Experiencing Change This Year? Be of Good Cheer.

For those of us who are lucky enough, Christmas is a special time steeped in rituals and tradition that we celebrate with family and friends. We have favorite foods that we look forward to, special services where we worship together, games we play, stories we share, and certain days or times when we gather and exchange gifts with various members of our families or groups of friends. It can be a wonderful time of year full of joy and anticipation.

As a friend of mine recently shared, “It’s the most wonderful time of year because the spirit of Jesus Christ fills the atmosphere. We talk about Christ more than ever. We walk around saying, “Merry Christmas”; we sing songs about Jesus; we read Christian stories, etc. When Christ gets all of the attention, His love, joy, patience, and peace fills the atmosphere!”

Christmas

Peace — While it’s definitely something we can hope to experience at this time of year, it may also require a bit more focus and work to achieve.

The stress of trying to do too much in too little time; the strain of attempting to appease too many people with different ideas; the tension of putting personal issues or preferences aside to enjoy a harmonious holiday … all these things can actually lead some to dread what should be a joyous and special time of year.

So, what can we do to counter this?

Consider this …

Marriages, births, merging families, cross country moves, and, sadly, deaths can all change family dynamics. Sometimes, with these changes, we have to be open to readjusting our expectations and perceptions of the holidays, and modifying our traditions to accommodate the new family members we have acquired, the locations we find ourselves in (and the logistics of travel), and the various physical and emotional situations some of our loved ones are dealing with.

We need to look at the traditions we have followed in the past, and ask ourselves, “What’s really important about them? … Are they still providing the original meaning? Is a tradition creating more stress than value? Is there another way to convey meaning that would be simpler or more effective … When there’s too much [to] do with too little time; it is vital to scrutinize every activity in terms of the value it adds to your life. Time-honored traditions are no exception.” (Aila Accad, Changing Holiday Traditions)

Christmas Trees2

Just remember that changing or eliminating traditions can sometimes lead to hurt feelings and family quarrels. The most important thing to do when anticipating change is to COMMUNICATE. If you are the one suggesting changes, let others know as early as possible so they have time to adjust. And give them time to adjust; don’t expect immediate acceptance. Also, keep in mind that additions are often more comfortable than deletions. If possible, modify rather than delete a tradition.

If you feel that change is being thrust upon you, try to understand the rationale or reasoning behind the suggestions being made. Re-examine what you hold dear about the holidays and why. If it’s gathering with as many family members as possible, then whose house you gather at shouldn’t matter; if it’s celebrating the birth of Christ with worship and praise, which church you go to and at what time isn’t that important; and if it’s enjoying specific dishes that your mother, uncle, or grandmother used to make and someone wants to alter the menu, pick the dishes that mean the most to you and volunteer to make/bring them yourself.

Ornaments

Like anything, holidays and family gatherings are what you make them. Personally, I am enjoying seeing a few changes with our family celebrations. I think it’s great that some of the younger members of the family are beginning to find their place in the seasonal preparations. It is a wonderful thing to see the “passing of the baton,” or ladle, if you will, from one generation to the next. While many parents and grandparents have enjoyed baking, cooking, and decorating for the rest of the family for special occasions, it’s a beautiful thing to watch members of the next generation discover the joy of creating, serving, and bringing the holidays to life themselves.

I’m not saying that the older family members should stop sharing ideas or taking part in preparations, unless that’s what they really want to do (some of us really need our rest). But perhaps stepping back some, letting go of some of the responsibilities, counseling rather than doing it all, and sharing the opportunities for memory-making moments will allow them (us) to connect in deeper and more meaningful ways with younger members of the family who will be carrying the family traditions into the future —adapting them as their own family dynamics grow and change.

Christmas celebrations, or any family gatherings for that matter, are not the time to be rigid and resentful. We need to be open to new ideas and open to where the Spirit leads us at this particular time in our lives. Most importantly, we should remember the reason for the season.

Linus_Christmas

Remember that giving is more important than receiving, and that doesn’t only apply to gifts. It applies to our hearts as well. Let’s not give others guilt trips over their personal decisions regarding the holidays; accept them with grace and understanding. Whatever changes we make, whatever new steps we take, we must do them with happy hearts and a more defined focus on what truly matters. Whatever happens, we should try to be of good cheer. Grudgingly going along with things because you have to will only bring everyone else down with you. That will certainly lead to a memorable event, but not one you will want to remember.

If you truly want to fulfill the quest for meaning, joy, and peace this Christmas, re-evaluate your current (or past) holiday plans as a family, and adjust them as needed to create meaningful and simple traditions that are easy to maintain, beneficial for all (or most), and truly serve the family’s purpose and passion. Life moves on and we must be prepared to go with the flow and move along with it.

bible-quote

Fall, Friends, and the Winds of Change

Fall is one of my favorite times of year. Well, since I have been living in Kentucky anyway. I think in Florida and Texas, I preferred spring. But up here, we get to watch as the leaves change from green to yellow (and red and orange in some places), slowly falling along the way, eventually leaving the branches bare and yet still beautiful.

Green

Changing

More yellow

Almost Done

I am trying to breathe it all in and capture what it looks like … what it feels like as the winds of change sweep through, bringing a chill to the air and an anticipation of the things to come. I’m trying to remember it all because this will be our last fall here. We are headed back to Texas. It is something that makes us both happy and sad at the same time. Happy to be seeing those we left behind when we moved up here, sad to be saying good-bye to the new friends we made. Happy that we won’t be experiencing another super cold, snowy winter. Sad that we’ll have the super hot Texas summer instead of the more enjoyable temperatures of Kentucky. Of course our tolerances to the heat and cold have changed somewhat, so we will have some adapting to do … again. But, we look at it all as an adventure to be embraced.

Home is where me, Bart, and Bella are together. It doesn’t matter what state it is. As long as we feel like we are following God’s plan and are operating within his will rather than stubbornly trying to make our own way, all will be well.

Bella_Bart_Nina

And, of course, we’ll always make sure we have a room for Noah. The great thing is we will be closer to Bart’s family again for a while; we’ve missed them. And maybe, one of these days, we’ll be closer to my family for a while. You never know. For now, we are going with the flow and enjoying the show.

Red

To my Kentucky friends, I just want to say thank you. You accepted us and made us feel welcome. In a place where we knew no one and had no family to rely on, you became our brothers and sisters and our friends. You touched our hearts and changed our lives. We will miss you so very much. [So happy to be connected to many of you on Facebook.]

Orange

To our Texas friends and family … WE’RE BACK! (well, almost) We’ll both be there by the end of November. See you all very soon.

For anyone else going through times of transition, you’re attitude makes a huge difference in your ability to get through it. Breathe in the positive, breathe out the negative, and embrace the winds of change.

Her Spirit Soars

After the discovery of cancer in her brain in June of this year, my friend Denise Enos passed away on August 11th. I’m writing today’s post more for myself than anyone else. Just a way to say goodbye and to honor her memory. It’s scary when someone close to your own age dies, especially when it is so quick and unexpected. A good reminder that the choices we make, the focus we take, the lives we touch … every moment matters.

These are some of my memories of Denise:

New Life

Denise Enos adored her family and was strengthened by her faith.

She was bold, determined, and passionate about her beliefs.

She built strong relationships and treasured her friendships.

She appreciated beauty in nature as well as in man-made designs.

She savored good food and enjoyed great wine.

She believed in the power of possibility.

She was consistent and detail-oriented,
yet creative, adventurous, and fun.

In her work, she was a perfectionist,
so she could be hard on herself,
yet she offered others such grace.

Full of ideas, and always thinking,
Denise constantly sought improvement
in herself and in the workplace.

Because she cared so much about so many things,
she would sometimes get a little overwhelmed.
But venting with trusted friends and laughing
together over the craziness of our industry
helped keep us sane and fortified us to
go back another day and do it all over again.

We shared a love of family, faith, friends, imagery, words, language,
writing, consistency (especially the series comma), organization,
a positive attitude, and many other things.

Today, my heart is heavy,
acknowledging the fact that my friend is really gone.
She left quite a legacy and some very strong memories behind.
These memories allow the rest of us to taste small sips of comfort.

Although we pray that she rests in peace,
knowing Denise, her faith, and her living testimony,
I don’t think she’s resting at all …
I believe, today, she soars!

She soars!

I think Denise would want us to remember and focus on the good times we enjoyed with her. I found some “Getting to Know You” questions and answers on her Facebook page. Reading through her answers made me smile. So, I thought I would share them here:

DO YOU LIKE YOUR HANDWRITING?

It is completely, embarrassingly illegible.

 DO YOU HAVE KIDS?

My wonderful and amazing Marshall and Charlotte–I am so blessed.

 IF YOU WERE ANOTHER PERSON, WOULD YOU BE FRIENDS WITH YOU?

Oh, sure; I’m big fun.

 DO YOU USE SARCASM?

See above.

BEST DAY OF THE YEAR?

Any holiday when I have my whole family together.

 HOW DID YOU MEET YOUR SPOUSE/SIGNIFICANT OTHER?

Through mutual friends–I am in their debt forever.

 WHAT IS YOUR MOTTO IN LIFE?

“Love one another.” and “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

WHAT IS YOUR MOST TREASURED POSSESSION?

They’re not really a possession, but I’d say my family.

 WHAT CARTOON CHARACTER BEST DESCRIBES YOU?

The pig in Pearls Before Swine. I am ridiculously naive and optimistic–
thank God for my friends who “reality check” me on a regular basis!

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art.
… It has no survival value;

rather, it is one of those things that
give value to survival.” —C.S. Lewis

My Soul Has Been Freed

The Art of Encouragement

Today I am proud to post a sermon from my father-in-law, H.B. Fuller (retired pastor but forever a preacher) that ties in wonderfully with my post from yesterday. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Do you ever feel like giving up? We all go through those periods when we want to throw in the towel. This is the pattern a lot of us go through. Listen and see if this is not similar to your experience. You feel people are saying things about you that just are not true. Work is a drudgery. Even things you used to do for pleasure become a task. You are tired, irritated with those who love you the most. Life loses its joy. Depression, frustration and a tinge of paranoia become your bedfellows.

About at this point, God raises up some friends who prove to be [true] friends. These Christian friends support, pray for, and love us. They have taken seriously Hebrews 10:25:

“not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some,
but encouraging one another,
and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

How desperately we all need encouragement. It is wonderful to have a friend who does not hesitate to point out flaws in our Christian faith and conduct. This finest of encouragement is possible only between two friends who trust each other, and know each other well enough to laugh together at each other’s expense.

The creation of this living fellowship is surely one of the most urgent tasks of the church. Anyone who sets their mind to it can be an encourager. It requires no degree or ordination. All one needs is the willingness to give oneself to another person.

Interestingly, the word in the Bible reading in the 11th verse [1 Thessalonians 5] that the NIV translated “encourage” has its root in the word parakalos, usually translated “comfort.” When you make a noun out if it, the word becomes “comforter,” which we define as “one called alongside of.” The supreme Comforter is the Holy Spirit. When we become encouragers or comforters, we are doing work akin to that of the Holy Spirit. How awesome!!! What a privilege and responsibility to be permitted to work alongside of the Holy Spirit to encourage a struggling brother or sister. And yet there is the exhortation “encourage one another” (v. 11).

Walk (or sit) together.

Walk (or sit) together.

  1. ENCOURAGEMENT IS A PERSON

During one of the major offensives of World War II, Dwight Eisenhower was walking near the Rhine River and came upon a GI who seemed depressed. “How are you feeling?” the General asked. “Sir,” the young man replied, “I’m awful nervous.” “Well,” Eisenhower said, “You and I are a good pair then, because I’m nervous, too. Maybe if we just walk along together we’ll be good for each other.”

No speech, words of wisdom, or special advice necessary, just one person giving of himself to another.

Encouragement means “coming alongside to impart courage.” In a sense, encouragement is one person giving strength and support to another by osmosis, just being there radiating light, spiritual nourishment, strength. When we encourage, we snuggle up to an individual and show we care.

One of the great callings of the New Testament church, one of the great responsibilities of individual Christians is encouragement. Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement,” came alongside Paul to give him needed support for entrance in the early church. Let’s read the record in the Bible—maybe God will teach you a lesson I do not see. It is found in Acts 9:26–28:

“And when he had come to Jerusalem he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles, and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem.”

Paul not only benefited from Barnabas’ encouragement, but he learned the lesson well. Later, he became an encourager himself, especially for his young friend Timothy.

Encouragement is a person—you and I—an encourager giving self to another in distress—the distressed experiencing the benefit of his friend’s presence and taking up the ministry himself.

Created by Bonnie Gray, the Faith Barista

Created by Bonnie Gray, the Faith Barista

  1. ENCOURAGEMENT IS A WORD

Consider the following sound advice from Proverbs 25:11:

“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”

The Japanese have a saying, “one kind word can warm up three winter months.”

We all need encouragement whose “pleasant words are a honeycomb sweet to the soul and healing to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).

Vince Lombardi, the legendary Green Bay Packers’ football coach was a feared disciplinarian. But he never leveled a man without also seeking to launch him. One day he chewed out a player who had missed several blocking assignments. After practice, Lombardi stalked into the locker room. The player was sitting at his locker head down, dejected.

Lombardi mussed his hair, patted him on the shoulder, and said, “One of these days you are going to be the best guard in the NFL.” That guard was Jerry Kramer and he said he carried that positive image of himself the rest of his career.

“Lombard’s encouragement had a tremendous impact on my whole life,” he said. Kramer went on to become a member of the NFL Hall of Fame and a part of the NFL’s ALL 50-YEAR TEAM.

Do you offer encouraging words? Paul Tillich [one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century] said, “Almost every person you meet is fighting a great battle within.” People everywhere are in need of an encouraging word, an uplifting compliment, or a note of encouragement. Many Christians are discouraged and faltering in the faith. You can spur them on with your inspiring words.

What words to say? Sometimes one approach, sometimes another. BE THERE, GO and SAY something (make sure what you say is from the heart)—“I love you in the Lord.” “We care about you.” “I am praying for you.” “I am asking God to meet your need.” Be sure you ask God to give you the appropriate things to do and say.

Go to the hurting person when possible. If this is not possible, send a letter of affirmation, a note of congratulations, a pep talk, or a kind word from you. If you send a greeting card, write a personal note, even if it is no more than one line. You would be surprised at how many people read only what you wrote.

Your personal word, from the heart, inspired by God, can and often does make an eternal difference in someone’s life. It has in my life.

Church

Memorial Baptist Chapel

  1. ENCOURAGEMENT IS A CHURCH

The Bible makes it clear that the church is distinctive from the world in the area of encouragement. Our society [often] seeks to depress and defeat; the body of Christ desires to inspire and uplift. “We are called out ones,” the set aside ones. One of the distinctive callings of the Christian is to be an encourager. Listen again to the text from I Thessalonians 5:11:

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up,
just as you are doing.”

It can’t be any plainer. The church is [to be] a safe place of encouragement.

The early church was acquainted with persecution. Martyrdom was a daily occurrence. These people had reason to be depressed. Consequently, the author of Hebrews wrote a letter of hope and perseverance.

Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Hear closely Hebrews 10:25:

“not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some,
but encouraging one another,

and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

The body of Christ gathers for worship and fellowship with other believers. The church offers the warmth of a bonfire. But when we remove ourselves, the fire diminishes. Three times a week [let alone once a week] is little enough for the body of Christ to assemble itself together to be warmed by each other’s spiritual heat. Together hope is fortified, and life is renewed.

Christians thrive as a group, bunched up together. We are not designed to be loners. We draw strength from each other. When God’s people bunch up to pray, praise, preach—the power of God is magnified and individuals are encouraged. 

Many Christians take seriously the ministry of encouragement. A church in Oregon provides encouragement cards in the pew rack. Members take time before the worship service to write notes of encouragement to each other and others. These cards are collected and mailed.

Encouragement is the overall theme at a Texas church. The sanctuary is called “The Encouragement Center.” The pastor’s message on the weekly bulletin is labeled “The Encouraging Word.” The church newsletter is titled “The Encourager.” But more importantly, the membership takes seriously the need to encourage one another. No wonder people are attracted to this growing church.

CONCLUSION:

Find someone who needs encouragement. Give of yourself, say a word, or introduce him or her to the church—the safe encouraging place—or to Jesus—the encouraging Savior.

Sunday school classes must emphasize the ministry of encouragement. Teachers, please work on this. Give priority to it. If for one reason or another you cannot, encourage some of your members who appear to have this ability.

Of course, our best friend is Jesus. He is the premier encourager. If you do not know Him as Savior, now is the time.

Jeremiah

Jeremiah 29:11-14