O Holy Night

“Fall on your knees”

O holy night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt it’s worth

The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder brinks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees

O hear the angel voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine
O night, O night divine

O Holy Night
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth
Long lay the world in sin and error-pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt it’s worth

The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder brinks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees

O hear the angel voices
O night divine
O night when Christ was born
O night divine
O night, O night divine

Words. Truth. Worship. Repeat.

It’s overwhelming to me when scripture that I have been meditating on recurs in songs or in sermons or from the lips of a fellow believer. Those words from the Bible become more clear and applicable. A sweet friend has a poignant quotation that just applies to so many areas of our lives, “Words matter.” And boy do they.

Christmas is such a sweet time. Our family’s focus is on the miraculous birth of the Savior, a remembering back to the night that began all of this celebrating. And this celebrating turns into worship for me again and again especially when the truth of God’s word is put into song form, lifting up our Jesus and his birth.

“Fall on your knees.” I am not a crier, really, I am not. But as I type out those words tears do well up in my eyes to think on at Whose feet we are to fall and why. This Jesus wasn’t just a man. He wasn’t just a wise prophet. He wasn’t even just a good, wise prophet. He was God incarnate, God with us, holy God and perfect man all in one.

“…but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” Romans 5:8. While we were still sinners, Jesus died for us. He knows us. “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” John 2:24-25. And He still came to suffer at the hands of angry men and to have the full cup of God’s wrath poured out on Himself for our sakes and for God’s glory.

Here is the Biblical truth echoed in this sweet hymn: “Long lay the world, in sin and error pining, TILL He appeared and the soul felt its worth.” The word pining means to suffer grief or regret over. Us sinners were suffering grief over our sin and shame, but God! He sent Jesus. Jesus appeared to us and our soul could see why it was created finally.

We have worth, we have purpose. And this purpose is probably not what we all think it is. We aren’t created for ourselves or even really for other people. We aren’t created to have things or to just exist and survive or to live extravagantly and to spendall of our God-given income on the world’s goods.


“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” Titus 2:11-14

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“The thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices
For yonder brinks a new and glorious morn
Fall on your knees”

May we rejoice. May we see the Hope who has come. He has appeared and came as a baby on that blessed night in Bethlehem. This is Christmas. The Hope realized. Emmanuel. God with us.

 

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10 years and counting

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Brandon and me a few days after engagement!

I, Maggie take thee Brandon, to be my husband. To have and to hold, in health, for richer, and I promise my love to you forevermore.”

Had these been the vows Brandon and I promised to one another, in the presence of God and each other, our marriage would have absolved, oh, on day 60 of our marriage. You see, Brandon began feeling intense pain in his side and incredible fatigue within the first 30 days of our marriage. He was so tired he couldn’t hold his eyes open past 7 p.m. each night. I didn’t mind much because I was pregnant with our honeymoon baby and gladly laid up in the bed after dinner, and we played Uno until our eyes shut around 7:30 p.m. Did you know you can play the longest game of Uno known to man by playing with only one other player? Yes, it’s true!

But, no, thankfully, the traditional vows begin like this:

“I, Maggie take thee Brandon, to be my husband. To have and to hold, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, and I promise my love to you forevermore.”

Most marriages do not play out like our perfect little picture we had as little girls or as engaged 20-somethings or even 40- or 50-somethings. There’s a little thing called “God’s plan” that is higher and bigger and better than anything we could ever, ever imagine. What’s most important to the Lord is our relationship with Him, and He will allow and even use trials, affliction, hardship, and loss to draw us to emptiness so we will see that we can do nothing apart from Him.

“And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6

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Brandon and CB at Vanderbilt, August 2009

In the middle of the 18 month long sickness, transplant, and recovery, we didn’t realize our faith was growing, but, by God’s grace, we were drawing near to God and seeking Him and experiencing many, many others do the same on our behalf. I would never trade what God taught Brandon and I and our family and friends about who He is, what He does, and how He cares for His people and how He can change a heart to know and trust Him in the midst of deep affliction.

Tomorrow marks 10 years since I walked down that aisle to that blond headed, freckle faced buff guy. Today, those strong arms embrace not only me but five incredible, unique gifts of God. We pretty much planned none of the events that happened or the places we have lived or the paths we have walked over the past decade. But God did! And for that I am so crazy thankful.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord
And whose trust is the Lord.
“For he will be like a tree planted by the water,
That extends its roots by a stream
And will not fear when the heat comes;
But its leaves will be green,
And it will not be anxious in a year of drought
Nor cease to yield fruit. Jeremiah 17:7-8

Do not fear when the heat comes, because it is coming. You will not have planned for the drought, but if you continue feasting on God’s word daily, reading daily His promises, and continually reminding yourself of what God has done and who He is, your leaves will remain green and you will not cease to bear fruit. Put your dreams and ideals and picture-perfection at the feet of Jesus and ask Him, “What do You want for our marriage, for our family? May it be as You say and teach me to trust You and Your plans as they are for my good and Your glory.”

 

Sweet tea show down

As a native of the south, there are staples in our culture that cannot be replicated elsewhere. Gumbo, cornbread, fried chicken, pot roast, banana pudding, the list goes on and on. On the top of my list of things that make the south the best place to live is sweet tea.

While I was growing up, Mom had a 2 quart tupperware pitcher she served her sweet tea in. She steeped the tea bags in boiling water inside a cute little black tea kettle. Then added the perfect amount of sugar to the pitcher plus the steeped tea. She filled the pitcher up with water, stirred, and she was done. A pitcher of sweet tea never stayed around our home for long. She made a new one at least every other day. We are definitely carrying on this tradition up in this house today.

Sweet tea is serious business in our family. And the brand of tea I use in my home today just cannot be tampered with. Okay, as a family of seven, we budget our grocery trips tightly, so I thought I needed to skimp on buying MY brand which is $3.19 at Kroger for the other brand which rang up $2.29. I brought it home and tried the other brand, and it literally was terrible. No matter how sweet I made it, the tea was bitter and not smooth. I actually threw the rest of the box away, shaming myself for trying to skimp on tea. Want to know the good verses evil tea brands?

 

GOOD

EVIL

 

The most important thing about this situation is that Luzianne actually originated in Louisiana, so naturally it’s got the south’s best taste in mind. Lipton, on the other hand, actually began its commercial life with a powered tea mix… need I say more? I ain’t doing it.

Tongue-in-cheek, obviously, for calling Lipton evil, but it truly differs dramatically especially when you make unsweet tea. It just has a weak, bitter flavor, no matter the amount of bags you use.

So here is how we make our sweet tea in the Sheridan home. I have experimented with boiling the bags with the hot water on the stove top and adding a pinch of baking soda for an even smoother taste. Here is where we have landed for the perfect sweet tea.

The South’s Best Sweet Tea

Ingredients

4 bags Family Size Luzianne Tea

4 cups water

4 quart pitcher

1 1/4 cups white sugar

  1. Bring four cups of water to boil in a sauce pan. Pour immediately into pitcher then place 4 bags of Luzianne tea in pitcher and cover with lid. Allow to steep at least 10 minutes.
  2. Next, carefully remove tea bags from pitcher and discard. Add 1 1/4 cups of white sugar and thoroughly stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Then fill pitcher to the top with water. Stir one more time. ENJOY!
  3. Side note: I do enjoy having a 50/50 many days. That’s just half sweet tea, half unsweet tea. To make unsweet tea, follow the same recipe just without sugar. And to make the perfect 50/50, you first put the unsweet tea in and then pour the sweet tea on top. That ensures a true 50/50!

So, if you are looking for the best tea to brew in your home, go get you some Luzianne! Walmart has it the cheapest, but if you have to pay $1 more at your local grocery store, please please do it – you won’t regret it!

Change of Course

I love coneflowers. They like it hot and require very little maintenance. Butterflies and bees think they are legit, too.

About two years ago, we moved just five miles down the road from the first home we owned as a married couple. That flowerbed was covered in coneflowers. And butterflies. And coneflowers.

As the coneflower finishes its bloom, the center dries up and can be lobed off and discarded or sprinkled in another area to seed and create another coneflower plant. We continually did this at our last house, and we literally had dozens upon dozens of plants; so much so, I had to gift the tiny plants to anyone who would take them. For me to give away a coneflower plant is a big deal!

But we moved, you see. And now we have this strange flower bed that holds water and has poor soil. Even after Brandon tilled the bed and brought in good stuff to mix in with the bad soil, we have a pretty terrible time with this bed.

Cue the coneflower planting. They like it hot and require very little water. These surely will live, right? Right?

Wrong.

Two mature plants didn’t even make it the full season last year. And this year, one died and has barely made it above five inches, even by the end of August! Mom bought me three coneflower plants at the beginning of summer, and they are LONG gone. I bought several more and the husband got a little chemical happy, and they quickly deceased. And just about two months ago I bought three and ONE has survived. Okay? So, what in the world is the difference between here and our other house?

I don’t really know. They grew like weeds in Oakland, but they won’t grow, won’t flourish because of a handful of stimulants and factors. So, maybe I just need to plant something different, change the course of my gardening.

Change the course. Change the direction and vision.

I sit here today with a quiet home. It’s 11:58 a.m., and there is no one asking for lunch or whining because they want the toy their sibling has. Change of course.

Since the fall of 2014, our family has homeschooled. It was rocky at times, but it was good at times. Carter completed Kindergarten reading, and we were rejoicing. At that time we had a 6 year old, 4 year old, 2 year old, and 4 month old. The days seemed unending. And I, I barely made it to bedtime.

Fall of 2015 brought in another classmate – Sister girl began Kindergarten. But by the end of that year, she struggled to even identify one sight word. Still, I thought, “Surely, with a little maturity under her belt, we can manage and press on.” So, we continued onto first grade in the fall of 2016. For her to sit and focus, I would have needed a seat belt in our chairs. Our middle child had just turned four, and his enthusiasm for learning and working signaled a huge red flag in our schooling with Sister.

We went first to the ophthalmologist to rule out any vision problem in the spring of 2017. And she passed with flying colors. Next, we had her screened for dyslexia. And BAM! There came our roadblock along with severe attention and focus issues. We then saw a psychologist who confirmed the ADHD and dyslexia, deemed it severe with each issue, and Sister was diagnosed with a very helpful stimulant which allows her to finally focus and pay attention. She vocalized a marked difference when she took the medicine. She said, “Momma, I can do my math!” Like, she could actually do it, finish it, feel a sense of accomplishment that she hasn’t felt her whole life, and she was 7 years old.

Change of course.

Homeschooling seemed to work for us for a few years, but then we began to see problems that we knew we needed help with that couldn’t be accomplished inside the home. Like those dad-gum coneflowers. Oh how I still really, really, really love those things. I just cannot, I mean cannot, make them thrive, flourish, grow in my new flowerbed. Why? I don’t know, truly. But it’s just not happening.

Cue change of course. Public school for CB and Sister this school year! CB is being challenged and pushed academically, and we are so privileged to get to address heart issues with him as he is the most talkative after school and tells us every single detail of his day. We are incredibly thankful for how God made CB like that. Sister is thriving socially and given one on one help with her dyslexia and sounding out words and even reading some sight words now. We are making progress. At home, we were not. At home, CB would get out of doing flash cards for math or I would tire so easily because of the three little ones who still needed me whilst attempting to give the two olders the schooling they needed. It wasn’t working. They weren’t thriving. We weren’t growing as a family in a healthy way. Change of course.

God led us peacefully to enroll these precious souls into public school in Somerville. I look at them and know that they belong to God, and He will use them mightily for His glory and the advancement of His name. It is overwhelming that they are His, and we are theirs only for a short time to train and instruct and guide. But He is faithful to keep them, protect them, and give us wisdom in how to walk with them through each day and trial.

My flowerbed has changed since moving. Box woods and daylilies. That’s about it. But they are thriving and growing and living. The flowerbed is lovely, and I will plant what will grow in this soil and have a happy heart about it! But, change is painful. Change is sometimes not what we think we want or think we need. But God gives us little precious souls that are not like any other He ever created and they join up with other siblings to make a sweet family. Their specific, individual personalities, difficulties, and strengths may need something different than we originally planned to thrive and grow and become the men and women God has planned for them to be. We have to learn to set aside our wants and desires and submit to God’s plan because it is always, ALWAYS, always best.

 

 

 

Grit: Part II

Last week I wrote about grit, how it is a determiner between success and failure. Grit is a real deal characteristic we can instill in our children with help from the Lord. There is one thing grit is and there is another thing that it isn’t. Grit is strong-mindedness and purpose-driven excelling through difficulties and affliction. Grit isn’t pulling yourself up by your boot straps. Nothing in the Christian life gets accomplished by doing anything on your own and with your own will power. And that is why I cling to and adore this passage in Jeremiah 17.

“Thus says the Lord:
‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man
    and makes flesh his strength,
    whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
    and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
    in an uninhabited salt land.

7 Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
    that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
    for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
    for it does not cease to bear fruit.'” Jeremiah 17:5-8 (emphasis mine)

 

When, when, when the heat comes. Not if the heat comes. Not if – when. When trouble, affliction, pain, heartache, trial, job loss, infertility, sickness, life, heat come the person who trusts in the Lord will not fear.

If the person whose trust is the Lord is compared to a tree whose leaves remain green in the time of drought, how is that? The current circumstances have no affect on this tree. Its roots are deep, drinking up that water it is planted near, and that tree remains unaffected by the drought. This translates into the hope of the Believer in Jesus Christ who never changes though all around him gives way. Hebrews 13:8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” The source of nourishment (the stream) for the tree remains and never wavers, just like the Source of our faith and hope is in a Person, our God who forgives and loves and takes care of and protects His children.

Because the tree was carefully planted by a stream of water, it doesn’t fear when the heat comes because it can continue to grow and remain healthy due to the stream as its life-giving helper. That tree is tethered to the stream, with direct access to its refreshment. We all have direct access to the Life Giver if we remain and abide with Him. When we abide with Jesus we will not cease to bear fruit, just like the tree planted by the stream of water survives the terrible drought.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:4-11 (emphasis mine)

That tree is neither fearful nor anxious. God’s word says “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Then the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus” Philippians 4:6-7. Life is SCARY, and we never know what curve ball will be thrown to us next. But knowing that our source of life is our God who never changes and He holds our hand in the mundane and in the tragedies, our hearts can be comforted.

After becoming a believer, I learned a lot about reading the Word in context. So look what comes directly after Philippians 4:7 in verses 8-9:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”

All of that: true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praise-worthy is Jesus … It’s HIM. Remain in Him, keep our eyes on Him. How? Pray, read, talk about Him, encourage your heart with memorizing Scripture, talk about Jesus with your children and friends and spouse and family. Keep Jesus on the tip of your tongue and the forefront of your mind.

When that drought comes, when that heat comes, and I am telling you, it is coming, you will be “like a tree planted by water that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17)

 

christian quotes | Charles Spurgeon quotes | suffering | affliction

 

Grit

I watched as my husband sat on the end of the bed and looked at him. His ole fuzzy head and dimpled face hasn’t changed much in 9 years. He’s just so cute. Brandon began to talk to him about his experiences with school and sports. “Bud, I wasn’t that good at sports at your age. And I wasn’t good at math in the third grade, either,” he said. Carter’s eyes widened. The look of surprise was evident. His dad, the warrior in Carter’s eyes, the guy that doesn’t give up, that pushes his mid-30 body to limits many don’t… he struggled?

“That’s why you have to keep working, keep pushing, have grit, son,” he went on. Grit. It’s a new word to our family. “Firmness of character,” “resolution,” “fortitude,” “courage,” “firmness of purpose,” “mental and emotional strength in facing difficulty, adversity, danger, or temptation courageously.”

It’s a mental toughness. And my husband possesses it. I think it’s because those words he told Carter were true: he was pushed as a young kid to plow through his struggles and not make excuses. Brandon’s mom didn’t shy away from any sport that Brandon wasn’t the best at nor did she make excuses for his difficulties in math. Granted, they cried together as he pulled himself up (and his momma pulled him up) each time he wanted to quit. But that momma of his didn’t give up on him.

Ease of learning or ease in extracurricular activities isn’t all where it’s at. The mountains our children must climb are storing up for their future selves grit and determination to conquer life’s mountains or challenges they set out to accomplish for themselves. If our children want to try something that we think may be a bust because we don’t think they will succeed, we need to weigh our response. Oftentimes saying no will only handicap our children’s storehouse of grit if our “no” is in a false sense of protection.

“We are parenting for a day we won’t see.” Author unknown.

I love that quotation. I don’t know where my husband and I read it, but it’s the absolute truth. May we raise a generation of gritty children who are firm in who they are and have strength in all circumstances, especially the tough ones they will face day in and day out year after year. And we can pray for grit, because God can give it.

I think of our dearest friends whose four children are overseas alongside them in temporary housing and in a school that isn’t ideal. Grit that God has given them helps them wake up each morning and get things done. They have longed for three months to be firmly planted in the community God has for them, but God has them set as nomads for the time being. They are weary, but, oh they are gritty, too, by God’s grace! Firm in their purpose in that big city to raise those kids to know and love Jesus and proclaim His name among the lost there.

Be gritty. Have grit. Encourage your kids to be gritty. It’s the difference between success and failure.

Grit. Get you some!

 

 

 

Arrival

Arrival. The dictionary defines arrive as to reach or attain an object or condition. If we are seeking to arrive somewhere or to something there must be a journey, a trip, a going. Arrival denotes the reality that there isn’t quite a teleportation that automatically gets us somewhere. We have to experience the in-between of packing up, traveling, and then getting there. Beginning, middle, and end.

Traveling on an airplane is a trip, a journey. There are things we experience on the airplane between point A to point B. You know… those magical Biscoff cookies on Delta and the amazingly cold Ginger Ale that you don’t order any where else. Maybe as much as we would like to skip the whole 6-8 hour car ride to the beach, it is necessary to get us to that sandy, sunny, salty destination. It’s long. The kids gotta stop and use the restroom every 50 miles. It’s tough and long. But the journey is necessary in order to arrive.

This is exactly the same with our lives on this earth. The reality of our existence is that we are born and we live and we die and we will spend eternity somewhere. Our souls will live forever. The Bible says in Daniel 12:2-3, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” And also in Matthew 25:46, “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” We will either live forever with Jesus in heaven (everlasting life, eternal life) after we die on this earth, or we will live forever in the absence of God’s presence in hell (eternal punishment, everlasting contempt).

Where am I going with this? In 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul uses the term “being saved” on several occasions (1 Corinthians 1:18, 1 Corinthians 15:2, 2 Corinthians 2:15). “Being saved” as in it isn’t final yet, today, at this moment, at the time of the prayer you prayed, on the day you committed your life to Jesus, on your spiritual birthday, on the day you know God got you and saved you and forgave you of your sins. Like, “being saved” is an on-going process and journey, something we look forward to God finishing. “Being saved” is all at once final and continuous until God calls us home to eternity with Him, all the while knowing we are His even on this side of eternity on this earth looking forward to either his return or our final day. “Being saved” means that on the day of our salvation we haven’t yet arrived and we can’t stop striving to grow and read the Bible and pray and learn about God.

“Being saved” is a journey. And it is hard. The paradox between being a sinner and God’s child literally blows my mind several times a week. How can I need to go to God and ask forgiveness because of this sin or that sin yet still be His? Because I am being saved. I am on this mind-boggling journey of sanctification which is a really fancy word for being made more like Jesus until His return or my final day. Christians, as they are sanctified, desire to sin less, become more quickly convicted of their faults and sins, and walk closer to God in His word and in prayer.

“Being saved” means one isn’t saved on August 29, 2006 ,and continues living in sin, for herself, demanding her own way, and not seeking to please God in all she does. Being saved means you do an about face, an 180 degree turn from your life full of sin to walk away from sin and toward God. As we are being saved, we are repenting repenters. We keep on asking God to forgive us of our daily sins. We keep on praying this

“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Show me, Lord, where I have sinned and need to confess! Show me, Lord. Show me, Lord.

“Being saved” is a glorious journey from God making you His child until our final day on this earth. It is a joy, it is hard, and in it is a promise that  “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:6. So live! So love! So obey! Go on this journey working toward living for Him and for His honor. He is worthy because Jesus came down and lived a perfect life, died on a cross and took all of our sin and shame on Himself for us. God poured out all His wrath on Jesus for our sake on that cross, because of our sin. Jesus died that day on the cross. But He didn’t stay dead. Sin and death did not gain the victory. Because three days later, Jesus rose up from the grave and now He is seated at the right hand of God. Our Savior, Jesus.

We will fall. We will mess up. We will say the wrong thing. We will lose the fight some days. But we gotta continue fighting the good fight of faith and keep on. Get up! Keep going. Don’t stop praying. Don’t stop trusting. If you don’t know if you are His child, ask Him to save you. Pray. Read. To Him belongs salvation. Keep seeking and reading God’s Word. He truly is enough.