What will you do or not do in 2017? That is the question.

AmberOBrien"

Dear Amber:

What is your New Year’s resolution? and How can I stick to mine? I am stressed about picking the right goals and following through.

Dear Sweet Sister:

I understand your stress.  I have spent the last few days in prayer and study as I attempted to make my yearly goals for my body, mind and spirit. I talked to my physical trainer who encouraged me to pick a physical and a nutritional goal. I studied my monthly planner who encouraged me pick a theme (word of the year) to set my priorities and to make goals for all of my relationships: Family, friends, business. The stress mounted as I thought about all the people in my life and how I wanted to help them all and yet with another year passing, I know how little time there is in every day to accomplish so much.  So instead of an excitement over the new fresh year, soon I was feeling overwhelmed with all I felt I “should” accomplish.  I see why some choose to just not make any goals at all…..the fear of failure is crippling.  But I for one know that people that set goals accomplish more that those who don’t and that writing them down and coming back to them increases the likelihood of them being realized.  If a resolution is defined as “a firm decision to do or to not to do something” then our focus should not only be on what we plan to do in 2017 but also what we plan not to do.

So what should we do Sweet Sister?

First, what should our number one focus and priority be as Christians ?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden of sin that clings (distracts us) to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”        Hebrews 12 : 1-2

 Our goal to to run after Jesus keeping our eyes fixed on Him,  to stay on the narrow path and to invite as many of our friends and family to come join the race.

So ask yourself these two questions?

  1. What is weighing me down or distracting me from following closer to Jesus?           Is a person, social media, a hobby, an addiction,  T.V., clutter, love of sleep..?…..What do I do first when I wake up instead of spending a date with Jesus? What do I need to take away so I have more room to grow in my relationship with Jesus?
  2. How can I be sure to stay close to Jesus in 2017? Do I need to go to bed earlier? wake up earlier? make a pact to not look at emails or Facebook until I  have sat in quiet and became still before my Lord and Savior? To not exercise my body until I have exercised my soul? Maybe decide to read the good news before I  read or watch the depressing news on T.V.

We are promised be bear good fruit if we remain close to Jesus. So this needs to be our Top priority. He will guide us each morning as to all the other goals.  We don’t know what the future will hold and what we will face, but if we meet with God and walk and talk with Him on a daily basis, we will know at the right time what we should do.   When we have our “date time” then we can ask…How can I take better care of the body you gave me?  How should I handle this business decision? How can I show Love to this person who really rubs me the wrong way?

Now this is really important Sister. Write down what you plan to get rid of and hand it over to Jesus.  You need to make room for Jesus and so some housekeeping must occur in your heart.  Don’t just think about it….write it down. now:) 

Next, write down how you plan to improve or add your personal relationship with Jesus.  Will you make a commitment to not look at Facebook or emails when you wake up? Go to Church every week? Join a small group bible study?

Just as an athlete makes sacrifices and trains with others that are like- minded, as Christians we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and  find like-minded sisters to keep us accountable and encourage us.

So Write down what you will remove from your life or only do after you spend time with Jesus……….and then write when and where you will meet him for your daily “Date”.  I have a special place and chair and if I fail to allow for some good, sweet time to chat with Jesus and tell Him what’s on my heart, I imagine in my mind’s eye that He quietly waits until I do make time. Love is patient and He will not force His love but quietly waits for us to make room.   I hope we look back on 2017 as the year that no matter what happened around us or to us that we kept our eyes fixed on Jesus and we persevered in running the race.

A Mid-Life Christmas

AmberOBrien"

A Mid-Life Christmas

Husbands please be patient
I know we now both agree
Your wife is far from perfect
Just like your Christmas tree

Our needles are brown and shedding
Our bottoms have grown too wide
Once firm branches are now drooping
Too tattered for trimmings to hide

Don’t look too close is now our plea
Your search might be mistaken
And please don’t look around fretting
“All her youth has now been taken”

Let the wise farmer prune and weed
Be patient and explain with glee
“I’ve been given a perfect wife
For she is all God Knows I need

When Choosing a Christmas Tree

AmberOBrien"

Dear Sweet Sisters,

I wrote this poem 27 years ago as Dave and I were picking out our first Christmas tree. I remember shivering in the cold, being perfectly happy with many trees we spotted along the way. But Dave keep searching for the “perfect tree” which we all know is not a thing. (Or a perfect wife). This poem was my tongue-in-cheek way to find the good in having a husband who takes soooo long to pick out certain items. So I hope, sweet sister, you will look for the good in those around you this Christmas. Sometimes when I get frustrated or angry, I make a list of 10 good qualities about my husband. Focusing on the good changes perspective. Perhaps the best gift you could give yourself and your spouse this Christmas is to start making such a list right now.

Think and write on what is good in your life.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.  (Philippians  4:8)

For Those Who Are Grieving This Christmas Season

AmberOBrien"

       My experienced friends warned me that certain days of the year could pull a bereaved person down into a quicksand-like spiral as the memory of the past rubs salt into the still-wounded present. Holidays and anniversaries magnify the loss of a loved one, each event having the potential to drag under the people left behind. As a new Christmas season approached, I hoped that during the second anniversary of my baby girl Megan’s birth and death, I would resist both fighting the pull of grief and trying to speed through this potentially heartbreaking time. For as a victim in quicksand soon learns, both thrashing around and trying to rush through it could result in more loss. Continuing to fight causes the quicksand victim to further sink, just as I could further sink into my grief and self pity. Panicking and trying to speed the process of escape causes the victim to sink faster, just as I could push myself further into the pit of despair by not taking my time to acknowledge and face my grieving.

The Key with both quicksand and with grief is to move slowly, take small steps, and be willing to let others pull you out.

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     Two years before, I gave birth to a premature baby girl on December 23. The most intense forty days of my life followed her emergency birth as my husband and I watched our baby girl go on and off a respirator and survive bowel surgery, only to watch her take her final breath in my arms. Megan weighed just 2 pounds 4 ounces, but she was perfectly formed, a true gift from God. As she struggled for her life, we struggled against two major snowstorms to bring her my breast milk. I felt so torn between visiting the hospital and caring for my other two daughters, Mary Jo and Katie, at home.

As Megan took her final breath, however, I felt God’s complete peace and an awareness of his sovereignty. She shared forty days with us on earth, the number the early church fathers held as “the necessary period of cleansing or testing and strengthening which allows the fullness of wisdom to become a reality.” According to the Bible, Jesus spent forty hours in the tomb between good Friday and Easter morning, as well as forty days in the desert while being tempted. Noah and his family spent forty days on the ark. Moses fasted for forty days before he received the Ten Commandments, and the Israelites wandered for forty years before entering the Promised Land. Megan completed her forty days on earth and was now free from pain, praising God in her own Promised Land – Heaven.

The name Megan means “will achieve might and strength,” and I knew in my innermost depths her life was complete at forty days. While most days I could trust in God’s perfect wisdom for my family and me, as a sensitive and shortsighted human I still felt the loss of a loved one. Grieving is a healthy and necessary process whose emotions and tears should not be buried or ignored. I spent the following year writing in my journal and creating a scrap/photo album to include the photos, cards, and letters sent to commemorate Megan’s short life. A room was dedicated to her at my home church and Mary Jo, Katie, and I made frequent stops to hang bulletin boards and set up supplies. A year and a half later, a baby boy named Jacob blessed our family (Jacob means “the supplanter”). The waves of grief diminished as time and understanding increased. I turned to Jesus and His Holy Word for comfort and I felt my own faith strengthen. At times, I relished in the thought that I had a child in Heaven, for is that not our ultimate goal as parents?

However, as Christmas and Megan’s second birthday approached, my fears of how I would handle the days increased. Christmas was centered on a baby boy who was miraculously born. The absence of a miracle for Megan would seem greater with one less stocking to fill. On the other hand, if I filled a stocking as some bereaved parents do, I have one less child to unpack all the goodies. The sore empty wound that I still carried (and will always carry in a lesser degree until I am reunited with my baby) seemed such a contrast to the cheery hustle and bustle of Christmas. What could I do instead of planning her birthday party? What could I buy instead of party favors, cake and ice cream? Would anyone but me remember Megan’s birthday?

     Christmas surrounded me with its cinnamon smells, jingle bells, glitter and gold tinsel. Could it have been only two years before, alone in my cold sterile hospital room that I spent Christmas morning? I was supposed to be six months pregnant, I thought. Instead, my little baby girl struggled for life in intensive care. My staples stung from the emergency cesarean, a physical reminder of the stinging feeling of sitting alone in a hospital bed trying to imagine the reactions of my girls as they opened their gifts at home. Two years later, especially during anniversary remembrances, the sore emptiness of loss was ever present and I feared I would sink into the quicksand of self-pity and depression. “Lord, I can’t let Megan’s birthday take away the peace and Joy of Christmas from my other children. Help.”

     The Sunday before Christmas, we stopped by Megan’s grave after church. Before I opened the car door, I spotted something lying on her tombstone. I burst into tears of joy as I realized someone had left a tiny Christmas tree in Megan’s memory. Little ornaments of angels, Mary and Joseph, adorned the little tree. Attached was a card inside a plastic bag. Who could have been so kind? Who remembered Megan? With trembling hands, I ripped open the bag. As I read the card, my questions melted into understanding. Of course –  It was from Irene and Rich, friends of ours who had lost their own baby a year before mine to SIDS. “Merry Christmas, Megan,” the card read.  “Keep an extra eye out on your Mommy and Daddy, Mary Jo, Katie and Jacob this Christmas. You are forever in their hearts.”  

     I felt God’s love through the gift of that tree. As I thought about how Rich and Irene were able to comfort me because of their own loss, an idea sprouted. Now I had a plan as to how I was going to celebrate Megan’s birthday. My excitement grew as I planned our birthday surprise, and I no longer felt the quicksand pull of self-pity. On December 23rd, I bundled up my children and stopped first at a florist shop and selected a colorful bouquet with roses.

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Next, we stopped at a local bookstore. I did not know the owners personally, but I had briefly met their preteen daughter before she died in a bicycling accident years before. She had watched my older daughter at church, and so five-year-old Mary Jo handed the father our bouquet. “What’s this?” he asked. I nodded to the picture of his daughter behind the cash register.  The words sputtered out and my eyes blinked back tears. “This is in memory of your daughter.”

     Later that night, as I pulled into our driveway, I noticed a white rose with a note attached lying in our path. I recognized my friend Terry’s handwriting, but the message felt straight from heaven.  “Mommy, Thank you for giving me a ‘birth’ day.  Love, Megan.”

     Tears of gratitude and release flowed. Like a balm for my wound, the tears flowed as I again felt God’s love and understanding through a friend. More ideas began to spring up as if my tears provided the moisture necessary for germination. Many neighbors, relatives and  friends were approaching quicksand pools of their own, and I hoped to help pull some of them out. The strongest pull is love, I will tell them, and the only escape from a pool of quicksand is to receive God’s love and then to love-pull a friend out of their own.