Moments of Joy: November 2016

Last month, I described my favorite parts of fall party fun. Today’s story tells of another gathering of friends, this time away from home.

All-Region choir concert filing on stage

My best friend in the world is pregnant.  What a surprise for her and her family, as she and her husband assumed for years that they could not have children.  With her last few nauseous months, and my busy family’s schedule, I have hardly seen my friend this fall.  That changes today, however, because my daughter is participating in an All-Region choir concert near my friend’s house!

I leave the house with a smile on my face, eager to enjoy the afternoon with my buddy and the evening concert.  Forty-five minutes later, I pull into the Target parking lot, search briefly for my friend’s distinctive vehicle, and park near it.  We often meet here as it is on the edge of town, and she frequents the Starbucks coffee shop in the store.

Searching the coffee shop area, she is no where to be found.  A quick phone call later, and I meet her with a big hug in the Christmas decoration area.  We shop, we chat, we share thoughtful conversation that only best friends can, and before long it’s time for the concert.

We luckily find the venue without much trouble and find a parking space near the long line of school buses.  An image of my daughter’s face from this morning flashes into my mind, and I chuckle to myself. The least-favorite part of this day for my daughter was getting up at the crack of dawn to ride the very crowded bus to choir practice.  Overall, the experiences of the day definitely outweigh the inconveniences to her, and she loves the trip every year.  I’m proud that she is so successful each year in this chosen interest of hers (singing).  I’m also thrilled that from this year forward, the public school choir class is at 8 a.m., forcing us to get an early start on our homeschooling each day without any teen fussing about needing “five more minutes” to sleep!

My focus is brought back to the present, as we get out of the vehicle and follow the crowd inside.  This is the first time the All-Region concert has been held at this location, but we easily find our way around and luck into great seats on the third row.  At the last minute, family and friends file in and settle beside us.  I turn to check how my pregnant friend is faring, as evenings are usually her worst time of the day.  Luckily, it’s a good day for her today!

The lights dim and teens begin filing onto the stage.  My daughter is easy to spot in the crowd for a change, due to her burgundy and gold choir robe.  The girls’ typical black dresses weren’t ready in time for today, and this is the first time in all the years of singing that I’ve seen my daughter in a choir robe.  She wasn’t thrilled about it when she tried it on at home the day before, but we had some good laughs joking about how many of us could probably have climbed into the giant costume with her.

After a brief technical difficulty with the microphone (“What?” one person in the back yells, “We can’t hear you!”), the show is under way.  The singing is beautiful!  My daughter seems to do well on all the songs, even the new song they were required to learn earlier today in a different language.  A second choir files onto the stage after my daughter is finished.  One of their songs is an improvised piece, accompanied by bongos. It is interesting and lively, just like the comedic conductor. The final song of the night is a powerful spiritual that elicits booming cheers from the crowd and a couple of tears from my eyes.  What a great show!

It takes a while to reconnect with my daughter and gather our friends before we decide on the spur of the moment to have a late dinner together.  I’m thrilled that my pregnant friend even feels up to eating at this time of day — yay!  So, off we go, trying to follow each other across the busy town in the dark to the restaurant.  On the way, we get briefly separated in traffic and get a close-up view of a departing school bus swiping the side mirror off a small SUV.

Finally making it safely to the restaurant, we prepare to nosh on southern home cooking at Cracker Barrel.  We have a great time asking the waitresses to snap photos of all of us in front of the large, stone fireplace while we wait for the tasty “grub.”  Then we settle back in our chairs, and conversations fly back and forth across the table with lots of smiles and laughter.  My daughter tells the details of her day, with only one sad bit of news to report.  It’s sad to her, anyway…her teacher found it so easy to spot her students among the sea of black dresses and suits that she’s decided they will wear the giant burgundy robes again next year!

We eventually admit we all need to end the fun and head home for bed.  In the restaurant gift shop, we mill around and enjoy a few more minutes together while the tabs are being paid.  I notice a couple of people sneaking up to the register to purchase Christmas gifts after someone “Oooos” or “Aaaaahs” over an item in the store.  A few final hugs are exchanged and another blessed day draws to an end.

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Moments of Joy: October 2016

Last month, I shared with you the one thing that brings me happiness every day of every month — the true source of joy in this world. Today, I am remembering an evening of fall fun and friendship.

collage of fall party with scarecrow, fire pit, and pumpkin pudding desserts

What makes for a wonderful evening? Some of the things I would include are all gathered together in my backyard:

  • friends, neighbors, and family — So many people I love are mingling and getting to know one another better.  What a joy this is for me to see!
  • fun games — We’re all laughing and cheering as we take turns catapulting decorative squash with a three-person water-balloon launcher.  The goal is to hit a target hanging on hay bales across the yard, but most of the squash end up in the grass or lodged into the chain-link fence.  My first shot lands in the chicken pen, and one brave hen comes to check out the strange object.  Party games don’t have to be complicated or expensive.  Kids and adults alike are happy tonight with the “Pumpkin Launch” game, hitting a beach ball over a volleyball net, a tetherball pole, and even just using sidewalk chalk to draw on a 20-foot-long roll of black bulletin board paper that is taped to the back of the house.
  • beautiful weather — A few wispy clouds highlight the sunset before the stars begin to twinkle and shine.  A gentle breeze blows on this cool evening, encouraging us to circle around the campfire.  You can see in the photo above where I threw on an armload of sticks that was too large for our little fire pit.  The flames shot above our heads and made roasting marshmallows a bit dangerous for a while!
  • food — Food is always a great thing in my book!  I’m particularly happy with the tasty pumpkin patch pudding cups (my first-ever Pinterest project).
  • singing praises to God — Gathering friends around a beautiful campfire to sing is always a great way to spend a cool evening.
  • costumes and decorations — Several of us agree, as we sit on a row of hay bales eating smores and hot dogs, that there should be a holiday at least once per month where we could dress up in costumes.  It’s funny to see your friends looking like a Harry Potter character, Superman, a lion, a football star, a pirate, a queen, or even just a grumpy girl in a bathrobe.  Then there’s the friends who enjoy a play on words: like the geeky girl with candy glued to her jeans (“Miss Smarty Pants”) and the lady in the shower cap with sacks from different stores hanging all over her (“A Bag Lady”).  It can be fun to step away from the everyday, get out of your comfort zone, and be a little silly!

The few weeks of preparation were worth it, I decide as I look around at all the smiling faces.  I appreciate the motivation this gathering provided to clean up and repair the property, and I momentarily forget the seemingly endless times I climbed ladders to trim giant hedges and fix the gutters and siding.  Seeing friendships, new and old, deepen and grow makes it all worthwhile.  Though, I’m not positive if I would do it all again next year…whew!

Friendships and Tea Sets

True friends are such a blessing! I wanted to share this sweet post to remind us to count the blessing of friendship every day.

Proverbs 18:24 “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

The Chicken Grandma

Well-Loved Tea Set.JPG

For some reason tonight I am struggling to organize my thoughts.  I keep rearranging them and sorting them out in my mind while I try to get them typed into this post. Perhaps it is because the day was full.  It was full of laughter, joy, sharing and love. The day has left so may thoughts swirling through my brain that it is difficult to know where to start and where to end.

It was a great day spent with two close friends. I have known who these two women are; for probably 16 years.  It is only the last few years that I have really come to know these two women. We met at a Christian retreat and have met at that same retreat for many years.

When you have shared life stories, shared tears and shared laughter you realize what a gift friendship and relationship can be. These…

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Beautiful Thing

This song captured my heart.  It’s just so adorable that I can’t help but smile.

It is written by a young girl named Grace VanderWaal, who performed it on the America’s Got Talent TV show this week.

I hope it brightens your day as much as it does mine.

~~~~~~~

“Beautiful Thing”

by Grace VanderWaal

You think that you know my heart,
And you probably do.
So I’m always with you.
I could stay with you for hours
In an empty room.
Never get bored.
Never have nothing to do.
You’re my other half.
You’re what makes me, me.
What makes me smile
When I fall down and can’t get back, get back, get back up
On my feet.
You’re a beautiful thing.
We’re a beautiful thing together.
Even when the weather is low…
You’re a beautiful thing.
We’re a beautiful thing together.
Even when the weather is low,
We can find the rainbow
Up in the sky.
You’d say, “Don’t you cry. It’s all gonna be alright.”
That’s a beautiful thing.
Make hours into seconds together,
The weight of the world feel like a feather
Cause we’re holding it right in our hands.
You’re my other half.
What makes me, me.
What makes me smile
When I fall down and need to get back up on my feet.
You’re a beautiful thing.
We’re a beautiful thing together.
Even when the weather is low,
We can find the rainbow
Up in the sky.
You’d say “Don’t you cry. It’s all gonna be alright.
No, it’s all gonna be alright.”
That’s a beautiful thing.

Life Lessons from Carrots

After gathering carrots from the garden one rainy August day, I placed them under cool running water in the kitchen sink and began to scrub them clean with my old, stiff veggie brush.  A thought occurred to me in that moment…

Have you ever paid attention to how all the carrots in the grocery store look so long, straight, and perfect?  That’s not the way they all look when they are harvested.

carrots of different sizes and shapes in a stainless steel colander

When I pull them up in my garden, they all look unique:  different sizes, different shapes, different colors.

I’m sure this happens with part of the carrots in commercial farms.  We just never see the unusual ones because, even though they taste exactly the same, the imperfectly-shaped carrots are rejected from grocery shipments and are ground into pet foods or used for other purposes.  Either that, or they are trimmed into matching shapes and sizes to be sold as “baby-cut carrots.”

I realized then that the uniqueness of carrots could be applied to people, as well.

orange carrot split into two roots

Society may use advertising and peer pressure to try to convince us to strive for a certain ideal in our appearance or lifestyle — to fit the mold of what is considered “normal” or “perfect.” Yet, the reality is that we are all unique in our appearance, physically and socially.

Unlike the misshapen carrots, we must never reject people that don’t fit our ideal of physical or social perfection; and we must never try to force them into matching our personal standards.

If we do not all look like Ken and Barbie dolls with the perfect figure and features, perfect skin and hair, perfect height and weight, perfect speech and mannerisms, perfect wealth and status, it doesn’t matter because the reality is that on the inside

long fat orange carrot beside three tiny carrots

we all taste the same.

Oh, wait…maybe I’m mixing my metaphors…but you get the point, right?

pale yellow carrot split into five roots

One of the scribes … asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”

Jesus answered, The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  There is no other commandment greater than these.

~Mark 12:28-31

Do you see what I mean?  The scripture says “love your neighbor as yourself,” not “make your neighbor into yourself.”

Thanks for reading, and have a great day!  Now get out there and show some love!

~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~

Let brotherly love continue.

~Hebrews 13:1

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.

~1 John 3:18

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one who loves is born of God, and knows God.

~1 John 4:7

Moments of Joy: July 2016

In last month’s post, I mentioned the pleasure gained from having a simple family vacation and then coming back home to sleep blissfully in my own bed.  In today’s story — oh, baby! — how I’m reminded that pure love comes in small, sweet packages!

collage of adorable baby girl from birth to four months old

A vehicle pulls up to our house, and I look out the window in surprise.  I step outside with my daughter and call toward the driveway, “Hi!  I didn’t know you were going to come in your police car!”

My friend steps out of the car in full uniform and returns my greeting as he reaches into the back seat.

“Oh, no,” I add, “my neighbor is home.  He’s really going to give me a hard time for seeing your car at my house!  He teases me all the time.”

Pulling a baby carrier out of the seat, my friend stands up and faces me.  “What does he tease you about?”

“Everything!  He has quite a sense of humor!”

The words barely escape my lips before I hear a loud voice behind me slowly calling,  “Haaa!  Haaa!!  Haaa!!  HAAAAH!!!”

I shake my head and look over my shoulder as Mr. Ferguson‘s screen door clicks closed across the street.  My friend and I look at each other with raised eyebrows and burst out laughing before heading into the house.

The cool air conditioning feels refreshing compared to the midday sun outside.  “You can set her carrier on the couch for now, if you want,” I suggest as we cross through the kitchen and into the living room.

As he places the car seat carrier onto the sofa lounger, my daughter and I eagerly crane our necks to peek inside.  The beautiful blue eyes of his four-month-old baby girl look back at us, blinking sleepily.

I, of course, comment on how adorable she is and then begin to chat about her with my daughter.  Suddenly, I realize that my officer friend has grown silent and still.  I look up to see him staring at his tiny girl with a serious expression on his face.

“This is so hard,” he states aloud while continuing to stare at the precious bundle cradled in the car seat.

After a fleeting moment of contemplation, I ask in a surprised voice, “Is this the first time you’ve left her with a babysitter?”

“Yes.”

“Not even family?!”

“No,” he answers, briefly glancing my way before continuing to gaze at his daughter.  (He later explains that they had left her in relatives’ care before, but “not for long” and “we were never more than a block away.”)

I gape at him incredulously.  “Wow, I’m honored! I’m really honored that you trust us to watch her!”

After several cuddles and kisses with his baby daughter, my friend reluctantly leaves to attend a special police training drill for the afternoon.

My daughter and I thoroughly enjoy an hour of entertainment with the now-alert infant.  We watch her explore her wiggly toes, work her gums over on her teething toy, and react to the silly faces we make at her.  She practices her new-found skill of rolling onto her stomach, but becomes more fussy each time she is unable to roll back.  It’s easy to see that nap time is overdue.

Rocking in the recliner fails to lull her to sleep, so my daughter hands her to me to try a different method.  I hold the tired babe against my shoulder as I walk around the room, patting her rhythmically on the back as I had seen her mother do during past visits to our house.

She is such pleasant and quiet girl.  Even her loudest cries seem to be half the volume of most babies I’ve encountered.  Her protests dwindle as I stand near the living room window gently swaying back and forth.  Her sweet smell and warm snuggles send memories flooding back to my mind — memories of dancing my daughter around her room each night while singing “Jesus Loves Me” into her tiny ear.

That bedtime ritual was especially loved by my daughter.  As she got older, she would sometimes ask me to sing to her “like you did when I was little.”  The last few times, she was so tall that her feet nearly dragged the floor when I held her.

I am stirred out of my reverie when I notice a small forehead tapping on my shoulder.  Our young guest is finally losing the fight to stay awake and can successfully be transferred back to my daughter’s arms in the recliner.

My tall teen smiles in pure contentment while studying the sleeping baby on her shoulder, and I get a glimpse of what the future may hold for her in a few short years.  How amazing…where has the time gone?  My heart swells with feelings of love and peace, and perhaps a twinge of nostalgia, too.

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Links to Joy: Mourning

Yes, I know, that’s a strange title for a blog post.  It is an oxymoron that has been on my mind of late, as I have attended several funerals recently with family and friends.

King Solomon stated in the book of Ecclesiastes that “it is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting…”  But how could that be possible?  Who wants to sit around and pout when they could party, instead?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately of loved ones who have passed away and about friends who have moved out of state that I no longer get to see frequently.  Sadness and mourning fill my heart at these times, so how could that make me happy?

Look at the rest of the scripture to understand the answer:

SCRIPTURE -- Ecclesiastes 7:2 written on the photo of a teary eye

It’s easy to float through life when things are going smoothly or when you are busy with schedules and/or physical possessions.  Loss and tragedy can make you pause long enough to re-evaluate your life.

Sitting in the crowd during a funeral service, it’s hard not to think that some day I will be the one lying in the box.  It helps me think about and take stock of my life:

  • Why am I here?
  • What is my purpose in life?
  • What have I contributed to this world that’s of any value?
  • How many days to I have left on this earth, and am I using them well?

Such sobering thoughts help me organize my priorities and live more conscientiously. This pause for thoughtful self-evaluation is how mourning can lead to a joyous lifestyle and help you develop a meaningful, peaceful life.

When I slow down to examine my life and look around this world, I see the patterns, the complexity, the balance…I see the hand of the Creator.

When I seek His truths in His Word, I find a pattern of living based on relationships, love, and unselfishness.  Walking in His footsteps, I make choices that lead my life down a wonderful path which grows brighter every day.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

~Matthew 5:4

 

One last thought: “We’re all in this together,” as they say, so I encourage you today to pay extra attention to those around you and support them.  Whether you feel like laughing or crying at the moment, “this, too, shall pass;” and like it or not, we need each other.

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

~Romans 12:15