Christmas Joy

Merry Christmas dear friends!

I hope you are enjoying the days leading up to Christmas Eve!

No, you didn’t read that wrong – I did say enjoying. See the word JOY in there? It’s between the ‘en’ and the ‘ing’. Joy is easy to lose – even in the most joyful time of the year.

I don’t know about you, but I have had a few frantic moments over the past week or so. Honestly, I think I was trying too hard to make this Christmas extra-special since it is our first without my mom. Bad idea. What I thought would bring my family and I joy, ended up causing a good amount of stress for me.

I was anything but joyful.

Ask my friend Jeanne. She was with me in the car last Friday night when I was having a pre-Christmas meltdown! It wasn’t pretty. Jeanne’s a saint, by the way. She just let me vent. That’s what best girlfriends do.

Finally, by last Saturday morning I had to have a little talk with myself about calming down and letting a few things go – and, thankfully, I listened! As a result, this has been a much better week. I’m actually enjoying my preparations for Christmas!

I’m thinking my husband is, too. Poor man.

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Several years ago, I found this little article among my grandmother’s things. She always posted it on her refrigerator right after Thanksgiving to remind herself to keep things in perspective as she prepared for the holidays.

Now… it could be that I simply come from a long line of women who get frantic in December – or maybe, just maybe, you get a little crazy at Christmas, too. If so, I hope that Marjorie Holmes’ words will help you refocus and, if necessary, let a few things go.

This was written nearly 45 years ago. I find it comforting to know women have been struggling with Christmas stress long before we have. You will see that even though her words are a bit old fashioned, they are completely relevant today.

A Woman’s Conversation with God

Let me come eagerly to Christmas this year, Lord.  Let me come gaily, with a new delight in the countless things I must accomplish – the shopping, the wrapping and mailing, the addressing of mountains of cards.  Let me find new joy in the bazaars, the parties and programs, the baking and decorating…not to mention all the things I’ve promised to do for others.

Instead of my usual seasonal panic, fill me with a glowing sense of trust and peace.  Each day that I awake, let me rejoice in the fact that I’m well and able to do it – that I can get up and begin.

And though there never seems to be enough time (or money), let me remember that you’ve never let us down.  That, as with the loaves and the fishes, a miracle happens each year.  There is always plenty – more than plenty.  The house overflows with gifts and friends, the tree is bowed with its shining burden, the table groans with delicious things to eat.

Even time stretches out like a magic ribbon, somehow embracing all that must be done.  As for a woman’s strength – therein lies the greatest marvel of all. You give each of us extra portions for this season so that at the end, like children, we hug Christmas close to our hearts and don’t want it to be over.

Remind me of all this as I prepare for Christmas this year, Lord.  Let me come eagerly to the seemingly impossible, knowing that this holy, happy season is a time of miracles. — Marjorie Holmes

 

My grandmother’s original article, just the way she fashioned it with felt and yarn, now hangs in my kitchen.

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May our sweet Lord grant each of you extra portions of whatever you need over the next few days.

Grace? Comfort? Peace? He has an unlimited supply.

Belief? Hope? Sanity? Just ask.

And don’t forget…JOY!

He is the one and only place where you can find it!

Merry Christmas and lots of love,

 laura

P.S. The book of Luke records another woman who had a conversation with God. The Magnificat is a beautiful mosaic of dozens of Old Testament scriptures that young Mary sang in praise to God. This faithful woman knew the Word of God – and so should we!

For Christmas, I’ve posted a beautiful, printable of The Magnificat for you. It can be found under the ‘Freebies’ tab above. You will also find a recipe for Christmas Wassail, which is served in our home every Christmas Eve! ENJOY! xo

Practicing Peace {in a crazy world}

It’s been a tough week for this old planet.

We’ve received quite a bit of shocking and heartbreaking news over these past few days.

Suddenly, the world has become a very small place and frightening events appear to be at our doorstep. Pat and I live equal distance from Baltimore and Washington D.C., and I can tell you – people are on edge.

In times like these, it is easy to let worry and fear take over – especially when we feel utterly helpless and uncertain of what is going to happen next.

Our anxiety may produce a feeling of powerlessness but, the truth is, we are not powerless at all. Anxiety is such a liar.

A very familiar passage from Philippians 4:6-9 tells us exactly what to do with our anxiousness:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

So often, we stop right there at verse 8, but the next two sentences in verse 9  give us an action step that will ensure we receive God’s peace:

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

This isn’t something we don’t already know, but the truth is, so many of us don’t do it — at least not consistently.

Girls, many of you have spent years in Bible study. Like me, you have shared countless hours sitting around circles with women discussing God’s Word. We have all attended women’s conferences and sat under the teaching of powerful Christian speakers and teachers – but, with all due respect, it is not enough. We need to put it into practice.

We cannot just think about such things – we must do them. That is the step Paul is urging us to take.

When anxiety hits, it’s easy for me to forget this. You too?

I heard someone say recently that the enemy is not at all concerned when we read our Bibles — he is only concerned when we do what it says!

So here is the question…

 In these uncertain and worrisome times, are we going to live in a state of fretfulness, anxiety and panic – or will we walk in the truth we have been taught?

How can we be the light of the world during such darkness if we are unable to reflect God’s peace?

The threats and violence going on around us are real – but our Lord is not only real, He is in complete control. He may be asking us to walk a difficult road, but He lays out the steps we can take to walk it in peace.

We are to pray with thanksgiving in every situation and to keep our mind on all that is excellent and praiseworthy.

And then His perfect peace — such sweet relief — will come.

Notice that He tells us to express thankfulness in every situation – not just when things are going smoothly and all is well. Consistency is the key.

My friend Laurene is a wonderful example. She sees the ‘praise’ in every situation and I love her dearly. Last night at Bible study, she suggested that we not only pray over weekly prayer requests, but also pray in thankfulness over each other’s praises. What a perspective changer!

I would like to borrow Laurene’s idea and do the same with all of you. Let’s put this into practice together.

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Will you please leave a quick comment below, sharing something you are thankful for? To use the words from Philippians 4 — something true, noble, right, pure, lovely, or admirable and anything that is excellent or praiseworthy.

I’d love to read your praises!

Then, we can join together in prayer, thanking God for what He has done in our lives. I promise to pray for each one of you. I’ll go first and leave a comment with my own praise.

Let’s remind the evil one, and all of his helpers here on earth, that in spite of their attempts to terrorize us, we remain faithful and thankful. 

I am grateful to be on the journey with you,

 laura

 PS. Just for fun and because I am so thankful for you, I’ve posted two FREE yummy Thanksgiving cookie recipes for you to download and enjoy! They are our family’s favorites and the printable recipes are pretty enough to frame! Simply click the ‘freebies’ tab above. I’ll have more free downloads posted once ADVENT begins, so stay tuned! I am truly thankful for your support and encouragement! HAPPY THANKSGIVING! xo

 

One Wise Woman

Our plan was to not have a plan. We both simply wanted to sit, relax, chat and look at the waves for four glorious days. So, a week or so ago, Pat and I went away for a much needed rest at the beach. We rented a beautiful condo right on the ocean. What a view!

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It was a great trip – we walked along the sand, watched the waves for hours, had long conversations, and took a little trip down memory lane. The condo was in Bethany Beach – but memory lane was a little ways up the coastal highway in a sweet seaside town called Rehoboth.

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When I was a little girl, my grandparents lived on a farm on Maryland’s Eastern Shore not too far from there – a visit to their place in the summer always meant a day trip to the beach. My parents would rent a cottage for two weeks every summer while I was growing up and Pat & I continued the summer tradition when our boys came along. I have so many wonderful memories of Rehoboth Beach – they span from the earliest memories of my childhood up until when my boys were teenagers.

So…it was fun to walk all over the little town and the boardwalk – remembering this and remembering that. We spent the day conjuring up old family vacation stories and recalling the early years of marriage and family. As we walked along Baltimore Avenue, I stopped Pat in front of a cute little restaurant and asked him “Do you know what happened here?”

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He told me he didn’t know.

One summer, after Pat and I had been dating for a few months, I invited him to join me on my annual family vacation at the beach. We were both looking forward to spending time with each other and also with my parents & grandmother.

I could feel myself falling in love with him. It kind of scared me. Before Pat and I started going out, my history with boyfriends was pretty dismal — most were very unkind and untrustworthy —  it was strange to date someone who was so completely different. It’s sad to admit that ‘kind’ and ‘caring’ seemed strange to me but, to be honest, it did.

We arrived at the beach cottage and settled in with the family. All was well for the first day or so – and then something really weird happened. It came right out of the blue and was completely unprovoked.

I wanted him to go home.

I really wanted him to go home.

Yep – the poor boy had practically just unpacked his bags and now I wanted him to leave.

I don’t know what had come over me, but I was in a complete panic. I’ll spare you the details – but it was like some strange mood took me over and I did not want him there anymore. I wasn’t even remotely nice about it.

I told him our relationship was all wrong. We were not a good match. He needed a quiet, more reserved girlfriend and I needed…well, I didn’t know what I needed – but I was sure I didn’t need him!

The next day a very dejected and confused Pat left the beach and went home. My family stood there with their jaws on the floor. They were mortified and could not believe my behavior. It was completely unlike me to do such a thing and I had no good explanation.

I went to my room and flopped on my bed. My grandmother knocked on the door and invited me to lunch. We ended up going to this cute little restaurant on Baltimore Avenue in Rehoboth – just the two of us.

It was in that little place, over lunch, that I had one of the most important conversations of my life.

Before our food even arrived, my grandma lovingly but oh-so-directly called me out on my behavior toward Pat. She explained to me what she thought was going on and urged me to not fear falling in love with him. She felt I sent him away because of ‘cold feet’ and, in hindsight, she was right.

Over our salads, I was reminded — in detail — of the previous boys I had brought home and how unkind they were to me. She told me that in Pat she saw a kind, faithful, trustworthy, Christian young man who could love me the way I needed to be loved. She strongly encouraged me to pray, think and consider what and who I may be sending away.

And then, over dessert and coffee, my sweet widowed grandmother winked her eye and said to me,

“Laura Anne, if you don’t marry him, I will!”

Oh, we laughed over that one for years!

Her honest words – direct and true – snapped me out of my fears and pushed me toward my destiny.

Just a little over a year after that lunch and conversation, Pat and I were married – and, just as grandma predicted, he has been kind, faithful, trustworthy and has loved me the way I needed to be loved for 32 years.

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My wise grandmother knew the truth about Pat before I did. I am sure that every time I introduced her to one of the previous, unsuitable boyfriends she got on her knees and prayed for my future husband – and when he showed up, she knew it!

It just took me a little while to know it, too.

Did you know that Scripture recounts many instances of wise, truth-telling women?

2 Samuel 20:16-22 tells a brief story about someone known only as “one wise woman.” Her city faced a life or death situation. It was a matter of survival. One commentator writes;

“This one wise woman gathered information, held off an army with diplomacy, called a meeting and persuaded her fellow citizens of the best action to take to save the city. The townspeople had the discernment to recognize wise counsel when they heard it.”

They followed her advice. One wise woman used her wisdom to save the destiny of many and it was so significant that the Lord made sure it was written in His book!

So… here are the questions:

Is there a wise woman who has shown you the way, pointed you toward God’s will, and even given you a push when you needed it?

And…who are you praying for? Your child?  Your grandchild? Your daughter-in-law? A friend?

Will you be ‘one wise woman’ and speak loving truth to her?

Never, ever, underestimate the power and influence of one wise woman AND of a praying, truth-telling grandmother.

Many Blessings,

laura

Our Dear Marylou

My summer started with a long-awaited lunch with one of my oldest and dearest friends.

We wanted to get together ever since my mother died in March but, because I work at the local high school, we decided to wait until school was out so we could both relax and enjoy the day.

Work ended for me at the end of June on a Thursday. The following Tuesday found Marylou and I in a favorite restaurant chatting away.

Her mother passed away one year before my mother died. We were two grieving daughters who could not wait to meet face to face and talk about what we were both experiencing.

Because our friendship began when we were only two years old, we were like sisters and our conversation was just what each of us needed. I can’t describe the relief I felt to be sitting across the table from her.

We talked about our mothers, our sweet dads, and the new responsibilities taken on when our moms died. There was a good deal of reminiscing, laughing, venting and more than a few tears. We were famous for our marathon lunches and this one lasted until the waiters were lighting the candles for dinner!

At the end of our time together, we talked about our faith and particularly about heaven. We told each other our moms are not floating on clouds with wings and playing harps! Instead, we affirmed that they are healthy and whole, living their real lives in their real home and that one day we would see them again. It was such a sweet conversation.

We said our goodbyes and ‘I love yous’ that afternoon, not having any idea that ‘one day’ would come very soon for Marylou.

It was only three weeks later that we lost her. There was a very brief illness and then she was gone. What little color that had come back into my life after the death of my mom disappeared in an instant. I have been struggling to keep my head above the waves of grief ever since.

On our way to the hospital after receiving the call from her family, I kept saying to Pat, “It’s too much, it’s too much!” I was inconsolable.

The truth is, it really is too much for me – but it isn’t too much for Jesus.

Just as He did when I lost my mom, He has never left me, never stopped reminding me of His presence and, sad as I am, I have never lost hope.

How many lifelong best friends can say that their last conversation together contained a profession of faith, full of the hope of heaven — ending with the words “I love you”?

I was given an amazing gift that day and I didn’t even know it.

My friend Denise mentioned to me that, when someone close to you dies, you not only lose the person – you lose the relationship. That really spoke to me. A friendship built over 55 years is irreplaceable. The confidences, the silly stories, the history, the unconditional love, the ‘being known’ by someone who goes so far back with you simply cannot be replaced.

But yet, it isn’t all gone.

Our loved ones leave a legacy. Some can change the trajectory of a family and the lives around them. They leave a positive imprint long after they have gone and it can reach to future generations.

How we handle ourselves while we are here really does matter.

I’d like to share Marylou’s ‘imprint’ with all of you. The telling will help me heal and I hope it will be helpful to you too.

When I think of her, my very first thoughts go to the Fruit of the Spirit. You probably know that the nine fruits are the attributes that we, hopefully, display as we grow closer to God and as the Holy Spirit matures us in our faith.

Here is what the Scripture says in Galatians 5:22-23:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Our dear Marylou displayed them all. Not perfectly, of course – there is no perfection in this life — but she displayed each one consistently and intentionally. I don’t know about you, but when I look at that list I cannot say the same about myself – but I can honestly say it about Marylou.

As I thought about the imprint she left with us, the fruit of ‘peace’ kept jumping out at me. When we think of peace we tend to think of serenity, tranquility or the absence of anxiety – but I discovered that the Greek word for peace (Eirene) in Galatians 5:22 actually means ‘peace with others’.

And that was Marylou.

We were in the ICU with her family for five days. As I watched them arrive from all over the country, I saw the relationships between all of them. There was so much love – love for Marylou, love for her husband Paul, and love for each other.

Marylou built strong relationships not only with Paul, but with each of her sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, children, and grandchildren. She was devoted to her dad. Marylou never met a stranger and she stayed in touch with friends both old and new.

She treasured people and loved unconditionally. While I witnessed all this going on, I whispered to my husband, “There is so much fruit here – I can see her legacy in all of these relationships. Amazing.”

You see, Marylou was a peace-maker.

This was on my mind over all the days she was in the hospital. I kept thinking about the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, “Blessed are the peace-makers for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9

Marylou was a peace-maker. She was not a peace ‘keeper’, which implies peace at all costs and co-dependency, but a true peace-maker.

She was a bridge builder, a reconciler, and an extreme forgiver.

She desired peace with others – and she wanted us to have it, too.

I cannot tell you how many times over the years Marylou spoke truth to me as only a close and trusted friend can do. If I was at odds with someone, she reminded me of a few things I needed to remember and then told me ‘to get over it’. She always encouraged me to make the first move, forgive first and then move on.

I loved that about her. I am going to miss her voice in my life, but thankfully Marylou’s legacy and imprint lives on.

So…What about you? What about me? What kind of an imprint will we leave behind?

Will it be one of peace with others or will we be known for throwing everyone and everything around us into a tizzy?

Will we be remembered for tossing gasoline on the fire or will our legacy be to make the first move – forgiving and moving on?

How we handle ourselves while we are here really does matter.

As for me, I want to be a bridge builder, a reconciler, and an extreme forgiver.

I want to be a peace-maker — just like our dear Marylou.

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18

 

My dearest friend, Marylou Forcey Jones

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Many Blessings,

laura

PS. I never set out to write so much about grief and loss, but here I am. I’m sharing what the Lord is teaching me along the way. If you or someone you care for is grieving a loss, you may be interested a few posts I wrote last Spring:

You Will Never Understand {until it happens to you}

My Sisters

 The Third Month is the Hardest…

 

The Third Month Is The Hardest…

They say the third month is the hardest. It’s after life goes back to normal for everyone but you. You understand and even expect it – but, even so, it’s very hard. 

When someone close to you dies, the world goes from vivid color to black & white. Everything is the same – and, yet, everything has completely changed.

In the third month, you become very aware that your loved one is gone and life will never be the same again.

As I have written before, God in His great love gives us the time to allow it all to sink in.  We need that protection in the early days after a death. There is so much to do and so much to get through. I believe He gives us cover as we do the things that must be done.

But now, as the third month begins to unfold, most of those tasks are behind me and life goes on. The grief is harder now and comes in waves when I least expect it. While I’m not depressed and I am going on with my daily life, my world isn’t back to vivid color yet.

I came across this a few weeks ago:

“The death of a mother is the first sorrow wept without her.” – Author Unknown

How true. I am heartbroken and suffering the most significant loss of my life and she is not here to help me. I miss my mom.

The grief waves are disorienting and unpredictable. They did not come on Mother’s Day or her birthday last week as I expected. They do not come when I visit the cemetery or when comforting my dad.

Instead, they are unpredictable and disorienting because they come for no apparent reason. They just show up out of nowhere and roll right over me, knocking me down.

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At the loss of his wife, C.S. Lewis wrote:

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness…”

This is exactly what the waves feel like to me. They bring a ‘doom and gloom’ feeling that washes over me – just like fear. 

When this dread shows up, it is hard to feel anything else. It’s hard to feel God is with me. I have no doubt He is, but the waves of grief make me seem invisible – unseen.

Thankfully, I am able to identify this as a lie even in the middle of it.

The truth is, I am not invisible to God or to others.

This week, a surprise package came in the mail at just the right time.

A woman who I have only known a short time sent me a lovely note along with a small book on grief. In the note, she shared her own experience of losing both her mother and her beloved son. She told me that this book would be one of four books she will be sending to me over the coming year.

She committed to remembering me for the entire first year!  

Even though life must go on, and the immediate emergency has passed, God continues to send those who serve out of their own pain and brokenness.

They are called ‘wounded healers’.

This sweet gesture, from a sister sharing her own grief with me, reminded me of what I already knew but could not feel.

He is El Roi, the God who sees us. He knows everything about us. He numbers the hairs on our head and knows our circumstances – past, present and future.

He sees me. And through her kindness, I saw Him.

“You are the God who sees me, for she said, I have now seen the One who sees me.” Genesis 16:13

You might be surprised to know that I am actually grateful for the waves of grief.

I don’t like them one bit, but I am thankful to know what they feel like. This knowledge has actually enlarged my heart and given me deeper empathy for any who are grieving.

There are some things we can only learn in the dark times – when the world has turned to black & white. 

He redeems it all, though.

He transforms us into wounded healers who remind those who are hurting and feeling invisible that their Lord, El Roi, still sees them.

 laura

If you are new to my blog and are interested in reading more about grief, you may want to go to my previous post: You Will Never Truly Understand {until it happens to you}

"The first time I heard Laura communicate, my exact response was 'Wow'! Laura's teaching style is passionate, relatable, and hope-filled. She radiates warmth, kindness and a genuine interest in those around her -- on and off the platform. Her amazing story of transformation, coupled with her solid biblical teaching, will leave you also saying "wow!" If you're looking for a dynamic communicator, Laura has my highest recommendation!"

- Cindy Bultema, International Speaker and author of Red Hot Faith: Lessons from a Lukewarm Church and Live Full, Walk Free: Set Apart in a Sin Soaked World