Friday, December 7, 2018

What I'm Reading: Christmas edition

Over the past couple of weeks we've had a recurring conversation in my family. As Caleb has started to work and has been buckling down these past few weeks at school, we've been talking about purpose and calling and work.

It's hard to know at the age of sixteen what you want to do with your life.

I'm almost 40 and I still struggle somedays.

I made the comment to him that we each have something that we are good at, and we should figure out our strengths and focus on them. It's important to work on our weaknesses and try to develop them, but we should also key in on strengths and capitalize on them.

Sometimes it's hard to know what we are good at.

Caleb really boosted my self-esteem when he said, "You're really good at reading."

And I am. I love to read...

Always have.

I think it can be a positive thing, but it can also be a negative coping strategy. I try to hide from my problems by getting lost in a story line.

I can also get lost in planning what I'm going to read.

I can lose hours at a time scrolling on Amazon...

There's two times a year that I can allow myself to do that.

One of them is when we go on vacation if we go to the beach.

The other is Christmas vacation.

I've always been the kind of reader who reads more than one book at a time. I read biographies and history books and books focusing on medical issues. I read literature and contemporary fiction. I'm always reading more than on Bible study at a time...

But in December, all those books go on pause, and I indulge...

in sappy Christmas stories. In advent books about the coming of the Messiah. In devotional books about how to not lose yourself in the rush of the holidays.

I'm not a Hallmark movie gal, but I sure am a sucker for a Christmas love story.

After all, Christmas miracles are all about happily ever afters, right?

What I'm reading now (Christmas wise):

1. Behold the Lamb of God- The True Tall Tell of the Coming of Christ- daily devotions that begin in the Old Testament and show the story of Christ throughout the Bible
2. Dearest Dorothy: Merry Everything- A charming series of books focused on aging Dorothy and her small-town host of friends. This is the 5th book in the series and I thoroughly enjoyed the first 4.
3. Christmas in Smallville- Another charming book set in small-town America.
4. 40 Days of Christmas- another devotional book
5. Unwrapping the Names of Jesus- a devotional book that focuses on the four weeks of Advent and brings out a different name of Jesus each day

I'd love to hear your Christmas reads!!

Monday, December 3, 2018

True Success

As we enter into the Holiday season, it often feels as though we are suspended in between the past and the future.

Christmas is a time of waiting and anticipation, of laughter and joy, but it seems each year I rush through Thanksgiving and rush through Christmas and start looking ahead to new beginnings...

Even though each day is technically a new beginning.

This year hasn't been a the best. My end of the reflection probably won't be what I want it to be.

but that's ok, because I'm still alive. Y'all, sometimes putting one foot in front of the other deserves a prize.

Caleb and I were talking the other day about being a failure in life. It's easy to do. It's easy to see everyone else's "success" and think of all the ways we don't stack up.

Chances are, though, somebody is doing the same thing with us. There's that quote that talks about how somebody else would love to have what you are complaining about... and that's so true.

As I'm finishing up this semester, I'm reflecting on what true success is.

I love this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson. "What is success? To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate the beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch Or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!”

So, as I'm finishing up these last few days of 2018, I'm vowing not to get too focused on 2019. I'm going to think of this quote, and try to live it...

Laugh everyday.

Play with the kiddos at church and try to win the respect of intelligent people.

Live so that I can't be criticized... or that the criticism is a growth opportunity.

Forgive those who have betrayed me through falsehood.

Appreciate the beauty of the season.

Always look for the best in others, and hope they are doing the same for me.

Leave the world a little better...

Live so that others breathe easier.

Because that is true success...

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Hope

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

every year it seems to come a little earlier.

The lights, the trees, the decorations... the Black Friday shopping that creeps into Thanksgiving. The Christmas specials and the Christmas movies.

Tis' the season...whatever that means.

Today marks the beginning of Advent, the waiting period. I never remember observing Advent in my Pentecostal church. My cousin Jennifer did have an Advent calendar, where day had a box to open with a unique picture. Something about checking off a box on a calendar...

clicking through the days.

The story of our life, right?

We live for Friday evening (unless we work on the weekend).

Waiting for life to happen...

That's what Advent is. A waiting for life to happen period...

Life in the form of the way to an abundant life... The Way...

Waiting for Jesus.

This first week of Advent focuses on that anticipation of waiting; not the negative, will it ever come to an end, but the positive- hope.

Hope.

So much packed into those four letters.

Christmas is about the gift of hope to the hopeless.

It's about the arrival of hope to a nation, and then extended to the world.

Hope for our life here... but also hope that there is something else. Something more. Something meaningful.

And just like little kids who anxiously pen their letters to Santa and gaze into the sparkling Christmas lights, hope shines bright in us.

Until that light is distinguished, because life has a way of knocking the hope right out of you.

The bills add up. You mess up at work. You yell at your kids. The mistakes, the shame, the doubt, it builds up...

until it smothers out the hope.

You start believing there isn't hope for anything better. You've asked yourself "Is there more than life to this", hoping it's true, but you've been so stagnant that you can't see how anything could ever be any different.

I've been there.

It's a familiar place.

And in that pit, it's hard to see the light of hope there...

but He came, a light in the darkness, so that hope will not be deferred.

Sometimes, it's in the waiting that we discover the true beauty of the moment.

Christmas gives us the opportunity to focus on that hope. As kids, we dreamed of a doll or a train or a bike...

but as adults, we are dreaming of love, peace, joy...

dreaming of the better life.

And we can have it, because He came to dwell among us, to give us joy and ensure we could live the abundant life.

We just have to keep looking for Him.

Keep clinging to that hope.

Christmas time's a'coming...

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Priorities and Time

Today I was a little melancholy.

I'm not sure why, exactly, except that the weekend goes by so quickly.

And the fall foliage was beautiful on Pine Mountain, but the leaves were falling quickly, which led me to think of how soon winter is here.

And I have an almost 16 year old who was sitting in the front seat.

Almost 16.

I found myself thinking this weekend how quickly time really does fly. It seems the older I get, the faster it goes.

I guess that can be a good thing and a bad thing... good because if you're dreading something, it won't last for long. Bad because you blink and your baby is 16.

So, in my melancholy mood, I found myself ruminating on lots of different things.

How hard I find it to make friends and how lonely I feel sometimes.

I've been clinging to the belief that you have to fight for joy, but sometimes the battle is long and we get weary, even though our blessings are staring us right in the face.

Joy in the moment is something we must fight for, because as I said, time goes by so quickly and if you're not joyful, you're wasting the time you've got.

I preach that to myself probably ten times a day, and most days I preach sense into myself... but then other days it feels good to wallow.

As bad as I hate to admit it, I'm a wallower sometimes.

God gets it, though. We know that because one of the best stories Jesus told to illustrate salvation and mercy and grace had a young man spending his time and his resources unwisely (hello, procrastinators and those who dwell on the difficulties...) only to end up wallowing in a pigsty.

I'm so thankful He's not put off by the smell of mud, because I sure stink of it sometimes.

Wasting time... in whatever form you choose... is a joy killer.

Today I looked at my calendar and was shocked to see that there's only one more month in the year. I mean, I knew it... but it just doesn't seem real.

Every month my planner gives me the opportunity to appraise my previous month. I've not always filled out the pages, but this morning I paused to review the month of October and found that I honestly didn't remember much of it.

I then found myself looking at my priorities... or what I believe to be my priorities. My time doesn't reflect what I think are my priorities. Too often I get bogged down by stuff that doesn't even matter to me.

So today we drove to Letcher Co. to see the fall foliage on Pine Mountain. Brilliant oranges and yellows and reds...

And I forced myself to walk, enjoying the cool breeze as the sunset (at 530 PM.  I will not complain about the time change. I will not...)

And I ate a cupcake and loved every morsel of the strawberry flavor, even though it probably defeated the purpose of my walk.

I read my Kindle for a few minutes and soaked in the bathtub and read Jeremiah and Ezekiel because I'm months behind on my Chronological Bible reading.

Tomorrow I'll make time for family and laugh with them and celebrate my boy's birthday at his party and try not to dramatize the fact that on Tuesday he'll be 16... and then I'll blink and he'll be 40 and I'll be near dead.

Ok... so melancholy AND dramatic are kind of my forte...


Thursday, November 1, 2018

#Last90Days

So I made it through the month of October and only missed three days writing, which deserves a great big pat on the back. I'm learning to be my own cheerleader...

At the beginning of last month I joined a challenge focusing on living intentionally the last 90 days of the year. The premise is that if you start the year with a bang, you should end the year with the same excitement. If you've read this blog at all, you know I was pretty excited to see 2018 get started...

mainly because I wasn't in a good place emotionally, spiritually, physically... I was a little (or a lot) mad at God for some things that aren't even worth discussing now, but was too stubborn to admit it. Because of that, I was feeling a little lost and alone... so what better to do than focus on changing things myself??? (Because we all know how that works out! The best laid plans of mice and men... A man purposes in his heart, but God...)

So fast forward to hear and now. I'm in a better place but it's not anything that I DID. It's because I finally realized that I really can't do anything without Him... but I do love a good social media challenge. And living intentionally doesn't mean I'm going to change the world. No huge resolutions... because they don't work. Just setting some goals, working on some steps to reach those goals, and STOP THE LYING to myself.

It focuses on five components. The first one I just said up front I wasn't going to do, because I've tried it and it doesn't work. When I was a baby, I liked to sit up all night. My Mom and Dad talk about having to drive me in the car. I'd be perfectly content to sit up until 2 AM if I could sleep until 11... so getting up earlier just isn't an option for me. I swear my best sleep is in the 20 minutes I get when I snooze my alarm two times (ok, 18 minutes, but who's counting). As much as I love the IDEA of getting up and hitting the treadmill and reading my Bible and collecting my thoughts, I just don't see it happening. I'm convinced God made my circadian rhythm the way He did, so I'll settle for reading my Bible at night and getting in exercise when I can.

The second component is moving... and I have done better with that. Not great, not perfect, but it's something I know I need to do. The colder, rainy weather has slowed my running down, but I'm not punishing myself for it, nor have I completely quit, which is what I have done in the past. And I've bought lots of stickers for my planner, so when I put a shoe and a "killer ab" workout in there I have to actually do it because we all know planners are binding.

Third was to eliminate one food. I had started a love affair with Little Debbie donuts... so we've not bought anymore. Sweets are my downfall, but I've not let a chocolate donut pass my lips. (I have indulged in a blueberry donut... but not a dozen, which is what usually happened. Y'all, I'm so bad. So, so bad...)

Fourth is drinking 1/2 your body weight in water. I've struggled with this one, too. Like today... I only drank one bottle...but I am downsizing my Diet Coke option, and am at least drinking SOME water, which is better than nothing.

Lastly, writing down 10 things you are grateful for every day. Yes, ten. And honestly, sometimes that is a daunting task. Sometimes I write the same things over and over... but I've found myself looking for things through the day.

It takes 30 days, supposedly, to start a habit. I'm not sure I buy into that, because I'm not consistent, but I do know that my last 30 days were some of the better days of 2018. I'm not convinced it was because of this challenge... but I think that being intentional had something to do with it.

But I'm thinking that the biggest part of it is I finally opened my heart back up... to God and to love and to being vulnerable and to admitting that it's ok not to be ok...

And to worship Him through it all.

Here's to the last 61 days of 2018... and the rest of our lives. One day, one minute, one hour at a time...

Monday, October 29, 2018

Better Together

So, we've talked about moments within the story and the soundtrack of our lives. We've talked about changes in plot and unexpected events.

Every main character has to have a sidekick... or a tribe.

We weren't made to live life alone.

We were made for relationship, and that is evident in everyone's story.

Try to do things alone, and you may be ok for a little while...

but in Ecclesiastes we are told that two are better than one, so that we can help each other up.

It's an old cliché, but we are better together.

That means that when I am weak, you may be strong... and vice versa. Just like that old song "Lean on Me".

I struggle with this concept because I'm so socially awkward. I want friends, y'all. Really I do. I get some of that envy going when I see people post pictures on social media of them with all their tribe going to the movies or out to dinner or just hanging out...

because even though I have tons of friends on Facebook, and lots of social acquaintances who I speak to and smile at, I don't have a tribe.

I do have a collection of friends from over the years who I am fairly certain I could call if I needed them and they would help me out. They know my story and have played key parts throughout... but I struggle with needing people.

And I don't always know what to say. For crying out loud, I'll see someone I've known for years and not have a clue how to strike up a conversation.

That's one of the things I say every year when I make new years resolutions... I'm going to make friends... and then I quickly get busy in my own life.

Being together means you are just that... invested in each other.

It's no longer about your story... but about theirs, too.

How they are interconnected... but how you can help theirs be a bestseller.

This is a post in write 31 days, using free write prompts from Five Minute Fridays. Today's prompt is together.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

A New Song... or An Old One

Every movie has a soundtrack. That soundtrack often provides clues for what is coming next... the crescendos during the scary, suspenseful, dramatic parts. Upbeat music as the protagonist wins. Violins as the tragedy occurs.

If our lives are our stories, then our stories are much like movies. Perhaps we don't have a soundtrack that clues us in on what is to come, but more than likely your story is associated with some type of music.

Music has been an integral part of my life story. I can hear a certain song and it brings back memories... of me dancing in Mom's kitchen, of sunning in the backyard on a blanket covered in baby oil, of cheering at high school football games, of riding around in my cousin Jen's vehicle...

I loved to sing from an early age. Chorus was one of my favorite classes, perhaps because it provided a respite from Calculus and Chemistry. Also because Mrs. DeHoag was so spectacular.

Songs are often associated with sad times and happy times... but there's always music.

Music moves us. It often changes how we react to certain situations. It can make us melancholy or exuberant.

I think God made us that way. After all, central in His Word is the Psalms, a collection of songs. One such song said," He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise..."

May I sing Your song all day long, Father.

This post is part of write 31 days using free write prompts from Five Minute Friday. Today's prompt is song.