Monday, December 23, 2013

Our Highlights of 2013 - Christmas Letter

Our Familiy wishes you and yours a truly 
Blessed and Merry Christmas!

August 2013 - photo by Toni Valentini

It has become our tradition to send an annual Christmas letter with our Christmas card. The letter shares our highlights of the year. It is our "highlights reel", so to speak. It is not all of the bloopers, the outtakes, the scenes that had to be done over time and time again, and not the clips that thankfully ended up on the editing room floor. 

Rather, we reflect on the blessings the Lord graciously showered on us and thank Him, giving Him the glory and praise for every good and perfect gift that comes from Him. We love looking back and recounting all of His blessings and acknowledging each one has come from Him.

Our only hesitancy in sending a Christmas letter with highlights of the year is that it can seem pretentious and quite incomplete as we share all of the "positives". It is not our heart or intention to be pretentious or to paint an incomplete picture. Sometimes God's blessings and mercy comes through the most difficult, painful and growing seasons in our lives and hearts. 

So while we choose not to publish in our annual Christmas letter the details of our growing seasons He has seen us through this year, they are written on our hearts and are personal treasures between us and Him. We know we there is no good in us apart from Christ.

"You are my Lord; apart from You I have no good thing."
Psalm 16:2

So these are our highlights. Thanks for visiting!   

Jesus Christ - Our Wisdom. Our Holiness. 
Our Righteousness. Our Redemption. {1 Cor.1:30}

Our Family’s Highlights ~ Christmas 2013

Because we loved you so much, 
we were delighted to share with you 
not only the gospel of God 
but our lives as well. (1 Thess. 2:8)

Family and Friends ~ Warmest Christmas greetings to you and yours! We pray your hearts and homes are filled with His perfect peace. We would love to hear from you about your happenings! We love the mailbox in December filled with colorful envelopes, pictures and letters. Thank you for sharing your lives with us. We count you each a blessing from God.

Reflecting back on 2013, many things come to fruition in our family that have been prayed and labored over for a few years: 1 - Jim’s company’s merger was finalized and we prayerfully chose together that he not take a new position offered to him in Manhattan. 2♥ - My sweet mom, Eileen, is courageously and graciously facing age-related illnesses that have weakened her mind and body, but not her spirit. She moved into a beautiful assisted living home and she loves it! 3♥ - My book “SerenDIPity ~ Celebrating Dips, Faith & Friendships” released in September. Glory to God. In all things, we ask God for His perfect wisdom, leading and provision. Our identity in Christ is secure. “Hello, my name is ‘Child of The One True King.’” – Matthew West

Our family enjoyed a special vacation in June when very fun friends, the Reyeses, invited us to their lovely summer home in Puerto Rico. Their hospitality was incredibly thoughtful, loving and generous. They took us to all the best parts of the beautiful island, including hidden treasures unseen by most tourists. We splashed in turquoise waters, relaxed on gorgeous beaches, hiked through the rain forest, swam in bioluminescent bays at night, walked up a mountain to a lighthouse and breath-taking cliffs, journeyed through caves with bats to see amazing views through natural windows, toured picturesque Old San Juan, worshipped at church on Sunday, ate authentic Puerto Rican delicacies and learned so much about the culture of the islanders. Truly our friends’ invitation to join them  gave us lifelong memories. ♥ Our traditional vacation to Camp of The Woods was so refreshing as we enjoyed each other and the company of good friends. We were blessed to spend a week at the shore in Ocean City NJ and stayed in the wonderfully-welcoming home of friends we hold dear. Treasured friends spent a few days with us in OC, which made it perfect. COTW and OC NJ are two of our favorite places on earth! We also enjoyed a trip to Boston in March when Gabrielle danced in the Irish Dance Worlds Competition! And we visited the most magical place on earth – Disney World – in the spring when we visited Jim’s parents (Pop Pop and Nana) who now spend winters/early spring in Celebration, Florida. In June, we were delighted to host a party for Jim’s parents’ 50th Wedding Anniversary! In August we celebrated my mom’s 80th Birthday with an Eight-Tea celebration. We are thankful for the many blessings of 2013!

El Yunque Rain Forest in Puerto Rico - June 2013

Jim ~ We are ever-grateful that Jim is steadfastly dedicated to God and family. During this career transition time, he has incorporated a disciplined schedule, beginning each morning with generous time in God’s Word and prayer. He closes each day with Joshua and Gabrielle studying through the Bible (currently reading through the Gospel of John). He is taking courses and diligently seeking a new position. He continues to lead a Junior High Ministry LJ3 group of boys and pours God’s truth into them. Jim coaches basketball for our church league and was honored to assist our dear friend Wade in the middle school’s skills and drills practices. A Wednesday morning men’s Bible study group is a great blessing of accountability and growth for Jim. Jim intrinsically seeks every moment to look for ways to serve God by serving us and all those he loves. We are truly humbled and blessed to have him as the head of our home. We are looking forward to seeing God’s plans unfold for Jim and our family .

Jim at base of waterfall at El Yunque

Sharon ~ Serving my family as wife and mom is my greatest and most humbling blessing. These roles keep me on my knees before God for wisdom and grace. Spending as much time with my mom as I can, caring for her and enjoying her company, is a priority, especially as her health declines. ♥ I accomplished an item from my bucket list this summer – I hiked through a tropical rainforest (while we were in  in Puerto Rico). It was beautiful and, yes, it even rained!! Thankful! I attend and soak in Bible studies because, while I delight in God’s Word, I am not always delightful {smile} and I need His truth consistently to sustain and mold my heart. With Jim’s blessing, I wrote and published my book “SerenDIPity ~ Celebrating Dips, Faith & Friendships” to share this unique hospitality idea and the Biblical command of hospitality! My favorite part of writing SerenDIPity was blending in God’s Word throughout the book. I pray in some small way this book honors the Lord. So thankful for the enthusiasm of many loving family members and pure-hearted friends!

Jim and me - both got a hole in one in the same hole!
Camp of The Woods - July 2013

Joshua – An 8th grader now, Joshua is growing in stature and character. He has well surpassed me in height and Jim in shoe size! Basketball is his favorite sport to play, with football being a close second. He is even considering playing baseball in the spring. Joshua and Jim served the Lord together again this summer in North Philly through Mission Philly 2013 with our junior high youth group. We are very thankful they could serve the Lord in this way shoulder to shoulder. Joshua participated in Raise the Praise week again this summer and was asked to serve in the youth group worship team doing vocals. Joshua is not a spotlight kind of person, so being on stage stretches him out of his comfort zone. Still, he remains very excited and thankful for this opportunity to serve. His favorite thing to do with any free moments is shoot hoops. While doing very well in school, his first loves are anything to do with a ball or with music. Joshua is innately thoughtful and helpful, and we are proud of our young man.

Gabrielle  - Our gal is enjoying 6th grade and all of its responsibilities and perks. She loves attending LJ3 Youth Group at church. Gabrielle is a diligent student and sets personal and academic goals. She has such a heart for orphans and for those who have not heard the Gospel. Her resolve and love encourage and challenge us in the best of ways. Gymnastics is Gabrielle’s favorite activity, and she takes it twice a week. She is still kicking up her heels in Irish dance, and she earned and had the great honor of dancing as part of a team in the World Irish Dance Competition in March 2013 where hundreds of dancers from around the world gathered in Boston (go figure…it is usually in Ireland!). Gabrielle also completed a Babysitting course with the American Red Cross. At school, she enjoys taking liturgical dance and playing the flute in the regular band and the 6th grade jazz band. She serves the Lord through song by serving His children with the Children’s Ministry Worship Team. She loves making videos on her iPad and spending time with girlfriends. We love our Brie!

We wish you a Joyous Christmas 
and a very Blessed New Year! 
Love ~ Jim, Sharon, Joshua  and Gabrielle 

Jim, Joshua & Gabrielle stringing Christmas lights together

Nan Nan Hansen's 80th Eight-Tea Party - August 2013 

Pop Pop and Nana Sloan's 50th Anniversary - June 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mom, Will You Frame This For Me?

"I have hidden Your Word in my heart 
that I might not sin against You."
Psalm 119:11

Let's just say we were having a teachable moment. A very teachable moment.

Knowing that the only true transformation of our all of our hearts will come solely through God's love, grace and truth, I asked our children to go to their rooms and read Proverbs 6:16-19. It's a tough but necessary passage of scripture. It's convicting. It's a Hebrews 4:12 kind of verse: "For the Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." 

Attitudes of the heart. We've all got them. And attitudes under our roof that day needed some fixin'. 

So as I asked our children to go read this passage that had been ministering to my own heart. As they did, I asked the Lord to penetrate their hearts with His truth, love and grace. And I sat down to re-read the passage myself.

"There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to Him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies,
and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers."

Tough, necessary truths of scripture. 

When they were done their unexpected quiet time, I asked our children which part of the passage popped out to them, and I was grateful for God's faithfulness in meeting each of them personally in His Word.

A little while later, Gabrielle came to me and said, "Mom, will you frame this for me? I made it after you had us read Proverbs 6. I always want to remember the things the Lord hates. I never want to forget. I would like to have this framed for my room so I remember."

Jaw-dropping praise from this momma's heart to God! He had given Gabrielle the softness of heart, the courage and the wisdom to want to frame His Word...His challenging and convicting her heart and mind. 

I am so grateful for the promises and comforts of God's Word...our go-to scriptures when we need encouragement and reassurance. And I am equally thankful for (though sometimes less inclined to go to them as readily) the soul-dividing passages that keep us on the narrow road that leads to life. The ones that prick and judge the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts.

We tend to frame the comfortable scriptures in our homes and in our hearts. Isn't that just like us? We frame the prettiest pictures that make us look and feel good, and we easily ignore and discard the others.

But through the courage, humility and wisdom of my daughter's heart, God reminded me that our greatest life lessons are often found in the places, pictures and passages that aren't so comfortable or pretty. But if we choose to frame them and remember them, He makes masterpieces.   

I wouldn't naturally choose to frame the difficult and painful times of life to commemorate the seasons or put them on display. Yet my daughter's sweet artwork gently and poignantly reminded me that often God is doing His most beautiful craftsmanship in our hearts during the tough passages, the not-so-flattering and the oh-so-humbling times in our lives.

Framing the tough passages of truth. Framing the artwork He is creating in my heart by seeing truths of scripture alive in my own life, whether consequences of my own actions or someone else's. I want the courage to frame the hard stuff, even if I am the only one to see it in the private places I share with Him.

Framing difficult passages of scripture and life...