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The Power of a Handwritten Note

Instead of sending a text or email, consider picking up your pen and sending someone an encouraging note (they will thank you).

Happy National Handwriting Day! The day is celebrated on January 23, which is John Hancock’s birthday. As you’ll recall from history class, John Hancock was the first signer of the Declaration of Independence. Who can forget his flourishy and standout signature?!

When was the last time you wrote someone a personal note in your handwriting? 

If it’s been a while, then grab a pen, pencil or your favorite writing instrument, and get writing! 

It’s that simple.

I took a few minutes today to write some notes to my family because they are the first ones who came to mind.

Take a minute to think about people who you could encourage with a note. Can’t think of anyone? Ask the Holy Spirit to bring to mind people who you want to recognize or thank. There are so many people who get overlooked because they simply serve in a role that we don’t pay attention to often. These are just a few folks who came to my mind:

  • Friend
  • Family member
  • Teacher
  • School cafeteria worker
  • Beloved pastor or minister
  • A person who inspires you
  • Mentor
  • Essential workers
  • A grocery clerk
  • School crossing guard

Writing comes naturally for me, but if it doesn’t to you, here are some writing prompts to get you started to inspire you to send a handwritten note:

What I love about you is ….

I love it when you …

My favorite memory of you was when …

Thank you for …

You are so special to me because …

One of my favorite things about you is …

I’ll never forget when you …

In a previous blog, I wrote about how we can use scripture to encourage others so consider including a favorite verse with your note to make it even more meaningful and special.

Several of my family members’ love language is words of affirmation so a hand-written note really speaks to their hearts.

Are you reading this after National Handwriting Day? Don’t worry! 

Valentine’s Day is right around the corner so you’ll have another opportunity to handwrite a note to a loved one.

This pencil cup holds some of my most favorite pens. Your writing instruments can make the whole process of writing a fun and happy activity.

To motivate me to write more, I have a variety of notecards, cool pens and stamps to make it more enjoyable. I even have a collection of some fun stickers that I like to use.

Think about the last time you received a hand-written note in the mail. Isn’t it such a wonderful feeling to know someone thought of you and took time to send you a special note?

Hand-written notes are such a personal and warm touch in a cold digital age.

And they last much longer than a text or email. I have some letters and cards from family and friends who are no longer living. Their notes are a piece of family history for me, and I cherish them all the more because it includes their handwriting.

Let’s get back to valuing penmanship and the written note!

Who will you send a note to today?

Happy Writing!

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Are You Spiritually Fat But Not Faithful?

Five simple ways to shed your spiritual fat and exercise your faith more.

One of the great joys in my life is studying God’s word through an in-depth Bible study called Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). During a recent BSF lesson, we studied Matthew 13, which includes the Parable of the Hidden Treasure. As I read over my notes, a section stuck out that I starred and highlighted:

Feasting on God’s blessings but failing to pour out into others causes us to grow spiritually fat, but not faithful … Are you bringing out those treasures and sharing with others the rich investment God has deposited in you? … Do you realize how much treasure you have? What will you do with what you have learned …?”

Bible Study Fellowship, Notes from Lesson 14

One of the greatest treasures I have is God’s word. The Bible study lesson, along with my personal notes, challenged me to ask, “Am I growing ‘spiritually fat’ by feasting on God’s word but never exercising my faith and applying my knowledge and sharing it with others?”

As I pondered that question, the Holy Spirit reminded me of some of the recent ways I’ve been inspired to share my faith. I hope it will inspire you to explore your own ways as you are led by the Holy Spirit. 

1. Text a friend or family member an encouraging verse.

We’re surrounded by so much negativity and everyday trials can be burdensome. When I get discouraged, I turn to God’s word to uplift and encourage me. There are some go-to verses that remind me of God’s presence and power and I cling to His promise that He will never leave or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:8). 

I put them in my “Notes” on my smartphone so I can access them easily when I’m going through a difficult time.

You can do the same thing when a friend or family member is having a bad day or has received some bad news. Look up some Bible verses to encourage them. Google “encouraging Bible verses,” and you’ll be surprised at how many you’ll find. 

Isaiah 55:11 tells us that God’s word never returns void so know that the word you share will be a blessing to the recipient. Both BibleGateway and Bible Hub are some wonderful resources to look up scripture, and their Apps make it even easier to share verses by text or email, for example.

Here are just a few of my go-to verses of encouragement.

What are some of your “lifeline” verses to remind you of God’s goodness, faithfulness and love to you? I encourage you to have them ready and recall them on your phone or even on a sticky note throughout your house or workplace (if appropriate) as a visual reminder. Visual cues can be powerful reminders in our distraction-filled world, especially if were trying to correct a bad habit or negative thinking.

2. Send a birthday gift of a Bible verse or a prayer.

Tuck a Bible verse or scripture reference into your birthday card. You can also do this digitally. I’ve found some great scriptures for birthdays from these websites HERE and HERE. Have you ever gifted someone with a written prayer? It’s such a powerful and thoughtful way to share your faith with them. 

What’s even more powerful is using the audio feature on your phone and recording a short prayer and sending it to them. Your audible voice is a wonderful way to connect personally with someone you want to encourage.

A good friend of mine blesses me with sweet prayer recordings, and it’s uplifting to hear them. I end up listening to them several times because her prayers are so beautiful!

3. Spend some time memorizing scripture.

To help me with Nos. 1-2 above, I’m trying to be better about memorizing scripture. When you commit to memorizing scripture, God’s word fills your mind and heart so that when you undergo a problem or trial in your life (or even something wonderful), the Holy Spirit will bring to mind more quickly those verses you’ve memorized. Don’t you think it’s funny that we’ll often recall countless trivial details of a celebrity’s life but when it comes to pouring our energy into memorizing God’s word, we struggle? I’ve been convicted of that lately. Memorizing God’s word is an eternal treasure. 

Along with the daily practice of writing out verses like the ones above, Ellie and I also use notecards or even the Bible Drill App to help us learn and memorize verses. Helping her has made me more intentional about memorizing scripture, key passages (did you know The Suffering Servant is found in Isaiah 53?) and reciting the books of the Bible in order.

Scripture memorization is something I’m not very good at, but I’ve challenged myself to get better as my youngest daughter recently joined the Bible Drill class at our church. Bible Drill is an amazing program taught by one of the most dedicated and faithful children’s leaders at our church (thank you Miss Sheila!). Even if we commit to learning one verse every couple of weeks for a year, that’s 26 verses that we didn’t know before. Scripture memorization is a wonderful way to hide God’s word in our heart so that we will not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11).

4. Pray scripture for prayer needs.

I’m involved in several prayer groups and sometimes when a prayer request is shared, I will search for a verse in the Bible that corresponds with the prayer request (a Bible concordance can make this easier). For example, if a friend is sick or recovering from a surgery, I’ll find a scripture or passage on healing in the Bible and either pray that verse for the person or claim that promise and blessing for them.

5. Invite people to your church or Bible study.

One of the best ways I’ve found to share God’s word with others is to invite them to my church or Bible study group. 

I know it can be intimidating to step out and invite others knowing they may say “No” or they are just not interested. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and bring people to mind who you can encourage or invite. You’ll be amazed at the courage and boldness the Holy Spirit provides (2 Timothy 1:7). The first time you do anything out of your comfort zone is scary, but the more you do it, the easier it becomes. 

As you can see, these are some simple yet effective ways that have worked for me to bless and encourage others so that we can shed our “spiritual fat” to exercise our faith more. 

I’m a big believer in taking baby steps when it comes to doing anything new. If you’re a believer who has feasted on God’s blessings but failed to pour out into others, what is a simple way you can shed your “spiritual fat” this week? I’m praying the Holy Spirit will reveal some ideas so that you can start exercising your faith more.

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Why “Thankfulness” Is My Word for 2022

As 2022 unfolds, I’m looking forward to what God is going to show me and my family through an unexpected word choice.

The wonderful Mary Whelchel of The Christian Working Woman ministry is a virtual spiritual mentor of mine. While I’ve never met her in person, I look forward to her Monday-Friday devotionals in my Inbox each week. I gobble them up like my favorite chocolate chip cookies.

When she asked her readers to think about choosing the word “thankfulness” as their word for the year, I knew I had to at least consider it.

It didn’t take me long to embrace her suggestion, and she pointed me to this verse: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:6-7).

I love the part about “overflowing with thankfulness” because gratitude is one of my personal core values. So often we get caught up in what we don’t have that we overlook what we do have. A regular prayer is, “Lord give me eyes to see what your hand has provided.”

I first learned about selecting a word for the year from the book, My One Word by Mike Ashcraft and Rachel Olsen recommended by Mary Whelchel. It’s a terrific read worth your time. Mike is a senior pastor of a megachurch in Wilmington, North Carolina, and Rachel Olsen is a member of his congregation, author, and also serves as a national speaker with Proverbs 31 Ministries. Mike first developed the process on how to choose your one word for the year to think, pray and meditate on for his church:

“Choose just one word that represents what you most hope God will do in you, and focus on it for an entire year. This single act will force clarity and concentrate your efforts. As you focus your word over an extended period of time, you position yourself for God to form your character at a deep, sustainable level. Growth and change will result.” The book walks you through a variety of steps and reflections to guide you in choosing your one word, along with selecting a key verse that corresponds with your word.

I never realized until recently the reason Psalms is my favorite book of the Bible is because it’s brimming with so many instances of David’s heart of thankfulness and praise.

One of the reasons I decided to focus on thankfulness as my word of the year is I wanted to cultivate a greater sense of gratitude in my life. When you’re in a state of thankfulness, you choose to focus on the good things rather than the negative things in your life. After the pandemic, and living through so many challenges that it brought – not to mention the everyday trials of life – it’s so easy to whine and complain about what’s not going right.

But choosing thankfulness forces us to focus our eyes on things that are going right, which is contrary to our normal thought life – at least for me. Without the Holy Spirit directing us, our minds automatically go to things that are negative, worst-case scenarios. We may often see the “giants” or problems in our lives bigger than God Himself like 10 of the 12 spies did in Numbers 13-14. Only two of the spies – Joshua and Caleb – saw God bigger than the giants, and as a result, they were the only two people from their generation to enter the Promised Land. 

By choosing thankfulness, I’m going to focus my mind on the charge from Philippians 4:8: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” 

There is irony in me choosing thankfulness at this time in my life. As I write this, every member of our family is walking through a personal trial as we’ve never encountered before. Thankfulness would probably be one of the last words I would choose to meditate on right now. But isn’t that just like God – to take our hand and challenge us to trust Him as He leads us through difficult valleys to reveal truths, lessons and insights we wouldn’t have learned other wise?

I know it’s hard to focus on being thankful amidst circumstances that test our faith. But in the few short days of 2022 that I’ve been practicing thankfulness and meditating on that word, God is showing up in ways that encourage and remind me He sees our family and what we’re walking through. When my autopilot mind races to the negative, the Holy Spirit counters to help me to focus on thankfulness. Almost immediately, my mind starts thanking God and praising Him for all of the good things in my life.

I look forward to God reframing my perspective in 2022 to focus on: 

  • Things that are true
  • Things that are noble
  • Things that are right
  • Things that are pure
  • Things that are lovely
  • Things that are admirable
  • Things that are excellent
  • Things that are praiseworthy

When you focus on all of those things Philippians 4:8 lists, suddenly a new mindset takes shape, allowing you to choose thankfulness

I Thessalonians 5:18 challenges us to be thankful – always: Whatever happens, it says, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do. 

Won’t you join me in choosing thankfulness this year?

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Recycle Christmas Cards into Gift Tags

Don’t throw away those Christmas cards you have piling up! Recycle them in a new and fun way as gift tags.

What to do with all of those Christmas cards you received? Before you trash them, consider recycling them as gift tags for your presents next year.

The girls and I recently spent a couple of hours making tags that you see in the photo above, and it was so much fun! It’s such a kid-friendly activity and a creative way to spend some time together during winter break. It’s also a flexible craft in that you can keep it really simple for small hands or go all out for those more advanced crafters.

Gather your supplies

Here’s what we used for our gift tags. Your craft supply may look different from ours so just use what you have and improvise if you don’t have everything on this list. I’ve listed our items as a guide.

  • Christmas cards – the traditional kind with no family photos.
  • Good pair(s) of scissors – get multiples ready as other members of your family will want to join you as they see how much fun you’re having!
  • A hole punch or two (we had a couple on hand).
  • Paper cutters – These are completely optional but they do make cutting straight lines easier because I am straight-line challenged! We also had a rounded corners tool (see photo below) that gives your tags a nice look and finish. Note to moms of littles: My kids are older and are able to use these tools on their own so please modify this craft to suit your kids’ ages and craft level.
  • Your adhesive of choice – Glue stick, rubber cement, double-sided or scotch tape, etc.
  • Card embellishments – We used Christmas stamps and washi tape but you could use stickers, glitter, scrapbooking leftovers. Use your imagination and get creative!
  • Items for tracing to make gift-tag shapes – we used drinking glasses or even rectangular-shaped Christmas stamps to make our card cut-outs. And some pencils, pens or fine-point Sharpie markers for tracing.

Christmas cards …

Here’s a pile of Christmas cards that we received this year. What I like about this craft is that even the simplest, Dollar-store card can be transformed into a sensational gift tag!

Good pair of scissors (or two or three!)

A pair of scissors for each family member is recommended! And in case you’re wondering, yes, those are kitchen shears – which work great, by the way! Parent supervision is always advised when you’re doing crafts with sharp objects.

Hole punch and paper cutters

Since some Christmas cards are pretty thick, it takes some “mom muscle” at times to punch out holes for the tags! The other tool you see here is my most favorite card-making tool – a rounded-corner punch – for those times when a straight edge just won’t do.

Adhesives …

Christmas tags
We used double-sided tape, a glue stick and even colorful washi tape as adhesives. Glitter glue would also be fun (if you look past the messy part!) Rubber cement also works great, along with spray-on adhesive.

Tag embellishments

embellish gift tags with stamps & washi tape
These are just a few of the items we used to embellish or dress up our gift tags. Washi tape gives you some fun options, and it comes in handy when you want to cover up something on a card.

Items for tracing to cut out shapes

What worked well for us is sticking to simple shapes such as circles, rectangles or even triangles since they’re shaped like a Christmas tree. Look at other gift tags you have for ideas and inspiration!

Tutorial for making a gift tag

Play around with different ribbon types for different looks

Bonus tip: Save your cards to pray for your family, friends!

A friend of mine in a business networking group I belong to passed along this idea about Christmas cards, and it was too good not to share. His family saves their Christmas cards each year and has them out all year long. Each night when they do their prayers, they pull out a Christmas card and pray for that family. What a neat way to encourage other families by praying for them all throughout the year. Put the cards in a place you see often so you don’t forget. Won’t you join me in starting this new prayer tradition for the New Year?

Praying for teachers in the new year

Parents, won’t you join me in praying for our teachers as they head back to school – whether in person or online. Here are some prayer requests from teachers across the country on how we can keep them encouraged.

Teachers, along with so many other frontline workers, have faced additional challenges and burdens beyond their “normal,” everyday ones due to COVID-19. As kids head back to school – either in person or online – let’s keep teachers in our prayers during this time.

I reached out to some teacher friends and family across the country to ask them how we can best pray for them as the school year resumes in the new year. 

These are just some of their prayer requests in their own words – I did very little editing. 

Won’t you please join me in praying for them? I know that they would appreciate it, and it’s our responsibility to encourage them according to 1 Timothy 2:1-2:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. (NIV)

Prayer requests from teachers:

  • Health and stamina as we go into the second semester.
  • Wisdom about whether or not to get the vaccine. Teachers are in Round B and can start signing up. 
  • Stability and consistency for teachers and students. There just seems to be so many variables up in the air at any given point, and it invites a lot of doubt and worry. Just pray that God would give us peace and the comfort of His presence and protection.
  • Realistic expectations of ourselves and the students (even though we are in a pandemic we are still expected to administer tests.) The results are not going to be the same as previous years, and teachers can get easily defeated about the data/results.
  • Time management
  • Grace for self – teachers can spend 24/7 doing school work and still not get everything finished. We then feel guilty for taking the time for ourselves or for our family/friends. 
  • Creativity with our lessons and activities that keep students motivated, interested, and challenged.
  • Super smarts to learn so many new things at once as we continue to teach online. 
  • Perseverance and a good attitude to deal with all of the testing demands even in a pandemic.  
  • For God to make up the difference as I feel disconnected to the kids, especially online but even in person with so many rules in place.
  • Creativity and fresh perspectives to keep kids engaged in new ways since you can’t easily do groups or the many activities we are used to doing. 
  • To remind myself daily that God is with me and I need not fear. 
  • Love and compassion for our students as they are also struggling with the pandemic in their own way (fears, anger, depression, stress at home due to the pandemic).

If you are a teacher reading this, know that you are appreciated greatly, and you are making a difference even when it seems like you may not be! 

I’ll leave you with this quote from my favorite virtual teacher of all time – the Great Fred Rogers:

“Some days, doing ‘the best we can’ may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect on any front – and doing what we can with what we have is the most we should expect of ourselves or anyone else.”

Let’s ignite 2021 with vision

As we welcome the gift of a new year, won’t you join me in doing a little self-reflection to help clarify what our vision for 2021 might be?

Yesterday, we closed the chapter on the past 365 days of a roller coaster ride (whew!) Today, we look ahead to the next 365 days of 2021. This morning, I woke up with eager anticipation, like a child on Christmas morning.

It might as well be Christmas for me. With the new year here, the presents I’m most looking forward to can’t be wrapped with a bow or sealed with Scotch tape. The presents I’m most looking forward to in 2021 are hugging friends again. Seeing the warm smiles of neighbors, teachers or even clerks at the grocery store without masks. Attending one of my daughters’ school performances or having lunch with them – in person.

There’s a lot to look forward to. It’s not only a new day, but a new year with all of the promise, dreams and vision of what 2021 may hold. This time of the year, I like to do a little self-reflection.

Download my free printable on fun and meaningful questions to guide you in clarifying a vision for 2021.

Why look back?

What does self-reflection look like, and why should we make time for it? Going over the past year and asking myself some thoughtful questions and writing down the answers allows me to process the past and welcome the future. Think of this exercise as therapy on paper. And after a year like 2020, therapy can be a good thing, right?

Thinking through some of these questions also gives me clarity, self-awareness, and a greater vision for things to come. 

Self-reflection also resets my mind and heart to enter the new year with a sense of hope and anticipation, leaving the past behind and looking forward to new beginnings. 

What is your vision for 2021? 

Did that question challenge you a bit – what is your vision? If you don’t know or don’t have one, that’s okay.

Vision is something I’ve overlooked most of my life. It’s one of those words that CEOs throw around a lot, and I never really understood its importance until recently. Up until the last decade of my life, when I started reading business books and listening to podcasts and TED Talks by influencers who addressed the topic in thoughtful and meaningful ways, I didn’t give much thought to what “vision” is.

Defining “vision”

Dictionary.com’s definition of “vision” is “the act or power of sensing with the eyes; sight.”

Other definitions I like include:

  • Something seen in a dream, trance, or ecstasy” (Merriam-Webster)
  • The ability to think about and plan for the future, using intelligence and imagination (MacMillan)
  • A mental image produced by the imagination (American Heritage)
  • A vivid mental image, especially a fanciful one of the future (Oxford)

My business coach and mentor, Benson Agbortogo, often quotes Habakkuk 2:2 on the importance of writing down vision in your life: “And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon the tables, that he may run that reads it.” – KJV

Without a written vision, he says, is like “driving aimlessly without a destination.”

So, won’t you join me in doing a little self-reflection as we start the new year so we know where we’re headed and don’t drive aimlessly?

To help answer the question – what is vision – here are some questions I have compiled to reflect on. My thanks to Marie Forleo, Michael Hyatt, Brooke Castillo, Benson Agbortogo, Tony Robbins and Joanna Gaines for providing inspiration for some of these questions.

Questions for self-reflection to clarify your vision

Grab your journal, a good pen and maybe a mug of your favorite hot beverage, and dive into some of these questions with me. If you don’t have a journal, here’s a free printable of the questions. I’d encourage you to print it out and write your answers down. Even if you don’t tackle the entire list, pick one or two that speak to you and make you think.

You’ll be that much closer to having your vision for 2021 as a result. 

Self-reflection questions:

  • List one to three lessons that 2020 has taught you?
  • What were you most proud of in 2020? 
  • What’s an obstacle you overcame last year?
  • What’s a mistake you made in 2020 that you don’t want to repeat in 2021?
  • Were there any game-changers in your life last year? If so, list them.
  • What was something surprising that happened as a result of the pandemic that was a positive blessing?
  • What is something that you missed doing or experiencing in 2020 that you’re looking forward to this year?
  • What is something good from 2020 that you want to carry into 2021?
  • What do you want to create, experience or achieve in 2021? (I like to think of this question in terms of family, faith, work, relationships, spiritual, health, hobbies, etc.)
  • In 2021, I want to do more of
  • In 2021, I want to do less of
  • In 2021, I am most looking forward to

Did you get through the entire list? Or were there just a few that caught your eye that you wanted to answer? Whatever you wrote, I want to congratulate you for giving yourself some meaningful time to reflect. I hope the questions were a fun exercise and gave you greater clarity for your vision for 2021. 

Don’t forget to save your answers and ask God to give you a vision for your life based on what you wrote. Then wait expectantly for what He will reveal. By saving your answers, you can refer back to them throughout the year to make sure your vision stays in focus.

Happy New Year!