Sunday, November 12, 2017

Operation Christmas Child boxes....

Today I finished packing and preparing my Operation Christmas Child  Boxes, in honor of Lucas.  I decided to do 6 boxes this year (one for each of my grandchildren) - all for two to four year old boys.   I love that this activity allows me to think about and remember Lucas while reaching out and making a difference in the life of little boys around the world.  I love the new plastic boxes that I ordered directly from Samaritans Purse.  They are much easier to pack and can fit more than you would think.  I made a list of everything that is in my boxes, just to give you an idea of how much these boxes hold.  Each of my boxes has....

A stuffed animal, 2 rubber balls, 2 small trucks, a small Etch A Sketch, a whistle, plastic farm animals, sunglasses, pencils and pens, colored pencils, pencil sharpener, erasers, scissors, paper, 4 wash clothes, 3 bars of soap, 3 toothbrushes, flip flops, hat, bandana, and a collapsible drinking cup.

I love the videos of children receiving these boxes and the stories of the impact of these gifts, shown on the Operation Christmas Child page.  Just click the link above and you will be amazed at the stories there.

The statistic that I saw this year that really stopped me dead in my tracks is on that page.  98% of these children have never received any kind of gift or present in their life.  Not only that, most have never even seen simple toys like those small plastic farm animals I put in my boxes.  So hard to comprehend this when children in our family - and in our community - have so many things.
Our family is really striving to cut down on the amount of THINGS that we give as gifts and instead are focusing on spending time together in fun activities.  This has been a big hit with the kids and the adults have enjoyed having a reason to make time to be together.  We have gone bowling, gone roller skating, visited the water park (more than once), had our nails done, gone fishing, gone to the video arcade..... you get the idea.

Three years ago, when Lucas died, our family was changed forever.  We each have a much different perspective now on life in general.  I don't take things for granted anymore.  Time spent with each other is so precious now.  We all hug more, laugh more and share more. We also cry more.  Things like Operation Christmas Child touch us in ways that are deep and meaningful.  Jesus is really the center of that change for us.  Because of Jesus, we know where Lucas is right now and we know that we will see him again.  The gift inside of that Operation Christmas Child box that is most important, is the booklet that will tell that child and his family about Jesus.

I wrote a message to these little boys on the inside of the lid of my boxes.  It was simple.  Jesus Loves You!  And next to that, I penned the words, "I am praying for you".  These boys will be too little to read those words, but I am trusting that some older person will share that message with them.  I will be praying for these boys tomorrow when I take my boxes to the drop off location.  And I will remember them in the days ahead.  I have a spot marked in my Bible... 2015 - Four little boys in Kenya or Madagascar  2016 - Five little boys in South Africa.  When I discover exactly where my boxes go this year, I will add that notation.  I will not forget about these little ones.

There is so much need and it takes many people to make this Operation Christmas Child work.  Even though it may be too late to pack a box this year, please go to that web site and look at the donation page.   There are many ways to be involved.   You can even create a box on line!  Do this in honor of someone special in your life.  Or in remembrance of someone you have lost.  Do this to bring that incredible smile and shout of joy to one small child.

Jesus, thank you for Operation Christmas Child and all the people who work to bring these boxes to those in need around the world.  Holy Spirit, remind us to be grateful for all that we have and to look for ways to bring the joy of Jesus to others.  Jesus, even right now, bless those six little boys who will open these boxes.  Thank you Jesus for the gift of Lucas to our family.  Amen

Friday, November 10, 2017

Honoring Veterans closest to me....

I just spent a rather frustrating hour or so looking through photos.  I was looking for a picture that I can see in my mind, but alas, I never located it.  I thought I was pretty organized, but this past hour has proven that I have a lot of work to do on my old photos.  I finally found a few photo's that will have to do for this blog.
I decided on this photo, taken in 1961, because these four guys are the veterans that I would like to share about on this Veterans Day (eve).  From left to right this is Greg Johnson (my brother), Roy Jackson (my brother-in-law), Jerry Johnson (my brother) and my dad!  All four of these men served our country in the armed forces.  Greg was in the Air Force.  Roy was in the Army.  Jerry was in the Army and my dad was in the Navy. 
I have shared in the past, about my dad and his service during WWII.  This picture just reminds me what a very big deal it was for him to leave and be gone for YEARS!  I can't imagine leaving a wife and two young kids - but so many men did.  He never shared much with me about his time serving in the Navy.  I heard most of the stories from my mom.  How I wish I would have asked him more questions about his time in the Navy.  

This is a screen shot I took today from a story my niece Nancy posted about her dad, Roy Jackson.  He was honored today for his service in the Army from 1953-1955.  He received a wonderful quilt as a gift.  Even my earliest memories include Roy, since my sister brought him home from college when I was only 4 years old. Karen and Roy met after his time in the Army.  I have very vivid memories of pictures of Roy in his Army uniform on the wall in Karen and Roy's home.   
This is my brother Jerry, and I am not exactly sure of the date of this photo.  I want to say it was 1962.    Jerry was away serving in the Army when I was in early grade school.  I remember telling people that he was "far away in Okinawa" - which really didn't mean anything to me.  All I knew was that he was not home and my mom and dad were worried about him.  
This is my mom and me with my brother Greg (in uniform) and my brother Jerry.  Greg was in the Air Force in Thailand.  He was gone during my late high school years and was still overseas when Ken I got married in 1974.  

Yes, these four men all served their country and sacrificed to keep us all safe.  It is interesting to me how many of my friends have no veterans in their families.  In addition to these four guys, Ken's dad and brother-in-law also served, as well as another one of my brother-in-laws.   

I know that not having your brothers around all the time is not the same as missing a parent.  But I know that my life was shaped by their time away in the military.  I remember especially the holidays that they missed with our family.  And I remember how much my mom and dad missed having all of their children together.  I think I felt this especially, as the youngest in the family.  We are all unique because of our experiences as individuals.  We share the experiences of our families.  And even more so, of our communities.    I feel that sense of pride and honor that is just a part of my family - as citizens of the United States of America.  I think that is one reason that I am so offended by the recent "protests" of our National Anthem.  I think about these four men and so many others,  who sacrificed and served for all of us.  And the many who are away from their homes and families right now.  Every member of the families of our veterans and service men and women have been changed because of their connection to the military and our great country.  

This is a time to stop and remember and be thankful for our homeland.  For all the great blessings that we have here in the United States. And to remember to pass on our stories of those who have served for our freedom.  Lia, Ellie, Zeke, Anna and Grace don't have fathers or grandfathers who have served in the military.  So I will be sure to tell them about the many in their family tree who have served and earned the right to honored on Veterans Day.

Jesus, thank you for the blessings that you have poured out on the United States of America.  It is your hand of mercy and grace that has built and preserved us through the years.  Holy Spirit, help us to give honor and respect to those who serve us - whether in the military or as law enforcement.  Jesus, break down the barriers that are dividing our great nation.  Fill this country with your great love.  Amen  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Reminder of new life......

Today I found this really interesting object.  It is hard to tell from the photo exactly what it is, but it is something I have never seen before.  It is an acorn from an oak tree that has started to grow.  It is especially significant to me because I found this acorn at Lucas' grave sight.  Our family had gathered there to remember Lucas on his 3rd birthday.  I have mentioned before that this cemetery is really beautiful.  It is filled with tall, old trees - including a towering oak tree that shelters Lucas' grave.  I noticed all the acorns scattered around, and this was the first one I picked up.  What a wonderful reminder of God's plan for new life.  It may seem odd, but standing in that place, holding on to this little acorn, I felt the presence of Jesus.  There was assurance and hope today.  Assurance that Lucas is safe with Jesus and hope in the knowledge that we will see him again one day.  And Grace is evidence of the new life that Jesus has brought to our family.

On our return to Doug and Susie's house, we took this picture.  I love that this picture has all six of my grandchildren - Lucas represented by his picture and our precious Lucas Bear.   At nine months old, Grace was really not aware of the purpose of our gathering today.  She was just happy being with her family. 
I would title this picture "Grace, surrounded by her adoring fans"!  And besides her cousins, there were two grandma's, a grandpa, an uncle, an aunt and mommy and daddy.  So there was plenty of hugging and kissing of that sweet face.  

Grace will grow up knowing about her older brother Lucas.  She will hear many stories about him and see reminders of him all around her.  I often watch as Grace looks carefully at the pictures of Lucas. While our family chooses to remember Lucas especially on his birthday, he is always in our hearts.  

I wrote a card for Lucas today.... it reads..
Lucas Jacob Rowley

We will always love you.
You are in our hearts forever.
We see you Celebrating with Jesus
there among the Angels and the Saints
Dancing in the Spectacular Glory.....
                   of Heaven!

It is so fitting that today is All Saints Day.  The old hymn "For All The Saints" was one of my mom's very favorite hymns.  I have been humming that song all day.  I especially like this verse (there are way a lot of verses of this hymn)....
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
All are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Yes, Lucas is shining in that glory right there with my mom.  How fitting since his name means "Light".  I can see that beautiful little boy, running and dancing in that amazing light of heaven.  

Jesus, thank you for that wonderful little sprouted acorn.  What a great reminder that you ARE the life and it is you that brings new life.  Thank you for time with family to remember and reflect.  Holy Spirit,, help us all to keep our eyes turned toward Jesus.  Jesus, give us all a hope and vision of heaven.   Amen   

Friday, October 27, 2017

Time to stop, remember and reflect.....

Wednesday would have been my parents 81 wedding anniversary!   They were married secretly (kind of)  on a Sunday, during a late fall, early winter snowstorm.  This was not that unusual for South Dakota! The reason for the "secrecy" was that both my mom and dad worked for Montgomery Wards and in 1936 this was not allowed.  Of course, their wedding wasn't a secret to their families. The next weekend they traveled to Minnesota to celebrate with all the Johnson's. The cake topper from that celebration was also on my wedding cake and Gwen's wedding cake!  Admittedly, it was a bit the worse for wear, but the symbolism of that topper was worth the less than perfect bride and groom!
This is Gwen and Tim's Wedding Cake with that very old cake topper.  I'm not surprised that we don't have a really good photo of it, since it was a bit tattered.  In this picture, it was 65 years since it's first appearance, so I don't think that is so bad!  While writing this blog, I realized that I do not have a picture of my own wedding cake -  I looked, but sadly, there was no picture anywhere of our cake.  I guess it just was not that important to me.  Yes, I have been thinking about my mom and dad this week.  I thought it was interesting that the first snow of the weekend in most of South Dakota and Minnesota happened on Wednesday.  Thankfully, we have not yet had any snow yet.  But there is a freeze warning for tonight!

Over the last couple of weeks I have been doing my part in our ongoing home improvement project, by removing wallpaper.  This was another reminder of my mom and dad for me.  Mom would often tell stories about the hours that they spent peeling off very old wallpaper.  I guess that this made a pretty big impression on me.  Ken and I have mostly avoided wallpaper and therefore it's removal ....that is until now.  Somewhere around 2002, Ken decided to paint our really nasty kitchen cabinets.  It was an amazing transformation.  At least in the way they looked.  They were still the same old, very cheap and rickety cabinets - but boy did they look much better.  And I decided that it would be just great to add a wallpaper border at the ceiling.  Sigh.  I did like that wallpaper very much.  It was a snippet of the beach with the sand and water and shells.  At the same time, we repainted the entire living room, entry and hallway and created an overall "beach" theme (including several plastic palm trees).  I don't know exactly what I was thinking, but we also created a "window" on one wall with a wallpaper mural of a walkway to a beach.  So sitting on my sofa you might glance over and think there was beach just outside.  Can you tell that I love the beach?  But it was time for a change.

Last week the palm trees all went to Goodwill.  Ken removed the trim around the fake window and I started removing that wallpaper mural.  What an awful job.  I watched several YouTube videos of "easy wallpaper removal" and tried all of the tricks I had seen.  Nothing worked like the videos!  I finally figured out that I needed to first remove the actual picture portion of the mural and then the backing peeled right off of the wall.  But it was a LONG process to slowly peel off small bits of the mural.  By the time I had the mural removed, I felt like I had a really good system figured out.  So surely the kitchen border would be quick.  Boy, was I mistaken!  In the kitchen, the border picture portion peeled right off of the wall, leaving just the backing.  I was celebrating (since the backing had come off fairly easily on the mural)!  But the first small section took me a very long time to remove, and it was clear, once again, that none of the tricks of those videos were working for me.  I have stated very firmly, that I will never put wallpaper on any wall - ever again!  

I've been thinking about how often things don't go as we planned.  Even when we are careful and get all the information ahead of time.  Something  doesn't work right, the directions are not very clear, a piece is missing, you don't have the correct tool, or the wallpaper does not just peel right off of the wall.  When things like this happen, you really have a choice in how you react.  It can be a really big problem, or you can just sort of go with flow and make the best of things.  Boy do I wish that I was much quicker to just let things go and not so fast to become discouraged.  In all honesty (and remember I have always said that honesty and truth telling were the most important thing about this blog) I am a bit discouraged by this PROCESS of home improvement.  Everything is taking much longer than we had expected.  Since we are doing most of the work ourselves (or should I say Ken is doing most of the work), other things get in the way of our projects.  Things like work, grocery shopping, events we planned months ago - you know what I mean - LIFE!  Sometimes it is just hard to imagine the project ever being finished when the to do list is much longer than the "done" list.  

Last week at my small group meeting, we watched a short video clip that had some great advice. Instead of just praying about something (you would like to see change, or achieve, or have, or create) for 30 days spend 10 minutes each day praying about that something.  Then, after those 10 minutes - DO SOMETHING towards that something.  For example, if you need a new job, pray about this request and sit quietly with Jesus for 10 minutes.  Then spend 10 minutes doing something towards that new job.  It may be brushing up a resume, or researching an entire new field.  It might be learning a new skill that might change what job you seek.  What great advice.  A wonderful reminder that we can't just pray and do nothing - but we also can't just work without praying! It's about that balance!

This weekend Ken is away at a photography conference that he planned last January.  Of course we had no idea that we would be in this process when those plans were made.  In a few weeks, I will be gone for an entire weekend scrapbooking.  But in spite of my discouragement about these projects not getting done, I am so thankful for these forced breaks from all the "to do's".   I am going to using this new 30 day challenge as a way to focus on prayer and action.   I am sure that all of our projects will get done, in time.  We will have everything out of the boxes and back in place.  Walls will be painted and tools will be stored back in the garage.  I am convinced that the discouragement that I feel will be helped by this simple 10 minute prayer/activity challenge.  I will be sure to update on my progress in future blogs!  

Jesus, thank you for providing breaks for Ken and I from all of the tasks before us.  Thank you for reminding me of my mom and dad and the legacy of their marriage.  Holy Spirit, help us all to have more patience when things don't go as planned.  Revive us as we practice this 10/10 challenge over the next month.  Thank you Jesus for always hearing our prayers.  Amen

Monday, October 9, 2017

The rainbow with all the colors...........

My Saturday with the kids was a bit different than usual since it rained for most of the day!  Usually the kids spend many hours outside.  Instead, we watched a couple of movies - something that we rarely do.  Finally in the late afternoon, I prompted the kids to go outside with their umbrellas (just to burn off a bit of energy).    I took a quick picture of their umbrella "cuteness" since this grandma just had to capture this moment...
I left the kids watching another round of rain clouds forming in the sky, and went inside!  Suddenly the door flew open and Ellie announced, "Grandma, come quick!  There is a double rainbow!"  
And there it was! Standing on their front porch and looking at the sky, a perfect full arch, double rainbow!
I got several pictures of the rainbows, but I especially love this one with the kids looking at the sky.
It was such an awe inspiring and simply beautiful sight.  We all just stood  and stared for the longest time.  Then Ellie noticed something even more special.....
As the rainbow started to fade away, one portion became very visible and you could clearly make out ALL THE COLORS OF THE RAINBOW - even the violet (that is so often hard to see)!  My picture really does not do it justice, but you could clearly see.... (as the song says)


What an amazing thing it was to stand under that very bright and very clear rainbow with ALL the colors!  It was indeed, a bright spot in a very grey and dreary day.  And every though it wasn't the end of the rain that day, I know that as I reflected on the day, it was that beautiful "rainbow with all the colors" that stood out to me.  

Sometimes you just need that one bright colorful thing to change a bad day into a really good day, don't you?  I love the symbol of the rainbow and the Biblical promise to Noah that God would never again flood the entire earth.  It is the also a symbol of hope and light after times of loss and darkness.  Our family has been blessed by Grace,  a "Rainbow baby". Bonus picture of Grace - just because!

I found this description of a rainbow baby and I love it!  The time after Lucas died has felt like a storm with lots of darkness.  Even in that time of dealing with the ravages of that storm, there was hope.  We were able to hold onto the promises of the Bible, knowing that we would see Lucas again one day, and knowing that there would be a rainbow!  When the sun shines through the clouds, the rainbow appears.  Knowing that Jesus is always with us - even in those really dark and hard times - gives us hope!  

As I was thinking about this, I decided that really the rainbow is all about HOPE!  Before the storm, during the storm, after the storm, dealing with the effects of the storm...... when you think about that bright rainbow..... you have hope.  Yes, I am so thankful for that very special rainbow with all the colors.  

Jesus, thank you for always being with us.  Holy Spirit, remind us when it is especially dark, or when storms are all around us, that the light Jesus will break through those clouds.  Help us to hold onto the hope found in you.  Thank you for letting me see through the eyes of the children around me.  Amen

Friday, October 6, 2017

The prayers of a little girl....

Today I am having the special opportunity to be with Ellie, Zeke and Anna.  Gwen, Tim and Lia (who unbelievably is old enough to GO on the youth retreat with her mom and dad.....sigh) are away for a couple of days on a retreat.  So, it is just the younger kids and me, roughing it at home.  After a dinner of frozen pizza, a bath that was longer than it should have been, a bedtime snack, it was finally time to tuck those sweeties into bed.  Anna was first.  She insisted on "reading" to me her current favorite book (which she has memorized).  I loved that at this page she "read" SPRINKLES instead of freckles!  After the book, I asked her if she wanted me to pray or if she wanted to pray.  She immediately said that she wanted to pray.  She took a very long time and in whispered prayers that I couldn't hear, really poured out her requests to Jesus.  She told me that she really needed to pray for her "other" grandpa (Tim's dad) because he had a big line on his body and the doctors are giving him medicine.  But Jesus needed to make him all better. (As an aside, Tim's dad has recently had a major surgery for pancreatic cancer.) She prayed for her mommy and daddy and Lia and all the kids that are on "treat" to have a good time and be safe.  And then she prayed some more quiet prayers, just between her and Jesus. 

Let me tell you, there is nothing in the world better than the prayers of a little three year old.  What a powerful reminder that Jesus hears all of our requests.  That he knows even the things that we just whisper to him.  What a wonderful thing it is to sit next to a fresh from the bathtub, sweetheart as she sings Jesus Loves Me!

I really needed this time with the kids, more than I realized.  Lately, with all of our home remodeling, I confess that I haven't been spending as much quiet time as usual.  I have not really been very good at just stopping and spending time with Jesus.  Anna reminded me tonight that it is good to slow down and just rest and then pour out those whispered prayers.   I am thankful that I will have some time this weekend to do just that.

A friend asked me this week what I had been hearing from the Lord.  The message that has been in the front of my mind is that this is a time for us to be quickly connected to Jesus.  As I started to blog about Anna's prayer tonight, I realized that this might seem like a bit of a contradiction to that thought.  But it is really NOT a contradiction!  The key is WHEN you slow down and actually make that time to pray, you can be QUICKLY  in that intimate, one on one conversation with Jesus. 

I love that prayer can be part of everything we do.  When I think about this, I am reminded of the movie "Fiddler on the Roof".  (One of my all time favorite movies).  Through out the movie, Tevye (the main character) is constantly in prayer - no matter what he is doing.  There is a constant conversation between him and God. 

I want to do a better job of staying in that place of such an intimate connection to Jesus, that no matter the place, or the circumstance, a conversation can happen.  I believe that will be my goal for this month.  Won't you join me in this process? 

Jesus, thank you for this special time away from my routine.  Holy Spirit, remind me to open up the line of communication with Jesus through out the day.  Give us all those prompts to whisper our deepest needs to Jesus.  Thank you for always being with us, Jesus, even when we don't remember.  And Jesus, thank you for hearing all of our prayers!  Amen

Sunday, October 1, 2017

When an accomplishment gives you an improved point of view....

In a matter of just a couple of days, this little one went from learning how to sit up from her tummy, pushing up to a crawl position, moving forward (slowly) crawling, to zooming across the floor crawling and finally to pulling up to her knees!  All in one week!  Suddenly baby proofing is very necessary. And the dogs have decided they need to move when they see Grace approaching.  She has been fascinated by the many objects that she had never noticed before....things like magazines on a table!  Or the dog's food and water bowls.  And the cords for the lamps.  You get the picture.  This sweet little girl - 8 months old today - is growing up fast.  One of her favorite places to crawl towards is the patio door. 
She loves it outside and will sit and watch the trees and the birds.  I am sure that Doug and Susie will be finding many, many sets of hand prints on those doors!  One thing is for certain, she is not sitting in one place for very long these days.  There is so much to explore!  That new perspective from her knees has opened up so many wonderful treasures.  It's amazing what a new point of view will do for you.

Ken and I have had another busy week, working on our house.  Sometimes the "small things" take longer than the BIG things.  Last week the BIG cabinet installation happened.  This week has been about completing those smaller projects.  Things like cabinet liner, shelf adjusters, new wall shelves, door hardware, electric for the dishwasher - each project taking more time that you thought it would.  And these projects are not without their own challenges -  screws that are too short, brackets that didn't fit, wiring that wasn't correct.  Each challenge requiring one more trip to the home improvement store.  In the midst of those trips, we did manage to choose our counter top (has to be ordered and will be here in about 3 weeks) and sink.  It's pretty sad when the checker at the store realizes that she has seen you three times in one day!  

But, when I stand back, and look at those new cabinets, it is certainly an improved view over our old ones.  Each small project (even the ones that you can't really see) is its own accomplishment on the way to having an updated home.  I have to confess that I had to throw out quite a bit of expired food from my cabinets.  But what a great feeling to glance into those cupboards now, knowing that everything is organized and FRESH!  

I got a bit of a break from all the home improvement this weekend "dog sitting" for Sammy and Kylie, while Doug, Susie and Grace went camping.  I enjoyed the time playing with the dogs without having to keep an eye on Grace!  I managed to tire them out playing in the back yard last evening, enjoying our first really cool, fall weather.  This gave me the chance to see a really glorious sunset and breathe in some cool, crisp air.  

Earlier in the day, Ken and I had caught this guy lounging on our air conditioner....
I was surprised to see this Praying Mantis since they have not been around much anymore.  But it was another small thing, that gave us a break from our home improvement projects and shifted our vision outside for a bit..  

All of these home projects can really get to you and cause you to become so SELF focused that it is all you can think about!    Last night, I was thinking about how blessed we are.  We have a home - even if it is need of improvement!  We have food in our cupboards and the ability - both money and access to get more when we need it.  Here in the United States, we take our tap water for granted.  Turn on the faucet and there it is.  Yes, a roof over our heads, food and water and clothing.  So much to be grateful for.  Today I am thankful for a new point of view.  A point of view that has reminded me just how much I have.

I have been collecting items for my Operation Christmas Child boxes. If you don't know about this program, click on the link and find out more about this amazing way you can help someone who is NOT as blessed as you are.  For the last two years, our family has assembled boxes to honor and remember our sweet Lucas, who would be three years old this year.  It seems a fitting way to share with another little boy or girl, out of the riches we have been given.  Looking at the small items in each box and thinking about how much we have, it seems like a very small sacrifice to make.   And I can imagine that little boy or girl, opening that box, and suddenly having a very different view of the world.  A view changed by the love of Jesus, shared through a few small items out of our bounty. 

Jesus, thank you for being the one who can change our point of view!  Holy Spirit, help us to look around and see the many blessings that we have.  Even as we work to accomplish needed tasks, shift our point of view outside of ourselves.  Keep us aware of your presence Jesus, in nature and in other people.  Thank you for Operation Christmas Child and the many children who have been blessed through these boxes.  Remind us to share all that we have.  Thank you Jesus.  Amen