Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

"Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending."

~Carl Bard~

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Gift Ideas - #3

Christmas Eve is here...ready or not! We celebrated here at home with our little family last night. At 11:10 p.m.  Yeah, it was exhausting, after a busy day at work followed by a couple of hours of last minute shopping. But the kids were excitedly persistent, and they won. It did buy us a morning to sleep in, so I guess that is a worthwhile trade.  :-)

We have done a really large variety of gifts this year, and that has made giving a little more interesting.

Last year, a student gifted me with this adorable painted pail that reads "Merry Munchies." It was full of goodies, which I emptied with help from my junk food lovin' kids.  This year, I chose a recipient, filled the pail with items I knew were her personal favorites, dropped it into a clear bag, and tied it with raffia. Not only did I clear one item from my stash, but someone else received a nice gift!  :-)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Gift Ideas - #2

Last Christmas, one of my students gifted me a painted, stemmed glass loaded with different candies.  Through the next several weeks, I really enjoyed having this decorating my desk. It was the perfect small snack during those "need some chocolate" moments.

Stemmed glass (decorated or not), confetti,
a round styrofoam ball, straight pins, candy

This year, I have decided to re-gift the stemware part, and add new candies. Mine (pictured above) isn't quite as pretty as the original because I didn't get the perfect shape/size of candy for layering. If I remember correctly, holiday tootsie rolls (which I couldn't find) were in the first one. This would make a great gift for a co-worker or an employer. A girl who cleans houses recently asked me about gifting her employer (who is rich and in need of I suggested a gift of food - pie, buckeyes, cheese ball - but this would be a perfect gift for that situation. It lets them know you care without spending a ton of money and risking the purchase of something they already have or don't need. I hope you are wrapping up your shopping with ease! We pared our list down to 49 this year. Yes, that is 49 people on my Christmas list, not even counting Greg or myself. If there's anything left, I guess we might decided to add ourselves, putting it up to 51. :-) Last year we were somewhere around 55, and we decided to draw names in one gift exchange which helped to pull the number down somewhat.

Our first Christmas gathering is now history.  We celebrated with my family last Saturday.  This coming weekend will find us in Cincinnati with all of our extended Yount family (oh, the wonderful, happy craziness and noise!), and New Year's weekend will be celebrated with our Burley family in Michigan. 

Praying for safe travels and good health!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Day 13...Live In The Moment

Well, it's been a long "13 Days"...more like 30?  :-)  I guess that's what happens when you don't expect life to throw so many curves within a three week period!  It was to be a busy month, with a large fundraiser, school Thanksgiving dinner, Thanksgiving holiday, church Christmas dinner, and school Christmas play, but so many extra things piled was almost eerie how many things happened in one month around here!

But...we've survived, and other than a minor glitch (like me having a sinus infection, ear infection, and bronchitis) it may still prove to be a holly, jolly Christmas!  I think this little exercise in focusing on being thankful has helped me to navigate all the stress much better than I would have otherwise. 

Now, here we are on Day 13.  I saw a sign this week that gave me a poignant reminder.  It read:


These weren't new words to me.  I'm a big fan of primitive decor, and little signs sporting catchy phrases such as these are abundant in primitive shops.  However, I think it spoke to me a little stronger this week because days like I have experienced recently are days that could easily be wished away.
How many times have we been guilty of the "I can't wait until..." mentality?  Whether it's getting the kids through unpleasant stages, hoping for more financial stability, achieving educational goals...we wish away the moments that bring pain and discomfort, not understanding that they weave themselves through the good times to make the beautiful tapestry we call life.
I mentioned a few days ago that my co-worker's mother was diagnosed with cancer.  She passed away last night, exactly thirty days after her diagnosis. Such a shock...completely unexpected.  She was 63 years old and looking toward retirement.  Twenty years ago, the age of 63 would have seemed like "old" age to me, but today that seems like a life cut short.  There is still so much living to be done in those golden years. 

It reminds me again of the importance of living "in the moment." Not "for the moment," but "in the moment."  The difference is clear.  I chuckle inside when I hear people talk about the "good 'ole days."  I can only imagine that if they had actually lived in the "good 'ole days," they would have longed for the "better 'ole days" that would have occurred sometime previous to the "good 'ole days."  Could it be that we justify our neglect of the present by living in the past or wishing for the future?

"Forever is composed of nows." - Emily Dickinson

As we plunge full force into the Christmas season, let's not be consumed with either what has been or what is yet to come.  Instead let's drink in every detail of the blessed present, being in tune with what others may or may not be saying, watching for opportunities to make a difference in the life of someone who needs us now. 

This is one of my very favorite books, written by one of my very favorite authors, Gloria Gaither.  The title of the book is also the title to one of her timeless lyrics, Fully Alive.  This prayer has been a call to action in my life, and I trust that it will bless you today.

Don't let me miss all the glory around me,
Waiting for heaven someday to come.
Open my eyes to miraculous Monday,
And make my feet march to eternity's drum.

Don't let me wait for some far off forever,
To say what I feel to the ones I hold dear.
Risking the pain and the joy of loving,
Keep me awake and alive while I'm here.

Fully alive in Your Spirit,
Lord, make me fully alive!
Fully aware of Your presence, Lord,
Totally, fully alive!

Be blessed today as you live in the moment!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Gift Ideas - #1

Gift-giving can be a lot of fun, but it can also be a lot of pressure, especially if the budget is very limited or the recipient is hard to buy for.  There are a few gifts that seem to stand out to me, and I thought I would share them.  If you're having a hard time, one of these ideas might help to give you a burst of inspiration.  :-) Today's idea is one of my favorites.

Family Cookbook

When I was a teenager, my Aunt Andrea Yount compiled a family cookbook for each of us teen nieces.  It's no secret that our family is blessed with amazing cooks, and she used recipes belonging to herself, as well as my mom, my Mamaw Yount, and my aunts Jean, Carol, and Sarah.  Some of these would be their "signature" recipes, the ones they typically bring to family gatherings. 

Andrea used a three-ring photo album, and wrote the recipes on white paper.  It is divided into sections with tabs, and has stickers to indicate which family member submitted the recipe.  Some of the recipes have special notes from the family member such as, "Uncle Joe's favorite...", which makes it extra special.

Next week when I see these wonderful women, I plan to take a photo of them and add it to my recipe album.

This gift will probably be one of the few that will be passed on from me to my daughters (I will have to make one for Allison). I suppose this could be put together for less than $10, but the value to me is PRICELESS!

Have you been given a gift that holds a special place in your heart? Feel free to share. We could all use new ideas!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What's Your Color?

I'm in love with this little man, and a few more just like him! Snowmen are so festive and so stinkin' cute! He has siblings all over my house.  :-)

After 13 years with the same tree decked with multicolored lights, we decided to switch things up a bit. We used all white lights, added a new tree skirt and stockings, and I placed white and red berry sprigs randomly throughout the tree.

The kids were hesitant to switch to white lights cause they are "anytime" lights, but everyone was willing to give it a chance.

It's turned out to be a really beautiful tree, but it just doesn't seem quite right without the blaze of color.

So I'm already wondering about next year...maybe it will bring a bigger house so we can have one of each!

Anyone want to share your colors and why you choose them?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Day 12...Bloom

A few weeks ago, I heard Joel Osteen speaking on the topic of his new book "Every Day A Friday."  The premise of the book is about intentionally shifting our perspective from the "I have to" to the "I get to,"  and I was more than a little convicted by Pastor Osteen's words.  Too many times I have been guilty of taking for granted the opportunities that God has given me. I may have even considered them burdensome.  Rather than saying, "I am blessed to be able to get up and do what I love,"  I might take a more negative tone and think something like, "Ugh.  Another day."  Granted, not being a morning person sometimes affects my a.m. self-talk, but that's no excuse.  :-)

How we face our days and the tasks they contain (whether pleasant, difficult, or somewhere in between) is important.  Not only are we impacted by our attitude, but so are all of those with whom we connect.  Whether it is being at home with children, attending meetings with professionals, teaching in the classroom, or working the drive-thru at McDonald's, others can quickly sense when we are unhappy or unfulfilled. 

The familiar phrase "bloom where you are planted" indicates that we are to take root right where we are, and make the best of it, and that usually seems like good advice.  However, there are times when "where we land" isn't where we want to take root.  And there isn't a more unsatisfied person than one who is living outside of his or her calling.  That person often struggles with the "I have to" versus the "I get to" mentality because they aren't doing what they were created to do.

So, I often ask God, "Am I planted in the center of Your will?"  He assures me that I am, and that I should continue to "bloom"...happily, contentedly, and with a positive outlook, for that makes all the difference!

They say we are most thankful for what we have after it's taken from us.  It would be tragic for us to have to become an invalid to appreciate mobility, become unemployed to appreciate a job, lose a spouse to appreciate companionship and love, lose religious freedom to appreciate the opportunity for public worship, or become incapable of doing the things we do every day to appreciate the beauty and necessity of both the mundane and the extraordinary opportunities we are given.

"Thank God every day when you get up that you have something to do that day which must be done whether you like it or not. Being forced to work and forced to do your best will breed in you temperance and self-control, diligence and strength of will, cheerfulness and content, and a hundred virtues which the idle will never know."
-- Basil Carpenter

Action Step:  Whether we're doing laundry, changing diapers, studying for exams, cleaning the church, helping with homework, or ___________________________ (fill in that blank!), our attitude toward the task sends a message!  Blooming is more than just poking our head above the soil.  Blooming is engaging everything within us to emerge with strength, to face the challenge,  and to open beautifully. 
Let's BLOOM!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Day 11...Rest In His Promises

Two verses of Scripture that were brought to my attention this morning remind me of why God's Word is so unbelievably precious to His children.  As someone who doesn't deal well with things I can't "fix," this week has tested my strength, my patience, and my faith.  Although I have tried to crowd doubt from my mind, my humanity keeps me from denying it altogether, and it sometimes catches me unaware. 
I don't doubt God, I doubt myself. 

But maybe that's a good thing.  It reminds me that, as much as I feel in control, I'm not.  As much as I think I have it together, it's only an illusion.

Ephesians 6:10 says, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might."

Me+Me=Nothing.  God+Me=Enough.

And a promise for my present circumstances?  Not to worry.  Psalm 55:22 has that taken care of,
"Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken."

This requires some action on our part.  "Casting" isn't as easy as it sounds!  We have to trust that our burden is headed to a safe place, not a place of abandonment.  And we have to roll it completely off of ourselves, knowing that He is more than able to shoulder whatever we are carrying.
I leave you with the lyrics to one of my favorite songs -

Trust His Heart

All things work for our good
Though sometimes we don't
See how they could
Struggles that break our hearts in two
Sometimes blind us to the truth
Our Father knows what's best for us
His ways are not our own
So when your pathway grows dim
And you just don't see him,
Remember your never alone

God is too wise to be mistaken
God is too good to be unkind
So when you don't understand
When don't see his plan
When you can't trace his hand
Trust His Heart

He sees the master plan
He holds the future in his hand,
So don't live as those who have no hope,
All our hope is found in him.
We see the present clearly
He sees the first and last
And like a tapestry He's weaving you and me,
To someday be just like him

He alone is faithful and true
He alone knows what is best for you

When you can't trace his hand
When you don't see his plan
When you don't understand
Trust His Heart

Thou that has given so much to me,
Give one thing more -- a grateful heart;
Not thankful when it pleases me,
As if Thy blessings had spare days;
But such a heart, whose pulse may be
Thy praise.
George Herbert

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Day 10...Teach 'Em Young

Have you ever been around a child who is so completely and genuinely thankful for everything?  It is refreshing to feel the gratitude that flows from their hearts.  My kids typically reached a peak in their outward expressions at about age 3 or 4.  Allison is still in that stage, although not as intensely as she was a few months ago.  I have had them look at me through tears of excruciating pain and thank me for giving them medicine.  They have thanked me for hugs.  They have thanked me for a million things that kids typically take for granted. Everyone they are around notices their grateful spirit. 

Unfortunately, this natural responsiveness doesn't stick for long, at least from my observance.  Kids become more shy about their thank you's.  They get sidetracked, they get used to benefits, and they fail to express what may (or may not) be in their hearts.

As a child, I learned much about being thankful from my parents.  Living in a parsonage, we probably received more 'blessings' from others than most people who work the average job.  These blessings were given as gifts of appreciation from people who were thankful for my parents investment, and these blessings helped to supplement a very meager ministry income.

But there was one thing that I knew without a doubt:  my parents never 'expected' people to gift them, and they never took those gifts for granted.  To this day, my mom hand writes thank you notes for every little thing she is given.  I love that about her. It has shown me that no matter how hectic her life is as a full time nurse/educator, pastor's wife, mom, grandma, etc., she is never too busy to return thanks in a tangible way.

I have tried (and failed miserably at times) to continue this pattern in our home.  Having three of the kids birthdays so close to Christmas means that many of our blessings come in a big clump.  :-)
And getting boys to write thank-you notes isn't the easiest thing in the world.  But I still think it is important.  I must not be in the majority, because I can't remember the last time I received a thank you note written by someone under the age of 18!  I would love to ask a group of moms how they approach this topic, because I know there are probably good alternative ideas that haven't hit me just yet.

I may start having the older children send thank you emails.  This would cut the cost a little, but would still help them develop a good habit along with creative writing skills.  That's a thought for this year.  Until then, we will gather around the table with our best pens and some pretty note cards...and we will write.

More than the writing, I want to help them develop gratitude as a daily discipline. And it's our job as parents to model the behaviors and attitudes that will lead them to that place.

"How wonderful it would be if we could help our children and grandchildren to learn thanksgiving at an early age. Thanksgiving opens the doors. It changes a child's personality. A child is resentful, negative—or thankful. Thankful children want to give, they radiate happiness, they draw people."
-- Sir John Templeton

Action Step:  Encourage children to be thankful for opportunities that they would otherwise consider routine, such as a toothbrush with clean water and paste for brushing.  Offer thanks for every meal...before and even after.  Cut back on "luxuries"...not to be mean, but to increase their value to the children.  Help them to become 'gratitude leaders' within their peer groups.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Day 9...In Everything...Give Thanks

Boy, the last week sure has had its share of twists and turns.  As we enjoyed a laid back Thanksgiving weekend, we hadn't a clue of what the next few days would bring.  Sunday afternoon found me in the Urgent Care with Ryan, who was diagnosed with a large spot of pneumonia in his right lung.  The P.A. was even a little shocked with the results of the x-ray.  Ryan didn't have many of the typical symptoms of pneumonia, and we kept thinking that it was just a cold that would eventually go away. 

So, we began the routine of antibiotics, fluids, breathing treatments, and all that goes along with pneumonia.  And he began to recover well.

Then comes Wednesday, a fairly typical day until Kaitlynn had an accident which you can catch up on here.  I still get sick inside when I think about the first sight that I saw after she injured her mouth.  I cringe when I remember how she reacted when she first saw it in the mirror.  I get frustrated when I recall how no one at the hospital or dentist was equipped to help us. I wish a thousand times over that I had made her quit when I saw her doing the goofing off that resulted in this injury.

But just as quickly as all of these thoughts flood my mind, they are overwhelmed by the wall of thankfulness that I have been building for the last few weeks. And God begins to show me how He can work all of this for our good.  After all, He protected our little girl from what could have been a horrible tragedy.  He has a plan.  I am content to rest in that plan.  And if this accident can forever teach our daughter that the consequences of disobedience and a bad decision can be horrible, then it's worth it. 

It's easy to be thankful when things are good.  It's even easier when things are great.  But when the days and weeks seem set us back more than they take us forward, it's easy for our "thank you's" to turn to questioning and doubt.

I'm finding that a grateful heart exists, not only because of good days and good gifts, but simply because gratitude is becoming a part of my character.  Because I am conforming to the Image of a Person who embodies gratitude.  If my focus can be to accept my circumstances with a heart of gratitude, then every day is a good day, and every moment is a good and perfect gift. 

"Gratitude ... goes beyond the "mine" and "thine" and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. In the past I always thought of gratitude as a spontaneous response to the awareness of gifts received, but now I realize that gratitude can also be lived as a discipline. The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. "
--Henri J. M. Nouwen

Action Step:  List three of your most recent frustrations.  Think of three ways in which God used each of those trials to benefit you.  Then listen to this song:

Blessings - Laura Story
We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
We pray for healing, for prosperity
We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
And all the while, You hear each spoken need
Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel you near
We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love
As if each promise from Your Word is not enough
And all the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

When friends betray us
When darkness seems to win, we know
That pain reminds this hearts,
That this is not, this is not our home.....
It's not our home

Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near
What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise?

What if my greatest disappointments,
Or the aching of this life,
Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can't satisfy.
What if trials of this life,
The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
Are your mercies in disguise?