This Is the Week

I read something wonderful and beautiful that a funny and faith-filled friend posted on Facebook today. So grateful that she agreed to let me share it with you here. I hope it touches your heart the way it did mine. 

Easter is in one week.

I am usually a hot mess in December. The slightest mention of the Baby Jesus, and how He came as an infant, to save us from our sins, dissolves me into weepy, sentimental tears. I blow up my house with decorations, torture my family with Christmas music on an eternal loop, and basically fall apart every day until December 26th. Do not even make eye contact with me in church during the Christmas season. Corby practically has to sedate me to make it through. It is simply the most tender holy season.

But Easter, Easter is just as magnificent, and although it doesn’t receive the hype and prep and decorating like Christmas, it is just as deep and holy, if not more so. It is a sober and moving THANKFULNESS for the one who gave His life so we may live eternally. Let us all prepare our hearts this week. May we all go visit a “stations of the cross”, regardless of religious upbringing. Let us all grieve on Good Friday. And may we all rejoice next Sunday. This is the week Jesus rose to his task and split history in two. This is the week he rode on a donkey, cried in the garden, suffered on the cross, rose into glory. This is the week that sinful, broken humans were granted a pardon, justified to perfection and set free. It is too miraculous for words. Songs and sermons will fail us.

May we all huddle at the cross this week in sobering reflection, overwhelmed by the punishment that brings us peace.

Jill Chatham

The Cross

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Book Break: The Christmas Cat

Okay, so I know it is the day after Christmas and I’m a little behind on posting this review (the book came out September 9th and the holiday season is almost over), but I hope you all will grant me some grace, as the last couple of months have been pretty hectic for us. We moved cross-country just a few days before Thanksgiving and with all the unloading, unpacking, finding places to put our stuff, locating dog-friendly parks and daycare, shopping for Christmas, wrapping, decorating (last-minute), holiday trips to see family, etc., etc. … things have been more disorganized and out-of-control than any holiday season we’ve had so far. But, despite all that, we’ve had some great times with family and friends and are especially thankful we’ve had my stepson Noah with us for Christmas this year. He goes back to Florida soon, but I think he has enjoyed his week here in Texas–mostly getting to spend time with his dad, but also hanging out with his cousins and other family members. 2014-12-23 21.04.26

IMG_5799

So, moving beyond all of that, I still think with a week left of 2014, those of you who like Christmas-themed books will find The Christmas Cat by Melody Carlson an entertaining and uplifting read. Even if your Christmas celebration is over, perhaps you can hang on to the season just a little bit longer by curling up with this book and a hot cup of [insert beverage of choice here].

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You don’t even have to be a cat lover to enjoy this feel-good story. Although if you are, you will probably find it even more charming and amusing.

 Here is a description of the story from the book jacket:

From the Inside Flap

After years abroad, Garrison Brown finds himself at the home of his beloved grandmother who has just passed away. He must sort out her belongings, including six cats who need new homes. While he hopes to dispense with the task quickly–especially since he is severely allergic to cats–his grandmother’s instructions don’t allow for speed. She has left some challenging requirements for the future homes of her furry friends. Can he match the cats with the perfect new owners? And is it possible that he might meet his own match along the way?

From the Back Cover

He felt his face flushing as Cara opened the door. Wearing a garnet-colored knit dress and with her dark hair pinned up, she looked even prettier than he remembered. Suddenly he wished he’d thought to bring a hostess gift. Like a cat.
*********

While I have to admit that the story was fairly predictable, I thought that the characters were very likable, and the book was a pleasant and easy read.

I have never read any books by this author before, but will probably pick up some of her other books before next Christmas.

Melody Carlson is the award-winning author of over two hundred books with sales of more than five million. She is the author of several Christmas books, including the bestselling The Christmas Bus, The Christmas Dog, and Christmas at Harrington’s, as well as The Christmas Pony and A Simple Christmas Wish. She received a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award in the inspirational market for her many books, including the Diary of a Teenage Girl series and Finding Alice.

Hope you get a chance to read this one and let me know what you think about it.

Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas,
a Happy New Year, and the gift of discovering
true peace, happiness, and contentment.

2014-12-20 14.45.04-1

 

Featured photo is courtesy of Rita Job and her cat Oreo.
(He reminds me of Sylvester, pictured below.)

2013-01-21 16.14.11

Disclosure: I received this book free of charge from the publisher, Revell, in exchange for my honest review.

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

Discouraged? There’s Help for Your Heart.

What Your Heart NeedsI am currently working my way through a wonderful new book by Holley Gerth: What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days: 52 Encouraging Truths to Hold On To. And I am finding so many words of encouragement that I can personally relate to. In fact, I have already flagged a number of pages that I know I will want to go back to so I can reread and savor the messages on days when I might be feeling a bit discouraged.

Holley is a best-selling writer, licensed counselor, certified life coach, and speaker. I have followed her blog: Heart to Heart with Holley (www.holleygerth.com) for quite some time now and often share her posts or some of her words or graphics with friends and family on my Facebook page.

Holley also works in partnership with DaySpring, one of the largest publishers and distributors of Christian greeting cards (and other inspirational products) in the world. Plus, she is the cofounder of (in)courage, an online “home for the hearts of women,” which I love; I have found so many great articles and bloggers through this site.

In fact, there was a recent post on (in)courage from Renee Swope titled “Words for the Weary” that made me think of Holley and the importance of her newest book. To me, Holley Gerth is the encourager of encouragers.  

Words of Encouragement

If you haven’t heard of (in)courage before, you should check them out.

So, back to the book: What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days contains 52 similarly formatted devotions based on the book of Psalms, written in a way that helps us remember that “God is good and we’re all in this together.”

Because there are 52 entries, you could easily use this book as a weekly devotional to be processed over a year, taking your time to read the opening Scripture quote and Holley’s words. Then adding your own words to complete the prayer, which has already been started for you under “What My Heart Is Saying to You.” During the week, you can go back and write in your thoughts under “What My Heart Is Hearing from You,” and at any time, you can open your Bible and read and reflect on the three Psalms referenced at the end of that week’s entry.

Of course, the devotions are short enough that you could also choose to read them as daily devotions. Either way, in this comforting book, Holley invites us “to be filled with the strength, peace, and joy that come from God’s promises.”

She provides real-life stories for us to connect with, as well as encouraging thoughts and passages from God’s Word to help us focus on what’s really important—the internal and the eternal.

All we have to do is be willing to open our hearts and receive.

Open Your Heart

Already a fan of Holley Gerth, her latest book does not disappoint. Not only will you find this book to be soothing for your own soul, but it would make a great gift for a hurting friend or perhaps even a wonderful donation at a women’s shelter. It is also the perfect companion to one of Holley’s other books: You’re Going to Be Okay.

I hope you get an opportunity to read What Your Heart Needs for the Hard Days. I will likely be posting excerpts from it in the days ahead.

God Exerts His Strength

“God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.”

Psalm 46:5

“The Lord is my strength and my shield:
my heart trusts in him,
and I am helped.”

Psalm 28:7

 

Disclosure: This book was sent to me free of charge
from Revell for my honest review.

 

Days 18 and 19: Finding Spiritual Whitespace—You Are Not Forgotten

Even if they don’t know what it means, everyone needs spiritual whitespace. If only we all clearly recognized this need in ourselves or in our loved ones, especially those who struggle with depression or some form of PTSD. Maybe we would be able to save them … save ourselves … from reaching that anguished breaking point where the only source of peace and solace available seems to be death.

On August 12th, Bonnie Gray, author of Finding Spiritual Whitespace: Awakening Your Soul to Rest wrote a tribute to Robin Williams and shared a letter she had written to her younger self. This is some of what she shared:

I wish I had a chance to talk with Robin in that dark moment he decided to take his life. I wish I could say something to bring him some hope, some comfort — the same way he brought a measure of it into my life through his art.

I’m telling you. I shed some tears. For my yesterday. For Robin.

For we are all soul-starved and hungry.

Soul-loneliness is our sad modern epidemic.

I wish I could tell you, Robin.

There is rest apart from death. There is hope in your hurt.

You can find home. God can meet you in your sorrow.

There Is Hope

From her letter to her younger self, these are the words I believe we can all benefit from:

Be broken. Don’t run from it. Feel your need and dare to follow your dreams.

And when you feel you’ve been too broken and cannot stand the pain of being alone one breath longer — break your silence.

Tell someone. Anyone. Everyone. …

When you give yourself permission to need — to touch the place of empty, the place of wanting – that ache of unrequited desire will lead you to fulfill God-sized dreams imprinted in you before you were even named. …

Your need entwines you to Christ.

Brokenness is beauty to Him.

You are not forgotten.

You're Not Alone

In today’s post, Bonnie shares how the journey of telling her story prompted her recent invitation to lead a Spiritual Whitespace Retreat for Wounded Warriors from Fort Campbell, Kentucky in Nashville this weekend. Bonnie asks for prayer for herself and those who attend the event:

Pray for me, as I’ll be sharing my personal journey through non-combat PTSD, anxiety and panic attacks to active duty military leaders along with their spouses.

This will be a three-day retreat to guide soldiers on a journey of Spiritual Whitespace and experience spiritual refreshment through storytelling, journaling, prayer and meditation.

Pray that the brave men and women who serve our country will experience unexpected soul rest — and get a taste of what feeds their soul. That they will be known and rejuvenated from the experience.

Sacred Idleness

Speaking of events for those who have served our country, we are having a local event here in Shelbyville, KY to honor our veterans and remind them that we appreciate them and are here for them.

Veterans Supper

One of the young ladies who used to work (maybe still does part-time) at Shelburne Pet Center (where Bella goes for doggy day care and boarding) came up with the concept for this First Annual Veteran’s Supper and she has been spearheading/organizing the entire event. “This event will honor veterans of the Shelby County, Kentucky area with an afternoon of delicious potluck food, fun local music entertainment, community business basket raffles, and commemoration to the sacrifices they have made for our community.”

I pray that this rejuvenates the spirits of our veterans and their families. Thank you to Molly Carter for not only caring about your hometown, but for being an integral part of making it a better place to live for all of us. I wish you much success, and I’ll see you up there on Saturday. 🙂

In closing, here are just a few of my favorite veterans and VFW members, which I recently shared on my Facebook page:

My Aunt Mary and My Grandma Jo

My Aunt Mary and My Grandma Jo

My Grandfather - Dan Lee

My Grandfather – Dan Lee (with my grandmother)

My Uncle - KC Lee

My Uncle – KC Lee

I have other family members and many friends who have also served or are still serving – thank you all for what you have done and what you continue to do. I hope you never feel alone or forgotten. If you do, call me!

“God has said,
‘Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.’

So we say with confidence,
‘The Lord is my helper;
I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?'”
(Hebrews 13:5-6)

 

Day 17: Finding Spiritual Whitespace in Forgiveness

We’ve all been wronged or hurt by others at some point in our lives. Sometimes those who hurt us didn’t really mean to, and they apologize. That is a wonderful thing. But, in especially traumatic circumstances, often the person is never confronted with the truth of their actions, or if it is brought to light, they deny that it even happened. That’s when we have to decide if we are going to forgive them anyway. Not for their sake, but for our own.

Forgive Others

Part of the problem with forgiving others comes with the interpretation of what forgiveness really means.

Wikipedia defines it as follows: Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well. Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), pardoning (granted by a representative of society, such as a judge), forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship).

Forgiveness

After writing about her own personal traumas while growing up, and exposing some of the heart-wrenching situations she experienced with both of her parents, Bonnie Gray, author of Finding Spiritual Whitespace has been asked in several interviews: Have you forgiven those who hurt you? How has forgiveness played a role in your story.

In her blog post “What Does It Mean to Really Forgive?” Bonnie explains what forgiveness DOESN’T mean:

Forgiveness does not mean trust is freely granted or automatically restored.

Forgiveness does not mean you don’t have boundaries, if their actions are unhealthy or cause you emotional, spiritual, [or] physical harm.

Forgiveness does not mean giving someone who has hurt you license to hurt you again.

Forgiveness does [not] mean open borders to toxicity, fear or intimidation to manipulate you into being the friend, girlfriend, co-worker, daughter, ministry worker, wife, … (fill in the blank), fashioned in someone else’s image. …

Forgiveness does not mean we don’t talk about it.

Forgiveness does not mean we hide our stories. And pretend it didn’t happen.

We’re all broken in some way. We all have wounds.

So, we still have to take the journey to heal, to grieve, and cry — in order to find what’s beautiful, to awaken our hearts to what’s real.

So, we can take better care of ourselves. To feed our souls. And begin to dream again.

 Follow the link above to Bonnie’s post for today and read the whole thing. As usual, she shares some beautiful thoughts and reminds us of the importance of creating spiritual whitespace “to make room to receive from God what we’ve lost.”

Forgiveness

How would forgiveness free up spiritual whitespace — room to rest and nurture your soul?

21 Days of Rest: Finding Spiritual Whitespace

Having a Bad Day? You Are Not Alone.

Despite our best efforts to keep our lives on a steady track, like a carousel, life is typically more like a roller coaster. We have our ups—things are great, life is good, we’re on top of the world. And then we have our downs—those trying times when it seems that everything that can go wrong does.

Personally, I am only on a small slope right now as I experience a little uncertainty about my income in the upcoming months and continue to deal with the on-again/off-again issues of carpal tunnel and fibromyalgia. However, among my family and friends, there are several people experiencing more traumatic issues like the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, multiple surgeries, major medication and rehabilitation, long-distance moves, and various other shake-ups.

Today, whether you are experiencing a steady decline or you feel like you are descending at a rapid rate, remember: looking back does not change the course; every down is followed by an up; and finally, whatever you are going through, you are not alone.

Roy Lessin image

Virginia Knowles, who writes about motherhood on her blog (This Mom Grows Up!) posted this today: “When Life Is Not a Bowl of Cherries”

“So much we go through, the good and bad mixed together. It stretches our faith. It teaches us life lessons. It connects us to those who want to help us. It draws on our capacity to love others. It shows us where we need to put forth more effort.”

Another blogger I follow, Susie Middleton (at SixBurnerSue.com), shares some of the crazy downs experienced in farm life:

“It’s … easy, this time of year, to look around a farm and get discouraged. Weeds are ravenous, pests are ravenous, farm stand customers are ravenous. (And our egg supply isn’t keeping up with demand.). The pretty green frilly stuff of spring has fled, replaced by dying pea vines and bolted lettuce and plants ravaged by potato beetles.

But wait. That’s only one way to look at it.”

She goes on to comment on the cheerful sunflowers and zinnias, the bountiful tomato harvest, and the fresh black raspberries now ripe for making homemade berry ice cream.

Copyright © 2014 Susie Middleton

Copyright © 2014 Susie Middleton

Sometimes, how you look at your surroundings and what you choose to see is more important than what appears at first to be the overwhelming “reality.” Changing your focus is not always easy to do, especially if you are experiencing financial difficulties or overwhelming grief, but you can often find the silver lining in many situations if you try and/or if you give it time. (Of course, there are some things that we will never understand or see the good in … at least not during our earthly lives. For those things, we simply have to trust in God and His plan.)

JoAnn Potter, shares some really good thoughts on bad things in her blog post, “God Never Says ‘Oops'”:

“Whenever something bad happens to me, my first reaction is to think that I don’t belong in my situation. Surely, there’s been some kind of mistake.

My son shouldn’t be sick. I shouldn’t have constant conflict with my boss. I’m not supposed to have broken my mother’s prized china. My husband wasn’t supposed to be downsized out of a job. Our car shouldn’t have broken down. …

Regardless of what I want to believe about my situation, I am in it for one of only two reasons: Either God has willed it, or He has allowed it.

If I do not admit this, then God becomes subservient to my will, to the devil, to chance, or to something else. And He can’t. If He does, He is not God. …

God is not selectively perfect. He is not selectively knowing. He is not selectively loving. God is these things all the time.

He does not make me do stuff, but He does work all things together for good. He can turn my bad decisions, eventually, into good. He can turn evil inside out. He does it all the time.”

PEACE - I Have Overcome the World

Whatever you are going through, I pray that your burden will be eased; that you will receive encouragement through your connection to God, friends, and family; that you will find relief from your pain and comfort for your sorrow; that you will discover the desires of your heart and the path that will get you there; and that you will find rest, peace, and renewal at the end of the “ride.”

Dr. Charles Stanley says, “Perhaps the hardest part of receiving the desires of our heart is waiting for them to materialize. Yet God’s Word insists that we rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. This means relying on Him to work out circumstances even when achieving our desire seems impossible.”

 “Now then, stand still and see this great thing
the Lord is about to do…”
1 Samuel 12:4

“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you;
he will never leave you nor forsake you.
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
Deuteronomy 31:8

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.”
Jeremiah 17:7

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11

Stop Worrying