Tag Archives: belonging

ONE letter matters

When I was in 6th grade, I competed in the district spelling bee and lost because I added one  letter to a word. My 6th-grade son recently competed in his school’s spelling bee and missed a word by forgetting one letter.spelling bee word list

One letter matters.

In the world of spelling, one letter means the difference of staying “in” the competition or being “out.”

For enthusiastic writers who are vulnerably casting out their manuscripts only to be met with a flood of rejection letters, ONE letter of acceptance matters. One letter shifts the novice writer from being an amateur to being “in” as a published author. This inclusion is savored.

encouragement cardsFor the widow that spends many hours and even days alone, receiving a single handwritten note makes a meaningful difference. One letter can change her perspective from feeling lonely to loved. She feels remembered.

When a spouse is deployed overseas and is feeling the weight of isolation and homesickness, one letter from a loved one back home draws him a little closer to family. A familiar scrawl or silly doodle on the envelope tugs those hearts together a little tighter. He feels connected.

In a world of digital pictures and casual greetings available through Facebook and texts, even one handwritten letter delivered by snail mail on your birthday can transform all those virtual well wishes into a tangible token of love. There’s something special about holding a letter in your own hand that was in your friend’s hand just a few days ago. One letter can ground you, reminding you of a precious friendship. You feel known.

So last week when I was fighting a head cold and clutching my kleenex box, I hunkered down and wrote some letters:

  • to my son traveling on an exchange trip to China, hiding one in his suitcase under a box of Thin Mints and giving another letter to a friend to deliver to him midway through their trip (the potential embarrassment, I think, is worth a little sneakiness!)
  • to a Chinese couple whom I may never meet, but I’m entrusting the care of my 16-year-old son to them for 3 weeks while they generously host him in their home (sigh)
  • to a nephew, apologizing for belated birthday wishes
  • to an aunt undergoing radiation and chemotherapy, offering hope and encouragement while also recognizing her strengthBaylor pillows
  • a “thank you” to a loved one who sewed some pillows for me that I’ve been “planning” for years. Confession: I cheated on this one. I took a picture of the pillows tucked into their new nook and a sent her a text of gratitude. (Go Bears!)
  • to a college friend, wishing her the joys of another birthday

Throughout the week as I wrote to each person, I focused on the recipient. I considered their particular situation, reflecting on the connection between us and conjuring up some words to send their way. Before long, I was no longer aware of my stuffy head and my pesky cough. My mood improved as I redirected my attention to a loved one or reminisced about a dear friend.

Aligning letters on paper to transform them into a message to someone else is a magical thing, something we often taken for granted.vocab

Words are used a lot of different ways in our home. We are seekers of knowlLatin conjugationsedge and explorers of the written word. Our bookshelves are weighed down with words.

The boys are always working on a vocabulary list or conjugating verbs in a language I don’t understand.

Words surround us.

Letters weave in and out of our home daily, an endless merry-go-round of giving and receiving. Some of them we glance over; some of them stop us in our tracks. One letter can shift the atmosphere around us, crackling with anticipation or casting a somber chill.

Which letter do you cling to most?
Bible - I Cor 13
The letter that I’m drawn back to again and again is the Word of God. Each time I read it, I gain a new perspective and gain a deeper understanding of something bigger than me. It stirs my soul.
I’m grateful for this ultimate gift. The holy Word is God’s letter to us.
It’s full of wisdom and adventure, heartbreak and triumph, joy and strength, loss and redemption, strife and struggle…but most of all,  its message is love. It offers us hope.

——->>>>>  THIS one letter makes all the difference to me

Phlox

“Every word of God is flawless.” Proverbs 30:5a

 

 

 

planting seeds

Tis the season of Girl Scout cookies and the first blossoms of spring.

Is it just me or does every home improvement store have an over-abundance of shiny lawn mowers on display and flocks of Girl Scouts grinning their gap-toothed smiles, asking if you’d like to buy some cookies?

Although I only had a brief venture into the world of Girl Scouts, I learned a couple important things I tucked into my bag of tricks:

Girl Scout thin mint cookies1) The first lesson, of course, was that Thin Mints cookies could pretty much sell themselves and that diehard fans put them in their freezers to “save them for later” (translation: hide them from the kids).

2) The other key thing I learned as a Brownie was the song “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.” At the time I thought this meant I would have a treasure trove of sparkly friends to last me all my days. It took a few more years for me to understand that meeting new friends was fun, but maintaining friendships for the long haul was just as vital and full of its own sweet reward. What a great life lesson for a young pig-tailed girl to carry along with her even though her Girl Scout days were few!

Now as an adult, I have the opportunity to gather up boxes of Thin Mints from bright-eyed eager girls as easy as a brief stop while running errands. The friendship piece, though…that’s even trickier now than it was when I was the new student almost every year in grade school. Then I had the structure of school activities and the dubious recognition of always being the last person in every line since my last name started with a Z.

As busy mommas it’s hard to cultivate friendships anew and hold on to the wisps of friendships past. At the same time we’re trying to build our own network of relationships, we’re also nurturing our children’s friendships, helping negotiate playdates and shepherding our kiddos to make good choices in their interactions with others. Their world is so much different than our school days in which “social media” was passing notes without getting caught by the teacher.childhood notes

Sometimes we have to step out of our comfort zone and plant a seed of friendship, then patiently wait while the hectic pace of daily life churns on around us. It may take weeks or even months to get a glimpse of that friendship blossoming a little more. We may have to keep being the one to introduce ourselves at parent meetings, join a new Bible study, or volunteer for something that puts us closer to the action. In these awkward situations, I remind myself  “baby steps, Dianna” and take encouragement from the fact that my boys have been steadily surging forward in their new relationships, too.

We discovered that little gestures can go a long way. A few months ago, we put a bike rack by our garage and invited boys that lived farther from the bus stop to park their bikes there. My son is now having more contact with neighborhood kids because we made ourselves just a little more accessible — a little more transparent to those around us.

Adults (or at least us introverted ones) seem to have a harder time showing this transparency. It takes courage for us to show our vulnerability, having outgrown that marvelous age where we could simply ask, “Will you be my friend?

Bible Quilt friendship page
Bible Quilt friendship page

Friendship is a lovely gift from God. Many verses reflect this truth of connectedness.

Are you missing a friend connection? Would you like to have some more friends in your inner circle? Hang tough. There’s more to your friendship song and to mine:

“Silver is precious, Gold is too. I am precious, and so are you. You help me, and I’ll help you and together we will see it through…” 

Since I’ve experienced the heartfelt joys of long-term friendships and have been fortunate to have seen best friends from high school and college in the last month, I know it’s worth it to invest in these friends of silver and of gold…and whatever lies between. I cling to the  threads of my dear close friends through texts, phone calls, emails and Voxer to hold me over until our next face-to-face gatherings.

blossoming pear treeIn the meantime, I’m tentatively testing the soil of potential friendships in my new surroundings. We just have to keep planting seeds in our interactions and step out of our comfort zones…who knows, we might bump into someone who is seeking the same sweet connection. And, if we get to share Thin Mints in the process?? That’s a win-win in my book!

 

Diverted

Recently I was on a flight that tried to land in heavy Dallas fog twice, the second attempt within 100 yards of the ground, then abruptly aborting due to minimal visibility.  An exuberant redheaded flight attendant provided what limited information she had available and a calm pilot reassured us the aircraft was sound,  but the weather conditions were untenable for landing.  A collective sigh of disappointment arose as the announcement came we were being diverted to another airport.

cheerful flight attendantThe full plane of early-morning passengers transformed from a sleepy bunch of travelers into nervous camaraderie as conversations erupted throughout the plane, speculations about deboarding and re-routing sprinkled throughout spirited dialogue. Perhaps the happiest person was a woman two rows back that cheerfully announced this unplanned stop was her home destination and she was getting off as soon as the doorway was clear.😊 Amidst the grumbles of frustration about the delay and forced change of flight times causing a ripple effect of inconvenience, there were also spontaneous plans to grab some Texas BBQ if everyone had to deplane.

cloudy skiesIt’s in these tricky situations that one can see the range of human emotions and observe a wide range of attitude on display. Mothers patiently tended to children, providing distraction and encouragement. Level-headed flight attendants offered additional support to some elderly passengers.

luggageProblem-solvers sprang into action, procuring snacks for sustenance and making calls to rebook flights. 

Some people bailed immediately, asserting they would not get back on the same aircraft. Others made complaints aloud and responded grumpily after each delay update, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

A 15-minute delay bloomed into a 2 1/2 hour wait. People plugged into their devices, shifting from brief anxiety to resigned waiting.

Although there was a wide variety of individual responses, it seemed like we had developed some group solidarity in our waiting. More eye contact was made and conversations were deeper within the boarding area than usual because we had a shared experience of landing someplace unexpected. None of us planned to be in this particular spot, but we were pulled together by this disruption in our schedules.

An airport therapy dog was a welcome distraction and introduced a new common focal point for some positive interactions.airport therapy dog

Then relief pushed through the boarding area as our flight was called to board. For real this time. Reboarding was surprisingly upbeat as if we were reuniting with friends rather than the strangers we all had been just a few hours ago. Our numbers had diminished yet our remaining subgroup seemed undaunted in the collective hope that our flight would make it this time.

It didn’t.

After 45 minutes, we disembarked from the same plane again and started another round of problem-solving…and more people-watching in the process.

flight towerLife often unfolds this way, nudging us off our familiar paths and throwing us into a tailspin, doesn’t it?

We all encounter delays at one time or another. We each get diverted from our original plans. All of us receive unwanted news that changes our course. It may be relocating for a job, dealing with a medical crisis, or experiencing  the loss of a loved one.

How we face these challenges is a reflection of our personality and character. And, oh, how one person’s demeanor can impact the rest! We saw both positive and negative extremes of this during our 8-hour flight delay. 

The perspective we choose to cling to can make a huge difference when we are re-routed unexpectedly in life. Waiting for clarity requires tenacity.  Seeking guidance from those in our trusted watch tower requires humility. Sitting amidst uncertainty requires patience and perseverance.

(And don’t even get me started on lost luggage! )

However your life may be diverted, how will you choose to wait?

 

Proverbs 16:9

 

 

 

Giving Joy & Gentleness

Christmas conversation promptsOur family has a Christmas activity we weave into our mealtime hubbub: answering questions from a tin of Christmas-focused conversation prompts. Even though we’ve been through these questions several times over the years, the answers vary as children get older and more introspective.

JoyOne of the recent questions was about the reason behind gift-giving during this season. The discussion included the gifts of the wise men and our gift of a Savior, then narrowed down to the mere joy of giving to others.

Probably one of the main stressors of the busy holiday season revolves around gift-giving: the generation of ideas, the investment of time and money, last-minute shopping, and eventually the late-night wrapping.

teacher giftsWhen we find something “just right” for a special person on our list and see genuine delight spread across her face as she opens her gift, we experience the joy of giving.

It’s in this moment of giving that we turn toward each other, share eye contact, and feel a closer connection to one another…we share a mutual tug on our hearts.

Imagine how much love God had for each of us as He gave His One True Gift to us by sending us Jesus. Through Christ we are pulled closer to God and may dwell in His Presence.post office drop

As I trudge through these last days before Christmas, grocery shopping and dropping cards into the mail,  I’m trying to hold onto this image of the Ultimate Giver offering His most precious gift.

This helps me let the details of the hustle-bustle fade a bit and focus on the interactions around me.hot cocoa

Being gentle with those around us and being mindful that this holiday’s joy may be smudged by loss or pain is an extension of God’s love toward others.

silver conesWhen our expectations of the holidays don’t come packaged with a jaunty red bow…

When disappointment piles up like crumpled balls of wrapping paper on Christmas morning…

When loss and grief drop around us  like pine needles fall constantly off the Christmas tree…

When rough spots in our relationships are highlighted during family gatherings…

God is with us in these tender moments, offering hope.
70s childhood ornament

boy in tuxAs as we share coffee cake with neighbors on a cold wintry night…

As we gaze at each other in the warm glow during Christmas Eve candlelight service…

As we watch eager children tear into their presents Christmas morning…

As we observe grandparents smile in remembrances of the past…

God is with us in these joyous moments, embracing us in love.candlelight communion
When stress begins to creep in again, I try to remind myself:

empty gift box

It’s not what is under the tree.

It’s who is gathered around it. 

 

It’s not what is in the box,

but WHO fills our hearts.

God is with us through it all, however this season unfolds for our families this year. Blessings to you and yours this Christmas!


“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace…

-Luke 2:14



 

Closing the Gap

When generations come together, beautiful connections are made.

In the small Kansas town we moved from last year, we left a web of connections in our wake. During our 16 years in that community, we started our own little family and also “grew” an extended family. Although we still didn’t have relatives within 200 miles, we felt like we were severing family ties when we pulled out of town with Uhaul trailers dangling behind us.

soccer sidelineThese bonds didn’t occur overnight. We wove them over time through snatches of conversation on soccer sidelines, volunteering at school events, working in the community, visiting with neighbors, and serving alongside others at church. Since our children didn’t have grandparents nearby, we crafted some of our own through repeat connections with people in our community.

A dear lady in our church always greeted us with a warm smile and thoughtful questions about our family’s activities. Typically I’d have one child on my hip and another boy tugging on my arm, but slowing down to visit with this generous lady gave me an internal boost. We exchanged notes in the mail occasionally and she joined us for Thanksgiving dinner one year — a special treat for all of us without our “other” family around.

Thanksgiving guest

Another year we incorporated Acts of Kindness into our advent activities and serenaded a neighbor lady down the street. She reciprocated with holiday goodies and a beaming smile.

Christmas carol

She added a watchful gaze and a friendly wave as my boys trudged  by her house to school day after day, year after busy year. My youngest son developed a special connection with her, becoming her handy helper for various little tasks she needed from time to time. She got to share her stories with an enthusiastic listener who wore curiosity on his sleeve like a badge of honor.

These interactions unfolded naturally over time; they weren’t forced or felt like an obligation. Typically they occurred through seasonal shifts or holiday overflow of family activities. Somehow these brief interludes closed a gap for us. They weren’t quite a substitution for our “Family Tree” people, but offered a soft tether of connection in our chosen community.

Often I was the one behind the camera, orchestrating the logistics, yet I got to observe the faces of the young and old. I witnessed an echo of mutual admiration pass between them. Simple gestures –young hands carrying small treasures for elderly neighbors or weathered hands offering treats to eager boys — bridged the generational gap, pulling each closer. Something quietly slipped into place during these encounters; a sense of belonging and purpose emerged that wasn’t present before.

Now we’re on the lookout for potential opportunities in our new neighborhood, trying to be open to possibilities around us. Meanwhile we’re enjoying increased contact with our own extended family once again, knitting ourselves into deeper family grooves.
two generations' hands

We dabbled a bit recently by participating in a craft activity with a small group of seniors. Hands of different generations joined together in common purpose reflects such a beautiful collaboration, closing the gap of all the years in between.


“Live in harmony with one another…” Romans 12:16


A brief visit here or a quick craft there…you never know where you’ll discover a new “family member” to add to your nest.

Hints of hospitality

Throughout the year we have houseguests and like to welcome them in small ways so that they feel special.

hydrangea blossoms– Cutting some flowers from the garden and plunking them into an empty garden pot on an outdoor table

– Jotting a welcome note onto the dry erase board propped on the kitchen counter.

– Stacking some magazines on the guest’s bed

-Setting out a try of cold drinks

– Baking some cookies..and perhaps adding some bonus chocolate chips 🙂bonus chocolate chips

– Leaving a stack of freshly laundered towels and new body wash in the guest bathroom

– Providing an empty basket for their family to use as a catch-all for their traveling items

– Writing out our network name and WiFi password so it’s easily accessible

welcome sign in garden


hospitality = the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers

hello door and rainbow wreath

Hospitality is easily nurtured by including everyone in your family. Encourage your children to greet guests at the door and invite kids into their activities.

Set out some fidget toys or old-fashioned games to help get them started.

A family pet can be a great distraction to push through any awkward getting-to-know-you jitters.doggy welcomeSometimes hospitality is welcoming your own people back home after summer camp…welcome home goodie bag

Or perhaps your spouse knows you’ve had a long day and provides you with a fruity drink in a fun souvenir glass…then joins you for a few quiet moments.

boat drink

All of these little touches communicate “you are known” and “you are welcome here.” We are ambassadors of our families and can minister Christ’s love to others through simple gestures. So, put out that welcome mat and open your hearts for whoever may cross your threshold today!

welcome mat



“…seek to show hospitality.” Romans 12:13


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