Prepare Him Room

Jenny Smith, GFC Lutz 

It is so easy during the holidays to get caught up in the “busy” … the shopping, the errands, the cooking, the wrapping, the list goes on. This Christmas, I want to get caught up in one thing – Jesus. I want to keep my focus on Him and show His love to those around me.

As a homeschooling mom, I happen to have two little kiddos around me every second of the day. So when I got to thinking about what our days would look like in the month of December, it was a pretty easy decision to decide to do what we are calling “Christmas School”. We are putting our regular curriculum aside and we are doing some very specific things to keep Jesus at the center. We have a simple and beautiful Christmas curriculum that includes lovely books about the true meaning of Christmas, lots of scripture and lots of fun “Christmassy” things. We will have margin in our days so we can do things like linger longer with the neighbor at the mailbox and get together with friends and family and enjoy our time with them making memories.

I am so excited to be able to just enjoy my kids and not have the pressure of a math lesson looming over me. You may not be a homeschooling mama like me, but what do you need to remove this December so you can keep your eyes better focused on Jesus? What do you need to do differently so you can have margin in your schedule to show His love a little more than usual?

We often share high’s and low’s of our day at the dinner table. The other day, my daughter said her favorite part of her day was when I played with her dollhouse with her. I had a hard time holding my tears back, but not for a reason you might expect. I cried because, that day, I was in a hurry to make dinner and I told her I could only play for “one minute”. One minute was all I could give her and one minute was all I actually gave. But, one minute was HUGE to her. We don’t have to plan to do extravagant things this holiday season. Sometimes the simplest things mean the most. Where can you create a little margin so you will have an extra minute, or maybe even two, to give to more people? I’m really looking forward to working on this and hope some of you will also!

“Love is large and incredibly patient. Love is gentle and consistently kind to all. It refuses to be jealous when blessing comes to someone else. Love does not brag about one’s achievements nor inflate its own importance. Love does not traffic in shame and disrespect, nor selfishly seek its own honor. Love is not easily irritated or quick to take offense. Love joyfully celebrates honesty and finds no delight in what is wrong. Love is a safe place of shelter, for it never stops believing the best for others. Love never takes failure as defeat, for it never gives up.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 TPT

Simply Christmas

Pastor Debbie Altman

I do love Christmas!  There is something about the season that truly does soften the world a little bit…even for those who may not believe as we do. I admit, getting the motivation to do the decorating can sometimes be hard for me, but once it’s done, it feels so warm and fuzzy and I enjoy it so much! I even have a crazy tradition…after New Year’s. I put all the decorations away, and take all the ornaments off the tree, but I leave the tree up with just the white lights through our cold Florida January! Haha! I love the warmth of the lights and the smell of the real tree and wrapping up in a blanket. Call me crazy! I believe it’s because I come from Buffalo, and so it feels a bit like home.

I have always tried to start my decorating and shopping a little earlier so that as Christmas approaches, I can more fully enjoy the fun festivities of the season…children’s Christmas plays, a choral or church musical concert, parties and gatherings with friends and family…keeping a sense of reverence and worship, rather than all out, overwhelming stress!

One of the things I’ve realized over the years, is that holiday traditions don’t have to be expensive or fancy. What my kids have seemed to appreciate, was simply doing the same things each year. There is comfort and security in simple, repeated traditions. For example, we usually have the same foods for Thanksgiving every year. Everyone in our extended family brings their same side dishes. Well, one year we went to one of Craig’s aunt’s houses in Georgia for Thanksgiving, and they put out quite a southern Georgia spread! My daughter Dara was NOT happy. She did not like that they did not have the exact same dishes that we serve! Truthfully, I was surprised, but it validated the power of the simple traditions that we were creating.

When my children were small, I found the most delightful book…it is composed of just the words to some traditional Christmas songs, and the Christmas story. But the book is pretty, and the Christmas story is illustrated so magically, that the children were drawn to it. So every year before presents were opened, we sat on the sofa and read this most beautiful Story together from this beautiful book. For all the years of their lives, through their teen and even college years, we did this simple tradition. Well, I bought copies of this book and have given it to my adult children, and they now read it together with their children. I so love this! (We are still waiting for Brent’s children, but he and Vasilisa read it together :)).

On the not so spiritual side, somewhere I heard about the Christmas pickle tradition, and it has become an anticipated part of our Christmas! You hide the, sparkly green pickle somewhere in the tree, and everyone…adults and children alike, try to find it…without destroying your tree of course! No touching any branches! Whoever finds it first gets an extra little gift. Or, whoever finds it can open the first gift. However you do it, it’s just a simple little addition of fun…and for our EXTREMELY competitive family…maybe the addition of a few injuries!

I’m sure you have your own treasured holiday customs! So, keep it going, keep it simple, and enjoy the beauty of this season.  Know that whatever you do for your family in the way of tradition goes a long way to creating warmth, security and legacy.

From the Mouths of Babes

Pam Otto, GFC Lutz

Thanksgiving. Gratitude. Thankfulness.  The season is here.

Have you slowed down yet or taken a few minutes to reflect on the things that you’re  grateful for this past year?  

As we begin preparing for Thanksgiving this next week, and then Christmas around the corner, let’s consider pausing a bit and maybe be a little more intentional with focusing on all we have to be grateful for.

“What does “Gratitude” mean anyway?

I recently had the joy of asking a few little friends, ages 3-7, what Gratitude meant to them…I think you’ll enjoy their honest thoughts:

Cooper was right on target when he shared that “Gratitude is being happy about how you feel about things!”
Lucas said “It’s like, you’re thankful that someone shared the last cookie with you and they didn’t eat it all themself.”
When I asked my nephew Jeremiah what Gratitude meant, He said, “Does that mean I’m grounded?” 🙂  Then he said, “Nah, I think it means ‘watch your attitude’.” After a bit more coaching, he said “Well, it means being kind and respectful and happy.”

How would you answer this question?  What does Gratitude mean to you?

A simple definition of Gratitude is: A positive state of being; A feeling of thankfulness and appreciation for someone or something.

God invites us to take time to pause, remember, and reflect on His goodness in our lives.

1 Samuel 12:24 says, “Trust the Lord and sincerely worship him; think of all the tremendous things he has done for you.”

This verse encourages us to consider the great things God has done in each of our lives.  When we do this, it honors God and is a form of our worship as we put Him in His rightful place.

Our gratitude connects us more deeply to God as we are reminded of his consistent faithfulness in our lives.

Besides our closer connection to God, some further benefits of practicing Gratitude are:

Improves health

Increases energy

Elevates your mood

Keeps you present

Increases patience

Improves relationships

Increases resiliency

Builds character

This Thanksgiving season, let’s be mindful and carve out time in our holiday schedule to follow through with 1 Samuel 12:24 and be filled with Gratitude, thinking of all the tremendous things He has done for us!

Maybe we can be like Lucas, and be thankful that someone shared their last cookie. 😉


We ARE Better Together!

Michele Laccabue, GFC Carrollwood 

A couple of months ago, our youngest son got married. What a glorious season of preparation and anticipation. Walking in the mother-of-the-groom role for the first time was dreamy and daunting. My biggest responsibility on the wedding weekend was to host a rehearsal dinner party for 60 family and friends at an out-of-state location. Lots of fun planning, but when the day came, it became evident that I needed help to execute all the plans I had made. Crazy me thought I could do it all myself.

Why do I struggle with asking for a helping hand?  Am I afraid of burdening a friend? Is it a pride and control issue? Do I feel like a failure because I can’t handle it? Is this just me? Can anyone else relate?

Thankfully, at just the right time, God reminded me of the beauty of sisterhood. A friend stepped in to help without asking. Another friend saw a need (a detail I missed) and got it done better than I could have.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 (NIV)

Thank you, Jesus, for sending a small army to rescue me and save the day. It didn’t mean I was lesser of a person who couldn’t handle my responsibilities. It was God providing and modeling the all-important principle, “WE ARE BETTER TOGETHER”. And, you know what? It was fun. We laughed and conquered the final tasks together with greater success than I ever could have alone. It wasn’t a burden for them. It brought them joy to links arms with me. I am forever grateful. Thank you, Laura, Kim, and Mom!

One month later, while SOARing through 1 John chapter 1, a fresh detail popped up that I hadn’t noticed before. My observation of John’s heavy use of the plural pronouns WE, OUR, and US. Even though he is writing this letter alone, he pens the whole chapter as though a plural author. I went back and circled all the pronouns in the first four verses. In the NIV, he writes, “WE” nine times and “OUR” and “US” twice!

1 John 1:1 reads, “That which was from the beginning, which WE have heard, which WE have seen with our eyes, which WE have looked at and OUR hands have touched – this WE proclaim concerning the Word of life.”

Don’t you love how God reveals something NEW every time we read His Word?

Our application today is to lean into our community, our people. Ask for help. If you see a need, jump in, and help a sister. God created us for so much more than we can do alone. He is with us. Let’s link arms because WE are most definitely better and stronger together.

p.s. A big thank you also goes to a team of “sisters” back home who gladly shared their wisdom and skills in the weeks leading up to this special weekend (Jeanna, Kristin, Jennifer, and Gianna).

Nothing but Gratitude

Thanksgiving 2011, I was sitting in the driveway with one of my dearest friends, watching the kids ride their bikes up and down the street, awaiting the dreaded call of their dad saying he was on the way to pick them up. It would be my first Thanksgiving without my kids.  I pictured Thanksgiving differently.

At that moment, I desperately wanted my old life back. I wanted to celebrate Thanksgiving the way we had always celebrated, with all of our family coming over. It was always so fun to host dinner at our house. I would make place cards and have the kids do a fun craft that usually involved a turkey. But, instead, this year, it would all look different.

I remember looking over at my friend, Tami, saying, “I have nothing to be thankful for this year.” And she just looked at me and said, “What do you mean you have nothing to be thankful for?” And all I knew to do was repeat what I said, just dragging out the words a little bit more…”I have nothing to be thankful for.”

She looked at me and gave me a challenge I would never forget.  She said, “I want you to go home. I want you to open up your journal, and I want you to write down everything that you are grateful for.”
I wanted to shout back at her.  “Did you not hear me?  I have nothing to be thankful for”, but instead, in my most non-confrontational way, I smiled, and under my breath, I said, “Sure, I’ll do that once the kids leave.”

I had no intention of writing in my journal.  It sounded silly and cliché. But once the kids left and I walked into the empty, eerily quiet house, I had nothing else to do but go to my journal and write what I was thankful for. And, you know what? It completely surprised me.

I began writing a list. It started with elementary things and then grew in ways I saw where God was being so intentional in our lives. So, I kept writing everything, anything that popped into my head. I realized there was so much that I was thankful for. And, a new tradition was birthed from this simple challenge, keeping a small gratitude journal in my purse so I can keep a running tally of where God has just shown up. It’s been over ten years; I have completed so many gratitude journals throughout the years. I love looking through them and seeing God in such a tangible way.

Have you ever found yourself in a season where you have believed the lie, “I have nothing to be thankful for “?

Maybe you didn’t get the job you wanted, or you feel stuck in a season of singleness, or you’re struggling in a relationship, and it seems hopeless. Maybe you’re not where you want to be financially, or you’re not where you want to be spiritually, or perhaps you had expectations of things happening that have yet to happen. The list could go on and on, but I wonder what it would look like if we paused for a minute and simply write down what we were thankful for. So, I challenge you today; go find a journal! If you are anything like me, you have some lying around the house, and watch God change your heart!