December 31, 2016: Happy New Year!

Happy New Year’s Eve!  This gate leading to a snowy path reminds me of the start of a brand new year. The “gate” is still closed this evening, but on January 1 it swings wide open, a fresh, clean path ahead.  We have no way of knowing what lies beyond the gate, but with the good Lord always by our side we can proceed with confidence, hope and gratitude.  For God KNOWS the plans he has for us…

My personal commitment to writing “Focus On Blessings” posts is ending today, but I’m excited to step into 2017. Because endings always mean beginnings, right? When I started writing and photographing blessings in 2015, I felt God’s nudges saying, “Go, and I will go with you.” My goal was to devote a full year to this project, which is now complete. I loved this time of intentionally focusing on the good things in life – the blessings – but sensed a change was coming.

About a month ago, I received a call from our pastor asking me to write and manage our church prayer chain.  Yes! Of course!  I did not even hesitate, which is strange for someone who overthinks everything.  My faith writing is now headed in a new direction.  I am opening this next gate in life and walking through it, knowing who is going with me.

“Dear Lord, thank you for every journey you take with us and your assurances of hope and a future. In the new year, help us to be brave every single day, to try new things, to accept with grace whatever comes our way, and to say YES to all you ask of us. Amen!”

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11  FocusOnBlessings.com (Note: My website and my past blog posts will remain “live” for the foreseeable future.)

 

December 25, 2016 – Tidings of Great Joy!

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Luke 2:8-14 KJV  FocusOnBlessings.com

December 21, 2016: Winter Solstice

Today is the Winter Solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year, and also the first day of the winter season.  With the sun’s path in it’s southernmost position, our sun in Iowa rises at 7:38am and sets at 4:47pm, giving us only about nine hours of daylight. For those of you doing the math, this also means nearly 15 hours of darkness. Ugh!

While I love living in the Midwest with four distinct seasons, winter is not my best time.  I consider myself  “solar powered” so the lack of daylight is truly the pits for me. Add cold temperatures and I totally get why bears and other creatures hibernate.  Yet, there is something about the start of a new season that always gives me perspective.  As John Steinbeck once wrote, “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.”

We all go through cold spells in our lives, when we are not sure if the sun will ever shine on us again. But our good Lord assures us it always will. Period. And, just like winters in Iowa, our personal cold snaps can last much longer than we ever hoped. But God is always by our side to warm our hearts and souls during all the seasons of our lives. Through his grace and promises, we can genuinely know the sweetness of coming out on the other side of hard times to appreciate the good times even more.

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”  Genesis 8:22   FocusOnBlessings.com

December 17, 2016: Old Friends

With Mom not getting out and about much these days, I was in a quandary about how to get her to the 90th birthday party of her dear friend, Eileen.  The day was cold and snowy, but I was confident the church walks would be cleared so I bundled Mom up and we headed out. After negotiating parking and navigating mom with her walker, we realized there was a big crowd all waiting to congratulate the birthday girl.  I was worried mom would be overwhelmed and want to leave, but once Eileen spied Mom, it was all worth it! Eileen broke from the lineup to hug Mom. Such joy seeing the two old friends with heads together chatting and laughing was such a reminder of the power of friendship throughout our lives.

I thought about this again while watching the classic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Who doesn’t tear up during the final scene when the guardian angel presents George Bailey with a book inscribed, “No man is a failure who has friends.” Mark Twain

Dear Lord, as we celebrate this Christmas season that is too often overscheduled and commercialized, help us remember to cherish your priceless gift of our friends, both old and new.  Amen!

“A FRIEND loves at all times…” Proverbs 17:17   FocusOnBlessings.com

 

December 4, 2016: Simple Blessings Sundays – God is Near!

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Mom needed to stay in the hospital for a few days, and with her memory not being quite what it used to be, she was often confused about where she was staying.  During my visits, Mom would frequently ask, “Where am I?”  After many explanations and reassurances, I found the most simple answer was the most calming to her,”God is near.”  She would smile and reply, “Yes, I know he is.”

So wherever you may be these days or whatever your circumstances, be reassured that God is always near!

“But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.” Psalm 73:28     FocusOnBlessings.com 

November 20, 2016: Simple Blessings Sundays

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I love Thanksgiving! So I was especially grateful this morning when our talented church choir performed “Thankful.” This contemporary praise song put thankfulness into perspective much better than I ever could, so I’m sharing a portion of the lyrics here. Best wishes for a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

“Some days we forget to look around us. Some days we can’t see the joy that surrounds us. So caught up inside ourselves, we take when we should give. So for tonight we pray for what we know can be. And on this day we hope for what we still can’t see. It’s up to us to be the change. And even though we all can still do more, there’s so much more to be thankful for. Thanks for prayers God answers, thanks for what He does deny. Thanks for storms we’ve weathered, thanks for all God has supplied. Thanks for pain and pleasure, thanks for comfort in despair. Thanks for His grace unmeasured, thanks for love beyond compare!”

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18    FocusOnBlessings.com 

November 13, 2016: Simple Blessings Sundays

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I recently shared one of my favorite verses with a friend, and two of its key words have stayed with me – COME BOLDLY!  It can be hard to ask for help when we need it, and I appreciate that God gets this and the bible doesn’t mince words about what to do. “Let us COME BOLDLY to the very throne of God and stay there to receive his mercy and to find grace to help us in our times of need.” Hebrews 4:16

How much clearer can this be?  No wimps allowed, the good Lord wants us to seek him out and BE BOLD about it. Just as the splendor of these bold fall leaves grabs our attention, our life with Christ can be even more bold and attention grabbing. Even better, he invites us for more than fleeting moments – we may STAY THERE at his throne, to receive his mercy and find grace.  When we need help, it doesn’t get any better than this!

“Let us come BOLDLY to the very throne of God…”  Hebrews 4:16  FocusOnBlessings.com

 

October 30, 2016: Simple Blessings Sundays

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As I sit on my deck watching the leaves fall from the trees, I recall hearing that leaves fall off because the new buds are growing and pushing through – literally, the new pushing away the old.  It reminded me how important it is to do the same thing in our lives – literally pushing away or letting go of negative thoughts, worries about things we cannot control, mistakes we’ve made, or upsetting situations. Fall is a time to pave the way for new growth, just like the good Lord gives us the opportunity for new life and a fresh beginning every single day. For this, we are so blessed!

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:18-19  FocusOnBlessings.com

October 27, 2016: Rivers and Leaves

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Whenever I need a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, a visit to our local river soothes my soul.  Just watching the water flow by, collecting the leaves that are falling from the autumn trees, reminds me of how life flows by, too.

I wish I was better at just going with the flow. Too often it’s easy to get caught up in our own plans and desires that we believe WE are in charge.  But just as those leaves falling in the river are directed by where the water takes them, our lives can be forever changed by letting God direct our ways.  Filmmaker and comedian, Woody Allen, perhaps said it best, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” God does care about our plans, but fortunately he knows what is best for us, if only we trust him.

“Dear Lord, help me to remember that while we can pray to you about our hopes and dreams and desires, you are the one who ultimately directs the flow of our lives. Thank you for your endless patience with me and your daily reminders of your love and care. Amen.”  

“He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'”  John 7:38  FocusOnBlessings

 

 

October 20, 2016: Thirsting for God

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Some days just need a long soak in a bathtub. I know, who has time for this, right?  When my daughters were young, I received some great advice, “When your children are crabby, put them in water.” So I did, and it worked!  So, why can’t this sage advice apply to adults, too? Maybe we NEED to make time for this ritual, just as I did the other night.

With everyone out of the house, I grabbed the chance to fill the tub (and a glass of wine), light some candles and turn off my phone.  Oh, Calgon, take me away! Other than two cats lounging on the edge demanding some attention, it was bliss. Such a simple act, but what a blessing to just soak in warm water and let the crabby day float away.

It makes total sense to me why there are so many references to water in the bible – baptism…water into wine…washing of feet…fountain of life…spring of living water. Not only do our earthly bodies require water, but our souls thirst for that which only the good Lord can provide us.

“…but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give to him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14 NIV   FocusOnBlessings.com