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.

How your tears can be transformed into sweet wine #5 Mary at the Wedding of Cana

AmberOBrien"

 

Oh my dear Sweet Sister…..have you been waiting and hoping for something to change in your life? Are you searching for transformation?  Perhaps you have been praying for a relationship to be healed, a broken heart to be mended or maybe a sickly body to be restored to a healthy one?   Do you feel as if you are walking in a desert place and need hope and refreshment?  Jesus changes water into wine and He can make something beautiful out of whatever you are facing.

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He not only changed the water into wine but He created the sweetest and best wine for the later part of the reception. Come join your sweet sisters in this study and find out how “He saves the Best for last.”

Our focus in this series “Man…..Does Jesus Love His Women” is the close relationship Jesus had with many women in the New Testament.  The story of the Wedding of Cana reveals Jesus first miracle and gives us insight into his relationship with his mother Mary.

Let’s start by reading slowly John 2: 1-12.

Imagine yourself in this scene as Mary. During Biblical times a wedding festival included the entire town and lasted many days and to run out of wine would be an embarrassment to the wedding party as well as a huge disappointment to all who attended. Most people in biblical times labored long hours and had few opportunities for feasting and celebrating.

  1. If you were Mary and had a son who you knew could “change the situation”  ……what would you do?

She came to him and face to face she told him the situation. He questioned her with,“Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come.”

 But she did not give up. She took action and assumed that He would help.  He respected his Mother Mary and let God use her to continue to unfold God’s perfect plan. He listened to her concern. He responded to her.  Isn’t this the give and take of what a true love relationship entails?

  1.   “Do whatever He tells you.”   What kind of statement is this?

This is a statement of faith. A command from our “mother” to follow what God asks us to do. Let us consider what the servants needed to do to follow what Jesus asked them to do.

  1. How did the jars start off  They were Empty.
  2. Then the servants were asked to ? fill them with water ……..the servants had to make numerous trips to the well to fill up the 20-30 gallon stone jars. A total of 100 gallons of water. Wow!

We must become like the stone jars sweet sister.  We must empty ourselves out first before we can be filled with the holy spirit.  We prepare ourselves for the gift of God bubbling up within us with the confessing of our sins and the emptying of ourselves as we surrender our lives to God.   What could the water represent in this story?

Could our tears be as the water that was needed to fill the jars before the miracle occurs?

During desert times of loss and heartache, we cry tears that are precious to the Lord. If fact, in Psalm 56:8 the bible states that God collects our tears in a bottle.

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“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.

Could these huge stone jars be as the bottle reminding us that Jesus not only weeps with us but is collecting our tears to someday change them into the sweetest and finest wine?

We serve a God that keeps changing things.

He started off in Genesis changing dust into a man.

Then he made a woman out of a man’s rib.

Now at a Wedding in Cana, He changes ordinary water into extraordinary sweet, sweet wine.

To my  sweet sisters, remember that you can draw near to Jesus as Mary did and tell him your situation. Repent and turn from any sin.  Let him collect your tears in His jar and trust that he promises to change your tears to sweet joy. If we draw near to him…the best is yet to be.

(To my Catholic sweet sisters, remember that Mary is now up in Heaven around the throne of God with all the angels and saints.  She has influence still and you can ask for her to pray with you to our Lord Jesus Christ.)

Now please turn to John Ch. 15  to read about how Jesus relates his followers to the grape branches and that He is like a vine.

3. How can we be sure to produce good grapes and wine?

Yes! We need to remain close to Jesus. 

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Reflect on the close relationship Mary had with her son Jesus at this wedding receptions. She spoke her request and then she listened. She encouraged others to follow him as well and to do “Everything He tells you”.

4. What if I feel as if I am in a drought and I don’t see any change happening in my situation or the situation of one of my family members?

Oh. Sweet Sister I understand. I’ve experienced times of drought while grieving.  Maybe you don’t see anything good with loss right now and think this time is just a waste of time and energy. I also have had  times of worry and angst over the choices or the situation of a family member.  I have seen many family members and friends struggle in times of drought and the fear can be overwhelming for those feeling helpless as we watch.

If you or a loved one is in a season of drought imagine the roots of your faith and the faith of your loved ones growing deep and wide under the surface. You can’t see the roots of the grape plant but it is during times of drought and heat that the best grapes are produced. The smaller grapes contain a more condensed juice that in turn produces a sweeter wine.  The Dessert wine (the sweetest wine of all) has been left on the vine an extra month. So if you feel exhausted from waiting, remember the best grapes have to wait the longest and that God has not forgotten you or your situation.

Our desert times can produce the sweetest dessert wine if we choose to remain on the vine.

Truly truly friend….God is able to use a drought to produce sweet wine.

If we listen and follow what He says to do.

If we remain close to Him.

If we have faith as Mary did and assume He wants to help.

  1. What Action can you do to show your faith ?

a. Perhaps writing down three things that you are thankful for.

b. Writing 10 good things about the person who is challenging you.

c. Asking a friend to pray with you. Or for you.

d. Turn on praise music and sing along or just read the words and soak it in.

e. Reach out to someone who is suffering their own desert time….a person whose loss or struggle is more recent.  Trust often means releasing the situation into God’s strong and loving hands and then focusing on helping those God has put in your path.

God is all about transformation and doesn’t waste anything. He even collects our tears and in His own time changes them to the sweetest of wines.  So trust that God will use this desert time to cause your roots of faith to go deep and your future compassion for others will be as sweet as the dessert wine served after a special dinner.

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“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”

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#3 The Woman that needed healing Man…Does Jesus love His women

AmberOBrien"

 

Are you tired my sweet sister? Weak? Feeling alone and that no one understands what you are facing? Physically drained from the burden of Pain? Or maybe drained from grieving a loss? Are you so weary that it takes extra energy to do normal everyday activities?  I have been there my sweet sister and so has our sister we study today.

Our tired sister reached out in faith and she was healed. She traveled 30 miles to touch Jesus despite a twelve year long illness. She traveled alone as she was considered “unclean” because she continued to bleed.   I hope and prayer this small study will bring you one step closer on your journey to touching Jesus. May you find healing for your weary heart, body and soul.

Please join me in reading about our sister in Mark 5:25-34

Read this dramatic interaction again slowly as you put yourself in her lonely and desperate shoes.

 

  1. What do you think her ailment was?  (twelve years of bleeding so she is referred to as the hemorrhaging woman)

 During our discussion one thought was perhaps she had fibroids or         was in perimenopause? Could her bleeding have been from polyps or colon cancer? This is all speculation as the bible gives           no more detail except that she has bleed mysteriously for 12 years.

  1. How old was the child who was ill in the story surrounded this one? Look up Luke 2:41-52 and see how old Jesus was when he was found in the temple teaching?

 Yes! The answer is 12 for both cases.  Twelve is the age in Jewish   tradition that a young boy becomes a man and is responsible for himself spiritual. More on this to follow. I have found that numbers    have great significance and importance in God’s word.

 

  1. Do you think Jesus knew who touched him? Why did he ask the question and what did his question give her the choice to do?

 Is God all-knowing? Yes…and Jesus is “God with skin” so of course   Jesus knew who touched him. He also knew her heart and all her sufferings. The mysterious bleeding and the time, money and    dashed hopes she had spent on doctors. How she bore this alone as she was considered in this culture to be “unclean” and if she              were to touch someone else they would be considered          “unclean” too.  She was most likely looked down on as in these times it was believed that her “sin” must have caused this illness. She not only needed physical healing but confirmation that God had not   abandoned her and was not punishing her with this ailment. By asking this question, she needed to exercise her faith once again by professing in public what she had done.

 

  1. Do you think it took more faith to touch his garment or to profess out loud what she had done?

 Absolutely. It took more faith to publicly profess that she had               violated “religious law” and put others at risk to becoming      “unclean” as well and risk a rebuking or even having the power be taken away. She showed great faith in not running off with her       miracle (stealing a miracle) but staying and trusting that Jesus   would be kind and loving.

 

  1. How did Jesus address Her? The only place in scripture where he used this word to address a woman?

Daughter.   Yes.. he called her Daughter.  This is huge              sister…don’t rush through this.

 If he calls her daughter, than he is saying that He is her father. If she is His daughter, she has rights to a royal inheritance as He is the King of Kings. She has the right to come forward and    ask for healing. God says in His word, that a Father will give to his children what they need when they come to him. (Luke 11:11)

 How thirsty she must have been to hear that she had faith, when she had been judged and looked down upon for so long. And to add insult to injury, she had been blamed for her illness.

 Jesus stopped his travels for a woman. An unclean woman who       was rejected, alone and considered an outcast.

He not only healed her instantly, but he called her “daughter” in         front of her accusers. He saw her heart and let everyone know that     it was not her sins that caused the illness but her faith in Jesus   Christ that resulted in her healing.

 

  1. What might the number 12 have to do with all of this? After twelve years of suffering what may have been happening within her soul?

 In Biblical times a young boy is considered to be a man at after the age of 12…think Bar mitzvah.  Bar means “son” and mitzvah      means “commandment.” So a young Jewish boy who turns 13      (Son of Commandment) is now spiritual responsible to know and     follow the commandments. (no longer are his parents           responsible for him spiritually.)   So after 12 years of growth   through suffering, she is now ready to  be called not a daughter      who still has the weak faith of a child but a daughter who has the    strong faith of a woman.  She is now a mature womanly daughter     who has a deep faith that has been tested and survived. Picture a mature tree that has been through a drought and its roots have gone down deep in the ground searching for water.  She persisted and did not give up until she found the living God  who came to heal the sick.

Man……does Jesus love his woman.

 

  1. Please look up James 4:8

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

Look this up and underline it in your bible. Put next to it today’s date.

 

So my dear sister sister. This is what I hope you gleaned from this study.

  1. God wants us to draw near to him and reach out with our hands for Jesus.
  2. God see’s your suffering and notices you. He stops and turns to you and looks in your heart with kindness and compassion.
  3. Sometimes God doesn’t heal right away as with this woman of 12 years of suffering.  Sometimes God waits and “heals our bodies in heaven”.
  4. She was growing in her faith during this dry desert time. God is more concerned with our spiritual health than our physical health. Our souls will last forever, while our bodies are wasting away in this fallen world.
  5. Drawing near to Jesus can mean prayer and reading scripture, repenting/going to confession, attending church and spending time with your sweet sisters.
  6. How to be healthy physically? Eat healthy foods and exercise.
  7. How to be healthy spiritually? Eat the word of God……the bible and the Eucharist. Exercise your faith as this woman did as she drew near to Jesus.

Pray and ask with faith for Physically healing, but be most concerned is your spiritual healing.

because……………Man……Jesus loves His Women.

Man….does Jesus love us women. #2 Woman caught in Adultery

AmberOBrien"

IMG_8191MA31590921-0002#2    The Women who met Mercy (The Women caught in adultery)

Hi Sweet Sister….so glad you could join our discussion as we study another dramatic interaction of Jesus and a woman.

Exposed. She stood alone after being ripped from a bed of passion and placed in front of a crowd of judgmental religious leaders.  She was a pawn used to bring down the meek prophet Jesus.   Imagine yourself in her place as she stands confused, embarrassed, humiliated and scared to death.  Her heart must have raced as her adrenaline rose causing her to seek to “fight or flight”.   However,  she was as trapped as the man Jesus who was writing in the sand.

This unnamed woman did not seek Jesus out as did contemplative Mary (Woman #1) who sat at Jesus’ feet.  She was caught committing Adultery and thrown into a group of religious leaders who were jealous of Jesus and trying to put him into a “no win” position.  Let us study another way that:

Man…………………………..does Jesus love His women. 

Let’s start at the beginning in the Gospel of John chapter 8: 1-11.

  1. Where did Jesus go the night before this dramatic interaction? What do you think Jesus was doing there?

He left his disciples to be alone. Perhaps he was praying for wisdom as to the next days’ events? Spending time with His Father God as Mary modeled for us in Chapter 1?

2. Where is the “Man” caught in Adultery? Does the law require the man to be stoned as well?

Read Deuteronomy 22:22-24. Since these leaders and Elders asked for Stoning it appears this woman was a betrothed virgin.  So the man should have also been stoned.  It is a mystery as to where he was during this confrontation. He certainly was not defending her.

She stands abandoned, betrayed and alone.  But is she alone? Are we ever alone as daughters of the King? Have you ever felt accused by others? Attacked and misunderstood?  Write down what happened and how you felt.

  1. What women in the New Testament (she is related to Jesus) could have been stoned?

Yes…his own mother….Mary could have been stoned…should have been stoned (according to the law)  if Joseph choose to expose her in the same way.

Since the woman (Mary) was pregnant the child would have died as well.

How would this world be different if Jesus had died in Mary’s womb?  How would you and your world be different?

Meditate on this awhile.

God intervened with Angels (messengers from God) to save Mary and the son of God.

Who would intervene for this women….?   

  1. What was Jesus writing in the sand?

A. Names ? Read  Jeremiah 17:13  Some scholars believe that he was writing names in the sand….

A medieval tradition was the latin, “ Terra Terra Accusta” which means the earth accuses earth.“Those that turn from the Lord will be written in the dust, because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of Living water.”

What is the opposite of being written in the dust?

Exodus 32:32 Moses begs the Lord the Lord to forgive the Isrealites or blot his name from the Book of Life.  The Lord Replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book.  In Psalms this is referred to the Book of Life. In Psalm 69: 28 David sings about his enemies and asks, “ May they be blotted out of the book of Life and not be listed with the righteous.”

B. The 10 commandments?

Some scholars believe he may have been writing out the sins of the elders or perhaps the 10 commandments.  Exodus 31: 18  “When the Lord finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of stone inscribed by the finger of God.”

Perhaps Jesus wrote with his finger the commandment,  Thou Shalt not Kill. Weren’t they all guilty of this command?

In the book of Luke verse 20 Jesus states “But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the Kingdom of God has come upon you.”

What a powerful symbol for the religious leaders to see him writing in the sand. Quietly, the leaders are reminded that the 10 commandments were written by the finger of God. Now, Jesus is writing out commands.

Could he be writing out the two commandments that all the law and prophets hang on? Matthew 22:37

Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  Love your neighbor as your self

Were they being loving toward this woman? toward Jesus?

Do you think they realized that the Kingdom of God was upon them?

If Jesus is God made flesh, than is not Jesus the finger of God?

C. Comfort for the frightened woman?

One of the sweet sisters thought perhaps that Jesus was writing out something to comfort the woman.  This certainly would align with the kindness and love shown the woman after they all leave.

Perhaps he wrote words similar to those found in Isiah 41:10

“Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, yes, I will uphold you with my Righteous right hand”.

To counteract the words of her accusers:…..”adultery” “sinner” “harlot” “condemned” etc.

5.  What  do you think Jesus might have written?  _______, __________,________________.

Jesus states, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”

Why do you think they all walked away?  Why the elders first?

Who is the only one who is without sin? The only one who can forgive sins?

________________________________________

So this passage does not tell us what the woman physically did immediately after her accusers left…….

6. What do you think she must have done if Jesus forgave her and said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, from now on do not sin any more.”?

Sweet sister….I imagine her falling to her knees in relief and gratitude.  Kissing the feet of Jesus and thanking Him for defending her. I believe she repented and decided to turn to Jesus and turn away from sin.

Read Psalm 51….such a beautiful and powerful song of Repentance.

Read slowly over verses 18-19

“For you do not desire sacrifice; a burnt offering you would not accept. My sacrifice is a broken spirit; God, do not spurn a broken, humbled heart.”

Do you need to turn from a sinful choice and turn toward Jesus? Are you “all in” or are you still sitting on the fence? What do you need to leave behind that is preventing you from following even closer to Jesus and his holiness?   Will your name be written in the dust as one who turns away from the Lord or will your name be written in the book of Life as one who turns toward the Lord.

He waits patiently for you and I to offer our broken, humbled hearts at his feet.

 

Man………………………….does Jesus love us women.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Man…..does Jesus love His Women. #1 Mary and her sister Martha

AmberOBrien"

Come on in Sweet Sister and sit for a while.

Bring your Bible and an open heart.

Your sweet sisters discuss the relationship of Jesus with Mary and her sister Martha
Your sweet sisters discuss the relationship of Jesus with Mary and her sister Martha

Let’s start in Luke 10 38-42.  

Jesus visits sisters Mary and Martha and brother Lazarus in their home. This study will focus on Mary and where she chooses to sit.

 1. Which sister does and doesn’t do as expected within her culture?   ___________ 

Instead of doing as is culturally expected of a woman (cooking and cleaning)  as her sister Martha does…Mary sits at the feet of the Messiah.

Now please turn to Acts. Ch. 22:3 to find out what this means in 1st Century Palestine Judaism to sit at the feet of another.

When Paul makes his defense, he describes sitting at the ______of Gamalie.

Some versions of Bibles use “a student of Gamalie” because in biblical times to say one “sits at the feet” of someone means to be their student.

2. Which woman does Jesus stand up for? ___________________

Don’t rush by this my sweet sister….Mary is not only taking the position of a student, Jesus defends her and tells her that she is making the best choice or “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Now look up Luke 8: 1-3

3. Does Jesus travel with just the 12 disciples? Who are these women? How did they know him? Would this be socially acceptable in 1st century Palestine? 

Wow. I had always envisioned Jesus spending all his time with his inner circle…his twelve disciples. The above verse tells another story…that besides Mary (Martha’s sister) there were other women who followed him and had a strong relationship with Jesus.

Lastly, please turn to John 11: 17-44.

Jesus arrives after their brother dies and has been in tomb for 4 days. Both Mary and Martha make the same statement “If you had been here, my brother would not have died”.  Martha makes her statements standing up….

4. Where does Mary fall to when she makes her statement?

My Bible reads…..”she fell at his feet”

This was revelation to me sweet sisters.

Falling to His feet is a act of Mary demonstrating that she is a true disciple and will follow Jesus even though he came too late to save her brother.

Her positioning is often seen as an act of surrender of saying with her body, “Thy will be done”.

Culturally though she is affirming that she was his disciple just like his male followers. Sitting once again at his feet must have been a reminder to both her and Jesus that she has “chosen the better part”and was drawing near to him once again.

She proclaims her faith even though she doesn’t understand the “Why’s” of death and the heartache that follows.

Such a heartbreaking scene that truly breaks the heart of Jesus.

How he loves this woman Mary….

He weeps with her.

He snorts with anger. (God hates death….hates what it does to those of us left behind)

This is why Jesus came to earth….to reverse death. To conquer death through his resurrection. Raising Lazereth is a precursor to His own resurrection.  For as He tells Martha, I am the resurrection and the Life, who ever believes in me, even if he dies will life, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. (Luke 11:25)

and this Jesus…Loves you my sweet sister. Wants a deep close relationship as he had with Mary….He wants to weep with you…snort at this broken world and how it has hurt you….He wants most of all to be the resurrection in your life and in the lives of your loves ones.

So in conclusion, how should this change our own hearts and lives?

How can we develop this close relationship with our Lord Jesus ? How can our head knowledge grow into Heart knowledge?

When, where and how can you sit at the Master’s feet?_____________

We concluded our study sharing how we spent time to grow our relationship with Jesus.

Geri (a Catholic sweet sister) sharing how she had her coffee and a special chair and started with the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory be and then reads scripture.

Sue shared charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening Daily Devotional a beautiful way to start and end the day.

Amber (Me) reminded the sisters of the free app called first5.org. Sisters who are studying a chapter a day and then a devotional to read and a video on Saturdays.  This app from Proverbs 31 was created to encourage us to give God the first minutes of our day.

I  also shared how to stay focused using the ACTS method. This includes the four types of prayer in appropriate order:   Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving and Supplication. This helps me to stay focused as it is so easy to become distracted and writing down God’s attributes, one’s sins,  what one is Thankful for and who one is praying for really helps.

Next, I shared how I view spending time in the morning as Having a Date with Jesus and read a poem about this that is on my blog post, “Confessions of a Survivor Addict”.

I will attach these my sweet sisters to the Sweet Sister community page on Facebook. So please join us and share with your Sweet Sisters any ideas on how to keep your date with Jesus.

“Martha, Martha you are anxious and worried about many things…there is need of one thing….Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”     Jesus

Have you chosen the better part? 

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When you realize that Christians can’t just sit and watch the World go under… politics, prayer and the Holy Spirit

AmberOBrien"

The opposite of Apathy is Love.  Last Saturday my husband and I joined four other couples for a dinner club and the discussion around the table was anything but apathetic. Jokes about the election year and the wild ride ahead for us Americans mingled with updates on our families and local parishes. Wine glasses clinked and Italian sauced plates scraped clean as five  women and five men tried to predict how the public would soon vote and who our next president will be.  The famous quote, Never talk politics or religion in polite company” was disregarded and I believe with good reason. As Christians we care about our country, families and our churches and to sit back and do nothing would be considered apathetic. And apathy is the opposite of love.

Later in the evening when we resumed to the living room, the hostess presented our group with a challenge. Before Jesus ascended up to Heaven, He told his disciples to wait until the Holy Spirit has come down in power to help them. So for Ten days the disciples gathered together to pray and waited for the promised Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is a “He” who was sent to be our advocate; to give wisdom, help and power.  He came in the form of fire.  A burning fire of Love that enabled the disciples to boldly preach the good news and change the world.  What if we all prayed and sought the Lord for ten days as the disciples did? We could all use a refilling of God’s fire of Love, couldn’t we? and what of our families, our churches, our Country …..our World.  I’ve heard it said that we need to come daily to ask for more of God as we are cracked pots who keep leaking and God is limitless in the amount of Love He wants to lavish upon His Children.

Tomorrow  is Thursday May 5th  Ascension Thursday and ten days later the Church celebrates Pentecost on Sunday May 15th.  Our dinner group has committed to taking this Holy Spirit Novena for the next ten days. All denominations of Christians are needed to join this time of prayer and seeking, as Jesus’s heart cry was that His believers would be unified.

I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you,that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. John 18: 20-21 NAB 

So if you are a Protestant perhaps to spend time each morning asking God to pour the Holy Spirit upon your family, church, Country and all over the Earth.  A pray as simple as “Come Holy Spirit, we need you, forgive our sins and pour out your spirit upon my family, community, country and all over the Earth. Show us how to burn with Love for all those you put in our lives. Change my apathy to a burning desire to share your good news so others can share the joy of knowing you.  11 Chronicles 7:14 is often claimed during election time but is as verse for all times.

And if my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my presence and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from Heaven and pardon their sins and revive their land.

For my Catholic Friends and of course Protestant friends are welcome here  too, there is a website called www.thewildgooseisloose>com by the Franciscans with videos about this special novena.  According To Celtic tradition the Holy Spirit was compared to a wild goose. Stop a few seconds and meditate on the word “Wild”.  We need to be praying for an outpouring of fire that is not tame…..Our families need a “wildfire” of love that will spread like……… well “wild-fire”. A chain of reaction of fire that will spread from our families,to our churches, our communities, country and eventually to the entire world.  This chain begins though with each of us quietly listening alone in our prayer closets, as we withdraw for a time as the disciples did in the upper room, away from all distractions and to “be still and know that He is God.”

My dinner group will individually be praying the third decade each morning on The Glorious rosary called The Descent of the Holy Spirit. The fruit of the mystery for this decade is Love.

Jesus taught that the fruit of being a Christian is Always Love.

It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask, the father in my name he may give you. This I command you: Love one another. John 15:16

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I believe God has the best for our families and communities.  I believe He want us to pray for godly leaders.  Instead of just complaining about politics, our families and churches, lets put love into action by first seeking and waiting to hear from the Holy Spirit.

Let’s chat again in ten days about this Sweet Sister.

Let the Novena begin.

 

When You Have Doubts That God’s In Charge: How I Met Your Grandfather

AmberOBrien"

Dear Sweet Sister:

Do you delight in hearing the love story of how a husband and wife first met? I sure do! When Dave and I meet another couple for the first time, my favorite question to ask is, “How did you two meet each other?” Most often, their eyes light up as they tell the story together of how their love story began. Oh how I love to tell my story of how I met my husband of 26 years. I share this as a way to encourage the single sister that feels called to marriage but is still waiting on God to find her life mate. I share this for the married sister who needs to be reminded that God is always in control. Lastly, I share this for my future granddaughters and my great-great-granddaughters in generations to come.  How did I met my husband? I’m so glad you asked. Here you go:

Act 1.  January 31, 1986 Friday afternoon:
Alone in my freshman dorm room, I lay in my bed confused and disappointed. Tonight was the night I was supposed to perform a skit entitled, “If God Talked back” for the Intervarsity Christian Group on campus. I had practiced for hours and memorized all my lines and I was just so excited to finally use my acting skills to give eternal truths. (I performed in high school and on the Gettysburg stage during my first semester but all the effort has no spiritual message or purpose.)  When the skit was given to me over Christmas break, I was ecstatic to use my time and talent for God and to impact other students. During that Christmas break, Janice and I prayed for all those on the campus. How excited I was once back on campus to practice and perform this skit.

But my plans came crashing in when Lee Martin (the classmate who was to play the part of God) called and explained to me that he had a family emergency and needed to take a train home. This just did not make sense to me. Why would God allow Lee to leave the night of our performance? Dinnertime was approaching, but I didn’t feel much like eating or getting out of bed.

I looked upward and the poster caught my eye. In this poster above my bed, a cute plump panda happily lays on his pack in a grassy field while the words above him boldly proclaim, “ Relax, God’s in Charge.” I can still vividly remember that poster, 30 years later.

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So I had a choice to make. Would I wallow in self-pity and disappointment, or would I trust God and do the next thing which was to simply go to the cafeteria for dinner?

This one choice would change my life and if you are one of my great-granddaughters, you are alive because of it.

Act 2. The same Friday, evening:
I find a seat in the Gettysburg cafeteria at a table with my dear friend Janice. There are some new students sitting with her that I haven’t met before (she was a sophomore) and soon I am explaining my situation in true dramatic manner. I bemoaned to the group, “I have all my lines memorized for tonight’s show and then Lee who plays God took the first train out of town.” So I guess you could say I was holding onto the self-pity part just a smidgen?

Then a tall handsome young man with broad shoulders volunteered to play the part of God that night. (I had made a list years before that I wanted a husband with a good sense of humor and broad shoulders that I could cry on.) This mysterious  young man had never attended an Intervarsity Christian fellowship group meeting (despite being invited several times) and had never acted before.

You see, he also had a choice in that moment. He later explained that he had dreamed multiple times of a woman with full cheeks and lips (I once had the nickname chipmunk cheeks) who he believed was going to be his wife. She was washing dishes in the dreams (and yes I’ve done a lot of dishes in the past 26 years, but since Dave is a fantastic cook I am happy to do so).

Once he spotted me at that path-changing supper, he said I looked just like the girl in his dreams (literally). This gave him the courage to volunteer and stand in front of the intervarsity group that night.

Act 3. Later that night:
Dave stood behind me and read his lines from the script. I kneeled in onesie footed pajamas and pretended to be praying my nighttime prayers as I played an 8-year-old girl who recites The Lord’s Prayer each night without  knowing what the prayer really means.

“Hallowed? I don’t know, what does it mean?” She asks. God explains, “It means honored, holy, and wonderful.” She responds thoughtfully, “Yes, that makes sense.”  

And then she keeps on praying.   

“Give us this Day our daily bread…” and to her shock and the audience’s amusement God answers with,
“I think you’ve had enough of that bread.”  

As the girl continues to recite The Lord’s Prayer she receives help from God on how to forgive a friend’s betrayal and ultimately deepen her relationship with the Lord.

Dave enjoyed playing the part of God, and I was thrilled to perform that night to my Gettysburg peers.

The following Friday, I performed a mime as Sonbeam the clown with Janice, whose clown name was Salty, for the same Intervarsity Group.  Dave came to the meeting, and after we had hot fudge sundaes with a group at the Lincoln Diner. On the way home, with me still dressed as a clown: rainbow wig and white faced, he asked me out on a date. I’ve often kidded him that because I was a ‘mime’ clown I wasn’t able to say no. Of course I nodded  yes!

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Act 4. A few months later:
Dave and I joined the debate/forensics group on campus and visited other colleges/Universities to perform “If God Talked Back.”  But the real Act 4 is that we began to date and our love story continued. We dated three and a half years and married in my childhood United Methodist Church as our Gettysburg priest Father Phil assisted.

Dave is my best friend on this earth and God continues to guide me and bless me through him.   Our union has produced four children (three on earth, and one in heaven) and a thriving preschool business that we both enjoy.

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So dear single sister, my advice for you is to be patient and seek out ways to use your talents to honor and serve God. Join a Christian singles group or find like-minded friends. Hold out for a husband who will have self control and wait for you. You are worth the wait, my sweet sister.

To my married sister, are you sitting on your bed in self pity wondering why things are not going as you planned? Remember the panda poster and trust God that He is in control. Show this trust in your actions. Don’t hide away in your room, but let go of your tightly-gripped dreams. Release your own expectations and trust in God’s character. When things don’t go your way, repeat these three statements:

God is Good.
God is Love.
God is in Control.

When you are not sure as to what to do next, just do the next thing. Our lives are a result of our choices. Keep making small good choices for God.

To my great-grands, I love you. I am praying for you. Pray and wait for the one who will lead you closer to God.

PS.
For my sweet sister or grands who have slipped and desire to go back and start over, take heart, for it is never too late to start anew. God is all about redos and restarts.   

Love’s   Answer
(Duo for a young male and a young female)

Notarized: January 26, 2005

(Male voice)
Long ago you made a list
And gave it up to heaven
A lovely, Lonely Teenage child
Yearning for Salvation

(Female voice)
Long age you had a dream
Each night you viewed the sequel
A left-out, lonely teenage boy
Searching for the answer

(Female voice – clear and innocent)
May he be my life long love
With big and sturdy shoulders
So I can lie and cry on them
A love no tear can smolder

(Male voice)
May she be as in my dreams
With the pureness I desire
A girl who holding out for me
A love that will never tire

(Female voice – strong)
You are the shelter, who shields me from rain

(Male voice – strong)
You are the faithful friend, who finally came

(Female and male together)
Two love-sick doves, now side by side
Through every storm together we’ll ride

(Female)
You are my rock,
Sent from above

(Male)
You bring me hope,
My dream is love

(Male and female together – strong and long)
The answer
Love’s Answer
Is Always… LOVE.

5 Fun Ways to Limit Screen Time for Your Pre-Schooler

AmberOBrien"

As an onsite owner of a Goddard School (an educationally based franchise preschool with extended hours), my staff and I recently noticed that one of the three-year-old students had become increasingly tired in the morning with frequent meltdowns in the classroom. She had also become more difficult to awaken after naptime. Communication between the parents and the teachers produced the answers to the child’s change of behavior. The parents revealed that they had recently started giving an iPad to their daughter at bedtime and were letting her put herself to sleep. We explained the negative impact of too much screen time, especially at night, and encouraged the parents to not hand their child a screen for bedtime.

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In our increasingly technological world, screens are here to stay and now is the time to be setting boundaries and limits so they will be used as a teaching tool instead of taking away precious interactions with family members. The introduction of smaller and smaller devices creates more opportunities to increase screen time for children and the temptation for tired parents to hand their child a screen. Most often with parenting the ‘easy thing is often not the best thing’ and we must always be thinking about the long-term results of our choices.

As a parent of three teen children, I know firsthand how difficult it is to stop screens from slowly creeping into our home life. My advice is to set boundaries now because when your child has a cell phone it will become increasingly difficult to monitor them. Tools they learn as preschoolers can pay dividends long into the future. Setting boundaries that you and your spouse both agree on and providing many fun, alternative and enriching activities will be the key to a happy home where children are not overtired and healthy relationships can grow.

You may be thinking to yourself, “I already know that too much screen time is not healthy, what I need is some practical help. How does one limit our children’s screen time and what are some fun activities we can be doing with our preschooler at home?” I believe the answer resides with balance as we seek to provide a variety of interactions for our children and to not let too much screen time take away from other fun and stimulating activities. Consistency between the home and school is very important and our expert and degreed teachers within our classroom environments have much to teach us all.

  1. Limit your child to only 15 minutes of screen time.
    Students at the Goddard School are limited in their screen time, as the iPads and computers in the classroom are used as teaching tools and only contain educational apps and websites. A popular free website called Starfall offers educational games that a child can use at school and at home. Since students must take turns in the classroom, the students learn quickly that they cannot stay at the computer or pad for more than 15 minutes. I suggest setting your phone timer for 15 minutes and when the timer goes off, or a few minutes before; remind your child that they should be finishing up. Setting a 15-minute limit teaches your child a lifetime lesson that individuals are in control of electronic devices and not the other way around. Remember that these educational games are great teaching tools but should never replace the human interaction of snuggle time at night, to appease a tantrum, or to ‘babysit’ a child.
  1.       Make bedtime the most special time of the day.
    Not only was the use of the iPad depriving the above-mentioned three-year-old of enough sleep at night, but also precious snuggle time and the joy of sharing books with a parent. While educational games are a wonderful supplement to help your child to learn basic skills, they can never replace the joy of sharing a funny or touching book. Spending a little extra time at night to ensure that your child receives a warm relaxing bath, a chance to debrief and lots of snuggle time will most likely help ensure a happier morning the following day.bedtimestoryBedtime should be a time to unwind and slowly prepare for a deep refreshing sleep. However, studies have recently shown that the blue light on computer screens contributes to less sleep as the light interferes with the melatonin that helps one drift off to sleep. A sleep-deprived child is not a happy child and according to Charles Czeisler, Director of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Woman’s Hospital in Boston, “Sleep deprived children become hyperactive rather than dozy, and sleep loss may be mistaken for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.” Ensuring that your child has enough sleep will give him or her a better chance behavior-wise for a more successful day. Make bath time fun with lots of bath toys and foam letters, and make storytime special as you ask questions and use different voices as you read to your preschooler. One important and clear boundary for bedtime for instance would be to not allow a TV in your child’s room and to take away all iPads or hand held games before bath and story time.
  1.       Create an imaginative play area in your home.
    At the Goddard School, the students are surrounded by so many fun, hands on activities that when their iPad or computer time ends they are excited to go on to the next activity. Look around your child’s classroom and take note. Try to include similar materials and activities for an accessible area in your home to encourage your child’s imaginative playtime. Collect dress up clothes (Halloween costumes) and your own used purses and items for your child to play dress-up. Create a “play” kitchen area where your child can imitate you as you prepare dinner close to or in your own kitchen area. Include real boxes and containers from your kitchen that you have cleaned and add some real utensils. Add an easel and art supplies so they can create and imitate the morning message that their teacher writes each day. Other ideas include a cash register so they can learn about money, cards for concentration, coloring books, clay or Floam or the new kinetic sand (that won first place in the Goddard Toy contest). Also, put in bins different types of manipulatives such as puzzles, Legos, Lincoln Logs, and other building materials. I would often give my children old magazines and child safe scissors and as they happily cut out pictures and letters their fine motor skills increased. Just as your child’s teachers put out different centers each day, take out new items and put away other items so to increase your child’s interest. The more non-electronic activities you have available, the easier it will be to hand over the iPad or stop watching TV. Moreover, if an adult comes down to the child’s level and plays with the child, the chances of a tantrum free transition increases.
  1.       Make mealtime meaningful.
    Mealtime should be more than putting nutrients in our bodies, but a time to reconnect with our family members about each other’s day. The Goddard School teachers sit at the table with the children and eat with them. The children are encouraged to wait until everyone has their food and daily learn good table manners from watching their teachers. Make sure you are reading the activity report from your Tadpole app and use this information to ask your child about his or her day. Ask about the book that their teacher read, or the fun activity they played outside, or the messy process art activity that they created during the past day. By asking questions about their day, your child is learning lifetime lessons on communicating and at the same time extending the learning made during the school day. Some families have each member describe a ‘high for the day and a low for the day.’ This is an enriching exercise for all family members to learn to both listen and to share the good of the day and also share a challenging time. “So what was something good that happened today?” I often ask my family. I want my children to realize that each day has some good in it. So one important and clear boundary for mealtime would be to turn off all TV’s and cell phones and give all of one’s attention to the family at mealtime.
  1.       Use Physical touch and exercise.
    Preschoolers need touch and fun physical interactions with those that love them. Children are just like adults who receive and perceive love through physical touch and quality time. At our last PTO meeting in January, I asked the parents for our monthly icebreaker to “describe their favorite non-electronic or non-screen activity to do with their preschooler.” Parents described with smiles playing “hide and go seek” and “tickle monster” with their children. One parent has set up tunnels and has an obstacle course in the basement and the entire family goes down to runs races and play together. Just as the children love to dance and get their wiggles at school – How about putting on some dance music and just dancing together as a family after dinner each night? Try playing a variety of music genres as we do at school. A favorite for the children is the Disney song from Frozen “Let it Go,” the dance song “Move It Move It,” and of course the chicken dance and the hokey pokey. A fun game of Freeze dance in which the music stops and everyone freezes in midair teaches concentration and produces lots of giggles and smiles. Play classic games such as Duck Duck Goose, Ring around the rosy and London Bridges. All these games include touch, whole body movement and provide social interactions that a screen can never do.

Always remember that your most important goal as a parent is to build up a healthy lifelong close relationship with your child.

May our children remember bedtime stories and playing hide and go seek more than they have memories of us as parents texting on our cell phones. Model for your child that you are in control of all media and choose to set boundaries especially for mealtime and bedtime.