Friday, December 31, 2010

Christmas 2010: It's a wrap!

Since I got all of my Christmas decorations put away today, and we're getting ready to start a brand new year, I thought I'd share my Top Ten Favorite Things from Christmas 2010:

10. Making cookies: 
One of my favorite memories from growing up is when we'd come home from school on the last day before Christmas break, and my mom would be ready with all kinds of cookie dough and cookie cutters and sprinkles, and we'd have a big cookie-baking extravaganza. We continued the tradition when Daniel was little and now that Erica is old enough to help, I wanted us all to gather at my mom's house one afternoon and bake cookies together. Erica was more interested in eating the sprinkles than putting them on the cookies and Daniel was more interested in eating the cookies than decorating them (although he helped). It was a fun time for our family.

9. Creating gifts: 
We decided that instead of buying gifts for everyone this year, or even drawing a name, we would try making gifts for each other. It was my big idea, and I have to admit that at times, I was wishing I could drive to the mall and subject myself to that torture instead of doing what I needed to do to create the gifts. BUT, in the end, I had a good time coming up with the ideas and creating the gifts. AND it was so much fun on Christmas morning to see what everyone had created for each other. Definitely lots of love and thought went into each gift that was given, whether it was homemade food treats, photo gifts, or repurposed items (watch for another post on that soon).

8. Serving others: 
I already posted about my experience at the Nashville Baptist Association Toy Store in early December, but Daniel and I had another opportunity to give of our time to help others this Christmas. One of the community groups from church had arranged to volunteer at the Second Harvest Food Bank and invited Daniel and I to come along. I am always thankful when Daniel and I get a chance to serve together and it was another reminder that many people in the world, even in our own city, live a much different life than we do.

7. Daniel's drum shirt: 
One of the fun gifts given to Daniel this year was a battery-operated t-shirt with a drum set on the front. You can actually hit the drums and the cymbals and they play. I wouldn't call it music, but it's noise! Russell saw it in a magazine and thought Daniel needed to have it. It was a bit "hit" on Christmas morning!

6. Christmas PJ's: 
We carried out the family tradition of giving the kids new Christmas pj's and letting them open them on Christmas Eve night. Erica and Mary Lane got matching footie pj's and Daniel got some new flannel sleep pants. Erica has some other footie pj's with monkeys on them, and even though her new pj's didn't have monkeys, she kept calling them her "monkey pj's." All we could figure is that she was associating the footies with monkeys, so now all footie pj's are "monkey pj's." I wonder if that's what we'll be calling them from now on?

5. Snow: 
It was so much fun to have some early snow in Tennessee this year, and to have a white Christmas for the first time in 17 years! The snow caused some cancellations of Christmas events and school (exams) in mid-December, but our Christmas snow was just plain beautiful and a fun little gift for Tennesseans.

4. Christmas Worship at Grace Community Church: 
I have lost count on how many years I have participated in the Christmas Choir at our church, but it is always a highlight of my Christmas season. This year, we had a new director for the choir, and then on the first (and turned out to be the only) night of worship, our Director of Worship was not able to be there because he was helping his wife have a baby! It all turned out so well, though, and I am sorry that the second night got snowed out and we didn't get to do it again (and I know there are many people who were sad that they missed it altogether).

3. Mary Lane's first Christmas: 
Sweet Mary Lane was sick for the week of Christmas, with a cough that made her sound like an old man, but she was still able to enjoy her first Christmas morning and her gifts. I was "helping" her to stay sitting up and had a fun view of watching her shake her new wrist rattles and chew on her new books. She is almost six months old, which is the same age that Daniel was on his first Christmas, so it was fun to reminisce about having a baby boy 15 years ago!

2. Erica's wonder: 
This was Erica's third Christmas, but probably the first one that she has been a more active participant and one that she will hopefully remember. She had several nativity sets to play with and it was so sweet to hear her singing "Away in a Manger" to Baby Jesus and very funny to see her put the camel or a shepherd up on top of the stable where the angel was intended to go. Who knows that the shepherds didn't shout it from the rooftops when they saw Jesus! Daniel and I took Erica out to look at Christmas lights one night and it was fun to see her get excited over seeing the decorations ("there's one!"). One house had lights set to music and she told her mom that she saw lights that sang. She also loved opening presents and her big present this year was a play kitchen and lots of accessories to go with it. Whenever she'd open something that went with the kitchen, she'd say, "That can go in MY kitchen!"

1. Time with family: 
The whole Christmas season was just a special time for our family this year. It is always fun when we're all together for the days leading up to Christmas and when we can spend Christmas morning together. I am so thankful for our family and that we all celebrate the birth of Jesus in a meaningful way (attending worship services, reading the Christmas story before opening gifts).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

You're invited

I would like to invite you to join me in a little stretching of spiritual muscles and brain power in 2011. I like to read Beth Moore's blog and she is offering a repeat of a challenge that she put out to her readers in 2009:  to memorize 24 Bible verses in a year. I started out trying to do it back then and didn't get too far into the year, at least not with memorizing. I think I wrote down more verses and that is something that I think is valuable to have handy. But this year, I want to try to actually put some more verses in my memory, and I invite you to join me. Even if you don't choose to do the scripture memory, it will be good accountability for me to let you know how I'm doing every month, so I'd appreciate your prayers.

Here's a link to Beth's blog, if you want to read her inspirational blog posts and read about the background of it, etc. She suggests using a spiral-bound book of index cards (or this year, they are offering a pre-printed one from their website, at minimal cost, but I'm not going to order one). You can post your verses on her blog if you'd like, but if you want to keep it low-key and "between us" you can just post something on my blog and we can pray for each other and try to help encourage each other along the way.

Here are the instructions that I got from Beth's blog (anywhere you she writes about posting to her blog, you can skip it if you don't want to do that):

1. On the 1st and 15th of every month of 2011, you will find a post by 8:00 in the morning where I will ask for your memory verse and give you mine. This will begin New Year’s Day. You are committing to 24 Scriptures in 12 months. In previous years, I’ve found this to be a very doable pace. If you do much more, you’ll tend to fall behind and not retain. If you do much less, the impact is negligible. You really can do this. So many of you will surprise yourselves with what you’re capable of doing in the power of the Spirit. Yes, it takes work but it’s tremendously fulfilling and the results are nearly immeasurable. Look at it this way: you’re going to be meditating on something: unforgiveness, toxic memories, misery, lust, greed, dissatisfaction, jealousy, competition. Choose Scripture! Christ Himself said as a man thinks, so is he. He also said His words are spirit and life. This is work worth doing, Sweet Thing. Never – NOT ONCE – have I ever known anyone to get to the end of a Scripture memory commitment and say that it didn’t make any real difference. Not a single time.

2.You are to enter the verse you’ve chosen to memorize for that two-week period within twenty-four hours of the post going up. I’ve been asked many times if it’s okay if you’re late supplying your verse and, yes, of course it is, but try to avoid doing it often. The people who make it to the very end of the year are overwhelmingly those who stay up with it month to month. Please know up front that one of the important parts of this process is the exercise of self discipline. This culture is mass producing wimpy narcissists. Year-long commitments like these that require punctuality and focused energy push back on that degenerating trend. All that to say, please don’t drop out if you get behind. I just want you to know that this will be much more successful if you treat it as a real, live commitment you are willing to work hard to keep.

3. When you clock in with your verse those two times a month, keep your comments limited to your name, city, verse and translation. Long comments on SSMT days are no-no’s. It won’t take you long to figure out why we maintain that rule. Wait till you see the powerful sight of hundreds if not thousands of verses flowing down the comment stream. It is a gorgeous sight. When you’re having a bad day, all you have to do is scroll down a few hundred of your sisters’ Scripture selections and I promise you, you’ll get a word. It’s a very powerful thing. Here is a sample comment:
Beth from Houston, Texas: “Forget about what’s happened! Don’t keep going over old history. Be alert! Be present! I’m about to do something brand new. It’s bursting out. Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road in the desert and rivers in the badlands.” Isaiah 43:18-19 The Message
(That was my first Scripture from last year so I wrote it from memory. If you choose that one, you better double check it. It’s at least 95 per cent accurate…I think. Yep. Double check it.) Always add your translation because so many of your sisters will want to know where you found the wording for your entry. One of the great impacts of this process is how much we reap from each other’s selections. Often you’ll see a sister say, “I’m doing the one so-and-so did last time!” (Yes, you can make a comment that brief. Those can be fun. Occasionally you’ll even see someone write, “For the sake of my marriage, I’ve chosen to memorize…” That’s okay, too, but try to keep it very succinct.)

4. As often as possible, choose a verse that means something to you in your present season or circumstance. This is the reason why we don’t all memorize the same Scripture. We’re not all going through the same things. The more you let God lead you to verses that direct you or edify your soul in your present circumstances, the more He will renew your mind toward your challenges. This is a huge part of 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 where we’re told to demolish strongholds and take our thoughts captive to Christ. If you don’t have a verse on your mind or you’re drawing a blank when the 1st or 15th rolls around, you are welcome to share mine. I will always include it in the post. You might also look at a few of the comments and see if one of theirs resonates with you. I say this next part with a grin: try to refrain from memorizing Scriptures that you think your spouse or your children need to learn. Memorize what you need to learn. That means do your best to avoid jotting your verse on a stick note and planting it on your bathroom mirror where your man can see it and repent of his sins. He probably won’t because he’s got your game. I bet you can guess how I know that.

5. I strongly recommend that you stick with only one verse to memorize each time. (This is just a recommendation and not a rule. You’re free to do whatever works for you.) Keep it simple and meaningful. (If I were addressing you live, I’d have you repeat that sentence back to me so just go ahead and say it out loud in order to nail it down. That sentence could be your best friend through this process.) If you do too many verses or get too complicated, you will soon be overwhelmed and want to drop out. Better to do 24 simpler verses over a 12 month period of time than a chapter over the first month then quit. We want this to be a discipline we practice for the rest of our lives. Think marathon. Not sprint.

6. Either shortly before or after making your entry each 1st and 15th in the blog comment, write the verse by hand in your own spiral. (Again, that’s a recommendation and not a rule. I’ve discovered that there’s something about writing it with your own hand and picturing it later in your own handwriting that helps it sink into your memory bank. I’m not entirely sure why.) Take that spiral with you everywhere you go. Read it and read it and read it and read it. Do mental gymnastics with it. Flip that baby over and over. Many women have told me along the way that they’re not good at memorization and I truly understand that. I also beg to offer two responses: First, that may change. Give the Holy Spirit a chance to do something brand new with you. Second, even if you don’t get your verses down word for word, you are still meditating on them as you read and reread them. You still, thereby, accomplish one of the most important goals: captivating the mind to Christ. You just can’t lose on this one. Either way, it has a powerful effect.

If you do choose to participate in this challenge with me, please write a comment and let me know! I'd love to be able to pray for you as well.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Gift

In our family we have a little tradition on Christmas Eve. We try to be the first to say, "Christmas Eve Gift!" to someone else in the family. The way it's supposed to work is that whoever is the first to say it is supposed to get a gift right then and there. In all of my memory of this tradition, I can't remember ever getting a gift if I was the first one to say it. Hmmm . . .

This tradition started with my dad's side of the family and there have been years when my Uncle Randel would call and try to be the first one to say, "Christmas Eve Gift," even calling just after midnight on December 24. With texting and Facebook part of the mix now, it makes it a little more fun. Just this morning, I saw that my sister was on Facebook, so I chatted her, "Christmas Eve Gift!" and I got her! Of course, my dad and mom both got me when I called over to their house.

As odd as this tradition is, I've actually heard of other families who do it, too. I don't know if it was something popular back in the fifties or something, or if it originated in the Midwest or Plains states (my dad is from Oklahoma). If anyone else has this tradition or knows of the origin, I'd love to hear about it.

Until then . . . Christmas Eve Gift!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What Christmas is all about

Ever since I was a kid, my favorite Christmas show has been A Charlie Brown Christmas. In fact, when I was a teen-ager (or maybe a pre-teen), I wrote an adaptation of the story into a play that my youth group performed for our church. I played Linus. And yes, that meant that I had to do the monologue from Luke 2. If I remember correctly, we experienced our own Christmas miracle because I had been stumbling over the lines during the dress rehearsal, but was able to pull it off without a hitch for the actual play.

I love how Linus just told the story and helped everyone to remember what Christmas is all about.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Sister Saturday

I'm not exactly sure of what year this was taken, but based on Jeanette's missing front teeth and the length of my hair, I'm guessing it was when we were six and eight years old. We had moved to Glen Ridge, NJ, by then (last week's picture was taken when we lived in Englishtown, NJ, an hour south, in Central Jersey). We traditionally hung the stockings up the staircase like that, and I'm figuring that we must have had some grandparents visiting for Christmas, since there are more than four stockings there. (Funny how you forget things after a while).

Another tradition that we had in our family was Christmas nightgowns. Again, my memory is foggy about whether we started getting nightgowns before we started the other tradition of being allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve, but the two traditions became one somewhere along the way. So the gift we were allowed to open was always Christmas nightgowns or pj's (and sometimes slippers and robes as well). That way we could wear them to bed and be decked out for Christmas morning.  This tradition was carried out for many years, and both my sister and I have tried to continue it with our own kids. I've even been known to go by myself some new Christmas pj's now that I'm all grown up.

Such sweet sister memories!

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Each Christmas, I don't really go looking for it, but usually God brings to my mind a word or theme that speaks to my heart through scripture that I'm reading or songs that I hear. This year, I can't stop thinking about the name, Immanuel, which means, "God with us." I am pretty sure that this has been a theme for me in other years, probably for the same reasons that it is now.

I am generally having a peaceful and joyful Christmas so far, but I know that many people are struggling in different ways right now. Some years I have had a harder time getting into the Christmas spirit and there have been days this year that I had to fight off self-pity and holiday blues. I am thankful that on those days, God has gently reminded me that He is with me and that He sent His Son to this earth and named Him, Immanuel, "God with us." It is my prayer that others who are struggling, whether emotionally or physically or even financially, would be encouraged and comforted by this truth that God is with us and will never leave us.

Music is such a big part of my Christmas experience. I love to listen to Christmas music and have enjoyed participating in our church's Christmas choir for several years now. There are several "Immanuel" songs that I love, but one song that we traditionally sing at church is the one by Michael Card. It is so powerful and moves me each time I sing it.

by Michael Card

A sign shall be given, a virgin will conceive.
A human baby bearing undiminished Deity.
The glory of the nations, a light for all to see;
And hope for all who will embrace His warm reality.

Immanuel, our God is with us.
And if God is with us, who could stand against us?
Our God is with us, Immanuel.

For all those who live in the shadow of death,
A glorious light has dawned.
For all those who stumble in the darkness,
Behold, your light has come!

So what shall be your answer? Oh, will you hear the call
Of Him who did not spare His son, but gave Him for us all?
On earth there is no power, there is no depth or height
Could ever separate us from the love of God in Christ.

“Immanuel” – Michael Card, ©1986 Birdwing Music

Monday, December 6, 2010

Toy Store

Today I helped some parents get Christmas gifts for their kids. We didn't go to a mall, although we had to stand in lines. No money exchanged hands, but they all came away with a huge bag full of gifts. I will probably never meet the children that I helped pick out presents for, but they will be in my heart and mind.

These parents were just a few of the many people who cannot afford to put Christmas gifts under the tree for their kids. I don't know their whole stories, but here are some things that I did learn today. I invite you to join me in praying for these families this Christmas:

She has a son, who will be 10 years old on Christmas Day, and a daughter, who turned 12 in July. Her daughter likes to read and play with dolls. Her son loves to wrestle. Deborah shared that she is in somewhat of an abusive relationship with a man and said that her ex-husband wants his wife back. I don't know if she was talking about the same person when she described those men, but please pray that God will protect Deborah and her kids. She goes to church regularly and said that she knows the Lord.

She is a breast-cancer survivor and was shopping for her 14-year-old daughter. Judy also has two grown children and two grandchildren. She said that her daughter likes school (she's in the ninth grade) and has lots of friends. Judy was raised in the church, but has not been attending lately. Pray that she will stay healthy and that her family will grow closer together. Also pray that she will find a church that she can plug into and get back into fellowship with other believers.

He has three children, but we only shopped for his older son (age 12) today. His fiance will shop for their baby boy on another day this week. Clyde and his family lost their home and everything they owned in the Nashville flood in May. He told me that they had to leave their home through water that was up to their necks. He does not go to church and probably does not know Jesus (his fiance attends the Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah's Witnesses). Clyde had not participated in the Toy Store before and he seemed genuinely grateful and impacted by the generosity and kindness shown to him and his family. Pray that this experience will be the beginning of his journey to know Jesus as His own personal Savior.

Spending time at the Toy Store is one of the highlights of my Christmas each year that I have been able to do it. I always leave there feeling humbly blessed and thankful that God gave me the opportunity to be a part of someone else's Christmas.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Sister Saturday

Christmas 1970

We lived in that house with the red carpeted stairs for four Christmases,
and that staircase made a good backdrop for Christmas pictures of the Ryals girls.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Happy December!

I love Christmastime! It has almost always been a very happy time for me and for our family. Yes, there have been some Christmases that weren't as joyful as others, for various reasons, but for the most part, I have been blessed with happy memories of this time of year.

One of the things that I love is decorating the Christmas tree and seeing Christmas lights. Last night in New York City, the tree in Rockefellar Plaza was lit for the season and it made me just clap and cheer as I watched it on TV (and yes, my teenager made a little fun of me). I have sweet memories of our family taking our traditional trek into the City each December 23rd to see the tree and the decorated windows of all the famous department stores. I admit that I get a little homesick for NY/NJ at this time of year.

Another tradition that we started in our family about ten years ago is the Advent Jesse Tree. You can read about it here. I might give you the other links each day this month (cheating, I know), since I'm kind of still resting (if you believe that, I've got a bridge in Brooklyn that I'll sell you real cheap!).

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Thirty

For Day Thirty, I am thankful for rest.

I did it! I blogged for thirty days in a row about things I am thankful for. And I'm ready for a rest! I don't need or want a rest from thankfulness, just a little break from blogging. Actually, my list could continue for a while longer, and that's a good thing. It is only by God's grace that I was able to write all month about things that I am thankful for, because everything is from His hand.

So back to rest. I got some really good physical rest over the long Thanksgiving break. I love that holiday for many reasons, but one big one is that there's not a lot of hustle and bustle, unless you have to travel or choose to go shopping on Black Friday. The time off gave me some days at home to just relax and rest and do fun things and hang out with family. And that was good for me.

I also got some rest from parenting over the holiday. I do not consider myself to have a horrible job as Daniel's mom, and I hardly like to classify myself as a "single mom" because I have LOTS of help in raising him, including from his dad. But over this extended weekend while Daniel was away from me, I appreciated the "time off" from parenting and it gave me new strength for being a mom.

Finally, I am thankful for the privilege and gift that God gives me to rest in Him every day (if I will do it). He reminds me often that I don't have to worry about this or that, because He's got in all in control. I can find rest for my weary mind and soul in Him alone. And when I surrender to that rest, it feels so good. And peaceful. And makes me thankful.

"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS." Matthew 11:29, NASB

Monday, November 29, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Twenty-nine

For Day Twenty-nine, I am thankful for books.

I love to read and love a good book to get caught up in. Especially when the weather turns cooler and I can cuddle up on the couch with a quilt and a mug of something warm to drink. But a good summer read is fun, too, sitting on a deck chair by the pool or on the beach, with a cold beverage.

The other day I scored a new book without having to pay anything out of pocket. I got some Bordersbucks, then got a coupon, and had a gift card. It was really something my sister would have had happen to her, so I really felt like I'd done something special! And now I have a book to read over the holidays!

Thank you, Lord!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Twenty-eight

For Day Twenty-eight, I am thankful for volunteers.

Greeters. Offering Ushers/Counters. Bulletin Preparers. Security Team. Prayer Counselors. Welcome Center Team. Communion Preparers and Servers.

On any given Sunday at Grace Community Church, we have about 40-plus volunteers who serve in various, vital capacities. That's over 100 volunteers a month (and that's not counting the volunteers for the children's ministry). It is part of my job to help recruit and to coordinate the schedules for these weekly volunteers.

I am thankful for each person who gives his/her time to commit to serve on one (or more) of these teams each month. Each role is important to the life of our church and these volunteers make a huge difference in the experience that visitors and members have when they come to our church. Each smiling face, helpful word, selfless service makes an impact on the kingdom of God.

Many years ago, while a member of another church, I took part in some training to help church members find a place to use their gifts to serve in the church. I realized how passionate I am about helping people find their niche. We left that church before I could really see the training fully implemented, but I am so thankful that God, in His sovereignty, did not let that training, or my passion, go to waste. He is using me now to help others find a place to serve and He is using the organizational gifts He gave me to help make sure that all these volunteers have a place on Sunday mornings at Grace. Thank you, Lord!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Twenty-seven

For Day Twenty-seven, I am thankful for friends, near and far.

I have had this on my list from the beginning, but have put off writing a post about my friends because I don't want to leave anyone out. God has blessed me beyond measure with friends throughout my life. Some of them have been in my life for a season of time, and others I am still in touch with today. I am thankful that God has put each person in my life for a reason and that He continues to bless me daily by words of encouragement and love from my friends.

Since I decided that I won't name names, I'll just list some categories of friends that God has given to me:
  • Friends who pray with and for me.
  • Friends who have known me since the fifth grade (or earlier grades).
  • Friends who share my passion for scrapbooking and card-making.
  • Friends who worked with me on camp staffs during the summers in high school and college.
  • Friends who were my honorary older (or younger) brothers and sisters.
  • Friends whose parents were friends with my parents before I was born.
  • Friends who hold me accountable and encourage me in many different areas of discipline in my life.
  • Friends who I worship with on a weekly basis.
  • Friends who have been my neighbors through the years.
  • Friends who were in the high school marching band with me.
  • Friends who have been (or are currently) my coworkers.
  • Friends who I went to college with.
The common denominator among all of these friends is that they love me for who I am and encourage me to be the best I can be. And for that, I am thankful.

Friday, November 26, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Twenty-six

For Day Twenty-six, I am thankful for good health.

I have been in relatively good health for most of my life, but I have learned from my experiences and from seeing others suffer, that it is not something to take for granted. Only God knows why some people have to go through difficult medical circumstances and I won't begin to try to understand that part about God's sovereignty. I do believe that God is our Healer and our Great Physician and for that I am thankful.

I am also thankful that while I once had something malignant in my body (for those who don't know, I had thyroid cancer almost 12 years ago), my experience was relatively minor in the big scheme of things. I did not have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation. I had surgeries to remove the cancer and then the rest of my thyroid (long story), and then had the standard radioactive idodine treatment (yes, I was so radioactive for three days that I had to be in isolatation). God spared me from anything worse than those things and has allowed me to enjoy good health ever since.

The other day, after spending some time trying to encourage a friend who was dealing with a similar health issue, I was suddenly humbled and overwhelmed with the thought that God was using my difficult situation in the past to give me compassion and empathy for someone else. If I had not gone through that experience in 1999, I would not have been as equipped to give words of comfort and wisdom (I hope) to my friend.

So I choose to thank God for my good health now, but also for allowing me to experience a health scare, if for no reason that He could bring me through it in order to use me to encourage someone else twelve years later. To God be the glory!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Twenty-five

For Day Twenty-five, I am thankful for giving.

Today is the BIG DAY! Thanksgiving Day 2010. On this day, as we gather to eat an abundance of food with special people we love, I am thankful for the giving that I see happening all around me, all throughout the year. Just as thankfulness needs to be our daily habit/discipline, so does giving to others. And learning to be a receiver of other's gifts is a good thing too.

Here are some ways I've seen people giving lately, either to me, or to others:
  • The Toy Store:  This is a special event each December where people who can't afford to go shopping in stores for their family's Christmas gifts can sign up to come "shop" from the toys, clothing and gifts that are donated by generous people all over Nashville. Our church participates in this event each year and I am thankful for the generosity of people who want to help others in need.
  • In May of this year, Nashville experienced a devastating flood which displaced many people from their homes, forcing some people to never be able to go back to that particular home. Thankfully, my home was not in a flood plain, but Daniel's other home was affected, as were several homes of people we know. It was very moving for me to see the people of our church and city come together to help and give to those in need. From money, to time, to muscles, to household items, to food and water, Nashville gave and I will never forget it.
  • Like I mentioned in my post about being thankful for "little things" there were gifts given to me this year that were seemingly small, but had a big impact. Anytime that someone takes the time to thoughtfully pick out a gift that they know I will enjoy, or even send me a note in the mail (or electronically), I am grateful. 
  • I have a friend who is hardly able to put food on her table, yet is always wanting to give something to me. I give her daughter a ride to school three mornings a week, and it is not out of my way to do this, and in fact, I enjoy getting to spend the time with her. I know that my friend desperately wants to reciprocate in some way, but it nearly broke my heart when she called this week to say that she was not able to give me a turkey for Thanksgiving (she's done this in the past). I am learning to accept her gifts, when possible, because I know that giving something to me brings her joy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Twenty-four

For Day Twenty-four, I am thankful for Daniel's school.

Really, I am thankful for Daniel's entire education, from Kindergarten until now (10th grade). When I was growing up, my parents specifically moved to the town we lived in for most of my childhood because of the public school system. It was highly recommended and had a good reputation for giving students the tools they needed to be ready for college and beyond. As a result, even though once Daniel came along, I was living in another state and city, I was still a strong proponent of public education. It was also not a viable option for our family to go the private school route or homeschool.

Daniel attended our neighborhood elementary school and had a great experience there. From Kindergarten through 4th grade, each teacher he had was a perfect match for his needs and he thrived there during those years. I was also able to be active in the Parent-Teacher Organization and have a lot of involvement with the teachers and faculty.

When it came time for him to go to middle school, we had the option of staying in our zoned school (which happens to be right across the street from our house) or we could go the magnet school route and put Daniel's name in the lottery to attend the academic magnet middle school across town. It was completely out of our control after we turned in the application and there was MUCH rejoicing when we got the news that his number had been drawn and he would have a place at Meigs Magnet Middle School. And if he kept his grades and test scores up, he would have an automatic pathway to the academic magnet high school (no more lottery!).

That brings us to this year. He is a sophomore at Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School and except for the excessive homework they give there, he loves his classes and teachers and friends. He is challenged academically, which will help prepare him for college in a couple of years.

I am so thankful that God has guided Daniel's education through the years and have confidence that He will continue to lead him (and his parents) through the next few years of him finishing high school and deciding on where to attend college. And you have my permission to remind me of these words when things get stressful during these next stages of life! Thank you, God, that you are in control!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Twenty-three

For Day Twenty-three, I am thankful for God's promises.

As I have grown up, both physically and spiritually, I have become more and more aware of the many promises that God gives us in the Bible. And as I have experienced more of the ups and downs of life, I have learned how true these promises are. Not just for the people who read them thousands of years ago, but for us today as well!

Here are some of the promises that have brought comfort and hope to me during longer seasons of difficulties or just when I was having a hard day:
  • God will never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5).
  • God will uphold me with His righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10).
  • God knows the plans He has for me (Jeremiah 29:11-13).
  • Nothing can separate me from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).
  • There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
  • Our God of peace will sanctify me through and through and will make me more like Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
  • Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
These are just a few that I wrote down in my journal this morning. The Bible is full of many other promises that we can claim and believe. If you have a promise that is special to you, please comment and share it with me. I'd love to add it to my list for the next time I need reminding!

Monday, November 22, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Twenty-two

For Day Twenty-two, I am thankful for God's Presence and Peace.

When I was coming up with my list of things to be thankful for, the continual presence of God and His peace that passes all understanding" were probably two separate ideas. However, when I read the devotional reading in Jesus Calling for Sunday, I liked how the writer combined the two, so I will share what she wrote (written from Jesus' first person perspective):

"Thank Me throughout this day for My Presence and My Peace. These are gifts of supernatural proportions. Ever since the resurrection, I have comforted My followers with these messages:  Peace be with you, and I am with you always. Listen as I offer you My Peace and Presence in full measure. The best way to receive these glorious gifts is to thank Me for them.

It is impossible to spend too much time thanking and praising Me. I created you first and foremost to glorify Me. Thanksgiving and praise put you in proper relationship with Me, opening the way for My riches to flow into you. As you thank Me for My Presence and Peace, you appropriate My richest gifts."

As I grow in my relationship with Jesus, I am learning that when I pray for God's presence to be with me (or someone else I am praying for) or ask Jesus give me peace, that prayer will always be answered. In fact, there is nowhere that I can go and be out of God's presence (Psalm 139:7-10). And Jesus IS our Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). This is all why we can go ahead and thank God for His Presence and Peace. Because He is the Great I AM!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Twenty-one

For Day Twenty-one, I am thankful for the GCC Youth group.

When I was growing up, we attended a small church, so there wasn't a large group of teen-agers to make up a youth group. Thankfully, we had some committed adults who invested their time in the lives of the youth we had, and I had other opportunities to experience things that youth groups get to do together (retreats, Centrifuge camp, etc.). I was also able to be a part of a large youth group as a leader at the church I attended in college and as a summer missionary. I see those experiences as a part of God's plan in my life and I know that he grew me in ways that are impacting me and others today. I w

Then ten years ago, when our family first joined Grace Community Church, there were very few teen-agers who made up the youth group. I didn't think too much about it, and it didn't adversely affect our decision to join the church, since Daniel was only five years old at the time. But as he grew, it became my hope and prayer that the youth group would grow and that maybe we'd even have a full-time youth minister by the time Daniel was old enough to participate.

Thankfully, God answered those prayers and as our church has grown, so has the youth group. In fact, a year and a half ago, we were able to bring in a full-time youth minister, and that has had a huge effect on the teen-agers in our church (and specifically my teen-ager). I am thankful for Josh Hussung, and his wife, Laura, and the impact that they have on these teens. I am thankful that Daniel has the influence of other young adults who give their time each week to teach and speak into his life and to give him real-life examples of what it means to follow Christ.

I am thankful for the friends that Daniel has in the youth group, some of whom he has known since they were babies. He has guys his own age who he can hang out with at church and outside of church who are all learning about the gospel and about discipleship. These guys give accountability to each other and spur each other on to do good things.

I am thankful that Daniel has been able to experience mission trips to North Carolina and Baltimore, Maryland, where he saw people in different circumstances than he sees every day and was able to learn about reaching out to help others. He has also been able to go on retreats and camps with the youth group and have focused time to learn about the Bible and the teachings of Jesus.

I may not have been able to have the same experiences that Daniel does, but that makes me even more thankful for the opportunities God has allowed him to have through our church youth group.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Twenty

For Day Twenty, I am thankful for the little things.

I know that some people in my life (past and present) might think otherwise, but it really doesn't take a lot to make me happy. Sure, I like it when big, exciting things happen to me (good things), but I can honestly say that I get a great deal of pleasure and happiness from the little things in life.

Here are some examples:
  • A few months ago, I made a comment on Facebook about how I had not been able to find my favorite gum, Orbit Citrusmint, in my local stores, and wondered if they'd discontinued that flavor. A week or so later, I found a small package in my mailbox. Since it wasn't my birthday or Christmas, it was very intriguing to me, and when I opened it, I found several packs of my favorite gum, thoughtfully sent to me from my cousin who lives in Texas. A couple of other people locally also brought me gum when they saw me at church. It wasn't something that I had to have to continue living, but those simple acts of kindness and thoughtfulness brought me lots of joy!
  • When I am in a creative mood and am making cards or scrapbooking, having a creative idea or inspiration is a little thing that makes me happy (and that happened to me today).
  • Last week, my sister and family came to Daniel's jazz band concert and when they arrived, Erica looked over at me (in the darkened auditorium, while the concert was in progress) and let out a very excited squeal, "Aunt Nette!" because she didn't know she would see me there. So sweet!
  • Because most mornings, including weekends, I usually have to get up and get going with whatever I'm doing that day, I love it when I have a Saturday morning to wake up leisurely and stay in my pj's, reading magazines, drinking a cup of hot tea (or flavored coffee).
  • Just today, a friend brought me an unexpected gift. It wasn't something she had to spend a lot of money on, but she knew it would be something I would enjoy and she wanted to share it with me. I appreciated her thinking of me so much!
I'm so glad that God cares about the big things and the little things in my life, and that He uses people in my life to provide many of the little things that make me happy and content.

Friday, November 19, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Nineteen

For Day Nineteen, I am thankful for clothing.

I'm gonna go ahead and admit something to you:  I have two closets that are just for my clothing. And almost two dressers are full of clothes. And yet, most mornings, I still wake up and wonder "what should I wear today?"

Of course, I have my favorite items of clothing that I wear every week and some things in my closets are just for special occasions, but I am not someone who has ever had to wear rags (hand-me-downs, yes, but they were nice things that were generously passed on to me). And personally, if there's anything I'm glad about in the story of Adam and Eve, it's the fact that we don't have to walk around in our birthday suits anymore. Not that I'd be a big fan of wearing grape leaves made into clothes, but I really don't think I'd be comfortable the other way either.

There have been times when I have wondered (OK, worried) about having enough money to buy new clothes for myself or my son, but every one of those times was an example of unnecessary worry. Jesus reminds us in Matthew that we don't have to worry about what we will eat and what we will wear. He takes care of that just fine! And I am thankful!

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Matthew 6:25-33

Thursday, November 18, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Eighteen

For Day Eighteen, I am thankful for food.

It's probably the most basic necessity of life, apart from water, and I have never in my life had to go without food. Ever. I don't know what it really feels like to be starving, although I'm sure that I have used that word to describe a temporary discomfort that I've felt in my stomach after having skipped a meal or something. But I have always had (more than) enough food for every day that I have been alive.

God's provision of my job, which gives me income, allows me to go to the store each week and buy the groceries we need. I have many times done this activity (chore) with a less than thankful attitude, but I have also had times when I have been leaving the store and was prompted by the Lord to breathe a quick prayer of thanksgiving for His provision. And I don't have to go out and grow my own vegetables or kill a chicken in order to put dinner on the table. This city girl is so thankful for that!

Lately, I have been working on taking the focus off of food in my life (dieting, overindulging) and have been trying to focus more on the One who gives me food. And I'm learning that it's not as much about getting my stomach full as it is about having all of my needs met. Not just physical needs, like hunger, but emotional needs and spiritual needs. The only One who can meet those needs is Jesus. And I'm thankful that He promises to always do just that.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Seventeen

For Day Seventeen, I am thankful for my car.

Another example of God's provision is my car. I have owned four cars in my life. Each one was exactly what I needed at the time, and my CR-V is no exception. When my previous car (which has a provision story of its own) was getting to be less reliable, I decided that it would be better for me to stop cutting into my savings to pay for repairs and just go ahead and make a trade for a different car. I knew that I would need some good cargo space, due to having a drummer in the family, but I did not really want a full-size, gas-guzzling SUV. After some research and shopping around, I decided to buy a Honda CR-V. When I went to the lot to make the purchase, there were several choices, but when I saw the red one, I knew that needed to be my car.

I have been so happy with this car and fully intend to remain a Honda owner from now on. And I am thankful that God provided something that would be so fun to drive!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Sixteen

For Day Sixteen, I am thankful for my house.

Like I mentioned yesterday, God has always provided for all of my needs, including my housing. I have lived in several different houses and apartments in my life, and have been in my current house for over thirteen years. It gives us a cozy, comfortable, warm (or cool in the summer) and dry place to live. Our house has three bedrooms, one and a half baths, a kitchen, living room, dining room and a den. Truth be told, we could probably get by with just the den most days, but it's nice to have the rest of the house for necessities like taking a shower and fixing dinner! There are times when I get tired of being a homeowner (like when the gutters need cleaning or when the roof needed to be replaced), but I am extremely thankful that we have a home that we can live in and invite others to enjoy with us.

Monday, November 15, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Fifteen

For Day Fifteen, I am thankful for God's provision.

I have always had what I needed for living:  Food, clothing, shelter, transportation, to name a few of the basics. From the day I was born, throughout the next twenty-two or so years as a dependent of my parents, and continuing to this moment, I have been provided for, either by my father or my husband or my own income. But God has been the ultimate Provider. It is by His hand that we have jobs to bring in income that enable us to pay for the things we need. And for that I am thankful.

"And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus." Phil. 4:19

Sunday, November 14, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Fourteen

For Day Fourteen, I am thankful for my church.

Sunday is probably my favorite day of the week and it is primarily because it's the day when I usually go to worship at Grace Community Church. I first visited a worship service over ten years ago, and felt like I'd come home from the first song we sang. I brought my family back with me the following Sunday and we joined a few months later. I know that no church is perfect and that Grace is not the place that everyone wants to join, but for me, it is my favorite place to worship and serve the Lord.

Some of the reasons I am thankful for Grace Community Church are:
  • The gospel is unashamedly, clearly and boldly preached there every week.
  • The leadership is genuine and have servant hearts.
  • The worship times are meaningful and point me to God.
  • I have grown (and continue to grow) spiritually there.
  • It is a place of intimate community and the people there have surrounded me with love, care, encouragement, accountability, and grace.
  • My son has been given a strong foundation in his faith and has people who invest their lives into helping him continue to grow spiritually.
  • There is a deep commitment to being a part of furthering the Kingdom of God globably, as well as in our back yard.
I am so glad that God led me to this church and has allowed me to serve there.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Thirteen

For Day Thirteen, I am so incredibly thankful for my coworkers.

For a little over a year and half now, I have not had any stress about coming to work each weekday! That is because I absolutely L-O-V-E my job! And not only do I love what I do, I love working with the crew that is pictured above (minus one, since he defected, but it was worth using the picture).

There is such a comraderie among this group and each one brings a different aspect of fun to working together (not to mention each one's special talents). They all have given me a great environment in which to work where there is much grace and acceptance and teamwork. I like to think of them as my older and younger brothers and sister and I enjoy getting to spend time with them during the weekdays.

Some specific things I am thankful for are:
  • Scott's servant leadership and encouragement, and for the opportunity to serve the Lord as I support him in the work he does.
  • Bill's servant heart as well, the way that he is always finding something that needs to be done around the church property, and also manages the finances and other administrative tasks.
  • Jeff's creative genius and getting to hear songs being written. I also am thankful for his commitment to purposefully planning relevant worship experiences for the congregation each week.
  • Jason's baking skills have to be among the things I'm thankful for, as well as his inclination toward mechanical things. I have hollered out for his help many a time when the copier was not cooperating and he is always willing to help problem-solve.
  • Josh's attentiveness to my teenager and allowing Daniel to hang out with him whenever he's in the office means a great deal. Yes, Josh is the youth minister, but he has invested time and energy into my son's life and for that I am grateful!
  • Sondra's mixture of gentleness and humor help us both get through some of the more challenging days (or telemarketing phone calls). Since she and I have to spend 40 hours a week together in the same room, I'm thankful that we have quickly become friends as well as coworkers in the few short months since she came on board.
OK, now that I've written this, we better just keep all this between us and not let the crew see this post. I wouldn't want them to think I'm getting all mushy . . . I have my "office manager" reputation to uphold here!

Friday, November 12, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Twelve

For Day Twelve, I am thankful for music.

In some way, shape or form, music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents both enjoy music and I'm sure started singing to me and with me from the time I was born. I have memories of our family singing at the dinner table (try having your dad and uncles break out singing "The Doxology" as the prayer before the meal the first time your boyfriend comes to visit) and we used to bring song books with us on long family car trips and would have sing-alongs to pass the time. Come to think of it, I think I was probably most thankful for the two portable cassette tape players that my mom bought for me and my sister so we could each have our own music on those long trips!

I'm thankful for how music has helped me navigate many different emotions, from happy to sad and everything in between. Some songs evoke strong memories for me, some just cause me to want to dance and sing karaoke (yes, that would be a fun surprise party to give me). I am most thankful for how music gives me an outlet for praising God and worshiping Him. My favorite songs on my iPod are worship songs and I like to make playlists with songs that have a certain theme.

I probably won't ever write a song that gets played on the radio, but I am so thankful that God has put music in my life, through the talents of others, and that it is a way that I can express myself to Him and with others.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Eleven

For Day Eleven, I am thankful for the sacrifice of others for my benefit.

Today is Veteran's Day, which got me to thinking about those who have given their lives and time to serve our country in the military. Some of my great uncles served in the two World Wars. My dad's brother Ted served in the Navy. Two of my cousins, David and Mary, have served in Iraq (Mary is still on active duty in Washington, DC). Daniel's grandfather, Dan Ryan, served in the Army during the Vietnam War. I have had friends from church who have served in recent years. Each of these people, as well as their families, sacrificed a great deal in order to go and serve and in some cases, fight in battles, so that I could live in the freedom of the United States of America. I am extremely thankful and humbled and need to do more to honor them throughout the year.

A friend of mine posted this on her Facebook page today: "Freedom is a free gift paid for in blood. So, if you value your freedom on earth, thank a veteran. And if you value your freedom in eternity, thank Christ." (I'm not sure if she was quoting someone or if those were her own words.) 

How true that not only have many men and women sacrificed their lives so that I could live in freedom here on earth, but the ultimate sacrifice was paid on the cross by my Savior, Jesus Christ. It is only by his death that I can live a life free from the bondage and the penalty of sin. It is only by his grace and mercy that I can live an abundant life during my days on this earth. I am again extremely thankful and humbled and need to honor and praise and obey Him more every day!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Ten

For Day Ten, I am thankful for my college friends.

During my college years, I met many people who became life-long friends to me. Many of them I am in touch with today, and even though I don't see them very often, they are very special to me.

Two friends from my college days have become like family to me. Leanne Goddard and Rhesa Umbarger are the kind of friends that when we are able to get together for a visit, it feels like we were never apart and can pick up right where we left off. I am so thankful for the history that we have together (24 years now--yikes!) and for their encouragement, prayers, and continued friendship through the years. They are such gifts in my life and have walked with me through the good, bad and the ugly parts of my life. I can only hope and pray that one day, we will be walking on Belmont's campus, using our matching walkers, and reminisce about the fun years we had "back in the day".

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Nine

For Day Nine, I am thankful for my extended family:  aunts, uncles, cousins.

When I was growing up, I did not live close to our extended family. The relatives who lived closest to where we lived in New Jersey were my mother's parents, my Maw-Maw and Granddaddy, and one of her brothers, Uncle John.

My dad grew up in Oklahoma City, as the oldest of six kids, and several of his siblings ventured past the Oklahoma borders, as he did, so given the number of siblings, and the fact that they were spread out across the country, we didn't get to see them very often either.

Thankfully, though, my parents were committed to staying in touch with their parents and siblings, so long-distance phone calls and receiving letters in the mail (from Maw-Maw, especially) were normal occurences in our family. As I got older and as we moved into the age of the internet and e-mail and Facebook, it made keeping in touch a little easier, so I am glad to say that I am in some type of communication with most of my extended family on both sides (some of my info might come through my parents).

Both sets of grandparents have now passed away, and maybe I need to devote an entire post to why I am thankful for their influence on my life. But I will say that I have such good memories of my Maw-Maw and Granddaddy Blevins and of my Grandma and Grandpa Ryals, and I am thankful that I have their legacy of faithfulness to God as an example to live by now.

Aunts and Uncles:
Since my dad had four brothers and one sister, and my mom had two brothers, I have lots more uncles than aunts. Among my uncles, three of them are lawyers (that's something to be thankful for if I needed legal counsel), several of them have strong musical abilities, and all of them (at least on my dad's side) play a mean game of Monopoly! I was given the middle name, "Joy," as a tribute to my dad's sister, Marlene Joy, who was named for her aunt who I never met. I love sharing that family tradition with Aunt Marlene, and feel like it has given us a special bond. Another aunt who is very special to me is my aunt by marriage to Uncle Bud, my mom's brother. Bud and Vickie live in Memphis, just three hours from Nashville, and gave me a "home away from home" during my college years. I am thankful for the influence that all of my aunts and uncles have had on my life, both as a child and now that I am an adult.

I am the oldest grandchild on my dad's side of the family and have a couple of older cousins and a couple of younger cousins on my mom's side. Like I said earlier, we didn't live close to each other when we were growing up, plus I was several years older than some of my cousins, so it has only been in the past few years, since we've been "grown ups" that we've been able to get to know one another. Again, I'm thankful for modern technology, like Facebook, which has made it easier to keep in touch and to learn more about my cousins. Interestingly, we have common interests or career paths among us (two of my cousins currently work in television or radio, either as a career or on a volunteer basis, and I was a communications major in college). Musical ability runs through this generation, too, on both sides of the family. I have a little dream of getting together a cousin reunion at some point, to give us all a chance to spend some time together in one location. I have a feeling that the aunts and uncles will try to crash our party, if we can ever get it together, but then it can just be a big family reunion!

The Ryan side:
When I got married (and a couple of years before that), I was blessed with another whole set of extended family members. Even though I am not technically in the family now, I am thankful for the relationships that I have been able to maintain through Daniel and through my own connections on Facebook and in "real" life. These aunts, uncles and cousins continue to be very near and dear to my heart and I am thankful that God expanded my family and for the grace that has allowed me to stay in touch and relationship with them through the years.

I am thankful for the common bonds that I share with my extended family. We don't live in the same city or even state, in most cases, but we all know that we are just a phone call or an email away, and that we are connected as "family".

Monday, November 8, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Eight

For Day Eight, I am thankful for my sweet nieces!

Two years ago, when Erica was born, I was so excited to have a niece! Of course, I love my boy and have enjoyed getting to be a mother, but there was something so fun about the idea of being an aunt to a girl! It also helped because Jeanette was all about the pink theme, and I was so amazed at how "girly" and "pink" Erica was from the moment I saw her!

As Erica grew, I got a front-row seat to every stage and once she started interacting more and recognizing me, and then being able to talk, it was a huge thrill to hear her say, "Aunt Nette" in her sweet little voice.

Then, when Jeanette and Russell found out that they were going to have another girl, the excitement just grew to a new level. After growing up with a sister, it was so fun to think about Jeanette having two girls and the two of them being able to have each other to grow up with like Jeanette and I did.

I am so thankful to God for allowing me to be an aunt and to have the opportunity to be involved in their lives. With my own son growing up and quickly approaching the day when he leaves the nest, it's comforting to know that I will still be able to watch Erica and Mary Lane grow up and that I can look forward to having fun "girl times" with them.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Seven

For Day Seven, I am thankful for my brother (-in-law), Russell Massey.

When I was growing up, I used to wish that I had an older brother. Since I was the firstborn in my family, I soon figured out that it wasn't possible for me to have a biological older sibling, and my parents were quick to let me know that I probably wasn't going to get any other younger siblings, boy or girl. So, that left me with only the prospect of getting a brother through marriage to my sister. Russell will be quick to tell you that he's not my older brother, but I am thankful that he is married to my sister and that he is in our family.

I remember the first time we met Russell. He had traveled with Jeanette to attend the wedding of our longtime family friend, Lara Chappell, in Griffin, Georgia. We had already heard about Russell and knew that he and Jeanette had been dating, but it was pretty evident once we saw them together that they were in a serious relationship. Heck, they might have been unofficially engaged at that point, but didn't let on. Later that same year (2002), our family had a wedding of our own, and welcomed Russell into the family.

Some of the things that I am thankful about Russell are:

  • His love and committment to my sister.
  • He is a loving daddy to Erica and Mary Lane and it's been fun to see his joy at watching them grow.
  • He works hard to provide for his family and has been going to school to get his master's degree in marriage and family counseling.
  • He likes to hang out with his nephew and talk sports and other "guy" stuff with him
  • He has been a big help to my parents in many different ways.
  • He is a growing follower of Christ and has a heart for ministry and missions.
  • His loyalty to his favorite sports teams is fun to watch and he actually converted me to be a Rangers fan during this year's ALCS and World Series.

I'm thankful that I finally got a brother in my life, even if he isn't older than I am. I think I can get over that part! :-)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Six

Since it's Sister Saturday, for Day Six, I am thankful for my sister!

I remember my first look at my sister, Jeanette. I was leaning over the front seat of the car, looking at this baby that my mom was holding. My grandmother had ridden with me and my dad to pick up my mom and my sister from the hospital and I think I was more interested in the Ritz crackers that Maw-Maw had for me than I was in the little baby bundled in a blanket. I don't know that I was all that thankful for her then, or for the first few months that she spent crying and not doing much playing with me, but that all changed!

My baby sister soon grew into a curious tag-along, who loved to do whatever her big sister was doing. Again, I'm sure that I didn't show too much gratitude for having her follow me around or having to take my little sister to the bathroom whenever we went somewhere (I think she just had a desire to see what different bathrooms looked like and didn't really have to go, but that's just my theory).

So, this isn't sounding much like a thankfulness post is it? Well, fast-forward to around 1985 or 1986. By this time, I had left home to go a thousand miles away to college. Suddenly, I didn't have my little tag-along with me. I didn't have my built-in playmate and I began to realize what I was missing. Yes, I missed my sister! Those were the days before email and cell phones, so we had to rely on the U.S. Mail and long-distance phone calls once a week. When she went off to college herself, to Birmingham, Alabama, we were a little closer geographically, but still didn't see each other very often. It wasn't until she transferred to Belmont in the fall of my senior year that we were once again living in the same town and kind of under the same roof (different dorms, but same large building).

And that began a new era of our sister relationship. We were not little kids anymore and our friendship started to grow and we related to each other on a new level. Life brought each of us different experiences, different joys, different losses. But we shared a common heritage and a common faith and that brings me to tell you what I am thankful for about my sister:
  • She is loving, joyful, (somewhat) peaceful, patient, kind, gentle, good and self-controlled.
  • She loves Jesus and points me to Him through her love for me.
  • She loves her husband as a godly wife and loves her girls with thankfulness.
  • She is my best friend who has known me the longest.
  • She knows me better than anyone.
  • She knows my weaknesses and strengths, my fears and my insecurities.
  • She knows what makes me most happy and most sad.
  • She is one of my biggest advocates and cheerleaders.
  • She can make me laugh very hard.
  • She can get me to do adventerous things and things that I would not do on my own.
  • She gave me two sweet nieces and loves her nephew like he was her own child.
  • She helps me look at life in a different way, just because we're two different people.

It may have taken me several years to really understand what a treasure my sister is in my life, but once I "got it" I have been continually thankful for the sister that God gave me back when I was two years old.

"Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God." Philippians 1:3, New Living Translation

Friday, November 5, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Five

For Day Five, I am thankful for my parents.

Mom and Dad holding newborn Mary Lane in July 2010

OK, it's time for me to talk about some more about my peeps! And who better to start with than the ones who brought me into this world, DeLane and Nancy Ryals! They have been an "item" for over 47 years (counting their courting days) and their love for each other has gotten stronger with each passing year. They are a huge part of our lives and has been very fun to watch them get to dote on their grandson and granddaughters.

My parents each grew up in Christian homes with parents who loved God and taught their children about Him. Both of my parents felt the Lord leading them to full-time Christian work and each attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, although they didn't date while they were students there. It wasn't until they were both working in the northeast, Mom in Maryland, and Dad on Long Island, NY, that they were introduced (or re-introduced, since they had known who each other was in seminary) and began dating. They were married in February of 1964 on a snowy night in Bel Air, Maryland, at my mom's home church, Oak Grove Baptist.

Three years later, also in a snowstorm in February, they brought home a baby daughter named Nanette. And because they thought it would be nice to name their daughters after their mother, Nancy Jean, when baby sister came along two and a half years later, they named her Jeanette, giving the girls names that rhymed! I'm not so sure I'm thankful for that part, but I can be thankful that we didn't have any more siblings to carry out the theme!

Throughout my life, my parents have been some of my biggest cheerleaders and encouraged me to do and become whatever I felt like God was leading me to do. That meant letting me go a thousand miles away to college in Nashville, Tennessee, and allowing me to spend all of my summers doing mission work or working in camps, never coming back to our home in New Jersey for more than a couple of weeks at a time. I will always be thankful for the "wings" that my parents gave me and that they didn't hold me so tightly that they hindered me from being and doing all that God has planned for me. While I always know they love me and are glad to see me, I appreciate that they allowed me to experience so many things and go to so many different places.

Of course, these days, we only have to travel two miles between our homes and we have the privilege of having impromptu meals together or running over to visit on a moment's notice. I'm thankful for the help my parents have given me over the years, from caring for Daniel to helping me have a yard sale or clean out an ant-infested pantry (and so much more). And I'm thankful that I can return the favor many times when there is something that needs to be done around their house.

I'm also so thankful that my parents taught me about Jesus and encouraged me to have my own personal relationship with Him. I know that I gave them reason to be angry and upset with me during my growing up years (and probably still do sometimes now), but they showed me grace and forgiveness and have modeled for me what it looks like to be a faithful follower of Christ and to obey Him in the good time and the not-so-good. I'm so glad that God knew what He was doing when he gave me DeLane and Nancy Ryals as my parents and I am thankful that not only are they my parents, but they have become my friends as well.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Four

For Day Four, I am thankful for my Bed and my Pillow.

Now, I realize that after the first three days of fairly deep subjects, this is possibly going to sound very shallow or "soft" (pun intended). But I think that since the Bible tells us to be thankful in all circumstances and for all things, it's not a bad thing to be thankful for something like a bed and pillow. Also, honestly, my brain has been taxed with those deeper posts and if I'm going to make it through this whole month of posting every day, I'm going to need to pace myself!

For as long as I have had my "grown up" bed*, other people have coveted it. When Daniel was younger, I'd often find that he had snuck into my room while I was washing my face before bed and would find him buried under my covers with a sheepish look on his face (or with his eyes closed, trying to fool his mom into thinking that he was actually asleep). Even my sister has been known to come to my house and take a nap on my bed. The reason is always given that my bed is so comfortable and just better than their own (in Daniel's case, especially).

I've also had a life-long attachment to my pillow. When possible, my pillow travels with me when I go on a trip, and it is a huge ordeal for me to find a replacement for my pillow when one wears out. It's almost up there with buying new jeans or a bathing suit, because of the anguish it can bring me. I go into Bed, Bath & Beyond and try to "test drive" the pillows and it just doesn't work very well. I understand that they have to wrap them in plastic for sanitary purposes, but unless I lie down on the floor or use one of the pretend beds on display (you know those are just made up to look pretty, right?), I really can't get a good feel for how the pillow and my head will adapt to one another until I get it home. And by then, it's pretty much going to be part of my household pillow collection, since they don't really like it when people return pillows that have been drooled slept on.

So, at the end of my normally long day, when I finally climb into bed and fluff up my pillows and pull my comforter up to my chin, one thought that is often on my mind right before my brain shuts off is one of "thank you, Lord!"

*Grown-up bed refers to the bed that is a) not twin-size, or even full-size, but Queen-size, b) was not bought for me by my parents, and c) actually has a headboard and a footboard, and is not just a mattress and box spring on the free frame that comes with them.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Three

For Day Three, I am thankful for God's Grace.

Like I wrote about on Day One, I have known about Jesus for most of my life, but it wasn't until I was faced with the reality of my sin that I began to have a real understanding of what grace is. When I accepted Jesus as my Savior as a child, I think I knew I was a sinner and understood that Jesus had died on the cross to save me from my sins, but I still thought that I hadn't done anything "that" bad.

After growing up and experiencing hard things in my life, and spending a lot of time comparing my sin to the sins of others around me (which I often saw as "worse" than mine), God brought me to the realization that "by grace (I) have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9) and that "(His) grace is sufficient for (me), for power is perfected in weakness . Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I am thankful that today, I have a deeper understanding of God's grace because I have seen that my own sinfulness is just as grievous to Him as the sins of others around me. And I'm also so thankful that I can accept God's grace and forgiveness because of what Christ did for me on the cross.

One of my favorite songs that we sing at church describes how I feel about God's grace:

Your Grace Astounds Me

In the still of this sanctuary,
Lord, Your light is more than I can bear.
I must come in the way You require,
Holy and pure.

I am humbled, for I am just mortal,
And there’s nothing in me that is good.
Yet You cover me with Your perfection -
With Your own blood.

You have done all that Your law demands,
With Your outstretched arms,
You have stayed Your own hand.
So I stand, safe on this holy ground,
God, Your grace astounds me,
God, Your grace astounds me!

I am blessed with the greatest of privilege,
Justified in the presence of God.
If I strived all my days to attain it,
I could not. (chorus)

Words and music by Jeff Bourque and Wendy Wills
©2008 Manicotti Music / Schparkenmusik. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day Two

For Day Two,  I am thankful for my son, Daniel.

When I first found out that I was pregnant, I was pretty much in shock because the timing of it was unexpected (I had just been laid off from my job). Almost immediately, though, I became very excited at the prospect of being a mother (as well as a little bit scared). As my baby grew inside of me, my thankfulness grew as well and I can honestly say that hardly a day has gone by in the past 16 years when I have not thanked God for His incredible gift of Daniel in my life.

Now that Daniel is a teenager, I am thankful for him in new ways. As I watch him grow into a man, I am thankful that he has given His heart to Christ and is growing in his faith and that I see evidence of God's work in his life. I am thankful that Daniel is physically healthy and strong and that he has a good mind and takes advantage of opportunities to learn and expand his knowledge.

I am incredibly thankful for the good relationship that Daniel and I have with each other. I know that mothers and sons often have an easier time during the teenage years than mothers and daughters do, but God has given Daniel and I a healthy respect for each other and we have good communication and a good sense of what our roles are in each other's lives. I truly enjoy spending time with him and am always happy when we can just hang out at home together.

I am thankful for Daniel's creativity and broad range of interests. He loves sports and has given me lots of education in the rules of the games and what players are on what teams. I actually shock myself (and probably him too) when I voluntarily watch SportsCenter, even when he's not home! I am thankful for Daniel's musical ability and, it may sound crazy, but I am thankful for the drum set that he has in our living room. It's loud sometimes around here, but it is so much fun to hear him play, either on his own, or with his friends who come over to practice with their band.

I am thankful for Daniel's temperament and for his personality. He is funny, well-organized, confident, but also not openly arrogant or insensitive to others. He is well-liked by his friends at church and at school, and I can see leadership qualities coming out, which makes me very thankful. Daniel loves his family: his grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, as well as his parents and siblings. I am thankful when I see how much joy Daniel brings to others who aren't quite as biased as his mother is!

We prayed Colossians 1: 9-11 for Daniel when he was a baby and they still apply today, along with the previous verses in the chapter:

"We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. . . For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light." (Colossians 1:3-6, 9-11)

Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to be Daniel's mom!

Monday, November 1, 2010

30 Days of Thankfulness: Day One

I woke up this morning, excited about a new month, and soon had the idea to blog each day about something I am thankful for in my life. One of my favorite scripture passages is "Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus" (1 Thess. 5:16-18).With the Thanksgiving holiday coming up later this month, it makes it an obvious choice of a time to do this little project, but I will say that having an "attitude of gratitude" is a good way to live 365 days a year.

So, for Day One of 30 Days of Thankfulness, I am thankful for Jesus Christ.

I have known about Jesus since I was a very young child. I'm told that I used to go around the house singing, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, sweetest name I know . . .," and I accepted Him as my Savior and was baptized when I was eight years old. As I grew up, I continued to grow in my relationship with Christ, but it was a slow process and I was not always very committed to becoming more like Him. Over the years, Jesus has become more and more precious to me. As I have come to understand more about what He did for me on the cross, how helpless in my sin I was and how amazing His grace, I have grown into a deeper and deeper relationship with Jesus and cannot imagine living life without my faith in Him.

So now, in November 2010, as a 40-something-year-old woman who has been a follower of Christ for most of her life, this is why I am so thankful for Jesus:
  • He's my Constant Companion
  • He's my Best Friend
  • He's my Continual Presence (Immanuel, God with Us)
  • He's the Lover of my soul
  • He is the culmination of all of my hopes and dreams
  • Jesus is The Way, The Truth and The Life
  • He is my Savior, my Redeemer
  • He is my Provider, my Protector
  • He is my Sustainer, my Satisfaction
  • Jesus is the One Who knows me
  • He is the One Who intercedes for me.
  • Jesus completes me!
(Most of the above list was compiled through contemplating the devotional readings in Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young. It has been a life-changing book for me and has helped me to grow deeper in my relationship with Jesus.)

Thank you, Lord!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Prayer for the City of Nashville

O God, who is in the midst of the city,
     hear us as we pray for our city,
     The city of Nashville.

You hold us accountable if justice is denied
     even to one of us, including the stranger
     within our gates.

You delight in us
     when faith, hope, and love
     describe the way we live.

Have mercy on us when
     our unfaithfulness breaks our covenants,
     our hopelessness threatens our future, and
     our lovelessness undermines our most precious

Thank you, God, Source of forgiveness,
     who enables us to begin again,
     by God's grace.

We pray for the peace of the city, and for
     the courage to do the deeds that make for peace.

Help us be good neighbors
     to our neighbors.

Give us the purpose
     to follow Jesus,
     who is Building Bridges
     between one and another, and
     between us and God.

Amen. And let all the people say, Amen.

Written by DeLane M. Ryals on October 7, 2006
Read on Sunday, October 31, 2010, in morning worship at First Baptist Church, Nashville, TN