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Holy and warm

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A recent conversation with a friend:

Me: How was your Christmas?

Friend: It was good. Christmas Eve service was fantastic. Why can’t all sermons be like that?

Me: Short and sweet?

Friend: No. Holy and warm.

Me: Maybe it’s not about the sermon. Maybe it’s about the people hearing the sermon.

I don’t know about you, but for me, the Christmas Eve service marks the point of the holiday season where I can finally put on the brakes. No more gift shopping or shipping, holiday baking, finding something to wear to so-and-so’s Christmas party. Christmas Eve service is when I’m gathered with family in a candlelit venue (ours is a junior high cafeteria–yours may be a church building) and FINALLY turn my heart towards the reason for the season. Oh, I’ve been MEANING to focus on Jesus daily…But, you know, I’ve been BUSY! Now I have time for the Christmas story. I’m done with all MY stuff. That’s how it’s supposed to work, right?

Maybe not. Maybe if I were to approach each day with the gratitude worthy of the sacrifice God made for me, for you, then every sermon would be like the Christmas Eve sermon–Holy and Warm. Maybe if we approached each Sunday morning as an opportunity to worship a God whose love is so compelling, so intimate, so extravagant that we would allow our hearts to be captured. For the first time or for the hundredth.


Words too often overused

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I think it’s commonly accepted that the word love is overused. If I were to say I love Jesus, I love my family and I love a good pair of flip flops all in the same breath, you’d have to wonder (and hope, I would imagine) that I’m speaking about varying degrees of love.

But love is not the only word bandied about to a point where it’s lost some of its impact.

The Merriam-Webster definition of hero is as follows:

a : a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability
b : an illustrious warrior
c : a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities
d : one who shows great courage
a : the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work
b : the central figure in an event, period, or movement
plural usually he·ros : submarine 2
: an object of extreme admiration and devotion : idol

So when I see the word hero associated with a sandwich,

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or a video game,

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or even a professional athlete,

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I wonder if we don’t downplay what the true meaning of a hero is.

The following video from Worship House Media was played in church Sunday. It is a moving reminder of all the fallen heroes who gave so much for what many of us too often take for granted. (Hopefully, your computer will allow you to view it full screen.)

We remember our fallen heroes today and we are grateful.

(Note: If you can’t view this video, please click on the link to Worship House Media above and watch it on their website.)

The problem with gratitude

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I was raised to always say “please” and “thank you”, a tradition I am trying to instill in my children who will hopefully pass down to their children. I don’t want my kids to say thank you automatically. I want their thank yous to be the result of the overflow of gratitude from their hearts.

“for out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” ~ Luke 6:45b

There are few attitudes which can so drastically change your outlook on life as one of gratefulness. Instead of complaining about having leftovers again, you can delight in the knowledge that your family has more than enough to eat. It is from this position of gratitude where you may be compelled to help others who are not so fortunate. But one must be careful not to give with the expectation of being the recipient of gratitude from those you help. That’s not generosity; that’s self-righteous manipulation. I grappled with this very realization while volunteering at a temporary shelter housing Katrina survivors.

Should people be grateful? Absolutely. But you can’t force anyone to be grateful anymore than you can force someone to be generous. They either are or they’re not. Compounding the problem is the fact that we live in a society where there is an ever-increasing atmosphere of entitlement.  Why should anyone feel grateful for something they believe they deserve in the first place?

Before this post spirals into a socio-economic-political-philosophical tangent (which incidentally, it did before I deleted most of what I typed here), I think what I’m so feebly trying to communicate here is best summed up in the following quote:

“Gratitude is a duty which ought to be paid, but which none have the right to expect.”
~ Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Honestly? I still have some work to do.

“In normal life we hardly realize how much more we receive than we give, and life cannot be rich without such gratitude. It is so easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements compared with what we owe to the help of others.” ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

This post is part of the blog carnival on Gratitude, hosted by Bridget Chumbley. To read more, please visit her site.

Pausing a moment to say thanks…

October 11, 2010 was the official release of Snow Day by Billy Coffey. (Available at a bookstore near you. Buy early, buy often.)

This is Billy’s time in the spotlight, so I won’t take up too much of your time. But I wanted to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to some people.

First, to my family—who have graciously allowed me to spend countless hours on the computer that could have been spent with them. For understanding that sometimes you give of your time and talents not for personal gain or recognition, but simply because it’s the right thing to do. You’ve been my own personal cheering section.

To my bloggy pals who have been with me from the early days of Hey Look a Chicken. You believed in and supported Billy’s work because I asked you to. And even though his work never needed my endorsement, just the fact that you believed in him because I did means a lot. Y’all are friggintastic.

To Billy’s readers/friends, and for those of you whose paths I’ve crossed somewhere along the way—thank you all for welcoming this brash, outspoken, sometimes snarky and often ridiculous blogger into your midst. It’s been wonderful getting to know you all.

To Peter Pollock—I could never say thank you enough for all that you’ve done. Billy’s website would never have happened without you. You took the vision in my mind and translated it flawlessly into reality and you continue to provide excellent technical and moral support to my very demanding self. You truly are a prince.

And finally to Billy—
It’s been quite an adventure, no? Thank you for putting your trust in a virtual stranger almost 2 years ago who had no idea what she was doing, but let me figure it out along the way. Thank you for allowing me to read your words before sharing them with the rest of the world, and most of all, thank you for not giving up on your dreams, even when they seemed so far out of reach. The world would be a darker, less hopeful place without your stories.

Of all the lessons you’ve learned during this roller coaster ride—about faith and trust, about honor and friendship, if you take nothing else away from this experience, I hope you’ve learned this one undeniable truth:




The grace of a child

I was hesitant about sharing a photo of my son, but I'm pretty sure he's okay with me sharing this one.

I don’t talk about my family much here. Well, I do–I just tend not to get into specifics. I’m comfortable sharing myself, and obviously my family is a huge part of my life, but the last thing I want to do is share something they would rather I keep private.

However, recently I was asked if I could contribute a guest post for another blog, and this particular story about my son came to mind. I was pretty angry when I wrote it last year. Reading it again gave me some perspective. I am often guilty of assuming that raising kids has more to do with what I can teach them. More often than not, it’s more about what they teach me. They humble me on a fairly regular basis. For that I am grateful.

To read the story, please join me over at Tammy Patrick’s blog, Nurse’s Notes.

Honoring the price of freedom (by Billy Coffey)

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He sits across from me and there is silence, but it’s the sort of silence that comforts rather than makes you tick off the seconds until you can leave. It’s the same look with him, always the same look—a grizzled face worn by time and living, deep eyes that have seen too much, and a bulge of chewing tobacco in his left cheek.

The tobacco always makes me wonder. Not that he uses it; most every male here chews or dips or smokes, even some of the ladies. What makes me wonder is how it gets from the pouch to his mouth.

I stare down at his hands, now resting on the top of the table. His thumbs are gone. The pinkies and ring fingers of each hand are fused together, forming one large clump of smooth, pink flesh. Both second fingers are wrapped around his forefingers in a mangled cross-my-heart-hope-to-die way. His hands have been that way for thirty years, fused and mangled and scarred.

He’s never told me how they got that way, and I’ve never asked. Didn’t have to. As a child, I was told he’d jumped on a hand grenade to save his friends. He picked it up with both hands to throw it back, and it exploded.

He always kept his hands in his pockets when around me back then. I remember the first time he took them out and patted me on the shoulder. I was a kid, maybe eight, but I understood what that act meant. I honored it. I still do.

“He ain’t goin’ to Arlington this year,” he says to me. “He” being the President. The man sitting across from me won’t say his name. He says it hurts too much.

I say nothing. I’m not supposed to. There are conversations you are a part of and conversations you’re there only as a witness. I am a witness. That’s fine with me.

“It ain’t right, what he’s doin’. I know he don’t like the military none.” He points one mangled hand at me and says, “But you know what? I don’t give a damn. Us vets are used to part of this country hating us, calling us killers and worse. That’s their right.”

I offer a weak nod. It’s true. They have that right.

“But you know why they have that right?” he asks. “Because we gave it to ’em. We did. Not the politicians or the professors. We bled for it. Died for it. And then we come home like this,

(both hands now, in front of me)

and we don’t ask for nothin’. But it sure as hell would be nice if he’d postpone his vacation long enough to thank us for giving him a country to run.”

He spits into his bottle. It’s an angry spit. A sad spit. Then he settles back into his chair and sighs.

“Know what I think?”

I do. I always have. But I don’t say so, because he needs to say it and I need to hear it and a part of me thinks we all do.

“I think this country is the best there is. I think it was built by God himself to keep this world together. To be a place of freedom, of right. People don’t say that much anymore. They’d rather talk about how wrong we’ve been. And they’re right, you know. We’ve been wrong before. Lotsa times. But that don’t make the right less so. It’s us the world looks to when things go to hell. And when it does—and you know it will—who will they call to stand in the breach? Congress? The President? No. They call us.”

He spits once more.

“And you know what, son? It don’t matter if he’s there to lay that wreath and honor the fallen. Not one damn bit. Because whether he’s there or not, whether we’re hated or loved, when they call us, we’ll answer.”

To read more from Billy Coffey, visit him at his blog What I Learned Today and follow him on twitter at @BillyCoffey

Some things I learned and some I didn’t from my mom

(For the record, I’m the adorable one in the middle with the Fred Flintstone feet.)

(This is a repost from last Mother’s Day, but everything still applies.)

What my mother didn’t teach me that I learned the hard way:

  • that forgiveness is a gift you give yourself
  • that God is my everything
  • that having a newborn is not for the faint of heart
  • that seeing your child in pain is excrutiatingly more difficult than your own pain
  • that I really am creative, just not in the same ways she is
  • that not all men are creeps
  • that marriage isn’t a fairy tale, it’s a constant work in progress
  • that just because it’s true, doesn’t mean it’s not gossip
  • that mother’s aren’t perfect, but love covers a multitude of sins

Things I learned from my mother:

  • to make lemonade when life give you lemons, even if it’s still a little bitter
  • that creativity and a little elbow grease can go a long way
  • to respect your elders even if you don’t agree with them
  • to always say please and thank you
  • that steamed rice goes with just about anything, even spaghetti sauce
  • that when there’s nothing to laugh about, you can always laugh at yourself
  • to always put the needs of others before your own
  • to do an honest day’s work
  • that happiness is a warm puppy – even the 3 legged variety
  • that sometimes life is just about endurance
  • that actions always speak louder than words
  • to pick myself up and dust myself off
  • to never say “I’ll never do that with my kids.”
  • that the youngest child usually gets their way by means of wearing you down
  • that the youngest child gets sucker punched in the back when mom’s not looking (okay, my sisters and brother taught me that one – frequently)
  • that cute goes a long way, but character will go the distance
  • to be a subservient and submissive wife (okay that one didn’t really take)
  • that giving to others is infinitely more satisfying that hoarding things for yourself
  • that true beauty comes from within

Thanks, mom. I am a better mom because I am your daughter.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms, daughters, grandmothers and granddaughters!

The thing about writing

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Writer. Me? Hmm…not so sure about that. More like someone who pushes ideas out of her head. Sometimes they land on paper or onto a computer screen,

other times in a brain storming session.

(This waffle pic ended up on the front of a worship CD.)

Then again, these ideas might find themselves on a canvas…

or a wall…

a piece of furniture…

or even a plastic container…

Then there are times when ideas get a bit scrambled on the way out and result in the removal of a windowsill or three by means of a powerful reciprocal saw. But I digress…

The thing about writing—good writing—is it has to be honest. You can’t hide behind technical brilliance or clever sentence structure. These things help convey a better story, but they don’t make the story. You do. Being honest with yourself can be scary. Being honest with yourself with the world reading along can be downright terrifying.

Your story doesn’t have to be factually accurate. Some of the most honest writing is the truth wrapped carefully within a fictional tale. But it shines through in the very best writing.

So today, I want to recognize all of you brave souls whose truth shines through your words—in your poetry, your short stories, your candid observations and even your sarcasm and parody.

Thank you. Reading your truths gives me courage to share my own.

Being Useful

“Hope your folks don’t mind me doing this!”

The garage door of our house sits approximately 150 feet from the street of a quiet neighborhood. So when I saw an elderly gentleman sitting in a golf cart behind my car, I was a little taken aback. I motioned both my kids to get into the car.

“Can I help you with something, sir?”

“Well, I was just telling your son, I like to do what I can to help keep the neighborhood looking nice. I don’t breathe so well sometimes, but when I’m feeling good and the weather cooperates, I like to get out of the house. If it’s alright with you, I hope you don’t mind if I pick up your garbage cans from the curb and bring them back up for you. Would that be okay?”

My internal conversation went a little like this:

“I have 12 minutes to get to an appointment 10 minutes away. What’s the fastest way to get this man off my driveway so I can get out of here? Decision time. Do I do what is expedient, or do I do what is courteous?”

“My name’s Kathy. Nice to meet you.”

“Name’s Byron. Byron White. I live with my daughter in the house by the horse stables.”

We talked for a few minutes. I told him that of course it was okay if he picked up my garbage cans and that it was very much appreciated. He told me again that he sometimes has trouble breathing, so he won’t always be able to pick up the garbage cans, but weather and health permitting, he would do so every Monday and Thursday. He likes to do what he can. I thanked him kindly again and he drove off down the driveway to provide the same service to the neighbors across the street.

Yes, we were late to the orthodontist, but only by about three minutes. My son checked himself in on the computer in the lobby and proceeded to brush his teeth at one of the four sinks in the theatre/media room. (This is a very swanky place. They don’t call them million dollar smiles for nothing.) Meanwhile, I get comfy in one of the plush couches in the waiting room and pull out my handy dandy notebook to write a story about my neighbor Byron.

About a paragraph into my story, I see a little boy about 3 years of age come running up to the cooler located beneath the plasma TV in front of me (again – swanky). He opens the door, pulls out a small bottled water and runs towards the media room. I watch him with growing amusement as he repeats this process four times. On his fifth visit, he is accompanied by a very apologetic looking father who is carrying two water bottles, which he replaces after his son takes out another.

My daughter, who had been watching a movie, comes out and tells me there is a little boy in there that keeps asking her to play a game with her. “Did he give you some water?” I asked, smiling. “Yes!”, she said. “He got EVERYONE a water!”

The very young and the very old often operate under the same principal. They want to matter. They need to know that while they can’t do everything, they most certainly can do some things.

I think it would serve us all well to remember that no matter where we are in life; no matter our age or circumstance, every one of us can be useful in some way. Just as every one of us can be grateful to and for one another.

Bunnies can’t cook turkey…

And neither can I, but I’m a pretty good dancer…

Thanksgiving 2009 marks the 44th consecutive year I have NOT cooked a turkey. Just lucky, I guess.

Thank you all for stopping by my silly little blog time and time again. Especially when you’re never quite sure what you’re in for once you get here. And while I’m rarely at a loss for words, I find myself struggling to convey what an incredible blessing this experience has been – from the friendships I have made to the doors that have opened up. It’s really quite mind boggling.

I pray you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving Day. I’m so very grateful for you. Not kidding…

Thanksgiving and Prayer

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

-Philippians 1:3-11

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