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Archive | Family musings

Changes Ahead

ChangeSome of you read this blog regularly. Over the years, you’ve read about my family and my travels and my ministry. And you’ve shared with me. And even though most of us have not met face to face, we have a connection through Christ and shared experience. I love that!

So, with that in mind, some of you may be interested in a little update about my life. We are in the midst of some changes and the next few months will be hectic – maybe even overwhelming.

First, my husband retired in December after 37 years with Conoco-Phillips. It was kind of sudden. He had planned to work two or three more years, but pretty much every oil company had layoffs last year, so when the opportunity came up, we prayed and talked and he volunteered.

In addition to adjusting to the new “retirement” schedule, for the next few weeks, Wayne and I will be busy “decluttering” the house so we can put it on the market. Our plan is to move closer to our daughters and their families.

Of course, as so often happens, this is not the only major thing happening for us. My parents are not well and neither my brother nor I live in the same city with them. It is really hard to give them the care they need long-distance. I’ve spent a lot of the last few months on the road. But God has finally brought everything together for us to be able to move them to the city where my brother lives.

That move will happen before our move. In fact, I’m heading there tomorrow to do some packing and visit my folks.

I have been fairly faithful to blog twice a week – every Monday and Thursday. I love sharing with you and I love hearing from you. And I have this thing about being consistent.

But when I sat down to write the post for today, I thought “I’ve got nothing!” So, instead of some interesting illustration or devotional thought or brief time in the Word, I decided simply to share what’s going on with us. And maybe you’ll remember it in case I miss a day – or two – of posts in the weeks ahead.

I’d love to hear from you! What big or little thing is dominating your life right now?

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Refocusing Christmas

ChristmasMy big, beautiful 7 foot tall Christmas tree is sitting at the end of the driveway this morning waiting for the garbage truck. Every December, for almost a decade, it graced a prominent spot in our living room all decked out with glittery gold and brilliant red ornaments. But not this year.

Yesterday afternoon I drug it out of the storage closet in the garage. I cleared the spot in front of the window and set up the stand. I stumbled in with the heavy bottom section, wrangled it into the slot in the stand and fanned out the branches. One fell off onto the floor. Oh well, just one. I could fluff to fill that spot.

Then I plugged it in to test the lights. Only about a fourth of them worked. After trying in vain to get the rest working I made a difficult decision. It was time to retire the tree. We had hoped to get one more season out of our old friend, but alas, it was not to be.

With a sigh I carried the prickly base back out to the garage then out the open door and down the driveway to the edge of the street. Soon I had the tree bag and all the other sections out there too.

I had been vacillating on whether or not to even put up the big tree this year. This is our “off” year with our grown children. They were all here for Thanksgiving. They will be with the in-laws for Christmas. But I love the festive red and gold ornaments. I couldn’t imagine the season without them twinkling at me every time I pass through the room.

Yes, I could run out and buy another big tree. But since we will be moving some time in 2017 it doesn’t make sense to buy a new tree before we know where we will be living.

Briefly I contemplated going the “no tree” route. In the end I decided to put the 4-foot tree that usually goes in my office in the living room. We call it the “outdoor tree” because we decorate it with woodsy ornaments and top it with feathers. It’s a tribute to my husband’s hobbies.

I put the wreaths on the front doors and hung the stockings on the fireplace. Done. Anyone who knows me knows that this is a fraction of the decorating I usually do. Normally “Christmas” shines in every corner.

Last night as I sat and looked at the outdoor tree, I really missed my big, beautiful red and gold creation. But this morning I have decided to take a step back and refocus.

I could make this year’s “scaled back” version of Christmas an opportunity to focus on the more important things of the season. Less decorating and more sharing. Less cleaning and more loving. Less me and lots more Jesus.

Ah, that’s what it should be all about anyway. Christmas. More Jesus.

In what ways have you lost focus on Jesus in Christmases past? How can you refocus on Jesus this year?

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Family Recipe: Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken and dumplingsI just completed a fun project. I used Shutterfly to create a memory cookbook for our grown children. The book includes photos of my husband’s parents and his mom’s recipes we all loved most. I ordered 5 books. One for me, one for each of our grown kids, and one for Wayne’s nephew.

The idea for the project took root early this past summer. Wayne’s dad passed away in March and we were going through his things. We found two small boxes containing all of Wayne’s mom’s handwritten recipes. Wayne’s mom – we called her Mammaw – was a wonderful grandmother and a great country cook. She also taught first grade for 34 years. I learned a lot from her about parenting and cooking.

Sadly, Wayne is now the last of his nuclear family. Cancer claimed his brother in 1994. Mammaw died in a car accident in 2004. And we lost “Pappaw,” Wayne’s dad, this spring. The memory cookbook seemed like a nice keepsake for the grandchildren.

family photo

Howard Family 1993

So, since I’ve been focused on recipes the last few days, you all get to benefit. My favorite “Mammaw recipe” is her Chicken and Dumplings. Since the dumplings are made from scratch, it’s a bit time-consuming. But it’s totally worth it!

The recipe is below, but you can also print this PDF!

Chicken and Dumplings

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 4 cups flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ½ cups boiling water
  • 1 stick butter
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup
  • Salt and pepper

Cook chicken in large pot of water until done. Remove chicken from pot and reserve broth. When chicken is cool enough to handle remove skin and bones. Cut or tear chicken into bite-sized pieces. Set meat aside.

Add enough water to broth to make two quarts of liquid. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, prepare dumplings. Mix flour and salt. Blend in butter. Add boiling water. Roll dough out thin and cut into short strips. Drop dumplings into boiling broth and simmer until done. Add chicken, soup, and salt and pepper to taste. Serves 8 to 10.

If you make it, I’d love to hear how it turns out and how your family likes it! What is your favorite fall recipe??

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Today’s My Birthday. Am I “Old” Now?

BirthdayToday is my birthday. I am 55 years old. Some days I feel old. Some days I feel like I’m just getting started good.

But this specific number –  “55” – comes with an “old age” stigma. I keep thinking about this group they had at church when I was growing up. They called it the “Double Nickle” club. It was for the “old people” at church and they met once a week for lunch and games. Probably Bridge. That strikes me as a game for old people because my grandmother played Bridge every week with a group of friends. But I digress…

So, one day not long ago, I was thinking about turning 55 and it hit me – the “Double Nickle” club was for people 55 and over. I am now old enough for the “Double Nickle” club.  And for the senior menu at iHop.

I must look it too. A few weeks ago my husband and I went to see the new Star Trek movie. He dropped me off to buy the tickets while he parked. The young man at the ticket booth quoted me a price less than I expected for two tickets. When I questioned him, he told me that included the “senior discount.” Turns out the “senior discount” is for those 62 and above. The young theater employee just assumed I qualified.

But I really don’t feel “old” – most days anyway. But, ask me again some morning after I worked in the yard for hours the day before. Funny, my Bridge-playing granny told me something about aging when I was little that I still remember. She said, “Your body ages, but your soul never does.” I didn’t really understand her statement then, but now I think I do.

God created us for eternity. Oh, yes, we have a temporal, physical “tent” that breaks down and falls apart. But God’s purposes for His children are eternal. And He wants to keep using us here on earth as long as He allows us to remain.

But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.
For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God.
Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green.
They will declare, “The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is no evil in him!”
Psalm 92:12-15

Here’s my conclusion. I am not necessarily “old,” but I am “older.” And until God is finished with me here on earth, I am certainly not “done.”

So no “retirement” for me. Nope. As long as I’m able, I want to serve the Lord and His people. On that day when God calls me home, I want to be able to declare with the Apostle Paul:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

And discounted movie tickets and cheap pancakes are just an added bonus!

 

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A Sad and Joyful Goodbye

We spent the weekend celebrating the life of my father-in-law John Howard. Born May 27, 1927, he passed from this earthly shadow life into the reality of eternity on Tuesday, March 1, 2016. (See obituary.)

Four generations of our family gathered to remember and say goodbye. Yet even while we grieved our loss, we rejoiced because of what Pappaw had gained.

The death of a Christian brings an odd mix of emotions. Grief because our loved one is no longer here with us, but joy because he is now in the presence of Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:8). When a child of God dies, he fully realizes the promises of God. The hope of life eternal.

My father-in-law suffered for years with a frail, ailing body. He groaned with the burden of it and looked forward to the day when he would receive his new, heavenly body. He has been freed from that burden and now enjoys the perfect, whole body God prepared for him.

The apostle Paul wrote about this great promise for believers:

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it.   2 Corinthians 5:1-9, NIV

We grieve and we rejoice. We will miss him, yet we are thankful for the legacy of faith he left our family. His hope was in Christ and that hope is sure.

Do you have the hope of eternal life through a saving relationship with Jesus? If not, or you aren’t sure, find out more about what it means to have a relationship with Him.

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My Oldest Christmas Memory

My earliest Christmas memory is from the mid 1960’s. I was only three or four. My parents and I went next door to visit the neighbors during Christmas week. We admired their Christmas tree and my dad picked me up to get a good look. A beautiful red bird caught my attention and I reached out for it. Neighbor Lady took it off her tree and let me hold it. I was in love with a Christmas ornament.

The very next day, Neighbor Lady knocked on our front door. She had bought another red bird just like hers and now she held it out to me! Little girl wonder and Christmas joy all wrapped up in one small bird.

Red bird

Mom helped me hang it on our small tree. And that red bird has been front and center on my tree every year since. When Wayne and I got married, I brought the bird to our home and placed it on our first tree together. Wings have fallen off and been glued back on, but now, 50 years later, it still claims a place of honor.

My red bird reminds me of Christmases past, family, and dear friends. And I know this may sound strange, but it’s also reminds me of a comforting “constant.” No matter what life may hold at Christmas, the red bird will be on the tree and Jesus will be on His throne.

I don’t know what life holds for you this Christmas, but no matter your circumstances, Jesus is still on His throne. Grief, loss, and pain does not diminish that glorious truth. Keep your eyes on Him.

May the Light of Christ shine in your hearts this Christmas.

 

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The Birds, The Beast, and an Empty Nest

Empty NestFour baby barn swallows peered over the edge of the mud nest on a wall in a corner of our patio, eagerly waiting for their mother to return with breakfast. I had a really good view of the feathered family from my bedroom window. “This is going to be great,” I thought. “I can watch them grow, learn to fly, and leave the nest.” Like my own empty nest, the experience would be bittersweet, but exciting.

Then I remembered the beast. Our ninety pound, yellow lab dominates the back yard. Did the baby birds have a chance against a dog that pulls trees up by the roots? Maybe it would be better for the babies to never leave the nest. The mama bird could continue to feed them. Of course the daddy bird would have to build an addition to the nest…

Two days later I stood at the bedroom window again. One baby clung to the edge of the nest and one was perched beside it on a brick that jutted out from the wall. It was time for flying lessons! Mother Swallow called to them from atop a blade of the patio ceiling fan about five feet away.

The beast lay on his side by the back door seemingly unaware of the unfolding drama. The baby on the brick hopped off into space, untested wings flapping. He dipped low, coming within eighteen inches of the ground. I held my breath. The beast slept on. Then the baby’s wings caught air and he awkwardly joined his mother on the fan blade. Whew! One down, three to go.

Within a few days, all four baby birds had successfully learned to fly. At first they only flew to the ceiling fan, then back to the nest. As the days went by they became a little more adventurous and visited the roof and the large tree beyond the patio. Then one day they were gone. The nest stayed empty. Their mother had done her job and they were on their own.

All three of our babies have tried their wings and left the nest. Even now, I worry about what could happen to them outside the nest. Will they watch out for those “big, yellow labs?”

Yet, today God brought one of His many promises to mind:

What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. 30 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31

Nothing happens to a single sparrow without God’s knowledge. If He cares that much for a sparrow, how much more does He care for my children? For yours? They are worth more than many sparrows.

So I’ll pray – and watch from the fan blade with squawks of encouragement.

May is a time of graduations and planning for “leavings.” Do you have someone leaving the nest soon? What promises of God do you hang onto?

 

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4 Ways to Pass Down a Spiritual Legacy

A legacy is inevitable. You will pass things down to the next generation. Even if you don’t have much materially to leave behind, you will instill character traits, talents, hobbies, skills and more in your children and grandchildren. But how valuable will your legacy be? Will you leave anything that has relevance and benefit for this life and eternity?

Spiritual legacyThe most valuable legacy we can pass to our children, grandchildren, and other children in our lives is a spiritual legacy – the legacy of faith in Christ. Although every individual must make his or her own decision for Christ, there are things we can do to create an atmosphere where faith can thrive. When we consistently show them the value and relevancy of faith in Christ, that’s a legacy not easily tossed aside.

God knew the necessity of one generation passing the torch of faith to the next. He even laid out a plan for us in His Word. When Israel was poised to enter the Promised Land, God – through Moses – told them how vital it would be to not only model faith to their children, but to also purposefully teach them God’s Word. (See Deuteronomy 6:1-9.) Knowing and obeying God would keep them right in the center of His will and blessing.

Do you want to foster knowledge and obedience of God in the lives of your own children? Here are four principles right from Deuteronomy to help us do just that!

4 Ways to Leave a Spiritual Legacy

  1. Start with yourself – The best way to prove to your children the value and relevance of faith in Christ is to be a living demonstration of that truth. If we compartmentalize our faith or allow our priorities to get out of whack, they’ll “learn” that Christ really isn’t all that important. But if we make Christ central in our lives, if we diligently foster our relationship with Him and imbed God’s Word in our hearts, they’ll learn that life is all about Jesus. Don’t be afraid to live your faith in front of your kids – all the great, exciting, difficult, and messy parts. They’ll see your faith is real. Authentic. Relevant.
  2. Give them God’s Word – In a recent survey conducted by Barna, 24% of Millennials (adults 18-29), said they were “skeptical” of the Bible. Almost a quarter of America’s young adults believe the Bible is just a book written by men full of stories and advice. We can stop this growing trend by teaching our children to know and love God’s Word. We must be purposeful. We cannot leave it solely to the church. Make a plan – have family devotions, read Bible stories at bedtime, play worship music that comes straight from Scripture, develop a family Scripture memory program. Instill God’s truth in their hearts any way you can! And “as you walk along the road,” shine God’s Word on all the daily circumstances of their lives.
  3. Tell Your Family’s Stories – Share the stories that tell of God’s miraculous activity around you and of His faithfulness to you and your family. Weave them into the fabric of your family history. Don’t let yourself or your children forget!
  4. Stand Firm in Shaky Times -Trials not only work our faith, they can also prove our faith works. If you make the truth of God’s Word the bedrock for your life, when difficulty comes you will stand firm. An unshakeable faith in shaky times is the most effective testimony you can give your children.

Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers, friends, you will impact the next generation. What kind of legacy will you leave?

What are you doing right now with your family to instill faith in Christ in them?

Video Bonus! I shared this “Hope of Legacy” message with my own church family recently! I would be honored for you to watch.

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The “First You Make a Roux” Method of Spiritual Mentoring

crawfish etouffeeBorn and raised in the “tasty” state of Louisiana, I’ve been making gumbo, etouffee, and jambalaya for my family for years. Our daughters now make jambalaya, but none of them have made a dish on their own requiring a roux. Not until recently, that is.

Our youngest, Mark, is a junior at Louisiana Tech University. When he discovered he missed out on the Crawfish Etouffee I made for his dad’s birthday in early December, Mark asked if I would teach him how to make it over Christmas.

On Christmas Eve afternoon, we met in the kitchen and I pulled out my well-worn copy of Paul Prudhomme’s “Louisiana Kitchen” cookbook.

I turned to Mark and said dramatically, “First, you make a roux.”

Many, many Cajun dishes begin with a roux. It’s not only the beginning, it’s also the most important part. So that’s where we started. (If you’re interested, here’s some pretty good instructions for making a roux. One big difference between these instructions and the way I do it, is I heat the oil before adding the flour in slowly.)

5 Steps for Sharing Roux  – or Your Faith – with Your Children

Mark did a great job with the etouffee. The entire family got to enjoy it for Christmas Eve dinner. This morning, when I was going through the photos I took, I realized that our etouffee lesson makes a great illustration for how we can purposefully work to pass on our faith to our children.

1. Model it – Just like we put Cajun dishes in front of our children all their growing up years, we also put our faith in front of our children. They saw us live the Christian life. They “tasted” the effects. In fact, they developed a taste for Jesus because He was constantly served in our house.

roux, spiritual mentoring2. Tell them – We moved out of Louisiana when our oldest was a baby, so Cajun food was not the culinary norm where we lived while they grew up. We had to make a point of not just cooking it for our family, but also telling them what it was and where it came from. Your kids will not get Jesus from our culture. It’s going to have to come from you. Tell them!

3. Do it with them – When I taught Mark how to make etouffee, I didn’t have him stand to the side and watch me. And I didn’t give him a few instructions and leave the room. I handed him the skillet and the whisk and we did it together. Do faith with your kids. Go to church together. Have family devotions. Take them on a family mission trip. Talk about how you can obey God and serve Him while you sit around the dinner table.

parenting, spiritual mentoring4. Encourage them to do it on their own – We gave Mark a copy of Paul Prudhomme’s cookbook for Christmas. I showed him how to do it and then I gave him what he needs to do it on his own. Let’s encourage our kids to make faith in Christ their own. Give them the tools and give them a small push!

5. Celebrate growth – When we ate dinner on Christmas Eve, the whole family gushed about the delicious etouffee. Mark’s efforts were delicious and we let him know it! When you see your children take steps of obedience or grow in their faith, let them know you see it, that you’re proud of them.

parenting, spiritual growth, mentoringHmm. Who would have known that Cajun cooking and spiritual mentoring have so much in common?!

Have you ever used any of these suggestions to encourage your children in their faith? Do you have any “cooking” tips you could share with us?

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Only 3 Things Really Needed this Christmas

Do you ever feel as if you’ve lost control of Christmas? Has shopping, decorating, wrapping, cooking, and cleaning overwhelmed you? We can easily allow the busyness of the season to push the reason we celebrate to the background.

Christmas, wrapping, busyness

A few weeks ago, in preparation to speak at a women’s event on a “less stress Christmas,” I went back to the account of that first one. Those chapters in Matthew and Luke are so familiar I can practically recite them. But this time through God showed me something in a new way.

God directed my attention to the way Mary, the shepherds, and the Magi responded to the birth of Jesus. Three responses to the coming of our Savior that transcend time and culture. Three responses that should be the focus of our Christmas celebrations today.

1. Share Jesus (Like the Shepherds in Luke 2:8-18) – the shepherds “spread the word” about all they had seen and heard. They told others about the birth of the long-awaited Messiah. What about us? Do we share Jesus at Christmas? Here are a few ways we can share the Savior with friends and family.

  • Invite them to church and other Christmas events.
  • Make the most of every opportunity – Christmas cards (if you send them!), parties, gifts, family gatherings.
  • Tell people what God has done in your life.

2. Worship Jesus (Like the Magi in Matthew 2:10-12) – The kings from the orient traveled a long way to joyfully worship the baby King. We can purposefully build times of worship into our Christmas activities and celebrations. Here’s a few ways.

  • Attend a Christmas Eve service
  • Read the biblical story of Christmas with your family.
  • Sing faith-based Christmas songs when you go caroling.

3. Ponder Jesus (Like Mary in Luke 2:18-20) “Ponder” means “to throw together; to put one thing together with another in considering circumstances.” Mary collected everything she had seen and heard together in her mind, thought about them deeply, and held onto them – the angel’s visit, the shepherds, the magi, and more. We can also “ponder” Jesus at Christmas. For instance, we can spend time contemplating why He came.

  • To provide our ransom (Matthew 20:28).
  • To give us abundant life (John 10:10)
  • To die on a cross for our eternal salvation (Philippians 2:8)

I challenge you to do things a little differently this Christmas. Cut back on some of the more time-consuming activities and instead focus on the three things that happened that first Christmas. Share Jesus. Worship Jesus. Ponder Jesus.

What will you cut back on? What will you refocus on this year?

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