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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Eucharisteo - Thanksgiving

I recently read a book by Ann Voskamp titled, One Thousand Gifts. A dare to live fully right where you are. In the book she is challenged by a friend to begin a journal to write down one thousand things she is thankful for. Ann discovered, in giving thanks for the life she already had, she found the life she'd always wanted. As she chronicled gifts, she began to open her eyes to gratitude and began to be present to God's presence that brings deep and lasting happiness. You can read Ann's blog at www.holyexperience.com.
The exercise of writing down the things you are grateful for should not be an exercise to be "super Christian", this exercise is one that shows you that God is in the everyday; debt, drama, daily duties, heartache, betrayal. It is a way to find joy in the midst of all of those things, states Voskamp. Ann spoke at a recent conference that I attended, her words challenged me to begin my own gifts journal. And here are a few of my gifts.
1. The sound of my husband's truck pulling into the driveway, it means he made it home safely...again.
2. The sound of little boys laughter
3. Tyler's old soul
4. Josh's brilliant smile that is punctuated by a dimple on his left cheek.
5. Sarah's keen mind and quick wit
6. Daniel's God given talents, they are so many
7. My mother's voice
8. My father's kiss on my head
9. The smell of coffee as I wake to a new day
10. Afternoon sunlight as it filter's through the oak trees in my back yard.
11. Hot, running water.
12. Medicine that is keeping our aging parents with us for a while longer
13. Chocolate
15. Friendship so true and pure

I challenge you to start your list. Begin to recognize your gifts. It is so easy to overlook them in the everyday.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Lessons learned....raising boys

Someone recently asked me how I was able to establish such a close relationship with my now grown sons. I didn't have an immediate answer because I've never really considered the alternative, not having a close relationship with my sons. After pondering that question for several weeks I'm not sure I have an absolute answer but I do have some ideas that you may find interesting.

BE A GOOD EXAMPLE: Like most mothers I know, I am crazy in love with my children. From birth until present day I've always done my best to think about how my choices, my actions, my reactions, my interactions and my decisions will teach, equip and affect my children. Sometimes I cringe thinking back on the poor examples I set for my children over the years. But, somehow they seem to have picked up on the good examples and choose to do their best to live those out. Thank God.

HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE: One thing I don't do is let them excuse any poor behaviors or decisions they make based on any poor decisions or behaviors I've had in my past. They alone are responsible for their actions. I want them to be adults who own their behaviors without excuse. If I allow them to excuse their behavior or decisions based on mine or anyone else's failures then they will learn that anything is acceptable as long as you can find someone to blame it on. Knowing that, I believe, has made them think through their choices.

LISTEN: Another thing that I've always done is listen to my kids. I've done my very best to hear what they are saying without forming my response while they are still talking. Sometimes that is easier than other times. There have been many occasions when my boys have been telling me something and I wanted to shut them down and not hear the rest of the conversation because it was either too shocking, too silly, too painful or too much information! At those times I've tried to remember that I want them to talk to me about everything and if I want them to talk to me about everything then my reaction to that everything has to be both calm and reassuring.(those who know me are laughing about now, I don't do much calmly) After raising them through their teen years, I've heard some things that scared me to death, some things that made me chuckle, some things that made me sad, some things that made me mad, some things that made me proud and some things that disappointed me. No matter how the conversations made me feel, I think that my kids would always walk away knowing that without a doubt I loved and supported them.

RESPECT: When I decided to get married the second time it was very important to me that I get it right. Not only for my sake and my husband's sake but for the sake of our children. Danny and I had both paid a heavy price for the failure of our first marriages and we agreed that we would do whatever it took to make ours work. In doing so, I set out on a journey to figure out our differences. Our differences as male/female, our different personalities, what made him tick, what made me tick. During this journey and through a series of Bible studies I learned that the most important thing for a man is to feel respected, even above feeling loved. As I began to put that principle into practice in my marriage it began to make a huge difference in my relationship with my husband. At the same time I thought if this is so important to men in marriage, it would have to be important to all males in general. So I began to practice that same principle with my children. Not only did I need to love them unconditionally, I needed to show them that I respected them. I think that is one key element in our relationship today. They know I respect them.

FREEDOM: It would be so easy to scoop our children up under our wing and never let them out into the scary world. Everywhere we turn there are more things to be afraid of for our children. At some point while raising my children I was able to find a balance between being over protective and being an irresponsible parent. I trusted that God loves my children more than I do and that He was the only one who could completely protect them. There was no way, especially once they started driving, that I could control their every move. I taught them right from wrong, had a check and balance system in place for whether or not they were being responsible, continued to be the parent and disciplinarian and then gave them the freedom to make some choices. It wasn't always easy and there were times that I wanted to scoop them back up into the nest and hover over them so they would be protected. They knew this so they would reassure me that they were okay.


UNCONDITIONAL LOVE: My love for my kids has never been based on their performance or whether or not they did or didn't do something. I love them just because they are a treasured gift from God. I can't think of anything, and I do mean anything, that would ever be able to make me not love them. They know this and I think that gives them the comfort to lean in close.

None of these things are magical or mystical formulas for my blog readers to try out on their own kids. It is just what seemed to have worked for us. If you are reading this and you still have children at home, I hope that you will try some of these examples and that in some small way they may enhance your relationship with your children while they are still living in your nest and most especially once they fly away.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Lead and I will follow

To describe the past few months of our lives at the Cook household would take far more letters than can be written in one post. Like so many of you, my husband and I have found ourselves living right smack in the middle of the sandwich generation. It is almost as if you go to sleep one night only to wake up the next morning to mostly grown up children struggling to find their way in this world and aging parents with health issues. I so want to play both roles, that of devoted mother and devoted child, well.  Only with God's help will I be able to do either.

This past Saturday, we watched as our middle son married his childhood sweetheart. I couldn't be more proud of the man he has become. Months of planning and preparation unfolded before us in a beautiful and moving ceremony performed by both families mutual pastor. My husband is my son's step-father, but an outsider would never know it. He has embraced my children as his own while at the same time he has respectfully and graciously acknowledged their father's role in their lives. Only a few minutes into the reception we received the call that my father-in-law (Bill) was gravely ill and had been placed on life support. I watched as my husband compartmentalized his thoughts and emotions so as not to dampen the spirit of the newly married couple as they celebrated their new life together surrounded by friends and family.


After sleeping a few hours, going home to unpack and repack, we made the 10 hour trip to the hospital to see my-father-law. We prayed all the way there that we would make it in time for Danny to say proper good-byes. We walked into the ICU unit at 11:50 p.m. on Father's Day. I watched as my  husband told his beloved dad good-bye and prayed to the God his father had introduced him to so many years before.  The next morning upon returning to the hospital we were shocked to see a remarkable recovery taking place before our very eyes. As he was given blood to replace what he had lost, you could almost see Bill get better moment by moment. By Monday afternoon Bill was coherent enough to ask about the wedding. I told him it was beautiful and made the statement "it is  good to be young and in love", he said "Hon, it is  good to be old and in love." I felt then that once again he had beaten the Dr's odds.

That evening we moved Danny's dad to a hospital "in town" where his oncologist could be near and treat him. Again, I watched as my husband graciously and compassionately dealt with the delicate issues of his dad's end of life decisions. He never once wavered in his compassion to show his father respect, to make sure his dignity was intact, and to include his sister and step-mother in the decision making process. It is a very fragile dance.

On Tuesday afternoon we received the call that my husband's step-sister had been killed in a car wreck. She had been at the hospital with us only the night before. Once again, I watched as my husband graciously and compassionately dealt with his father's and step-mother's emotions and needs. You see, Catherine and Bill were both widowed when they met over 30 years ago. They have a beautiful love story. They managed to build a life together surrounded by a large blended family of his kids and her kids who were all mostly grown by then. They respected and loved each other's children and honored the memories of their deceased spouses well. The world would do well to have more people like them.

Yesterday, (Friday) my husband settled his dad into a skilled nursing facility. We then  attended the funeral of a step-sister his exact age. Once again, I watched as he compassionately offered his condolences to his extended, blended family.

I didn't think it possible but it's true, I've fallen in love with my husband all over again over this past week and the months leading up to the wedding. He has worked tirelessly and without complaint to help the kids have the wedding and a good start to their new life.  I was always that young wife who fought submission. I never fully understood it from God's perspective. Only when I studied the true meaning of Biblical submission did I begin to see God's plan.  God has called my husband to be my spiritual leader.  The Bible says that Danny's prayers will not be heard if he fails to love me as God has commanded.  Being the spiritual head of anyone is a tremendous responsibility.  Being my spiritual leader is a job for a very strong, very secure man.  Luckily, my man lives up to his responsibility.  My job is to make his job easier.  By being is helpmate, by supporting him and respecting him, I am living up to the responsibility God has called me to.  I'm sure there are theologians out there who would scoff at my elementary description of submission. That's okay, I'm no theologian.  I am just a Jesus girl who is thankful that God has given me a man who loves God, loves me, loves our children, loves our parents and leads us all well.  I can follow that lead.

1 Peter 3: 1-7

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Gift Card Winner

The winner of the gift card is Tracy Nunes.  (Tracy, my husband drew your name out of all of the names of the women who responded to my blog last week.) 

I met Tracy last year at She Speaks.  Tracy is a gifted writer who loves Jesus with all of her heart. You can visit her blog and see her writing at, http://tracynunes.blogspot.com/.  And she lives in beautiful Hawaii!  Too bad I can't personally deliver the gift card.  Tracy, I will mail it to you this week.

I hope you all had a beautiful week.

Blessings,
Jennifer

Monday, March 28, 2011

Springing Forward..........

Spring has sprung in on the Gulf Coast.  Everywhere I look there is new life.  Buds are appearing on the plants that have been dormant all winter,  the grass is turning green and the birds are beginning to make their way to the bird feeders we filled with fresh seed.  I love Spring, it is my favorite time of year (until Fall and then Fall is my favorite time of year....yes, I'm female).  

What is it about Spring that brings joy to most of us?  Is it the promise of new life in the plants and flowers around us?  The excitement of inching a little bit closer to vacation time? The warmer, longer days? The celebration of Easter and the resurrection?   Beach, boating, and family time?   For me I think it is all of the above.

This Spring is especially promising for our family.  Our little "Pookie", Josh  is all grown up and getting married in June.  How is that possible,  I only gave birth to him just a few minutes ago!  If you've had a child get married you know of what I speak.  If you haven't, it happens in a blink.  Only yesterday we were running from ballpark to ballpark, cooking hot dogs, driving through McDonald's, rushing home to wash uniforms and get homework done only to start over again the next day.  My precious husband accepted this child and the responsibility of helping raising him when he married me.  He has stood by my side unwaveringly through every tear, every trial, and every triumph of parenthood with Josh.  And in June, he will stand beside me as we watch Josh marry his chosen bride.   So this Spring as Danny and I spring forward we feel we are springing forward to a new chapter.  Another child getting another feather in it's wing that will take him away from our home and on his life journey.  We've prayed for Josh and Chelsea for many years.  We pray God blesses their marriage and that He will be the center of their union together.  But as with all of our children, there will always be a warm place in our nest and hearts for Josh, the third in our blended tribe of four.   We are so proud of all of our children.  We know we've done nothing to deserve them and the blessings they bring to us each and every day.

What changes is God springing forward in your life this Spring?  Send your comments, I would love to hear from you.   This week I'm giving away a Starbucks gift card to a random winner that comments back on my blog.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Daddy's Girl

This past Tuesday morning at 8:00  I received a normal text message from my older brother " Call me when you get a minute".   I was headed into the bagel shop to pick up breakfast for myself and a couple of co-workers so I called him when I got back in the car.  Me..."hey, what's up?" Him...."just wanted to let you know dad had a little heart attack this morning about 4:00, he is at the Crestview Hospital and they are transporting him to Ft. Walton Beach".  Me........"Is he O.K?"  Him....."yea, they are going to do the angioplasty baloon thing when they get him there.... hey; someone is walking up to me now I will call you back".  He hung up.  Wait a minute, I'm not through asking questions and I've not even begun to fuss at you for not calling sooner.  So, I went to the office and did what had to be done.  Called my husband and kids and took off to Ft. Walton.  By the time I got there they had already performed the angioplasty and Daddy was in recovery.  The Dr. put in two stents.  He was resting and told me he was fine.  Shortly after, Josh my oldest son came in and we sat there with him for most of the day.  Daddy went home on Thursday and is doing very well.

What I'm left with is how peaceful I was during Jeff's phone call, my drive to the office, my drive to Ft. Walton and in the days following daddy's procedure.  I've been a little stressed out lately about some things but in this particular situation I was completely and totally at peace.  I just felt in my soul that he was okay and that he was going to be okay.  He assures me that he feels much better, that he is going to change his diet and exercise.  Good news!  Daddy turns 70 this August and is in remarkably good health considering. 

Like all of us, I'm sure my daddy has things that he wishes he could go back and do over.  Unfortunately, none of us get that opportunity.  He and I haven't always been as close as we have become in the years since I became an adult. I never considered myself a daddy's girl.  Always preferring my mama in times of crises and tragedy and thinking I couldn't be both a mama's girl and a daddy's girl.    Daddy has been a model grandfather to his five grandsons since the oldest was born twenty three years ago.  He has plans to travel to New Mexico later this month to spend time with his yongest grandson, one year old Lucas.   Until my sister-in-law, Geri lost her battle to cancer in December 2009, my dad was her primary care giver.  He made numerous trips taking her back and forth to MD Anderson in Texas.  He spent hours with her listening to her fears, dreams and hopes as she battled melanoma.  He slept in hospital chairs, held her head while she vomited, talked to doctors about scary words that they didn't understand and became her voice in the "business of all things cancer."  He loved her because my brother loved her but he also loved her for the person she was.  He took care of her because my brother needed him too, and my nephew needed his momma to be here as long as possible.  But he also took care of her because he is a good man. 

So maybe that is why I was so at peace.  I knew that God wasn't finished with him yet. He still has a lot to teach his grandsons.  Some of it silly and hilarious.  Some of it serious and sound.  But mostly about being male and being compassionate and that the two can and should go together.  Whatever the reason. I'm glad God only gave him a wake up call and didn't take him home because after all  I'm his only girl, and after 45 years I kinda like being daddy's girl. 

I love you daddy and I'm glad you are still here!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Hope

How do you define hope?  We were asked that question in our life group class last week.  The answers varied from person to person.  What I noticed most were that a person's answers were often defined by their life experiences.  In Proverbs, the Bible says that "Hope deferred makes the heart sick but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life".  I like that.  Hope is sometimes all that we are left with.  Hope that a cure will come quickly.  Hope that a job will become available. Hope that our children will ______(fill in the blank).  Hope, a small four letter word that can mean so many different things to each person in so many different ways. 

 I know where my hope comes from. I know in Whom I trust.  Without my hope in Jesus, I would have no hope. My husband often says, " this life is so temporary, it is gone in the snap of a finger. And the good news is we win. God has already written the end of the story". 

The world around is always in turmoil. All we have to do is turn on the news and see war, famine, earthquakes, terror, floods, injustice, violence, disease and on and on the list goes.  I believe that if we didn't have hope of survival, hope of rescue, hope of a better day, we would all give up and
our hearts would be sick.  Perhaps you know someone who's heart is sick because they have no hope.
If you have hope, share your hope. If you have no hope, find your hope


1 Peter 1:3-5
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.