The Ministry of the Ordinary Life

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There is much beauty to ponder at Christmas. The beauty of the Christ Child coming to earth to save the souls of men–His name shall be called Immanuel, God with us.

As the holiday season comes to a close, it is so wonderful to remember that Jesus is with us every day of our lives. He is in the warp and woof of the everyday life; He is the fabric of our essential being. This is one of my favorite parts of Christianity, the fact the we have the Holy Spirit who dwells in each of us and helps us to walk out the Christian life. We are never alone; Christ makes His home in our hearts.

As I reflect on the New Year, I find myself thinking about the days to come and wondering what my heart desires to fill each of them with this coming year. At the core of my thoughts and dreams is a desire to make a difference for the Lord.  I think that, as Christians, most of us would say this is our desire, but for the most part our daily lives get in the way of what we think holiness and serving the Lord should look like.

So much of the time, our hearts want to minister, to make a difference for the Lord, but we find ourselves knee-deep in the music of the everyday life: laundry, cleaning, meals, sibling squabbles, sick children, discipling our children, listening to our children, helping in-laws to feel connected to the children, meals needed for friends, and making time for our sweet husbands… just to name a few.

My desire is to challenge each of us to readjust our thinking, to realize that these things, the seemingly insignificant things of life, are the notes that make the music of our ministry. This is the time in our life where we are creating our greatest symphony of ministry, our grand Opus.

What if we all looked at our lives differently? What if we all could be like Brother Lawrence, a monk who live 300 years ago and taught about the presence of God being in the ordinary life and said “The time of work,”  he said, “does not with me differ from the time of prayer.  In the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Supper.” Brother Lawrence had the uncanny ability to look at each activity or chore he did as worship unto the Lord, as his ministry of the everyday life.

Scripture says this perfectly in Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

And Jesus simplified this concept of the ministry of the everyday life when he said, “This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you.”  John 15:12

Beloved, may I suggest that we all look at our lives differently this year? May I suggest that we walk with Jesus, one day at a time, and pray for God to give us a heart for everyday, ordinary ministry? We could all pray at the beginning of each day for the Lord to help us to be others-centered, humble, and aware of the needs of those around us, to see the hearts of the people God has placed us with, and to know how to minister to them in a way they feel loved.

Here are some simple ways I have found to truly bless the people God has placed in our lives:

1. Hug your children and tell them each something you love about them. Look them in the eyes when you talk to or listen to them. Make time in your day to just be available for your children. A good saying is “Put down the work and pick up the child.”

2. Text your husband at work and tell him that you are so proud of him and some of the reasons why. Better yet, make known the fact that you are very attracted to him.

3. Take your teenager out for lunch or coffee and ask them how their heart is doing. (Ask God ahead of time for the ability to see your child’s heart and what they might be struggling with or concerned about)

4. Try to get in the habit while your children are young of asking them to sit with you at the end of each day to tell you all about how they are doing, and what’s on their minds, even if it’s trivial or silly. This habit comes in handy when your children are old enough to drive, and will automatically know that when they get home you will want to sit with them and hear all about their day. It’s important to know the details of your children’s lives and how their friendships are doing and how their hearts are.

5. Call a friend or family member to pray, even if it’s just a quick 5 minute prayer. Let them know that you will be keeping them in your prayers that day.

6. Send a note to a friend telling her what you love about her and how she has blessed your life.

7. Double one of your meals to keep in the freezer to take to a friend when she is having a bad day.

8. Pray a silent prayer for people you see when you are out and about during your day- the cashier at the store the next time you buy groceries, the mom of the child that is throwing a fit at the mall, the homeless man on the street corner, or anyone the Holy Spirit brings to mind to pray for. Ask God to give you a heart of compassion for the people around you so you will know how to pray.

9. Have the children make a card for their Grandparents. Also, Skype can help them to feel connected to their grandchildren if they are far away.

10. Make time for your friends. Pray for your friendships; for God to strengthen and protect them. Ask God to heal the ones that are strained or broken. Have a friend over for a quick cup of tea. Light a candle, put on some beautiful music, and have a cookie or simply a piece of delicious chocolate. God-ordained friendships are worth the effort, and close, lifelong friendships are a blessing.

These things may seem small and insignificant, but they make up a beautiful life and encouraging ministry to those the Lord has entrusted you with.

What are some small  ways you create beautiful and minister to those in your life? 

Passing On the Gift of Hospitality

meal at Nona's

I love to cook, plan events, and invite people into my home.  Though some might call this a “gift” of hospitality, it really is something I caught growing up. First of all, it was something my mom and grandmother modeled. They are Italian and immigrated to the United States when my mom was a young girl.  My grandmother never had the chance to go to school— and so to this day is illiterate and because of that never learned to speak English.  Yet, she is the best cook I’ve ever met and has hundreds of recipes committed to memory. Her greatest delight in life is to cook up a feast for family and friends and to gather them around her table. Often, as the holidays approach, she will begin cooking several days in advance—waking up before sunrise to begin her sauces, bake crusty bread, roast sweet bell peppers for salad, make meatballs, and bake ricotta wheat berry pies. She had 11 kids, and family get-togethers today can easily number over a hundred people, though my grandma, mom and aunts still do all of the cooking! They take such pride in each dish—using only the finest ingredients, sometimes even making trips to specialty markets that are an hour away. It is a labor of love. These dinners consist of several courses and go on for hours—and laughter and merrymaking abound. Around the table relationships are nurtured, stories are shared, the family bonds run deep.

Don’t underestimate the power of a shared meal!

When I was in college I was asked by a couple of friends to start hosting the church small group I was a part of, which they were leading. The group had been meeting for over a year yet the atmosphere was not intimate. People weren’t opening up; no one really knew one another. The group needed a new place to meet, so I agreed to host and at the time didn’t even own a couch or comfortable place for people to sit! The only thing I did differently as the host was to serve food every week, and always something simple because my budget was very tight. As people ate together, something beautiful happened. They relaxed and lingered in conversation. They started to open up about their lives, hurts, joys, and struggles.  It became an intimate community as the Lord worked in and through each of us and knit us together. This idea of “breaking bread” is God’s idea and design. Jesus chose the setting of a shared meal—the last supper—to give his most intimate exhortation and a farewell to his disciples. Throughout scripture there is a theme of God preparing a place and a table for his people.

As a young adult, my vision of hospitality continued to expand as I spent several years in missions. I saw how other cultures practiced hospitality and learned from a missionary organization that deeply valued hospitality. Again, it all was more caught than taught as I spent time in the homes of both foreign locals and missionaries, saw how others practiced hospitality, and then copied what I saw them doing. Some of the most generous people I met were those with the most limited resources.

Here are a few practical ways to involve your kids in hospitality:

-If you have overnight guests, it is fun to prepare a small basket of snacks and drinks (such as a bottled water or even some tea bags with mini electric tea kettle and mug) in their room. Hospitality involves a sensitivity to other’s needs (whether physical or otherwise). Many guests would not want to trouble their hosts for a snack so this way they have something if the mood arises. It is nice to include a little welcome note with an encouraging prayer or verse the Lord puts on your heart for them.  Kids can put the basket together and/or design the card.

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-Another fun option is to leave a small gift in the guest’s room. This gesture lets them know they are loved, thought of, and prepared for. Your kids can help you select something and can wrap it or put it in a gift bag. Older women and grandmas—I know of one empty-nester who, when hosting out-of-town guests with small children, leaves a basket of games, toys, books, or coloring supplies in the guest room for the little ones. This is especially thoughtful when there would otherwise be nothing for them to do around the house.

-We love to buy a bouquet of fresh flowers when we know we will have guests. We’ve also started a small flower garden so my girls can cut and create their own bouquets. They love to arrange flowers and display them on the dining room table. But hospitality doesn’t only occur when hosting company. It is an attitude of welcoming others into your life and extending friendship and generosity, perceiving others’ needs and making yourself available to love on, listen to, and care for others. We love to keep $1 Walmart bud vases on hand so that if a friend or neighbor is sick we can place even a single bloom in it to be delivered to brighten their day.

- As you prepare your home for any company, take a couple minutes to pray together for your guests and the time you will spend together. Pray that they would feel welcomed and loved—that it would be a picture to them of the Father’s love. Pray for relationships to be strengthened and for the conversation to be an encouragement to one another. Ask God to help you be sensitive and available to their needs. Pray too for the children that will be visiting!

-If you are hosting a meal, you could have your kids set the table and make place cards. As a new mom it would at times stress me out to let the kids help with anything because it wouldn’t be done “right”. With God’s grace and help I’ve learned to let that go so it is now about giving them those important experiences.

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-Include children in food preparations. My 6 year old loves to make salad. She chops veggies using a crinkle cutter, which is less sharp and easier to handle than a knife. Both of my girls (6 and 4) love to make cookies, scones, breads, or other treats to serve friends.

baking

 

-Chose an easy but delicious meal to make. A nice meal communicates honor to your guests— it says “you are worth it to me.” Throughout the Bible there are stories of people bringing out the best ingredients to honor and serve their guests. It’s how God treats us— he doesn’t skimp or hold back, his love is expressed lavishly. He prepared our environment in such a way for us to fully enjoy it using all of our senses.  But even when resources are limited, you can offer what you do have to bless those around you.

Here is one of my grandma’s recipes for an Italian style pot-roast. Very easy but so delicious— perfect to warm bellies on a cold day and one of my go-to meals for serving guests:

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Mamas, hospitality isn’t only for guests; the hospitality you show to your own kids will greatly impact them and give them a model to imitate. I was recently reading an out-of-print book— containing reflections on motherhood, and was struck by the introduction, a letter from the author to her mother:

“The emphasis on daily meals may have been nutrition (little appreciated by us), but then there was always Sunday noon dinner. No company was ever treated better than us! The appetizer was served on a silver tray in the living room—fruit juice with a blob of sherbet and wafers. In the dining room we ate our “company meal” from our finest china and silver and finished it off with a spectacular dessert tantalizingly displayed on a pedestal server. And you served tea from the lusterware tea set in a performance equaled only by a traditional Japanese tea ceremony! I suspect now that you were creating an atmosphere for the leisurely sharing of ideas and good conversation.

How we anticipated the holidays and special days—each and every one. You took these occasions and turned them into events which instantly were declared Traditions… Then there was my birthday, that one special day set aside to celebrate my being alive! The pink heart cake for my “almost Valentine” birthday, the florist arriving with a nosegay of fresh violets, a dainty heart-shaped box or violet-related gift. To this day violets, hearts, and the color pink in some way remind me that I’m someone special.”

Mamas, may you be blessed with joy and relationships that run deep as you gather loved ones around your tables, and may you know what a gift your life is to those around you.

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Join me!

In light of some happenings in the news lately, I want to start quarterly encouragement for moms for short/free/conferences–and longer e-conferences. We will talk about: why motherhood is so hard, how to built a defense against discouragement, breathing in peace. And how to stay the course.

hang out with Sally

Christmas is Coming–I’m having fun gathering presents for all my peeps!

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As each year rolls around to summer, I begin my hunt for suitable presents for my friends and loved ones to tell show just a tiny gesture of how I appreciate and love them–and for something that fits their personality and preferences. Our family considers that a part of our Christmas tradition is letting our closest friends and family how thankful we are for them–this is our friend affirming time.

And so we make giving love and appreciation to those we love a gesture. I love small gifts the best because we focus on a stocking full of surprises for our sweet ones in our home.  My girls always get some sort of jewelry in their stockings.

Dayspring is one place I know I can find meaningful, Christ-centered ideas and just order from my home!

Jesus calling

This year, a friend gave me the book Jesus Calling and often I read it once a day to be encouraged by the heart of God’s heart and love. I found this journal of hers and am pondering getting it for Joy as the girls also ask for a journal each year.

lord bless this home

I have scripture and sayings and photos all over my house. Love messages on the walls that I think/hope go into the kids’ minds and hearts.

 

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Also, of course, I love to give gifts to my kids that speak to them of the messages I am telling them on a daily basis. And I found these on sale!

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This countdown calendar is adorable.  It can be used for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter to bring an element of fun and joy to the anticipation of these holidays.

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Every child loves to hear a parent’s voice reading a special story.  This recordable storybook enables a parent to record his/her voice which the child can then listen to over and over and over.

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Do you have any letters on your walls yet?  This is a popular and simple way to decorate a wall or mantle.

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This set of letters spells out “Redeemed,” a reminder we each need every day!

Do you need an inexpensive gift?  This mug has a heartfelt message and would be a lovely, yet thrifty gift.

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Just a few of the little treasures I am considering for my special peeps this year. I have enjoyed having a place to order that actually has some of the messages I love!

What special gifts and traditions do you turn to this time of year?  What do your grown children tell you were their most special holiday memories?

4th of July (For The Children!)

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Celebrating each holiday with our children has brought so many fun and amusing memories. Our little town of Monument has one of the biggest 4th of July parades of any in the United States. Many years, our children would decorate their bicycles to ride in the 2 1/2 hour parade. Candy is thrown to the rowdy audience, fire engines play their sirens, mini-autos and clowns drive in circles through the entire parade, and soldiers are remembered.

A fair filled with booths of aromatic scents, fragrances of grilled barbecue beef, sizzling, fried funnel cakes, of pink and purple cotton candy, greasy brats surrounds the parade route so that eating is a near possibility at any moment.  All of us pink-up with  sunburn every year, no matter what precautions we have taken.

Later in the cool of the early evening, we gather with the same friends each year for a huge pot luck picnic and we anticipate all the food and antics for weeks ahead of time. Finally, all of us, 25-35 people, trek down to our local Palmer Lake and watch the fireworks sparkle in the sky while being reflected on the lake’s shiny water. Many wonderful memories! This year, we will forego the firework because of the fires, but we will celebrate living in friendship and make fun of the whole evening.

The 4th of July is a wonderful opportunity to bring family together, relax, create new traditions, and have a great time. One common issue with holidays is when our little ones used to have little attention spans. Planning  advance helped me to  make sure that there would be many child-friendly activities even at our adult get togethers.

Craft for Children: 4th of July paper garland


What You Need: red, white, and blue construction paper, scissors, glue, string, ribbon, or twine (color of your choice), hole puncher (optional), star template (optional)

How To: There are a few different ways you can modify this craft to make it age appropriate for your child. If your children are older, you can have them use scissors to cut out the stars, then they can use a hole puncher to place a hole at the top and bottom of each star. They will weave the string through each star, creating a fun, colorful, festive garland that can be used to decorate your party! Children love being a part of things. Crafts make them feel like they are contributing to the event (and it is tons of fun!).

Remember that cutting out perfect stars can be a frustrating task. Consider printing out a template in advance that your children can use as an example. If you have younger children, cut out or print out colorful stars in advance. Allow them to glue the string to the stars, rather than tying and using a hole puncher.

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The New Favorite Treat: 4th of July Marshmallow Kabobs
What You Need: 

1 packet red jello,

1 packet blue jello,

lollipop sticks, marshmallows

How To: 1. Place each jello packet into it’s own small bowl. (The jello should be JUST the packet. It will just be dry colored sugar.)
2. Dip each individual marshmallow extremely quickly into a bowl of water.
3. Roll each marshmallow into a color.
4. In the order of red, white, and blue, place your marshmallows onto the lollipop sticks.
5. Serve these to all the children at your 4th of July soiree!
Nutritious Alternative: If you want a healthier choice at your 4th of July event, use your lollipop sticks and instead of doing the colored jello, do your red, white, and blue by using strawberry slivers, marshmallows, and blueberries.

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May you have a wonderful 4th with your families!  Try these fun, child-friendly ideas to insure that every little one at your event makes memories they will never forget!

 

The Secret to Making it to the end of December without blowing apart


The Cup of Tea
~ Mary Cassatt

I am reposting from a couple of years ago. But as I was rereading this post, it spoke to me. This week has added stress to an already very stressful season with the shootings and economy and so much more.

But the essence of this post is still so true. We must guard our health–mentally, spiritually and physically, and see that we do not run dry, or else we will crater. Even today, I decided to lay down for 15 minutes and just seek peace because I needed that more than I needed to keep pumping more adrenalin into my body from so much to do.

So, today, instead of mentoring Monday, I offer you the admonition to take care of yourself today, say no to something, sit down and listen to some music for 5 minutes with a lit candle–just find a way to decide to walk this week with peace.

Dear Sally,
HELP!!!!!!!!
Love,
A Mom

Dear Mom,

I have said and felt a need for help so very often and so I offer you my best advice. First of all, chill out. Take a little time for yourself until you can get perspective. I hope something I say may help. I have had to learn that no one else in the world will be responsible for my over-all well being. I have a husband and children who need me, and as I have said before, they are going to want to continue eating every day and want to wear relatively clean clothes, with the expectation that I will be the one to keep this going. However, there are times I run out of soul-fuel and have to stop it all to refuel the tank of my heart, soul, mind and body.

As we all know, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. So, I have to tend to my own happiness and well being and you need to tend to yours.

I am responsible for my rest, my quiet time, my eating and exercise, filling my cup, so that it will not be empty when others want to keep taking and taking from me–and I am also the manager of my  my chill time. Laughing and lightening up really brings health to the bones. (A joyful heart is good medicine has been proved by the medical research1) I do have countless emails in my inbox vying for my attention, and people expecting to hear from me, but I know that I will never get to them all, even if I wish I could–never, ever, but it is God’s will for me to survive with grace.

And there are tasks calling my name around the house, but I have become the queen of turning my head away and trying to stick to my most important priorities. I have found that there will be just as many things screaming for my attention tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

But today, I know that my body and mind need a little rest and my emotions become frayed and I become grumpy if I don’t create a little break. No one else is going to tell me when I have reached my limit. But if I do not monitor myself, my children and husband and I will come to regret it when I blow!  I am a steward of my limitations and body. If I don’t protect my  walk with the Lord, it will get eaten up in everyone else’s agenda.

Though still learning, I am always simplifying and evaluating if something is worth the effort–(I do think that making things beautiful and special during the holidays are worth the effort as it builds the taste and values and work ethic and ministry skills of my children–but all in its season, and only so much.

Not everything “we have always done before,” has to be done. Fast food with candles lit is just fine. But it may not be worth it to answer one more phone call or one more email–as this will certainly steal from my children and husband who need me today. Sometimes, I have even been known to hide from my children. It made me smile.

Each of us has a different puzzle and different personality and we must accept our limitations within our own story and be comfortable being ourselves. There is great freedom in deciding to enjoy who I am, as I am not going to essentially change any time soon! I see so many moms seeking to live up to other’s expectations and ideals and then burning out in the process. I have high work times,  and times when I just can’t get anything done–and somehow the world does not crash when I take time to just live and enjoy, and avoid the “I have to do everything or I will be a failure” syndrome.

It is why I have my cup of tea every day–a way of saying, “I will take time for a moment of pleasure and peace, because it centers me, and I have decided I will last a lot longer in this very long distant race, if I build anchors of serendipity into my schedule.”

If you and I don’t eventually make peace with our own life circumstances, then we are in danger of cultivating a heart of bitterness, inadequacy, guilt or whining, or possibly blowing apart into oblivion. But if we become the conductors of our own life symphonies and live within our own melody of life, we will last longer more gracefully with the God of grace who leads us.

Spend time in God’s word and let Him love you and you love Him back. He came for you–he came to comfort. Let His comfort be yours. You cannot find peace without the prince of peace.

Take time to regroup today–Go eat some chocolate, and don’t feel guilty as you are eating it–that is a waste of good chocolate! Listen to some beautiful music, watch a heart-warming movie, take a nap, eat off of paper plates! The rest of December is still coming and you will be the better for it! I’ll be praying for you!

Love,
Sally