Sunday, November 30

Advent: Hope

Today is the beginning of the Advent season, which starts with the Sunday of hope.

It would appear that hope is rather thin on the ground these days.  With all the unrest in our world, and most recently the latest chapter in the story of Ferguson, Missouri, things can seem pretty hopeless.

But things are not as they seem.

Although so many are looking for hope in all the wrong places--and, of course, not finding any--hope remains.

I'm not sure I've ever read so eloquent an articulation of hope as written this past week by NFL player Benjamin Watson.  Just in case you haven't read it, here it is.  Read it and be blessed.
At some point while I was playing or preparing to play Monday Night Football, the news broke about the Ferguson Decision. After trying to figure out how I felt, I decided to write it down. Here are my thoughts:
I'M ANGRY because the stories of injustice that have been passed down for generations seem to be continuing before our very eyes.
I'M FRUSTRATED, because pop culture, music and movies glorify these types of police citizen altercations and promote an invincible attitude that continues to get young men killed in real life, away from safety movie sets and music studios.
I'M FEARFUL because in the back of my mind I know that although I'm a law abiding citizen I could still be looked upon as a "threat" to those who don't know me. So I will continue to have to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt.
I'M EMBARRASSED because the looting, violent protests, and law breaking only confirm, and in the minds of many, validate, the stereotypes and thus the inferior treatment.
I'M SAD, because another young life was lost from his family, the racial divide has widened, a community is in shambles, accusations, insensitivity hurt and hatred are boiling over, and we may never know the truth about what happened that day.
I'M SYMPATHETIC, because I wasn't there so I don't know exactly what happened. Maybe Darren Wilson acted within his rights and duty as an officer of the law and killed Michael Brown in self defense like any of us would in the circumstance. Now he has to fear the backlash against himself and his loved ones when he was only doing his job. What a horrible thing to endure. OR maybe he provoked Michael and ignited the series of events that led to him eventually murdering the young man to prove a point.
I'M OFFENDED, because of the insulting comments I've seen that are not only insensitive but dismissive to the painful experiences of others.
I'M CONFUSED, because I don't know why it's so hard to obey a policeman. You will not win!!! And I don't know why some policemen abuse their power. Power is a responsibility, not a weapon to brandish and lord over the populace.
I'M INTROSPECTIVE, because sometimes I want to take "our" side without looking at the facts in situations like these. Sometimes I feel like it's us against them. Sometimes I'm just as prejudiced as people I point fingers at. And that's not right. How can I look at white skin and make assumptions but not want assumptions made about me? That's not right.
I'M HOPELESS, because I've lived long enough to expect things like this to continue to happen. I'm not surprised and at some point my little children are going to inherit the weight of being a minority and all that it entails.
I'M HOPEFUL, because I know that while we still have race issues in America, we enjoy a much different normal than those of our parents and grandparents. I see it in my personal relationships with teammates, friends and mentors. And it's a beautiful thing.
I'M ENCOURAGED, because ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem. SIN is the reason we rebel against authority. SIN is the reason we abuse our authority. SIN is the reason we are racist, prejudiced and lie to cover for our own. SIN is the reason we riot, loot and burn. 
BUT I'M ENCOURAGED because God has provided a solution for sin through the his son Jesus and with it, a transformed heart and mind. One that's capable of looking past the outward and seeing what's truly important in every human being. The cure for the Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner tragedies is not education or exposure. It's the Gospel. 
So, finally, I'M ENCOURAGED because the Gospel gives mankind hope.

"Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:13).


Monday, November 24

Longing for home

"Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays. . . "

That's always been one of my favorite songs.  I guess it's a Christmas song, but for me it's one that I happily start singing even before Thanksgiving.  I grew up in Tennessee, so I always loved these lines:

I met a man who lived in Tennessee and he was heading for
Pennsylvania and some homemade pumpkin pie;
Pennsylvania's folks are traveling down to Dixie's sunny shore--
From Atlantic to Pacific
Gee, the traffic is terrific!

Even the merciless traffic of holiday travel is bearable if you're heading home, right?

Graphic courtesy of Tatertots and Jello
Yesterday was the 15th anniversary.

Not the 15th anniversary of my marriage--our next anniversary will be 30 years!--but the anniversary of one of the most important days of my life.

15 years ago, on November 23, 1999, two days before Thanksgiving, my mother died.

Even as I type those words I struggle to believe them.  I was talking with my sister last night, who said it seems like a dream or another life.

Our mom was 58 years old when she left us.  She had scleroderma and died of renal failure.  She was in the prime of life when she got sick.

And that was it.  "Home" for me was gone.

Of course, I'd been married nearly 15 years when my mom died, so really "home" for me was my own home, the home I was creating for my three children.  I think one of the reasons I'm so deeply grateful for this house where we've lived for 10 years is that my kids think of it as home.  This is where they've grown up.  This is where they know every street, where they know the way to the grocery store and to school and to church, where they notice if an old house is torn down or a new one is built.  That matters to me.

This weekend my husband and I attended the funeral of a friend's mother.  How poignant it was to see our friend weeping over the loss of his mom right at Thanksgiving.

But the pastor who conducted this service gave me a great gift.  His message was one of hope.  In very simple, conversational language, he talked about heaven.

To be honest, we don't really know a lot about what heaven will be like.  Is it a physical place somewhere in the clouds?  Is it a city with walls and gates?  Does it stand beside a river?  I don't know the answers to those questions.

The pastor spoke of familiar verses such as the gates made of pearl and the streets paved with gold (Revelation 21). Is that language literal or metaphorical?  I don't know, but the pastor made a point that went straight to my heart:

Heaven is a place where precious things such as gold and pearls are just common building materials.

I'd never thought of it like that.  Because of the presence of the Lord, the radiant beauty of His presence, everything in heaven is good.  Things are as they should be.

My mother was a saintly woman.  A lifelong follower of Jesus, she nonetheless struggled with feeling any assurance of salvation.  She tried very hard to live a good and holy life, and she stressed over her failures.  I remember once hearing her say that she hoped she'd been good enough to go to heaven.

But early in 1999, my mom's mother died.  My mom was so sick at that point she was unable to attend her own mother's funeral.  But my grandmother's passing made a huge difference in my mom's understanding of heaven.  Although my mom had never felt any assurance of her own salvation, she knew without question that my grandmother, who was also a lifelong follower of Jesus, was bound for heaven.

After my grandmother died, my mother no longer talked about hoping she'd been good enough to go to heaven.  And as the end of her life neared, my mother told us that she was ready to go home. Those were her very words.

So this week, as I consider all the blessings for which I'm so thankful, I can't help but reflect on the fact that we're celebrating an anniversary.  My mom has been at home in heaven for 15 years now.

This is one of my most treasured ornaments. It belonged to my mom; the photo is her as a little girl.
I'm not ready to join her just yet.  I want to live a good long life here with my husband and sons.  God is working in my life to make me ready for heaven.

But as I think about a place so full of the glory of the Lord that even the most precious elements of earthly life dull by comparison, I find myself longing for home.

I think that's as it should be.

Sunday, November 23

Thanksgiving week

The days are flying by so quickly.  It seems that Halloween was just yesterday, yet here we are at Thanksgiving week!

If you're like me, you'll have a busy week.  I'm preparing to host our annual Thanksgiving feast, and I'm so excited!

But in all the preparations, I don't want to forget what this week is all about.  So I invite you to prepare your heart along with me.

Perhaps the words of this glorious old hymn will help me stay focused.

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who, from our mothers' arms, hath blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessed peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest heaven;
The one eternal God, Whom earth and heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

--Martin Rinckhart

What helps you remember to focus on giving thanks?

Wednesday, November 19

It's a good thing there was no Pinterest back then

Holiday preparations are kicking into full gear around here.  I'll bet that's true at your house, too.

As I was gathering everything I need for Thanksgiving, my eyes fell on an item that took me back over 20 years.

It was fall of 1991, and I was looking forward to my very first Thanksgiving as a mom.  I had recently resigned from my full-time job so that I could be a stay-at-home mom, and our budget was tight.  But when I saw these Thanksgiving cookie cutters at a V&S Variety Store, I was smitten.  I carefully counted out the few dollars to purchase them, certain of how I would use them.

I bore those cookie cutters home and tied them onto a grapevine wreath that hung in my kitchen. Then I fashioned a bow from ribbon of some autumnal color and stepped back to survey my work.

Honestly, I don't think my wreath was particularly beautiful.  But I was so pleased to have created a decorative accent that was just right for the season.

As I think now about that moment of homemaking satisfaction and pride, I'm grateful that there was no Pinterest.

It's not that I don't like social media; I do like it very much.  I've often wished that I'd had all that easy-to-access inspiration back when I was a young mom.

But I know myself better than that. I've always been terribly prone to comparing myself to others. And if I'd had all the beautiful inspiration of Pinterest back then, I'm guessing that I would have been ashamed of my wreath.  I might have noted that the cookie cutters were just cheap ornaments from the variety store or that the grapevine wreath wasn't the right size and shape or that the bow wasn't quite fluffy enough.

I might have weighed my efforts in the balance and found them sadly wanting.

And I might very well have taken my little wreath off the wall, cut down the cookie cutters, and put them back in the box.

Since I didn't have anything to compare it to, I simply enjoyed my wreath, that first year and for several years after. My little boys delighted in the cookie cutters, and we built lovely Thanksgiving memories.

I like to think I've grown a lot since then.  I love getting inspiration from Pinterest, and I enjoy sharing my own projects there.

But sometimes I wonder if I end up gathering more inspiration or insecurity from perusing all the pretty pictures.

What about you?  Do you ever find yourself feeling discontent as you compare your things to pictures on Pinterest, or do you just find inspiration there?

"I have learned to be content with whatever I have."
(Philippians 4:11b, NRSV)

Joining Weekend Bloggy Reading at Serenity Now

Saturday, November 15


This weekend, while I'm doing 101 routine jobs, I'm focusing my heart on this:

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever (Psalm 118).

While I love the holiday of Thanksgiving, I'm thinking that it shouldn't be limited to one day.  So I'm starting today.  Will you join me?

Friday, November 14

A new skin care product

I am participating in a Vibrant Influencer Network campaign for L’Oreal Age Perfect. 
 Opinions expressed in this post are my own. I am in no way affiliated with 
L’Oreal Age Perfect and do not earn a commission or percent of sales.

One fun thing about blogging is that I occasionally get to try new products.  Since I don't want my blog to be one giant commercial, I don't do this very often, but recently I was given a chance to try some new products that really caught my eye: the L’Oreal Age Perfect line of skin care products.

I am blessed with good skin.  And when I say "blessed," I mean it.  I have good genes, thanks to my mom:
Wasn't she a cutie?  I'm so thankful that I inherited her creamy skin, and I've tried to take care of it.

But now I'm 51 years old, and caring for my skin has become more of a task than it used to be. Simply put, aging skin just doesn't renew itself as ably as young skin does.

Thankfully, the science of skin care has come a long way.  My mom never had much more than cold cream to care for her skin.  Now I have these weapons at my disposal.

I've been using the products for a couple weeks now, and I can tell you that I'm very pleased with them. One thing in particular I noticed is that the creams are luxuriously thick, yet they absorb very quickly.  I don't like to feel as though a cream is resting on top of my face, and I hate for my face to feel sticky.  No sticky feeling with these creams!  I love that.

I was a little hesitant to note that the creams are not fragrance-free.  I'm very sensitive to smells, and once I actually returned a very expensive night cream because its fragrance gave me a terrible headache.  The fragrance in the L'Oreal creams, though, are very pleasant, and they dissipate pretty quickly.  That's a good thing for me.

The other thing I noticed right away is the price of these products.  Good quality products for mature skin can cost a pretty penny.  These are very reasonably priced.  The MSRP is less than $25, but I found them at my local discount store for less than $20--and with a $3.00 coupon attached!  I'm so glad that L'Oreal is offering good products at an affordable price.

I'll let you know what kind of results I get after using these products for awhile.  For now, you can read all about them here--and look for them at your local drug or discount store.

Do you have any favorite skin care tips to share?  I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, November 11

How to prepare your home for guests

If you're like me, you're preparing to host guests during the upcoming holidays.  And you'd truly like to be a gracious host.

Easy tips for preparing your home to welcome guests

This year will mark the 30th Thanksgiving and Christmas my husband and I have celebrated in our own home.  "Home" for us has ranged from a 500-square-foot apartment in married students' housing to our current large house.  Over the years I've learned that the welcome I provide my guests is much more important than the fanciness of the space.

The goal of hospitality is not to pamper our guests; it's to make them feel welcome.  So don't be intimidated by the idea of trying to create a guest space that's comparable to a four-star hotel. Instead, try to anticipate your guests' needs and try to make them feel at home.

Here are some simple tips for preparing your home for guests.

Make sure the bed(s) are comfortable.  The best way to do this is to spend a night in the guest bed!  I did this and learned that my guest beds weren't quite supportive enough.  I remedied that situation by placing a sheet of plywood underneath each mattress, then added a foam topper to each bed.

I like twin beds in a guest room, which makes the space more versatile.  I've found that most married couples don't mind sleeping in twin beds for a night or two, and this way the space can easily accommodate others.

Be sure that your bed linens are nice and clean.  Since some guests suffer from allergies, don't use heavily-scented detergents or fabric softeners when laundering linens.  Instead, add some white vinegar to the rinse water.  Don't forget to launder or dry clean blankets, bedspreads, comforters, and pillows as needed.

If space allows, keep extra sheets, blankets, and pillows in the guest room.  Mine are on the top shelf of the closet.

While the linens are off the bed, take the opportunity to dust and vacuum the guest room thoroughly. Take a good look at the carpet or rug while you're vacuuming to see if steam cleaning is needed.

If your guest bed needs a headboard, you can easily and inexpensively make an upholstered one!  All you need is a piece of plywood, some foam, fabric, and a staple gun.  Click here for a simple tutorial. And if you're in need of a night stand, consider any piece of furniture you might be able to re-invent. The nightstand in this room was a small chest from Bombay--remember that store?  I painted it with homemade chalk paint, and now it has a new life!

Supply the guest room with a spot for guests to place their luggage and room to unpack their clothes. Guest closets often provide necessary storage space in homes, but be sure there is ample space for guests to hang clothes.  Provide plenty of nice hangers and an ironing board and iron if possible.

Provide several sources of light, including a lamp by the bed.  You may also want to provide a night light which guests can unplug if it's not needed.

Since most guests will come with electronic devices, it's a good idea to provide a surge protector for them to use to charge their devices. (You might want to provide one that includes USB ports; I like this one.)

Now for the guest bathroom.  If you're very fortunate, you have a bathroom attached to the guests' sleeping space.  If not, be sure that your guests know which bathroom to use and be certain that the path to the bathroom isn't blocked in any way.  If the bathroom is down the hall, you may want to place a night light in the hallway.

Scrub the bathroom thoroughly.  If needed, wash the rugs.  Check the shower curtain liner and wash or replace if necessary.

Double-check the sink and bathtub/shower drains.  If they're running slow, use a drain opener to get them cleaned out.  Alternatively, pour some full-strength bleach down the drains, followed by the hottest water your tap will produce.  Or to clean your drains more gently, pour some baking soda followed by white vinegar into the drains, then flush with hot water.

Stock the bathroom with plenty of fluffy towels and washcloths.  Towels needn't be expensive, just thick and thirsty.  Taking a cue from luxury hotels, I prefer white towels, which are easy to keep clean and stain-free and work well with any decor. (My local Sam's Club has wonderful fluffy towels for just a few dollars each.)  Be sure to provide lots of wash cloths, which you can buy inexpensively in bulk packages.  If you don't have a bathroom attached to your guests' bedroom, simply place a stack of neatly folded towels and washcloths in their sleeping space.

I had some some hand towels monogrammed for the guest bathroom;
don't they look pretty hanging with the fluffy white guest towels?
In addition to towels, stock the bathroom with toiletries your guests might need, such as:
  • hand soap
  • bath soap (a new full-size bar)
  • shampoo
  • conditioner
  • lotion
  • toothpaste
  • toothbrushes
  • dental floss
  • disposable cups
  • cotton balls
  • Q-Tips
  • disposable razors
  • shaving cream
  • feminine hygiene products
  • hair dryer  
Be sure there's plenty of toilet paper close at hand.  Also, consider keeping a plunger and a package of disinfecting wipes in the guest bathroom.  Many houses now have water-saving toilets, which can easily be clogged; most guests would prefer to remedy that situation quickly and without having to bother the host.  In the same vein, keep a package of light bulbs handy.

Provide at least one mirror outside the bathroom.  A full-length mirror is ideal.  Be sure the mirror is close to an electrical outlet.

Once all those things are done, think about the little things guests might need while they're in your home.  Gather those items and make a welcome basket.  Here's mine:

My welcome basket contains:
  • bottles of water
  • snacks
  • first aid items (band-aids in various sizes, alcohol wipes, instant cold pack)
  • OTC pain medications (acetaminophen and ibuprofen)
  • small sewing kit
  • scissors
  • tube of lip balm
  • lint roller
  • box of tissues
  • extension cord (use a t.p. roll covered in pretty paper to corral the cord)
  • phone charger
  • small flashlight
  • candle
  • matches
You might also want to include a key to your house so that guests can come and go as they please.

I printed a Welcome Card with pertinent information about our home, including our wifi password, home phone number, street address, nearest cross street, and the code for our alarm system. Here's a blank form that you could customize and print with your own information:

You may also want to provide some reading material, such as a Bible, a devotional book, and current magazines.  If little children are visiting, provide some story books. Just before guests arrive, place some fresh flowers in the guest space.  Avoid flowers with a strong fragrance, such as lilies, hyacinths, and amaryllis.   (For tips on arranging your own flowers, click here.)

However grand or simple your space, your guests are sure to appreciate your hospitality if it's offered with grace and love. Click here if you'd like a full tour of my guest room. Now tell me, how do you prepare your home for guests?  Do you have any other tips to share?

I'm joining these wonderful parties:
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Wednesday, November 5

On gaining gratitude

The words jumped off the page at me:

"What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you remembered to give thanks for today?"

November is the month of Thanksgiving in the United States, so reminders to give thanks are popping up all over--in decorations, on church marquees, even on store windows.

As I pondered that question, though, I found myself thinking about how many things I simply take for granted.  How many blessings I never even consider as blessings.

The story of the early 17th century pilgrims who came to this continent on the Mayflower is well-known, enough that it has been romanticized to a large degree.  But those who celebrated the first Thanksgiving feast had learned the hard way to be grateful for the plenty that they enjoyed.  During the pilgrims' first winter at Plymouth, more than half of their number died.


Strong and courageous people had set out on the voyage to seek a new life in the New World.  Nearly all survived the dangerous voyage.  But that first winter, lack of food, lack of shelter, lack of medicine had led to the deaths of more than half of those who landed.

I imagine that there was very little taken for granted by those pilgrims who survived to celebrate that first feast of Thanksgiving.

I wonder: must I have my blessings taken away from me before I will remember to give thanks for them?

I hope not.  But that question haunts me:

"What if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you remembered to give thanks for today?"

Oh, Lord, I thank you for my husband. For my children.  For a roof over my head.  For food to eat.  For clothes to wear.  For the means to obtain everything I need and many things I want.  For two strong legs and feet that can bear my weight. For eyes that can see, ears that can hear, hands that can work.  For health.  For the health of my loved ones. For friends.

My word, the list is already long, and I'm just getting started.  I'm miles from getting to such blessings as the beautiful morning light shining on my porch.

"Count your blessings, name them one by one," the old hymn admonishes.  I've sung that song all my life, but I've rarely taken its advice to heart.  I'm trying to change that.

And here's the welcome side effect of counting my blessings, of naming them one by one.  My list of blessings is so long, I find when I'm counting them, I don't have much time for complaining.

I've been through some tough times lately.  I'm certain you have, too.  But compared to my list of blessings, I have to admit my list of grievances is pretty short.

What about you?  Do you stop to count your blessings?