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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Write Your Story

Photo Credit:  snowbear from
I’m sure many of you have received an e-mail similar to the following one over the years:

“This is part of a brain study.  If you can read the paragraph below, then you have a strong mind.  Better than that, they say that Alzheimer's is a long, long way down the road for you!”

7H15 M3554G3 53RV35 7O PR0V3 H0W 0UR M1ND5 C4N D0 4M4Z1NG 7H1NG5!  1MPR3551V3 7H1NG5!  1N 7H3 B3G1NN1NG 17 WA5 H4RD, BU7 N0W 0N 7H15 LIN3, Y0UR M1ND 1S R34D1NG 17 4U70M471C4LLY W17H0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17.  B3 PROUD!  0NLY C3R741N P30PL3 C4N R3AD 7H15.

(The answer key that my daughter insisted I provide: This message serves to prove how our minds can do amazing things!  Impressive things!  In the beginning it was hard, but now on this line, your mind is reading it automatically without even thinking about it.  Be proud!  Only certain people can read this.)

What about this one?  Can you read this?  They say that only 55% of people can.  I cdnuolt blveiee that I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd what I was rdanieg.  Its the phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy.  It dseno't mtaetr in what oerdr the ltteres in a word are.  The olny iproamtnt tihng is that the frsit and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae.  The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it whotuit a pboerlm.  This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the word as a wlohe.  Azanmig huh?  Yaeh and I awlyas tghuhot slpeling was ipmorantt!  Ha!

(Here goes: I couldn’t believe that I could actually understand what I was reading.  It’s the phenomenal power of the human mind, according to a research at Cambridge University.  It doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are.  The only important thing is that the first and last letter be in the right place.  The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without a problem.  This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself, but the word as a whole.  Amazing huh?  Yeah and I always thought spelling was important! Ha!)

Although I have successfully read these passages above on numerous occasions, I still enjoy the challenge.  I re-read them each and every time they pop up in my inbox.  I want to see if my gray matter is still functioning at full (or at least, semi-full) capacity.  It always gives me a little jolt of delight when my mind works with me instead of against me.

Our minds are amazing, aren’t they?  God blessed us with something incredible.  We can multi-task, learn, recall all types of information, remember beautiful and not-so-beautiful times in our lives, help our children with difficult homework assignments, be creative, think, pray, and on and on and on.  Personally, I’m certain that I take for granted the fact that my brain is working properly when I get out of bed each day.  I need to make more of an effort to thank God for that.

On the flip-side of a mind that is bursting at the seams with information, thoughts, and creativity, there are certainly times when I experience tabula rasa.  What in the world is tabula rasa?  Well, I first heard the term a few weeks ago and it has ironically been “on my mind” since then.  Tabula rasa is a Latin phrase often translated as "blank slate" in English.  It originates from the Roman tabula or wax tablet used for notes, which was blanked by heating the wax and then smoothing it.

As a writer, I get antsy when my mind feels like a blank slate.  I am a bit anxious when I think that I just might not have anything at all to share.  Nothing.  Zilch.  Nil.  Zero.  Nada.  However, during those times in which I experience tabula rasa, I have found that that is when I pray more.  I seek God’s assistance and advice.  I ask Him what He wants me to write.  I say, “Lord, write YOUR story and use me as an instrument.”

Recently, I heard a Christian song with the lyrics, “I’m an empty page.  I’m an open book.  Write your story on my heart.”  It resonated with me as I continued to ponder what tabula rasa meant.  It made sense.  If we feverishly attempt to fill the book of our life with all the words WE want to write, when do we let God fill in a chapter or two?  Do we ever put down the pen and let Him have some quality writing time?

Little by little, I’m actually getting more comfortable with tabula rasa.  I am learning to appreciate the delicate dance between having so much to say and having so little to say.  I’m also working on being okay with silence.  When I experience tabula rasa, my mind becomes quiet.  Then, I become quiet.  That is when I can truly listen.  Try talking and listening at the same time.  It’s not a great combination and we do it so often, don’t we?  I know I do.

Have you ever been at a loss for words?  Maybe a tragedy of some sort has affected your family or friends?  Maybe there is an unexpected death?  Maybe someone you love gets the news that they have a terminal illness?

These are prime examples of different chances to give God the pen and ask Him for the words.  They are perfect opportunities for God to guide our words…if words are even necessary.  Sometimes, there are no words needed.  What if we’re just supposed to listen?  At times, there can be a greater gift…that of presence. 

As a person who simply adores words, I used to think that I always needed to find the perfect words to share in any given situation.  Over the years, I have found that I don’t.  Sometimes, words aren’t what someone needs.  Many times, my presence is all someone needed.  What if YOUR presence is all someone needs?

Oftentimes, people are uncomfortable being quiet together though.  Haven’t you known someone who can’t help but fill every single solitary second with a word or a sound?  How about um and uh?  Those two-letter words like to hang around in the awkward silence, don’t they?

Anyway, with the increase in activity during the upcoming holidays, I realize there won’t be oodles of opportunity for being quiet.  However, I challenge each of you to squeeze in a few moments for the gift of silence.  Hand over your pen and let God write some of your story this Christmas season.

Actually, now that I think about it, one of my tabula rasa moments ended up as a children’s book, once I asked God to write the story.  I know I’ve mentioned it already…buuuuut…my first children’s book, Gabriel’s Golden Key, will be available in early 2016!  Woo-hoo!

I would also like to wish each of you a Blessed Thanksgiving, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!  I thank God for each of you and I ask Him to bless you and your families.  Thank you for spending time with me over here at Sips of Sunshine.  It’s been such a pleasure for me to write these posts and I have loved all of your feedback throughout the year.  I will be taking a few weeks off from blogging to wrap up 2015, BUT I will definitely be back with lots of sunshine to share again in January! 

Oh!  I have a tiny favor…if you would be so kind, please feel free to share my blog with others and head on over to my Sips of Sunshine facebook page.  Be sure to “like” it and get updates on my book as it gets closer to publication date.  (Can you tell I’m just a teeny weeny bit excited?!  Yeah!  Thank you for sharing in my joy!)

Until then, let God write your story.  I hear He has a wonderful way with words!

See you in 2016, Sunshines!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Photo Credit:  wintersixfour from
How do you like that title?  Is that a misprint?  Is that even a real word?  Yep!  It’s a real word.  I actually found out about WYSIWYG last night.  You pronounce it like “wiz-ee-wig.”  Go ahead and say it a few times.  It’s super-duper fun to say and I won’t admit to how many times my 8-year-old daughter and I have said it in the last few hours.

I was studying some spelling bee words with her yesterday evening and we came across WYSIWYG.  We had to look it up because how can that possibly be a word, right?  It’s an acronym for “What you see is what you get.”  In 1982, a computer programmer came up with it to denote that a screen display will show the text exactly as it will appear in a print-out with all the underlining, italics, bold, and paragraph indentions, etc.

Okay!  So, if you were looking for something to learn today for the next time you are on a TV game show, there ya have it!  You’ll win the big money if you know about WYSIWYG. Ha! Ha!

I wanted to take WYSIWYG a bit deeper though.  (Of course, I do!)  What you see is what you get.  If I see with eyes of gratitude, will I get (or feel) more grateful?  If I see with eyes of appreciation, will I get (or feel) more appreciative?  If I see with eyes of love, will I get (or feel) more loving?

Many folks remember November as a time to be thankful.  I’ve seen numerous posts about counting blessings and being grateful for all the gifts we have.  I agree.  There is no better time than right now to “see” gratitude in order to “get” gratitude.  In November of 2013, I wrote a poem called, Three-Sixty-Four.  I think it’s the perfect time to share it again:

I’m thankful on Thanksgiving Day, but eager to do more.
Can I be grateful on that day, plus three-sixty-four?
What happens on those other days that fill up the year?
Do we pack them full of fret, negativity, and fear?
I’ve heard that it’s a thankful heart that welcomes lasting peace.
Once we are appreciative, our worries seem to cease.
Can we be thankful for the meals we eat that are cold?
We should because we do have food.  For some, that is gold.
Can we give thanks for laundry on the floor that is piled?
We should because we do have clothes to wrap our every child.
Can we thank God for endless lines at the grocery store?
We should because that means we have someone to cook for.
Can we be thankful for a child who never sleeps at night?
We should because we have a child to hold so very tight.
Can we thank God for troubles with the house, the car, and such?
We should because it means that we’ve been blessed with oh so much.
Can we thank God for pokey trucks and even traffic too?
We should because it gives us time to say prayers overdue.
Can we thank God for running late to where we need to be?
We should because it means we have a place to be, you see?
Can we thank God for aches and pains we have when getting old?
We should because there are some who’ll die too young, I’m told.
Can we be thankful for a house that’s messy on most days?
We should because that house is full of children that we raise.
Can we give thanks for times we’ve felt alone and so afraid?
We should because the Lord was close beside us as we prayed.
Can we thank God for times we disagree with those we love?
We should because we can forgive with grace from up above.
Can we thank God for extra pounds we just can’t seem to shed?
We should because that means for us, our family is fed.
Can we thank God for mornings that come too soon, we say?
We should because we have received the gift of life that day.
And what about those dishes stacked high there in the sink?
We’d thank the Lord for them too, if we’d just stop and think.
Burdens that we claim might be blessings in disguise.
Can we praise God with thankful hearts?  I think it would be wise.
Is it truly possible?  We can and we should,
To show our thanks for the Lord, crucified on wood.
Let’s work at being grateful for the blessings, down they pour,
On Thanksgiving Day for sure…plus three-sixty-four.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read this poem and it was a good reminder for me.  On a day-to-day basis, it’s so easy to lose our attitude of gratitude.  So easy.  Too easy.

I want to also thank the Lord above for our veterans, whom we celebrate everyday, but especially on November 11th.  I’m excited to say that my poem, A Military Heart, will be shared with the special veterans at my children’s school during their Veterans Day program.  I hope they feel the love and deep appreciation we have for them.

A military heart is unique, it must be true,
The blood that pulses deep within is red, white, and blue.
Its love is like a fire that grows when it is shared,
For complete and total strangers, they have truly cared.
All heroes past and present, at war and at peace,
My admiration for you all will never ever cease.
Veterans who went by choice or those who had been drafted,
I feel that God took extra care with certain hearts He crafted.
He had to make them strong and brave, but tender all the same,
He knit them in their mother’s womb and knew them each by name.
It would take a special heart to leave loved ones behind,
To kiss and hug good-bye with Old Glory on their mind.
The countless sacrifice they made for freedoms we enjoy,
For every man, every woman, every girl, and every boy.
For those who have such passion for our great U.S. of A,
Who’ll stand for life and liberty, so we can speak and pray.
If you see a warrior, please give them all our love,
For the heart that beats within them is a gift from God above.
We’re thankful, oh so thankful, for that heart we have admired,
For giving so unselfishly, although it may be tired.
We’d never know of its fatigue - it’s hidden way inside,
For that heart is full of love, as deep as it is wide.
On Veterans Day and all the days that come before and after,
We thank you for allowing us a life of hope and laughter.
To wake each day knowing what you must have seen and heard,
It’s hard to find the thoughts to share - there isn’t just one word.
What can we say?  What should we say?
A debt we just cannot repay.
I think I’ll just say thank you from the bottom of my heart,
I’ll pray for you - thank God for you.  That’s certainly a start.
I’ll do my best to wake each day full of gratitude,
I’ll make a daily effort with a thankful attitude.
I’ll live to nurture peace – I’ll try to do my part,
And I’ll thank the Lord everyday…for your military heart.

I will close this poem-filled Sips with a bit of WYSIWYG.  (I can’t help it!  I just love saying it!)  This week, ponder on what you see and how you see it.  Reflect on it.  If we train our eyes to “see” things with a positive slant, I’m certain that we’ll “get” a much more positive outcome.  What you see is what you get.  WYSIWYG.

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

It's Time

Photo Credit:  MaryRN from
So, how is everyone enjoying (or not enjoying) this time change?  Over the weekend, I heard many people grumbling about it getting dark ridiculously early, with the days feeling ever so short.  The darkness of night crept in around 6:00 pm on Sunday and it felt like I needed to yawn, tuck everyone in, and give good-night kisses.

However, there was the blessing of an extra hour in there somewhere, right?  How did you use it?  Did you stay up later?  Did you trick-or-treat longer?  Did you catch an extra hour of snooze-time?  Or maybe you were captivated by a Christmas love story on the Hallmark channel that you’re getting for free so they can sucker you into adding it to your television package? (Yep.  I watched it.  Christmas already?!)

It amazes me how fast that extra hour goes by.  When there is a change in season or a change in the time, I always find myself feeling a bit more reflective.

Sydney’s mom, Jennifer, must have been pondering time as well.  She said that it was a challenge to pack for their “Make-A-Wish” Disney trip.  Why?  Well, Jennifer shared that at the same time they were eagerly packing for a week of fun, they found out that two of their very special friends from MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital passed away.  

Connor (5 years old) was diagnosed with cancer just before Christmas last year and passed away on Thursday.  Jennifer said that he and his family had been such an inspiration to them.  Connor’s parents encouraged them to never take a moment with your children for granted.  Connor’s family spent the past ten months celebrating his life and living it to the absolute fullest, never losing hope. 

Sydney’s other friend was Maddie Grace (10 years old).  She was bravely battling leukemia, but died last week due to complications from a fungal infection.  Sydney spent many days with Maddie in pottery and art class.  Jennifer said that Maddie will always be a part of them.

Jennifer shared that it is incredibly difficult to be happy at a time when others you care so deeply for are hurting.  “We are celebrating, following the anniversary of Sydney's diagnosis that she is in remission, while others are mourning the loss of their precious children.  It just doesn't seem right.  It isn't fair.”

Then she remembered Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
“There is a right time for everything.  A time to be born, a time to die.  A time to plant, a time to harvest.  A time to kill, a time to heal.  A time to destroy, a time to rebuild.  A time to cry, a time to laugh.  A time to grieve, a time to dance.  A time for scattering stones, a time for gathering stones.  A time to hug, a time not to hug.  A time to find, a time to lose.  A time for keeping, a time for throwing away.  A time to tear, a time to repair.  A time to be quiet, a time to speak up.  A time for loving, a time for hating.  A time for war, a time for peace.”

Jennifer also shared that Sydney's sweet friend Liz (7 years old) moved back home at the end of summer to finish up her last few rounds of chemo.  Two weeks ago, she had clean scans and they are happy to report that Liz is cancer-free!  They know that God heard all of the prayers for Liz, Connor, Sydney, and Maddie.  They also know that His plans are so much bigger than ours.  Jennifer said, “We often don't understand the plans and sometimes we don't agree with them, but we have to trust that He is a loving God and all things will work for His greater glory.  Thank you, Lord, for healing Liz and Sydney, and thank you, Lord, for allowing Connor and Maddie to be in Heaven with you for all eternity and for giving their families the strength and peace that only comes from you.  In Christ, Amen.”

Oftentimes, when I’m feeling down, worried, or anxious about something, I fight that feeling.  I think, “Why on earth do I feel this way?  I have so many things to be thankful for.  I shouldn’t feel this way.”  I fight it…tooth and nail.  However, in reading over the verses from Ecclesiastes, I realize that there IS a time for everything and every feeling.  It’s okay.  Let the feelings be what they are.  Don’t fight them.  Allow them in.  Feel them.  Acknowledge them.  Let them linger.  Ponder them.  Pray about them.  Ask God what to do with them.

I enjoyed the reminder that there is indeed a time for everything...bad or good.  Maybe you just turned 40 and you decided it was time to run a New York City marathon (Woo-hoo!!  Go Melinda!).  Maybe you decided that your closets wouldn’t clean themselves and you tackled that monster?  Maybe you decided it was time to let go of the burden of anger and you finally forgave that person?  Maybe you decided it was time to stop living in fear?  Maybe you decided it was time to stop procrastinating?  (Well, at least in the next month or so…ha!)  Maybe you decided it was time to let that special person know how you feel about them?  Maybe you shared a dream with someone, who then led you down the path of publishing your first book? (Yes, I totally did!  Shameless plug here, but my first children’s book will be available to purchase in a few short months!  Yeah!)

If you are looking for a sign to know whether the time is right to do this or that, maybe this blog post is it?  Maybe it IS time?  What are we waiting for?  Time waits around for no one.

Some of you love this time change.  Some don’t.  However, everyone talks about it each time it changes.  “Fall back and Spring forward” and everyone has an opinion.  Many love the early sunsets so that kiddos can get the sleep they need.  Others are bummed that they drive home from work in the dark and there is no time for anything outdoorsy when they get home.  Either way…we still have twenty-four hours in each day to make the most of.  Some of those hours are a wee-bit darker, but hey!

One last thing to ponder…are you wondering what it’s time for?  Maybe you have no idea.  Maybe you do.  Here’s a quick suggestion…maybe it’s time for joy…complete joy…the joy that comes from Jesus.  Is there anything robbing you of joy right now?  Is there anything standing in the way of your joy?  Sometimes, WE are in the way.  How about this prayer, “Lord, help me get out of the way so that you can fill me with joy.”

It’s time, Sunshines.  Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.  Love.  Learn.  Live.  Laugh.  Lean on the Lord.

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Behind the Apples

This week’s blog post is full of celebration and thanksgiving!  I’m celebrating my goddaughter, Sydney, who bravely fought and beat Burkitt’s Lymphoma this year.  Woo-hoo!  And, I’m joining her parents, Jennifer and Mark, in thanking all of you for the steadfast prayer, love, and generosity that each of you extended to them along the way.

October 24, 2015 marked the 1-year-anniversary that Sydney was officially diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma.  Jennifer said, “A biopsy confirmed it.  There wasn’t a moment to spare because the tumors in her body were doubling in size every 24 hours.  Mark and I will never forget how we stood in the waiting room, praying the rosary, and begging God for His mercy…watching as the doctors walked by…looking for any sign that we didn't need to be there…that we were sent to a cancer hospital with our child by mistake.”

Jennifer said, “When we were given the news, I still remember the shock and how I felt the breath knocked out of me.  For someone who has never dealt with cancer firsthand, we felt like it was a death sentence.  Sydney was still asleep from the procedure and we couldn't possibly be crying in the recovery room as she woke up.  We had to dry our tears, hold it together, and put smiles on our faces for her.  The strength we had for that could only have come from prayers.  Looking back, we weren't standing on our own.  Jesus and Mary were holding us up.  Little did we know that we would soon have multiple saints and thousands of prayer warriors to help carry us in the days, weeks, and months to come.”

A few days ago, Jennifer shared a sweet story about apples on Sydney’s prayer support facebook page.  I want to pass that along to you today:

“Erik and Michele (Sydney's Make-A-Wish volunteers) contacted us several months ago.  They came to the hospital to visit Sydney in April, while she was undergoing her 8th round of chemo.  At one point, Sydney really wanted an apple.  Anyone who is familiar with kids undergoing chemo knows that when they have a craving, you have to deliver immediately.  Otherwise, the moment could pass, and the food will no longer be wanted.  With Sydney's poor appetite and low weight, an apple was not going to do much.  However, if that's all she could eat, we would take it!”

“So, while Michele stayed with me and Sydney in the hospital room, Erik decided to go fetch her an apple.  When he came back with an orange in his hand, Sydney frowned.  Erik insisted that it was an apple when he picked it up.  Somehow, it must have turned into an orange before he could get back to her room with it. (The Ronald McDonald Kitchen had no apples and he didn't want to return empty-handed.)  Anyway, while Sydney did not feel good at all, she never forgot how funny Erik was and how much he made her laugh, even when she didn't feel well.  And, we never forgot about how Erik magically turned an apple into an orange that day.”

Jennifer shared that Erik and Michele showed up at their home last week, after traveling 150 miles, in order to deliver nine apples and Sydney’s Make-A-Wish packet.  They all remembered the love and the laughs behind the apples.  

Jennifer posted a beautiful thank you note recently as well.  I know it will touch you as much as it touched me.  Here is some of what she had to say:

“I have wanted to write about this for the longest time, but I just never knew how.  I mean, how do you thank people for dropping everything in their lives to cook us meals, babysit our children, clean our house, do our field work, shop for us (groceries, household products, clothes, etc.), send Sydney (and us) gifts, gift cards, cards, and money, set up a prayer support page, set up a GoFundMe account, donate to the GoFundMe account, give me an iPhone4 so I could text, design and order bracelets, thank you cards, and bumper stickers to help raise funds, set up and design a T-shirt fundraiser, order T-shirts, wear T-shirts, cut her hair, shave her head, put together care packages and Christmas gift packages, purchase and send hats for her cold bald head, plan a ‘Frozen’ party for Sydney and her friends (complete with face painting, cookie decorating, decorations, and party favors), take portraits of Sydney and our entire family, fill up our gas tank, get our oil changed, decorate our home for Christmas (inside and out!), shop for (and wrap!) ALL of the Christmas gifts for our children (and even us...), send Santa to our home, organize groups at schools, churches, and other organizations to send Sydney beautiful faith-inspired cards, gifts, and Christmas ornaments, set up a blood drive, donate blood and/or platelets, hold bake sales, donate money to St. Baldrick's, shave their heads, donate their hair, interview her on the radio, bring her "Debbie" (the pink fire truck), along with a meal for our family, drive Sydney and her sisters through town in the fire truck to go out for ice cream, walk outside in the middle of their ACTS meeting to wave to Sydney in the fire truck, visit Sydney in the hospital, send cards, cards, and more cards, paint paintings for her, make and/or send quilts, blankets, and prayer blankets, sew pillowcases, take time out of their family vacation to buy her souvenirs, ride their bicycle all the way from Houston to New York, travel to the Holy Land and bring back rosaries and scapulars that have been prayed over and blessed, let us borrow their precious relics and family heirlooms, pray over Sydney and us, and spend countless hours on their knees in prayer for Sydney and our family, day and night?!  How do you tell someone ‘Thank You’ for offering to let us use their apartment, or have expressed breast milk for our baby, or banked cord blood for Sydney, should we ever need it?  How?  Where do you find the words?  Where does one find the time to write the words that are so important to say?”

Jennifer also said, “Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a ‘thank-you-note-person.’  I have always written thank you notes for as long as I can remember.  However, when we were thrown into this whirlwind a year ago, and everyone's kindness and generosity poured forth, I just couldn't keep up.  It was overwhelming!  I decided at the very beginning to just let it go and allow people to give to Sydney without keeping a record.  That lasted about a day.  It just didn't feel right.  So, I did something that many of you might be surprised to know.  I kept a running spreadsheet of each and every card, gift, money donation, and act of kindness that came pouring in.  I may not have been able to write the note, but I did keep track of it all.  I am not sure how I managed to do it, but I’m so glad I did."  

"Something happens when you write it down…you remember peoples' names.  You look at a blanket or a pillowcase or a music box or a rosary and you remember that person…a person you may never have even met, but you know they took time out of their crazy busy life to help bring you strength when you were weak.  I remember the names of people on Sydney’s prayer support page that "liked" posts or commented on them.  I remember the people who prayed unceasingly.  I remember the ones who signed up for Night Owl prayer support…something I will never forget.”

Jennifer said that through all of this she has learned how generous people are…with their time, talents, money, and gifts.  She remembers how everything, big or small, helped so much.  She also wanted to let you know that they received your gifts, your cards, and the money you tucked inside of them.  They remember what you did and they THANK YOU from the bottom of their hearts.  They remember you in their prayers.  They pray that they can bless someone else by doing what they learned from each one of you.  You, your gift, and your prayers were and will forever be appreciated.

Sydney’s mom also shared, “October 24th officially marked the beginning of a new chapter in our lives…the start of a journey…one that all of you became a part of.  Thank you for being a part of our journey and a part of our lives.  We will forever remember and be grateful.  May God bless each of you abundantly for the many ways you shared His love!"

I am beyond ecstatic to share that Sydney is in remission.  Our precious Sydney is cancer-free!  Praise God!  Praise God!

So, what’s behind the apples, you ask?  In addition to the brave and beautiful girl physically behind the apples in the photo above, it’s obvious to me that there are countless other gifts behind the apples. 

The gifts of love and laughter came alongside Erik’s apples, for instance.  And, in reflecting over this last year, I recall how each of you gave so deeply in your own special, personal, and unique way.  You may not have given apples, but your gift was a part of you and is now a part of them.  It’s what’s behind the gift…

I want to flip the thank you back around and send one to Jennifer, Mark, and Sydney…thank YOU for letting us in.  Thank YOU for letting us witness faith, hope, trust, and love in its purest and rawest form.  Thank YOU for letting us walk this journey with you, complete with hills and valleys, joys and tears.  Thank YOU for allowing us a glimpse of letting go and letting God.  Thank YOU for letting us be a part of a miracle.

We can’t thank YOU enough!

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Away with the Armor!

Photo Credit:  GaborfromHungary from
Growing up, I vaguely recall that my brother and I would make little bets here and there.  Whoever would lose the bet would have to be the other one’s “servant” for awhile.  It meant that one of us would have to do the chores of the other one or get a drink for them or give them candy or whatever else along those lines.  I remember that it was tons of fun having the servant, but not being the servant.

My thoughts on this have changed over the years.  To me, serving others feels good.  Serving others is satisfying.  Serving with a joyful heart makes it even more rewarding.  It’s certainly not as enjoyable when one is forced to serve and it isn’t fulfilling when the serving isn’t done with love.  Also, much of the joy is taken away if one serves, expecting something in return.

There is a song that we sometimes sing in church that is appropriately called, The Servant Song by Richard Gillard.  A few of the verses really speak to me: “Will you let me be your servant?  Let me be as Christ to you.  Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant, too.  We are pilgrims on a journey.  We are travelers on the road.  We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.  I will hold the Christ-light for you in the nighttime of your fear.  I will hold my hand out to you; speak the peace you long to hear.”

As a child, I used to think that being the servant was the raw end of the deal.  As I reflect on the words of this song as well as a story that Father Bentil shared at Mass this weekend, I realize that being the servant is actually the better end of the deal. 

Here’s the story he shared:

A long time ago, there was a man who wanted to achieve greatness.  The man thought that he could work toward his goal of greatness by standing guard at the door of the king’s palace in full armor, with a sword.

Day after day, month after month, and year after year, the man stood guard at the palace entrance, proudly standing there, longing for greatness.  One day, a blind woman passed by the palace as she was taking her apples to the market in a wooden wheelbarrow.  She didn’t see the large crack in the street, so as she rolled over it, her wheelbarrow turned over and all of her precious apples spilled out.  As she attempted to gather her apples, the man just stood there in his armor and didn’t offer to help her.

Years went by and a crippled old man with a walking stick passed by the man guarding the king’s palace.  As the old man passed by, his walking stick broke and he fell in front of the palace.  The guard just stood there, not offering a hand to the old man.

Several more years went by and the man’s own granddaughter ran up to him asking him to lift her onto his shoulders to watch a parade.  It was so crowded that the young girl couldn’t see with all the people around.  The man just stood there in his armor and told her…his own sweet granddaughter…that he could not help her with her request.

Then, one day, the king came out of the palace to thank the man for his commitment to guarding the palace all these years.  The king asked the man to come into his palace for the very first time.

The man was elated!  He couldn’t believe that after all these years, he had achieved his idea of greatness…an invitation into the king’s palace.  However, even though the man was ecstatic, he couldn’t move.  After years and years of standing still in his armor, it had become so stiff and rusty that he was unable to move even an inch.  He never made it inside the palace doors that day. 

If only the man would have served others along the way.  If only the man would have bent down to pick up the blind woman’s apples…if only the man would have given his hand to the crippled old man who fell…if only the man would have put his granddaughter up on his shoulders.  If only…he would have moved.  If only…he would have truly served.  If only…

Furthermore (just because that word sounds super fancy), we realize from this story that the man could have achieved his idea of greatness if he would have served.  We can’t stand still and achieve greatness.  We need to move.  Serving requires action.  Serving provides “grease to our elbows” or “grease to our joints” in the case of the man’s stiffened armor.  The story could have ended differently if the man would have chosen to serve.

Are we willing to say, “Away with the armor!” and serve?  I’ve written about a servant’s heart before, but I just adore Roy Lessin’s writing and wanted to share it again:

In the Kingdom of God, we find the highest place is found as we take the lowly place.  Strength is found as we discover our weakness.  Fullness comes as we empty ourselves.  Life is gained as we lay it down for love’s sake.  Riches are gained as we give them away.  Greatness comes as we carry a towel and washbasin into every circumstance and relationship in life.

In Matthew 23:11, it says that to be the greatest, we need to be the servant.  The word, servant, typically has a negative connotation, doesn’t it?  Sometimes, it evokes feelings of being lowly.  But, in Mark 9:35, Jesus said that anyone wanting to be the greatest must be the least.  Whoever wants to be first must be last. 

We’ve heard it many times in the Gospel readings, but it’s just so hard to do!  By nature, we don’t want to be last or least or by all means…a servant.  However, let’s challenge ourselves this week to take off our armor, piece by piece, and serve.  Each one of us has a unique suit of armor that sometimes prevents us from serving. 

What is our armor?  What’s holding us back?  Do we think we’re too busy?  Are we afraid to fail?  Are we too proud?  Maybe we don’t think we can make a difference?  Are we waiting for the perfect time?  I think we’ll find that we will be able to move much easier without our armor...whatever our armor happens to be.  Surely, we will find greatness as we bend our knees and reach out our hands to serve with love.

Away with the armor!

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

I Love You Too Much

Photo Credit:  mensatic from
“I love you too much to let you act that way.”  This is something that I’ve been telling my children recently.  Like most siblings, they fight.  They pick on each other incessantly.  They aggravate.  They take each other’s things.  They find that certain “button” on their brother or sister and they keep pushing it over and over.  They get in each other’s personal space.  They say negative things to each other.  Does any of this sound remotely familiar?

On Sunday, we sat down at the table to enjoy lunch together at home as a family.  Before I even sat down to join them, the cut-downs were already flying across the table.  This time, my husband and I did something different.  Instead of saying, “Don’t do this…don’t do that…stop saying that…apologize to your sister/brother,” we decided it was time to start a compliment circle.

What’s a compliment circle?  Well, we went around the table right that second and each of us had to share a compliment with every single person.  It had to be genuine, sincere, and meaningful.

At first, there were lots of giggles and long pauses.  Then, when they realized we were serious and that none of us would be leaving the table without participating; the wheels starting turning in their heads.

An element of shyness crept into the dining room that afternoon.  They found that it was much easier to dish out the nasty stuff than the nice stuff.  They became humble and a bit bashful.  Like my sister-in-law shared with me, “Every now and then, people need a slice of humble pie.” (Love it, Steph!)

Anyway, we went round and round the table several times.  Honestly, it became quite fun.  We were all anxious to listen closely for what would be said next.  It felt so good to hear the compliments and kind words.  The kids were smiling and “thank you” was certainly the phrase of the day.  We finished that meal on a much more joyful note than when we’d started it.  Why?  Because of the beautiful gift of words.  I know my children love each other dearly, but sometimes they have a funny way of showing it. 

Oftentimes, I feel that God looks at us and shakes His head as He says, “I love you too much to let you act that way.”  It’s so easy to lose sight of all the positive in our lives and focus on the negative.  We much more readily dish out the nasty instead of the nice.  We aggravate each other (many times, on purpose).  We push each other’s buttons.  We fight.  We cut each other down.

As a child, I remember having a small statue of a little troll that had his arms stretched out as wide as they would go.  On the statue were the words, “I love you THIS much!”  I remember looking at that statue and thinking that that was how much my parents loved me and how much God loved me.  I treasured that feeling.

In reflecting on God’s great love, I ran across a sweet story from Mikey and wanted to share it with you, too:

What is the deal with lightning bugs?  I mean, here is this rather ordinary looking flying insect, but wait ... it has a glow-in-the-dark rear end!  What was God thinking?

I'm sure science has all kinds of explanations about how this fluorescent fanny is useful for mating and other stuff, but why did God choose to make the lightning bug glow?  I wonder if, when God was creating all the animals and everything around us, He came up with the idea of the lightning bug and said, "The kids are gonna love this!"

We know that God loves us enough to create all the things we need to survive, but does God love us so much that He created some things just to make us smile?

Just seeing lightning bugs takes me back to those warm summer nights of my youth.  I'd be running around the back yard with my empty Mason jar, racing toward the flashing lights all around me.  I can still feel the joy and hear the laughter echoing through my memories.
Lightning bugs were as much a part of summer as fireworks, fresh tomatoes, and big ice-cold slabs of juicy watermelon.

God created so much diversity in this world, much more than is needed for mere survival. He made all of this for us, and He wants us to enjoy it.  We can get so busy surrounding ourselves with man-made goods that we don't notice the living tapestry God has laid out all around us.

I guess lightning bugs do have a purpose after all.  They are a reminder of a creative God who loves us so much that He'd even paint the rear end of a bug ... just to see us smile!

I grew up chasing lightning bugs, so this story really resonated with me!  Such fun memories.

Some say that too much of anything can be bad.  Too much exercise.  Too much food.  Too much relaxing.  Too much money.  Too right.  Too wrong.  Too agreeable.  Too assertive.  Too happy.  Too sad.  Surely, each of us has an opinion on this…”too much” of an opinion, quite possibly – ha!

However, I do feel that there just might be something that can never be too much and that is God’s love for us.  I love that He loves us…too much.  Don’t you?

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

In a Hummingbird Hurry

Photo Credit: AcrylicArtist from
Over the weekend, a hummingbird made her way into our garage.  Poor thing was so frantic to get out, but kept feverishly hovering around the ceiling…bumping into it over and over again.  She fanatically flew forward, backward, and sideways.  My son attempted to gently guide the anxious bird out with a broom…to no avail. 

Both garage doors were wide open.  There was oodles of opportunity and space for her to make a break for it and fly away to what she knew as home.  Nope.  Nervous Nellie kept flapping her wings a bazillion miles a minute, in a hummingbird hurry, but getting nowhere fast.  Little did she know that what she needed was just within arm’s, um, wing’s reach…and she just couldn’t see it.

Isn’t that the case with us?  We run around sometimes, in a hummingbird hurry, getting nowhere fast.  What we need is so close that we could almost taste it, but we just can’t see it in our haste.  We may not have fervently flapping wings, but our body language speaks volumes.  Everyone around us can tell that we’re in a hurry.  Our bodies can feel the stress of rushing too.

Body language and non-verbal communication are fascinating to me.  You’ve heard the joke before – “Why do hummingbirds hum?  Because they don’t know the words.”  Well, it was obvious that that little hummingbird wasn’t saying a word, but her body language…whoa!  It spoke loudly, I tell ya.

There is both negative and positive body language.  Positive non-verbal communication can include a smile, a wink, shaking hands, nodding in agreement, patting someone’s back, hugging, or a wave.  The negative signals of scowling, frowning, yawning, sneering, rolling our eyes, and shaking our head can all be “heard” without emitting a sound.  Amazingly enough, we can communicate quite a bit in a very non-verbal way.

Research shows that even the way we stand and our position in a group of people can communicate so much.  The amount of distance between us and another person can even be interpreted a certain way.  Standing side-by-side can show cooperation, whereas a face-to-face posture may show competition.  Something as simple as our posture communicates as well.  We speak with our actions when we fold our arms, cross our legs, or slouch (did you just sit up straight?  I totally did when I read that word – ha!).

Do you know what we use to speak with in addition to our mouths?  Our eyes.  Our facial expressions are a dead giveaway when we’re speaking.  A person’s emotions can be seen in their eyes.  Oftentimes, our eyes aren’t conveying the same emotion as our words.  “I’m fine” may not mean “I’m fine” at all.  However, if we’re in a hummingbird hurry, will we even catch someone’s non-verbal communication?

Our body language can:  repeat the message our words are saying, contradict what our words are saying, substitute our verbal message, add meaning to our message, or make our message more impacting (pulling our hair out, throwing plates, pounding fists, etc.)

In addition to our eyes being able to “hear” non-verbal communication, did you also know that our ears can “see?”  What?  Let me explain.  Next time you answer the phone (a real call…not a text or e-mail – heh!), listen for a smile.  Yep.  Just by listening to the other person talking, you will probably be able to “see” if the other person is smiling.  I encourage you to try it yourself.  The next time you are chatting on the phone, experiment with smiling.  You will find that your voice is much more joyful when you’re smiling than when you’re not.  Seriously.  Try it.

When we’re in a hummingbird hurry, we don’t listen like we should.  After dinner last night, the kids wanted to do something fun.  They wanted to quickly whisper a short phrase into each other’s ear and then go around the table to see how the last person heard it.  It’s called the Telephone Game.  I’m sure most of you have played it a time or two. 

Anyway, we played several rounds and there were loads of giggles.  I had forgotten how fun that game could be.  The last game started with, “Bert and Ernie get up early.”  By the time person #5 heard it, it became, “Nerdy gets a birdie.”  Not quite what we started with, but I love to hear my children laugh.  However, it did make me ponder about communication, or the lack thereof.

Are we listening to each other?  Are we listening for God?  Are we taking the time or are we always in a hummingbird hurry?

Our tiny bird friend, Nervous Nellie, finally escaped the garage on her own.  Nevertheless, it took most of the day for her to find her way.  Many times, we get stuck as well, frantically pacing forward, backward, and sideways.  If we would only stop flapping our wings for a second and pause to reflect on the next right step.  Do we need someone to listen to us?  Do we need to listen to someone?  Most importantly, do we need to pray?  Do we need to fly to the One who can help us best?

Here is a sweet prayer story that Mikey shared today from one of his readers.  I thought that all of us in a hummingbird hurry might need to read it too:

A grandfather walking past his young granddaughter's room one night saw her kneeling beside her bed, with head bowed and hands folded, repeating the alphabet.

"What are you doing?" he asked her.

She explained, "I'm saying my prayers, but I just couldn't think about what to pray for. So I'm saying all the letters of the alphabet and God can put them together however He thinks best.”

I love it!

Fly to God in prayer (even if you just need to start with the ABCs).  He’ll be waiting there.

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

They Don't Exist

Photo Credit:  jojo22 from
Certain smells bring back memories.  For instance, my son grabbed an old cologne out of my bathroom cabinet the other day and has been wearing it on occasion.  When I smell it on him, I have to giggle a little bit.  Why?  Because when the kids were younger, we taped a label on that same cologne and called it “Monster Spray.”  We sprayed it in their rooms to keep the monsters away when they were scared.  My husband and I would constantly assure them that monsters didn’t live under their beds, but it helped them sleep more peacefully when we’d spray it.  So, for the incredible love of beautiful sleep…by golly, we did!  Speaking of monsters under beds…

They don’t exist.  Besides monsters, what exactly is “they,” you ask?  Unicorns?  Abominable snowmen?  Pots of gold at the end of rainbows?  Eyes actually bigger than anyone’s stomach?  Mermaids?  The list could go on and on and many may argue that some of these actually do exist, BUT, there is something that truly does NOT exist.  Take a wild guess what it is.

The Seven Dwarfs?  Good try.  Guess again.  Okay, I’ll tell you.  The answer is…perfect families.

Many of us have witnessed inspirational families and their uplifting stories along our journey of life.  We are touched so deeply by the ways in which they overcome some of life’s greatest challenges.  I thank God for the chance to witness this here on earth.  Sometimes we might even see families that appear to have it all together, all the time.  Perhaps, we’ve even wished to be exactly like them.  Have we ever looked at a family and been envious or jealous?  Maybe or maybe not.  The bottom line is that the families we admire and adore are not perfect.  We might think they are perfect, but if you ask these families if they are…they’ll say, “No.”

However, what I love the most is the fact that even imperfect families can still encourage us, challenge us, and motivate us.  I think that gives us all a remarkable message of hope.  Imperfect people can inspire.  Imperfect families can too.

Pope Francis has some great words about families that I’d like to share:  

“Perfect families do not exist.  This must not discourage us.  Quite the opposite.  Love is something we learn.  Love is something we live.  Love grows as it is ‘forged’ by the concrete situations which each particular family experiences.  Love is born and constantly develops amid lights and shadows.  Love can flourish in men and women who try not to make conflict the last word, but rather a new opportunity - an opportunity to seek help, an opportunity to question how we need to improve, and an opportunity to discover the God who is with us and never abandons us.  This is a great legacy that we can give to our children - a very good lesson - we make mistakes, yes; we have problems, yes.  But, we know that that is not really what counts.  We know that mistakes, problems, and conflicts are an opportunity to draw closer to others and to draw closer to God.”

Pope Francis also spoke some amazing words recently about forgiveness in the family.  Our priest, Father Bentil, shared these incredibly inspirational words with us at Mass over the weekend:

"There is no perfect family.  We do not have perfect parents.  We are not perfect.  We do not marry a perfect person or have perfect children.  We have complaints about each other.  We have deceived and disappointed each other.  Therefore, there is no healthy marriage or healthy family without the exercise of forgiveness.”

“Forgiveness is vital to our emotional health and spiritual survival.  Without forgiveness, the family becomes a theater of conflict and a bastion of grievances.  Without forgiveness, the family becomes sick.  Forgiveness sterilizes the soul, cleansing the mind, and freeing the heart.  He who doesn't forgive has no peace of mind nor communion with God.”

“Pain is a poison that intoxicates and kills.  To keep a wound in one's heart is a self-devouring and self-destructive gesture.  It is autophagy (biting of one’s own flesh).  He who doesn't forgive becomes physically, emotionally, and spiritually ill.  That's why the family must be a place of life, not of death; a territory of healing, not disease; a stage of forgiveness, not guilt.  Forgiveness brings joy where there was sorrow-produced pain; and healing, where pain caused disease.”

Forgiving is not easy, most will admit.  But, I believe that those same people will say that it’s worth it.

The existence of leprechauns, elves, Big Foot, and the Loch Ness Monster may be debatable.  However, I’m thrilled to say that the existence of perfect families is not up for debate.  Why am I thrilled by that?  Well, because that means that we all have a chance… a chance at finding gold.  What?

Let me explain.  Even though I’ve never found the gold at the end of any rainbow (and I will not admit the number of times I’ve tried looking for it), I think there is gold found in something else.  There is gold in our imperfections.  Why?  Because we have a golden opportunity to love, to inspire, to motivate, and to encourage since we are most relatable when we’re far from perfect.  People can’t relate to perfection.  Perfect is not possible and that’s okay.  We can inspire others best and most profoundly when we’re real…imperfections and all.

So, now that we know that perfect families do not exist, I encourage you to get out there and make a difference!  Any individual can be inspirational, so why not you?  Any family can be inspirational, so why not yours?

Have a wonderful week, Sunshines!