Out With a Bang… A Year of Growth

Twenty eighteen went out with a bang. An actual, literal bang.

I was having a great hair day. I had just left my hair stylist and needed to pick up a few things at the store before going home. The traffic was heavy, but I knew a shortcut. I zipped right by the line of cars and laughed at my good fortune of avoiding the long wait. When I arrived at the market, I was even happier and pleasantly surprised to find an open parking space right in the front of the store. Everything seemed to be in my favor!

About one minute later, my positive mood and character were challenged. Pulling into the parking space, I took the turn a little wide. An awful metal scrunching, fiberglass crunching noise accompanied the turn. It took me a minute to figure out what had happened. Did I really just bang into and swipe the PARKED car next to me? I hoped I had imagined the noise, but from the looks of the people passing by, I knew it really happened. I put my van in park, slowly stepped out and shamefully walked around the back. Silver streaks from the front of my van beamed and highlighted the dark gray fender of the other car. Ugh!  

The driver of the car was not there. For a split second, I dabbled in the thought of what it would be like not to have a conscience and enjoyed a scandalous moment of how easy it would be to leave the scene. Conviction quickly crushed the faintest of wrong thoughts to a complete close. My conscience and the Holy Spirit gave me forceful push forward into the market on a journey to find the owner of the struck vehicle.

How do you find a stranger in a whole store of strangers? Embarrassed and annoyed at myself for getting into this situation, I mulled over the next steps. I called my husband for support. I walked in and out of the store several times. I talked to myself- possibly aloud. I most likely looked crazed. I needed help.  

It seemed best to start at the market’s little café. I walked up to the hostess and explained my situation. She smiled a gracious smile and told me without criticism that everything was all going to be okay. She tried to encourage me with the fact that most people would have just left (yep! But, no, not an option.) She said she would do what she could to help me find the car’s owner.

Within seconds, the hostess had a team of people in action- she mobilized the servers. She sent word to the employees in the back room and at the serving counters. The open layout of the store provided me a full view of the word being spread. With each person told, I waited to see if they would stand up and move forward to me in annoyance and irritation. It took less than ten minutes to ask everyone and no one stepped forward. I thanked the hostess for her help and walked back out of the door disappointed the situation was not resolved.

Back at the van, I scribbled a note of apology, with my contact information, on a ripped piece of scrap paper. I tucked it under the other car’s windshield with a prayer. About thirty minutes later, I received a phone call from a very nice man explaining he was the owner. “Accidents happen,” he said. He even thanked me for being an outstanding person for taking responsibility. The hardest part was over, an insurance claim was made, it was all very easy, and we all went on with the rest of the day.

This small little blip in my day had not destroyed my peace or happiness. It did not wreck my good day nor did it cast a gray shadow over it. This tiny accidental bang gave me one more intentional opportunity to test out some things I had been working on all year.

Growth- my chosen word of the year. Growth in my responses versus my reactions. Growth in my resilience. Growth in the knowledge of what’s important and what’s not. Growth in the ability to ask for help, to let things go, and to be able to accept my mistakes with grace and understanding. These things and more.

If this small incident happened at the beginning of 2018, at a time when I was stretched too thin by over commitments, running around with my priorities out of sort, and in a place of depriving myself grace, this little incident would not have been so little. It would have taken up way more emotional space than it deserved and would have skewed my perceptions of my abilities. It would have left a negative mark on my day.  

“All growth depends on activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort. And effort means work.”
Calvin Coolidge

 

In many ways, this was one of the most flourishing years of growth that I’ve experienced since becoming a mother ten years ago. It was also a continual season of hard work provided by challenging situations that were taxing physically, emotionally and spiritually. I experienced both the pain and beauty of growing. And it often came in unexpected ways at unexpected times.

The most important thing for me, was to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18.) With this as the foundation (or soil,) everything else I wanted to grow in would flow from it- the way I think, act, respond and love. When we are rooted in a place of truth, secure in our identity of Christ, and nourished by the grace and love of Jesus, the perfect atmosphere of growth is created. The more I meditated on things of God, the more I felt a greater inclination to change and an intentional shift to focus more on life’s important things.

When we are rooted in a place of truth, secure in our identity of Christ, and nourished by the grace and love of Jesus, the perfect atmosphere of growth is created .

My priorities needed to be rearranged. I reevaluated my schedule and our families activities. What once seemed pressing and demanding, seemed like things that could wait. I worked hard to create a balance of work and rest.  I wasn’t perfect. Many times things went off-kilter. There were times I felt overwhelmed. But instead of staying in the rushed craze, I used those times of induced stress, hurrying, and irritation to remind myself why the balance was important. I breathed more slowly, lingered with my children longer, asked for forgiveness A LOT, and prayed constantly.

By the work of the Holy Spirit, grace and love for others grew in ways greater than ever before. My eyes were open wider to seeing people for who God created them to be and seeing their need to feel loved and valued in different ways. I tried to take time to sit and listen to people, give them my attention. I felt (and feel) compelled to hear their stories, give them a chance to use their voice. I pray my words and actions in those conversations and interactions, left streaks of grace and love beaming and highlighting their lives.

The hardest part of growth is the pruning part. The part when things are cut away,and weeded out to make room for healthy growth. This year brought about a lot of change and pruning. I had to say goodbye to expectations, to some people and a role I loved. I had to keep reminding myself that it was all for the good. That it would work out the way it was suppose to, all in the right time. I tried hard not to let the “goodbyes” be a distraction, but allowed myself some time to grieve. I kept moving forward in the direction I felt God calling me too. And I’m still moving. Moving and growing. 


The hardest part of growth is the pruning part.

Growth doesn’t halt at 2019. It doesn’t change because a yearly focus word changes. It doesn’t stop, even when we wish it would. It is always a continual process in all our lives. The important thing is what we do with the opportunities and how will we respond to the situations that will grow our character. We will be embrace them? Or with the opportunities make us wither back in fear, anxiety and selfishness?

Growing is not easy. It’s messy, and effort is needed. But the end result is beautiful and good. For many of us, we do not have to grow alone. When we actively seek to grow as a person, desire to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord, and rely on dependence of Jesus, the courage and strength to do this type of character growing is available to us. There are people who want to help us too. They want to cheer us on, tell us that we are outstanding people (even when we feel unable, messy and foolish) and maybe mobilize a team of other people to help us find the things we need. Let them.  

I think all of us should start 2019 with a bang! Hopefully, not an actual, literal bang like an accident. But a bang of growth. It’s a new year to take responsibility. A chance to reevaluate priorities. A time to embrace challenge. And an opportunity to ask for and accept help more often. Be on the lookout for the beauty that comes out of all of it. You may be surprised where you find it.  I’m cheering you on. Happy New Year!

   Love,

Love,

December Acts of Kindness Calendar

Although kindness and charity should be given in every month, December brings a special focus to these things. It’s a month of reflection. An opportunity to focus outward instead of inward. A time to give rather than receive. If you are looking for a few ideas to practice acts of love, kindness and giving to others, check out our plan for December.

Each morning, our Kindness Elves, Amelia and Olivia, will suggest the daily act of kindness to complete as a family. There’s something for everyone on the calendar. Some of the ideas, like donating blood, are obviously for the adults (that’s the one that is going to stretch me the most!) Some of the ideas will take a little longer to complete than others. All of the activities can be done together with each other’s support and encouragement. 

Just a note…This calendar is not meant to add to the holiday hustle and stress. It’s not to give us one more thing to do. Rather, it is a reminder to slow down, gather around a table, have good conversations, create for and think of others as a family. 


Weighty Consequences

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One news story from last week caught my attention and I’ve been dwelling over the situation. Last week, a popular television show was abruptly canceled after its leading actress posted insensitive, racial remarks to social media. The weighty consequence of her words affected more than just the actress. Hundreds of crew members who worked on the television show lost their jobs and income. Those who poured their talents and time into their work lost a stage to pursue their passion. People associated with the actress found themselves in an upsetting position of issuing statements, defending their beliefs and some disassociating their reputation with the actress.

The reality of the situation highlights the power of words. Words have great weight, great consequences and far reaching impacts. They link us to those we associate with- our families, friends, co-workers, organizations, and our churches. Social media extends our circles of influence and brings a greater responsibility to use our words wisely.

How many times do we casually let words fly off of our lips and fingers without giving much thought of where they will land? Casual complaining, negative or questionable comments and posts plant seeds of negative thoughts and perspective. Maybe we do not think it’s a big deal, but seeds of negativity multiply like weeds into discontentment, entitlement and comparison.

On the other hand, truthful, insightful, encouraging words plant seeds of positive and thoughtful perspective. They grow and blossom into good, noble, just, helpful, and useful thoughts. Words have the power to change perspective, restore peace and relationships, and bring life to situations.

This week, let’s think before we speak and press the post button. Are we using words to build up or tear down? Encourage or discourage? Highlight the positive or spotlight the negative? Are we using our words for positive influence in our circles of friends, family, and coworkers? And let’s remember that even the little comment has the greatest power to change lives and situations.  Go be awesome and speak life!

21 The tongue can bring death or life;
those who love to talk will reap the consequences.

Proverbs 18:21 New Living Translation (NLT)


Paralyzed in Fear or Reenergized in Faith- A Reminder and Charge to Followers of Jesus

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In light of the news coming out of Texas yesterday and this morning, I wrote these words to my sisters at Centerpoint Sisterhood but I feel they are relevant and appropriate to all followers of Jesus. As a community of believers, we all need to be reminder of God’s promises and His Sovereignty. If you are a follower of Christ, I hope these words will be encouraging to you too. And please know I pray for you! I pray the words I write would be helpful, uplifting, and encouraging in your lives and in your journey of faith and that they find their way to those who could use them. If you have questions of faith, my message box is always open. God Bless you and yours! 

Dear Sister,
It seems as if every day there is a new story. A heartbreaking, devastating story of senseless evil and violence, but I encourage you to take heart! He has overcome the world! Jesus knew these things would take place and He gave us His words in John 16:33. Words for times like these. When things make no sense in logical ways, when it seems easier to place the blame on policies and illnesses and motives, when the darkness seems to have won, remember He has already won! He has overcome and He reigns! He is sovereign over all things.

In these times, look for the good. Look for God’s grace and His glory. Do not be paralyzed in fear but reenergized in faith. The enemy wants us stopped cold in our tracks, he wants people to be fearful to walk into churches, scared to gather in Jesus’s name. But we will not be stopped!

We will continue to gather, continue to serve, and continue to praise and lift high the name of Jesus!! And we will be women of prayer! We will pray, pray, and pray!!! Pray for the victims families, pray for those who are suffering, pray for all those who are lost, pray for our community, pray for the world, pray for peace, and for God’s strength to continue to do the work he has started in us for His glory.

I am praying for you today. Praying that the Lord would give you spiritual sight to see the truth and see the spiritual battle at hand. I’m praying you would put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. I’m praying that the Lord’s would give you courage and strength so you can step forward in faith. I’m praying you would find time to dedicate to prayer and time to rejoice in the fact that our God is not in the bit surprised by any of this and that He is sovereign over all things. I am praying for you, for peace and comfort and that you will shine brightly for the Lord in a darkened world. Go! Serve and love others in Jesus’s name!

With love , your sister, Shanna xo


Circles of People, Circles of Prayer

 

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It was Thursday night. It had been a long, good week but I was tired. On top of our usual routine busyness, there had been a MOPS meeting to prepare for and a Sisterhood message to finish. I had just finished making dinner and I was craving some moments to myself. To my kids delight, I let them eat their dinner on trays in front of the TV. The sound of Miles from Tomorrowland and quiet kids gave me some peaceful moments to take a deep breath and strategize my next steps. I could only manage to think one step ahead and doing the dishes seemed like the next logical thing to do.

I stood at the kitchen sink and sighed over the mountain of dishes. The dishes were not going to get done by staring and sighing so I began to scrub and circle the dishes clean. The warm, soapy water became a salve to my weariness. And as I scrubbed, I became overwhelmed. So overwhelmed, I began to weep. This was a different “overwhelmed” than I have become accustomed to. Not the overwhelmed by busyness or by my to-do list or by expectations, but overwhelmed with deep gratitude for my life and the people in it.

Right there in my kitchen, in the quietness of my heart, memories came back to me so clearly I felt as if they were present time. One by one they came. I could smell things, feel things, and see details of things I had forgotten. I was with people who have long gone to be with Jesus.

I was a little girl standing in the church kitchen, looking up into the faces of a circle of kind, older women. The women were smiling, chatting over their work of cleaning up the communion cups. They welcomed me in their space and allowed me to eat the leftover communion crackers. I felt accepted and safe.

I was a little girl sitting in an oversized metal folding chair among a circle of other folding chairs placed around the small living room of my childhood home. Each chair was filled by a Godly man or woman. Some held hymnals and others large, beautifully tabbed Bibles in their laps. Their songs of praise beautiful. Their prayers powerful. I felt accepted and safe. 

I was a preteen kneeling on the rug in my parent’s friends living room, not quite happy that all my other friends were out at the movies and I was at a Bible study. Regardless of my inside-ungrateful-attitudes-struggles, I was still still in the circle and I listened to God’s word be discussed and life struggles shared. I felt accepted and safe.  

I was reminded of the countless times my parents had us hold hands around the kitchen table. This happened with whoever was joining us for dinner, when we needed the Lords’s guidance, or when we were praying for someone who needed prayer. I felt accepted and safe.

Circles of people, circles of prayers. Accepted and safe. 

These were the people my parents chose to surround me with. Faithful, Jesus-loving, people who seeked God with all their heart. These were people who let me sit at their feet, invited me into their discussions, welcomed me to participate, let me ask my questions, and loved me through my attitudes and seasons of growing up.

They were not perfect people. They struggled with life. They went through trials. Some of them lost their way. But these are the people who God used to shape my life. These are the people whose stories and testimonies shaped how I saw God and Jesus. These are the people who have prayed circles in and around my life.  Prayers I am just starting to see answers to. These are the people who I wept to God in gratitude and thanksgiving over.

Somehow, the dishes seemed to get done quicker than I thought. I lingered in the memories as long as I could. I didn’t want to leave. But the call of “Mommmm!!!!” brought me to my next task. I wiped the tears from my eyes and heading into the living room to fulfill some random request. The feeling of overwhelming gratitude remained.

I want my children to have what I had. I want to leave a legacy like my parents have left for me. I want my children to grow up in circles of Godly men and women. To be able to sit at Jesus-loving people’s feet, invited into conversations about faith, feel safe enough to ask questions, sing songs of praises and embrace their part and purpose of the Kingdom of God. I want my children in circles of imperfect people who know they need Jesus, where powerful prayers are prayed, where life struggles are prayed through, where testimonies of God’s faithfulness are declared.

Circle of people, circles of prayers. Where they feel accepted and safe. 

As I write this, I am overwhelmed and weep again. This time for the people currently in our life. Our faithful parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. Our Godly friends. Our intergenerational church family whom I love so much. People who have graciously given us room to grow in our faith and have come alongside us, encouraging us in our parenting and leadership, and loving us unconditionally. People who have welcomed our kids at their tables, fed them, watched over them, given them smiles and a hugs, invited them into prayer circles and to join them in singing songs of praise. Imperfect, Godly men and women, who know they need Jesus, who pray circles around them and encourage them with their words.

Circle of people, circles of prayers. Accepted and safe.   

 


Walking the Way of the Cross

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Good Friday was a good Friday indeed! For the last couple of years our family has joined with members of other churches in our community for a walk down Main Street. We take turns carrying a big wooden cross, singing hymns, stopping along the way to pray for businesses and places of importance in our community.

It’s a time when denominational lines are crossed. Methodists, Catholics, Baptists, Congregationalists, non-denominationalists come together to remember and thank Jesus for His great sacrifice. The focus is on Jesus and our community.

As I followed the cross, watched people take turns carrying it, listened to the happy chatting and the singing around me, and joined in prayer for our town and our neighbors, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with love and peace. When Jesus walked the earth, He lived in community. He created community. He loves community.

Through His suffering and great sacrifice on the cross He became The Way for us to have community and relationship with Him and The Father. When He went to Heaven, He gave us the Holy Spirit as a guide, a helper, to have community with Him. And He left us with a whole community of other believers and followers of Jesus to work together in Kingdom work and provide encouragement for each other.

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This is the community I witnessed yesterday and one I have experienced in my own life. When my burdens have been too much to bear, my sisters and brothers have held me up in prayer and have come alongside me with truth and encouragement. When prayers have been answered, they have celebrated and thanked God with me. When others have crosses of pain, regret, loneliness, suffering and grief, the community of Christ should come alongside to help each bear their crosses. Galatians 6:2 says “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” And when prayers have been answered and hope and love reigns in a situation, we need to be celebrating and praising God together.

Together, in our town, the community and body of Christ are praying and celebrating. We are praying for the peace, love, and the hope that comes from Jesus to shine through us so brightly that others will want to join in community with Him. We are celebrating hope, the blessings, and answers of prayers that chains have been broken and the lost that have been found.

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I am eternally grateful to Jesus for what He has done for me. And I am incredibly thankful I live in a place where churches can come together and we can express our views openly.  I know that others around the world do not have this “luxury” and for them and other communities of believers I am praying for safety and strength. Happy Easter weekend! Peace and grace be with you!


The Joy Bombs

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History has proved New Englanders to be revolutionaries, passionate and determined people, overcomers of all types of difficulties, including wild weather. If there’s one prerequisite to being labeled a “New Englander,” it is the skill of talking about and complaining about the weather. You really can’t blame us. If you have spent any amount of time in New England, you know our weather is unpredictable and always changing. It could be sunny and fifty degrees one day, only to wake up to an outrageous, snowy nor’easter the next. Mark Twain accurately summed up our weather, “If you don’t like the weather in New England now, just wait a few minutes.”

Well, we’ve been waiting more than a few minutes and the weather seems to be stuck on the winter channel. Even though the calendar says it is spring, snow is in the forecast AGAIN. It appears the snow in unaware of proper seasonal boundaries.

My daughter tells me the recent snowstorms are a test of our patience and joy. That’s a great way to look at it. We will persevere and when spring weather FINALLY comes it will be even sweeter. BUT until then, it seems (from Facebook feeds and the word on the street) not everyone feels the same. Most people are pretty bummed about this winter weather and I get it. So, the kids and I thought we should do something about the low morale and cheer people up.  We came up with an idea to go out into our community to help people find some joy and give a few people something else to talk about instead of the weather.

We grabbed some balloons at the dollar store, purchased some cookies and hot chocolate at Walmart, and made bundles of joy (or as my youngest daughter called them, “joy bombs.”) We tied a poem to the package, prayed, and followed wherever the Holy Spirit led us. Our goal was to make people smile and brighten their day.  The following is our “adventure log.”

 

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JOY ADVENTURE LOG:

1.) Left one “joy bomb” by a car in a parking lot.

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2-3.) Brought two “Joy Bombs” to a local breakfast cafe. Asked the waitresses if they would pass them on to two customers. They seemed happy to do so.

4.) Stopped an older couple pumping gas at the gas station.  I am not quite sure if they heard or understood what we were doing (or if they thought that I was slightly off my rocker.) Regardless, they took the cookies, hot chocolate, and the balloon. As I was driving away, I saw a huge smile on the woman’s face as she pointed to the bag and explained something to her husband

5.) Pulled into the parking lot of my hair salon. Saw one woman getting into the car next to us. (Let her get in the car first so the snow did not wreck her freshly styled hair.) Asked her how she felt about the weather. She looked a little suspicious and a bit confused. We explained what we were doing. She said something like, “No, that’s not me. I am fine with the snow.” Well, that’s great! Save “joy bomb” for someone else.

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5.) Left one for Lala, my fabulous hair stylist. I figured Lala would be hearing all about the weather and people’s problems while styling clients’ hair. Asked the receptionist to tell Lala to pass the “joy bomb” on to someone who really needed it.  Will follow-up.

6.) Stopped a dad and his toddler who were walking through a parking lot.Told them the balloon and cookies were just for them. My daughters thought I knew them because of the way I spoke to them. It touched my heart that my daughters observed and commented on this. This project isn’t just about blessing community members but also about meeting the people we share our town with and modeling interactions for my children.

5.) Coffee house. (Seriously, how have I not been to this place before?) Very friendly service and the two young men working the counter happily took the “job bomb” and will be passing it on to someone.  Side note: How cute is this little journal area? I have lots of thoughts and dreams I could add to one of those journals. I will be back soon.

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7.) Brought one to a church family. My girls asked if they could bring it up to the door by themselves. And they did! 🙂

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8., 9., 10. ) Left three at neighbors’ doorsteps. The only other time we come to these doors are to receive something- candy at Halloween. It’s feels good to give and not just receive.

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11. 12. 13.) Town Hall- I gave each kid a “joy bomb” and we walked into town hall. There were three beautiful, friendly, women to receive joy from each child. They were so touched, they gave us balloons leftover from someone’s retirement party. One balloon for each kid and then four more to pass on to others. We happily took them and promised to pass them on. One of the ladies asked if I was the one that did the kindness rocks. I love that connections are being made.

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14. 15. 16) Retirement Home- My girls decided they wanted to give their balloons away to the residents. At first my three-year old was adamant about keeping his balloon and that was completely fine with me. My oldest bent down next to him and quietly explained who and why they were giving their balloons away and before I knew it my son wanted to give his away too! Kindness was multiplying before my eyes and my daughter reminded me of the power and influence of using soft, gentle words. What a blessing this stop was! We walked in and residents’ faces lit up. We stayed for a few minutes and talked with some of them. Then they surprised us with a cookie and told us we were welcome anytime.

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17.) Brought a “joy bomb” to the pastor at the Episcopal Church. I drive and walk by this church often and I always think it would be nice to stop by and say “hi.”  Well, today seemed a good day to do it. 🙂 (Why did I wait so long?)

18.) We brought one to a church friend.

19.) My kids had it on their hearts to bring one to a fellow homeschooling family who lives down the street. We left the “joy bomb” on their step along with the rest of the balloons from town hall. My kids were thrilled that they had some say in this project and their voice mattered.

20.) The final balloon, we brought to a neighbor who we do not know well but know they could use some joy. We left the “joy bomb” at their door.

All twenty “joy bombs” prayed for and delivered. Throughout the morning, I kept thinking about what this adventure was teaching my children. We had inadvertently worked on project management skills, math skills, map skills, conversational skills, and teamwork. We had witnessed the power of prayer and kindness within our interactions with each other and with other people. As a bonus, we met new friends and found new places in our town to visit.

When we pulled into the driveway, one of my daughters said, “Mom, I feel like I have been hugged ten thousand times.”  That’s a pretty great and accurate description of how I felt too. The weather seemed so insignificant when we placed our sights higher and on other things. I don’t think winter weather is quite over yet and that’s okay. It’s a pain to deal with but we are New Englanders. We’ll get through it and how we wait “the few minutes” matters. Let’s try to be cheerful, spread some joy, and help where we can. If you are able, grab an extra shovel and help clean off cars and walkways, take cookies to a neighbor, smile to those you meet. You never know how the smallest interactions will influence someone’s whole day.  Stay warm and stay positive. Spring will be here “soon.” ❤