Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Celebrating Christmas: The Real Christmas Story

Merry Christmas! I have spent this month Celebrating Christmas in so many special ways. It's our first Christmas in Texas, and despite living in transition with very few material goods, we have managed to Celebrate Christmas in our own Texas-size way!

For a little glimpse...here's something I wrote a few weeks ago:

I'm sitting here in our little apartment by the glow of a beautiful Christmas tree that isn't ours, covered in special ornaments that don't belong to us. The bottom is wrapped in an old Christmas table cloth that once covered Grandma Teacher's table, and stacked upon it are brightly wrapped presents from Mom and Dad.

The stockings are hung and they bear our names, but they really belong to Mom. The Nativity in our kitchen looks just like one we have, but this one is actually Sister's. The advent calendar is not the one we have used since the boys were babies, but it's a new gift from Aunt Prayer Warrior, giving us a new tradition. The little Charlie Brown nativity ornaments that sit by our Engineer's bed look exactly like the ones that have sat by his bed every single Christmas, but this little set is on loan from Cousin Christmas. She shared quite a few decorations with us this year, including some of Grandma Gem's ornaments.

A few weeks ago I was feeling down because we are still in transition and all of our special memory-filled Christmas items are packed away in storage. It was Hubby's idea to get a few things from our family while home for Thanksgiving. All I had to do was ask...and our family came through for us. As Hubby said, this may become one of our favorite Christmas memories. Thank you to our loving family for spreading Christmas cheer all the way to Texas.

Although this Christmas was very different from any other we have ever had, it has been very special and helped us focus more on the real Christmas.

And with that in mind, I wanted to repost my last post from December 2013:

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Real True Christmas Story

For the past two weeks, I have been sharing the stories within The Christmas Story. When I decided to focus on The Real True Christmas Story for this month, I went to the real true source - The Bible - for the complete story. Both Matthew and Luke wrote about the birth of Jesus.

Interestingly, their two books really intertwine the story of Christmas. They each tell different parts of the story and we really only get the complete story by putting both of their writings together. So to wrap up this adventure of focusing on the The Christmas Story, here is the complete story -straight from the Bible - woven together from the books of Matthew and Luke.

Luke 1:5-56:        
 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly.  But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old.

 Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God,  he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense.  And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.  When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. 

He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born. He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak.
When his time of service was completed, he returned home. 

After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion.  “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel toNazareth, a town in Galilee,  to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”
 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”
And Mary said:
“My soul glorifies the Lord
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    just as he promised our ancestors.”
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

Matthew 1:18-24:
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

 Luke 2:1-38:
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah,the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.


On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Matthew 2:1-16:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  
And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.


When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”


So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”


When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 



Matthew 2:19-23:

After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.”

So he got up, took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene.

Luke 2:39-40:
When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.

Luke 2:51-52:
His mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.

For my daily December postings, click The Christmas Story.

Merry Christmas! A Savior is born! 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

November: Celebrating Thanksgiving

Happy November! Maybe it's not very original...or surprising...but I have decided to Celebrate Thanksgiving this month. It may seem an obvious choice....but honestly some days it's easier to focus on the struggles of the day rather than the blessings. Do you ever feel like that?

During this season of my life, instead of just focusing my gratefulness on one special American holiday, I think a whole month is in order. Even though I haven't posted anything in November until today, I have already been Celebrating Thanksgiving this month. And I'm glad I made that decision because twelve days into the month and I really do feel lighter...more grateful...even more content.

On days when panic, sadness, worry, or frustration set in over uncontrollable circumstances in our lives, I remind myself that I am Celebrating Thanksgiving...not Heartache this month. And you know what? That actually helps.

You know, a couple of men from the Bible, Paul and Timothy, had their fair share of struggles. They went through some very difficult times, but they didn't let heartache stop them from caring about their friends. During a time when they were going through their own troubles, they took some time to write a letter to the holy people in Colossae.

They wrote:
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  Colossians 3:15-17

Amazingly these words were written during a time when Paul was imprisoned! Did you know that? These beautiful and encouraging words about thankfulness were written by Paul while he was sitting in prison after being arrested on false charges!

Just think about that for a moment...oh what Paul must have endured...and yet he clung to the peace of Christ to rule his heart. While he was unfairly imprisoned, he wasn't feeling sorry for himself, he was concerned about his faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. So he spent his time encouraging them to be thankful...with gratitude ...giving thanks to God our Father.

Reading over these words, I find myself developing a fresh resolve to dig a little deeper with my own gratefulness. My circumstances, although not exactly what I would choose, are no where near the situation of Paul.

So...um...excuse me while I take some time to be thankful...with gratitude ...giving thanks to God our Father.


October: Celebrating Time Off

Although I certainly did not plan it, I have been quiet on this blog for yet another month. You know how it is...sometimes life just changes...and then your plans change...and just like that I took an entire month off from blogging.

Thanks for checking in. Hopefully we will chat a bit more in November.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Praising God in the Quiet

Recently I started a new prayer journal. I think I've tried to do a prayer journal a time or two over the years...and well....for whatever reason it just wasn't for me. It felt more like a chore...and certainly didn't add a positive note to my prayer life

Surprisingly, journaling has never been something I was big on...or consistant with in my life. I have also started regular life journals in the past, and those fizzled as well. Truth is I'm a talker more than a writer...which is why I am still shocked that I have been somewhat consistently blogging for nearly two years.

As I shared in my last post, lately I haven't been much of a talker or a writer. These past couple of months I have embraced the quiet side of me that has laid dormant for well over forty years. It's been a weird experience for both Hubby and myself...

But it's also been a good experience. One of the productive things I've chosen to do in the quiet was start a prayer journal and I have found that it's something I look forward to each day.

Last fall I agreed to do a little devotional study with a friend. We started reading daily from a book by Beth Moore called Whispers of Hope. In some ways it is a typical daily devotional book with a scripture reading and a devotional that goes along with the scripture lesson.

The part that made this book more unique is that she also included a section after each devotional where you could write out your prayers. Now I knew that in the past I had not enjoyed writing out my prayers, so I was reluctant to do that part of the daily lesson.

Reviews for the book online even complained about the prayer journaling, and my friend said she wasn't sure about doing that part of the study. But I tried it anyway. At first, I wasn't even sure how to do it. Beth had little sections for each part of praying (praise, repentance, acknowledgement, intercession, supplication for self, equipping) with a few lines for each.

How was that going to work for me? I'm a talker. I usually have a lot to say...and there just wasn't much room to write it all out. Plus, I was a busy gal with lots of things to do each day. I certainly wasn't planning on spending all kinds of time on this book.

I quickly decided instead of writing out complete sentences, that I would jot down key words as I prayed. I realized early on that I really like that method. It helped me to keep focused during prayer and remember what/who I wanted to lift up to the Lord.

Somewhere along the way, the journaling of my prayers became a beloved part of my daily study. A few months later, I completed the book, and I soon realized that I missed writing out my prayers in that format.

So off to Target I went to look for a special notebook that I could use for my prayer journal. I found a mid-size, hot pink, bound notebook that would prove to be the perfect little book to use. And to write out my prayers, I picked up a couple of my favorite hot pink ink pens. {I hope my little Rosie touch makes God smile.}

Now I was ready to start my prayer journal.

Praise
Each day I write the day and date at the top of the page, then thumb through my Bible and find a verse praising God and I copy it word for word onto the page, adding my own little praise after it.

Confess
Next, I confess sin that is bogging me down. Sometimes I focus on one specific issue, other times I might write about more than one. It doesn't seem hard to come up with something to talk over with God each day. I admit where I have messed up, I ask God to forgive me, and help me to do better in that area of my life. Believe me...it's a whole discussion usually...

Thanks
Then, I thank Him for some of the blessings of the day. I usually write several, and pray over several more. Sometimes I focus on one specific blessing, but usually I have a pretty long list to share with God. No matter what is going on in my day to day...I am clear that I have much to thank our Lord for each and every day.

Requests - Others
Finally, I get to the request part of my prayer time....first, my concerns for "others". I have an ongoing list of people that I pray for every single day. Many on that list are dealing with health issues...others are trudging through a slew of other heartaches.

I pray for these friends, family members, and even a few complete strangers as I write their names down in my little pink book. I also take some time to pray for their family and friends supporting them through their difficult times.

Honestly, some days I forget someone because the list is long. Thankfully, when I forget, God doesn't. He will bring them to mind at some point and I will add them to the list as I talk with God. This is a point where I pray for our leaders as well.

Requests - Self
Once that part is complete, I move onto my own requests for the day. In the last several months, my own prayers have pretty much been the same. I have a small list of what's really important to me at this season of my life...and I talk that over with God every day.

A couple items on that list, He has fulfilled quickly and sweetly and I am most appreciative. Our God is a God of blessings and love...and He has most certainly given our family a fair share of both. However...admittedly...as I thumb back through my daily writings and see the exact same thing on the list for months....months and months...I'm not going to lie, it can be discouraging and frustrating.

But as soon as I admit to those feelings, I know in my heart that God doesn't just give us everything we want just because we asked Him for it. That's not how this prayer thing works. Every day I ask God for something...many somethings if I'm being totally honest. And every day He answers me.

Sometimes He says yes...sometimes no. I don't know why...especially when I'm asking for something that only seems to bring honor and glory to Him (and if it makes my life easier...why not?)...but only God knows my future. I don't. He knows what is going to be best for me and my family. He knows exactly when to say no...and when to say yes.

I know this in my head...but sometimes it's a little harder to know it in my heart. Especially when I am feeling quite emotional about the request. So I'm going to keep writing those requests down day after day...and wait to see what God's answer is going to be.

Sometimes our Lord has told me to stop asking. And I have. This happened to me recently. I was praying for a specific blessing for Hubby. I wanted this for him so badly. I knew for it to happen it would only be through an act of God because we had already been told very clearly and precisely that it would not happen by any earthly means.

I could have said, "Well...we gave it a good try, but the answer is no". Except...God has wowed me with His Almighty power before and I thought it was worth asking Him to do it again. I even asked a group of girlfriends to pray with me.

Many of them agreed even though they had no idea what the blessing was or why I was asking this of God. I truly have the sweetest praying friends. I was blessed by that even before God revealed the answer to us.

We all began praying, and then very quickly into the process, I received a very clear message from God for me to quit praying over it. He told me "I've got this. Leave it alone." Well...that truly filled me with both heartache and hope. I didn't want to stop praying. I wanted to continue to pray about it until the answer came...but then again...I did have hope that God was taking care of it...and that maybe He was going to grant this request.

So I quit praying about it, and I felt comforted that I had friends that were praying in my place. And then we heard heartbreaking news from dear friends that their young son was very ill and fighting for his life. I immediately went back to my group of friends, and asked them to pray for him and his family instead of my request. I knew without a doubt that was what God wanted me to do.

So once again, my sweet friends responded with love and prayers...this time for a family most of them didn't even know. And again I was greatly blessed by this even though I still didn't know how God was going to handle the original request.

A short time later, the answer came. It was a no. I was disappointed, but my prayers were now focused on what our friends were going through. Again, I went back to my little prayer group of friends, shared the answer, and then asked them to continue to pray for our friends going through such a difficult time.

Weeks went by....Hubby and I had accepted God's answer...and had moved on to other important items that were prominent in our lives at the time. We continued to focus much prayer on our friends and their son.

Then...out of the blue...in a surprising Only-God like twist...God granted my request and blessed Hubby in a way that we knew was without a doubt from Him. And as I write this, I continue to give God full credit and glory for a blessing that will stay with Hubby for the rest of his life.

It's truly humbling every single time I think about it. What a God moment.

So in the days when I struggle with God's perfect timing...and I wish He would answer me already...I only have to look at my children or my husband to be reminded of the many many great blessings He has bestowed upon our family.

Seriously...enough for a lifetime...already.

I am ever so grateful. And yet...like any other child...it doesn't stop me for asking for more. And God loves that we ask Him. He wants us to come to Him with our requests. The apostle Paul writes this in his letter to the people of Philippi in Philippians 4:4-6:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 

My prayer journal has become a very important part of this Celebrating the Quiet time. I took the concept that Beth Moore offered in her book, and I made it my own. I choose to end each of my daily entries the same way I begin them...with praise.

Praise
At the bottom of each page, I think of one very special thing that I praise God for at that moment and I write it down. It might be the beautiful day...or something someone said or did...or time spent with family...any number of wonderful blessings from God. It's really helped me to focus my prayer time on praising God during this time of Quiet.

Paul goes on to say in Philippians 4:7:
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

It really does. He really does. Especially in the Quiet.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

September: Celebrating The Quiet

Well here we are over halfway through the month and I am finally writing my first post of September. I've really struggled with writing this summer and as we ease into fall...I'm still struggling with what to say to y'all.

If you know me in real life, then you know that me not knowing what to say is somewhat strange. I don't deny it. It is. And honestly...it's strange for me too. I just don't feel much like talking or writing these days. I think it's truly because I just don't know what to say.

As you know, we are in a transition period of our lives. One we did not expect to be in at this time and it has left us a little out of our element. Everything in our lives has once again changed and we are working daily to figure out the next step. And we are finding out it isn't as easy as it might seem.

Clearly being in this new season of our lives with no clear direction is a bit baffling at this stage (and age) for us. So...I'm a little quieter than I usually am.

Maybe I am finally learning what that verse from Psalm 46:10 actually means. It says:

“Be still, and know that I am God."
    
I know it doesn't sound very Christian of me...but I've never really cared for this verse. It kind of goes against everything that is in me. Do I really have to be still to know God? I have fought that idea for pretty much my entire 45 years.

But something about this season has flipped a switch in my usual busy, talkative self and I am learning to embrace this be still time. This month I have spent a great deal of time "being still" through prayer and Bible reading.
The pups enjoy The Quiet with me.

I have been working on two projects which both require a significant amount of time reading and searching the Bible. Much of this time, I sit quietly reading and writing out Bible verses. And while these projects aren't for just me personally, I have gained so much as I discover verse after verse pertaining to where I am right now.

In the quiet, I also talk with God about so many dear people who are going through incredibly difficult issues right now. I have friends fighting cancer or overseeing their child's cancer battle and/or several other critical health issues. Friends and relatives of ours are dealing with divorce, separation, severe health issues, a struggling child, family strife, military deployment, financial troubles, marital wounds, heartache, unemployment, and major disappointment.

While I'm being still, these people that we dearly care about come to mind.

The list seems long and heavy. There are so many loved ones that are carrying very real burdens. And these are just the ones I personally know about. I am sure there are plenty more out there feeling quiet and just don't have the words to share the load that is bogging them down right now. Not knowing what else to do (or say)...I pray...often writing them down in a little prayer journal I have started.

So this month I'm celebrating The Quiet. It's been a tremendous time of being still and I do know without a doubt that God is God.

*Update*
Here is my other September Celebrating the Quiet post:
Praising God in the Quiet

Saturday, August 16, 2014

So Your Kid Is Off To College?

Our Scientist will soon begin his senior year of college. On the very same day, our Engineer will begin his senior year of high school. I know. Trust me. I can't believe it either. I've never been that great with math...but seriously...it just doesn't add up. There's no way that many years have passed since holding those sweet little newborn babies in my new momma arms.

And yet...here we are. They both tower over me now. Instead of me squatting to them...they are bending down to me. It's a fact that both amuses and saddens me. They are growing into amazing men. They are...for the most part....making choices and conducting themselves in a way very pleasing to Hubby and I. On pretty much any given day, we find something to be quite proud of when it comes to them.

As I think about my goal of Celebrating School Days this month...I can't help but think about how we got here and where this is all going with our sons. Their first day of preschool...kindergarten...high school...and college are firmly planted in my forever memory. Those were days of mixed feelings: excitement and heartache.

To preserve my sanity...I try not to think much about the after college days. All I can really acknowledge right now is that it is clear things are gonna change...big time.

The first day of college was the most difficult one for us. That one was ALL THE FEELINGS! For our little family, it meant leaving our Scientist in a state far far away...All. By. Himself.

It was a CRAZY plan. Who came up with this idea? And please tell me...who approved it? Because it was totally unreasonable and ridiculous.

And yet...that's what we did. We left him there....697 miles away from us. That's over 11 hours away by car. Let me tell you, it didn't happen without lots of tears...heartache...and prayers.

And you know what? It was the craziest...most ridiculous....incredibly unreasonable....horribly painful decision we made as a family. It was also the right thing to do. It was a huge blessing to our son. It wasn't always easy...he's had some difficult days at college...but it has been the best experience for him!

Hubby and I have cried...cheered...argued...prayed...lectured...rolled our eyes... chuckled...coached....advised....loved...understood...misunderstood...yelled...prayed... muttered...laughed...rejoiced....and prayed with (and at) our Scientist through these past three years of college.

Yep. All the feelings.

Of course, our Engineer will continue taking college classes as the main part of his high school senior year curriculum. Having him still at home with us, but experiencing college level education is also a unique experience.

It's a fine line for us to balance. As we guide and assist him in developing good study habits and practices, we are still trying to let him figure some of it out on his own. That can be exceedingly challenging as well.

This parenting gig isn't easy...but it is an incredible gift of ups and downs...happiness and pain...sweet times of holding tight...and extremely tough times of letting go.

So today as I Celebrate School Days, I want to send a loving shout out of encouragement to all of the parents who are sending off their brand new college freshman this month. Whether they are moving into a dorm and will be far away from home, or taking local classes and commuting from home...you are beginning a new season of life and things are changing at a rapid pace for your child and you.

Hubby and I have been there. We have felt the pain and cried the tears and lived to tell this tale. Your heart will ache with this change, but you will get used to your new normal. They will too.

And if it's just too much and try as you might you just can't adjust? Well then...do what we did: Give it a good three year try and then move to your child's college town! It worked for us.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

August: Celebrating School Days

From the last few days of July into the first few days of September, "Back to School" days are occurring across America. So I'm thinking...why not Celebrate School Days for the month of August? As a student...momma of students...homeschooling momma...and teacher, I have many wonderful memories and a few encouraging words about this time of year.

When I think of my own school days, one of the first people to come to mind is my first kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Teacher. Oh what sweet memories I cherish of her. She was a gentle, kind lady who spoke softly with an easy smile and crinkly eyes. 

I just adored her. 

She is well into her nineties now...but a few years ago when I got to see her again...all the feelings of a little five year old me came flooding back. 

How thrilled I was when she recognized me and called me by name! How cool is that? Mrs. Teacher was so delighted to see me as a grown woman with children of my own. It was a happy reunion for us both. She was definitely older, but her smiley eyes still danced with joy as she quietly asked about my life. I was so pleased to find her just as I remembered her. 

We had a wonderful chat and as we parted ways...she patted my hand and told me how proud she was of me. I beamed back at her because in that moment I realized how much I still craved her approval. 

Our forever bond was established in August 1974 on the first day of school. And it didn't matter how many students she had then...or before me...or after me...I was important to her because I was her student. It's something that will keep us connected throughout this life. 

It's true that you learn so many meaningful life lessons in your kindergarten year of school. For me, one of them was how to be a lifelong teacher. Mrs. Teacher showed me how a teacher loves her students...connects to them...and makes them feel treasured. And through her actions she gave me a love for school...and teachers.

I had no idea in 1974 that I would grow up to teach my own children...and then...eventually classrooms of students. Mrs. Teacher did not know that she was modeling for me an amazing example that I would reflect on and try my best to emulate when I became a teacher. 

Of course, God knew the plan even then...and he placed me in that classroom with that loving educator at that impressionable time in my very young life to begin the preparation for my own teaching experiences to come many years later. 

That's just how awesome God is.

And I'm not the only one to notice this. Here's what the Psalmist (probably King David) wrote a long long time before I would discover God's wonders for myself:

Many, Lord my God,
    are the wonders you have done,
    the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
    were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
    they would be too many to declare.     Psalm 40:5 (NIV)

And Isaiah noticed it as well:

Lord, you are my God;
    I will exalt you and praise your name,
for in perfect faithfulness
    you have done wonderful things,
    things planned long ago.    Isaiah 25:1 (NIV)

What a gift to be able to look back and see the beauty of God's perfect faithfulness in preparing me in Kindergarten for all the School Days to come...as a student...a momma...and a teacher. 

That's something worth celebrating for sure!

Please join me the rest of this month as I Celebrate School Days with you.

*Update*
Here is my other August Celebrating School Days post:
So You Kid Is Off To College?

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Wondering...What's Next?

While there are many aspects of Hubby's new found retirement that we are both enjoying...I have to say our lives aren't exactly where we want to be just yet. Hubby seems to be making a smoother transition than I am with this whole process.

In an eye-opening twist, once Hubby and I began sharing that he would retire from the Air Force, people started offering their retirement experiences with us. People he had worked closely with for years, and friends we had known even longer, opened up about how their retirement came about or how they dealt with the days that followed.

It's weird...but we never heard these stories while Hubby was on active duty status. It wasn't until we were ready to "join the club" before we were let in on how it really was.

Hubby's response has truly surprised me...but evidently not those who have gone before him. It turns out his road to military retirement isn't much different from anyone else's journey. Who knew? We certainly didn't. I think there's a strange sense of comfort in learning this...which gives Hubby a relaxed, peaceful disposition in his new role. He's taking it all in stride.

I have found that my experience in walking away from this lifestyle was more difficult. It was the oddest feeling because there was so much stress and uncertainty with our military life...and leaving it meant I was able to finally put that behind me. With Hubby's retirement came great relief from worries I no longer had to worry over.

However...

This is the lifestyle I have known the longest and retirement at our age is not retirement in the way most people think of it. We still have two boys to get through college...one of which is still living at home. We don't own a home...we aren't settled into a church or community full of friends and memories. Our military lifestyle has not set us up with those comforts.

We are very blessed to have had all those things at one point or another along this journey, but as we finish up our "roaming" lifestyle...we don't have them all gathered into one place to enjoy in our retirement. For us, retirement is another adventure in a long list of adventures. And for me...the least adventurous of our little family...it feels like I have traded old stresses for new ones.

While I do find joy and excitement in each move...there's also the whole starting over part that fills me with uncertainty...doubt...fear...and impatience.  If I could just move from one place to another and jump right into a community with automatic friends, church, connections, a job, and especially a hairdresser...I would certainly enjoy these moving adventures a whole lot more!

And I know without a doubt I'm not alone. I can't even tell you how many many times I have heard from other military wives in the past few months. Sometimes with tears in their eyes....or in hushed tones....or even with a wistful smile on their face...recounting their own retirement struggles. Over and over they told me how their husband's retirement was harder on them than him.

Each time someone reached out to share this important confidence with me...I listened. I felt bad for them. And I'm embarrassed to admit that I pretty much waved it off. How sad for them...but I was not going to have trouble with it! I have looked forward to this for a very very long time. It was a goal we set years and years before...and by golly...we had made it over the finish line together! How could that be hard to accept? I had already planned to celebrate it with gusto!

But then the days zoomed along from the middle of March until all of the sudden we were nearing the end of June and the end of the only way of life I had known as an adult. An adult life full of security...a paycheck...a home...and a community of people experiencing the exact same life. Soon we would be kicked out of the Active Duty club and the new Veteran club was not nearly as organized...or special...and quite frankly....didn't pay as well either.

As I sat at Hubby's retirement ceremony...the struggle hit me with full force. As people stood to speak kind words about Hubby and his commitment to our country...I wanted to stand up and yell: "STOP!"  I knew I wasn't ready for it all to be over. There were more adventures to be had.

I didn't want to change everything. I didn't want to go to the civilian world where people don't always understand. I didn't want to leave the security of a world where I felt safe...and knowledgeable...and part of something good in service to our nation.

As you may have guessed (or at least hoped)...I didn't jump up and scream. I did what every other military wife before me has done. I sat in my chair...smiling proudly...dabbing away the tears of happiness...sorrow...and amazing memories. I took a deep breath and drank it all in...knowing it was the last of the lasts of our military experiences.

And like so many other military experiences...I was braver than I thought I could be...or wanted to be...and I survived it. Soon Hubby and I were walking together through a sea of family and friends to the strains of The Air Force Song:

"Off we go into the wild blue yonder"...

And off we went the very next day...

As I write this...I am sitting on a wicker love seat in our temporary home. One month into our newest adventure, we haven't figured out the next leg of our journey yet. We have time. There's no rush. We are...after all...retired. Many many of our military friends have been in our exact same place. They have reassured us this is how it is. They went through it too. It takes time to find your place in a non-military world. It can be difficult...but we will prevail. They have. We will.

Knowing we aren't the first to ever experience this is somewhat comforting...but then again...I really wish it wasn't like this...that it didn't feel like this...that we weren't once again strangers in a strange land. I'm ready to settled in...grow some roots...become part of local history...know people and be known by others.

Seriously...I'm ready to have someone smile and wave at me because they recognize me.

It doesn't happen overnight... or even in 31 days. That is a fact I have learned from experience. These things take time. And now that Hubby is retired...that is something we seem to have in abundance. I believe deep down in my soul...with every beat of my heart...that God has this all under control...that even when I don't know The Plan, He does.

Even though we don't have the next adventure lined up...and it's been a more difficult transition than I expected...I trust God to be God of our lives. I do so because of these words written by the apostle Paul to the church in Rome:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 15:13

Paul wrote these words to a group of people he had not even met. He sent them letters of instruction and encouragement with the hope of visiting them one day. Among his wise words were those found in Romans 15:13. Even though they were written to other people long long ago, Paul's words give me hope for our situation today.

God is the God of hope. He does fill me with joy and peace when I trust in Him. And I do want to trust in Him and overflow with hope. Overflowing with hope sounds wonderful.

As I wrap up Celebrating Our Air Force Adventure this month...I smile. It's been an awesome adventure. A journey I didn't think I wanted to take in the beginning...but now...I'm oh so very grateful to have been allowed to experience it.

I'm thankful that God gifted us with this Amazing Air Force Adventure...and while I may struggle just a little as I wait on God's plan...I do trust in Him...and I'm hopeful for what's to come.

After all...His ideas have always been way better than mine...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Growing Up In The Wild Blue Yonder

Hubby and I grew up in very small towns (just a few hundred people) near each other. We come from a rural community where everyone knows each other and pillars of these townships go back for several generations. It was a very safe, wonderful, almost magical way to grow up.  We are incredibly grateful for the way we were raised and extremely proud to be from these communities.

We would have loved for our sons to grow up in the same type of experience...but that was not God's plan for our little family. Our boys grew up in a very different community than we did. They grew up in the Wild Blue Yonder of the Air Force.

Our Scientist and our Engineer are not Air Force Brats. I refuse to call them that. They are so much more than what that name implies. Yes, their blood does bleed red, white, and blue...yes, they know without a doubt what the "sound of freedom" actually sounds like...ahem...jet noise. As a matter of fact...because they grew up in the Air Force...they know what guarding freedom actually feels like as well.

Guarding freedom feels like fear that your daddy might not come back home...sadness when your dad isn't there to see you hit that home run or make that soccer goal....pride when you see someone salute your father...and heart-pounding excitement when you run into his arms on a tarmac after months of being apart.

There are people who have told me they feel bad for our sons because they had to grow up "that way". They wouldn't want it for their children. I understand that.

Sure it seems horrible that a father would miss a child's birthday, music recital, whole seasons of a sport, or every holiday at least once in their young lives. All of those things have happened to our boys. It wasn't fun. Yep...it was sad...but we survived it.

And truth be told...I believe our guys cherish the times we are all together even more because of the times we have had to be apart in the past.

Being an Air Force Kid actually has it perks. Our boys have enjoyed some amazing adventures growing up. Not all of them were directly related to their dad being in the military, but his occupation certainly added in some way to them getting to delight in many incredible childhood experiences.

So today...I'm Celebrating Our Air Force Adventure by sharing a little of the adventures of our Air Force Kids.

Our Scientist and Engineer have visited twenty-five states in this great nation...and have actually lived in six of them. They have also had the privilege of visiting four other countries. During that time, they walked on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, toured the White House in Washington DC, took in the sites at the Mall of America in Minnesota, and will never forget seeing the Alamo in Texas. 

They have viewed Mount Rushmore...the wide open spaces of Wyoming...and the Great Salt Plains in Utah.  They have driven over the Rocky Mountains and through the redwoods in Yosemite National Park. Our boys swam in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans...gazed out over the Potomac River...touched the Mighty Mississippi...and cruised the Caribbean.

Our Scientist and Engineer have hugged Mickey Mouse at both Disneyland and Disney World...toured Southern mansions in Alabama...and floated down the River Walk in both San Antonio and Oklahoma City. They have visited science museums in several states...traveled by train to the top of Colorado's Pike's Peak...and looked out over Saint Louis, Missouri from the top of the Gateway Arch.

Our guys have cheered for the Cardinals at ball parks in both St Louis and Phoenix...camped in the high desert of Arizona....and slept in a cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains. They rode out an F-5 tornado (and several smaller ones) in Oklahoma City and stood wide eyed at the rim of the majestic Grand Canyon.

Along the way...they have adopted two cats, three dogs, countless fish...and at least one little frog.

Because they are Air Force Kids, they have met NASA Astronauts, Air Force Test Pilots, and at least one Tuskegee Airman. They have happily sat in the cockpit of a T-38 Talon training jet,  E-3 AWACS, and the U-2 Dragonlady. They even caught a ride to Hawaii in the back of a USAF C-141 aircraft and visited Pearl Harbor. 

Not only that, but our military boys have cruised down an Air Force runway going over 100 mph in a chase car behind a U-2 "Spyplane" being flown by their very own dad. They have flown Air Force simulators and relished several "behind the scenes" military base tours with their father.

Our Scientist and Engineer have dined with Generals...shook the hands of Veterans...and stood with their hands over their hearts as the National Anthem played over the base speaker signaling the end of the workday.

Both of our boys have walked onto a college campus not knowing a soul...made friends quickly...good ones...each earning a scholarship.

And they have done all of this before the ages 18 and 22.

So please don't feel sorry for our boys. They may have grown up differently than you or I...but their life in the Wild Blue Yonder of the Air Force has been filled with many wonderful, exciting opportunities which they have embraced and enjoyed.

It hasn't always been easy...but our sons are proud to be Air Force Kids...and Hubby and I are so very proud of them.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

When His Dreams Became My Dreams

Looking back, I know exactly when it happened. I know the day...the experience that changed my heart (and my head) from not wanting Hubby to be a military pilot to wanting that for him more than I can express.

As family legend goes...Hubby was just five years old when he announced he wanted to be a pilot and an astronaut when he grew up. And just like that...the plan was set. In true Hubby-fashion, he had set his goal and the next step was to start working toward it. And that's exactly what he did from that day forward.

Hubby never once wavered from this dream. Not once.  

He spent the next seventeen years focused on doing what needed to be done to help him become a pilot and an astronaut. True story.

So on the very same day Hubby earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Physics, his parents and I pinned on his USAF Second Lieutenant "Butter Bars" during his commissioning ceremony. And he had received his first active duty assignment: He was going to Undergraduate Pilot Training. 

Hubby was well on his way to making his dreams come true.

The only glitch was that pilot training was a little backed up, and he was going to have to wait for his slot in the program. We would have to wait an entire year for Hubby to be put on active duty status and begin his career in the United States Air Force.

We both settled into local jobs...I continued with school...and we waited for the big day when we would pack our bags and finally start our very own Air Force Adventure. Nearly a year had passed when one day a thin white envelope from the Air Force arrived in the mail.

Before Hubby opened it, he told me he thought it was bad news. He was expecting a thick packet of information...not a single letter. Sadly, he was correct. It was very disappointing news. It rocked our happy little newlywed life. The letter stated that congress had made some cuts to the Air Force budget and Hubby's pilot training class was one of the cuts. 

It was not happening. He was not going to pilot training. The goal he had set for himself all those years before...after all his hard work and determination was over. It wasn't happening. Through no fault of his own, he had lost his pilot training slot and there was nothing he could do to change it. 

It was such a sad day. The saddest one we had experienced in our young marriage. 

And that was the day Hubby's dreams became mine.

On a day when I could have felt such relief that what I didn't want to be would not be...I only found myself in complete disappointment with Hubby. His pain was my pain. I was heartbroken with him.

In the midst of our great sorrow...strangely...something beautiful happened. It changed our marriage. It grew us up a little. It was the beginning of something that would sustain us and bind our marriage bond even stronger. This was the first real test of our marriage. It was the first real life issue we had been given to deal with on our own. 

Although our parents were nearby and loved us through it...this was a change to our future...our plans...our life... And it was our problem to figure out. How were we going to deal with this? What were we going to do next?

I remember laying across our bed, holding hands, praying through tears for God to guide and direct us. Although this was the first time this happened...it certainly wasn't the last. 

We turned to God and each other to get through this life changing moment. And that day not only changed everything in Hubby's career path, it also changed everything in our marriage. We set a foundation that day that we would stand on throughout our marriage.

The plan was changed...and choices had to be made...thankfully, Hubby didn't shut me out. We sat down and discussed it...we went over all of our options. We talked it out and together we made the decision. Hubby would go into the Air Force as a Physicist.  

It wasn't what Hubby had planned. And it wasn't what I thought I wanted...but we felt God directing us on this path and we trusted in God's plan for our lives. And to this day I am sure that it was the right decision. We both are.

It's amazing how things can change so quickly. A girl who thought she would never want to marry a military pilot...would cry out tears to God when the pilot part was taken away...and then voluntarily agree to move forward with becoming a military wife.

Trust me when I say...that's a God thing!

Yes...that was the day Hubby's dreams really did become my dreams.

And as you have probably guessed by now...God worked it out. He rewarded our faithfulness and trust in His plan...and three years after Hubby had settled into his Physicist Lab...God opened the door for pilot training once more. 

Now...you have to understand...after all the disappointment...Hubby had come to love his "unplanned" job. He actually said to me, "I really like what I am doing, should I go to pilot training?" And because his dreams had become my dreams...I actually said, "Yes, you have to give it a try." Can you believe that? 

I loved my husband so much I wanted to help him make his dream comes true, and in return, he lovingly did the same for me. 

No matter what crazy "Lucille Ball" scheme I came up with...making wreaths and rugs for a craft booth....setting up a scrapbooking classroom in our home...selling beauty products...part-time teaching that turned into full time teaching...or taking on a variety of volunteer projects that invaded our time, home, and lives...he completely supported me. 

Even when it was an "investment" that he might never see a monetary return on...even if it required extra effort on his part...because my dreams had also become his dreams. We are a team. We have approached our entire twenty-five years of marriage this way.

As I Celebrate Our Air Force Adventure this month...I can look back on that sad sad day and know without a doubt that as difficult and disappointing as that experience was...it was necessary. It was an important part of God's plan for our future. It set our marriage on the strong foundation we enjoy today. 

We became true partners. We know we can count on each other. We know we support each other's dreams. We know we can survive disappointments when they come. We know we can go with a new plan and it will be okay.

Today we can look back and see how God set Hubby up to have so many more wonderful experiences in the Air Force due to his time being a Physicist. He most certainly would have missed out on them if he had went straight to pilot training. And Hubby retired a few weeks ago with an amazing resume of opportunity that would not have come his way had he spent his entire career in the cockpit. 

Just as I shared in yesterday's post, God's plan was so much better than our plan. As I continue to share our Air Force Adventures...you just might see a theme here...ahem...we certainly do... 

As you know, Jeremiah 29:11 is one of my very favorite verses:
"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." 

Today's story might explain why the verses that follow it (Jeremiah 29:12-14) also mean a great deal to me:
"Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord.