Everyone Loves a Parade

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“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson

For the month of February, I am focusing on the word, enthusiasm, a synonym which supports my 2018 word “Devotion”.  The definitions of enthusiasm are:

1a : strong excitement of feeling : ardor

b : something inspiring zeal or fervor*

Mardi Gras season is a perfect example of enthusiasm here in Southeast Louisiana.  When I moved here from Texas nine years ago, I had no concept of Mardi Gras.  It is not a one-day celebration but a seasonal festival.   Carnival season starts with the selection of the Royalty for each Krewe’s ball and the majority of the parades run in the final two weeks leading up to Mardi Gras day (also known as Fat Tuesday).

Most people love a parade; the music, floats, and dance teams all melding together to form the celebration which takes Mardi Gras to a whole other level.  Some of the bigger parades can have up to thirty floats, with well-known celebrities riding in the parade.  There are the high school and college bands from all over the country who march, play and have the crowds dancing on their feet.  And of course, there are the throws.  What is a throw?  To be honest, it is cheap plastic trinkets from beads to stuffed animals, which are tossed from the floats to the crowds.  And people act like they are precious and rare commodities, scrambling to catch or pick up the items off the ground.  I am a little amused at the enthusiastic parade goers and the lengths they will go in order to capture throws during Mardi Gras season.

As I move through my tenth Mardi Gras season, I have come to realize there are similarities to attending a parade and living life.  What if I approached every day with a strong feeling of excitement like going to a parade?

Anticipation-There is preparation and planning needed when attending a parade.  Where will I set up, what do I bring, how long will I stay, and do I have a plan for my physical needs (food, water, bathroom, elements, etc)?  Next is the excitement factor.  I know what to expect and look forward to the sights, sounds, and smells on the parade route.  Oh, how I long for some good Jambalaya and King Cake!  Another key component is location, location, location.  Who wants to be ten deep in a shoulder to shoulder crowd?  My husband is a seasoned pro at parading and has the contacts for locations on the parade route, how to get around the crowds by using back roads, and knowing when streets close down for the festivities.

I find living my life is like the anticipation of a parade.  I find myself preparing and planning for my daily agenda starting with prayer and journaling.  It helps me focus on what I need mentally and spiritually to face the day.  I plan for my family’s physical needs and try and keep our home a safe refuge from the ugliness of the world.  I find a well thought out plan lays a good foundation to face the day to day hurdles and activities.

Being present-When I hear the sirens from the police and fire trucks (who generally lead the parade and alert the crowd it is about to commence) I focus on the moment.  The sounds of the piped in music from the floats and the reverberation of the marching bands gives me goosebumps and fills my heart with joy.  I watch the children on the shoulders of dads and big brothers trying to catch a trinket or beads to put in their goody bags.   The smiles, laughter, and screams of delight coming from the crowd make me smile.  The atmosphere is full of excitement and positive vibes.  Then the last float goes by and it is over.  A little sadness fills the air as I want there to be one more float.  A deep sigh escapes my lips and I start to remember the excitement I recently experienced.

I am reminded I should also be present in my life.  There will be joy, excitement, laughter, and delight which I should embrace and soak into my soul.  I should not worry what could be around the corner; fear, sadness, grief, and disappointment.  Life is made up of all these emotions and in order to be present, I have to face and live through the good as well as the bad.

Fellowship-A parade consists of a diverse crowd of people.  We generally meet some of our friends, or family will come into town and join us, and it is a great way to get away from technology and focus on relationships.  We generally arrive several hours before the parade starts in order to set up and avoid street closures.  While waiting for the parade it is custom to get to know the people around you, find out if they are local or out of town, what did they bring to eat, and what has been their favorite parade.  It is not uncommon by the time the parade rolls; we are sharing food, helping each other catch throws, and hosting our own dance party.

God is about relationships and so is life.   God made us social in order to interact and take care of one another.  This is why I am involved in a church and volunteer so I can fellowship with others.  I am amazed how moving to Louisiana nine years ago has afforded me new friends and relationships I would have not developed if I had not followed God’s lead.  I look forward to how my community will continue to grow in the future due to new connections with others.

Life is like a parade.  It is totally worth the anticipation, enthusiasm, the relationships, and the making of memories.  If you ever have the opportunity to come down to Southeast Louisiana and experience Mardi Gras, I highly recommend it.  There are many family-friendly parades all over the area and you can learn the history of the parades and get more details at http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/parades.html.   Blessings and Happy Mardi Gras!

mardi-gras-mask

*https://www.merriam-webster.com/

 

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The Value of Connecting

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“This is my command:  Love each other.”-John 15:17*

This is a hard week for my family.  It has been seventeen years since my first husband and the father of my three precious children, Scott, passed away suddenly.  I find myself in a vulnerable and emotional state as I reflect back on our lives and pinpoint a common theme.

Scott was passionate about relationships.

FRIENDS-Scott grew up in a small suburb of Fort Worth, Texas, graduating from the local high school and pursued college, where I met him.  We dated, became engaged, and closed the deal in marriage.  We moved back to the suburb (which had grown considerably!) and I witnessed his people skills at work.  Everywhere we visited he knew someone.  There was always a handshake, hug, or pat on the back from Scott to his friend.  He would remember family members (and their names) and ask how they were doing.  Scott was genuinely engaged with the other person, a smile on his face, locking on their eyes, nodding his head in agreement, and being present for their story.

This kind of meets and greet were not limited to our community.  On a couple of occasions, we were on road trips, hours from where we lived, and Scott would run into someone he knew! It happened in a grocery store, airport, sporting events and gas stations.  Again, the rapport was demonstrated at his funeral when there were over four hundred people who came to pay their respects.  It was a visual reminder of how important friendships were to Scott and how he and his friends had a special bond.

FAMILY– Scott’s love for his parents was a marvel to witness.  He would always kiss his father and mother every time he left them.  We only lived a few miles away from his parents but he would talk to them every day.  We lost his father, Arnie, in 1988 and Scott made sure his mother was engaged daily.  He would visit her and help with items around the house.  I guess you could say he was a momma’s boy, but he was proud of the title and I respected their strong connection.

Scott also had an older brother and they were typical siblings, goofing around, arguing, and turning every event into a competition.  I know Scott was proud of his brother and would protect and support him in his choices.  Then there was the extended family of uncles, aunts, cousins, niece, in-laws, too many to count but Scott was always up to visiting and catching up.  We would go to family reunions in West Texas and he was so excited to see everyone and to introduce me to the family.  Scott’s mom was the youngest of eleven living children so they were many older uncles and aunts.  To hear their stories and recollections of Scott as a youngster was hysterical!  I remember those reunions fondly and realize how many of the family has since passed on.

GOD-The most important relationship to Scott was with God.  When I met this twenty-something year old, he told me he had accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  God was important to us but I have to admit, the early years we were not focused.  As a couple, we would sporadically go to church, sometimes tithed, and most of the time prayed before eating.  This all changed about a year before he died.  We were invited to a non-denominational megachurch in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and after a few visits, the experience transformed Scott.  I now know God was preparing Scott for his eternal homecoming.  Scott insisted we faithfully attend church every weekend and tithed on a regular basis.  Scott also insisted we prayed with the children each night before bed and we would pray together, the two of us, giving thanks for this life and lifting others in need.

In the last year of his life, Scott had a long-standing disagreement with his older brother.  On his last Christmas Eve, Scott asked if he could speak with me privately.   Scott confessed God was asking him to forgive his brother and make amends.  I told him if God is directing him to do this, he best submit.  He called up his brother who agreed to come over and the two of them spent the next three hours talking about their issues.  By Christmas Eve night we were all able to gather, as a family, and celebrate the meaning of Christmas.   I witnessed such a burden being lifted from both brothers’ hearts.

After Scott’s death, I too was able to find peace in knowing Scott was in heaven.  Early on a Sunday morning, I called a friend who I knew would be awake to let her know Scott had passed away.  She was shocked it was me on the phone because she had awakened from a dream about us moments before the call.  We were all at church and she asked me, “where is Scott?”  I told her to turn around and she would see him standing in the doorway.  When she looked, he was waving at her surrounded by a bright, beaming, golden light.   I was thankful for God to give me the confirmation Scott was with Him in His Kingdom.

God wants a relationship with each one of us.  He also wants us to develop kinships to lift up and support one another, not tear each other apart.  I believe God brings certain individuals in and out of our lives for a reason.  For my long lost friends and family, I will continue to find joy in the times we used to share together.  No regrets and no shame if we have drifted apart.  I would love to catch up, re-connect, and value my relationship with you.

Just like Scott.

 

*The Holy Bible, New International Version Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Passion For Compassion

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“ Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9*

This past weekend I was able to visit a mother and her premature baby at the hospital.  This precious little girl was born three months early and came into this world at a hefty one and a half pound.  When I saw her this weekend she was five pounds twelve ounces and on her way to leaving the hospital and going home over the next couple of weeks.

God is good.

It is incredible what modern medicine can do for babies born prematurely.  I walked into the NICU and was in awe of the tiny infants working overtime to grow bigger and stronger with the assistance of machines, nurses, doctors, and parents.  It was controlled chaos and everyone knew how they fit into this complicated puzzle of sustaining, nurturing, and growing this tiny miracle.  I witnessed their passion to embrace and provide in order to save these beautiful little babies in need.

Through my grief journey, I have also found a desire to help others in need.  What started out as a grief facilitator at my church has opened the door to other opportunities in the church and in my community.  We live in a world full of pain, grief, sickness, fear, and death.  My own grief has opened my eyes to show me how God has gifted me with compassion, love, and comfort for others who are less fortunate.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines compassion as the “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it”**.  I bet the majority of people feel this way but may not know how to act on it.  I have listed a few suggestions for someone who knows they want to assist others and make a difference:

  • Select a group which feels comfortable. Do you like to work with animals, the elderly, the homeless, or children?  Who do you connect with?
  • What is your passion? Talking with people, physical labor, teaching, reading, writing, organizing, praying?
  • Decide on how you can assist. Is it by giving your time, money, donations, creative efforts, prayers?  What amount is appropriate for you? (How much time, money, donations, etc.)
  • Would you prefer to volunteer with family, friends, or go solo?
  • Check out opportunities through churches, hospitals, non-profits, shelters, schools.
  • Ask family and friends if they are involved in volunteer work.
  • Commit and follow through.

There are plenty of opportunities to explore and find a good fit. Reflecting on these suggestions has directed me to the right choices, and tapped into my compassion for helping others.  I think one of the most important actions I can do for others is to pray.  I have seen prayer change circumstances and lives in unexplainable ways which only God can control.  He loves to see us lift each other up to Him in prayer because it shows we are focusing on others and not ourselves.  For me, this was an important step in my grief journey.  In the beginning, I needed to focus on me, my kids, and my well-being.  One day, God showed me it was time to share my journey with others and here I am today, involved with some outstanding and compassionate organizations.

I believe my compassion has grown from my grief.   I know how the pain hurts so deeply and wrecks you emotionally, mentally, and physically.  I wish no one ever has to experience the misery, but it is the reality.  I have lived through the torment and want to testify to others they too can move through the agony in their painful circumstances.  My prayer is for you to find a volunteer opportunity which allows you to serve others and passionately demonstrate your God-given talents.  Blessings!

 

A couple of the organizations my family volunteers with:

Ragan’s Hope   http://www.raganshope.org/

Ronald McDonald House Charities https://www.rmhc.org/

Our Good Shepherd Ministries http://www.ourgoodshepherdministries.org/

*The Holy Bible, New International Version Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

**https://www.merriam-webster.com/

FAN FOR LIFE

FAN FOR LIFE

“Be joyful always;  pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”-1 Thessalonians  5:16-18*

Friday night lights.  The band is playing, cheerleaders are psyching up the crowd, and then the high school football team takes the field.  For the next two hours, you have the fans and students cheering for their team, yelling their heads off.  The electricity and excitement you feel in the air is passion, for their home team, and for the win.

I would love to be able to bottle the passion released in a high school football game.  It starts with the players who have the intensity and drive to play the game.  Students who exemplify commitment by listening to the coaches, running the drills, working on strength and agility and focusing on their grades so they can be on the field.

Then there are the fans.  The enthusiastic crowd is made up of proud parents, talented band members, graceful dancers, spirited cheerleaders, and the animated student body. They all participate by singing, cheering, clapping, and demonstrating true team spirit. The passionate crowd is positive their team will take the win and spell victory at the end of the game.

What if I could wake up every morning, excited and enthusiastic to greet the day like a peppy fan at a football game?  You know what, I can.

I will choose to be excited and passionate about every day.

I know it is easier said than done, but it is by choice.

The first thing I do before my feet hit the ground is whisper a simple prayer.  “God, thank you for today and make it a great one to glorify You.”  Now I will be honest, I am not a morning person.  So, I have found if I get up before anyone else, drink my first cup of coffee and wake up, I am much more pleasant to be around.  While I am waking up, I make a choice to read something around God’s word.  It could be a devotional, actual bible verses or some passage reading for my bible study.  No news, no social media, no games.  I try to put my focus where it counts for me and this would be developing my relationship with Jesus.

As my day unfolds, there are many choices to be made.  One of my daily challenges is driving in traffic and choosing to extend grace to the other drivers who may not drive fast enough, DO NOT use their turn signals to alert others of their intentions, or pull out in front of me because obviously, I am so stealth like and invisible!  Believe me, this is my struggle and I work on it EVERYDAY.  I passionately want to react better to others, so I choose to try to behave better than the day before.

I know there will be the failure of my attempts, but I have to continue to try and be better than I was the day before.  I think back to how I felt during a Friday night football game.  The excitement of the unknown, the love for my team, and the positive vibes felt throughout the crowd.  I have a strong desire to choose to be as positive as I can be in all aspects of my life and to improve on my shortcomings.   I believe with this type of focus and passion in my life, I definitely will score the win for God’s team and be a fan for life.

* The Holy Bible, New International Version Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Living Out Passion

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“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying:  Who should I send?  Who will go for Us?  I said:  Here I am.  Send me.”  Isaiah 6:8*

It is exciting to start a new year!  No goals for me, but a new intention.  I have selected the word “devotion” and I am applying it all facets of my life; my time with God, my relationships, and my writing.  I have decided to take twelve synonyms of the word “devotion” and apply it to my writing calendar.  For the month of January, I have chosen “passion” as my word of the month.

PASSION-Strong liking or desire for some activity, object, or concept**

Growing up I regularly noticed my father with his nose in a book.  I would ask him what he was reading and he would show me the front of the book with a whimsical title of “Quantum Mechanics, the most exciting theory using mathematical interpretation”.  I would try to hide my puzzlement with a poker face, but there was no fooling dad.  He knew I was clueless.

My dad grew up in a small community in Ohio.  He learned early on his love of learning would open up opportunities for his future.  My dad used his passion for knowledge to gain several bachelor’s degrees in mechanical, petroleum, and chemical engineering along with a master’s degree.  When he passed away in September 2014 at the age of seventy-four, he was taking online courses to complete another degree in electrical engineering.  His thirst for knowledge was evident not only in formal education but in everyday activities.

When computers became a way of life, my dad taught himself how to use a computer, how to write code, and how to build one from parts.   He also learned how to work on cars and rebuild them, how to tackle plumbing issues, and later how to build furniture out of wood and scroll pictures into wooden keepsakes for the family.  My dad had a passion for learning, growing, and challenging himself.

Later in life, dad began to pour his passion for learning into his bible.  He would read, discuss with his bible study class, and share his thoughts with family and friends.  His favorite book was Isaiah which documents how God reveals His judgment and salvation.   When we are willing to learn about Him, accept Him as our Lord and Savior, and repent of our sins, we are extended God’s grace and forgiveness.  Isaiah showed his passion in a proclaimed message of repentance from sin and hopeful expectation of God’s deliverance of Judah in the future.***  I am thankful my dad was able to be open about his personal relationship with God because it assured his family where he would be for eternity.

My father led by example in following his passion to learn until his last breath.  I am inspired to follow in his footsteps, not so much about engineering, but pushing myself to learn about the subjects which interest me, like writing.  I look at learning as an opportunity to challenge my brain and discover and develop my God-given talents to witness to others of God’s love and grace.  I want to thank you, dad, for living out your passion and leaving the legacy for your family to carry forward.

* The Holy Bible, New International Version Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

**https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/passion

***The Study Bible for Women Copyright 2014 by Holman Bible Publishers Nashville, TN

Goals For 2018-NONE!

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“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.  But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law, he meditates day and night.”-Psalms 1:1-2**

No disappointment.  No unfulfilled promises.  No guilt.  I have decided to tackle setting goals for 2018 in a different way.  Not going to do it.   BUT, I want to start a new habit.

If you Google search ‘how long does it take to start a new habit?’ there are hundreds of responses anywhere from one to eight months to build a new habit.  This is based on many variables including the person, behavior tendencies, and surrounding circumstances.  The key to building a new or “good” habit is to repeat the habit daily and be accountable (journal, partner, small group, etc.).  So what is my 2018 habit?

Devotion

I was challenged to pick a word for my focus in 2018.  I prayed and wrote down several words which I thought “needed” me to dedicate my time and effort.  No one particular word was screaming at me, until a few weeks later when I picked up my bible.  It is titled “Women’s Devotional Bible-New International Version” but the word “Devotion” is what was glaring in gold color to me.  Lightbulb moment and yesssss, my word was chosen.

I have decided to use this word as my theme for the year; in my quiet time, writing, relationships, and in my health and wellness.  I’m excited to see where this assignment will lead me.

The online Merriam-Webster dictionary* describes devotion in three different ways:

  • 1a: religious fervor: piety
  • b: an act of prayer or private worship —usually used in plural during his morning devotions
  • c: a religious exercise or practice other than the regular corporate (see corporate 2) worship of a congregation
  • 2a: the act of dedicating something to a cause, enterprise, or activity: the act of devoting
  • the devotion of a great deal of time and energy
  • b: the fact or state of being ardently dedicated and loyal her devotion to the cause
  • 3obsolete: the object of one’s devotion

Most are familiar with devotion pertaining to religion such as reading devotionals, praying, and bible study.  I am intrigued by the second definition-the act of dedicating something to a cause, enterprise, or activity.  That’s what I am talking about, living out devotion daily in all my circumstances.

  • Devotion to my God
  • Devotion to my family and friends
  • Devotion to my job
  • Devotion to my volunteer efforts
  • Devotion to my writing
  • Devotion to my health
  • Devotion to my hobbies

How am I going to tackle this endeavor?  I will ask myself three questions before I invest any time in a particular activity:

  • Does this activity fall into one of my categories (listed above)
  • Would God approve?
  • Is this a beneficial choice for someone?

The first two questions are obvious but I want to make sure if I am investing my time, talent, and energy into an exercise, I want it to benefit someone, including myself.

I know the reality; this will be a challenge, and I will make mistakes and neglect it some days.  What excites me is I have a game plan and if I implement it every day, hopefully, I will make it part of my natural routine.  Bring on 2018!

So what will you do for the New Year? Sets some goals?  I challenge you to go a little deeper and pick some action, which if you commit to accomplishing, then perhaps, we can all make a contribution to improve ourselves and bring joy to our communities.   Merry Christmas ya’ll!

*https://www.merriam-webster.com/

**The Holy Bible, New International Version Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

 

Why Can’t Grief Take A Holiday?

why-cant-grief-take

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”-Psalm 34:18 NIV*

For me, it is so easy to get caught up in the festivities of the season.  I love to watch cheesy Christmas movies, go shopping and buy presents, and curl up on the couch under a blanket with some hot cocoa.  Okay, living in southern Louisiana maybe it is curl up with some iced tea and running the air conditioner on high.  But, as I move through the holidays, there is a corner of my heart which is melancholy and raw.  I can’t help but think of my loved ones who are not here to celebrate Christmas with me and the family.  Why can’t my grief take a holiday during this wonderful time of year?

Unfortunately, grief doesn’t take a break.  For me, I can experience happiness and sorrow at the same time.  I know what an oxymoron, but it is the best way to describe it.  I want to remember and honor those who have died and enjoy the family and friends I do have here physically with me.  It is indeed a balancing act which I don’t always handle gracefully.

I have experienced feelings of emptiness and solitude during my journey, especially around the holidays.  In a previous blog, Grief Completes Me, I shared some of my thoughts about my grief journey and what I accept as true in my life:

  • I will not “complete” grief – It has been almost seventeen years since my husband died and three years since my father passed. When I lose someone or comfort someone who lost a loved one, I feel the same intense deep, raw, pain and sadness.   It will forever be a part of me, and I have become more compassionate with others because of my losses.  I know what to expect in my feelings, and guess what?  I know I will not feel this way each day and the intensity will subside, until the next time.

 

  • I am not alone – There is a huge difference between being alone and feeling lonely. I am not alone in my grief, but in the middle of grief, I can feel lonely.  I know the loneliness is only temporary and I talk with others who feel the same way, so it validates for me, I am not alone.  God is with me, every step of my life.  He knows my pain and works through it with me. Surrounding me with others such as a grief group was the support I needed to connect with others with similar circumstances.  It is a reminder all people embark on a grief journey at some point in their lives.

 

  • It is okay to grieve anytime – I know some individuals are uncomfortable around people who are experiencing a loss. I have come to the conclusion if I need to cry, it is okay to cry in private or public and release my emotions.  I actually feel better after a cry fest and it allows me to refresh and renew.  When I need to grieve, I do it.  No apologies.  No holding back.  I let it out and know God is also grieving with me.  God knows grief.  As humans, we have grieved Him many times with our actions.  In addition, He watched His Son sacrifice and die for our sins.  I know He is an expert in this field and can totally relate to my circumstances.

 

Perhaps you are sad and burdened with grief during this holiday season.  My hope is for you to realize you are not alone.  God is always with you and you can turn your pain and sorrow over to Him to handle.  If you invite Him into your heart, He can give you peace and comfort during this difficult time.

I have been there; brokenhearted and crushed in spirit.  God has placed it on my heart to reach out to those hurting from the loss of a loved one.  This is why I write about grief and have a prayer request on my blog.  If you need some support, please feel free to send me a request so I can pray for you.    Blessings to you, and praying for a peaceful new year.

*The Holy Bible, New International Version Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society