All I want for Christmas…

If you know me…you know that Christmas (to quote Buddy the elf)…is a GINORMOUS event in our family…and it has been for most of my life. 

We Ellis’ love a good Christmas season.  My cousin a few years ago had her Christmas wreath (or tree?) up the day after Halloween…we carry the same genes and are made from the same mold, and we like to stretch out Christmas as long as possible.  So I welcome Christmas music in early November and I often times have my decorations up through New Years Day. 

Every day of December I have a stocking that is filled with something for us to do to prepare for Christmas day.  A daily advent “stocking” activity: an act of service, cookies to bake, a musical to see, a present to wrap, a song to sing, a live nativity to experience.   I do miss those little stockings over the mantel, and haven’t quite figured out how to convert my family traditions to our UG apartment.  There are more reasons that I will discuss later as to why I have not gone all out and done Crazy Jenni Cockerham Christmas in Uganda…but the girl who goes BIG at Christmas time is a bit of  a Christmas minimalist this year! 

Minimalist at Christmas?  It can’t be??  Jenni, surely you can find other options and ways to celebrate and prepare!?!?  I actually think if I had realized we would still be here for Christmas I would have likely devoted an entire suitcase to be filled with decorations, treats, and Christmas comforts.  So there is that.  But here the Christmas decorations are a RACKET.  First of all–sorry–I try to only say positive–but this is my favorite season and I have very very high expectations for Christmas decorations.  These are honestly a bit gaudy, WAY over-priced, and remind me of something to be found in my grandmothers attic.   One wreath I found was 153,000 shillings which is about 60 bucks.  It was spray painted silver pine cones and some sort of twigs and branches twisted together!   Christmas lights are expensive, and I just keep thinking I don’t think I can pay for something I have back in the states and love for something that is SO expensive and uses a different socket than at home!   I did however find on the bottom shelf of a grocery store a wreath that you will see pictured below.  It was 7,000 shillings.  I made them do a price check twice because it is a plug in wreath that lights up and also flashes and does other crazy things.  Something I would have passed by at Target, but a GEM that is displayed proudly in our kitchen right now!   (This–to clarify was $2.75!)  What?  Thank you God for this little Christmas miracle!   Besides the wreath we have decided to go homemade this year.  We did an advent tree made of plastic plates so every day we count down to Christmas by checking out our tree that hangs in the window.  Also Kylee and I worked VERY hard to make these snowflake/Christmas stars ( paper snowflakes ) that hang over our kitchen table!  (Thank you Sarah Mullins!)  They were an absolute craft highlight so far…but there are more Christmas crafts to come!  

                                                       (Yep, a tad bit different this year!) 

                                  (These just make me HAPPY!  7 Snowflakes for the 7 Cs!)

All of this to say–Christmas is different this year.  One difference is without all my stockings, and shopping and other distractions the daily advent reading ( JESUS STORY BOOK ADVENT ) has been our Christmas focus each day.   Our advent time has been so very sweet to have a daily reading from something that EVERYONE can understand.  And to have discussion and prepare our hearts not just weekly with my beautiful purple, pink, and white candles…but daily has been good for my soul.   Thank you Sara Walters for suggesting it–it has literally been and will be our focal point for Christmas this year.   For those who are interested in a daily family reading between now and Christmas, check this out…her blog also has great ideas about how to do daily activities as a family to prepare your hearts and minds for Christmas…it is only the 3rd…they are short you can catch up quick!  (The author of this blog sounds almost as nutty as I am about Christmas…but I win…I just do.)

The biggest difference I have noticed about Christmas is the kids’ conversations.   Kylee is trying to figure out thoughtful homemade gifts for her friends.   About a week ago I overheard her say to her friend, “All I want for Christmas is my mom and dad under the same roof.”  Wow.  That will stop you cold.  And considering that I am sweating like crazy this December, this is quite difficult to do!  Coming from Kylee, whose love language is “gifts,”…she loves to think of thoughtful things to do and create for others!   She is always helping ME be creative and thoughtful with my gifts for family and friends.  My birthdays have exponentially changed for the better over the past 9 years because thoughtful Kylee ensures that my next birthday is better than the last.  This girl gives and receives love through gifts.  So for Kylee Cockerham to say, ALL she wanted was for her mom and dad to be in the same place about laid me out.  If I was hoping my children would have some perspective change while spending a few months in Uganda–I believe we are close to mission accomplished.  I know we all have many more lessons to learn while we are here–but I am truly truly thankful for the things that we are learning and the ways my children are maturing.  It was Mary who was told good news of her son and she “treasured them in her heart”…this mom is treasuring the life lessons that are being learned and the ways that He is transforming ALL of us from the inside out.  We will NEVER be the same! 

So THANK YOU Uganda for a more quiet Christmas.  For not having the Christmas displays that distract and cause me to go fill up my cart with stuff that will rust and pull my heart away from what really matters.  I am glad Christmas items are a bit gaudy and overpriced because it is allowing for hours of quality time with my daughter creating snowflakes and memories that will last a life

I am also thankful for the opportunity to spend this Christmas with new friends.  We hosted a December 3rd Christmas pancake breakfast at our place this morning–not fancy but the pancakes were green and reddish (pink)?!?   Our friends’ hubbies headed back to the US yesterday so our houses are all wives flying solo and I knew that the morning after Chris left I would have liked to have a pancake party!  Love these precious people and the things that I am learning from them, the fellowship for our children, and the ways that I have felt so supported during the time while Chris has been away.  


                                                           Check out her “winter” scarf!!!

           Jonathan with his pancakes and honey–he doesn’t like any bread without it!

                    Smiles and clean plates from little boys with earaches make me happy!

  (I am sorry but please stop and get excited about our rockin’ wreath for $2.75!)

There are more Christmas blogs coming–it is a subject too close to my heart.  But I pray as this month begins that you will take some time to TRULY slow down.  That you would not let the glitz and glimmer or the “to do list” distract from what really matters this season.  Because the parties, friends, family, food, service projects, and the rest are good…but if they take away from the true meaning of this holiday…one that came from VERY humble beginnings with no glitz, glam, or glory.  Then maybe just maybe we need to re-think our GINORMOUS Christmas holiday

May You Be a Blessing and May Christmas Be a Blessing to You



Presents, Parades or Prophecy?

“Do we HAVE to listen?”

“Yes…it is 7 verses.  Just listen.”  

Those were the objections from my oldest and my rebuttals as we discussed our December 1st scripture reading about the prophecy of Jesus.  I get it.   She would rather be opening presents from her Granddaddy that we are visiting for the weekend, or going to the Christmas parade where Santa throws candy from a fire engine that is scheduled for later in the afternoon.  Christmas seems to have more flare to an eight year old when it is wrapped in bows or covered in sweets.  I am glad we pushed through…

As I read Isaiah’s prophecy (9:2-7) I realized that the kids might actually be able to share helpful thoughts throughout this month on what they are learning in December.  

We read, 

“…they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest…”

The object lesson was ideal this morning as just minutes before we had looked out over my dad’s farm and saw the land where the soybeans had been harvested.   Later that afternoon they took a combine ride…we literally experienced a view of “the harvest.”  

So I pushed…

“Why would someone rejoice over a harvest?”

The one who had not wanted to have this discussion piped in, “hmm…because they had been waiting for food for months to grow and they finally can eat it!”  

Okay.  Good.  

Moving on, 

“Unto us a child is born, to us a son is given.” 

Same child, “well, babies take a long to time come–so that was probably exciting too.”  

“Yes.  Now–this was not just any baby–tell me about this baby…”

The middle child, “this baby will rule over the world, He will be the prince of peace.”  

My baby pipes in, “he will be someone to praise.”   (Then he ran off after his Granddaddy and the dogs.)

“So what is this really about?”

“It is about waiting…just like we have to wait for our Christmas presents from Grandaddy and Grand Pickett–the people were waiting for this baby.  It is hard to wait…I bet it was hard for them to wait.”  

“Yep, and I bet they REALLY were ready for this baby–cause we are REALLY ready for our presents!”  

Isaiah talks about the people being in darkness.  They were longing for a Savior.   Farmers still wait for the harvest to come…and mothers anxiously await their child’s birth, children wait for Christmas presents on Christmas day…we understanding waiting.  I can only imagine the anxious anticipation from long ago as the people awaited a Wonderful Counselor, a Prince of Peace…a King that would uphold justice and righteousness from that time on and forever!  

Through this baby there would be HOPE.  I am so thankful that we are able to celebrate the birthday of One who enters in to darkness and brings peace.  

May You Be a Blessing and May You Be Blessed!


Shucking My Shirt and My Shoes…

One Sunday I walked in to church and walked out without my shoes.  Our pastor asked us to give our coat and our shoes that day to folks who needed them more than we did.  Pretty much after those words came out of his mouth, I spent the next 30 minutes hearing him say:  “blah, blah, blah, blah.”   All I could think was how could the new campus pastors’ wife get out of church with her shoes and hoodie ON while everyone else shucked their shoes and coats???  

Here’s the thing:  I love to giveon my terms.  The navy blue honeycomb hoodie (an old navy clearance item) was truly my most favorite hoodie I have ever owned…to this day.  (I have never found a replacement–although I did ashamedly–go online and to every store within a 30 mile radius to find it!)   Not too heavy not too light it was PEFECT.  The shoes were these cute little brown $40.00 slip ons.  They were about as much as I spend on shoes…top end in my mind.    I stood there frozen ignoring every word Mike said, trying to figure out an escape route.   I agonized a good part of the service and at the end Mike said, “Hey you do not need to do this…it is just a matter of asking yourself do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you?”  Zinger.  Ouch.  You cut me deep Mike…real deep.  

So with a HEAVY heart I went to pick up Kylee and decided that we would together give our items away.  Apparently, I needed my 3 year old for moral support!  Kylee was wearing the cutest pink gap hoodie.  It was a hand me down but one of the softest sweetest hoodies that she owned…please note she did have another hoodie.  She also was wearing adorable patten leather shoes.  Kylee and I walked to the pile that was taller than she was, and I began to take off my shoes and jacket.  I explained what we were doing and that we were going to give our things to others who needed them more than we did.  Kylee immediately got big alligator tears in her eyes and said, “Mom, but I love my coat and it is my favorite color!”  I just about lost it right there!  She battled for about 15 minutes standing in front of the pile.  I didn’t want to take her things off for her–I wanted her to put them on the pile herself.  At some point in this exchange I begin to cry because I realize that my desire to hold tightly to my things has clearly been passed down, like a bad habit, to my daughter.  As tears are rolling down my face all I can think is–I must teach generosity to my kids.  Generosity God’s way–not when it is convenient or easy–generosity when it stings a little–or a lot.   I must figure out a way to not cling to things…they are after all things.   I fought the entire time to say to her, “don’t worry we will get you another one!” Knowing that was NOT the point of the exercise!  After many minutes (which felt like hours), Kylee finally let go of her hoodie and shoes and we walked to our cars with bare feet and battered hearts.  
On the drive home my mind shifted to my husband who had attended a different service.  His mother had recently passed away–but she was the type of woman who would have stripped down practically naked in the middle of church to ensure that others were cared for and provided for…she never held tightly to her things.  Like mother, like son. But instead of relishing that thought, I stewed in the fact of how easy it must have been for Chris to shuck his shoes!  When we got home I told him the entire saga with Kylee and how sick I was that I somehow have given her a “gene of greediness” and told him most sarcastically how he just wouldn’t understand since “things” don’t have a hold on him!  He looked at me square in the face and said, “Actually Jenni, I gave up my Dutch Boys.”  Dutch Boys were the nickname that his mother had given his shoes…the last material item that she had purchased for her son before her death. I wanted to crawl underneath the table in shame.  Seriously, did I just say that?   I realized that there are many different levels of sacrifice in this life.  God knew better than to ask me for the last thing that Elaine gave me because I would have told him NO!  He asked for my favorite comfy hoodie…and for my most expensive pair of shoes.  My husband on the other hand (who clearly can handle more) was asked for something different…but it went back to the same question:  do I own this thing or does it own me??  
I am embarrassed to report that the shoe/hoodie lesson occured almost 4 years ago.   It seems that God patiently teaches me the same lessons over and over again in my life.  Here I am 4 years later looking at simplicity and excess and having to re-learn not to hold too tightly to my things.  I pray that as we continue to purge I will learn the lesson better this time.  And I if I don’t, when I walk in to your home, please ask me to walk out without my shoes.   Alas, we all need reminders.   Clearly some of us more than others!  
May You Be a Blessing and May You Be Blessed! 

The Garden Massacre: 3 Down Only 2 Survive

Last spring LeAnne inspired me to consider a garden…to allow our family to be a part of the process of plants growing and recognizing that our food does not originate from the grocery store.  Both my dad and granddaddy had a garden, and so I was familiar with this custom.   But knowing that the Cockerhams have the history of KILLING plants I was a little weary of such an undertaking.   Last year our garden constituted of several potted tomato plants and herbs.   They lived…and did their best to grow despite our black thumbs.

One of the cooler things that came from our garden was our compost pile.  This makeshift pile was actually a random pile in the backyard where Chris normally placed the grass clippings.  The compost pile slowly began to cut our waste in half.  I was shocked that between recycling and composting we were down to 1 lonely bag of trash per week?!?

Amazingly, this spring a long green vine began to grow from the compost.  Then another, and another.  Intrigued and inspired by a friends’ story of the “fruit” that grew from their compost–we decided to let it grow.  
It is entitled a Halloween Miracle.

Over the past month or so we have realized that we are growing what appears to be some sort of fantastic gourd or maybe even a squash or pumpkin?!  Usually plants that grow from the grocery store are “sterile” and do not produce fruit–but very clearly there are some big yellow squash-type-things doing work in our back yard.  Even more amazing, is that we had up to 5 “plants” growing at one time.  At closer inspection I realized today that only 2 actually had squash-like plants growing from them.  (And one was really struggling to survive.)   All of the vines made beautiful yellow blooming flowers–but 3 simply had no squash to show for all the fan fare.  Though I am an Indiana grown girl whose daddy had the prettiest garden in our midwest neighborhood–I really was clueless as to what to do until it hit me:  the other plants had to go!  

Could they eventually produce fruit?  Maybe.  But which ones?  And how long would I have to wait?  And how much love, water, and sunlight would they be stealing from the 2 plants that were working so hard to make it?  It became very clear that the competing plants were just that…competition.  They were sharing a small space with fabulously fertile soil (a rare commodity in NC)…and they were just sucking the very life out of the resources of the other plants.  I could pour a lot more time and energy in to trying to keep everybody comfortable–with the flowers bright and beautiful and appearing just as healthy as my squash producing plants.  But at the end of the day–3 out of my 5 plants were simply sterile.  

While attacking those beauties with my shovel–for me hacking apart a living thing is not an easy task–unless it is poison ivy.  It was especially bitter since I usually have the blackest thumb on the planet and to hack something beautiful and living knowing that it just might do something cool was simply painful for me…but I digress.   As I hacked–it became so very clear–the parallel that I live in my life.  I have SOOOOO many things competing for my attention, for my energy, time, resources.  I have so many things that I desire to pour in to…that I desire to grow and make beautiful.  On the outside it looks pretty good.  There is green, there is growth, there are even big bright beautiful yellow flowers that indicate something awesome could happen.  Yet…sadly for so many of the things that compete for my attention…like my plants…they are sterile.    Most days I live as the hopeful gardener attending to each plant and wishing and hoping for the best…only to neglect the one or two plants that are actually producing fruit…that are alive…growing and going to actually become something amazing.

But…wait for it…what if I kept all 5 plants growing?    What if I just kept feeding all 5 plants?  Sharing space…sharing soil…sharing all of the resources that I had equally?   I am almost certain that I would lose my sensational squash…or at best their growth would become stunted.  (I did not major in agriculture at NCSU–but from my backyard degree this appeared to be clear and the inevitable conclusion.)

So God got ahold of me as I shifted the compost and hacked up the other 3 plants.  He reminded me of the value of keeping life simple.  He reminded me to stop trying to keep all of my “life vines” alive only to forsake the ones that actually bear fruit.   I will wait and see what comes of this awesome biology experiment but if no edible fruit is produced I am convinced that there were awesome seeds that were planted in my heart today.   The Gardener drew my attention to the other “plants”.  He reminded me that even once I hack a few up, others will grow in my garden of life.  He showed me that they are not all “weeds” so to speak–terrible evils and obvious predators that only exist to steal my plants’ nutrients.  Sometimes they are mistaken beauties or just misdirected efforts.  These plants will take root (just the same) and I will have to ask the question of their relevance and watch closely to examine if they just look really pretty or if they are actually bearing fruit.   I will make the weighty decision of hacking or watering.   Either way–the visual is one that I am so very grateful for as I hope to not water simply to water…but nurture, attend to, and  cultivate the vines the Gardener has placed in my life to grow and produce real fruit.

May You Be a Blessing and May You Produce Real Fruit–


Near Teen Death: The Story of How One Boy Successfully Pruned Our Neighbor’s Hedges

11:01pm last night…loud crash…it sounded like our glass storm door was being broken in to a million pieces.

11:01 and 2 seconds…Chris and I–who are downstairs still awake due to our upcoming garage sale (which as a side note–is a ton of work) JUMP to our feet and begin “mobilizing” around the house.   Certain that someone is trying to break in our home I go in to a crazy strong girl mode and tell Chris to check the garage door at which point he shares that he is convinced someone has tried to break in but hit (hilariously) a bunch of toys.   I express that I was not so certain, since our garage is always immaculate (feel free to snicker), because every light in the house was on downstairs…the person would have to be drunk to be that bold.  (Since stranger things have happened we continue the search.)   Instead I go running out of the front door only to find 4 neighborhood men gathered together around a very distraught teenager.  Coincidence…none.  

11:05  Thankful for awesome neighbors armed with flashlights I realize there is no need for a neighborhood watch I felt safer just walking toward the scene.  

11:08  We find out that this teen had fallen asleep at the wheel and had careened in to the front yard of our neighbor…the kid was now picking up branches from the “yard work” he did. 

11:10  We realize that the homeowner is not outside (was he searching his basement for an intruder?  No one could have slept through that train wreck!)  

11:12  Someone then calls the police at which point the high school kid moves to the middle of the street kneels down and begins to cry.

11:15  Our neighbor emerges shocked and politely upset.    

11:17  The kid was offered the phone, he calls his dad who he assures everything is okay and instructs him not to come.  (They live in the neighborhood.)  

11:20  The homeowner realizes that his bushes are not the only damage.  A 25 mile an hour street sign was taken out, then his azaleas, then his mailbox, THEN his bushes.  Our neighbor kindly explains that when the police comes he will insist on a breathalyzer.  

11:20..5 seconds   Instantly more wailing from the 18 year old who I will call Kevin.  An 18 year old sobbing is a very painful sight.  I go over and try to comfort him.  Then I motion Chris over for a more masculine response.  I guess at that point (drunk or not) you really need a mom and a dad.  Where was Kevin’s dad?

11:25  Neighbors begin to assess what happened…Kevin fell asleep at the wheel.  His car (going how fast?) crossed across the left side of the road, hit the curb, nailed the speed limit sign, azelas, and mailbox while avoiding by MAYBE a few feet  their daughters’ car parked on the side of the street.  (Pause here–seriously it could have been inches.)   He continued through the front yard, nailed the bushes that were hiding our neighbors’ electrical box.  Kevin managed to get down the street several hundred feet with only a few dents–no major damage.  No glass broken, no air bag deployed…and walked away without a scratch.  

11:26  Quickly connecting the dots…I realize the kid is a walking miracle.  He could have hit the car head on and…um…died.  He could have hit the electrical box and um…blown up the neighborhood.  (Drama is okay after 11pm…I am so tired!)  

11:30ish The police arrive and speak to Kevin and then go over to speak to the neighbors.  

11:40  Kevin now near his car begins wailing again.  Oh what a sad sound.  Chris and I go over.  I put my arm around him and Chris marvels at the fact that his car practically come out on scathed.  He mentions that during the day AWAKE he could not have navigated the terrain that Kevin navigated–asleep.  (I pause a moment to thank God for Chris.)  We explain how brave Kevin was to stick around and not run since–most high school kids that we used to know would have run.  (Sorry if you were a high school kid we used to know.)   I told Kevin that he was a miracle.  He sobbed and said his dad was going to be really ticked.  (Where was his dad again?)  He said he was 18 and he told his father that he would take care of “business.”  Noble.  But seriously–where was his dad?   Because Chris was there, Kevin would go in and out of fits of crying and laughter talking about where he was going to school in the fall, soccer, and where he worked…I mentioned he needed to ask for a raise.  (Okay–maybe I am a little funny.)  He seemed a little calmer when the police approached.  

Midnight-ish…One of the coolest officers I have ever met kindly approaches Kevin and asks him if he is okay.  He clarifies some of the details of what happened and then asks him to stand up.  He conducts a sobriety test–and Kevin passes.   (Yet another miracle of the evening since Kevin had recently gotten a speeding ticket and this kind of thing would have compounded on that offense.)

12:25 Kevin receives his paper work without a ticket and is very very relieved and begins shaking hands and thanking everyone profusely like a newly elected public official.  I insist on a hug.  (Not sure if I am normally a “hugger” to an random teenage boy while in my pjs–but it felt appropriate.)  

12:30  The officers and neighbors are back assessing the scene.  The words VERY LUCKY are being tossed around.  I keep mentioning…”miracle.”  

12:47 We are back in the house discussing the events of the evening when Chris asks, “is it really cool or really weird that I was out there without a shirt and in my jeans?”  I quickly answer… “I thought it was super hot…and a little redneck.”

5:20am   After sleeping 4 hours I wake up with a strong pull to find my laptop and record the story.  

5:32am  I finally get up after several futile attempts to go back to sleep and several heated arguments in my head about blogging later.  I just couldn’t shake that inner something that nudges me to write.  It is a little like field of dreams…only less baseball and other really cool stuff.  (Only 4 hours of sleep…stay with me.)  

Reflections from last night: 

Life is super short.

There are no coincidences.  There is no such thing as luck.

Dads should come to the scene of an accident.  

Kids should not be out past 10 on a school night.

Neighbors should be as cool as ours.

If one sees it necessary to participate in stunt driving tricks through our neighbors yard please keep this activity between the hours of 9am and 9pm eastern standard time.  

Jesus actually DOES take the wheel.  (Thank you Carrie.)  If you doubt this you should see my neighbors yard.  

I love doing “ministry” with my husband.    

I don’t deserve the “coincidences” that God drops in our laps…or in this case–in our neighbors’ front yard.  

I am soooo tired.  Need coffee.

May You Be a Blessing and May you Be Blessed–


Surrendering the Starfish

Surrender.  It really has an ugly ring to it.  No one that I know enjoys “surrender.”  It conjures up images of being held at gunpoint while forcefully being told to put our hands up and surrender.
Last weekend while walking along the beach I stumbled (almost literally) on to a starfish.  A real (I was soon to find out) livestarfish.  I had never seen one on the beach like this and it didn’t look authentic.  It was bright orange and purple and incredibly beautiful.  I was awestruck.  I picked it up with my room key—not wanting to harm it—but also wanting to make sure it didn’t do anything strange to me.  Four women were sunbathing and saw me, so I went over to show them my new treasure.  They ooooed and ahhhed and then one of them said, “I think it is still alive—you should throw it back.”  I was devastated.  The starfish had shown no signs of life and I really didn’t want to throw it back.  I could only imagine the faces of my children once they saw the amazing sea creature.  I also didn’t have a camera to take a picture so at least they could see it did in fact exist, and was not just a silly fish tale!  Guilt slowly set in and I reluctantly threw the starfish back in to the ocean.  It did not move and I am still doubtful that it made it–but deep down I knew it was the right thing to do, and it was not even mine to begin with.   For the next quarter mile I combed the beach searching for a more obvious dead starfish…but none were to be found.  All of the sudden it hit me.  The starfish was a symbol of something much more meaningful in my life.  Surrender.
Earlier that morning in my quiet time I had felt God asking me to surrender something that I hold very tightly.  (He did not audibly do this by the way—it was just a nudge that I felt within my spirit.)  I had a long chat with God explaining that I really do not hold tightly to too many things and this was something that brought me great comfort and joy.  In a compassionate and loving way—I still sensed that He hoped I might not hold so tightly and actually give Him this thing that I loved dearly.
Along my walk, I had found a few sharks teeth and I would have been happy to trade all of those for one awesome starfish.  Funny how we often try to barter with God and say, “I’ll give you my_______.  Couldn’t I just keep_______?”   When it comes to surrender I am quick to give God the little things but with the bigger things, I like to have a little more control. 
Surrender according to Webster is: “the act of giving up one’s person or possessions into the authority of another…relinquishing one’s power, aims, or goals.”
Wow.  That is a lotta tough words in one sentence.  Often when someone asks me how to begin a relationship with God I say, “you surrender all that you know of yourself…to all that you know of God.”   It is loaded but true.  Along our journey with Him, we might begin to realize that we have given him our “self” in a sense…but there are still things we are holding on to for comfort, identity, stability, joy, peace, or pleasure.   Our reliance on those things, could be keeping us from having a more intimate relationship with God.   Surrender looks different for all and it is only something that the Spirit can nudge.  (Don’t get crazy and start surrendering things just to surrender them…we must be prayerful and count the cost.)   

 Our house, perfection, our family, or lack there of, our finances, popularity, our body, friendships, our sugar intake, our job, our old tapes we play (and re-play), our fears, longings, are just a few things that lobby for our time and attention that might be causing an obstacle in our relationship with God.   (I share this list because I have hung on to most all of these at some point in my life so these are just a few obvious ones for me.)   
I truly believe that surrender is one of the toughest paths to walk down in our journey with God.  It is scary—it requires relinquishing control and trusting.  God is very gracious and knows that it is a process.  He is patient, loving and a gentleman.  He never demands these things—we are given the choice.  Through the small daily surrenders, eventually the big ones go up on the alter as well.   The truth is…they are in the best of hands.  They are His anyway…right now they are just on loan. 
(This was inspired after reading and reflecting on several thoughts shared in Katie Brazelton’s book Pathway to Purpose for Women.)

 May You Be a Blessing and May you Be Blessed!

Green Toes, Green Juice, and God’s Goodness

When my mom gave me a pedicure for Christmas she had no idea that her gift would give me little shimmering soft green pigs.  Yesterday’s pedicure propelled me in to a wonderful mental place ready for a sweet weekend of solitude and sinking those shimmering toes in the sand.

Years ago on Young Life Staff it was strongly urged that we take a day or weekend of solitude every 6 months.  It was encouraged so that we could mentally slow down, quiet ourselves, and get some quality time with God.  It was a regular part of our lives and Chris and I used to count down the days until we could go away even just for a few hours.  We would come back refreshed and ready for the rampant pace that we kept.

After going off staff and having children my solitude days were much more infrequent.  Understandably, quiet moments were almost obsolete for the first few years with toddlers.  Over the past year or two I have longed to go back and get some quiet time alone with God.  With no agenda…just stillness and quiet.  A listening ear, somewhere in nature, a Bible, pen and journal.  

A friend offered her beach house for the weekend and I jumped at the chance to go.  Another friend let me borrow her juicer and so with several gallons of green juice in my system (maybe not gallons) I am feeling quite refreshed and ready for God’s goodness.

When someone first suggested solitude to me, I thought it was an utter waste of time.  First of all–what if you carved out the time and God didn’t show up?  What if you tried to slow down but were completely distracted the whole time?  What would I do without a phone, email, or TV for that long?   What was really the purpose?  Wasn’t it sorta selfish to just go be by yourself and read and pray?  What about feeding the poor–wouldn’t my time better be spent in service?

There were many answers–but of course the first was that God modeled rest.  Doubtful he needed rest on the 7th day of creation–but he modeled it.  Jesus consistently took time to get away from the crowds and disciples to be alone and pray.  But honestly for me I have found that…

I forget.  I forget that God loves me.  I forget that He wants to spend time with me.  I forget that He wants me to daily put my trust in Him.

Listening is not my strong suit.  “Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19)  I am so quick to speak and become angry and listening slows me down.  In solitude there is no one to talk to.  The waves are crashing and I am listening.  When I stop talking…eventually I am better able to listen.

Busyness is the enemy of intimacy.   If I long to grow in my relationship with God I must slow down long enough in an attempt to better get to know Him.

Weekends like this remind me that I need to be way more intentional about my daily quiet times.  I need to be quicker to ask forgiveness.  I need to be more faithful to pray for others and specifically to surrender my entire day to Him.  Sometimes my time is half hearted or not thoughtful…it is mundane.  In times of solitude I am aware of my desperate daily need for Him and it awakens my soul.

May You Be a Blessing and May You Find Solitude for Your Soul.


Preschool Lesson #1…SHARE.

Preschool must have been a good time for me.  Although I wasn’t a whiz in school, I am certain in preschool I learned one of my greatest gifts…to share.  I LOVE to share a good deal, a good recipe, a good book, a good verse, a good workout, and the list goes on and on.  I realized recently my blog is just another attempt for me to share some of my “favorite things”.  Most days I don’t know why I blog.  It is therapy for me to write.  But more than anything I actually think I have a deep deep desire to share.  

This is an excerpt from a devotion that I am reading…man, I can relate.  Thought it was share worthy!

Dear Jesus, 

I desperately need to learn how to live in the present moment.  My mind so easily slips into the future, where worries abound.  I also spend way too much time analyzing things in the past.  Meanwhile, splendors of the present moment parade before me, and I’m too preoccupied to notice.  Part of the problem is my tendency to strive for self-sufficiency.  Help me to learn to rest in Your sufficiency, depending on You more and more.  


You need My grace in order to live in the present.  Grace is all about My provision for you, and accepting that goes against the grain of natural tendencies.  Do you really believe My grace is sufficient for you?  If so, then it makes sense to stop your anxious striving.  

My grace is sufficient for every situation you will ever encounter.  However, you must learn to receive My provisions by looking to Me continually.  

Each day you face a number of situations requiring My help.  Moment by moment, I proffer to you the needed assistance.  Your part is to recognize your neediness and receive what I offer.  My Presence is always with you, providing everything you need.  Don’t worry about tomorrow’s needs.  My sufficiency is for one day at a time–today!

My grace is sufficient for you, but its sufficiency is for one day at the time.

Sarah Young  (Dear Jesus)

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9

“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:19

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.”   Matthew 6:34

May You Be a Blessing and May you Be Blessed~


A Road Trip with Hope

Yesterday morning after “Adventure Training” I had a conversation with Janine and Rachel about life and death.   (It was not because my workout was so hard they felt that they might die—but I can pretend that was the case!)  We talked about what it means to “fight” in the midst of pain and suffering.  We talked about this life being about so much more than the pain of the present moment.  We talked about the daily journey.  We talked about how on the journey–and often in the midst of pain–we find real life. 
On this Easter morning I wanted to relay an update that was sent from sweet Cabell Sweeney.  (If you do not know Cabell’s story, my entry entitled “The Climb” will give you a little history.)  Cabell is not only a “fighter” in every sense of the word…she also lives with a deep sense of God’s love for her life.  She has hope.  On this Easter morning, no matter where you are on your journey in this life, I pray that this day, you would be reminded of the hope we have because HE lives. 
Yesterday marked two years since Sweeney died. Two years. I don’t miss Mike less, so in some ways it feels like he died yesterday. But then it feels like ten years since I have heard him sing, laughed with him- touched him. I know time has brought healing and perspective for which I am grateful but it has also brought distance and that feels a little sad.
I was driving through our little town yesterday morning after working out, on the way to get coffee. It was still quiet. Windows down, sunroof open, music up. I stopped at the corner of Sixth and Broad. Elizabeth Elliot’s words met me at the stoplight. “Of one thing I am perfectly sure. God’s story never ends with ashes.”  
There is a little coffee shop on the corner of Sixth and Broad called Swift & Finch. It is the creation of Ellie Mahon and Abby Mitchell. They dreamed it, they asked God for it, they shared their vision, people came alongside them, they worked hard and now that dream has come to fruition. Swift & Finch will soon open it’s doors to the “oohs and aahs!” of this entire city. Dave Mahon, Ellie’s husband became our Young Life area director after Sweeney died. Abby moved to Rome last May following her husband Wyatt’s death in December. She and I met while our husbands battled cancer. Dave, Ellie and Abby moved to Rome because there were ashes.
Dave is the kind of man you want your son to become. He is the kind of man you want your daughter to marry. He is highly intelligent but still humble, he is tender but still strong, and he is kind but still speaks hard truths. Sitting at that stoplight, snap shots of high school guys faces flashed through my mind. Boys who haven given their lives to Christ, boys who will grow into men of God because Dave Mahon has loved them and shown them Jesus; because Dave moved to Rome and because “God’s story never ends with ashes.”
Ellie finds beauty in seemingly ordinary things. If I asked her to empty her pockets right now I imagine a small pile of “treasures” would spill out- acorns, butterfly wings, oddly shaped pebbles, 3 fern fronds and a few already wished upon dandelion stems. Sitting at that stoplight snap shots of Ellie’s friends from the newspaper and every other corner of Rome flashed through my mind. My thoughts wandered to the people she and Abby will employ and share life with at Swift & Finch. All of those people seeing a picture of how God finds beauty in each of us even when we feel very ordinary. People will know and do know God treasures them and thinks they are extraordinary because Ellie Mahon has loved them and shown them Jesus; because Ellie moved to Rome and because “God’s story never ends with ashes.”
Abby is beautiful. She sees the world through the eyes of an artist. She notices the brushstrokes of God, The Creator, The Artist in everyone and everything. She loves music and literature and art and people because she sees God in them. She loves scripture more and clings to it harder than anyone I know. Sitting at that stoplight snap shots of Abby came to me. Pictures of the two of us crying, laughing, praying, reading scripture, teaching campaigners (bible study), sharing pizza and cups of coffee flooded in. Snap shots of high school girls faces who see God’s faithfulness, who see joy personified, who see the power of healing because Abby Mitchell has loved them and shown them Jesus; because Abby moved to Rome and because “God’s story never ends with ashes.”
I love Dave, Ellie and Abby. They love me. That would not be so if my story were not what it is. Yesterday at the corner of Sixth and Broad God reminded me that He is all about Life. Because Jesus rose from the dead, He conquered death. Defeated it. Because God has victory over death, death doesn’t get the final say. Death doesn’t get to end the story. Because Jesus is alive, Sweeney is alive with Him. Because Jesus is alive, I am alive with Him.
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Rev. 21:5
God is always making things new. God always brings forth life. I hope every bird and bud and bloom of spring is reminding you of that. Whatever is happening in your life, I pray you are encouraged to know that God is always making things new. He is always redeeming that which seems dead and hopeless. He is always restoring things that seem too broken to be fixed. “God’s story NEVER ends with ashes.”  It didn’t for Jesus, it didn’t for Sweeney, it didn’t for me, and it won’t for you.  
-Cabell Sweeney

May you be filled with a real sense of HOPE this Easter! 

Fresh Brewed Life

There is just something about this book…
This book came to me in the form of a photo copy.  It was when I had first started going to counseling many years ago and I was extremely angry.  I was furious but it was coming out in my dreams.  I would scream and yell and cuss out people in my life that had hurt me.  (It was bizarre, almost comical…and I was really good at it.)    My counselor recommended a chapter from Fresh Brewed Life:  “Interview Your Anger”.  I found it very helpful and saved the photo-copied chapter.  Recently, I recommended the chapter to someone else and realized I might actually benefit from reading the entire book!   Seven years later God is using the entire book to speak to my heart and life in a wonderful way.  I love to read and it seems I can lift a nugget from almost any book I pick up–but this one is special.  
The book is not earth-shaking.  It is not (necessarily) life altering. 
But there are deep, simple truths in this book that are POWERFUL.  Nicole is not the best author that I have ever read, it is not a page turner, nor does the book even flow in a completely natural way. 
But there is something about this book that I love.   The author speaks to the heart of women and addresses topics that most Christians won’t touch.  She is real, authentic and does not pretend to have it all together.  She writes what many of us thinkbut are not honest enough to say out loud. 
Each chapter could almost stand alone.  Her chapters run the gamut from longings to beauty to anger to sex to friendships and purpose…it is all there.  Feel free to skip around…it doesn’t have to fit together in a perfect package, but the chapters do seem to fit in to the make up of our lives…and what makes us uniquely female…and uniquely His. 
I shared these words with a few friends when I gave them the book…but I realized so many others with whom I grab an occasional “coffee”–might also be blessed by the truths of this book!  

FRESH BREWED LIFE    (click here to check out her site)
May you be a blessing and may you be blessed!