Oh, the holidays.....what to do!

This is probably my last blog entry before the holidays. The calendar is filling up, and with all we have going on I hope to share some brief thoughts, well wishes and such here and there but if I'm being honest this is the best timing for some words of encouragement before we bulldoze our way through the next several weeks. Life is enjoyed more fully personally when I have carved time intentionally out of my life for what matters most. I had a wonderful, much needed yoga class yesterday and it just put me in the center of some much needed peace and awareness. I want to go into these holidays valuing my time with my family most. My best and favorite holidays growing up were spent just with my immediate family-Mom, Dad, my brother Mike and me. We didn't travel over the holidays usually because with my Dad being a Pastor meant we had a number of special events and obligations that required him to be available. In one way or another, it taught me to appreciate making the best memories of the holidays with my family. I love spending time with our relatives, family reunions and gatherings of extended family but-my greatest treasure is time with my husband Ryan, and my four babies, Rylee, Bailey, AJ and Chloe. The value of making our own memories was instilled in me early on, and now I am passing that on to my own children. I am looking forward to time with our extended family, but I am even more excited about time with my immediate family-the Freeman's Six. Ryan and I decided early on in our marriage that we were not going to join the majority of people who run themselves ragged going non stop through Thanksgiving and Christmas from one place to the next, ensuring we've spent an equal amount of predetermined time with our extended families. We are thankful for whatever time we can enjoy with our families, but we want our time with our immediate family to take priority. I want my children to have the same appreciation that Ryan and I have of recognizing the importance of their own family time before time with extended family. There is immense value and appreciation for both, but the priority should always fall to our immediate family. Nothing is more important in life than family. Our relationship with the Father is our foundation, but our family is next and most important in shaping who we are, our confidence in life, our ability to cope with any given situation that life throws our way. Family is the greatest gift, something I am most thankful for this holiday season, but truly year round. Friends will come and go, but family is forever. I don't know what I'd do, looking at the ups and downs life has thrown my way, if I didn't have my family to support me. I am the person I am today not only because of how God has grown me and provided me such a foundation of faith, but because my family has always been there for me. I want that to be true for my own family too. I have had the joy of hearing my daughter Rylee say to me and Ryan already how much she appreciates the love and support she has received from us. I look forward to hearing my children say this and seeing this portrayed by all four of my children as they grow and one day have families of their own. It breaks my heart to watch as families we know, and families whose lives are being chronicled through the media outlets, are falling apart. I realize I cannot protect my children from that, because the reality is they have a free will. They are going to be influenced by the world no matter how I attempt to shield and protect them. At some point I have to recognize my influence only goes so far, and at some point they will exercise that free will and make their own choices. They are going to make good and bad choices, and I will hope and pray that God will protect and provide so that they choose to make wise choices. I am thankful to see a growing, thriving faith in my two oldest children, and my heart's prayer is for my two youngest children to find faith in Christ one day too. I hope and pray that as we enter this holiday season, we are mindful of how truly blessed we are. We have more freedom and luxury than many, and we take far too much for granted. I hope you'll take a moment to consider what you can say 'no' to this year, to open up some more time to enjoy being with your own family. I hope you'l take a moment to instead of doing the usual gift exchange, consider taking your family to sing Christmas carols to the residents of your local nursing home or serve a meal at your local homeless shelter. I hope you'll consider taking your family to church and making it a habit, a beautiful new habit for your family to establish time with God in worship with a church family that will love you, live life with you and support you. I hope you'll consider how you can make an impact on your community by doing something unique and extraordinary. God has given us a world to meet, to meet with His likeness exuding from us! We are to be like Christ, and expose the world to something far better than anything it can provide. More than anything, take time to be selfless. Throw away your wish list and start a wish list for others instead. God is calling each of us to be His hands and feet. We can always do more, so what does that look like for you today? Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas and New Year's blessings to you! God is good!

Speak Peace, Demonstrate His Love

I'll admit it. As I have aged, as life has hit me this way and that way, as I have learned to live with people I love and people I would just assume avoid altogether in this life, I find it difficult to control my tongue in the best and worst of situations. Let's take the latter of those two. I have joked with Ryan and a couple of friends over the years, that I could have probably been a lawyer or a politician in another life because of my strong opinion about a variety of subjects. I was raised to be confident, independent and to approach life with the best I have to offer. I like to do things a certain way, I like my life to be organized and predictable, everything in its place. I am okay when it comes to surprises, once the initial shock of it has worn off, and despite my need to know what is coming up and have everything well in place, I am and will always be open to something new and changing, especially if it will improve my current circumstances. As I am getting older, and as the pace of life is speeding up and threatening to run me over if I don't keep up, I find I am easily sucked into this cranky, I refuse to put up with your nonsense type of attitude. I prefer a quiet night at home with my family, watching a movie and snuggling on the sofa, rather than going out or to a big gathering. I'm a home-body, cherish my time on more simplified terms and will defend it passionately. Like some of you, in my own little world, as I absorb what is taking place all around me and the injustices that are unfolding, I could very easily get caught up in the politics, the passions expressed unendingly and uncensored through any number of public forums and social media outlets. There have been moments when I have participated in some of these discussions and there have been moments that I have chosen to heed that nudge inside me that says to be silent, think before I speak. Ever been there? As much as we'd like to voice our concerns, our outrage over any one given situation that has been blasted on the nightly news or the headlines in our newspapers and online, there is something to be said for wisely stepping back and holding our tongues. How many times, in the heat of the moment, have we lashed out without a second thought to what that tongue lashing could do? Do we stop to consider at any point the damage that we can do with our tongues? In my devotional a few moments ago, I read this scripture, so timely for this subject:

The wise are cautious and avoid danger; but fools plunge ahead with reckless confidence. Proverbs 14:16 NLT

Something that has occurred to me today, as we consider how we can serve one another, help those who are hurting deeply right now. Before we offer the Scriptures, the quotes, the songs, the solutions that seem to come to mind so quickly when we are in that moment, listening to someone pour out their heart about a need--stop and consider that the best help you may be able to offer at that moment is to LISTEN. Don't get me wrong, God has called us to be salt and light in a very dark world, but sometimes the greatest comfort we can give someone in need is a hug and the words, "I am here for you. I am listening." Consider carefully and choose wisely what you will say to someone who may come across your path today. I want to offer my hands to hold another's and pray for them, my arms to hold them in a comforting hug, and my ears to listen to whatever may be pouring from their hearts today. There is a world out there, some of the people we need to help are right in front of us. A friend you have known for years, a family member, or it may be a perfect stranger we pass at the gas station. Your willingness to stop and say hello, look them in the eye and offer them some help, or even asking them, "May I pray for you?" could be the difference in their entire day, perhaps a turning point in their lives. I want to live my faith with confidence, and I will speak up for what is right in these days of great injustice, but I will choose to lean on the wisdom of the Father to determine what comes out of my mouth first.

The biggest impact we can have for Christ often may come without speaking a word, but by opening our eyes and our hearts to the needs right in front of us.

my Ebenezer...

“…Thus far the Lord has helped us.”-1 Samuel 7:12 There are moments in my life when I look back and can see how God in His perfect yet my...