what healthy plan we are going to incorporate for ourselves for the rest of our lives.  Many overweight people have made the decision to have some sort of surgery to help them in their weight loss.  Others have done a Keto diet or have gone gluten free.  Personally, I have chosen to count calories through an app.  Whatever decision you make, make sure it is a sustainable plan for the rest of YOUR life.  I try to encourage others in their journey, listen to their choices, and not judge them for those choices.

6.  BE HONEST: This has been the hardest strategy to employ.  Some days I make poor choices despite my resolve to be healthy.  I try not to live in condemnation, but confess my weakness to God, analyze why I made that choice, and resolve to do better the next time.  For example, for a long time I was eating my whole meal or at least a large portion of it when I would go out to a favorite restaurant.  I justified it by all sorts of erroneous thoughts: the leftovers would be wasted, and then I wasn’t being a good steward with my money.  The truth was that I had little control when a large portion of food that I loved was set before me.  Now, I try to plan ahead, bringing a small cooler bag for the leftovers, or just leaving the leftovers at the restaurant.  I also try to cut the portion in half before I even start eating and focus on my conversation with my family and friends.  Am I perfect in this area?  No, but I’m honest with myself about my limitations and that I am still in need of God’s help!

7.  CELEBRATE VICTORIES BY GIVING THE GLORY TO GOD: This is another toughprinciple where it is hard to be transparent.  Last March or so, I made a Facebook post showing before-and-after pictures.  I have to admit I read every comment and zealously clicked to see who of my social media world liked my post.  And then I made room for the enemy of my soul to whisper words of criticism and doubt, creating pride and resentment.  I started wondering why certain people didn’t “like” my post.  I then started to wonder why certain people in my daily circle never made comments to me about my weight loss, or why they never complimented me on my new outfits.  God has been dealing with me in this area.  First of all, it may appear on the outside that I have a certain level of self-discipline.  Yet, I am made of flesh with the same propensity for addictions as others.  On a daily basis, I am asking God to make me more self-aware, so my victories in this journey are rooted in my relationship with God.  When I am seeking attention and accolades for myself, it becomes less about God and more about me.  There is nothing wrong with me sharing some victories, as long as I am pointing people back to the God who has strengthened me on this journey.  Also, if I speculate why others are not complimenting me, I am judging them and focusing on myself.  Now, when I post pictures, I have to be honest about my intentions. 

Today’s intention is to be a source of encouragement and to point people back to God. I am in no way done with this journey.  In the future, I will continue to blog about areas where I am growing and learning.  It is a journey and not a destination.  When I get discouraged, I am reminded of the words in Hebrews 12:1, “let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”  The verse talks about laying aside every weight and sin that easily besets us.  I am examining every area of my life and not only literally, but figuratively, laying aside weight that has controlled me in the past

Chocolate Smears and Honesty

“Sanctify them by truth: your word is truth” John 17:17

A few years ago, a toddler under my care snuck a piece of candy, hiding in the kitchen to devour the stolen treasure.  I came into the room and saw chocolate drool dripping down his face, while one fist was clenched tightly behind his back.  I spoke to him softly, asking what he had been doing.  He replied “Miss Ferry (his affectionate nickname for me), I’m just sitting here, doing nothing!”  I asked him what was on his face, and again he denied anything as he attempted to wipe away the smear.  I then asked to see his hand, he quickly dropped the foil wrapper to the floor and showed me his empty hand.  I reached behind him and picked up the wrapper, confronting him with the truth.  Even with all of the evidence before him, he still attempted to deny that he had taken the piece of candy.  After a timeout, he approached me and sorrowfully admitted what I had recognized all along.

We all hear that story and giggle at the toddler’s feeble attempt to avoid the truth.  If we were sitting around a table, I am sure we could all share similar stories of different children in different places.  Children have a knack for avoiding obvious truths despite chocolate smears, broken glass or crying siblings.  We laugh at these stories and marvel at their senselessness.  Yet, as a sophisticated and supposedly wise adult, I too have made equally feeble attempts to avoid the truth, denying to myself facts that I don’t want to face, and appearing just as foolish!

I could’ve started today’s blog telling you that I am down 138 lbs., my lowest in this journey.  I could go on to tell you that I am only 6 lbs. away from my lowest weight ever as an adult.  I could also tell you that I finally moved out of the morbidly obese category that has plagued me for decades.  All of this would be true, and if I continued to list more non-scale victories, I would get a lot of accolades, puffing out my chest in pride, allowing me to continue my journey without introspection.

However, these victories don’t reflect all of the truth about this journey.  Sometimes, I’m still the toddler with the chocolate-smeared face hiding the candy wrapper behind my back.  Today’s scale victory can be seen as an accomplishment because it’s a two-lb. loss from my previously recorded weight.  What it doesn’t tell you is that since November, I have yo-yoed, going up as much as ten pounds.  Furthermore, the last thirty pounds lost have been slower than I would prefer, leaving me occasionally frustrated.

Picture of me with Hershey Chocolate smears!

I could continue to be the toddler, dropping the wrapper on the floor, if I chose to rely on some research I found about holiday weight gain.  According to the research, the concept of holiday weight gain is somewhat false.  Typically, the average person gains 1-2 lbs. during the holidays.  Often, our higher numbers indicate that we are consuming foods with higher amounts of sugar and starch, leading to water retention and bloating.  We also tend to sleep less during the holidays, which can also increase our scale numbers.  I could also attribute the weight gain to the rheumatoid arthritis inflammation that was evident in my body during the holidays, probably due to an increased sugar intake.

These facts may soothe my battered ego, erasing the scale reading from my memory and allowing me to move into January with renewed hope and a fresh start.  Yet, have I really learned anything about myself if I just hide behind research and my RA condition?  Am I really being honest with myself about my relationship with food?  Or am I just trying to find erroneous facts to support my cozy little scenario so I don’t have to be honest?

This denial reminds me of the Biblical story of Rachel stealing her father’s household idols and hiding them in her tent.  Rachel was justifiably upset that she was leaving behind her father and any inheritance due her.  In researching this text, we have no definitive answers as to why she took the idols.  Is it possible that maybe Rachel was not trusting God for her future?  Rachel’s father searched her tent, but because she had so cleverly hidden the idols, he left humiliated because of his apparently false accusation.  Until this year, I had always thought that Rachel had shrewdly gotten away with her sin without obvious consequence.  However, in rereading this passage, a portion of this story jumped out at me.  Before the search began, Jacob had declared in Genesis 31:32, “With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live.”  It’s interesting that shortly after this incident, we find that Rachel dies after giving birth to her second child.  Is it possible that her death was related to the stolen idols? This child should have been a blessing confirming that God had heard her earlier pleas.  She had begged her husband to give her more children, not just a single child.  But upon her death, rather than blessing her newborn son, she names him, Benoni, which means “son of my sorrow”.

The hidden idols may have been a symptom of a deeper problem in Rachel’s life.  She wasn’t just hiding idols, she wasn’t trusting God to provide properly for her life.  She trusted her own abilities and schemed to protect her life in a way that may have led to her death!

If I relate Rachel’s deeper issues to my weight struggles, not only in these last two months, but for all of my adult life, I instantly feel like my toe has been stubbed, and I cry out, “Ouch!”  I, too, have hidden behind my extra poundage to avoid trusting God completely in my life.  I have tried to lose weight by my own self-discipline and sought validation from external sources.  I have used pizza, burgers and bagels, which never truly satisfy, to fill my emptiness, instead of relying on God, who always satisfies.  I have made excuses for my weight issues, instead of acknowledging that this was an area where God was desperately trying to get my attention.  I honestly believe if I had continued on the path I was on 138 lbs. ago, like Rachel, I would have also died an early death due to subsequent health issues, never allowing God to sanctify me the way He wanted to by drawing me into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him.

These pounds signify more than just numbers and categories; they represent a journey of self-discovery between me and God.  It’s rooting out the causes of my excessive overeating since childhood, stuffing food into my mouth as a way to self-medicate, numbing myself to the pain.  It’s looking at a holiday weight gain and being honest with myself and God about what areas I still need to work on.  I love what Asheritah Ciucicu says in her book, “Full: Food, Jesus, and the Battle for Satisfaction”: “victory comes as part of a journey made of small daily steps toward God.”

I would like to say that my thoughts are original, but I am not that wise or self-aware.  A lot of these revelations I have learned through reading the Bible and applying some of Mrs. Ciuciu’s thoughts.  Again, I echo what she says: “The goal of overcoming food fixation is not to lose weight-it is to bring glory to God through our transformation.”  Not only do I look like a different person from 138 lbs. ago, I am a different person on the inside, as well, prayerfully reflecting more of Jesus, daily!

Tea, Honey, and Lukewarm Pizza

How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!

Psalms 119:103

I am a coffee drinker: hot, iced or cold brewed.  I love to explore small coffee shops when we travel and try their signature drinks.  Yet, in my attempts to be more cultured, I’ve been trying to cultivate a love for tea as well.  My husband bought me a cheery yellow teapot that sings when the water is ready.  I found a delicate cup to drink my tea from and even purchased a tea ball for lose-leaf tea.  Despite these purchases, my tea appreciation has never topped my love for coffee, but I have discovered that fruity herbal teas, spicy black teas and refreshing peppermint teas have their place in my life, especially during the mid-afternoon slump.  Furthermore, although sugar cubes are dainty and charming, my preferred method of sweetening tea is honey.

Honey, that rich gooey substance, has always been one of my favorite sweeteners.  As a child, I would watch my grandfather pour Grape Nuts cereal into a bowl and spoon honey over it, discovering this was the only way to eat Grape Nuts!  Many years ago, I shared the love of honey with my children by exploring a local honey museum in Wisconsin.  We learned that God created bees with a desire for nectar.  This love for nectar is what helped pollinate lots of our favorite plants, and the busy bees turned the nectar into honey.  We learned that the honeycomb design of a bee hive was a masterpiece of design, yielding the most amount of honey per square inch.  We learned that local honey helps reduce allergies and is the best substance to stop a cough.  We saw the bees inside a hive actively working to produce honey.  Sampling different honeys, such as wildflower, clover and buckwheat honey, delighted our taste buds, leaving a desire for more.  We left the museum with honey sticks and jars in hand, planning to savor the sweetness at home.

Photograph taken by Margaret Collins

This morning, in my daily devotional time I read a quote by Puritan Thomas Brooks.  He said, “Remember, it is not hasty reading but serious meditating upon holy and heavenly truths that makes them prove sweet and profitable to the soul.  It is not the bee’s touching of the flower that gathers honey, but her abiding for a time upon the flower that draws out the sweet.  It is not he that reads most, but he that meditates most, that will prove the choicest, sweetest, wisest and strongest Christian.”  I know this is a long quote, but friend, reread it again.  Let it soak into your thoughts and reflect on what it is saying.  The quote sparked contemplation in me and I was inspired me to record it in my journal.

The first word that jumped out at me was the word “hasty”.  For years, I’ve been attempting to read, aka conquer, the whole Bible in a year.  Too often, it’s a check mark that I make, another goal accomplished, and I move on to the next task in my so-called spiritual discipline.  This quote made me ponder, am I hastily reading my Bible, or am I spending time in God’s word, letting it speak and minister to me?  Do I sit and meditate on what God is trying to say as I read the account of his creation, or am I already thinking about my next task?  Is God’s word really sweet to me, or is it the kale I choke down because I know it’s good for me?

These are hard questions to answer and the truth is somewhere in between.  This “in between” really signifies a “maybe”, akin to lukewarm leftover pizza.  I like pizza, hot out of the oven, or cold right out of the refrigerator, but never lukewarm!  Pizza that’s lukewarm has the cheese congealing in an unappealing manner, the sauce tastes tepid and the sausage loses flavor at room temperature.  It’s also the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive.  I have no desire to incur the wrath of salmonella from lukewarm pizza.

It’s interesting to me that God says in Revelation 3:16 “So then because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”  The word translated as “spue” is Greek for “vomit”.  God doesn’t want us to be lukewarm, because it’s the perfect breeding ground for apathy, bitterness, sin and complacency to thrive in.  When we are lukewarm, he needs to vomit us out in order for the kingdom to thrive.

I don’t know about you, but I hate vomit, bacteria and any microorganisms that are going to wreak havoc on me or my loved ones.  What I hate even more is the image of God vomiting me out because I’m lukewarm in my faith, having made my Bible reading an item on a checklist.  I don’t want my answers to the hard questions to be “maybe”.  Instead I want to make a commitment to “meditate on holy and heavenly truths.”

The second part that really jumped out on me was the part that says, “it’s not a bee’s touching a flower that gathers the honey, but her abiding for a time upon the flower that draws out the sweet.”  A bee spends a good deal of its’ day gathering nectar.  According to the Apex Bee Company, one bee visits 50-100 flowers during each collection trip and can harvest several thousand flowers in a day, making twelve or more trips gathering pollen and nectar.  They can’t just touch the flower, the bee has to suck up all the nectar it can with its proboscis.  The bee diligently spends time and effort in performing its task.  Despite all its work, in a bee’s short life span, it ends up making only 1 ½ teaspoons of honey.

Now, all this work might seem futile.  Only 1 ½ teaspoons of honey, that hardly seems worth the effort!  Yet, if I measure carefully, this is all the honey I need to sweeten my cup of tea.  It is the perfect balance to brighten the flavors of the herbal tea with a touch of sweetness.  Two teaspoons of honey is typically the recommended amount to help soothe a cough in the evening, in order to provide a good night’s rest.  And a little exposure to local honey on a regular basis can help reduce allergies.  These little amounts of honey go a long way in providing sweetness, relief and inoculation.

My effort in spending time in God’s word is not futile.  When I take the time to digest the scriptures, research the original language, and study the broad concepts of God’ message to us, I can really taste the sweetness of God’s love for me.  If I take the time to ponder a scripture and meditate upon its meaning, I can have relief in the midst of daily stresses and conflicts.  If I take the time to apply the scriptures to my life, I can inoculate myself against sin and its effects.  The key is to take time and not make it an item on my check list.

After reading that quote, and feeling the conviction that I needed to repent of my hasty reading, I spent some additional time in my Bible, pondering scriptures that stood out to me.  I shared a thought I had about a scripture with my daughter, and we discussed what it meant to us.  It was a beautiful conversation about God’s word, and it was “sweeter to me than honey to my mouth.”  My goal this year is to be more conscientious of my personal devotions and to imagine a bee and honey as I dive into God’s word.

Technophobia, Apps and Books

Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: and let such as love thy salvation say continually, let God be magnified. Psalms 70: 4

It is no secret that I am incompetent when it comes to technology.  I text with one finger, I thought the poo emoji was dirt, and, until recently, I didn’t understand what a GIF was or even how to pronounce it.  When something doesn’t work, my answer is to ask my husband, or any child within earshot, to show me, aka “fix it for me”.  This year, in spite of my technophobia, I discovered apps and have fallen in love with them.  I use them for all sorts of things; podcasts, shopping, exercise, finding new books, and setting goals.

One of my new favorite apps is Goodreads.  Every year, I set a personal goal of how many books I want to read and then record the books I read.  In years past, I have used an Excel spreadsheet my husband created to record my books.  The problem with that approach is the grid format instantly causes my blood to curdle.  I’m convinced Excel was created by accountants to frustrate spontaneous people like me!  Because of my strong aversion to Excel, I often forget to record my books.  Thus I find myself perpetually playing catch up and guesstimating the date I finished a book.  This year, with the help of the Goodreads app, I set a goal, scanned in the barcode of the book I was starting, recorded when I finished, and occasionally wrote a review.  Also, on my excursions to bookstores, I can scan in the book and put it in the file of books I want to read.  It has revolutionized my life!  Okay, maybe that is a bit strong, but it has helped me stay on track toward my goal.  I especially liked the confetti that sprayed across my screen when I achieved my goal this year.  Confetti, or glitter, is always a bonus!

What I didn’t know is that at the end of the year, Goodreads gives you a pictorial review of your reading habits.  It was insightful to look over the sixty books I read.  These books have ranged from being entertaining to delightful to informative and even to challenging.  In February, I finished a five-year project reading great biographies of each of the presidents.  I read a lot of Christian self-growth books, forcing me to examine my life, leading me to repentance and compelling me to grow.  I read a few great novels that have inspired me and some books on science that caused me to grapple with genetics.  However, I read one book that I despised, in spite of its brevity.  The author’s agenda aside, I finished the book and even managed to gain some insight.

A screenshot of my pictorial review on Goodreads.

I have been noticing on a lot of other blogs and websites the lists of the best books of 2019.  Often, I would peruse their lists and add some books to my app.  I decided to examine my list and share with you my top six books of 2019.  I have to admit this was far more challenging than I expected.  I kept looking at the list and wanting to add another, and soon I would have twenty books.  I also decided if it’s a book I have read before, it would not make my list, which eliminated three of my favorites.  Finally, I whittled the list down and came up with my top books.

1.  “The Gospel comes with a House Key” by Rosaria Butterfield: I heard Mrs. Butterfield speak on an episode of Focus on the Family and immediately ordered her book.  I’m still pondering the message of hospitality and how to implement it in my neighborhood.  She says, “Radically ordinary hospitality does not simply flow from the day-to-day interests of the household.  You must prepare spiritually.”  I would often close the book and fall to my knees, asking God to help me reflect the gospel in my community.

2.  “Rethinking Sexuality” by Dr. Juli Slattery: This book was a personal read, dealing with my own brokenness from past abuse and seeing the results of other people’s brokenness.  My heart breaks for our society and how, as Christians, we often don’t understand what God meant for us in our personal relationships.  Marriage was meant to reflect the beauty of God’s love for us in every aspect, including intimacy.  This was not an easy read, but profound and paradigm-shifting, not in my principles, but in how I present my principles.

3.  “Full: Food, Jesus, and the Battle for Satisfaction” by Asheritah Ciuciu: A dear friend, who is also a fellow bibliophile, lent me this book, I read it quickly and decided to purchase it.  I will be rereading it this January, journaling and more than likely blogging about the concepts in it.  It is not a food plan or an exercise regiment, but Ciuciu takes you on a journey of self-discovery.  Since I will be sharing more about this book in the future, the one message that resonated with me was to read the Bible differently.  In the past, I have focused on the principles and God’s message to me.  Now, I am reading the Bible to discover the nature of God.

4.  “Gift from the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh: This is a short book, but completely delightful and it triggered some reflective journaling.  She compares seasons of life with different shells, pondering motherhood and beyond, and the various transitions in life.  I loved this book so much, I bought a copy for a dear friend whose son was getting married.  It is definitely a book I will reread!

5.  “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains” by Nicholas Carr: This book frightened me when I read that PHD students were no longer reading research completely.  Attention spans are being altered at a rapid pace.  It is not saying the internet is bad or that we should all boycott our iPhones, but it does make you examine your personal use and how you access information.  It has motivated me to keep on reading whole books and to be careful of my screen time.  I also learned about the 18th century habit of keeping a Commonplace Journal.  It inspired me to keep one myself and pass it on to my children, someday.

6.  “Destiny and Power” by Jon Meacham: This biography of George H. W. Bush emphasized the value of developing good character.  Throughout his life, Bush wanted to serve his country.  Meacham says, “Honor, duty, country” were his focus.  Bush was competitive, but, ultimately, he kept his priorities straight and didn’t compromise his character.  Whether or not you agreed with his decisions, he was an honorable person who served his country in many different areas.

Missing two books. Photo by Margaret Collins

I have to honestly say that this year, reading changed my life.  I have always been a reader, but God used books from all genres to challenge me to grow.  I felt His voice whispering in my ear as I read the author’s words.  He would quicken to my mind a scripture or even a Biblical story.  I heard His voice in almost everything I read.

Years ago, as a family devotion, we read “Lit: A Christian Guide to Reading Books”.  It transformed my reading habits, leading to me read different genres and to read more purposefully.  The author, Tony Reinke, says, “If a Christian reader is attuned to the whisper of the Giver, he will hear that whisper in some very unexpected places.”  My goal in sharing my list is to inspire you to dig first into His word, but also to challenge you to find God’s whispering in the books your read in 2020.  We should continually seek his presence in all that we do!

When December Slips Away

“The season comes but once a year. A gift of precious wonder. For all who hold it dear. But past the sights. And colored lights. Lord, far beyond December. I will remember. ”

Bonnie Keen and Lowell Alexander

“And let us not be weary in well doing:” Galatians 6:9

Last week, a friend stopped by with her toddler to pick up a tray of cookies.  We visited for a few minutes and then I shared with the little girl that we had three “mismas” trees.  Friends, please understand that, despite my excess in Christmas decorations, only one of these trees is a main tree.  Her eyes sparkled with delight as we went on a journey to explore the Christmas trees.  Her eyes lit up as her tiny hand reached out and set the little bells on the silver tree tinkling.  The metallic green tree in the corner sparkled under her touch.  We also had fun looking at the Santa Claus in the bathtub on the big tree, bouncing the rubber ducky.  Then she sat on her mother’s lap, devouring a cookie with pure joy, chocolate smeared on her face and her eyes dancing with delight.

They were only at my house for half an hour, but those thirty minutes were a breath of fresh air.  They reminded me of what was really important for the season.  They also brought back memories of Christmases past when I felt pushed, hurried, hassled and stressed by the season.  These past Christmases were not my “Shiny Bright” moments, when I let the chaos rule me and, in turn, stressed out my husband.  Yet, I’m so thankful for a wise husband who spoke truth into my life and challenged me to keep perspective.

My story is probably one that a lot of us share.  As Christians, we are admonished regularly to keep Jesus at the center of the season.  We are encouraged to not focus on the commercial aspect, but rather on showing appreciation and creating meaningful traditions with our family.  I truly believe in these principles, yet, even in our attempts to do well, we can lose sight of the reason for the season.

I was a young mother trying to take advantage of all the amazing Christmas experiences my Wisconsin hometown had to offer.  Every available moment was packed with experiences, visiting the Festival of Trees, reading the stack of Christmas books from the library, and sipping hot chocolate while decorating gingerbread houses.  In the midst of all of this, I wanted to carry on the tradition of my mother-in-law by making tons of Christmas cookies and candy to share with family and friends.

One Sunday afternoon, while my kids were napping, I was exasperated and tired.  Yet, I had the cookie list and was determined to bake at least one batch of cookies between Sunday services.  My husband was napping on the couch while I was laboring over sugar and flour.  I don’t know what exactly happened.  I can imagine I made a lot of loud noise, slamming cupboard doors and pans on the table while huffing and puffing.  I can imagine that I made some not so subtle remarks under my breath.  At any rate, all the clatter woke my husband and words were exchanged.  The last thing my husband said to me really made me take notice.  “If all this baking is going to cause stress in our lives, then throw out this tradition.  It’s not worth ruining our Christmas!”

That statement startled me and forced me to reevaluate my attitude.  No tradition, no matter how good it may seem, should cause you to be stressed.  Baking the cookies and giving trays away to friends was a good deed, but if it caused my spirit to be bitter and neglectful, my gift was the same as a lump of coal.

Ann Voskmap wrote in The Greatest Gift, “You are most prepared for Christmas when you are done trying to make your performance into the gift and instead revel in His presence as the Gift.”  As a Christian, I need to spend time being in His presence, not neglecting my devotion time.  I need to spend time worshiping God as the shepherds did when they saw the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.  I need to offer my best gift to Jesus just as the wise men offered gold, frankincense and myrrh!

This year, I happily baked cookies as I have in the past.  I had three days of baking in which I referred as my “cookie-palooza”.  Despite being covered with flour and unwrapping lots of Hershey Kisses, I did the baking with joy.  I spent time listening to some Christmas messages by various ministers and, like Mary, pondering in my heart the meaning of Jesus’ birth.

Christmas should be a time of creating memories, spending time with family, and keeping Jesus at the center.  It has been my intention to keep this focus every year.  I have failed at times, but when I feel like I am getting caught up in the chaos, I remember my husband’s admonishment.  I then take a deep breath and try to keep everything calm.

This year, I spent time with the people I love the most, created memories, laughed and ate the cookies I labored over with love.  Even as December slips away, I hope to keep my priorities straight and focus on what is important.  I hope all of you had a Merry Christmas and are looking to forward to ringing in the New Year!