Cold hands, warm heart

This often-quoted line came to my mind yesterday morning: “From your mouth to God’s ears,” meaning may you be blessed with that for which you asked. 

What prompted that thought? Dazzling, eye-squinting sunshine! It’s what I’ve longed for to gladden my mood and provide impetus to pull myself out of my January doldrums during this dismal month after days upon days of overcast, bleak skies.

Unlike a lot of folks, I really don’t mind winter weather unless it’s lacking sunshine and snow cover. Frigid weather, accompanied by brilliant sunshine and snowflakes, invigorates me and you might compare me to Elsa from the Disney animated film, Frozen, which I’ve watched more times with my grandchild than I care to count.

“The cold never bothered me anyway.” ~Elsa

I’m one of those strange souls who still uses ice cubes in my daily glasses of water even during the winter season. And iced tea remains a staple in our refrigerator throughout the cold months of the year. I recently liked finding an ice “sculpture” which had formed on a mug of iced tea when it somehow got pushed to the very back of our fridge overnight.

So yes, I like cold weather, cold drinks, and the sensation of being cold instead of overwhelmed by heat and humidity. All of that may be a leftover from my menopausal days of yore when I felt like I would spontaneously combust into flames most of the time.

One morning this week, we awakened to a blanket of white covering the landscape and even though skies were drab, our Little One (who had a day off school) was excited about playing in the snow. Especially fun was breaking out the snow stompers Papa and I had recently purchased for our grandchildren to enjoy at our house during a snowy season.

The stompers attached to snow boots create tracks that look like either a dinosaur or a monster (depending on what she fancies at the time) and our grandchild had fun making tracks on our sidewalk and in the snow, which brought much needed laughter and smiles on my account. 

The next day, more snowfall made glistening by a beaming orb of light in an azure-colored sky greeted me when I opened the window blinds. Snow and sunshine. Makes me happy.

I just had to step out onto our front porch to capture the sun. Even though the air was chilly and snow covered the ground and shrubs, the sunshine warmed my face which in turn, warmed my heart. You know, “cold hands, warm heart.

Winter days like that help me get through the January blues, which for me are grays.

“You can’t get too much winter in the winter.” ~ Robert Frost

©2021 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

A wonderful life

It was a much-needed reminder – a kind of writing on the wall, so to speak.

As much as I’ve tried to stay positive, encouraging, and upbeat during the majority of this past year, I have to confess I’ve experienced moments of discouragement, tinges of melancholy, and my heart has been heavy.

Even though January provides a fresh new start of another year of life on this spinning planet of ours, it’s often a difficult month to muddle through – at least for me. First of all, it’s often a bleak, colorless period of time since it’s winter and we don’t receive an abundance of sunshine. Secondly, it’s a long month – all 31 days long. And lastly, it’s always a bit of a let-down from joyfully celebrating holidays prior to it.

Toss in the isolation and restrictions of the pandemic, the depressing news, and sometimes…sometimes…it just gets the best of me. Especially since Papa and I couldn’t enjoy either Thanksgiving or Christmas with our entire family gathered around.

For me, faith is foremost in my life, then family. And without all of my family (most of whom we haven’t seen in person since last summer), the holidays just didn’t seem like the festive occasions they should be, even though my thoughts were on thankfulness for God’s blessings and for the greatest gift of all – His Son Jesus.

Even so, instead of feeling blue, I’ve been feeling gray. Drab, dreary, gloomy gray. Facetime and Zoom meetings are great and all, but they are not a fulfilling substitute for hugging your children and grandchildren. Text messages may serve a purpose but don’t take the place of sitting down with a friend face-to-face and conversing. Not being able to get-together with friends and extended family increases the downheartedness.

Because of circumstances beyond our control, my life-long friend (pals since age 6) and I have not continued our daily morning walks for exercise since before Christmas. Those walks not only benefitted me physically but mentally and emotionally as well because we spent our hour of walking conversing about all kinds of life aspects. And I miss that.

But in order to stay active and get outside in fresh (albeit it cold) air, Papa began accompanying me on morning walks. I love my husband, I truly do, but when you are confined to your home 24/7 with your spouse, you begin running out of things to discuss. So, our walks are mostly silent ones.

Finally, one day this month, I declared the need to “get out of town!” So, Papa and I decided a little road trip was in order. We are so thankful to live in a rural area where we can just drive around in our car without mingling with a lot of other people.

With a definite destination in mind, we left after lunch one rare sunny day and enjoyed a leisurely drive, spending the entire afternoon doing so. A change of scenery, even in the dead of winter, proved beneficial and improved my outlook on life.

As evening approached and darkness descended, I marveled at how many homes were still illuminated with Christmas lights and decorations. And then, as we motored through the main street of one town, I spotted something that caused me to shout, “Stop the car!”

Papa knows when I utter that, it means I want to take a photograph, so he safely guided us into a vacant parking spot, and I jumped out of the car with my camera.

On the side of a lovely, three-story brick office building, an illuminated sign of sorts blazed with a message – a message I believe I needed to give me pause to ponder.

“George lassos the moon.”

Stick with me on this one as I explain.

The town we traveled through just happens to be Indiana, Pennsylvania, the hometown/birthplace of famous actor Jimmy Stewart (1908-1997). He starred in 80 films spanning from 1935-1991, and many folks watch one of those films every Christmas season. Even Papa and I did so on Christmas Day as the two of us rattled around this empty nest sans family.

It’s a Wonderful Life, a 1946 movie starring Stewart, Donna Reed, and Lionel Barrymore, wasn’t a hit when it premiered but has since become a holiday classic. The story revolves around the character, George Bailey, (played by Stewart) who has big dreams for his life but undergoes several disappointments and difficulties that make him consider it would have been better if he’d never been born.

As the story unfolds, when he is at his lowest possible point in life, George Bailey realizes, with the aid of an angel named Clarence showing him what the world would be like without him, how absolutely wonderful his life really is on Christmas Eve.

One of the lines from the movie is when George tells Mary (played by Donna Reed), “What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word, and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down.”

Four years later, when George calls on Mary at her mother’s home, Mary, who becomes his wife and mother of his children, displays a piece of artwork with these words “George lassos the moon.”

George lassos the moon – from the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life – illuminated at night on the side of a building in the film’s leading actor’s hometown, a town we just happened to be driving through on our way home.

George lassos the moon – words that prompted me, after a week of feeling sorry for myself, to recall a movie which encourages its viewers to place life’s circumstances in perspective.

Why should we do so? Because there is purpose for every life. No matter how gray life may seem, no matter how dire circumstances may be, no matter how discouraged we might feel, our lives matter.  Because just like the angel Clarence demonstrated to George, “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. And when he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?”

When I viewed “George lassos the moon” lit up like a Christmas tree in proportions I couldn’t help but notice, it reminded me how important each one of us is to those around us – family, friends, acquaintances, and yes, even those we may not have met in ‘real life’.

That message affirms what I’ve always believed and must never forget – that it really IS a wonderful life, pandemic or no pandemic, life as usual and normal or not because we have been given this life to live as best we can. And we may not realize what positive impacts our lives have on others, but they do.  

My hope is those words encourage you as much as they did me. We must not surrender to despair. Instead, let’s lasso the moon.

“You see George, you really had a wonderful life. Don’t you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?” ~ Clarence, the angel, in It’s a Wonderful Life

©2021 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

Snowbirds who stay

A silly little sign reading, “Winter is for the birds,” hangs on one of our kitchen windows.  I purposely placed it there because outside of that window, you can view our birdfeeder attached to our backyard deck.

So winter really is for the birds at our house. Usually, when someone uses this phrase, it means that winter is undesirable, and a lot of folks agree with that statement.

After all, the winter season, especially here in the northern and western hemisphere of the world, delivers cold temperatures, often frigid ones. Frost, ice, and snow along with wind chill factors are the norm, and it can become downright bleak outside.

Most of us think that before winter arrives, birds flock south from this northern clime where I live, but that’s not true for all bird species. Some actually hang around during the winter and don’t pack their bags for Florida like human “snowbirds” do.

Years ago, however, we didn’t see many birds in our yard during the winter season. Possibly, the fact that we owned a calico cat, who believed herself to be quite the hunter and stalker, prevented birds from visiting us.

Once we placed a bird feeder in a backyard tree, things changed somewhat. As we kept it filled with birdseed, we would catch glimpses of cardinals, blue jays, and a few smaller birds here and there, but not many.

Those hoggish black crows tried their darnedest to join the feast also but were too large to get their beaks into the feeder, thank goodness.

A few years later, our beloved Callie went to kitty heaven, and then we purchased a suet cake holder for a front yard tree and a second birdfeeder that could attach to our deck railing. We positioned it so we could view our fine-feathered friends from the windows by our kitchen table.

And fine-feathered friends began arriving in droves or I should say flocks, especially during the winter season.

Not only do we enjoy visits from several Mr. Reds, those bright red, male northern cardinals, but also from their mates, females of muted brown with small slashes of red.  They stand out so brilliantly against a snowy scene.

But we’ve also spied several different bird species, common to our area of the state, but not really noticed by us before we started tempting them into our yard with a smorgasbord of seeds.

So far, in addition to the flashy cardinals, these lovely birds are partakers of our free eats: tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, black-capped chickadee, white-throated sparrow, house finch, song sparrow, American goldfinch, cat bird, and black-eyed junko. But I haven’t managed yet to get photos of all of them.

Blue jays still try to chase the other birds off and perch unsuccessfully on the feeder to grab some tasty morsels, but they soon give up and fly away because they are just a mite too big to sit there comfortably munching away. Larger birds like mourning doves have also gravitated to our outdoor dining area but gather on the ground below the feeder to gobble up seeds that fall.

Often, it looks like a bird convention at that feeder, but when I try to move close enough to the window to capture a photo, they get spooked and fly off. Still, during these cold winter days when we’re socked into our home, not so much because of weather conditions as the continuing pandemic restrictions, birdwatching provides enjoyment for us.

That’s not the only reason we keep refilling the feeder though. As we supply a little nourishment for the birds, we also provide them a little shelter from the snow.

Watching our little visitors supplies a feeling of serenity and a bit of peace for us. Those moments cause us to be still and silent as we watch at the window, so we don’t frighten our fine feathered friends away.

Is winter really for the birds? Definitely, at least at our house.

“Feeding the birds is also a form of prayer.” ~ Pope Pius XII

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

What’s in a year?

What’s in a year? It depends on your perspective, doesn’t it? The dawning of a new year of life, as fresh as a pristine layer of newly laid snow, has an even more profound impact on me now than it did when I was younger.

Back then, I didn’t actually ponder much about what a new year meant. Oh, it signified I would become one year older and when you’re young, that seems so very important.

This is the year I become a teenager. Or this is the year I can get a driver’s license. Or this is the year I graduate from high school and move on to something better.

Or this is the year…you can fill in the blanks with your own benchmarks you may have aspired to as a youngster.

Even back in my early adulthood, I didn’t give much thought to the onset of a newly arrived beginning except possibly to make New Year’s resolutions that I never kept.

I may have considered that certain aspects of life might transpire in a newly arrived year like getting married, acquiring a different job, giving birth to children, purchasing a new home, making a move, or reaching a milestone birthday, but as I reflect back on those years, my focus always seemed zeroed in on something tangible, something concrete or physical.

But now in my later years when more than half of my expected lifespan is past, my thoughts are completely different as I contemplate 2021 stretching out before me.

What’s in a year? A year can make a huge difference in a life. A year can bring joy or sorrow, health or illness, pleasure or pain, increase or decrease, growth or atrophy. We have no way of knowing what a year may deliver to us.

But I do know one thing – a brand new year provides opportunity if we choose to take it, a chance to embrace a change, or make a difference, or impact someone else’s life.  

I once read somewhere that the word year is used over 700 times in the Bible, God’s Holy Word. And I firmly believe it is God, Creator of all, who gives us not only our years but also opportunities to start over not just at the onset of a new year but at the dawn of each new day.

The question is what will I do with the time I am allotted? Will I focus on myself and my own little bubble of the world or will I reach beyond that? Will I strive to share only physical aspects of life or will I share something much deeper than that?

The most critical choice in my mind is something I believe is vital for people to know and understand – my faith in a Savior, a Redeemer, a Giver of eternal life.

Why? Because not all of us may have a year, or a day even, left on this earth. And what comes next means the difference between everlasting life and eternal death. Not all of us know or understand that there is a Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) that loves us beyond measure and He wants us to be saved from a destiny of damnation.

I searched my study Bible’s concordance for citations of the word year and found a verse that truly spoke to me located in the New Testament book of 2 Peter, Chapter 3, Verse 8: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (New International Version)

The Message, which is a modernized easy-to-read version of the Bible, puts that same verse this way: “Don’t overlook the obvious here, friends. With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day. God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you, holding back the End because he doesn’t want anyone lost. He’s giving everyone space and time to change.”

So He gives us a new year, another opportunity. Or maybe only a day. Time to change before it’s too late.

God’s timing is that a day to Him is a thousand years, but we humans don’t have a thousand years to share our faith in Christ with others. We have only 24-hours in a day and 365 days in a year, if God so ordains.  A short amount of time to tell others about the saving grace of a Savior, one who gives us a new soul.

“The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year but rather than we should have a new soul.” ~ G. K. Chesterton

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

Chasing mirages

Just when I start to feel sorry for myself, being isolated and so bone-weary of it, stuck at home with dismal, overcast, gray skies in the throes of winter, some thoughts cross my mind making me shake off my lethargic woe-is-me attitude and pause to be grateful.

It seems to be our human nature to always want what we can’t have. Some of us live our entire lives this way, always wanting more and more to fill up some vast void deep inside of us. We think that if we just had this magic cure-all, this latest do-thingy, this status-symbol invoking whatever, it will make us feel like we have a “good” life.

And really, all of those things we long for or thirst after are only just mirages. They never will make us feel whole and satisfied.

Dull, dreary surroundings get the best of me especially when sunshine is lacking. And I feel like I’m grasping for something that just isn’t there – that mirage image – instead of taking time to realize what I do have. 

Do I have sunshine every day? Nope, not when I live in a part of my home state which is notorious for having more overcast days than not.

Can I travel too far outside my home right now? Nope. That dratted virus is still causing fear and panic.

Can I visit friends and family near and far? Nope due to a repeat of the above issue.

Can I explore new indoor places/activities/volunteer opportunities/social gatherings? Nope. Same story.

But…I must stop chasing after mirages, even if they’re only in my thoughts, and focus on the real, tangible blessings in my life right now.

I am well, even after a little mishap that kept me from spending any time on electronics or my favorite pastimes of reading and working on crossword puzzles for a couple of days. And all of my family is well also.

I possess all the necessities of life: clean water to drink, nourishing food to eat (and my spouse, Papa, who is enjoying cooking right now), a comfortable home that we own, our own transportation, heat to warm these cold days, electricity, clothes to wear, and means of communicating with family and friends even if I can’t see them in person.

I have companionship with my best friend and husband of 40+ years, and I am loved by family and friends. Furthermore, I have a God who listens, understands, and answers in His perfect way and timing when I tell my troubles to Him in prayer.

And I am reminded that I wouldn’t truly appreciate and be thankful for all of those treasures if life was always sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows. Sometimes it takes experiencing dark, difficult, and trying circumstances to consider the saving graces we do have and feel gratitude for them.

What brought all this to my mind? The following quote:

“All sunshine makes the desert.” ~ Arabian proverb

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

In the beginning

The new year, 2021, has dawned.

As I write this post, I gaze out the window watching snow flurries mixed with raindrops steadily descending on our landscape which just recently became devoid of its snowy white blanket.

Winter really has just commenced here but it seems like that polar season has already occupied my mind and heart lately. I’ve been frozen in place, numb not just from pandemic restrictions and concerns but with a tinge of melancholy as Papa and I ramble around alone, for the most part, in this empty nest made even more so since we couldn’t see all of our family over the holiday season.

So I try to shake off those blue feelings by reminding myself it’s a brand new year. A fresh start for another year of life. January, this first month of the nascent year, is just the beginning of the minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months to come. And shouldn’t the onset of this dawning year be invigorating and one to anticipate with bursting enthusiasm and eagerness?

On New Year’s Day, I opened the window blinds upon awakening and noticed a breathtaking mural painted in the sky – dawn – as it was breaking over the hills. The radiant colors were magnificent and inspiring. Yet, soon afterwards as we dismantled the Christmas tree, my inspiration waned and fizzled just like those worn out twinkling lights lost their sparkle.

I remarked to Papa that I needed to busy myself readying blog posts for the month of January, but where to begin? Especially when that spark of creativity is absent? When new experiences just aren’t happening because we’re “sheltering in place” amidst warnings of another virus surge?  

I lamented to Papa and he sympathetically replied, “That’s right, you’re finished with your lighthouse series, aren’t you?”  I nodded, appreciating that he remembered even though he, not being a writer or given to sparks of creativity with words, doesn’t really understand the mire of doldrums I felt.

Being very uninspired and instead of writing, I wearily opted for cleaning out a pile of scribbled notes I’ve stuffed in my ol’ reliable notebook – the one chock full of quotes worth remembering. And as I sorted, copied the meaningful ones in the notebook, and trashed those hastily written slips, I stumbled across the following:

“The beginning is the most important part of the work.”

~ Plato

Simple words of truth, aren’t they?

If you don’t begin, you’ll never accomplish your work. If you don’t begin, your best-made plans are for naught.

If you don’t begin, you are stuck in the same place, frozen by whatever hampers you from moving forward.

If you don’t begin, you can’t create. The God of the universe shows me that in Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

In the beginning…in the beginning…where I am now in the beginning of a new year.

The proverbial light bulb illuminated reminding me that beginning now, in this newly arrived, unexplored, untried, emergent dawn of a new year, I’ve been given the opportunity to embark anew on a writing journey and I must seize it.

Even though we may be restricted physically from traveling too far from home, experiencing new adventures, or even spending quality time with family and friends, no one (or thing) can restrict my thoughts and my urge to assemble words of hope and encouragement on this blog.

And so I embrace and am grateful for another new beginning each morning to share my thoughts or whatever words are given to me, wherever they may take me. I sincerely hope you travel along.  

“Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.” ~ Meister Eckhart (1260 – 1328), German theologian

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2021

As the year winds down

You know those letters that are tucked into Christmas greeting cards? You either love ‘em or hate ‘em. Some folks find them boring, some folks call them boastful.

Personally, I truly appreciate getting those letters from friends and family at Christmas time because it gives me a little peek into what the year was like for them.  Plus, it seems more personal than just signing your name on a greeting card.

As a natural-born writer, I’m keen on writing Christmas missives and have been doing so for…well, as long as I’ve sent holiday greetings by mail (43 years of marriage). Back in the day, I hand wrote all of those letters – what a task! – but as we joined the home computer rage, it was easier and more efficient to type our greeting and print it out on Christmas themed paper.

This year – this crazy, abnormal as can be year when it seems like our world was topsy-turvy – I still managed to write my annual holiday letter.  Even though we spent a good majority of the year social distancing, sequestered in our home, etc., believe it or not, I still found worthwhile things to share.

How? By concentrating on thankfulness. Why? Because my desire was to encourage those who received our letter to do the same, to remember this year’s aspects that made them grateful.

And even though this Christmas is now relegated to our memories, I’m sharing my 2020 holiday letter with you, not to brag or boast, but instead to demonstrate how we chose to look at the challenges we faced, although I recognize many of you experienced more hardships than most.

As this year winds down, many of us review what transpired before we put the past year to rest, and that’s simply what I did in this letter. But more importantly, my hope is that you may find my words a source of encouragement to reflect on your own past year and find gratitude for something in it, no matter how small or insignificant it seems.

So here goes – our annual holiday letter for 2020:

We sincerely hope this greeting finds you and all your loved ones healthy and well in body, mind, and spirit. What can we say about this past year? Most of us will be happy to see it in our rear view mirrors.

Despite the challenging year it’s been, here’s our attempt to place a positive spin on 2020 because my favorite passage of Scripture is 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Notice God’s Word says give thanks in ALL circumstances, not just the pleasant ones.

Our year commenced as usual – providing child care for our oldest grandchild and sometimes driving her to preschool while our daughter worked. As the new year arrived in order to escape the winter doldrums, Papa and I ventured into Pittsburgh to tour the Carnegie Museum of Art and Natural History and on another occasion, we accompanied daughter and grandchild to the Children’s Museum. Little did we know, outings like those would become non-existent in the coming months…BUT we truly enjoyed those experiences.

Our family celebrated our grandchild’s 5th birthday and as March arrived, Papa and I prepared for an upcoming planned trip. Then news of the corona virus hit the air waves…BUT we already had flight tickets purchased, rental car and hotel accommodations booked so off we flew to Arizona.

After arriving in Phoenix, we drove to the Grand Canyon National Park, a place neither of us had ever visited. Drizzling rain and extremely foggy conditions met us there preventing us from catching a good view of this amazing natural wonder. We feared we would not actually see it…BUT the sun came out and the fog cleared to give us some spectacular sights.

From there, we got some kicks on Route 66 and eventually arrived at my sister and brother-in-law’s home for the rest of our trip. Pouring rain and some unheard of flash flooding (in the Arizona desert) greeted us on our first day there. Adding to that, my sister suffered some back pain issues which nixed all of the sightseeing she had planned…BUT we had already seen many sights on a previous trip there, the guys were able to go desert ATV riding, Papa and I enjoyed morning walks through their neighborhood each day, and we had a relaxing time just spending it with our loved ones.

By now, the pandemic panic increased and our kids frantically texted and called us imploring us to be careful and urging us to fly home sooner than planned…BUT since we were mostly staying put with only my sister and brother-in-law, we didn’t have to worry about being exposed to crowds.

As shut-downs occurred, concern for driving our rental car to Phoenix, staying the night in a hotel, and flying out of a crowded airport the next day or finding our flight cancelled loomed…BUT we managed to find an open drive-through place to get our dinner, a fairly empty hotel, and social distancing in place while waiting for our flight, disinfecting as we went, and because many people cancelled trips, we had a row of seats to ourselves on the plane.

We safely arrived back at our nearly deserted home airport, collected our bags, and were picked up outside by family members. Due to stay at home orders, our nearby city looked eerily like a ghost town…BUT with no traffic on the highway, we made it home in record time.

As you may recall, our middle daughter is a hospital nurse. She was extremely concerned about being Covid-19 exposed and thereby spreading it to her child and us as caregivers for that child, so she made the difficult, heart-breaking decision to separate herself from her child and us for the next 8 weeks…BUT Nana and Papa enjoyed every minute of being with our precious little one 24/7, playing games, make-believe, crafting, preschool learning at home, and thanks to nice weather, being outside.

During that time, our daughter actually was exposed to Covid-19 positive patients and endured a case of the virus herself AND a middle-of-the-night trip by ambulance to the ER while ill…BUT she recovered well, passed a painful kidney stone to boot (ER visit), and experienced so much love and concern from others with prayers, meals, gifts, and well wishes delivered to her mailbox and front porch.

Being apart from the rest of our family (our other grown children and grandchildren who live in other states), for special holidays like Easter, Thanksgiving, our littlest grandchild’s first birthday party, and middle grandchild’s fourth birthday certainly wasn’t easy this year…BUT we were grateful for technology providing video conferencing and virtual parties.

As things seemed to calm down and cases subsided by the end of May, our entire family reunited at our son and daughter-in-love’s home in the state next door for a family gathering weekend where we still practiced tons of hand washing and sanitizing…BUT it was so good to see each other in person, spend quality time together in beautiful weather outside on their lovely patio, and watch our three grandchildren play and have fun.

Our family had long planned to take a 2020 beach vacation, renting a house big enough for all 10 of us in order to spend an entire week together. Before the pandemic, we had already booked a place for August. Since virus news continued, we bantered back and forth discussing with angst about what decision to make…BUT all of us decided to go anyway.  We stayed sequestered in our rental; brought food and ordered groceries online; cooked all our own meals; enjoyed the very unpopulated beach where it was easy to social distance every day; and spent time with our little ones in our private swimming pool while the adults enjoyed the private hot tub. We relished relaxing together as a family and it helped our sanity and outlook. Some of us may have cried when it came time to depart for home at week’s end.

This has been a year unlike any other we’ve experienced…BUT we are very grateful for so much:

  • Being retired and able to stay at home;
  • No one in our family lost jobs;
  • Attending church via online worship;
  • Both of our daughters were able to have necessary surgeries and recovered well;
  • Oldest grandchild started kindergarten this fall in school and loves it;
  • Middle grandchild gave her heart to Jesus at the tender age of almost 4;
  • Youngest grandchild learned who Nana and Papa are in person by spending a week with us all at the beach;
  • Because of other activity cancellations, we’ve finished home projects and have time to pursue our hobbies;
  • Taking day-long car trips to get out and about, no need for masks/social distancing when we’re in nature by ourselves and eating picnic lunches outdoors;
  • I managed to lead several women’s Bible study sessions via video conferencing, thanks to my son-in-love who provided tech instructions on how to do so;
  • And that so far, everyone in our family is staying healthy and managing as best we can to endure this time.

We hope and pray that, despite the hardships of this year, you find many reasons to be thankful and that you are blessed beyond measure with peace, love, joy, and mostly HOPE.  May your 2021 be a truly happy and healthy New Year.

My wish for you, my readers, is the same as the one above sent to our family and friends. It’s my daily prayer.

“It’s a funny thing about life, once you begin to take note of the things you are grateful for, you begin to lose sight of the things that you lack.” ~ Germany Kent

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2020

This different Christmas season

The last calendar page of the year turned over into December, and Christmas is coming. Most of us are not sorry to see this year end and will be happy to see 2020 in the rear view window.

But even though this year has been challenging and the pandemic is still hanging around, Christmas is coming and we will celebrate this holiday, although how we celebrate will be different this year.

Oh, some things are still the same – our house is festooned with bright lights outside. Garland hangs from the front porch railings. Wreaths garnish the windows. And a pine tree stands adorned with festive lights and ornaments with so many memories attached to them.

The halls are decked, maybe not quite as elaborately as before. Christmas cards addressed, stamped, and in the mailbox. Presents are bought, gift-wrapped, and shipped on their way to loved ones who won’t be able to join our Christmas celebration homecoming because of pandemic travel restrictions.

This year, Christmas is definitely different and my mind and heart tell me to keep it simple. Focus on the true meaning of why we celebrate this holiday.

Pondering over thoughts of a simplistic holiday prompts memories to break the surface of my 60+ years-deep well of Christmas memories. Back when this holiday truly was simple. Indulge me please as I travel back to those uncomplicated times – at least they were in my mind’s eye.

In the 1950’s and 60’s, I was a youngster eagerly awaiting the most exciting day of the year – Christmas. My memories usher me back to a small, two-bedroom home where I lived with my parents and two older sisters. What I remember most is being with my family, including my maternal grandparents, to celebrate Christmas and the love we shared for one another.

Our house wasn’t lavishly decorated with holiday trimmings back then. Dad strung some multi-colored lights – the old kind with large glass bulbs – around the front porch. Small twinkle lights were not even a thing yet.

My mother placed red cellophane wreaths sporting one solitary electric candle in the windows. No fancy greenery adorned with baubles graced the fireplace mantle. A plain paper banner spelling the words “Merry Christmas” was taped to the living room wall. Our house wouldn’t have been featured in a color spread of “House Beautiful” or been pictured on Pinterest, that’s for certain.

My father would stop after work to obtain a fragrant but bushy pine tree for us to decorate. Sometimes, he didn’t bring that Scotch pine home until Christmas Eve and then we spent the evening hanging glass bulb lights, fragile glass ornaments, and tons of silvery, shiny, metallic icicles on it.  

Occasionally, we might hear carolers outside serenading us with Christmas songs, the kind my sisters played on our upright piano.  The Christmas season revolved around church activities – singing those age-old Christmas hymns, participating in and memorizing my lines for the children’s Sunday School program performed for our church congregation, and remembering the real reason for the season – our Savior’s birth.

In preparation, Mom baked a few cookies but not the massive amounts that folks do now. She did make melt-in-your mouth sweets like fudge, divinity, and something called sea foam and when we visited my grandparents, ribbon hard candy looked festive in the candy dish. Someone always opened a five-pound box of Brach’s assorted chocolates and some chocolate covered cherries too.

Nuts still in their shells – pecans, walnuts, Brazil nuts, pistachios, almonds – were also considered a special treat at Christmas time along with a juicy orange placed in my stocking with some peppermint flavored candy canes and gold foil covered chocolate coins. My stocking wasn’t filled with gifts, just modest treats to eat, which I thought were the best thing ever.

In the days leading up to Christmas, I watched a few holiday special shows and Suzy Snowflake on our black and white television which was encased in a wooden console.  We shopped for Christmas gifts in our hometown’s downtown stores and it seemed magical hustling from shop to shop in the chilly air with lots of people on the sidewalks. An even more exciting thrill was standing in line on the second floor of the Montgomery Ward store to see Santa Claus and tell him what my wishes were for Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, Santa came to our house after I went to bed and I would lie there in my darkened bedroom, way too excited to sleep, especially because we had an unusual tradition. Instead of waiting for Christmas morning to open those one or two gifts Santa brought, my mother would enter the bedroom I shared with my two sisters to tell me Santa had just visited.  I would pretend to be asleep, “wake up,” and scurry out of bed, down the hall, and be amazed by presents under our tree.

One particular Christmas Eve stands out in my memory. I don’t remember how old I was, but I think I was four or five.  Of course, I couldn’t fall asleep while I wondered what gifts Santa would leave for me. Lying in my bed on that dark winter night, I heard an unusual sound outside my house.

Jingle bells! The tinkling of jingle bells over and over again! Could it be? Was I hearing Santa’s arrival? Was he really here? Sure enough, shortly afterward, Mom “woke me up” by informing me that there was “someone in the living room who wants to see you!”

My eyes must have widened in disbelief when I saw Santa Claus standing in our living room with a red sack! In person! I think he asked me if I’d been a good girl all year and then he opened his sack and pulled out gifts for me. And with a “ho, ho, ho,” he waved goodbye and walked out our front door to his waiting sleigh and reindeer, I assumed.

But I was too eager to open my presents to look outside for verification. However, I did make one observation when I wondered out loud why Santa wore black boots at Montgomery Ward and this time brown ones were on his feet.

Many years later when that visit was just a pleasant Christmas memory, I learned who Santa actually was that year – our older neighbor, Mabel in a Santa costume complete with snowy white beard. She always sent me birthday cards and provided holiday treats for me. I called her “my neighbor Maw Bul.” Even after we moved to a different neighborhood, Maw Bul continued to send me cards signed, “Your far-away neighbor, Mabel.”

What Mabel did that one Christmas Eve and on other occasions as well was make a child feel special and loved and give the gift of a precious Christmas memory. I think Mabel embodied the Christmas spirit – thinking of others, giving joy to someone, providing a treasured moment to remember. And those moments, just like my pleasant Christmas memories of the past, weren’t over the top productions, outlandishly decorated, or expensive.

They were just simple and sweet.

“Santa Claus is anyone who loves another and seeks to make them happy; who gives himself by thought or word or deed in every gift that he bestows.” ~Edwin Osgood Grover

So this different Christmas season, I’m hoping to BE different. I want to bring a bit of joy to others even if I can’t do so face-to-face in person, because really, isn’t that the spirit of Christmas? Giving to others because God, the Father, gave us the most amazing gift, His Son.

Celebrating Christmas isn’t about fancy, Pinterest-perfect decorations, dazzling light displays, amazing food, holiday revelry and parties, or extravagant gifts. It’s about giving the gift of caring.

I can offer that gift when I reach out to those who are lonely and who may be in quarantine by sending an encouraging note through the mail, making a phone call, sending ‘thinking of you’ thoughts via email, texting, or social media just to brighten another’s day.

I can give the gift of caring when I pray for those who are affected by the pandemic whether through illness or hardship. I can donate to worthy causes that will support and help those in need during this unprecedented season.

I can be simple, humble, and sincere while I give Christmas gifts of peace, joy, and love. I can and will celebrate Christmas this year, no matter how different it may be.

“Christmas is most truly Christmas when we celebrate it by giving the light of love to those who need it most.” ~ Ruth Carter Stapleton

©2020 mamasemptynest.wordpress.com

The word is peace

It’s the Christmas season and we banter words like hope, joy, love, and peace around. They’re written on Christmas greeting cards, on wall hangings, on ornaments and decorations. We sing Christmas carols about peace on earth, good will towards men.

Last weekend, those of us who call ourselves Christians celebrated the second Sunday of the Advent season.  Our pastor delivered a message on peace, one of the Advent themes, after the candle representing that theme was lit.

As I absorbed Pastor’s message that we can encounter peace amidst the most difficult life circumstances, my own experience with the peace that passes all understanding came rushing back to my mind. Thinking maybe my readers would be interested in my story of peace, I share it here in hopes of providing a glimmer of encouragement this holiday season.

“Because of the favor of God, we can have peace in the midst of chaos.” ~Crystal McDowell

Fifteen years ago, I apprehensively sat in a physician’s office while he delivered news I didn’t want to hear: “I’m sorry to tell you that the biopsy results came back, you have cancer.”

I think most people have thought about how they would feel or respond to that diagnosis and, especially if you’ve had loved ones who have experienced the “C word,” you imagine you know how they feel. But you don’t. Not until you actually experience it yourself.

First comes shock. Then comes denial. Then comes what I can only name as fear. Will I recover from this disease or will I face my own mortality way sooner than I ever imagined?

For me, many thoughts raced through my mind because just seven years prior to my diagnosis, my family and I watched my mother endure cancer treatments for less than a year only to succumb to that horrible, aggressive disease.

Fear wrapped itself like a boa constrictor around my mind. Had the cancer spread? Would I survive long enough to watch my youngest child, my son, graduate from high school, or see my daughters find their own true loves and marry, or ever become a Nana to grandchildren? How would my husband handle all of those aspects of our household that I managed while he traveled with his job?

Those thoughts and more caused me sleepless nights. My doctor scheduled scans, tests, and surgery and assured me that the prognosis was good because he believed it was caught early enough.  But still, my mind tortured me with “What if…?”

Somehow though, months before I heard those dreaded words from my physician, I had sensed this ordeal had been on my horizon.

Backtrack six months earlier to Christmas time 2004. I worked for a non-profit organization, a Christian ministry. Every December, staff and volunteers gathered for an annual Christmas party, usually at our executive director’s home. And every year, she prayed ahead of time for the Lord to give her specific words, which she would print on slips of paper, place in a basket, and pass around to us.

When we took our turns randomly picking out one of those slips, we’d see our “word” for the upcoming year and as the new year progressed, we noted how God used that word in our lives. Prior to receiving our new word, we shared how last year’s word had manifested itself. Heartwarming stories often brought tears to our eyes but also provoked laughter and always lifted our spirits.

I watched as my co-workers and volunteer friends opened their words, smiling and laughing as they read sparkle or joy. In the past, I never had received words like those; I usually ended up with challenging ones like growth or transition. And that year wasn’t any different.

I took a breath, hoped for a comfortable, pleasant word, opened my slip of paper, and read aloud the word – peace.  “Aww,” everyone oohed and ahhed, exclaiming what a nice word to receive. I smiled and yet…my heart did a major flip flop and seemed to sink to the pit of my stomach while my mind warned me, “Look out, something major is coming your way and you are going to need God’s peace more than ever.” Really?!?

My heart and my mind were correct. Six months later, I faced uterine cancer and I trembled with fear. My other tests and scans came back normal but I still needed major surgery and depending on further testing, probably to undergo some kind of treatment after six weeks of recovery.

Prior to my scheduled operation, I met with my co-workers one morning for prayer before our workday commenced. During that prayer time, those dear ladies encircled me, laid hands on me, anointed me with oil, and stormed the gates of Heaven in prayer on my behalf.

As they prayed, I began to feel somethingsomething like an intense, overpowering sensation…something welling up inside of me….something I couldn’t name filling my chest, almost squeezing the breath out of me. It seemed to erupt from deep within me, from the depth of my inner being, and with each prayer my friends spoke, something was being forced upwards in my body. I actually felt an intense urge to open my mouth and let whatever it was escape with my breath.

And as I did exactly that, I felt that ominous, weighty something depart from me and an entirely different sensation filled me – completely filled me – with comfort, with tranquility, with assurance.

It was simply peace.  That word that chose me six months earlier.

Looking back, I believe what vacated me that day was fear, sheer terror at what I faced ahead. What filled its place was peace – that indescribable feeling that God’s Word says passes understanding.

Through surgery, hospitalization, recovery, and radiation treatments, I felt utterly at peace, confidently assured that I was being held in the palm of God’s mighty hand, no matter what happened. That sense of peace never abandoned me, even when usually claustrophobic me was locked alone in a radiation treatment room, having to lie perfectly still while cancer cell killing radiation entered my body. No anxiety, just serenity.

Peace. The kind of peace our pastor, who has battled cancer himself and was recently declared cancer-free, understands so well. The kind of peace, he reminded us, that enters in the midst of our storms, when we place our faith in the One called the Prince of Peace by the prophet Isaiah.

“A great many people are trying to make peace, but that has already been done. God has not left it for us to do; all we have to do is to enter into it.” ~ Dwight L. Moody

Right now in this 2020 Christmas season, it’s safe to say millions of people across this world are caught in the middle of chaotic storms of life. I tell my story to offer encouragement, not because I boast about surviving cancer, but because I understand how we may rest assuredly in peace despite a raging storm. And I wish that peace for others.

As grateful as I was for the positive results of surgery, radiation treatments, and normal results from continued cancer checks afterward, I am even more thankful for the lesson I learned about peace in the throes of intimidating, overwhelming circumstances.

Peace was my word for the year 2005, but I think it’s my word for every year. I find peace where it always was, is, and will be – in my Savior Jesus Christ. My hope is someone reading this may experience that same peace through God’s grace.

“The Bible is full of God’s promises to provide for us spiritually and materially, to never forsake us, to give us peace in times of difficult circumstances, to cause all circumstances to work together for our good, and finally to bring us safely home to glory. Not one of those promises is dependent upon our performance. They are all dependent on the grace of God given to us through Jesus Christ.” ~ Jerry Bridges

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2020

Will the small survive?

And so it begins.

It’s the week after Thanksgiving and for many folks, this is when their Christmas shopping kicks into high gear.  A tremendous amount of shoppers usually inundate the mercantile scene on Black Friday – either in a physical store or online – in normal circumstances.

But this year is so different. With the pandemic STILL an issue, virus cases on the rise, and so many governors issuing stay at home orders, shopping malls and physical stores must be reeling from lack of business, unless they have an online presence. So who do I think are going to be the hardest hit businesses? Our small shop owners.

Last Saturday marked the traditional “Small Business Saturday” when buyers are urged to shop locally in their own communities and patronize small businesses. With stay at home orders, that makes doing so difficult. And I truly wonder how many small shop owners have an online presence and delivery service.

So the easiest way to accomplish Christmas shopping if you can’t leave your house to do it in person, is order online and a myriad of boxes will be deposited on your own front porch.

You don’t have to leave your house or fight traffic, just scroll online and click away.

I suspect commercial merchants like the gargantuan company, Amazon, will reap major benefits as well as those other massive retailers like Walmart and Target from this style of Christmas shopping.

Call me a dinosaur, call me out of date, call me whatever you want to, but this style of shopping doesn’t sit well with me. I don’t want to shop online; I want to see the product I’m purchasing not just a digital image of it. I want to hold it in my hands and examine it.

And I want to support local businesses, local restaurants, and local small shops, who may not have websites but feasibly, we can’t accomplish that right now which troubles me.

It doesn’t just bother me, it actually saddens me. How many small shops, specialty stores, restaurants and cafes, not owned by chain franchises, but by people like you and me, will be forced to close their doors for good?

As autumn rolled around, we were still in the thick of social distancing but our state had opened up somewhat. Papa and I took one of our day-long road trips out and about. We headed northward in our state, mainly to observe fall foliage in what we call “the mountains.”

After stopping to eat a picnic lunch, we drove through a small town that I had been to several times  when I was a youngster and my parents owned a camp “in the mountains” not too distant from the area we were driving through.

I hadn’t been there in many, many years and as we drove through that little town, we spied a picturesque cluster of shops, about a block long. We found a parking spot, donned our face masks, and ambled through the small “village.”

It consisted of a few diminutive shops, each in what might be called sheds.  Of course because of social distancing, each tiny shop only allowed two masked visitors at a time inside. We entered each one, taking our turns, to peruse quaint and unique handcrafted wares inside.

Naturally, I pulled my camera out and snapped some photos. While doing so, a local gentleman began conversing with me and told me the story of how the little village-style shops came to be.

At one time, a large and popular non-chain restaurant once stood in that location, but a major fire broke out in it and decimated not just the restaurant but the entire block too.  For 10 years, that block stood vacant until someone presented an idea to place temporary small shops as a kind of vendor market there in hopes of enticing summer tourists to visit the town once more.

The idea not only came to fruition but proved very successful when local artisans, along with the community, embraced the plan. The Tionesta Market Village has existed there for seven years now, has helped revitalize this small town, located in a rural area, and its economy, and has received accolades for its success in doing so.  

According to the Market Village’s website, this unusual marketplace “represents what’s best about small town Americana…independent and self-reliant, willing to take a risk instead of hoping for a handout, and not wanting to wait for someone else to solve our problems.”

To me, that totally embodies the spirit of small town America and small business owners.

But now, I have to wonder…will those tiny shops survive? Will small shop owners ever recoup what they surely have lost in revenue because of the impact of this pandemic? And will they finally have to close up shop and abandon their dreams come true after all of their hard work?

I guess it all depends on us. Will we take the easy route and purchase from all of those large companies? I realize that those companies do employ some of our fellow Americans providing much needed income for them during this difficult time. I get that and I applaud that.

But still. Are we killing our small businesses? What can we do to help those owners stay afloat as well? Their livelihood depends on us.

How we spend our money makes a difference. Each purchase we make does impact our world, so let’s choose wisely.

“A small business is an amazing way to serve and leave an impact on the world you live in.” ~Nicole Snow

©mamasemptynest.wordpress.com 2020