Thanks Giving: for our veterans

blogDSCN8280This flag waves and unfurls itself in the wind as it flies outside the home of an American patriot or on a flagpole located at a government building, school, or office building.  A flurry of red, white, and blue also flutters in the cold, crisp November wind in a quiet cemetery.

This flag is displayed every day of the year, not just on holidays like Memorial Day, Flag Day, the Fourth of July, or today – Veteran’s Day.  It represents not just this great country but all those who have protected it, guarded it, and in many cases, given their lives for it.

And this flag sometimes moves me to tears.  My husband is a veteran of U.S. military service and although he did not see combat during his time in the military, he most ardently would have given his all for his country and his very life had he been given the opportunity to do so. 

At Sunday worship in our church, our veterans were asked to stand and be appreciated for their service and as I gazed around the sanctuary noting the men standing there, including my own husband, I had to fight back tears.  We owe these fine people so much.

I wonder how often we truly are thankful for our veterans and give them the honor and respect they deserve.  We often see soldiers in uniform in public places but how many times do we approach them to shake their hand and thank them for what they do for us?

I am just as guilty as anyone for failing to do so  and I know first-hand the sacrifices our military men and women make.  And as I give thanks for all our veterans on this 11th day of November in my 30 days of thanks giving, I’m reminded of something I witnessed a few years ago when my husband and I were on a trip.  

We had boarded our flight and settled into our seats in the coach section of the plane when a soldier in uniform boarded and sat in front of us.  A few minutes later, a well-dressed suited businessman emerged from the first class section of the plane, walked back the coach aisle, and stopped in front of the soldier.  

Quietly and without fanfare, he shook hands with the young serviceman, spoke privately with him, and then traded seats with him.  That businessman gave up his first class seat so that soldier could enjoy a privilege the businessman probably uses every time he flies.  And I have never forgotten that act of kindness and honor shown to a vet that day.

As I gaze at Old Glory flying high on this day set aside to honor and appreciate our veterans, she reminds me to express my gratefulness to every man and woman who sacrifice so much to keep our freedoms intact.

Thank you to each and every veteran for nobly serving our country and keeping us free.  We owe everything we have to you.  May God bless you and hold you safely in the palm of His hand.

“This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave.”  ~ Elmer Davis

©2014 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

Thanks Giving: for freedom to worship

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On this second Sunday of November, I pause to give thanks for church – a public place of worship, a place where I can gather with my fellow believers, study the Bible, pray, and worship the God I believe in when millions of people around the world must do the same in secret. 

While they must hide away from governing authorities and worship, pray, and study underground because their belief in Christ is dangerous and their worship of the one true God threatens their very existence, their home, their families, I am free to publicly declare my faith and worship how I want, when I want, with whom I want.

May I never take that freedom for granted not just in my 30 days of thanks giving but always.

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” ~ Hebrews 12:28 ESV

©2014 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

 

Thanks Giving: for the gift of song

It’s day eight into my 30 days of thanks giving.  As I dig deeper and deeper into this month-long November blogging project, so many aspects of life for which to be thankful come to my mind.  Yet the realization that others have so little when I have so much tugs at my heart and calls for a change.  And the despair and disappointment that often describe our world threatens to dampen my thankful spirit.  How to put it all into words can be a struggle.  

That’s why today, I’m thankful for the gift of song.

I’m sharing a video of a song sung by Josh Groban (and isn’t his amazing singing voice something to give thanks for?) because it portrays my thoughts today.  

There’s so much to be thankful for.

©2014 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Thanks Giving: for pen pals

blogpic5Our paths crossed in fifth grade and even though we had not met in person we became friends. 

She lived in the Midwest; I lived in the Northeast.  We ‘met’ via a Sunday School take home paper which featured a column where children could write in requesting a pen pal. I saw her request one Sunday afternoon reading my paper at home after church and decided to write her a letter.  I was so very excited when she wrote back as I’ve always loved getting mail.

That connection commenced a 50-year-long friendship in hand-written letters.

My pen pal and I wrote about life in the eyes of a tween age girl: school, family, grades, television shows, pets, likes and dislikes.  By the time we became teenagers, we added topics of boys, who we liked, who we wanted to date, clothes, fads, music, and what movie or recording stars we had crushes on in our letters to one another.

We were the same age and our birthdays were just a few days apart so we always sent each other birthday greetings.  When we graduated from high school, we sent each other cards with a graduation charm taped inside to add to our charm bracelets which were all the rage at the time.  I still have my circle of silver and can show you exactly which charm came from my pen pal friend.

Both of us headed off to college yet we still managed to write to one another.  She left school early to get married and her military husband took her to places she probably never dreamed of living when she was a young girl growing up outside of a small town.  I married after college and the same life ensued for me.  Still with all the changes and moves across the country, we never lost track of one another and continued to communicate by mail.

We celebrated the birth of our children, sending each other baby gifts.  In between writing snippets of our lives, we traded baby photos, then school photos as our children grew up.  I cheered her on when she went back to college to finish her degree. We always told each other that someday we would meet in person.  By the time my family moved to the Midwest, within driving distance of where my pen pal came from, she lived on the West Coast.  By the time we moved to the West Coast, she again lived in the Midwest.

On one occasion we thought our paths would cross in person and we would finally get to meet but the stars didn’t align properly that time.   After all of these years, she again lives in the Midwest and I am back where I started from – my hometown.

Yet we still keep in touch.  Once a year we write each other newsy letters and tuck them into our Christmas greetings to each other.  And even though we’ve never seen each other in person, I consider my pen pal my friend.

Writing letters has become passé it seems.  Emails and texting have taken their place and that does sadden me.  But this age of technology has provided me with more pen pals in a way.  I have been blessed to ‘meet’ and develop some of the dearest friendships through writing ‘letters’ yet again – right here in Mama’s Empty Nest.

So as part of my 30 days of thanks giving, I’m so very grateful for my ‘pen pals.’  “I thank my God every time I remember you.  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy…”  ~ Philippians 1:3-4

And even though we haven’t met in person (yet), these friends bless me with their friendship through comments and personal letters that just don’t come in my real mailbox but in my virtual one.   I am thankful for each one of them. 

“Friends are like bracelet charms.  If you truly love and enjoy your friends, they are part of the golden circlet that makes life good.” ~ Unknown

©2014 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Thanks Giving – for smiles and laughter

blogheart cookieSmiling and its cousin laughter are contagious. 

A simple smile at a stranger might be the only bright spot of his day.  Shared laughter at a silly story or joke might make the only time she felt joy that week.

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” ~  Mother Teresa

I give smiles and I receive them but how often am I grateful for them? Our family loves to laugh and we share funny tidbits with each other often. Congregating all together in one place finds us smiling and laughing uproariously because we have a couple of real jokesters in the family that make us guffaw.

In chronicling my 30 days of thanks giving, I remember an incident that made my heart thankful a few years ago when I  caused a little boy to smile bringing joy not just to me but to other children as well.    

At my former job, I traveled to schools both public and private, and presented programs primarily to middle and high school aged students.   Once at an event, my young colleague and I spoke to rounds of teens about making good choices for a healthy future.  In between chats with them, elementary students also made the rounds among the exhibitor tables.  My co-worker, a young man with no children, looked panicked for a brief moment at the thought of having to interact with little people instead of cool teenagers.   But the mom mode in this empty nest mama reemerged at the sight of those little ones.

An entire class of youngsters marched single file past us and stood in line for a game beside us.  While they waited to play, I greeted them and asked what grade they were in.  “Second grade!” came the jubilant reply from two or three of them.  But the little boy directly in front of me did not answer, just looked at me and frowned.

“Second grade?!”  I exclaimed.  “You’re getting so old!”  I made an exaggerated face.  And they all laughed.  Except frowny boy.  He scowled at me.

Aha, a challenge.  So I eyed him up and commented,  “You don’t look happy to be here like your friends are.”  He scowled a little deeper.  The sweet little girl next to him said, “Oh, he’s always like that, he NEVER smiles!”

“Never?”  I peered at him as his frown grew worse.  “Ever?”  I asked getting down on one knee to his level and looking right into his cute little face.  He knitted his brow, pursed his lips, and his frown morphed into a really grouchy one.

So I, of course, made a grumpy face back at him.  He answered my grimace with an even sterner look which I then matched and used both of my pointer fingers to pull my frown down even more.  His classmates giggled.   Just then I saw a fleeting glimpse of a smile start at the edge of his mouth which he promptly turned into an even greater frowny face.

“Oh no!!!” I said pulling my own frowny face down as far as it would go.   “I think we’ll have to start crying now!”  I wailed. And all of a sudden, he couldn’t maintain the grouchy grumps any longer.  His lips started to quiver as he tried so hard not to give way to a smile, but he burst into not just a smile, but a little laugh out loud.

“You made him smile!!” his classmates yelled.  “No one ever makes him smile!”  And they laughed, and he laughed, and I laughed.  And then he put his grumpy Gus right back on his cute little face.

Inspirational writer Mary H. Waldrip said, “A laugh is a smile that bursts.”  And for one brief moment, when that little guy’s smile burst into a laugh,  his heart became glad and that did wonders for mine.  I want to try a little experiment during my 30 days of thanks giving project.  I’m going to attempt to smile at every grumpy face I encounter.  

And I’ll be thankful, even if they don’t smile back, because I can smile.

“It takes a lot of work from the face to let out a smile, but just think what good smiling can bring to the most important muscle of the body… the heart.”  ~ Author Unknown

©2014 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Thanks Giving: for the migraine

blogquote1What power do a mere set of words have? Tremendous power when they become a catalyst for change.

On the first post of my 30 days of thanks giving, I promised to share the story of why a particular set of words, the very words that challenged me to begin this monthly project, changed my outlook.

Years ago, our family lived in the Pacific Northwest and we attended a small, evangelical church.  Being newcomers we eagerly got involved with our family of God and began participating in musical productions there.  Papa loved to sing and music has always been an integral part of my life.

Every year at Easter, our church presented a dramatic, musical pageant telling the life of Christ and His sacrifice for us on the cross through drama and song. We practiced many long hours learning the music, helping build sets, and assisting with various aspects of the production.  One particular year, our family of five – my husband, our three children, and I – were all in the program.  I was one of the few who sang alto and since I’ve always enjoyed singing and performing, it satisfied my ‘inner actress.’

We had already performed the pageant on Good Friday and Saturday evening but expected an even larger crowd for the Easter Sunday morning program.   I eagerly anticipated this last presentation because we had invited friends to attend.

And then it happened.  I woke up Easter Sunday morning around 5 a.m. with one doozy of a headache.  I groggily made my way out of bed and popped some medication.  It didn’t help.

If anything, my headache worsened and then my stomach started churning.  The pain was so intense, dizziness ensued, and as I scurried to the bathroom to ease my nausea, I realized I had a full-blown migraine headache.

Not today!  I prayed.  I begged God to take the excruciating pain and sick stomach away.  I cried, I moaned, and in my mind I was screaming, “Why me?  Why today?”

Instead of feeling better, I got worse.  I couldn’t even stand upright but was relegated to my bed while my husband and children prepared to leave for church and perform in the pageant I so longingly wanted to be in.

After they left, I curled up in my bed gripping my pounding head and weeping.  Why did this happen today of all days?  Why did it happen to me?

The phone ringing on the nightstand jarred me out of my misery.  The harsh sound seemed to make my head pound even more as I crawled across the bed to answer it. The soothing, calm voice of a close friend from church greeted me.

Learning from my husband that I was suffering with a horrible migraine, something she often experienced as well, she called before the program commenced.  She sympathized with me, assured me that I was truly missed, but then she did something that totally startled me.

She prayed with me on the phone.  Of course, she asked God to relieve my suffering and pain, but she prayed words that Easter morning that I have never forgotten and I don’t believe I ever will.

She thanked God for my migraine headache.  What?!  My groggy brain thought I wasn’t hearing her correctly.  Did my friend just thank God for my pain?  For my suffering?  For the fact that I couldn’t participate in praising the Lord on Resurrection Day? That I was missing the opportunity to perform those songs I had practiced so long?

Yes, she did.  Her words are etched in my mind.  She prayed, “Lord, we don’t always understand the things that happen or why they happen but we know you have a reason.  And your Word tell us that we should…”

And then she recited this passage of scripture as she prayed over me that Easter morning: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in ALL circumstances (even for headaches), for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Okay, I’m human.  You know what I was thinking during all of this, don’t you?  ARE YOU KIDDING ME??  Be thankful for a throbbing migraine headache that was causing me not to be able to see straight and making me throw up?  Be thankful that I couldn’t perform in a program I had spent many hours preparing for? Be thankful that I wasn’t with my family on the most glorious day of the year celebrating the resurrection of Jesus? HUH?? Was she a crazy nut?  A religious fanatic?

My mind couldn’t wrap around why she prayed over those particular verses.  But weeks later, as I pondered my friend’s prayer and read that scripture passage again…and again…its truth sunk into my soul. And that passage of scripture eventually changed my outlook and became my ‘go-to’ verses for life because I finally realized that even painful or difficult circumstances can be used by God to bring us closer to Him, to seek Him, rely on Him.

Today on this third day of my 30 days of thanks giving, I give thanks for that circumstance over 20 years ago because it changed my way of thinking.  It changed my life. I give thanks for a wise friend who followed God’s leading to call me and pray His Word with me.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to share my story. And I am thankful for that migraine headache.

“Our prayers are answered not when we are given what we ask but when we are challenged to be what we can be.” ~ Morris Adler

©2014 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com