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Archive for the ‘Appreciation’ Category

Last week, our three grown children, their spouses, and three granddaughters gathered here–in one place, at one time. Even Steve’s sister and brother-in-law were able to join us for a day.  Such gatherings do not happen often.

 

(Left side, front to back:  1. Steve, 2. our younger son, Jeremy, 3. our daughter, Heather, 4. her husband, Tim.  Right side, front to back:  1. Steve’s brother-in-law, Bill, 2. Steve’s sister, Karen, 3. Tim’s and Heather’s daughter, Sophie, 4. Eric’s and Hilja’s daughter, Elena, 5. Eric’s wife, Hilja, and 6. our older son, Eric.  Not pictured:  Jeremy’s wife, Nancy, and Eric’s and Hilja’s baby daughter, Maarit.)

 

For Steve and me, the greatest pleasure in life is the opportunity to enjoy our children– what King Solomon called “God’s best gift” (Psalm 127:3 MSG).

He went on to say:

 

How blessed are you parents,

with your quivers full of children!”

–Psalm 127:5 MSG

 

And what is a quiver-full?  Dr. Howard Hendricks of Dallas Seminary explained years ago that, in Bible times, a quiver most often held six arrows.  Thanks to our three children who chose their spouses wisely, Steve and I now have a full quiver–with three little arrows as well.

Oh yes, we are blessed, and always count down the days until our little clan can gather once more.

Even four-year old Elena reveled in the long-awaited together time.

 

Sophie (8), Maarit (3 months), and Elena

 

During the week, we  visited several parks with playgrounds…

 

 

 

…and even explored the zoo on Wednesday.  But perhaps some of the sweetest memories will be those associated with home…

 

 

… such as one afternoon at Eric’s and Hilja’s, catching up with one another and playing games.

 

 

(Jeremy and Nancy)

 

 

 

There were fun moments at Nana’s and Papa’s house, too.

 

 

(The Night of the Big Sleepover)

 

Now these moments are treasures to hold close in our hearts–not so much for what we did as for who we were with.

 

“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy;

They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”

–French novelist, Marcel Proust (1871-1922)

 

 

How fitting that, as the landscape blossomed last week, so did our souls–because of a family who make us very happy.

 

*      *      *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

I thank you, Father, for the joy of doing life with this particular group of folks.  We may not live in close proximity, but because of you, our spirits are intertwined.  Every opportunity to be together is cause for great celebration.  And we praise you for the gift of recollection, so beautiful moments like these may live in our hearts forever.  

 

 

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While waiting for the coffee to brew Monday morning, I peeked out the kitchen curtains. To the east, a glowing red band rimmed the horizon. Slightly to the west, a clear, dark sky provided backdrop for a gleaming crescent moon.

 

 

Thank you, Father, I prayed, for prompting me to look out the window just now. Your handiwork never ceases to thrill me.

I wondered what further delights God might present as the day progressed? I decided to begin a list, just for the fun of seeing how many moments I could record. The glowing horizon and bright crescent moon became #1.

#2.  A completed workout.   Thank you, Lord, for helping me eat a live frog–yet again!  (Yes, that’s a perfectly logical prayer for those who know what Mark Twain said: “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” For me, exercising is about as distasteful as eating a live frog!)

Moments later, as a bowl of oatmeal spun slow circles inside the microwave, I chose to window-gaze again. This time a squirrel caught my attention as he scampered along a treetop branch, then leapt across a wide chasm to the next tree.

 

 

How do squirrels jump like that without falling? Such astounding abilities you’ve given some of your creatures, Lord.  

#3 became:   A gravity-defying squirrel.

#4.   Oatmeal—with cinnamon, berries, walnuts, and milk. Thank you, Father, for the endless combinations of ingredients we can put together to make our taste buds happy! 

#5.   Coffee.  The most exquisite flavor to start the morning.

 

 

I was on a roll now as the praiseworthy moments continued:

#6.   A dropped contact found.

#7.   Sunshine pouring through the windows.

#8.   The drive to our son’s house along the edge of Mount Airy Forest. Spring is in evidence: bright green undergrowth portends the imminent leafing of trees.

 

 

#9.   Clear, rain-washed air–fresh and crisp. Just breathing is a supreme pleasure.

#10. Holding four-year old Elena’s soft little hand as we climb the stairs together.

#11.  Snuggling two-month old Maarit on my shoulder while taking her on another slow, bouncy tour of the living/dining, and kitchen area. Her bright eyes seem to study every object, any sign of movement, every play of light.

#12.  Reveling in Maarit’s smiles, each one a delightful surprise.

#13.  Making her laugh for the first time.

#14.  Watching Elena complete a 48-piece puzzle, with very little help.

#15.  Catching one of Maarit’s smiles on camera–well, almost.

 

 

#16.  Listening to a symphony of birds upon arrival home, as I walked from car to house.

#17.  Soaking up the warmth of sunshine on the deck while reading my Bible and journaling a bit.

#18.  Enjoying a refreshing salad, all the more delicious because Steve made it.

 

 

#19.  Receiving blessing and challenge while reading posts from bloggers I follow.  (See the list in the right column!)

#20. Resting with a pleasurable book.

 

    *    *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

It may not be practical to record such moments every day, but I can see great benefit from keeping a list now and then.

It’s grateful eyes that get to see God’s goodness and glory everywhere–all day long.

 

 

(“It is good to praise the Lord…

…to proclaim your love in the morning

and your faithfulness at night…

…For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord,

I sing for joy at the works of your hands.”

–Psalm 92:1-2, 4)

 

What commonplace moment brings you uncommon joy? Please share in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.pixabay.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.farm7.staticflickr.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.wikimediacommons; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pinterest.com.)

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“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of,” said the wealthy, well-known actor.

Of course, I thought. He’s loving the high life—for now—and maybe feels guilty that 97% of humanity will never live the dream he’s privileged to enjoy.

But what he said next shocked me.

They should do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that’s not the answer.”

Who made that startling statement? A man just about everybody in America recognizes on sight: Jim Carrey.

I wonder if Jim knew how close he came to echoing the words of King Solomon?

 

 

(“When I surveyed all that my hands had done

and what I had toiled to achieve,

everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;

nothing was gained under the sun”–Ecclesiastes 2:11 NIV.)

 

From ancient times to today, man has strived to find happiness by obtaining the next desired possession, experiencing the next enticing adventure, or pursuing the next enthralling relationship—even though any success is short-lived.

When will we learn?

Contentment results when we:

Want what we have.

 

(“The things you take for granted someone else is praying for.”

— Anonymous)

 

When our children were eight, eleven, and thirteen, my pastor-husband was appointed to a church in an area of South Florida known for its golf courses, beaches, and wealth.

That last characteristic was most challenging for our children. Many of their classmates arrived at school in expensive cars. They wore clothing with exclusive labels, owned all the latest gadgets, and traveled to exotic locations.

Though Eric, Heather, and Jeremy could see that consumerism did not guarantee happiness, they still struggled with the inequity.

The younger two, Jeremy and Heather, were thirteen and sixteen when they joined a crew of teens and sponsors for a one-week trip to the Dominican Republic.  Their responsibilities included painting at an orphanage and interacting with the children.

The next summer they repeated the trip. And as a result of witnessing true poverty, their outlook on life was dramatically transformed.

 

(Heather is the blonde on the left, in case you weren’t sure!)

 

Months later, Heather and I were riding together in our van and stopped at a red light. We weren’t even talking about those weeks spent at the orphanage. But a decked out sports car pulled up next to us and after a pause, Heather wistfully said, “The cost of that car would feed so many people in the Dominican.”

Such a dramatic shift of perspective had occurred in her heart.  Jeremy’s too.

However, over time contentment easily fades. We must:

Find the positives of each day.

I’ve started a new section in my quiet time notebook:  “A Celebration of Small Things.”  Maybe you’d like to join me?  Each evening I’m recording at least one thing that gives me a sense of contentment. The first entry on Monday was daffodils.

 

 

You see, last week a bitter cold snap here in Ohio ruined much of the early spring flora. Even the hardy daffodils lay bowed over to the ground.

However, they were not defeated! When the temperature rose above freezing again, most of their floral stems stood tall once more. Fluted cups remained open and delicately ruffled; petals fanned outward with only a slight curl at the tips.

I’m so very grateful a soupçon of spring has survived.

 

(“Sweet are the thoughts that savor of content.

The quiet mind is richer than a crown.”

– Robert Greene, English author, 1558-1592)

 

I’m discovering Robert Greene was right. Sweet thoughts do produce the treasure of a quiet mind.

 

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

What a delight, Father, to give you thanks and praise for your abundant gifts—the beautiful, the pleasant, the heart-warming, the humorous. Every day is filled with blessing because of your love, compassion, and faithfulness.  My heart overflows with gratitude as I contemplate your goodness!

 

(Psalm 9:1-2, 103:8; Colossians 2:6-7)

 

 

What small thing causes your heart to overflow with thankfulness?  Share your choice in the comment section below!

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.flickr.com; http://www.slideshare.net; http://www.truevined.com; Nancy Ruegg (2); http://www.oldquotes.com; Myra Johnson at http://www.picturemythoughts.com.)

 

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(Granddaughter #3, Maarit Anne*, was born on Sunday, January 15.)

 

Creator of Maarit Anne and Heavenly Father of us all,

We praise you for this precious gift of new life—

A delightful reward from your gracious hand of love.

Already she is a blessing as we cuddle her tiny form,

Caress her downy head, and kiss her soft cheeks.

 

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We marvel how you wove together so many disparate parts

To create this unique little person,

Evident in her distinctive collection of family traits:

Mommy’s dark hair and Daddy’s brow line,

Auntie Heather’s long, slender fingers, and

Grandpa Terry’s narrow feet.

In more ways yet to be revealed Maarit is an exemplification

Of your exquisite workmanship—

a heavenly piece of poetry—

in mind, body, soul, and spirit.

 

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We praise you for the perfect life-course

You’ve already planned for Maarit—

A future gleaming with hope because

You’ve set her apart and equipped her

For special purpose to accomplish your good works.

 

May her eyes be drawn to you and your Word,

The wondrous splendors of your creation,

And the signs of your love all around her.

May Maarit’s mouth be filled with praise,

Declaring your glory all day long.

May her ears be quick to hear your voice,

And her heart be delighted to respond.

 

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May Maarit’s spirit grow strong

In the loving care and nurture of Jesus.

May she wear your instruction

As a garland of praise.

 

Give to all who love and care for Maarit

The wisdom and grace to guide her in all your ways.

Protect and provide for her all the days

You’ve ordained for her.

 

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These things we ask for our Maarit Anne

In the Name of Jesus.

Amen.

 

(Psalm 127:3, 139:15; Ephesians 2:10; Psalm 119:18; Jeremiah 1:5, 29:11;

Psalm 71:8; Proverbs 23:12; Psalm 119:35; Proverbs 1:9; Psalm 139:16, Psalm 23:6.)

 

*Maar (rhymes with bar)-it is a Finnish name, meaning “pearl,” in honor of our daughter-in-law’s Finnish heritage on her mother’s side. Maarit’s middle name was given in honor of Hilja’s grandmother–and me, a delightful, humbling surprise.

 

Art & photo credits:  Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pinterest (3), http://www.ourdailyblossom.com.

 

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When I was a young girl, my family lived near Chicago in a three-bedroom, one bath home. One car parked in the driveway; there was no garage. My brother and I dreamed of owning an in-ground swimming pool but had to settle for the crowded, over-chlorinated conditions of the community pool.

 

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If someone had told me, “Nancy, when you grow up you will get married, have three children, and live in Florida for forty years. Every home will have two bathrooms and a garage. You’ll eventually own two cars, too. But, best of all, three of your homes will have a swimming pool in the backyard.”

 

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(Sometimes we enjoyed a bigger pool — the Gulf or Atlantic.)

 

I would have thought, Unbelievable! When all those heavenly things happen, then I’ll be happy and content.

Ah, but during those forty years in Florida I remember thinking on more than one occasion: If only this heat and humidity would let up. It’s like a furnace out there. Or, Why can’t these kids just get along with each other and give me some peace? Or, Houseguests are coming; gotta clean those bathrooms today. Ugh.

Contentment can be an elusive quality. No sooner do we possess one long-desired item, we discover another acquisition to wish for. No sooner have we achieved one level of success, we’re already reaching for the next—with a sideways glance at our neighbor who’s acquired or accomplished more than we have.

We know what scripture tells us: “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

 

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Our spirits sense the truth of it and recognize the gain to be had when craving, grasping, and unrest give way to peace of mind and tranquility of spirit.

But how?

Contentment is a choice of perspective. I can choose to affirm and celebrate my:

  • Possessions.  I have more than enough.
  • Position.  I have experienced more than enough.
  • Personhood.  I am more than enough the way God made me, with my particular personality traits, gifts, and abilities.

Like Paul, I can learn to be content by choosing again and again the proper perspective (Philippians 4:11).

 

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However.

There is one area where contentment is not desirable: in the spiritual realm. I never want to become content with what I already know about God or be satisfied with the current level of intimacy between my Heavenly Father and me.

I want to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus (2 Peter 3:18).

 

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That’s an opportunity for a lifetime. Think of it: we never reach the end of his magnificence and influence. There is always greater knowledge to understand, more wonder to explore, more splendor and growth to experience.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Lord, God, may I not look right or left at what others have, or what others have accomplished, or what gifts and talents they display. Keep me mindful of my utmost desire: to know you more intimately, follow you more closely, and live in the contentment of your sufficiency for everything.

 

Art & photo credits:  www.ancestory.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.youtube.com; http://www.pinterest (2).

 

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Many elements of the Christmas season trigger memories of long ago, including:

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  • The carol, “O Holy Night,” takes me back to the pew of my childhood church where I listened to a gifted soloist, my mother, sing that Christmas hymn. I remember anticipating the high notes—so rich, clear, and resonant. The lyrics, including “Let all within us praise his holy Name” came from her heart.

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  • Waking up on a winter morning to the sound of a snow shovel scraping against concrete. Dad would always clear the sidewalks for the suburban commuters who’d walk past our house on their way to the train station—just one example of Dad’s thoughtfulness.*

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  • Red, green, and white tissue paper remind me of the gifts our grandmother would pile under her tree for my brother and me (her only grandchildren). You would think Grandma Clara’s shopping budget was unlimited, to see the number of packages. But what she lacked in funds Grandma made up for by shopping for super-bargains all year long. The tissue was probably an economical way to wrap some of the packages, so her precious dollars could be spent on what was inside.

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  • The aroma of pies, cookies, or breads baking in the oven take me back to Grandma Rachel’s kitchen. No one’s piecrust was as flaky, no cookies as perfectly browned on the bottom, no Parker House rolls as tender. And no holiday was complete without these treats.

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  • Red N-O-E-L letters with angel cherubs adorning each one remind me of childhood home #3. My mother would perch them on the sill of the leaded glass window by the stairs. I don’t know what happened to Mom’s set, but Steve’s aunt had the same ceramic letters and we eventually inherited hers. Now I’m the one who lines them up each year.

Not one of these memories is attached to a significant event, yet they are precious treasures of my heart. Now why would that be? Is it just the nostalgic atmosphere of the season that seems to envelope many of us at Christmastime?

Perhaps such memories highlight best what our Heavenly Father provides for us: his peace, love, and security–entities that our souls crave.  A verse from Isaiah gives us a perfect image of his constant loving care—one that Handel used in Messiah, “He Shall Feed His Flock.” (And yes, my mother sang that one, too.)

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“He shall feed his flock like a shepherd:

He shall gather the lambs with his arm,

And carry them in his bosom,

And shall gently lead those that are with young.”

–Isaiah 40:11 KJV

I first experienced the love, peace, and security of God the Great Shepherd within the fold of my loving Christian family—not just during the euphoric season of Christmas but all year long. Memory after treasured memory give proof, and I am so very grateful.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

I thank you, Father, for treasured memories of the heart, and for the love, peace, and security my family provided throughout my growing years. I praise you as the Source of those glorious qualities.  

You first loved us and allowed your only Son to be sacrificed in our place. Such love is beyond human comprehension. You provide peace as we trust in you, just as the angels proclaimed to the shepherds. And our final destiny is secure because “nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 How can I not be grateful?

(1 John 4:19, 10; Isaiah 26:3; Luke 2:14; Romans 8:31)

What Christmas memory speaks love, peace, and security to you?  Tell us about it in the comment section below!

*After forty years in Florida, my husband and I moved back to the Midwest in 2014 to be near our sons and their families. Imagine my delight to hear that shovel-on-concrete sound again after so many years, and have that ancient memory come bubbling up from the depths.

(Art & photo credits:  www.youtube.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.flickr.com; Nancy Ruegg; http://www.pinterest.com.)

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We’re off! The race to Christmas has begun.

The next twenty-six days will include shopping, wrapping, sending, writing (the Christmas cards), decorating, cleaning, baking, attending, final rehearsing and performing. Did I leave out anything?

No doubt some of you are far down the track. Your house is already decorated, the cards are nearly finished, the cookies are baked and tucked in the freezer. You started preparations weeks ago.

 

Tins of Christmas Sweets

 

I am not among you—never have been. What would Christmas be without a little hustle and bustle to get the adrenalin flowing? Except I almost always become overwhelmed, which leads to frazzled nerves.

This year I want to maintain (or recapture as needed) an Advent perspective of tranquil expectation and worshipful celebration—even when the schedule and the to-do list get a little crazy.

How?  The following three ways might be a good place to begin:

 

1. Gratitude.

Gratitude will prepare the way—the way to salvation from discontent and agitation, the way to the presence of God.

 

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(“He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me

and prepares the way

so that I may show him

the salvation of God.”

–Psalm 50:23)

 

Gratitude renews my mind and spirit as I remember: “The things [I] take for granted, someone else is praying for”–things like:

  • Colorful Christmas cards in the mailbox
  • An ample supply of sugar, flour, and butter for cookies
  • A Christmas tree filled with treasured, memory-laden ornaments
  • Loving family gathered to revel in each other’s company and hear the story of Jesus’ birth once again
  • Presents aplenty under that tree, to express our love

 

Christmas presents under the tree

 

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” – William Arthur Ward (1921-1994).

What better time than Advent to be more thankful, to experience more joy, to take note of our many blessings in the ordinary? M-m-m. ‘Think I’ll reflect on that question in my journal during these days leading up to Christmas.

 

2. Prayer.

 If someone asked me, “Is there a scripture about the impact of prayer on a person’s emotional state?” I’d steer them to Philippians 4:6-7.

 

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“Do not be anxious about anything,

but in everything, 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.”

 

How easy it is to steer others in the right direction, but not take that route myself.

So these reminders are for me:

  • Be anxious about nothing – including the long task-list that requires completion by Christmas.
  • Pray with a grateful heart about everything that needs to be done – including what to say on the Christmas cards, what gifts to give, what is needful to accomplish and what is just my OCD in over-drive.
  • Pray for godly perspective. The result will be as he has promised: peace that transcends understanding.

To keep mindful, I’ve put Philippians 4:6-7 on the bathroom mirror.

 

3. Hope.

 

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Yesterday, the first Sunday of Advent, we focused on the word, wait –an action often accompanied by impatience.

But in the ancient language of the Bible, Hebrew, the word wait is the same as the word for hope. How appropriate—hopeful waiting—waiting that includes positive expectation, confident assurance, and absolute conviction, because our God is the One and only God of hope.

And because of him we have confident assurance of:

  • Strength (Psalm 31:24)
  • Blessing (Jeremiah 17:7)
  • Joy and peace (Romans 15:13)
  • Eternal life (Titus 1:2)

 

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What a glorious list.  And that’s just the beginning.

If I focus on my God of hope and all his benefits, my attitude will be transformed (Romans 12:2). If I turn my face to the Son, the shadows will fall behind me.*

Too often in the past, my attitude has turned the season of Advent into an adversary to be beaten.

This year I want Advent to be an adventure of gratitude, prayer, and hope.

 

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*Based on a Maori proverb

 

(Art & photo credits:  www.flickr.com (2); http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.youtube.com; http://www.flickr.com; http://www.pinterest.com; http://www.pixabay.com.)

 

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