Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Christmas lessons from an almost two year old...

Yesterday was one of those "almost" warm days with the temperatures in the high 30's.  So Grace and I went outside for some much needed fresh air and sunshine.  We took a long walk around their subdivision (about a mile).  Grace happily riding in the stroller and commenting on every bird that we saw.  When we got back to their house, I let Grace "play" in the front yard.  She did not want to go inside, even though her cheeks were quite rosy and I knew that she had to be getting cold.  No matter the weather, Grace loves it outside. This is a good thing since both her mom and dad spend hours outdoors!

Grace and I had played inside for most of the day.  She has her own Nativity set and we spent some time looking at each figure and talking about the Christmas story. 
Every time I tried to remove the "unusual" figure from the scene, Grace would protest and immediately return the ducky back right in front of baby Jesus.  I found it interesting that she always used the baby sign for bird when we were talking about the angel!  It took this grandma several minutes to figure out that she was thinking that if it has wings, it must be a bird!  Really not such a bad thought.  After I realized what she was saying, I told her it was not a bird, it was an angel!  Poor Grace then decided I would be happier if she called the angel a butterfly and she switched to that sign! Gotta love baby sign.  At least she quit saying "cheep, cheep" for the angel!
 Later, we were looking at their Christmas tree.  Doug and Susie have thoughtfully put many unbreakable ornaments near the bottom of the tree so that Grace can look at them.  She is very gentle and will spend a long time looking at each ornament and also the lights which "twinkle" on and off.  I didn't notice the picture of Lucas in the background when I took this picture.  I so love that Lucas is part of our family Christmas.

Watching Grace with the Christmas tree and thinking back on our day together gave me time to reflect on what I had learned that day from Grace.  Almost any parent will tell you that they are always learning things from their children.  This Grandma is no exception to that!

First - I learned that everyone needs some fresh air and sunshine.  Even if it seems cold, it is good to get out and breathe in the crisp air.  You don't need to rush inside either!  There just might be a birdy flying by or a car passing that you need to see.  It is good to slow down.

Second -  I learned that sometimes you have to actually touch something to know what it is.  Grace needed to touch those ornaments - to feel the beard on the nutcracker ornament - to feel the glitter around the ball - to pretend to blow into the saxophone.   Yes, sometimes looking without touching just doesn't cut it!

Third - And most importantly, I was reminded that EVERYONE has a place at the manger.  Jesus welcomes ALL to come and adore him.  That little rubber ducky that Grace insisted belonged with her Nativity was a great reminder for me.  It doesn't matter who you are, what you look like, what your family is like, you are always invited into the Christmas story.  That is one of the greatest wonders of Christmas.  Jesus came as a baby for ALL humanity.  Not just for the Jews, and not just for those of us already kneeling before him.  What a tremendous gift.  The best gift ever!

Jesus, thank you so much for giving up your place in heaven to walk with us here on earth. Help us to all approach Christmas with the wonder of a toddler.  Help us slow down and breathe in your love.  Give us the grace to use all of our senses - to look, touch, listen, to taste each part of the holiday.  Remind us to be thoughtful in our responses to others, who might be seeing in ways that are different than ours.  Holy Spirit, provide those open doors for everyone to enter into the gift of Christmas.  Jesus, keep our hearts open to every little ducky that might want a place at your manger.  Amen

Sunday, December 2, 2018

When a scent brings back memories.... and Operation Christmas Child boxes fulfilling a destiny

This is not the exact picture I was looking for, but it will do.  I think this was taken in the fall of 1994 (Gwen would probably know).  When I stated writing this blog I was actually looking for a different picture of my mom and me, but this one will serve the purpose.  I had one of those really strange experiences this past week.  I put a new "Shower Gel" in the shower and it was one of those seasonal scents that are not really a specific fragrance.  As soon as the hot water hit that shower gel, I was "smelling" my mom!  I can't tell you exactly what about this fragrance it is, but standing there in the shower, I was suddenly missing my mom.  I am always thinking about her around this time of year, since for almost 20 years she would come and stay with us over the Thanksgiving holiday.  We had so much fun and I have so many great memories of being with her during those visits.  As a matter of fact, every time I put up my Christmas tree I think about her.  We always put our tree up while she was visiting so that she had a small part of our Christmas celebrations.  I was just NOT expecting to suddenly be hit with this.

It is funny how these waves of missing just seem to hit at unexpected times.  And it is the littlest things that can trigger the sadness and grief.  Our family is always missing Lucas especially during November.  I am so thankful that we have found a way to not only remember Lucas but also to celebrate his life through Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts.   
Each year we fill boxes with toys and goodies for children around the world.  I always do my boxes for boys around the same age as Lucas would be.  It is easy to think about the little ones who will find joy and hope in these simple gifts.  The best part of these boxes is that the children also hear about Jesus.  As I am filling each box,  it feels like I am helping to fulfill a bit of the destiny that Jesus had planned for Lucas.  In this small thing, children far away are hearing the Gospel message.  Even before Lucas was born, I felt that his destiny was as an evangelist who would carry the Gospel to the world in unusual ways.  So even though his life was only 10 days here on earth, Jesus has given us a way to see Lucas' destiny and his legacy to be carried out.  So many of the Operation Christmas Child stories show that in many cases, whole areas are transformed through these boxes.  Churches are built and lives are changed.  I am so thankful for this meaningful way to honor Lucas.  If you haven't heard of this great ministry of Samaritan's Purse, check out Operation Christmas Child.  Even though this years collection has ended, it is not too late!  You can pack a box "on line"! 

Yes, the missing is hard.  But when you can celebrate the memories and also honor your loved ones through helping others, the pain is lessened.  I am so thankful that our hope is found in Jesus.  The Christmas season is a wonderful time to reflect on God's great rescue plan to bring us all back into fellowship with him.  The season of Advent in the church is a time of waiting and preparing.  It's a great time to stop and reflect on the miracle of Christmas.  I recently saw this idea posted on line and I think it is a great one.  The Gospel of Luke has 24 chapters.  Just enough to read one chapter a day.  When you complete this during Advent, you will have read the story of Jesus' life.  I challenge you to join me and read one chapter of Luke each day.  You can read two today to catch up!  It will surely be a Christmas blessing for you.

Jesus, thank you for speaking your destiny for each of us.  Holy Spirit reach out to those who are having a hard time during this season.  Bring your comfort and peace to them.  Give us all insight into ways that we can honor and remember those who have died.  Jesus, bless all of those millions of Operation Christmas Child boxes and bring each one to exactly the right little boy or girl.  Thank you for your great rescue plan.  Amen

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

So much to be thankful for......

We have a very lovely Thanksgiving this year.  Gwen and Tim and the kids spent Thanksgiving day with us.  As usual, they spent the night so Gwen and I can shop till we drop!  We all watched the Macy's parade and then the National Dog Show (which has become a yearly tradition for us!)  Both Gwen and I made several on-line purchases this year, and with the closing of ToysRUs, we only had five stores to visit on Thanksgiving evening!  We were home and in bed before 9:00pm!  This year we only had one stop on Black Friday morning, and we didn't have to leave the house until 5:45am.  We were done shopping and back home before the kids were even awake. Tim spent the entire time working on our home improvement projects.  Among other things, he finished our kitchen back splash, did some work on our baseboards and trim and painted the foyer!  Needless to say, Ken and I are very thankful for Tim's help with all updates!

We continued our Thanksgiving celebration at Doug and Susie's house for a traditional Thanksgiving meal.  Doug smoked a turkey again this year, which are always delicious.
And for a little family humor, when Doug says that he is "in the backyard smoking" it does not mean that he has taken up cigarettes!  Most likely he has some good meat in the smoker!
The cousins had a great time together.  Grace is getting old enough that all of sudden she can enter into all the fun activities of the big kids.  Susie had bought a craft kit for the kids to make foam turkeys.  Grace was right there doing her own turkey (with a little help from mom).  By the time I took this picture............
Grace was much more interested in taking the turkey apart than holding it up for a picture!  You just gotta love those almost two year olds!
Even the four legged members of our family had a good time.  Zeke made sure that both Sammy and Kylie got lots of attention.
Grandpa made sure that Chandler got his share of attention, and Grandpa got a good rest himself!
The kids had so much fun making cookies with Susie.  Even Grace was able to join in and have a hand in the cookie making
 With a little help from her cousins, Grace helped stir, roll, cut and decorate her own cookies!
Of course all of us were able to eat the cookies!  And we were thankful for them!

My favorite part of Thanksgiving was going around the table and each of us sharing one thing we were thankful for.  Lia was thankful for her family.  I was thankful for a warm house to gather together.  Anna was thankful for the world!  Doug was thankful for a job and all the provision it brings.  Susie was thankful for good food.  We all decided that Grace was thankful for mommy and daddy.  Ellie was thankful for family and friends.  Tim was thankful for his children.  Ken was thankful for Tim and his help and for all of us and for me especially.  Gwen was thankful for a fun family that gets along.  Zeke was thankful for his life.  Susie ended our thankful time, saying that we all are thankful for Jesus!  

Every year it seems like the holidays just fly by faster than the year before.  I am especially thankful this year that there are more days in November after the holiday so that I have more days to reflect and be thankful!

Yes, I am blessed.  The biggest blessing of these family gatherings is all of the love that is shared.  The wonderful and amazing thing about love is that the more you give away, the more love you have! That is the best thought to carry us into the Christmas season.  Yep, that is going to be my Advent goal.  Seeing how much love I can give away!!  Will you join me?

Jesus, thank you for your great love for us.  It is your love that allows us to love others.  Holy Spirit keep us mindful of those that might especially need more love during the weeks ahead.  Give us courage and obedient hearts to share love with those who might need it the most.  Thank you Jesus for family, friends and fun.  Mostly, again, thank you for your love.  Amen

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

When you get a chance to see the world...

One of the highlights of the last couple of weeks was an amazing trip I got to take with Gwen.  It was really a trip of a lifetime to visit Paris. One of Gwen's friends is currently living (temporarily) in Spain and wanted to see Paris.  So Gwen made this trip happen - she did all the research, found really great plane fare, got a hotel and figured out the logistics of the entire trip.  Ken encouraged me to go, after Gwen suggested it would be a great opportunity for me.  I figured if you are going to go to France it is best to go with a French speaker (Gwen speaks French), so I jumped on board.  I am so thankful that I listened to Ken!  It was an experience that I will not soon forget.

Gwen had arranged a sort of "itinerary" of places that we just needed to go.  And she was great at finding our way through their "Metro" system.  I rode more subways during this trip than I have in my entire life!  No kidding!
Our first stop was, of course, the Eifel Tower.  This was one of the most crowed places we visited.  And because of the crowds, we didn't even attempt to go up to the viewing area.  There was a very long line just for security to actually get near the tower and then another very long line to purchase tickets.  And then another very long line to actually go up the tower.  We opted for an outdoor cafe with a stunning view of the tower, instead of waiting in all of those long lines.  A funny side note about this picture that Steph took is that it was raining!  Looking at the blue sky you would never know that we were getting rained on.  In some of the pictures you can see other people with umbrellas, but it was seriously just a very light mist that actually felt good!  And that was the only short (the rain lasted less than 15 minutes) bad weather we had the entire trip.

On our last day in Paris, Gwen asked me my favorite thing about the trip.  It didn't take me long to answer.  It was Sainte-Chapelle, which is in the courtyard of the royal palace (which now houses administrative offices).  
The original building was built in 1250 and is mostly now "restored".  But the 1100 stained glass panels that depict Bible stories are simply fantastic.  I could have stood there for hours just looking at each individual pane of glass.  It was a holy place and you could almost feel the generations of people who had stood in that room and prayed and worshiped.   We also visited Notre-Dame Cathedral and the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur.  Somehow we managed to visit  both of these while Mass was being held.  Again, these were holy places that have been places of worship for many years.  Notre-Dame was actually built in 1163!  We visited so many other buildings and museums and it was awe inspiring to put your hand on a pillar that was from 40ad.  To see evidence of the Roman presence at Musee de Cluny as you are surrounded by Roman baths which were built around 200ad.    For me, one of the biggest take-aways from this trip is that there is nothing OLD in the United States!  

And then there was all of the art.  And statues everywhere (even in the subway!).  So wonderful, so amazing.  Again, we saw so much in a few days that it is hard to actually comprehend it all.  And the gardens are amazing.  We took a boat tour on the Seine, viewing most of the famous sites from the vantage point of the river.  The bridges are fantastic also.  Each one seems to be just a bit different.  We found the bridge famous for the "Love Locks" which was totally cleared of locks in 2015 and is now almost full again.  
We ate every meal at outdoor cafes or in the gardens and usually had a spectacular view along with amazing food.  We ate lots of breads (which were fantastic) and crepes made right in front of us, that were just heavenly.  

Our last day in Paris was just Gwen and I since Steph had to fly back to Spain.  We didn't have much to see on that day (with the exception of one art museum) and we spent the entire day in Gwen's favorite spot - Tuileries Garden.  In a way, it reminds me of Central Park in New York City.  It is right in the heart of Paris, surrounded by all that you want to see when you visit.  The garden is filled with small fountains and there are rows of chairs lining every walkway.  People sitting and chatting or eating (which we did often) and the most obedient dogs I have ever seen!  Most dogs were not on a leash and there were no dogs running away or chasing other dogs or causing any problems at all!  It was wonderful to see families greeting each other - even the little children - with kisses on both cheeks. Wonderful to just sit and look over the Seine at the Eifel Tower.  

Yes there were stark differences between Paris and Chicago.  But there were also so many times that I felt totally at home.  Walking through a church and seeing a women with her hands raised in worship.  And seeing another young lady with a journal, filling the pages with her thoughts and prayers. The presence of God was clear and strong.  

It was fitting to visit Paris in November.  I came home feeling so thankful for the the opportunity to share this experience with Gwen and Steph.  I am thankful for the newest aircraft that made a long trip really not so bad.  I am so thankful for the preservation of these old structures and the many, many artifacts that they contain.  And I am also grateful for home, for family and friends.   It was a great way to count my many blessings in the month of Thanksgiving.  

Jesus, thank you for your abiding presence with us, wherever we go.  Holy Spirit, help us all to see our similarities more than our differences.  Keep our eyes open to ways that we can relate to others, even when we are far out of our comfort zones.  Thank you Jesus for opportunities to see another culture first hand.  Keep us all aware of your presence.  Amen

Friday, November 9, 2018

A time to celebrate Lucas....

Our family always chooses to gather together on Lucas' birthday to celebrate his life.  Each year that passes has been filled with everything you might expect.  There has been sadness and grief.  There have been questions with no answers.  And also times of great joy.  I have been asked many times over, why our family can't just "put this behind us" or "move on and let it be in the past".  My answer to those questions is simply that there is no right or wrong way to handle to death of a child in your family.  This is truly a club that no one wants to join and unless you have been there, you can not understand or know how you might react.  This year I was especially watching Grace during our time at the cemetery...
It was a truly beautiful day.  The trees were just rustling with the leaves that had not yet fallen.  At times, there was a shower of fall foliage.  It was quiet and comforting.  Grace was so happy to have all of her favorite people around her.  She seemed to just know that this was a special time.  I loved her gaze into the heavens that I happened to catch in this photo.  It was a sacred moment for sure. 

Back at Doug and Susie's house, we took pictures of all of the kids.  These pictures of all of our grandchildren together are always so special to me. 
This year we also took pictures of just Grace with Lucas bear and with Lucas' picture.  There were so many good shots of Grace, who is always willing to say "cheese" for pictures!  But this picture just took my breath away.....
Yes, Grace will know all about Lucas.  And I almost felt as if she was having her own conversation with him!  At one point Grace put her hand on the picture, as if she was connecting with him.  And she leaned over and gave Lucas bear a kiss and hug.  These are healing moments for this grandma.  There is peace in knowing that ALL of us, including Grace, will remember Lucas.  

So I want to say thank you to all of our friends and family, who give us room to celebrate and remember Lucas in whatever way we find comforting.  I encourage you to reach out to those you  might know who have lost a child.  Don't be afraid of causing pain or heartache by mentioning that lost child.  I can assure you, the family does not forgot!  

Four years seems like forever when standing at the cemetery.  Yet, in the timeline of eternity, it is just a small passing blib.  Looking back at Grace's face, turned up to heaven, with a look of pure bliss, reminds me to keep on looking at Jesus.  It is fitting that the seasons are changing and winter is upon us.  But one thing is certain, spring is just around the corner.  What a blessing it is to have the assurance that one day, we will all see Lucas again.  

Jesus, thank you for the joy and wonder of children.  Wrap your loving arms around all the families who have children that are gone too soon.  Holy Spirit, remind us all to be sensitive to those who are grieving in ways that seem unusual to us.  Give us all the comfort and peace of your promises and your presence.  Amen

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Moments captured in clay....

I've been thinking about Lucas - and Doug and Susie - more than usual these last weeks, since October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month. All you have to do is be on Social Media a short time and you will see dozens of stories of families impacted by this.   It seems everyone either personally or in their immediate family has had a loss.  Or they have friends or coworkers that have been touched by this tragedy.  Trust me, this is a club no one ever wants to join. When I was a just married young adult, we never heard about anyone losing babies.  It was a subject not shared or talked about.  How much better it is that now these families don't have to endure this loss alone.  

We are  coming up to Lucas' birthday on November 1st.  It is hard to believe that he would be four years old.  The years have slipped by but Lucas remains so much a part of our family.

Every time I am at Doug and Susie's house watching Grace, I pass by this shadow box, hanging in the stairwell of their home.  Each time I glance at it, I am taken back to some of the hardest, darkest moments I think I have ever experienced.  Those white very faint hand and foot prints in the middle of this frame are from Lucas Jacob.  And they remind me of one of those phone calls you never think you will ever make.  But then when the situation arises, you make that phone call.  Actually, this was just one of those calls in the long list of calls that must be made. 

Lucas was only 10 days old when he died.  Doug and Susie's house were filled with flowers, cards and gifts from his birth.  There were stacks of baby items from the showers that had not even been opened.  Among those items was a frame and clay packages to make foot prints of your baby.  Not something that you would have done in the first 10 days with a newborn.  When I looked at that package I knew that I needed to make that phone call.  So I took that package and called the funeral home and asked them to preserve these pressed in clay memories of Lucas for Doug and Susie.  I know that I didn't imagine the importance of that call.  Even today I can remember the kindness of the funeral director who greeted me when I brought the package over.  Everyone was so gracious and willing to complete this task for me.  What a blessing they were in this difficult time.

Susie completed this frame after Lucas' first birthday.  Those hand prints of Lia, Ellie, Zeke and Anna were made for that occasion.  It is such a fitting place for those small faint hand and footprints.  Lucas is surrounded by his cousins.  They are holding on to his memory.  Lucas will not be forgotten.  Lia, Ellie, Zeke and Anna have a part in bringing Lucas into the future along with our family.  They will help to share memories and stories of Lucas with Grace.  There is nothing better than seeing these cousins, loving being together. 
So this month is a bit bittersweet.  There is certainly remembering and sadness.  But there is also so much gratitude and joy.  I am thankful for Lucas and his place in our family.  I know that God has a destiny for our family and Lucas has a place in that destiny.  Even though we may not understand and still be filled with "why" questions, one thing is certain.  Jesus loves us all. No matter what the situation, no matter what the tragedy, nothing - not even death- can erase the love.  We can walk on, growing and changing, leaving a legacy of love in our footprints, holding memories in our hearts and sharing them in the years ahead.

Jesus, thank you for your great love for us.  Holy Spirit, help us to love even the most unlovable around us.  Keep us mindful of those that may need a helping hand today.  Jesus, touch those who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy or infant or child. Thank you for family and friends who surround us with love.  Amen

Saturday, October 6, 2018

From the smallest things to the biggest - through the eyes of children.

Earlier this week, Gwen and kids came to our house so that we could visit the Morton Arboretum to see a really fun exhibit of giant trolls.  The day BEFORE our planned trip was 80 and sunny.  Sadly, the summer like weather ended overnight and the day we visited it was in the 60's, breezy but at least the sun was shining.  Here is yet another perk of home school - you can visit amazing places during the week when they are not so crowded!   We had such a great time walking through the woods, finding all six of these amazing giant trolls.  Along the way, we saw many squirrels collecting nuts and acorns for the winter months, many birds and also saw scarecrows created by area children.  Watching those squirrels I couldn't help but think of our own little Gracie, who spent hours over the last weeks collecting acorns from the oak trees in Doug and Susie's yard.
The kids favorite scarecrow was this smore's creation that featured a really neat fire.  Ellie was especially interested in these scarecrows since she just joined girl scouts last week!  I see many hours of creative fun ahead for her.
There is something so refreshing about being outside, walking through the woods.  It was a perfect day for it.  We ended our day at Ken's favorite Pizza place.  He had a wonderful time showing the kids around the arboretum.  It was good food for the soul.

I was thinking about the contrast of those little acorns and those GIANT trolls!  Isn't it interesting how so many of our problems seem like those really big giant things?   Usually, it is fairly simple to see that most of those problems - no all of those problems - are no big deal to God.  I love that at the same time I have been looking at those little acorns.  It always amazes me that those big giant Oak trees grew from that little acorn.  What an interesting picture of the importance of sowing seeds into good soil.  Most of those acorns end up just getting eaten by the wildlife or they rot on the top of the ground.  It takes good black dirt and lots of water to cause that acorn to sprout.  And then the weather has to cooperate for it to be favorable for a tree to begin to grow.  

I had an interesting discussion with Ellie, Zeke and Anna today.  They are thinking a lot about giants since their visit to the trolls.  At first they didn't think that giants were real!  But then we talked about David and Goliath.  I reminded them that David was just a little boy when he went to fight the giant.  He was not worried because he knew that God would always be with him.  Plus he had a great idea to use the things that he knew he was good at!  His sling and a stone.  So we got to talk about all the things that each of them are good at and how God might use those talents.  I love when you can link a good biblical lesson with current events!

While doing my homework for my Bible Study, we had to make a list of my talents and how I use them to glorify God.  It was far more difficult than it should have been.   It is always much easier to see the gifts and talents of others rather than your own.  So my challenge this week is to look for those small talents that God can use to accomplish those impossible things.  Each of us has the ability to be kind and to offer a smile to those around us.  With all the nasty stuff floating around these days, that is one small talent that I plan to use more often.  How many "giants" can we bring down with a kind word and a smile?  

Jesus, thank you for the wonder and curiosity of children.  Help us all to consider Your Kingdom through the eyes of children.  Thank you for big trees and small acorns.  Holy Spirit, remind us all to step into the challenge to bring down the giants of fear, hate and anger in our world through kind words and a smile.   Thank you Jesus for blue sky and white clouds and sunshine.  Amen