Are you bearing fruit?

During a recent meal with a dear friend, this profound question was posed to me:  “Beth, what fruits are you bearing these days in retirement?”  WOW…what a way to start a powerful conversation!

My voice (literally and figuratively) has been somewhat silent these past months as I ponder, adjust, and adapt to new pathways for the future.  Pouring through multiple bins of family memorabilia (including unseen pictures, writings, and journals), has consumed much of my time.  Various volunteer opportunities and travel experiences have brought great JOY to my days as well.  Re-consumption of favorite books, movies, music, and more have pushed the nostalgic buttons into therapeutic overdrive to say the least!  But ‘fruits?’  Then it dawned on me as I crunched on my salad…”the ‘fruits’ of the spirit…” Ahhh…

This particular cross-stitch piece was one of the first I did years ago under the watchful eye of my mom.  She started the project about the time I was carrying my youngest daughter; I finished it three years later. 🙂  For years the piece hung in a quiet corner of our home with little emphasis; it now resides in our kitchen as a daily reminder to bear fruit in the best possible ways.  These nine succulent “fruits” allow us to grow, nurture, and serve others from the heart and soul.  In these uncertain political and social times, these “fruits” are the important ones we should carefully garden each day…

So, the big question today:  Are you bearing fruit?

Bending tradition for a constant reminder…

Twenty years ago today, our youngest made a simple, prolific statement that forever changed my life.  St. Michael, my extraordinary husband, wrote about it in a magazine article we continue to display in our home.  Please allow me to elaborate a bit…

It was a frosty winter’s morn in the bleak midwinter and our single task for the day was to disassemble Christmas in our home.  From the handmade garlands, ornaments, and other decorations to the artificial pine boughs of the 8-ft. tree, everything was deconstructed and carefully placed into boxes for storing in the attic.  Not exactly understanding why this was critical on January 7th (the day after Epiphany), our youngest asked “Why are we doing this again?”  My dad quickly replied, “So it is out of the way until the Christmas season rolls around once again.”

This particular year, we had three Creche or Nativity scenes on display–one made of ceramic pieces simply displayed on the fireplace mantle, a wooden set made for our oldest daughter by a dear family friend, and a soft-sculptured fabric set both girls played with on the hearth everyday (their re-enactments were legendary).  Our oldest packed up the wooden set while our youngest gathered all the players and animals to the soft set.  I started carefully wrapping each piece of the ceramic set in tissue paper.  She stopped to watch and then asked, “So, are we putting Jesus away in the box until next Christmas too?”  Stunned silence ensued…

img_3570It’s been our custom now for 20 years to leave Jesus and the Creche on the mantle throughout the year.  While the Angel’s wing is a little chipped and one Wise Man (traveling from afar) is missing his gift of myrrh, each piece is proudly displayed to remind us daily how a little child came into our hearts sharing hope, peace, JOY, profound grace, and unconditional love…

In 1872, one my favorite poets, Christina Rossetti, penned this familiar verse: What can I give him, poor as I am?  If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb. If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; yet what I can I give him: give my heart.

May a special tradition in your life touch your heart and become a constant reminder of what you hold dear throughout the year.

STOP and START in 2017…

hnyA group meets periodically to ponder life, gather ideas, and share general conversation about all manner of interests.  As we sat down to reflect upon the past year and project our thoughts forward to new goals, the overwhelming consensus of the group was how a new year takes great courage, strong conviction, and a growth mindset to move forward!  During the course of our conversation, we also noted how important it is to STOP doing certain things no longer in our best interest and START doing more interesting things in the best ways… here’s a sample:

1.  STOP telling everyone everything on social media.  START leaving some things to chance and imagination.

2.  STOP comparing yourself to others and worrying about what others think.  START marching to your own drummer and the positive path you create.

3.  STOP focusing on self and more on others.  START helping others and be nice to everyone because kindness matters.

4.  STOP making everything a competition in life.  START competing only with your best self (not with others).  Make your choices, be accountable, accept responsibility, and deal with the consequences (good and bad) of your choices.

5.  STOP being like others.  START owning who you are, where you are, and tell YOUR story in a caring manner.  There is only one “YOUnique” you…

6.  STOP fearing failure; no one has it all figured out because nothing in life is perfect, especially on the first time.  Failures bring powerful clarity and change in the most positive way!  START embracing failure to find personal success.

The list goes on, but you get the general idea.  So, what’s on your STOP and START list this new year?  What are those few items you will commit to STOP and START each day throughout the year?  Here’s hoping 2017 amazes and blesses you in the most extraordinary ways!  Happy New Year!

Thank you, Santa Claus!

The pictures come out each December…the beloved Christmas cards and clever Santa snapshots with the real Santa we share with family and friends.  Yes, I said the real Santa Claus because, and you must trust me on this, he is.

img_3307Roll back 27 years ago, our oldest daughter was only five months old the day Santa first came to NorthPark Center.  My sister-in-law, Lynn, was the lady responsible for hiring him and she insisted I make the trek north with the baby on his first day for her first picture with him:  “All those others are just guys in suits; he IS the real Santa.”  I must agree;  he has the most extraordinary way of being completely in each child’s moment, giving each child a laser-focused, powerful interaction, and more if needed.  He listens, questions, reassures; he gives respect to all.  Everyone around him feels it and languishes in it.

You may remember hearing the famed New York Sun newspaper column, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  The writer, Francis P. Church, warns an 8-year-old who is doubting her belief in Santa against the skepticism of an unsure time in our country’s history.  Sound familiar?  ~“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.  He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.” ~

The year our oldest was really doubting Santa’s existence, I mentioned her concern to him by saying, “Merry Christmas, Santa.  This is Rachel, she’s 6 and she’s having a ‘Virginia’ moment.”  Not only did Santa remember our girl from the previous five years, he knew exactly what to do.  After the photo with both girls, our youngest joined me (still a little shy around Santa), but Santa pulled Rachel aside.  Watching Rachel’s expression and her rapid-fire questions, they had several moments of conversation.  In the following days, it was obvious she had made her peace; her soul had calmed.  She never shared the conversation, but snuggling one night she noted, “You know, Santa told me I can choose to believe or not; I choose to believe in the truth of his work, his generous spirit, and the things in my heart.”  Yes, she was six…

img_3310-1Fast forward 27 years now as I pull out the pictures and reflect on these precious memories of making the trek each December to speak with the real Santa.  Our last family visit was in 2000 when Santa took time to read with our youngest who brought a book to give to him; notice our oldest (in middle school at the time) stayed for the story too…

Thank you, Santa, for sharing your time with our family and so many others through the years; thank you for the lessons in life you give.  In these unsure times, may we all express the love, generosity, hope, peace, and joy you remind us of each day of the new year.

#SpreadJOY

When was the last time your heart was lifted by a wave of pure JOY…when you felt so excited by an unexpected miracle you couldn’t stop yourself from smiling?  When was the last time in a busy day you found a way to spread JOY to someone else?

It’s no secret one of my all-time my favorite words is JOY.  My family and friends know this only too well.  Momma told me I came into this world singing robustly for JOY and have actively pursued JOY in simple, everyday ways as a constant quest.

This time of year, we see the word JOY all over the JOYplace.  You can find it on cute ornaments, in greeting cards, on wrapping paper, and especially on the smiling young faces of those whose eyes sparkle and marvel at the wonder of the season.

Days may be long, but years a far too short.  So why do we reserve JOY for special occasions, holidays, or stolen moments?  If we want JOY to be the story of our years, JOY must really be the story of our daily lives.  JOY must be the way we choose and the habits we form as we travel on this journey of life.

JOY surrounds us, but we must actually teach ourselves and others the way to find it and how to share it with others, thus leading me to a couple of challenging questions for today:  How will you share JOY with those you hold dear during this JOYous season?  How will you convey JOY to others who look to you for guidance in finding it within themselves?

It is my sincere hope you give yourself and others the gift of JOY.  Catch, cultivate, and crave it!  If you make room daily for JOY, you may just find JOY is a strong magnet for more.  Invite just a little into your life and see how quickly a little JOY grows.  May great hope, peace, and love surround you and those you hold dear as you #SpreadJOY!

Holiday Traditions

Most likely you have a favorite holiday tradition or two…something you treasure each year as the season comes ’round again.  Whether it’s placing a special ornament on the tree, watching a favorite holiday movie together, visiting a certain jolly fellow (in our family, the Northpark Santa IS the real Santa), or doing a familiar holiday activity together, you have a tradition you never want to miss.

My sister and I would always write long, detailed letters to Santa each year; it was our tradition together in fact.  My parents would then take us downtown to Titches (yes, I’m that old), to visit with St. Nick to share our letters.  I would never tell my parents what I wrote even though they would do any number of things to make me “spill it” (Momma always said, “You were stubborn that way…”  Go figure?!).  It took me a while to pin down exactly why they wanted to know this personal information.  (The picture is me in third grade with my sister, Becky talking with Santa).  Writing our letters was a tradition we shared together.  Today, we still write our shopping lists (using email or text) because great minds think alike and we’ve also been known to buy the same present for a family member.  Talking and planning (along with writing) with my sister are traditions during the holidays and everyday I never want to miss!

So this leads me to a question for you to ponder today:  What are your favorite family holiday traditions?  In whatever way you and your family choose to define the holiday season and make seasonal memories, here’s hoping you take time to reflect together on special traditions.  If you don’t have a favorite tradition, here’s hoping you start one this year!

Would you please play Jingle Bells?

‘Tis the season and the Christmas music is floating in the background of daily life.  Ironically, “Jingle Bells” was the first piece I heard this season; no doubt Momma ordered it especially for me.  Here are the circumstances as to why this important holiday tune resonates even today…

jinglebellmusic“Would you please play Jingle Bells, Grandpa?”  The sounds of Christmas ring crystal clear in my musical ear.  Grandpa Brock, my talented (Gospel Music Hall of Fame) maternal grandfather, created everlasting musical impressions on the lives of all he touched.  He passed on a wealth of gospel music, lyrics, and strong family traditions throughout his life.  As far back as memory serves, he shared his genuine love of music with anyone who listened.  Chords, shape notes, and tuning forks created daily amusements to a little four-year-old with wondering eyes who was yearning to learn keyboard, musical techniques, and a little piece called Jingle Bells.

“Would you please play Jingle Bells, Grandpa?”  I never hear Jingle Bells without thinking of Grandpa Brock’s unique rendition of the old secular classic.  He usually played in the key of C, with the chords and gospel flair, including his famous “turn-around” key change.  My sister, Becky, and I frequently requested the piece; after all, Christmas music celebrates joy and good cheer year-round.  At a particular gospel singing convention one Saturday evening, I managed to squirm my way to the stage and onto his piano bench during the set as he played a new Stamps-Baxter song for the crowd of hundreds.  He usually took requests from the newly-published songbooks, so I took advantage of the opportunity as the song changed by asking for my favorite piece (how was I to know it wasn’t in the songbook?).  To my amazement, Grandpa honored my request, with the understanding that I join the singers at the microphones to lead the congregation.  I assume he thought I would back out, but what does a precocious 4-yr-old know about stage-fright?  We praised the Lord and brought the house down singing Jingle Bells that night.

“Would you please play Jingle Bells, Grandpa?”  Not long after that singing convention, I received an autoharp from Grandpa Brock.  He taught me to play the stringed instrument; of course, I learned Jingle Bells first.  The very next Christmas I was honored when my KPUMC Preschool teacher, Mrs. Bertha Mae Cox, asked me to play the autoharp during our school Christmas performance.  I learned Silent Night and Away In A Manger for this annual event, but continued to perfect my autoharp rendition of Jingle Bells.  Although I didn’t play the piece on the preschool program, Grandpa sat at the piano afterwards and accompanied me; he told me, “Jesus needs an encore, baby girl.”

“Would you please play Jingle Bells, Grandpa?”  The next year I began formal piano lessons, and Grandpa held high expectations for my success as a trained classical musician.  The only request he made of my extraordinary piano teacher was that a rendition of Jingle Bells be included in the seasonal repertoire.  One particular Saturday morning, as we made our rounds tuning pianos, he packed up his tools while I gingerly slipped onto the bench of the beautiful Steinway he had just tuned.  His surprise registered quickly when he realized my left and right hands played my favorite piece—the very one I constantly asked of him.  At that musical moment, we became a duet, and it remained our most requested number during the holiday season.

“Would you please play Jingle Bells, Grandpa?”  As the years passed, the duet became a trio when my sister joined us at the keyboard.  We created more versions of Jingle Bells than Rachmaninoff’s “Theme of Paganini,” expanding our musical horizons and yet, never losing the old gospel flair.  The last piece my precious Grandpa Brock ever played for me on the piano was Jingle Bells.  As the gospel quartet sang several of his songs at his memorial service, my thoughts centered on Christmas and our favorite piece.  The angels and St. Peter most likely played Jingle Bells upon his arrival.

“Momma, would you please play Jingle Bells?”  Fast forward a few years to two young daughters seated closely at their mother’s side while she picked notes and practiced choral Christmas music on the piano.  The oldest child, Rachel, watched in wonder, carefully observing; she studied piano with her mom’s former teacher (before moving to oboe).  Both girls frequently requested their mom’s beloved piece. While cooking supper one evening, the youngest child, Hannah, requested “Jing-Bel.”  Rachel confidently tickled the ivories while teaching her sister to sing the words to the song.  With a tear in her eye, the mother silently gave thanks to God and to the Grandpa who always played Jingle Bells.

jinglebellsSo, may the Jingle Bells of the season continue to ring far and near for all to hear…and thanks, Momma, for sending a seasonal sign from above!