Thursday, December 28, 2017

Christmas 2017 and a long ago memory...

Yes, it was a festive and wonderful fun filled day of celebration for our family.  We decided to celebrate on the 23rd this year, and it was a great decision.  The day was calm and free flowing since we had no other obligations (sometimes we have celebrated on Christmas Eve and there is a bit of a rush to make it to church).  Since it was Grace's first Christmas it was fun to watch her during all of the crazy present opening.  Near the end of the day we took some family pictures. I managed to snap these two of the kids families.... 

but didn't get any of Ken and I with the grand kids or the entire family.  Those were taken by Gwen and Susie and I will get them in the future.  For now, these will have to do! 

As usual, we laughed so much that my stomach hurt!  Ken and I gave Lia the game "Watch Ya Mouth" which was just hilarious.   Most of us took turns at being really silly looking and trying to spit out some really ridiculous phrases with that plastic contraption in your mouth. 

Gwen actually took some videos, that are sure to be archived for the future.  Let me just say that I discovered that it is impossible to say "Pompous" with that crazy thing in your mouth.   Lia and Tim were the clear winners at this game.  Win or lose, it was just so much fun!

Zeke received an old pair of binoculars from us that had once been destined for donation.  I was correct that these would entertain a 6 year old boy!  So glad I thought to save these! 

We ate lots of great food, we snacked on so much wonderful goodies, we talked and played with the kids.  It was an exceptional day for our family.  

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were very quiet and calm for Ken and I.  It started to gently snow on Christmas Eve and progressed to a measurable amount of snow.  It was so nasty that we decided to forgo the Christmas Eve church service.   I was very grateful that Gwen and Tim's church does a "live stream", so I was able to attend a wonderful Christmas Eve Worship while tucked warmly in my bed!  It was extra special since Gwen was leading worship.  Christmas Day was FREEZING cold, so Ken and I never ventured out of the house.  We watched a couple of Christmas movies and just had a lazy day.  I made a couple batches of cookies and we snacked our way through the day.  No big dinner for us!  

Yes, this has been a transitional year for us in so many ways.  Ken is still "on vacation" technically - since his retirement doesn't officially begin until January 1.  There was one point last week when neither Ken nor I could remember what day of the week it was!  I actually had to stop and check!  Both Susie and Gwen are off of work for the holidays so even my "routine" is off.  Susie took advantage of her time off, to have Ken show her some photo editing software that he uses.  So I got to spend a bit of time with Grace at OUR house!  
We had so much fun playing while Susie and Ken talked all things camera!  So glad that I got a bit of Grace time in during this holiday time!  

I can't help be feel so thankful, looking back at this last week.  Our family was able to have a wonderful day together - with no one sick!  This is really something to be thankful for since so many families had virus' and colds and other ickiness.  I got to thinking about my own family and the many Christmas memories I have.  Interestingly, I realized that it has been 40 years since I had Christmas with any of my siblings or my mom and dad.  After my folks retired to Minnesota in 1977, I never had another "family" Christmas.  I think that is why it is so important for me to make the time and make sure that I am spending time with my children and grandchildren.  

The first Christmas that Ken and I spent with no family was Christmas 1978.  I was pregnant with Gwen and we had just moved into this house the previous February.  Our neighbors Roger and Carol, felt really bad that we had no family plans for the holiday.  So they invited us over for Christmas Eve.  They had several family parties on Christmas Day, but made the time for us on Christmas Eve. Their little boy was just a few months old.  Carol decided to make a duck dinner when she heard that we had never had duck.  We enjoyed the dinner and returned home shortly after, since the next day would be busy for them.  Around midnight we received a phone call that both of them were really sick with stomach troubles and they feared it might be food poisoning.  Thankfully, both Ken and I were feeling fine.  I offered to come and get the baby since they were both so sick.  So that Christmas morning, I was caring for a sweet little two month old boy while wondering what the next Christmas would be like with our own expected baby.  That was a most welcome diversion for me, since it would have been a really sad holiday for me.  I often think back to that day and marvel at God's provisions for us, even through a sick neighbor and a baby that needed someone to care for them.  Jesus knew just what I needed.  And he also knew that Roger and Carol would need someone to help with the baby.  Thankfully, neither Ken nor I ever got sick!  Quite the memory from so many years ago.  

We are entering into a new season in 2018.  I imagine that next Christmas will seem very different than now.  After Lucas died in 2014, it seemed that Christmas would never be the same.   But the truth is, every season is different!  Each year holds memories and laughter and joy all their own.  Even if you hold fast to "traditions", everyone is a year older next year!  Time marches on.   

2017 Christmas was the wonder of a "first" Christmas for our family.  It was laughter and fun.  It was calm and peaceful.  A perfect holiday and a wonderful way to celebrate the birth of our Savior.  

Jesus, thank you for families and your plan for us to be together.  Holy Spirit, remind us all that Christmas is about peace and love and how much the Father cares for us.  Thank you for lights and glistening stars and yes, thank you for snow on Christmas!  Amen

Friday, December 22, 2017

What a week....leading up to Christmas.

My week began at my favorite place to be - Chicago HUB on Sunday evening. The worship at HUB was wonderful - led by one of my favorite worship leaders, Steve Mitchell.  It was a free flowing time of worship, truly led by the Holy Spirit.  The interesting thing for me was,  I felt as if the particular songs and the direction of the worship were just for me.  I imagine that I am not the only person who felt that way, but there was a very personal message as one song flowed into the next.  I had walked in the doors that night feeling distant from Jesus, distracted by all the stuff of the season and alone.   I left that night feeling a close, intimate hug from Jesus, focused on the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and knowing that I was connected to a very large "family".  What an amazing Christmas blessing.

On Wednesday there was another Christmas treat!  I got to watch Anna perform in her first ever Christmas Program.. 
There is nothing better than seeing these preschoolers up on the stage, singing and sharing about the baby Jesus.  Anna is only 3 years old, but her personality showed through in her performance. Anna was the line leader for her class and she knew just where to go on the stage.   She was singing and dancing and knew all of the words and motions to the songs.  She was not one bit afraid - even though the church was packed with family members.  I stopped and picked up Lia, Ellie and Zeke so they could see the program.  Because Gwen is a teacher at this preschool, she was already there - directing the program!  

Most of the kids in Anna's class did more standing and staring rather than singing and motioning.  Anna told me that she was especially excited because she got to be on the "stage". She is a determined little girl who makes very clear decisions.   I am sure we will be seeing much more of her, front and center, and leading the way for her peers.   I have no doubt that she will be a "mover and shaker" later in life.  I truly believe that everyone would have a much calmer and sweeter Christmas if they attended a children's Christmas program.  You can't help but feel wonderful after watching these sweet little faces share the Christmas message.  

So, here on this Friday, December 22, our family is anticipating our Christmas gathering tomorrow.  
Our time together is never about the gifts that we exchange.  It is about the fun and the laughing.  We always share memories and stories from past years.  There is always food and time for silly games.  As I was talking with Lia, Ellie and Zeke in the car on the way to Anna's program, I was shocked to realize that Zeke never knew my mom.  Lia and Ellie always talk about her, but Great Grandma Nona died a month before Zeke was born.  It was one of those times when I really was missing my mom! Somehow the time just gets away from you and suddenly, years have passed without your loved ones.  Our Lucas would be three years old now and he is missed every day.    I loved that Zeke's final thought about Great Grandma Nona and Lucas was simply, "I know I'll get to meet her in heaven!  And baby Lucas also!"  

Yes, heaven is possible for us all because of that little baby, wrapped in strips of cloth and sleeping in a feeding box.  Jesus started life among us as a child and the message of his coming is simple enough to be shared by children.  The Father knew that the message of love and joy and peace on earth would be best carried to the world by the voices of sweet, innocent children.  

Anna's program ended with the children singing "Joy to the World".  Which is a fitting end to this blog.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room.
And heaven and nature sing!
And heaven and nature sing!
And heaven and heaven and nature sing!

Jesus, thank you so much for the voices and the smiles of little children.  Holy Spirit, help us all to slow down, relax and remember the best gift that was ever given - Jesus.  Holy Spirit, show us how to prepare our hearts to be open to the joy and peace that Jesus brings.  Give us ears to hear the voices of the angels saying "Peace to the people of earth".  Thank you for this amazing season.  Amen

Friday, December 15, 2017

We all need somebody to lean on....

This week my small group gathered for our annual Christmas luncheon.  It was a wonderful time of sharing, as usual.  Most of our group has been together for more than two years, but we have added a few more friends along the way.  We were missing a couple of gals on Wednesday, but here is a picture of us after our celebration...

As I was preparing to write this blog, all I could think about was a very old song from 1972  - Lean On Me by Bill Withers.   Here are the lyrics to that song.  I think I should recommend that my group makes this our theme song..... (But instead of CALL ME it should say TEXT ME)!

Sometimes in our lives, We all have pain, we all have sorrow,
But if we are wise, we know that there is always tomorrow.

Lean on me when you're not strong, I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on.
For it won't be long, Til I'm gonna need somebody to lean on.

Please swallow your pride, If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs, that you won't let show.

Just call on my brother, when you need a hand. We all need somebody to lean on.
I just might have a problem that you'll understand, We all need somebody to lean on.

If there is a load you have to bear. That you can't carry.
I'm right up the road, I'll share your load. If you just call me.

I can't express just how true the words of this song are for our group, how much they apply.  Each one of us has our ups and downs - our pain and sorrow and our joys.  But in that, we all know that we can lean on each other.  Because we are such a diverse group of women, we understand so many different problems and situations.  It is an amazing thing to see how the Lord put our group together, because he knew that we would all need each other in different ways and at different times. Each bringing something so valuable and unique to the group.  

In Ephesians 6, Paul details the Armor of God.  in verse 13 it says....
Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Part of that armor is the shield of faith,  described in verse 16  - with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  

My friends and I have discovered that sometimes that shield of faith is really heavy.  When you are in midst of tough circumstances, when you have grown weary and been struggling on for so very long, when things seem hopeless - it is really hard to have enough faith to be protected from the attacks of the enemy.  So, we have decided that, just like the Roman soldiers did, we would "Lock our shields" together.  Together we are much stronger and we can all "lean on each other" when times get tough.  
Earlier I said that the song should say "text" instead of "call" - and that is just so true.  Our group has a group text that carries prayer requests, urgent cries for help (which we simply have to text 911 to our group and prayers will immediately begin) wonderful good news, answered prayers, and often you see the phrase "Shields locked" show up!  Simply put, that phrase says that we are standing with each other - we are helping carry that hard load - whatever it is.  To us, it means that when you have a deep need, all the rest of the group will encircle you with their shields of faith raised to help protect you. This year, we were so blessed by one gal with this physical reminder of that phrase.  

I am convinced that everyone needs somebody to lean on.  If you don't have a small group or even just one or two close friends, I encourage you to seek it out.    Being isolated is one of the ways that satan has to knock us down.  It is so worth it to find people with whom you can be open and honest.  Jesus never intended for us to be lone warriors.  We are all so much better when we are surrounded by those locked shields.  Yep, I am going to be humming "Lean on me" in the days ahead!

Jesus, thank you so much for the blessing of close friends.  Thank you for drawing us all together and being the creator of our small group.  Holy Spirit, reach out to those that feeling lonely and those that don't have a support group.  Lead them to exactly the right place for them to meet others who they can lean on.  Jesus thank you for caring for us and knowing that we need friends.  Amen  

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

An amazing night...

Yesterday I did a whole lot of driving, but it was so worth it!  I was at Doug and Susie's house with Grace yesterday during the day.  Last evening was Gwen's kids Co-op Christmas Program.  So I drove from the far west side of the Chicago area to the far north side - even beyond Gwen's house!  It was an interesting two hour plus drive on roads that I seldom drive.  Thankfully, I made it to the church in time to see the entire performance.  These two sweet girls did a wonderful job! 
Lia was in a Musical Theater production called "My King and Me".  She was incredibly nervous about this performance because she had a lead role that included singing solos.  I had helped her practice on Monday, so I knew that she had done a good job memorizing all of her lines.  The play was a cute adaptation of the Christmas story, centered on the people of Bethlehem building an amusement park for the expected crowd of people coming for the census.  The songs in this production were great.  Some were tradition carols modified a bit.  But the main song was amazing.  The director had taught the kids hand motions to this song that was basically telling the Gospel message.  This grandma has to confess that I got very teary during that song.  It is really powerful to see these kids sharing Jesus.  I couldn't help but think of the promise for Lia's destiny.... that she would be a voice to her generation to share the love of Jesus.  

Ellie and Lia were both in their Spanish classes performance of some modern Christmas songs in Spanish.  This is a beginning  class but both girls knew these songs well.  Such a fun way for the kids to express some of their new Spanish while singing meaningful songs about the birth of Jesus.  So proud of Ellie for not only walking onto the stage, but also for singing!  Quite an accomplishment for this sweet girl who would rather not be in the spotlight!

It's a grandmother's role to pray for her grandchildren.  Seeing the children that Lia, Ellie, Zeke and Anna have in their "school" (they are home schooled - so this Co-op is their school) gives me reason to be incredibly thankful.  I could not imagine a better place for them to meet new people and make friends, than this Co-op.  There are no clear "age" divisions, since most classes are multi- age.  As a matter of fact, this Spanish class that Lia and Ellie attend is mostly junior high age kids.  The Musical included kids from 1st through 6th Grade.   There is a "one room school house" feel to the co-op.  Actually one of Ellie's other classroom teachers is in the High School Spanish class (that performed with them). Some high school students are actually teachers!  Talk about great mentors.  It was wonderful to see some special needs children included in the performances.  How could you ask for anything more for these kids?  Home schooling and this co-op are certainly an answer to my prayers.

Even though the program was quite long (and I was pretty tired from my long day - and I knew I had an hour and a half drive home) I was thankful that they did a short Christmas Carol sing along.  I really don't have any place to sing these familiar songs, so it was quite a treat.  The very last song that we sang was "Happy Birthday" to Jesus.  Really a nice end to the day.  

I know that I often say this, but I am so, so thankful for the chance to spend time seeing my grandchildren.  It is great to see them on just a regular day, but it is also wonderful to be able to attend these special events.  I love this verse from The Passion Translation, Proverbs 17:6a

Grandparents have the crowning glory of life: Grandchildren!

Today was certainly one of those "crowning glory" moments for me!

Jesus, thank you for being able to experience Christmas through the songs of children.  Holy Spirit, help us all to be aware of the children that we encounter on daily basis - in our neighborhood, our communities, our churches - as well as in our families.  Remind us to enter into this busy holiday season with the awe and wonder of children. Jesus, thank you for answered prayers.  

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Let's go fly a kite - even if it is December!

 Monday was December 4.  But because this is Chicago and you just never know what the weather will be, it was a really wild weather day!  It had been very unseasonably warm during the week before.  Like weather in the 50's - where you didn't even need a jacket.  But then on Sunday night we had a really odd weather shift.  The winter weather literally BLEW in!  The wind was just ridiculous!
Ken texted me very early on Monday morning (like 5:35am) to warn me to be careful driving up to Gwen's house because of the high winds.

But when you are a six year year old boy and you hear the wind blowing, what is the first thing on your mind?  Flying a kite!  So, even though it was December, we dragged out the kites from the garage and did some assembly.  Zeke's tractor kite did not come with a tail, and my years of (attempting) kite flying, I knew we had to find some way to add a tail.  So we tied two winter scarfs together and tied them to the kite and stepped out into the wind tunnel (back yard)!  Now when I say wind tunnel, I am not really exaggerating very much.  There were 50 mile an hour winds with even higher gusts.  I warned Zeke that it just might be too much wind.  He was determined to see that kite fly!
I just had to include this cropped close up of Zeke's face in this picture.  What a look of shear joy and wonder at that kite actually flying!   And boy did it ever fly!  Ellie found a much smaller plastic kite that came with very long tails attached.  This kite also managed to fly - at least for a little while!
By the end of two hours of mostly watching the kites dive bomb into the grass, the kids and the kites were pretty well done in.  And so was this grandma! We retreated into the house with somewhat crumpled kites, plastic pieces that were bent and frayed from the wind and lots of tangled kite string.  But also three very happy, smiling kids and one grandma (who looked like she had been standing in a wind tunnel for a couple of hours)!

It was a wonderful way to spend two hours on a Monday morning - when you are blessed enough to be home schooled so you are not sitting in a classroom, stuck in a desk.  This is especially true given the fact that by Tuesday morning, snow was blanketing the ground.  There will not be another chance to fly kites for several months.

You can sure learn a lot from a determined six year old boy (and equally determined 8 and 11 year old girls).  The rational adult in me said "It is too windy to fly a kite." and "It is December so we should not be flying kites."  These determined kids found the kites, got them assembled, figured out a tail for Zeke's kite, untangled some kite string, and then worked together to get these kites up in the air and flying.  What an accomplishment!

I have to confess that it is not only the adult thing that would have kept me from flying those kites.  I would have been very sure that it just would not work.  I like to think of myself as a realist, but actually I am more of a pessimist.  Thinking that things will never work.  And I am often so fearful, that I would not even try something.  What a blessing it is that I have been given the opportunity to be with my grandchildren.  They push me into situations that bring me so much joy and wonder.  Things that I would have missed out on, if I wasn't around them.

To recap some lessons that I learned from this....
*It is never too windy to fly kites!
*It is good to fly kites when you also have winter scarfs (for kite tails) and winter gloves (to keep that kite string from burning your hands) readily available!
*Never pass up an opportunity to do something slightly "out of season".  (That may mean running through the sprinkler when it is 70 in October OR flying kites when it is December)
*Don't be afraid to take chances.  You just might actually succeed!

Looking at Zeke's face in that picture gives me a little insight into why God so often used children to accomplish his plans.  When David was facing Goliath, he didn't think about the difference in their size.  He just knew that if God had told him to do it, he could do it.  The little boy with the loaves and fish didn't look at his lunch and think it was worthless.  He took a chance and brought it to Jesus.  I want to approach life with that same attitude - no matter how windy or stormy it is - no matter how impossible the situation might seem. I want that "Can Do" attitude! Yes, I will be remembering this kite-flying day in the future.

Jesus, thank you for giving us the chance to learn from children.  Keep our eyes and ears and hearts open to all that you have to teach us.  Holy Spirit, help us all to move when you give us that prompting to go and give us more courage to step outside of "normal" into your perfect plan for us.  Thank you for kids and kites and very windy days in December.  Amen

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Shoes that make a difference...

Last week both Ken and I got new shoes.  I was especially thankful for these new shoes since I had been having trouble with both my feet and my knee recently.  Let me tell you these new shoes  feel a bit like walking on pillows.  I just did not realize how bad my old shoes had gotten.  Which brings me to the point of this blog.  We are so blessed to have multiple shoe stores that are close to our home, we have the funds to purchase shoes, and we actually have more than one pair of shoes! 

Gwen happened to mention to me that someone she knows had sent her a link to a fundraising page for "Shoes that Grow" to be given to children in Mumbai, India.  I have actually heard of these shoes that will expand up to 4 or 5 sizes to continue to fit a child as they grow. 

I have been on several mission trips  outside of the United States. On each trip I was shocked at just how many of the children were bare footed.  In both Kenya and Uganda  I would estimate that 75% of the children that I met did not have shoes.  Seeing the dirt, the rocks and the general garbage laying around, it seemed impossible to imagine having to go bare footed.  While I have never been to India, I can imagine that this problem is just as serious there.  

I have decided to donate to this fundraiser in honor of my four adult children - Gwen, Tim, Doug and Susie.  Each of them have always had shoes and all of them are now buying shoes for their own children.   It really seems like such a small thing, yet I believe that this will make a difference to some boy or girl who may not have anyone to buy them shoes!

The link that Gwen got from her friend is Erica Roane - fundraising page.  While I don't know this person directly, I trust that these shoes will be purchased and brought to India.  And the cost of $15 per pair makes these even more amazing.   Please take a moment and click on this link to read more about these shoes. 

I don't often promote fund raisers on this blog, but this has just been on my mind since Gwen mentioned it.  The new shoes on my feet have also been a reminder of the blessing of having shoes.  

Thinking about this verse  Psalm 119:105
     Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path
it is my prayer that these shoes will come with the Good News of Jesus that will guide these little ones into the path of their destiny.  

Jesus, thank you for the opportunity to help children who are so far removed from me.  Thank you for Erica Roane and her heart to help this children.  Holy Spirit, remind us all to look outside of ourselves and our immediate families to see those in need.  Guide our steps as we each do as you direct.   Thank you for comfortable shoes!  Amen  

Friday, December 1, 2017

When your tower falls...........

I am so grateful for the time that I get to spend with my grandchildren.  Some Mondays (when Gwen is teaching preschool and Anna is attending preschool), I get to just be a kid with Lia, Ellie and Zeke.  On this day Zeke and I had been playing dominos - actually just matching the patterns.  But it was a fun time just talking with Zeke.  When we had played several rounds of matching, Zeke decided to build a tower.  I watched his careful thought process as he began the stack...
and his concentration as it got higher and higher and more unstable.  Until finally....
it all came tumbling down.    

I have been thinking about all the changes that are happening in my world right now.  Ken has only a few short weeks of work until he retires.  And these last weeks have been really difficult for him, as his entire work space has been packed up and shipped across the country.    
So for him, all those years of working seem quite a bit like Zeke's tower.  Built up, year after year.  One company leading to the next company.  Thinking he had a few more years to add to that tower.  When suddenly,  it all came crashing down due to a decision made by his employer to move the company out of Illinois.

I am extremely proud of Ken and thankful for his decision to just move up his retirement date (by a couple of years).  Right now we don't know exactly what things will look like after January 1, but I am confident that we will just start building a brand new tower!   We are looking forward to more time to travel.  Ken is certainly looking forward to more time for photography. It is amazing how adjusting your perspective can change everything!  Instead of being a really negative thing, this new phase of our life has the potential to be really exciting.  We are very blessed to have adequate resources to allow us some freedom in making plans.  I am grateful that we will have even more time and opportunity to spend with our family.  

Zeke had the right idea.  As soon as that tower came crashing down, he set to work building an entirely different kind of structure.  Sadly I did not capture a photo of this new building.  But it looked nothing like his first tower - yet it was wonderful.  I left Zeke happily building to go and make lunch.  I have spent many minutes thinking about this day and those domino buildings.  Isn't this a great reminder for us all.  

If you feel like your life has been knocked over and all you see are pieces laying on the ground, take a cue from Zeke.  Just stop and imagine all the wonderful things that you can now build.  Your new life might not look anything like was it was.  But just think about all the amazing things that you can create out of the pieces that are there.  With the help of Jesus, we can do wondrous things!

I love these verses from The Passion Translation -  Psalm 55:16-17

But as for me, I will call upon the Lord to save me, and I know he will!  Every evening I will explain my need to him.  Every morning I will move my soul toward him.  Every waking hour I will worship only him, and he will hear and respond to my cry.

So with God's help, I am looking forward to new and wonderful things in 2018!

Jesus, thank you for reminding me that something great can come out of what seems like destruction.    Help us all to keep our eyes on your purposes and to see beyond our current circumstances.  Holy Spirit, give us all creative ideas as we look at those broken pieces and give us peace as we begin to build something new.  Thank you for always hearing AND responding to us, Jesus.  Amen

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Thanksgiving recap... now on to Christmas!

We had a busy and wonderful week over Thanksgiving!  Quite honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to make the time to sit down and write these blogs.  It is certainly not for lack of things to share.   I thought I would kick off with this adorable "thanks" turkey that Susie had for the kids to create when we celebrated together.  I love this so much.  We did the traditional sharing around the table also, of our thankfulness and it was especially easy to be thankful with Grace sitting happily with the family in her highchair!  It has been a very thankful 10 months for us. 

We celebrated in our "traditional" way this year, which is somewhat "un-traditional".  Gwen and Tim and the kids came to our house on Thanksgiving day.  However, we do not celebrate this in the traditional way.  Oh, we watch the Macy's parade followed by the kids very favorite thing - the dog show!  We have lots of snack foods out.  We do eat a meal together - but not turkey.  It is our tradition to have lasagna for lunch.  I know it sounds a bit odd, but it works for our family.  This is because during that parade and dog show the adults are seriously scanning the huge amount of sale flyers that are enclosed in the ridiculously expensive papers that were purchased early that morning.  (When I say expensive, I mean it!  I needed a twenty dollar bill to make that purchase)  Now I know that many of you have strong opinions about shopping on the holiday, how unfair it is for the workers, etc, but I want to tell you that for Gwen and I this is a very real and important part of Thanksgiving.  There were plenty of years that we got up at 3 or 4 morning to go shopping.  The worst years were when some stores opened at midnight.  There was no sleeping for us those years.  I know that it is a hot topic but just let me say that it works great for Gwen and I.  This year we left the house at 3:00pm and hit five stores.  We were home before 9:00pm.  We got plenty of sleep and then left the house around 5:00am for the second round of stores on Black Friday.  We were especially thankful this year that the weather was moderately warm and we only stood outside in lines twice - once on Thursday and once on Friday.

Gwen and Tim and the kids always spend the night at our house on Thanksgiving night.  This is a big treat for the kids, who otherwise would not have the chance to have a "sleep over" with Grandma and Grandpa. 
Our Thanksgiving tradition continues with our real "Thanksgiving" happening on Friday at Doug and Susie's house.  Doug always smokes the turkey outside and it is always yummy. This years bird was a whopping 26 lbs!  We took family pictures at their house, but since these will most likely be in my Christmas Cards this year, I decided to keep them under wraps for now.  It was a glorious day on Friday with highs in the 50's so we took the kids and the dogs to the park.  Grace got to go on the swings and the slide and even ride the bouncy horse.  After our meal was consumed and all the clean up was done, Susie made cookies with the kids.  
Grace had her first taste of my Grandmother Johnson's recipe for "Butter Butter Cookies".  Needless to say, we all enjoyed these tasty treats.  As a special bonus this year, Gwen and Tim and the kids spent Friday night with a "sleep over" at Doug and Susie's house.  Really a wonderful thanks filled few days.

I think tonight I am feeling especially grateful for my family.  Our adult children all get along.  There seems to be plenty of laughing and talking and lots of hugs.  Even the three dogs got along well.  Unfortunately, not every family has this same report.  I know of several families who experienced much less wonderful holiday times with adult children who just can not get along.  There are also families where the adult children can not get along with their parents.  My heart is heavy for these families.  For often petty and selfish reasons, they are missing sharing time with those who should be the closest to them.  I believe that my family has learned the power and strength we have when we draw together.  The loss of a precious son, grandson, nephew and cousin helped us learn this lesson.  Each of our loved ones is a treasure that could be lost at any moment.  So time together is the most important gift we give each other.  So we choose to celebrate and be thankful together!

During the next weeks, as we are approaching Christmas, my prayer is for much reconciliation and thankfulness for families that have been hurt by conflict.  The love of Jesus is so needed!  Won't you please join me in a prayer for love, peace and joy between sisters and brothers and children and parents? 

Jesus, thank you for your great love for us.  Holy Spirit, remind us all to treasure our family members - even those with whom we disagree.  Keep our hearts tender to those closest to us.  Give us an extra measure of grace and peace during stressful times.   Jesus, help us to keep love a central focus of our family.  Thank you for special times to step out of our routines and be thankful.  Amen

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