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!).