Celebrating Our Freedom

I hope you had a great 4th of July! As Independence Day rolls around every year, it’s a great time to reflect on what freedom means. Despite our differences, we Americans have so much to be thankful for. I am thankful for our freedom and all who have fought for us. God has graciously blessed America!

I certainly don’t want to take any of my freedoms, rights, blessings, or gifts for granted. Sometimes, however, these things can be difficult to define. I suppose each of us has a different perspective on what “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” means. That’s part of what makes America special.

On Sunday, we celebrated our freedom at church. At the core of America’s history is religious freedom. If the first European settlers had not come largely, due to religious persecution, we might not be here.

The United States has had many ups and downs over the years. But regardless of political tension or drama, America remains an exceptional nation. People all around the world come here for better opportunities. Some come for education, safety, a new start, or other reasons.

Both as a nation and as individuals, we are called to be a blessing to others. We have many immigrants who call our church “home.” On Sunday, we extended that blessing to people from twenty-one other nations. They stood up and said which country they are from and we blessed them. It was powerful.

It’s amazing to think that we have so many countries represented in one congregation! Some of these people have become American citizens and some will return to their own countries one day.  As we connect with each other, each interaction has potential to change the world.

As a Christian, I am also a citizen of Heaven. Spiritually speaking, I have even greater freedoms, rights, blessings, and gifts. I also have greater responsibilities to help others in practical ways. Thank You, Jesus.

Lydia and I had a rather low-key holiday, which is fine with me. We slept in! We sat on the deck and relaxed on my new red benches (see pic). I did a little reading, while Lydia played. Then, we enjoyed a bike ride around our neighborhood.

Later, we hung out with our neighbors. Together, we ate dinner, enjoyed the hot weather, and watched neighborhood fireworks around a campfire. We watched a gorgeous sunset of purples, oranges, and pinks.

As we made s’mores, God joined in the celebration. His lightning made an awesome backdrop for the fireworks! Lydia and I walked back home around 11pm, and around midnight, I enjoyed listening to a rain storm.

It was the perfect ending to a great celebration!

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Father God, thank You for blessing our America. Thank You for the freedom we have in Your Son, Jesus. Help us be wise stewards of all you have given us. May we show others Your grace and love. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Questions: What are you doing with your freedom? How can you be a blessing to someone else?

Tasks: Give thanks for your many blessings and freedoms. Look for ways to help others.

Finding Grace #67

I love giving God a shout out for what He has done. We don’t do that nearly enough!

You may have seen the acronym GRACE as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Grace is also God’s unmerited favor, or God doing for us what we cannot.

I find grace overflowing in God’s love, joy, peace, blessings, mercy, power, provision, protection, and wisdom. Thank You, Jesus!

 Where did I find God’s love and favor—His abundant grace—this week?

We had an amazing week! We did so many fun activities and saw a lot of wonderful friends. During the day on Monday, we had friends over to visit. This family has been so helpful and encouraging to us over the years. The husband previously worked with Dave, but the family was relocated a year ago for work. They happened to be in town this week, so we caught up with the mom and three-year-old little girl, while the husband worked.  We were honored to see them!

Later on Monday afternoon, many of the neighborhood kids were outside playing. I had a couple large boxes that they were playing with. I used duct tape to make a playhouse for them, while they decorated it. I’m not sure who had more fun! Then, we played foosball in the garage with a couple of the girls. We played three rounds and each of the three girls (including Lydia) switched teams to play on my side…because my team kept winning. 🙂

On Monday evening, I cut my friend’s hair. It was fun to help her and we were pleased with the results. I’m glad she trusted me so much! (I finally did mention about cutting my dog’s hair as a teenager.) By God’s grace, I have kicked perfectionism to the curb!

We had some severe thunderstorms throughout the day on Tuesday. No major damage was done to my property, praise God, but two of my trees were hit by a trampoline that blew in from a couple houses over. Mainly, the stakes took the brunt of the force, and the trees were merely scraped. I would not have believed what happened if another neighbor hadn’t taken a video! Thankfully, the owner of the trampoline came to retrieve it and helped me re-stake the trees. We reviewed the slight damage on the trees and agreed to keep an eye on them. I don’t think they will need to be replaced, but I was glad my neighbor was gracious to help. That’s being ‘Fargo friendly!’

Several friends watched Lydia for me this week (on top of paying for daycare, like usual) so I could get things done. Thanks to the generosity of my friends, I was able to finish up some work duties, write, and run a few errands. I always try to return the favor somehow, or at least pay it forward.

It’s great to have friends who don’t keep ‘score’ but both sides always continue to give generously. A couple summers ago, a neighbor friend had given me a plastic sandbox for Lydia. I decided to get rid of it recently, so this neighbor helped me sell it online. We decided to put the money in our mutual ‘pizza fund’ for those times we eat together. We also swapped kids back and forth, shared meals together with everyone bringing something, and enjoyed s’mores around a campfire. One neighbor oiled our bike chains and get them in better shape. I even met a couple new neighbor girls today when they came over to borrow a cup of sugar. I’m thankful to be a part of a great community!

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These are only a few examples, but God’s grace never runs out!

There’s grace in every situation we just need to look for it. God promises if we seek Him, we will find Him (see Jeremiah 29:13)!

Summer Hours

This summer is already off to a great start. I don’t know what it is, but I am feeling super relaxed lately. The funny thing is that I actually am just as ‘busy’ as usual, but I don’t notice the stress. My activities and responsibilities haven’t changed much, but I have switched gears and taken a hiatus from certain activities so I can focus on others.

I generally enjoy each season for what it brings–even winter. But, summer is special because everything just seems easier and there is more time for fun adventures. Routine chores like washing dishes become more simple thanks to outdoor picnics and grilling. Laundry seems to take less time too. Yay for shorts, t-shirts, sandals, and swimming suits!

Summer break doesn’t just apply to school kids. Many families change their schedules, but most colleges and some businesses also have ‘summer hours.’ They may open and close earlier, or take certain days off. Work time is condensed, and play time lasts longer!

I love summer hours because I am reminded me of how good it is to rest in the Lord. Indeed, the long summer days are full of God’s grace. Here in Fargo, at the peak of summer, it is light out until around 10:30pm. Of course, the warm weather and beautiful, sunny skies help. Time almost seems to stand still.

I love how summer reflects God’s goodness in our lives. Last night after dinner, I saw a little bird called a “tree swallow.” The male is dark iridescent blue, with dark wings and a white chest, while the female is brown and white. I’d never seen one before this week, so it took me by surprise. I couldn’t identify the female using my bird book and binoculars… But, thankfully, the male stayed put for more than twenty minutes. It was so cool, and it felt like these little visitors were a gift from the Lord.

The beauty of summer is seen in the flowers it brings. I like flowers that are pretty but don’t take a lot of maintenance. But there are many beautiful kinds! I even enjoy seeing the prairie grass sway in the breeze. It reminds me that God’s love is wild and free.

Summer means traveling to see family, but also spending time with friends and neighbors. Summer is a time of generosity and abundance! It means sharing food, sun screen, water toys, and pool time with each other. It also means popsicles, watermelon, swimming, baseball games, and impromptu campfires.

Of course, summer also brings things that can make us uncomfortable, like heat and mosquitos. Sometimes, the heat warrants a retreat indoors to the air conditioning. But, most often, we learn to deal with it in creative ways. A good reminder about life in general.

I love being outside and catching up with my neighbors. So I bought some new outdoor chairs this week to replace some older, rather uncomfortable folding chairs we’d been using. I’ve also been thinking…God has summer hours, too. Yet, His timing is way better than we can ever imagine. He is always with us and sustains us from day to day, season to season. And from where I sit, it’s easy to see that He loves to take good care of us.

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Praise God, thank You for summer! Each morning shows us Your faithfulness. May we turn our eyes and heart to You when we see the beauty You have created. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Questions: What is your favorite part of summer? What are you currently thankful for?

Tasks: Find one new way to relax this week! Invite a friend or neighbor to join you!

Finding Grace #62

I love giving God a shout out for what He has done.
We don’t do that nearly enough!

You may have seen the acronym GRACE as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Grace is also God’s unmerited favor, or God doing for us what we cannot.

I find grace overflowing in God’s love, joy, peace, blessings, mercy, power, provision, protection, and wisdom. Thank You, Jesus!

Where did I find God’s love and favor—His abundant grace—this week?

This week we got back into our routine after our road trip. As we returned to Fargo, I noticed bright whites, stunning pinks, and deep purples on all the flowering trees in the community. I don’t have any on my property, but I always enjoy seeing them around. Maybe I will have to buy one for next year!

At my own house, I noticed my maple trees all had new leaves. My tulips also bloomed while I was gone! My neighbor sent me a picture while I was gone, but they are even more pretty in person!

Many of us neighbors have been out in our yards this week. It’s been fun to see all the kids playing again. A year older, they are a little more developed in their social and playing skills. I’m excited for another outdoor season! Today it is in the 80s so the kids are playing with buckets of water, bobbing for apples, and playing in the neighbors’ slip-n-slide!

Today, I mowed for the first time this season. I should have mowed before our road trip last week… but didn’t. So parts of the yard were so high that Lydia and the neighbor kids thought it was wheat. It was ready to sprout! I laughed when one neighbor girl took a pile of the grass home and asked her mom to put her “wheat” in a vase with water. 😉

Finally, this week we traded child care duties with one of the neighbor families, which was really helpful and fun! We each took turns with school pick up and drop off. One night I had a work meeting so they watched Lydia after feeding us a yummy dinner. Then the next night, I watched their boys for a few hours while they had a nice night out.

I’m so thankful for God’s grace!

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These are only a few examples, but God’s grace never runs out!

There’s grace in every situation we just need to look for it. God promises if we seek Him, we will find Him (see Jeremiah 29:13)!

Finding Grace #57

I love the concept of giving God a shout out for what He has done.

We don’t do that nearly enough!

You may have seen the acronym GRACE as “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” Grace is also God’s unmerited favor, or God doing for us what we cannot. I find grace overflowing in God’s love, joy, peace, blessings, mercy, power, provision, protection, and wisdom. Thank You, Jesus!

Where did I find God’s love and favorHis abundant grace—this week?

This week was good overall! We enjoyed a birthday pool party for a little family friend on Monday. She was born about six weeks before Dave died, so she is quite special to us. We’ve enjoyed seeing her learn and grow over the years. It was fun catching up with her parents and older siblings as well.

We’ve had a beautiful week weather-wise! It was bright and sunny most days, and I happily wore shorts on a few occasions. On Thursday afternoon, I sat outside with a couple neighbors while our kids played together. A few other neighbor kids joined us for riding bikes and scooters, chalk on the sidewalk, snacks, running around, and other shenanigans. An exciting early start to summer!

One highlight of my week was enjoying the serenade of a little finch 3+ days in a row. At first, I thought he was a purple finch. However, later I decided he might be a house finch. Either way, he was red/brown and quite cute. He sang his heart out, without a care in the world! As I listened, I remembered God sees and cares for every detail of our lives.

Lastly, Lydia lost her first tooth! She diligently wiggled it all week and last night, just before bed, it came out. She was very proud of herself. We plan to get some frozen yogurt as a special treat to celebrate this milestone!

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These are only a few examples, but God’s grace never runs out!

There’s grace in every situation—we just need to look for it. God promises if we seek Him, we will find Him (see Jeremiah 29:13)!

Finding Grace #45

I love the concept of giving God a shout out for what He has done.

We don’t do that nearly enough!

You may have seen the acronym GRACE as “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” Grace is also God’s unmerited favor, or God doing for us what we cannot. I find grace overflowing in God’s love, joy, peace, blessings, mercy, power, provision, protection, and wisdom. Thank You, Jesus!

Where did I find God’s love and favor—His abundant grace—this week?

I hope you’ve been staying warm this week! I always appreciate those days where we can stay home when it’s cold, snowy, and blowy. But each day this week, Lydia and I needed to be somewhere (work, school, errands, etc). I’m thankful for my reliable car with all-wheel drive…and for all the years I spent commuting to work during Illinois winters! Praise God for His safety and protection!

I can already tell this is going to be an interesting year. I’m excited for all the possibilities, but know I will need to keep a prayerful attitude. Already this week, I have had to make some small, but impactful decisions. Like always, I’m praying for wisdom and clarity, along with courage to do whatever I need to do (depending on the decision). I’m thankful for God’s input and His provision.  I also appreciate my family and friends who sometimes act as “sounding boards” and help me filter my thoughts! Thanks!

On Thursday evening, I babysat for a family across the street while the parents went to a show. We had a blast! The boys and Lydia were all well-behaved, despite the late night. It was fun to observe their interactions, while playing with stickers, the Light Brite, etc. They even let me play Go Fish and watch their dance party! I was glad to help, and the next evening we were invited for a visit (and dinner!) at their house. I’m thankful for great neighbors!

Today, on our way home from the store, it was about 11 degrees above zero. Heat wave! The sun felt so warm, I nearly had to take off my heavy winter coat while driving. It was wonderful! This next week should be warmer still (in the twenties and lower thirties). I hope to get more time to play in the snow. We have a to-scale version of Mt. Everest just beyond the backyard that keeps calling my name!

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These are only a few examples, but God’s grace never runs out!

There’s grace in every situation—we just need to look for it. God promises if we seek Him, we will find Him (see Jeremiah 29:13)!

Finding Grace #44

I love the concept of giving God a shout out for what He has done.

We don’t do that nearly enough!

You may have seen the acronym GRACE as “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” Grace is also God’s unmerited favor, or God doing for us what we cannot. I find grace overflowing in God’s love, joy, peace, blessings, mercy, power, provision, protection, and wisdom. Thank You, Jesus!

Where did I find God’s love and favor—His abundant grace—this week?

We had a great first week of 2017! Lydia started her second ‘semester’ of preschool, and I had a normal work week. I also enjoyed meeting with a friend and praying for God’s work in this new year. Despite the frigid temperatures, we still had a full week of activities. It didn’t stop us from enjoying God’s ever-present grace!

We had a little health scare in our neighborhood this week, complete with two police cars and two ambulances. Everything is fine now, but one of our little friends had a bad reaction to his nebulizer breathing treatment. The medical team was unsure of why that happened. I reached out to see if I could help, but it was under control. Our little friend enjoyed the ambulance ride so much he wanted to do it all over again! We are getting together tonight for dinner, and by God’s grace, he is doing well!

Today, I am celebrating 9 years since Dave and I got married. We only made it to 5+ years, but I am thankful for the time we had together.  On this 4th anniversary without him, we just enjoyed a relaxing day. Lydia and I went to story time at the bookstore. Also today, a friend helped me replace and reinstall rope lighting above the kitchen cabinets. And, of course, tonight we are hanging out with our neighbors.

Dave and I were married on the cruise ship, Majesty of the Seas (pictured above). We had a wonderful time with about 40 of our closest friends and family (at the time). This year, I am not sad, but instead am treasuring all the memories. God has been so good to me!

It’s a beautiful day, praise God!

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These are only a few examples, but God’s grace never runs out!

There’s grace in every situation—we just need to look for it. God promises if we seek Him, we will find Him (see Jeremiah 29:13)!

Finding Grace #39

I love the concept of giving God a shout out for what He has done.

We don’t do that nearly enough!

You may have seen the acronym GRACE as “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” Grace is also God’s unmerited favor, or God doing for us what we cannot. I find grace overflowing in God’s love, joy, peace, blessings, mercy, power, provision, protection, and wisdom. Thank You, Jesus!

poinsettia

Where did I find God’s love and favor—His abundant grace—this week?

  • This has been a busy, but good week. I rearranged a few things in my “normal” schedule, to give me more flexibility in other areas. Besides my regular work hours and Lydia’s preschool schedule, I had a deadline this week, three extra meetings with various people, an oil change, and Lydia’s annual well-check at the doctor. So while they were all good events, it took some creative planning!
  • When my dad was here visiting last week, he noticed a hazardous problem with my garage door. He temporarily fixed it, but didn’t have all the right tools. So, I promised to have someone look at it. I asked my neighbor for a reference, and he suggested someone. Thankfully, the man came right away and was able to fix it promptly, so no more damage occurred! Praise God, it was an inexpensive repair!
  • My other neighbors gave us a pair of ice hockey tickets yesterday to watch the local team play. Lydia and I had so much fun! We hadn’t been to a hockey game in almost two years, so this time, Lydia really got to enjoy the experience and atmosphere. She cheered, danced trying to get a t-shirt, and asked a million questions! We were so thankful for the opportunity!
  • Today, Lydia and I went bowling with another dear family. My friend, Amy, is a widow like me, so we try to get together regularly and support each other. We had a great time with the kids, and we enjoyed good conversation. I always leave encouraged that someone else understands the ups-and-downs of our journey!

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These are only a few examples, but God’s grace never runs out!

There’s grace in every situation—we just need to look for it. God promises if we seek Him, we will find Him (see Jeremiah 29:13)!

Where did YOU see or experience God’s grace this week?

A Shield Around Me

Welcome to November! I can hardly believe we are two months from 2017!

This week I have been feeling a little under-the-weather. I’m not sure if it is allergies, or not getting enough sleep, or planting 50 flower bulbs on Sunday for next spring. The tulips and irises should be beautiful if they come up, but the digging and planting left me sore!

It probably doesn’t help that I’ve been staying up late watching the Cubs in the World Series. Wow, it’s been a historic run on several levels! But, it certainly has been a little stressful at times! 🙂 Go Cubbies!

candy

Halloween was fun, but I have mixed feelings about this holiday, and am usually glad when it’s over. I don’t like the scary nature of it, and hate seeing ugly creatures everywhere. But I do enjoy when the kids dress up. And, it’s always fun to see neighbors and greet people!

Candy or not, we should do that more often!

Indeed, I was extra proud of Lydia on Monday night. She dressed up as a fairy this year, and we trick-or-treated with neighbors on our block. Lydia was eager to pass out candy at home, as well. In fact, she was so generous that she worried we’d run out. My little problem solver, she added her own stash of candy… and nearly gave it all away! I had her keep some of her favorites (pictured above), but was glad to see her giving heart!

This week, we’ve had a few more back-to-back early mornings and late nights. All good things, but it does add up. Thankfully, each morning is a new start!

Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I entrust my life” (Psalm 143:8).

I’m also aware of the fact that the holidays are fast approaching. Last year this season was pretty rough for me (emotionally). I think there were a unique set of reasons it was difficult, and I am hoping this year is better. Thanks for your prayers!

wooden-heart-with-cross

I love what Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” I think of this verse often. When I am tired or stressed, or not feeling well physically, my thoughts and emotions can quickly become off-kilter.

So, with all the above, I have been drawing closer to the Lord. When I need a little boost, the best thing I can do is come to Him. His grace is sweet and His love has no bounds!

Lately, I have been taking mini-breaks from whatever I am doing, just to sit and be with Jesus. In these moments, when I am prone to doubt or discouragement, I need extra doses of His love. I might just sit and soak up His word. Or, I might pray, write, cry, or sing.

But one thing is clear: I need to reconnect with the Lord! Jesus comforts and encourages me. He restores and protects my wayward heart. He leads me and gives me peace.

psalm-3_3

I have found The Secret Power of Speaking God’s Word, by Joyce Meyer, to be helpful. This little book has scriptures organized by about fifty topics. There are many categories, like anxiety, worry, stress, or determination, etc.

A book like that makes scripture verses easy to find and meditate upon.

“Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!”

–Psalm 27:14

The sooner I come to Jesus, the faster I am able to refocus and regroup. He is the only thing that does not change in this unpredictable world.

He is my Anchor, my Shield and my Strong Defender! Praise the Lord!

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Lord Jesus, thanks for all You do for me. Please help me rest in Your love and grace. Remind me to come You for refreshment, and seek You first. In Your Name, Amen

Question:  What is your go-to response to stress?

Task: At the very first sign of distress, stop and seek Jesus!

Finding Grace #34

I love the concept of giving God a shout out for what He has done.

We don’t do that nearly enough!

You may have seen the acronym GRACE as “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.” Grace is also God’s unmerited favor, or God doing for us what we cannot. I find grace overflowing in God’s love, joy, peace, blessings, mercy, power, provision, protection, and wisdom. Thank You, Jesus!

fall-scene

Where did I find God’s love and favor—His abundant grace—this week?

  • It’s been a relatively relaxing week, so Lydia and I have done special activities throughout the week. We’ve enjoyed watching the World Series, and I’ve been trying to teach Lydia about baseball. In the kitchen we made a few new recipes, including butternut squash noodles and arugula pesto. Yum! On Wednesday, she dressed up as a rocker-princess (or something like that!) for a kids’ party at church. We played and chatted with neighbors outside. Then today, we practiced roller-blading in the garage and rode on a Ferris wheel at Scheels (a large outdoors store, with other fun family activities). We might make cookies tonight during the next Cubs game 🙂
  • On Wednesday, I joined a class at church, studying a DVD series by Dr. Caroline Leaf. She’s a cognitive neuroscientist (aka brain researcher) and the information she shared was quite fascinating. I was in awe at the science showing how the human brain works. To think most of us use less than 1% of our brain, but we have millions of years of potential brain “storage”…it’s compelling if you consider we have all of eternity to praise God and know Him!
  • Otherwise, it was an insightful week for me. There were a couple of days where God showed me some not-so-pleasant areas where I need to grow change. Yet, in His grace, each time when I felt convicted of a bad attitude, etc., He showed me mercy and love. All throughout the week, I received well-timed hugs, phone calls, texts, and cards in the mail. I even received amazing pumpkin bars, homemade salsa and applesauce, as well as garden veggies from my neighbor and her mom. (Thanks!!) Instead of feeling discouraged, I felt loved—thankful that the Lord cares so much about me to gently correct me and help me move forward to Victory.

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These are only a few examples, but God’s grace never runs out!

There’s grace in every situation—we just need to look for it. God promises if we seek Him, we will find Him (see Jeremiah 29:13)!

Where did YOU see or experience God’s grace this week?