Saturday, December 27, 2014

A Thousand Miles

A Thousand Miles
by Sarah Fry

I have a confession to make.  I love New Year's Resolutions.  I know they have a bad rap.  And they make people angry and depressed or amused and irritated.  But for me, when the Christmas gatherings start winding to a close and Auld Lang Syne starts playing, I love the chance to get out my computer or a big chunky journal and start scheming and planning.


You know what I think?  I think resolutions have a bad reputation because we don't use them  right.  I think we use them to set ourselves for a big fat failure, then beat ourselves over the head from about March on.  It's sort of the nature of resolutions.  We RESOLVE to do some things that we have had a hard time doing in the past. Sometimes  (often!) those things are really very hard things to accomplish.   So we resolve to lose weight.  Or to be kinder to our husband.  Or to have better devotions.  Or to declutter our world and live a more simple and minimalistic and peaceful life.  And it's hard stuff.  Change comes slow.  And life happens and keeps on happening.  And  so we get discouraged and angry and we just sort-of shrug our shoulders and move on down the road the same as we always have.


But I have been doing a lot of studying on the power of habit.  Habit is what makes up pretty much everything about us, really.  Our attitudes and work practices and family functions and the way we dress and the thoughts we think and the food we is all driven by thousands of little bitty habits.  They all add up to who we are and how we function. 

So for me, sitting down with a journal in the New Year is less about conquering the world and more abut analyzing the many ongoing habits of my life.   The nature of my work as a mom and homekeeper seems to be naturally filled with millions of little things.  Little, huge things like laundry and unmatched socks and daily lunches.  But really, if I were a surgeon or a bestselling author, it would be the same.  My daily habits would make or break me.


One of my favorite quotes is "The Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. ~ Lao Tzu" 

And we think, yeah, that first step is hard!  Starting a diet or training for a marathon or managing a household or getting a's hard to get started!  But what I have learned is that it isn't really the first step on the first day that's hardest.  It's the first step every day.  One step on day one doesn't do much for me, really.  It's taking a step again.  Every. single. day. that makes real progress.  The day that really only matters - is today.


If I view every resolution as a mountain that must be conquered quickly and completely,  I will fail.  Period.  But if I resolve to just take the next step today.  And then again tomorrow.  And then Thursday.  And then again Monday after I miss some days...and then again in March if February is pathetic.  Then I will see real habit change. 

I think what kills us is we view the whole resolution as one big huge thing that is either conquered or failed.  Instead, my New Year's resolutions are almost always much the same....a continuation of the same habits I worked on last year.  Because my habit-goals are based on my priorities.  And my priorities stay pretty constant over the years.  So naturally, the habits I am developing are going to stay the same.  That's not's success!  Progress is slow and constant and sometimes invisible. 


But drinking that glass of water or getting up those extra minutes or shutting that mouth that wants to speak too quickly or plugging away at a project or a degree one day at a time...these are the habits that become building blocks to the life we want.  And so in most cases, they aren't going to completely go away!  Ever!  It's actually very liberating to realize that it isn't a pass/fail situation.  It is a lifetime commitment to keep taking steps. 

One thing we need to realize is that we have a limited capacity for the amount of change we can make.  Studies show that self discipline is a muscle that gets tired - but that can also get stronger with continued use!  There are two ways this can work.  We can zone in on one goal that we attack with focused intensity, even if it means giving some other important things less attention.  Or we can take a look at a wide range of habits in our lives and be content to chip away - slowly and daily - at all of them.  Both of those methods work.  They just work at different speeds.  It just depends on where you are in life. 

Here's the good news:  Whether it's lacing up running shoes and stepping out the door, or filling up a hot soapy bucket for cleaning, or turning on the computer to write the next paragraph...once you take the first step that day, it usually gives you a happy feeling for the rest of the day every time you think about the satisfaction of having that small step completed.  And habits build on one another.  It's a powerful thing. that I've given myself this lovely little pep talk. I'm ready to accept (again) that I'm not going to fix all the things this year.  But that doesn't mean I give up.  At the end of next year I will still be me.  But I will have taken lots of single steps.  And that adds up. Guaranteed.  That' s a happy situation.

"A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules."            Anthony Trollope
"We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period and underestimate what we can do over a long period."   Gretchen Rubin, Manage your day-to-day
"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.".....Aristotle

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Homebuilders: Robbie & Rachel England

Resource Review by:  Robbie & Rachel England

What is Home Builders?  What are some of the topic studies they include?
HomeBuilders is simply a small group consisting of married couples who want to strengthen and encourage each other in the adventure of marriage.  The name originated from FamilyLife's Ministry and they have many studies from Communication to Parenting and many more.  We have kept the name, but have found that FL's curricula tends to be a good starter, but perhaps not as challenging for groups that have been together for a long period of time.  Other studies we have done in our HomeBuilders group are:
  1. Love and Respect, by Emerson Eggerichs (our favorite)
  2. Family First Aid, by James MacDonald (DVD series)
  3. 10 Choices that Will Change Your life Forever, by James MacDonald (DVD series)
  4. Men Are Like Waffles, Women Are Like Spaghetti, by Bill and Pam Farrel
  5. Have a New Kid by Friday, by Kevin Leman
  6. Say Goodbye to Bad Attitudes, Complaining and Whining in You and Your Children, by Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller
How do the meetings work?
We have done it different ways - we have met twice a month for 3-4 months and taken the rest of the year off; we have met in the winter, spring, and fall and taken summers off; we met once a month for several years; and now we meet once a month from January to June, have a weekend retreat together in September, and a Christmas party together in December.   
We begin around 6:30 and have the first half-hour be a social time.  We get started with the study around 7:00 and finish around 8:30.  Then we have refreshments made by the host family until around 9:00.  We meet at a different house each month.

Who is qualified to lead a HomeBuilders group?
Any couple who loves God and is interested in making their marriage - and others around them - grow stronger.

How should I go about starting a HomeBuilders group?
We started ours by inviting 20 couples from church and work.  Only 10 came, but it was a great start - and we had to split the group after a year!  Ideally the group should be no more than 6 couples.  We have had the same four couples for the last 7-8 years.  We have had two different kinds of HomeBuilders groups - this one that has stayed together for a long time (and we are in similar places of life - same age children, and all strong in our marriages) which has been the kind of group that has been "iron sharpens iron."  We have also (in the off-months when not doing this group) done more of a mentoring HomeBuilders with couples of different ages and some with significant marital issues.  These groups were a little more intense and took more energy on our part.

What if no one will talk?  Will I be embarrassed?
We set it up so that each person gets to ask a question.  They don't have to answer it, but for that moment they are the facilitator.  We also teach couples to look around the room when answering, not just at the leaders.  Also, we have learned to WAIT.  Give people a chance to answer - and sometimes say - "Now we are going around the room... Everyone share one thing they remember about dating..." etc.  This breaks the ice and gives people a chance to talk without having to struggle to answer something.

Why is HomeBuilders so wonderful?
It's a persistent reminder of the most important human relationship we have.  It also provides accountability, camaraderie and support for the challenges and blessings of married life.

What are some of your Home Builders stories?
We have many - most of them are stories that stay in that room.  We walk away from our evening refreshed, motivated, and encouraged.  It isn't fireworks - it is candles.  We feel the steady burn of consistency through these other couples.  We hope to grow old with them and share all the stages of life with them!

What else would you like to add?
We love HomeBuilders so much - it is something that our children have grown up thinking is "normal" for married couples.  Our prayer is that when our children get married that they will all have the opportunity to be a part of a wonderful HomeBuilders group like ours!   

The Homebuilders Small Groups Series

Friday, December 19, 2014

Who is He in Yonder Stall?

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
 and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, 
The mighty God, 
The everlasting Father, 
The Prince of Peace.  
Isaiah 9:6

            “Who is He in Yonder Stall,” is a carol that is somewhat new to me.  Although it is included in many traditional hymnals, it was not in the hymnals of my childhood.  It has become one of my favorites because it not only tells the nativity story, but reminds us that Jesus, the baby, is the victorious “King of Glory.” 

            Interestingly, the fun Christmas song, “Up on the Housetop,” has something in common with this beautiful carol:  both songs are by the same composer!  Benjamin Russell Hanby was born in Rushville, Ohio in 1833.  William Hanby, Ben’s father, who was bishop of the United Brethren church; had been indentured to an abusive master as a young man, and as a result, was sympathetic to the plight of those in slavery.  The family was active in the Underground Railroad and their home was used as safe house.  Benjamin grew up heavily influenced by both the abolitionist movement and the church.  He graduated from Otterbein College in 1858, married, and pastored a circuit of churches.  However, by 1864, he felt the need to better provide for his growing family, and found that focusing on music better fit his gifts.  He began working for a music publisher in Cincinnati, and also started a singing school in New Paris, Ohio that became quite popular.  Although he was no longer pastoring, Ben considered this his ministry to the young people of the area.  Locally, it was called “Ben’s singing church.”  In December, the singing school was to provide entertainment for a Christmas party for the area’s poor children.  For the occasion, Ben wrote a song called, “Santa Claus,” which later became the song we know as, “Up on the Housetop.”  His little brother appears in the song in the reference to “the stocking of little Will.”  The song was extremely well received, and it was said that Will came just to hear its first performance.  In 1865, Ben moved his family to Chicago, in order to accept a position with the Root and Cady music publishing company, the largest firm of its kind in the country at the time.  He continued to compose many songs, but most of those have been forgotten.  His final composition was “Who is He in Yonder Stall?”  The song is used as a Christmas carol, but like several other hymns, it is a rehearsal of all of the life of Christ, not just His birth.  The song’s verses are melodically repetitive, but the triumphant chorus makes up for what the verses lack. Benjamin Hanby died early, at the age of 33; but he left a mark on the world with his music.

            At the end of one year and the beginning of another, what a blessing to consider, once again, the beautiful incongruities of our Savior.  He was born, weak and helpless; yet He is the One who lives today, acting as our Great High Priest, making intercession for us.  He lived a sinless, perfect life and yet He ministered with love and understanding to the down-and-outers of His day.  He was approachable, even by children.  He was both wholly ordinary and exraordinarily holy.  And now, this ordinary Man, Who is God; is no longer the meek Man of Sorrows, but the Mediator to whom all power has been given; Who holds the keys of death and hell, Who sits at the Father’s right hand, presenting your needs to the throne of God!  It is in His name and through His blood that we have access to a Holy God.   And so, this Christmas and at the beginning of a New Year, may we rejoice in His story, and crown Him, Lord of all!        

Who is He in yonder stall
At Whose feet the shepherds fall?
Who is He in deep distress,
Fasting in the wilderness?

Lo! at midnight, who is He
Prays in dark Gethsemane?
Who is He on yonder tree
Dies in grief and agony?

Who is He that from the grave
Comes to heal and help and save?
Who is He that from His throne
Rules through all the world alone?

'Tis the Lord! O wondrous story!
'Tis the Lord! the King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall,
Crown Him! crown Him, Lord of all!

- Joy Barnett, writer for The Ladies' Companion


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Highly Favored and Blessed

It happened while I was grocery shopping.  I opened the foggy refrigerator door to get the milk, suddenly alone as the kids wandered over to stare longingly at the Little Debbie cakes.  Just then a neatly groomed man on a Wal-Mart scooter spoke up beside me, “You are highly favored by God and blessed among women.”  Stunned, I stammered some reply and was amused when he then asked me if I had seen a specific brand of garlic bread he was there to buy. I laughed about it as I left the store and teased my husband that our family might not be as ‘complete’ as we thought.  However, his words, originally addressed to Mary by the angel Gabriel, stuck with me. 

Bill Gaither has written a Christmas song often performed in Southern Gospel circles.  It says, “Mary was the first one to carry the gospel and that news brought joy, sweet joy!”  Yes, Mary had the amazing privilege of carrying the actual Son of God in her body for nine months.  That is unparalleled by any of our experiences as mothers.  But are we not blessed and highly favored as well?  We have our own special privilege that is not to be overlooked or understated. 

As Christian women, we also “carry the gospel” around with us!  Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit.  We are alive in Christ- alive in the One with whom the Father is ‘well-pleased.’  What a Christmas gift we have received!  We are “highly favored and blessed” among the women of this dark world, carrying the joy of the good news that changes lives and that can bring the spiritually dead new life in Christ.  Let’s answer this blessing with the same attitude of submission and joy that Mary modeled for us:  “Be it unto me according to thy word…  My soul doth magnify the Lord!”  May that news bring “joy, sweet joy” to your Christmas season this year! 

-         Charity Brown, writer for The Ladies’ Companion

Friday, December 12, 2014

Being Jesus...At Christmas

                                                                       by Cheryl Watters
                                                        Secretary/Treasurer, Women of Worth
Many people are alone and don’t have someone to spend the holidays with this year. They may be sitting at home longing for a phone call, a knock at their door, or perhaps a Christmas card in their mailbox.

When asked to write this article I thought to myself, "It’s been 13 years for me since my husband died but the raw feelings are still so close to the surface. I am not sure I can do this article justice. Those are wounds that are so deep and I don’t really want to rip those scabs off again. It hurts!" God assured me that He would help me write it, and that perhaps something I could say by my own experience may be what someone else needs to hear.

It was May of 2001 when Steve went to Heaven after being diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer just 23 days before his death. We had three children to continue raising. How could this be happening! At 42, I just couldn’t fathom ‘doing life’ alone. I begged God to heal my husband and allow him to remain with us. After all, we were going to grow old together. He could retire early due to the number of years in his shop and we loved to travel. We needed each other. God, in His infinite plan, did not see fit to answer my prayer in the way that I had envisioned, but chose to heal Steve by taking him to Heaven.

I remember someone telling me that people would surround me with their acts of kindness, phone calls, visits and conversations but that this would eventually cease to be the case in the future. I couldn’t fathom it. I thought, "Have I been guilty of that in my past? Will people really shun away from me or be afraid to talk to me? I have not changed! I am still ‘me’ so why would this be the case? Surely my case will be an exception." Sadly, this did happen to me. This is not a pity party but just stating facts.

It was difficult for people to accept the fact that Steve was not there when they came to visit, so they didn’t come over. It was/is hard for people to talk to me about Steve because they are afraid it will hurt me. I want to scream, "Talk to me! This is my soul-mate! The father of my children! I loved him with all of my heart! Talk to me!" It’s almost impossible to get across to people that you truly do want to talk about your spouse, parent, sibling or child that has gone on before you. A hurting spouse, parent or sibling wants to hear you reminisce of all of the good times you had together. They love to see the sparkle in your eye as you say how much your loved one meant to them too.

I remember the Christmas after Steve died (in May), telling my friend, Sue Arnold, "Oh, I don’t think I will put a tree up this year. It will be too hard to see the tree up because that was Steve’s favorite pastime – to just sit by the lit tree in the evenings and relax." She said, "Cheryl, your children need the tree up. You always put a tree up. You are going to put a tree up." I said, "Sue, I can’t! I can’t make myself do that. Besides, who will even come to see it? Steve’s not here!" She said, "I will be over next week and we are putting your tree up." If you know Sue, she was determined and showed up at my house and we went into the sunroom, where I always put my tree. I felt like my heart would break in two that night. I could hardly stand the pain associated with this event. I remember working a while, then stopping and sitting in the two rocking chairs, which were side-by-side at the time because of all of the boxes in the room, and just reminiscing. We talked of the good times. She let me cry. She cried with me. We talked of the good memories of Steve, and how he would have wanted me to put up the Christmas tree, and to make the best of my difficult situation. Was that
wise of her to do this to/for me? Yes, a resounding yes! She cared enough to step out of her comfort zone and help me work through my sorrow and pain.

Down through the years, there have been instances when I have felt like I couldn’t go to an event, whether it was a holiday gathering or a wedding and thought, "I just want Steve to go with me. I can’t do this alone!" I will admit, sometimes I have failed. I have sat at home, had a big pity party for myself, cried myself to sleep and felt rotten. Then there are times when I have picked myself up by my bootstraps and said, "Cheryl, get it together. Steve is not coming back. You know he is not coming back, so just go and enjoy yourself." Recent-ly, I went to a wedding and when the usher asked me if I had anyone with me, I nearly burst into tears as I said, "No, I am alone!" I ended up sitting behind my pastor and his wife and my pastor’s wife, Jody Johnson, asked me to sit with them at the reception. That’s compassion. When you are the third person in a party, you literally feel so out of place but when someone links arms with you and says, "Join us" it makes the event seem so much more enjoyable.

During the holidays I find that I love to go to the mall, as that is something that our family has done since we were married. It is a family tradition to go to the mall the Saturday before Christmas and just walk! Watching the people scurrying around frantically. Yesterday, I drove 12 miles to go to the mall, got there, drove into the parking lot, trying to find a parking spot, and had such an overwhelming feeling of loss that I turned the car around and drove back home. I couldn’t make myself go in. Some days are harder than oth-ers. However, if I have someone to go with me, it makes the trip so much more enjoyable.

I have started a singles group in Cincinnati and these ladies are becoming very close to me. We call each other and say, "Hey, want to meet for breakfast on Saturday? Want to go to a thrift store with me? I am planning an event for work, would you care to help me?" This type of interaction helps all of us. Some of us are widowed, some have never married and some are divorced. We all face the same struggles! I heard one of the ladies tell me the other day, "I don’t really have any Christmas presents to buy this year." That is sad. I hope she has somewhere to go for Christmas this year. I hope someone cares enough to say, "Would you like to join our family gathering this year?" Many times I think our worlds revolve around our little family and then when one of us are called to Heaven, we are all lost. We don’t know how to function. I think this is especially true if the family is young or there are young children at home.

It is wise to start new traditions when someone dies. It’s painful to do the same things without them. Af-ter Steve died, we changed the way we ‘did’ Christmas morning. We sometimes opened the gifts earlier or later than usual. When grandchildren started coming along, I found it easier to concentrate on the positives of having new life. I have always felt that my grandchildren were handpicked by Steve. I certainly have no proof that he even knows, but it just helps to ease my pain while going through this stage in my life.

Holidays are extremely difficult for people who have lost loved ones. If I could give advice to anyone right now, it would be to talk to people about their loss, show that you care, mention the name of their loved one and let them know that you loved that person, and you miss them too. Hugs are always helpful. People are so afraid to be genuine and transparent when dealing with the loss of a loved one and I know I always try to act like I have it together. I don’t! I remember going to a store and walking down an aisle and someone sprayed Jovan cologne. I was just walking aimlessly, heading toward the front of the store. As soon as I smelled that cologne I burst into tears. The person probably wondered what was wrong with me. I remember another time while at a store and the clerk said something, and I burst into tears and said, "I am sorry. I thought I was ready to come out in public but obviously, I am not." It’s hard after someone dies to go on with life as usual, but it is so much easier when shared with a friend. During this holiday season, make sure all of your friends and family are with someone they love. Don’t let anyone spend the holidays alone. Be a friend. You may need them someday.

 - originally printed in Pilgrim News & Notes, the online publication of the
Pilgrim Holiness Church, Inc.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Christmas Reality

by Stephanie Burley

Advisory Member, Women of Worth Committee 

 The season is in full swing. Lights are twinkling, holiday tunes are filling the air waves, and department store advertisements are fighting each other for space in my mailbox. As I look through the thirty-one days of December in my calendar, I realize the hours are quickly filling with legitimate obligations. Taking a moment to do the math, I conclude that this is not only going to be a busy month, it will also be a pretty expensive one. Then I begin the list of my self-imposed expectations: I will actually bake for the annual women’s meeting cookie exchange, as opposed to buying cookies and arranging them on a tray (who really believed I created those little masterpieces anyway?). I will not drop my Christmas cards in the church exchange box seconds before distribution begins (or sheepishly and apologetically take them to the distribution room just as the assembly line has finished sorting and stacking). I will have every gift wrapped and under the tree no later than five days before Christmas Eve (I may or may not be the mom who, right in the middle of gift-giving, remembers that one of the kiddo’s gifts is still buried in the hall closet – in the shopping bag). This is the year I will make Christmas magic for my family, my friends, and my ministry. This is the year.

As I continue my mental wish list, my thoughts are interrupted with the sounds of Nat King Cole’s "Silver Bells" and I’m transported into a world of holiday perfection. Oh, if only I could stay for awhile! Suddenly, my trip is cut short by a little voice that says, "Mommy, I need you now!" Reality replaces the Christmas fantasy and I quickly tend to the needs at hand, still hoping and praying that this will be the year I can finally make it all happen.

Then, all at once, I’m overwhelmed by the realization that over 2,000 years ago, the most miraculous and perfect Christmas did happen! It really had nothing to do with home baked cookies, designer cards, or Nat King Cole. The Saviour of the world was born! He came in human flesh to set the stage for the redemption of the human race. The circumstances were dire. This was no Norman Rockwell rendering. Jesus’ birth was humble and lowly. His mother was young, innocent and scared, but she was chosen for that time to fulfill an important role in this unfolding storyline that would forever change the course of history. She is widely respected and remembered today for her virtue and her complete abandonment to God’s will for her life.

When I examine the life of Mary, the mother of Jesus, I am inclined to adjust my priorities. God has given me an important role, as well. I need to be a reflector of the Light this season. My family, my friends, and my ministry need to see the message of Christmas lived through my humility and self-sacrifice. If I create the perfect Christmas, no doubt I will miss the opportunities that come from imperfection. I will walk away empty, not because I have poured myself out for others, but because I have attempted to satisfy myself with temporal festivities, rather than being filled by the One whose birth we celebrate.

If previous Christmases have left you feeling unfulfilled, join me in making this year one of awe and worship. Relax and rejoice in the reality of Christmas!
- originally printed in Pilgrim News & Notes, the online publication of the
Pilgrim Holiness Church, Inc.