A Whirlwind Family Tour

Gratitude Day 330

Wed., Sept. 25, 2019

Acts 10:2:

He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.

My heart is very full, following several days full of family opportunities.

On Friday, I picked up two cousins at the airport. Cousins Heather and Renah flew to Wisconsin from Maryland because my niece, Carissa, married Jesse, on Saturday. It was a lovely wedding and celebration with lots of fun.

I hope the official photographer captured a better family photo taken on my camera. Clearly, Hubby Rick must have made me laugh and some other family caught it as well.

On Sunday, my sister Debbie and I traveled with our cousins to central Iowa. We attended a 60th anniversary party for my Mom’s first cousin, Jerry and his wife, Katherine in Ames. They have four daughters. It has been decades since we’ve seen these daughters. When my sisters and I were kids, we visited our grandparents each summer. We often played with these four sisters. It was great to reconnect with them at the anniversary party.

During our summer grandparent visits, we also rode the Story City Carousel, which we did again on this trip. For dinner, we visited another second cousin, Butch, at his farm.

We visited various cemeteries. Debbie and I found our paternal Deaton grandparent’s grave.

My Mom’s maiden name was Sowers. We knew of an old Sowers cemetery just outside of Story City, Iowa. Butch gave us directions, to the cemetery, which included “walk between the two houses like you own them. The cemetery is behind the houses.” He was right. While we felt a little awkward tramping through someone’s yard, the cemetery was just as described.

It has been about 30 years since I had been to this cemetery. It includes the founding Sowers family that settled in the Story City area in the mid-1800’s. One of the homeowners chatted with us. She and her husband take care of the cemetery.

We traveled to a rural cemetery where my Mom’s family is buried. We found Heather and Renah’s dad’s grave, our grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents from the maternal side of my family. We drove by the first farm where my parents farmed, as well as the farm where my maternal grandparents farmed. After lunch at a favorite restaurant of my maternal grandmother’s, we took Heather and Renah to the Des Moines airport. Amazingly, they made it back to Maryland before Debbie and I made it to our respective homes in Wisconsin.

While the weekend was a whirlwind trip with lots of driving, it was wonderful to spend so much time with our adult cousins. We never had cousins who lived near by while growing up. We’ve always lived in different states. It was fun to share stories and learn new trivia about our families because we remember different things.

We don’t get to pick our families. We do get to pick whether or not we develop relationships with family members. After years of little contact with our first cousins, we have re-established relationships with several. Life will always be busy. It’s up to us whether or not we choose to maintain relationships with our cousins who have the same grandparents as we did. It’s a heritage built on farming, faith in God and being hard-working people. We commented about how many of our current genetic and personality traits have passed down from generation to generation.

We often comment how important family is. It’s weekends like this past one where I am reminded how important it is to spend time with family, share stories and connect through God.

For wonderful family time, I am grateful. 

Holy God – thank you for special time with family the past few days. Sometimes, it’s easy to focus on how we view life differently from other family members. I pray we cling to those things which we hold in common together. Amen.

Blessings –


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Gratitude Day 185 – A Clean House and Soul

Sun., Dec. 30, 2018

Isaiah 32:18 – Then my people will live in a peaceful dwelling, in secure homes, in carefree resting places.

And then it was quiet.

So quiet.

After 8-9 days of company and overnight guests every night, today Hubby Rick took our eldest two grandsons’ home. He wanted to go ice fishing on his way home, so I stayed home.

To the quiet. To the peace. To time by myself.

We feel very fortunate that we’ve had so many days filled with family and friends. At times, the inn was a little full. Getting beds prepared between guests was quick. But we loved every minute of it.

Home is a favorite place. As we have remodeled our Victorian farmhouse and made it our own, it has become a place where I love to just be. It’s filled with items very meaningful and special to us. I never tire of being home alone because it is a place of peace for me.


Home alone, I went full-on into cleaning mode. Yes, I also am a little OCD about a clean house. Getting beds ready for future guests. Cleaning bathrooms and smudged floors. Finding letters leftover from Scrabble and eaten boxes of candy left behind. Organizing the fridge leftovers. Running another load of dishes, now that I have more dishwasher soap, after making a quick trip to the store last night. Wiping down the smears and food left behind on the stainless-steel appliances. Do they ever really get clean?


Cleaning the oven. When I opened it, I couldn’t believe I’d let it get so dirty! Seriously??!! I’m slightly embarrassed by this for those who have peeked into my oven in the last number of days.


Load after load of laundry.


Quietly letting the red and white roses hang their heads after looking so perky and beautiful for many days in a row.

As I cleaned, put away and did some deep cleaning, my heart felt quiet. Good. Satisfied. I love being in my house. I love it even more when it is clean. It truly becomes for me a carefree resting place.


Yes, I’m one those people who will stay up half the night before leaving on vacation to make sure the house is clean before I leave. I want to walk into a house with everything in its place when I get home.

Some people don’t like to clean. Comments like, “It will just get dirty again,” are true. For mean, having a clean house creates a place of peace. Calm. Serenity.

As I cleaned today, I contemplated many things. What do I look forward to in 2019? What are some short-term and long-term goals for me? How can I create moments where I feel peace and serenity on a more regular basis?

I realize a clean house may not create this feeling inside of you. That’s OK. But where is that place for you? What activity helps you feel like you are back where you want to be? Where do you find peace and serenity? How have you built this into your life lately? Will you make it more of a priority in 2019?


For a clean house and a happy soul, I am grateful.

Almighty God, thank you for each and every person who has been in our house these last many days. I feel blessed to have them in our home. And thank you for the quiet today, the opportunity to feel peace, calm and serenity. I pray these quiet moments with you today were as meaningful for you as they were for me. Amen.

Blessings –


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Gratitude Day 178 – The Journey of Family

Mon., Dec. 17, 2018

Luke 2:3-4 – Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea.

This past weekend, Hubby Rick and I made our annual journey to Augusta, WI for the Deaton family Christmas. On Saturday, my siblings and our significant others, my nieces, nephews and their children all descended upon my sister Debbie’s house for our annual Christmas celebration.


For our family, this is our annual journey to the little town where I grew up. Augusta is small; about 2,000 people. It’s where I graduated from high school, where our family attended church and grocery shopped. There was even a time when I held the title Miss Augusta.

When it came time for my parents to move off of the farm where they raised their family, they moved into a house on Main Street … in Augusta. While I have not lived in the Augusta area for decades, this is still the area where I grew up. Where I remember going to the Red Dot café with my Dad. Where I still know every word of the high school cheer song when it is played.

Instead of Bethlehem, our family journeys to Augusta each Christmas. Together, we read the Christmas story, eat a large meal and take the annual Deaton Christmas photo. It has become a tradition that we all look forward to and no one wants to miss.


Knowing we’re covering multiple generations, we’ve tried to make it fun for all ages. There’s a craft for the kids. Favorite Christmas cookies. Usually, a card game. This year, we included our dear family friends, Donald, Celeste and Ruthie, who were neighbors when we lived on the farm and have been a special part of our family.

Several years ago, we started the Deaton Family Gift Exchange, which has truly become the highlight of the day. Rather than purchasing gifts, I wrap up a whole bunch of family “treasures.” We have a white elephant gift exchange. Some of the gifts have significance. Some are just plain silly. Others are not highly sought out by anyone. With each gift, I write a little story, explaining the significance of this item.

I knew this year’s gift exchange would not top last year’s Deaton Family Gift Exchange. After multiple requests, the beloved Winnebago camper was the highlight of last year’s exchange. It’s the camper I received for Christmas when I was 5 or 6. Every Deaton child, neighborhood children and young kid who walked into my Mom’s house probably played with the Winnebago. Nephew Ben proudly ended up with the Winnebago last year. It keeps a special spot in his living room.

As I wrap and prepare the gifts, I’m never quite sure what items will be most sought after. Or what item no one will want. Again, this year, I was completely surprised.

bucket #1

My great-niece Snow was the second person to unwrap a present. Naturally, she picked the biggest box, as any 5-year-old would. Inside? This bucket. Immediately, we ALL knew the history of this bucket.


Probably an old lard bucket, its sat underneath my Mom’s kitchen sink for decades. Literally, decades. This was her potatoes and onions bucket. She also put peelings and other scraps into the bucket. When it was time to feed the sheep, the bucket was taken with and emptied.


This bucket as a lot of usage miles on it. Hubby Rick could not believe that I had driven this beat-up bucket to our house, only to wrap it up, so it could make the journey back to Augusta one more time.

Snow tried diligently to pawn the bucket off each time a new gift was unwrapped. She wasn’t very successful. Later, Rick “traded” Snow for the bucket, specifically, so he could leave the bucket under Debbie’s tree, a gift for her to discover later.

bucket #2

At last year’s Deaton Family Christmas, my Mom was there. It was really the last day she was fairly alert. The next day, she began a steady decline in which just a few weeks later, she passed away.

How fitting that Mom’s bucket became the gift everyone had a story about and the one we talked about all afternoon.


When Mary and Joseph made the journey to Bethlehem, they had no idea how this one trip would change their lives. When my parents traveled from central Iowa to northern Wisconsin on a very cold day in February 1961, could they anticipate how this one trip would change our family forever? I hardly think so.


Life is full of journeys. Some of these journeys are exciting. Some are difficult. Some take bends and corners we’d rather live without. Every family has a journey. Every family has history. Every family has things that draw out memories and stories, just like this bucket.


Our Deaton family isn’t perfect. We have lots of things that we’d like to change. At times, we disappoint each other and forget to give each other enough grace.


Yet, we’re still family. We are the ones who will continue the journey my parents began years ago. I love that we take time on Christmas to remember parts of this journey, share it with each other and keep the spirit of my parents and our grandparents as part of our Christmas celebration.

Our village isn’t Bethlehem. It’s Augusta. It’s part of our story, our journey.

What’s your journey?


For journeys of family yesterday, today and tomorrow, I am grateful.

Merry Christmas from the Deaton’s.

Holy God – it’s nearly impossible to understand how one journey to Bethlehem changed so much. It’s difficult to imagine the emotions and feelings Mary and Joseph felt as they were on this journey. As we journey in life, may we always see you as part of our journey. May we keep our eye on you, the one who knows best how we should steer our journey. Amen.

Blessings –


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Gratitude Day 168 – Unwrapping Christmas

Sat., Dec. 1, 2018

Matthew 2:11 – The Wise Men went to the house. There they saw the child with his mother Mary. They bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures. They gave him gold, frankincense and myrrh. 

As you read the following quote, please note the year it was written:

“Twenty-five years ago, Christmas was not the burden that it is now. There was less haggling and weighing, less quid pro quo, less fatigue of body, less wearing of soul; and most of all, there was less loading up with trash.”

–  Meredith Deland in Harper’s Bazaar, 1904

Can you imagine what Meredith Deland might say today if she observed some of our Christmas traditions? Might she be even more appalled?

unwrapping present

In the last years, I have tried to unwrap Christmas and refocus on the true meaning of what I feel Christmas is: the birth of a baby that became the Savior of the world. Yes, it’s hard to give up those traditions which we have embodied for years. (True confession: I ordered Christmas cards again this year. A lot of them, even though I keep thinking I’m going to edit this whole deal. So, I send them out again because LOVE hearing from people that I often do not see.) I will bake our favorite cookies. But there are areas where I try to pull back the glitzy wrapping paper and get to the true heart of Christmas.

One way I do this is how I approach gift-giving. I’m not trying to convince anyone to stop giving gifts to people they love. I encourage us to be more thoughtful in how we go about gift-giving.

To help spur us into why reconsidering gift-giving, look at these statistics:

53.1% of people report receiving unwanted gifts during Christmas. This amounts to $16 billion of unwanted gifts every year. (What COULD be done with this money?!) Reports indicate 18% of gifts are never used and 4% of gifts are immediately thrown into the trash.

This speaks nothing of overspent Christmas budgets. Or how one-quarter of Americans are still paying off last year’s gifts.

What are we to do? How can we reframe Christmas gift-giving into something more meaningful? Can we stop buying for those who really don’t need or want a gift? Can find joy in other ways?

Here are a few suggestions to help us unwrap Christmas:

  • Stop purchasing gifts for those who don’t need or want a gift. Choose alternative ways to celebrate. For many of us, if we “need” something, we find a way to get it. “Waiting” until Christmas for a special gift happens less often. From the beginning of our marriage, Hubby Rick and I agreed NOT to purchase each other Christmas gifts. Rather, we make contributions towards families who have a need. Last week, Rick announced that he had completed his Christmas shopping. A young driver that Rick works with will soon begin his second round of cancer treatment. The co-drivers collected money and gave it to him at Thanksgiving. I’m confident my “Christmas” present is important to this family that has young children. Each year, Rick and I pick families and given them a little extra cash at the holidays. The cards and letters back from these families have made us cry. In subsequent years, often these same families have paid forward our gift to another family in need. Rick and I love giving these gifts as our presents.


  • Wrap up special and funny family items and turn it into a gift exchange. This is my FAVORITE way we have unwrapped Christmas. My nieces and nephews would agree. For the last several years, I have put together the Deaton family gift exchange. I wrap up items from our family. Some are special and meaningful, i.e. – my Dad’s dog tags. Others are quite silly – the 4-H songbook when my siblings and I used to go Christmas caroling to shut-ins. I include little stories with the items. At our Deaton Christmas, we open these gifts in an orchestrated way. The process has become so special I’ve had to create “rules.” To learn more about how we do this, read my post about the Winnebago camper, the highly coveted gift in last year’s exchange. Family members repeated tell me: DON’T STOP doing the Deaton family gift exchange. This event special because it has also become a way we pass family history and stories from generation to generation.
  • Make a gift. Last year, I made a crayon wall hanging for our granddaughter, Ellie. After she opened it, I realized her brothers felt disappointed they didn’t receive something like this. This year, I am making presents for our three youngest grandkids. Being crafty is not a requirement. I still have the shelf my Dad made for each of his kids one Christmas. My sister-in-law Linda gives us canned goods from her garden each year.
  • Make a donation to charity. While Charitable Tuesday is past, I am confident charities will still accept donations. It can be a monetary gift or an in-kind gift. Take your children or grandchildren shopping and let them pick out items to donate. Our local food pantry is encouraging people to donate toiletries this Advent. Blankets, pj’s, coats (new or gently used) – there’s always a need.

2018 Advent Calendar_Page_2

  • Make a birthday box for Jesus. I will share this calendar during kid’s time at church on Sunday and encourage their families to make a birthday box for Jesus. They can give the box to a family in need or bring it to Christmas Eve worship, where it can be donated to the local food pantry.
  • Memorable “silly” presents. We do this with our grandkids and Rick’s kids. I wrap items from the Dollar Store or other silly items in little gifts bags. We take turns opening these bags and seeing what silly thing is inside. There is always exchanging after we’re done, because who wants pink bifocals other than Grandpa? The kids talk about the oranges, apples, flarp, and goofy mustaches they got at our Christmas celebrations.
  • Plan a special outing. Pick something you can do together: sledding or ice skating, a movie, bake cookies and deliver to neighbors or something else that you come up with. We’ve stayed overnight at a hotel with a waterpark with our grandkids and nephews in lieu of more presents. Create a tradition which focuses on something other giving gifts and expresses how special our loved ones are.

Yes, I am buying a few Christmas presents. It’s hard to completely get away from this, especially when kids or grandkids are involved. I’ve watched our grandkids count how many packages each received and compared with each other. When this happens, this as an opportunity to unwrap why we give gifts at Christmas.

The wise men didn’t show up empty-handed at the stable. While their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh seemed unpractical for a baby, their symbolism was powerful; then and now. Giving gifts can be very powerful and positive. Maybe we just need to unwrap how and why we give them this Christmas season.


For the chance to unwrap Christmas and focus on heart-felt gift giving, I am grateful.

Holy God – unfortunately, we’ve taken the concept of giving gifts, represented by the wise men, and often turned it into something driven by consumerism and unrealistic expectations. May we be inspired to unwrap Christmas in a new way this year. Amen.

Blessings –


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Gratitude Day 166 – Rustic Wonderland

Thurs., Nov. 29, 2018

Matthew 1:20 – But as Joseph was thinking about this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. The angel said, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary home as your wife. The baby inside her is from the Holy Spirit.

What makes a house and a home?

Little touches that say to family and friends, “You are loved and welcome here.”

I love to decorate for Christmas. Why do I do this? Because I pray our house will not just be another house on the block. I hope our house will be viewed as a home where people are loved and welcomed. This is why I created a Rustic Wonderland on our front porch. When people drive or walk by or bound up the steps to our lovely porch, I pray they feel like this would be a good place to stay for a while.


My goal this year was to decorate using only things I already had. Buy nothing new. Find new ways to use what I have. Enjoy the results thoroughly.

Why? I am so ready to not purchase things. I am so ready to simply repurpose what we have. I am so ready to shop what’s in the house and carriage house and spend more time enjoying the finished results than create something that takes lots of time, energy and resources to pull together. Yes, I love having a pretty porch during the holidays. Yet, I feel too often we focus on the “what” of Christmas rather than remembering the “why” we celebrate the season.

So, welcome to our Rustic Wonderland. Ready for a little tour?

Good. I’m excited to give you one.


Sister Debbie helped me pull this together. Fortunately, she is an excellent florist. She can whip together beautiful arrangements before I can get her the things, she needs to make them. She created all of the gorgeous evergreen arrangements, inside and outside of the house. (In a couple days, I’ll show how we decorated the inside of our house.)

Here’s how we went about putting together a Rustic Wonderland.

We began with a clean slate. I removed the summer furniture and fall decorations. Debbie contributed the greens and wreath. Other than one strand of lights we had to buy, everything else come from our house or the carriage house.

You’ll find a lot of old things on our porch that help us remember important phases, people and times of our lives:


  • The well-used washtubs were my mother-in-law’s. With quite rusty bottoms, Debbie put ice cream buckets filled with oasis into the tubs. Into the oasis, she inserted various kinds of pine, evergreens, logs and twigs to create the designs. Hubby Rick cut the birch logs years ago. I keep recycling them. After placing the tubs into position, we put a brick in the bottom to keep the tubs stable.


  • In the summer, the grey shotgun containers are filled with flowers. Why not use them now for evergreens? Because they are quite deep, we put a brick in the bottom, then the ice cream bucket with oasis, which makes for easier decorating.


  • When I was a young girl, this sled was a Christmas present. The baler twine pull has been on this sled for YEARS. Hubby Rick found the skates at his former house years ago. I love to combine these two items together as they represent both of our former lives.


  • Rick made this bench. It is usually in the entry way of our house. Since the Christmas tree is now there, we moved it to the porch and used it as a centerpiece for the Rustic Wonderland.


  • The green box? Just like a tool box that used to be on a John Deere tractor on our farm when I was growing up.


  • This enamel wash bin looks super cute with the antique lantern, greens and pine cones. The lantern came from Rick’s parent’s house.


  • To make the wreath fit in with everything old, we simply added a different bow. For a fun twist on displaying the wreath, hang it with burlap or ribbon.
  • A quick design tip? Fill any container with pine cones from the yard. Add a little ribbon or evergreens if you wish.


I hope these Christmas decorations beg friends and guests into our home. A porch or entry way is the first statement people observe about the folks who live inside the house. The message I would love for people to take away from our porch? “This isn’t just a house. It’s a home.”

After Gabriel visited Joseph, he didn’t take her to his house. He took her into his home. He wanted this young teenaged-girl to feel like his home would be a safe place for her. Joseph wanted this girl, specially chosen by God to carry God’s son, to know she was loved and welcomed into his humble abode.


What does the entrance to your home say about you and your family? Is it inviting? Does it welcome your family and visitors into a place where memories will be made? Where they will be loved and welcomed?

Want to see what our Rustic Wonderland looks like at night?


For houses that become homes, I am grateful.


Holy God – It’s a subtle detail, but an important one. Joseph took Mary to his home, not his house. May we follow his example and create safe places for our families, friends and guests where they will always feel loved and welcomed. Amen.


Blessings –



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Gratitude Day 146 – What I Learned in October

Wed., Oct. 31, 2018

Ecclesiastes 3:1 – Everything on earth has its own time and its own season.

It is so easy to blow through life, not reflecting below a surface level of what is really happening in life. At the end of September, I shared a few lessons I learned (or re-learned) during September, which you can read here.


As October winds down, I pause and reflect upon another season changing: a season outside my window as well as within my life. Here’s what I’ve discovered this past month.


  • Get to know your extended family. I have never lived very close to my cousins, aunts or uncles. I didn’t grow up with those huge extended family gatherings for every holiday. For a few years, one family lived about two hours from our farm. This was the closest we ever had extended family live near my immediate family, other than when my Grandmothers lived in the same town as my parents at the end of their lives. Shortly after college, I lived near an aunt and uncle for several months, which was also a great blessing. The moral of the story? I have only known my cousins at arms-length my entire life. In October, Hubby Rick and I hosted several cousins and some of our family to a weekend at our house. IT. WAS. GREAT. So often, we speak of doing something like this … but it often doesn’t happen. We had very little planned for the weekend, but everyone had a great time. I wished we would have done something like this years ago. Yet, I am optimistic it won’t be another 15 years before we try to hang out together again. It’s true: we don’t get to choose our family. What we do choose is how we interact with our family. Thanks, Sowers cousins, for making our get-together my highlight of October.


  • There is nothing like a deadline to get things done. In preparation for our cousin’s weekend, Rick and I were dedicated to getting some projects at our house closer to completion. There is nothing like a deadline to spur some action! We are in the process of creating a master suite in the upstairs of our house. Rick built a walk-in closet and we reconfigured the master suite to now include a hallway. Once the wood floors are refinished (sometime in November) and we configure storage in the walk-in closet, these rooms will be completed! Winter projects will be completing ghe master bathroom and a washer and dryer closet upstairs. With family help, a new washer and dryer are now upstairs, closer to the closet. The downstairs bedroom has been “sorting central” for months, as I have worked my way through about 30 boxes and totes of things from my Mom and family. I had boxes and totes waiting for family members to go through during our cousin’s weekend … and lots left our house!


Sometimes, I am my mother’s daughter. Before a confirmation or graduation celebration, my Mom would often embark on a “big” house project. I tend to follow this pattern. With Rick’s help, we got the projects as far along as we could before family arrived. Even though the projects are mid-stream, it feels good to have chunks completed. P.S. – I promise to show pictures once the floors are completed. If you are sick of hearing about our remodeling projects, sorry … it’s the “season” we are in.


  • A $2.21 purchase. In the last months, I have rid our house of so much: donated loads to charity, filled the garbage can regularly and sent and given boxes of trinkets, treasures and photos to family. As I currently sort through my own “treasures,” I carefully choose what to keep and what to get rid of. I have sworn off bringing more into the house. Yet, I yearn for something fun to add to my fall wardrobe. With cooler weather, my standard “uniform” is a long-sleeved shirt underneath some type of sweater anchored by jeans and comfortable shoes. My closet is shrouded with tons of grey, black and neutral colors. Years ago, I wore a brighter colored outfit to church one Sunday. A lovely lady named Mary said to me, “It’s about time you wear something other than neutral colors.”


Neutrals are my go-to colors. Is it any surprise my house is filled with various shades of gray, black and white?


Rick insists nothing can come into this house unless something leaves, which I am trying faithfully to follow, including my wardrobe. I’ve resigned to recycle what I have for another “season.” Except my this $2.21 find.


One day, I found this $5 necklace. I decided it was a steal. What I didn’t notice is that it was 60% off, which became $2.21, tax included. While a few new actual clothing pieces would be fun, this necklace is my new fall transition piece. The lesson? Sometimes little things do make a difference; especially when they cost $2.21.


As you dump candy into a bowl or wait for the doorbell to announce a trick-or-treater tonight, pause and think of a lesson you’ve discovered this October. For everything, there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. What have you discovered or re-learned in this last season?

For the opportunity to learn daily, I am thankful.


Holy God – thanks for never looking at us and thinking, “This person is too old to learn.” Guided by your Spirit, may we find opportunities to discover new seasons in our lives regularly. Amen.

Blessings –


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Gratitude Day 140 – Family

Tues., Oct. 23, 2018

Deuteronomy 26:11 – Then celebrate all the good things the Lord your God has done for you and your family—each one of you along with the Levites and the immigrants who are among you.

The house is now so quiet. So very quiet.

No conversations in multiple rooms. No action in the kitchen. No game going on around the dining room table.

Just me and my thoughts after a few days of every inch of our 3,000 square foot house being well occupied and used.

Over the weekend, several first cousins from my Mom’s side of the family, as well as members of my immediate family, gathered at our house for a little reunion. The last time this many of my first cousins were together was 15 years ago at my Grandma Sower’s funeral.


My Mom had one sister six years older and a brother 11 years younger. My parents grew up in Iowa. They moved to Wisconsin after being married. I have basically lived my life in Wisconsin. My siblings and I did not grow up with our cousins nearby. All of my cousins lived in other states. While we “knew” each other, we haven’t really “known” each other.

Not all of our Sowers cousins were able to be together this weekend. When we started planning this get together, I was clear. Whoever could make it, great! If you couldn’t make it, this was OK as well. Life happens. One cousin who planned on being in Wisconsin ended up moving our remaining aunt multiple states this same weekend. We understood this was priority.


Over the course of the weekend, we had a different mix of people at various times. We ate, visited, played games, shared stories from our past and present, had loud card games, went through pictures and items my Mom had saved, and truly enjoyed just being together. Here are a few things I discovered about my cousin family this weekend:

  • There are over 40 years between my eldest Sowers cousin and my youngest Sowers cousins. What we know, remember and our observations of our Grandparents is quite different. Some of these cousins never knew my Grandpa Sowers. We all knew my Grandma Sowers because she lived into her 90’s.
  • Growing up as members of different generations and in different locations around the U.S. has colored our worlds. Yet, we have this connecting factor of family blood. We ARE family.
  • It’s OK for us to have different memories, experiences and connections with our family heritage. There isn’t a “right” way or memory. For example, we had alvelskiers for dinner one night; a traditional Danish food that is a crossover between a pancake and a donut. It was interesting to hear what different branches of our family tree ate with alvelskiers.
  • Having time together outside of a funeral and over a couple days allowed for conversations to grow between people. We discovered that we “like” being together and sharing our lives with each other.
  • Wisconsin October weather is unpredictable. Our cousins saw rain, snow, sleet, wind and sunshine all in a few hours on Saturday. Some family members took in the University of Wisconsin-Madison football game, with one cousin experiencing a true Wisconsin Big 10 football game.


When people are asked what is most important to them, the word “family” always rises to the top. How “family” is defined varies greatly. There is no one recipe for how families interact and spend time together. For us, simply hanging out and going through Grandma Sower’s jewelry box became a great opportunity to share stories, our lives and our common heritage.


Like many such gatherings, there were conversations about how and when we might get together again. I pray these plans evolve and develop. Today, I am so grateful several family members put their lives on hold if only for a few hours, traveled to our little piece of the world sometime over the weekend and spent time together as Sowers cousins. It truly was a great weekend.


For family cousins and the ability to spend time together, I am grateful.


Lord God – thank you for family, time together and shared history. I pray families choose to focus on the things that draw them together rather than the disappointment that can pull families apart. Thank you for your Holy Spirit which is the glue that holds families together. Amen.

Blessings –


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Gratitude Day 134 – Hope for Surviving Loved Ones

Fri., Oct. 12, 2018

Psalm 42:11 – Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed? Why are you so upset inside? Hope in God! Because I will again give him thanks, my saving presence and my God.


In the last two weeks, I have become aware of two middle-aged men who committed suicide.

The first man’s story was shared with me by a friend. I did not know him. My friend and her family saw this man at a wedding just a few days before he took his life. He shared that evening about the financial difficulties he was experiencing. In spite of these challenges, my friend was shocked when she heard of his death.

This week, a man Hubby Rick and I know took his life. For years, Rick stopped at his farm and picked up the milk his cows produced and delivered the milk to a processing facility. When Rick stopped hauling milk, his son continued hauling this man’s milk until they sold their cows. This man struggled with depression for years. He had gone through lots of treatment and therapy. But the disease was more than he can handle.

Honestly, I cannot say that I know how the family members of these two men feel. Unless you have journeyed closely with a loved one who has struggled with depression and took their life, it is IMPOSSIBLE to know how the family members left behind feel. The last thing I would say to a loved one who has lost someone to depression? “I know how you feel.” Because I don’t. End of story.

In both instances, it was shared with me that the men’s struggle with depression which eventually led to suicide was a part of the funeral service. This is so important. Unless we recognize that depression is a disease, just like cancer or heart disease, the stigma will not go away. Like other potential terminal diseases, sometimes depression can be managed. Other times, it can’t.


My heart goes out to the families of these two men, and the countless other families who have lost a loved one to suicide this year. I do not have adequate words to say to you. Too often, suicide leaves in its wake a wide path of struggle, confusion and sorrow. We want to know why the person chose suicide. We think, whether aloud or silently, “Didn’t they think about their loved ones left behind?” The training I’ve received related to suicide says this: once a person makes the decision to end their life, it is the only choice that makes sense. Thoughts about how others will react are always overshadowed by their own thoughts which convince them suicide is the only option. A peace comes about the person. They just have to carry out their plan.

It is nearly impossible for outsiders to understand how the depressed person can see suicide as the only possible solution. This is where the disease side of depression is so difficult to understand.

I pray these two families, and countless other families who are walking a similar path, find God’s presence in their lives as they journey the anguish of life after suicide. I pray that we, as Christians and the church, will love them and be present with them. Words aren’t necessary. Only presence is. Our role is not to “figure it out” or “try to help make sense.” Our role is only to be present and continue to have hope in God. When loved ones may not be able to have hope, I pray we can be conduits of hope for them.

For people willing to journey with those struggling with depression and those whose lives have been radically affected by a loved one who struggles with depression, I am thankful.

Lord God – surround the families and loved ones who have a loved one that took their life with your loving kindness. Please bring into the survivor’s life people who will simply be with them. We pray advances towards understanding and possible cures for this disease are found. Amen.

Blessings –


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Gratitude Day 53 – Remember


Tues., May 29, 2018

Isaiah 46:9 – Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.

On Monday, Americans celebrated Memorial Day. This is a day we remember those who have given their lives while in service for our country; those killed in active duty as part of our military.

Hubby Rick and I attended the local Memorial Day service, hosted by the local American-Legon Post.  The main speaker, a retired service person, shared with us the number of Americans killed while in active duty for our country. Afterwards, Rick and I commented how we had not heard this numbers previously.

When trying to find the numbers used at the service we attended, I discovered there are more than one version of these numbers. Some include vets not “in theater;” some do not. I know the numbers in the picture I share with this post are not the same numbers shared during the service. Rather than getting caught up in what is the “right” numbers, I pray we can simply get a glimpse of how many U.S. vets have lost their lives in American wars.

In adding up the numbers in the graphic, I come up with the number of 1,196,554 American service people killed in active war situations. Each person killed represents an entire family that was affected. Affected parents, spouses, children, siblings and extended family. Lives that were changed because of the loss of a loved one.

Memorial Day is about remembering. As staggering as the +1 million Americans that have been killed while serving their country, there are many other countries around the world which could display even more significant number of active duty deaths. These deaths also represent entire affected families.

We do not have to read very far into the Bible to discover killings, wars and affected families. These details make Scripture very difficult for some people to read, believe and understand. How can a gracious God allow such awful things to happen in this world? Even ordain such behavior, as is found in the Old Testament? I cannot begin to speak for God on this topic. I simply let this be a question to be asked when it can be addressed to the only One who can adequately answer it.

My role as a Christian is simply to remember. Just as God was with people thousands of years ago, God is with me today. Remember of all the crazy things in this world, the one constant thing is God’s presence with those who have come before me, during my lifetime as well as those who will come after me. Remember. Remember God. Remember God loves me.

For this, I am grateful.

Almighty God – there are parts of the Bible that maybe difficult for us to understand. Like all the killing and fighting. I pray we can remember your presence with people years ago, just as you are present with us yet today. Help us to remember you daily.  Amen.

Blessings –


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Gratitude Day 49 – The Present

 Fri., May 25, 2018

Colossians 3:15 – Let the peace of heart that comes from Christ be always present in your hearts and lives, for this is your responsibility and privilege as members of his body. And always be thankful.

Today, I looked at the calendar and realized it is almost the end of May. It will soon be six months since I stepped back from serving two churches. I did this to focus on writing and other things I feel God calling me towards. Six months. I had so many great hopes for this last six months. While some things have happened, some have not.

An earlier version of this post included some things I have accomplished in the last six months as well as things I haven’t done. In the end, I deleted it all. I’m not sure you all needed to read what I wrote. Maybe, I just needed to type it.

So, let me just try to summarize a bit of what I am feeling today:

  • Life happens. As much as we can plan, make lists and will ourselves to do things that seem important to us, it may or may not happen.
  • Each day is a gift from God. I pray that I never forget this. I pray I treasure each day, whether I cross anything off my to-do list or not.
  • I will spend my entire life trying to perfect myself. It will never happen. God is OK with this. I pray I can be as well.

When I got home from work last night, there was an envelope in the mail. Upon opening it, I found this sweet, sweet card from a little person in my life. The card says this:

“I can always look up to you … thank you for being someone we can look up to!”

There are days in which I struggle with marking my little mark in this world. If blood is pulsing through your body, you will struggle with this at some point. Whether I really am someone who this little person looks up to, it sure feels good to hear it. Amen?

20180524_181138In my office, this old window hangs on the wall. On it, I have attached important things in my life. There are a bunch of other important things not represented on this window. Recently, I find myself using this window as a gratitude board.

I put this card on the window. Why? It represents a family that is important to me. It’s a great reminder that while my to-do list may not have gotten much shorter this week, life is about more than this list. It’s about many intangible things.

My reality today is being comfortable with my relationship with God, those important to me and letting God help me with the rest.

I embarked on these observances of gratitude in my daily life for a simple reason. Gratitude keeps us focused on the present. I pray that as I share a little gratitude lesson from my life, you maybe inspired to discover daily gratitude. In doing so, may it keep you focused on the gift of today. The gift of the present.

Thank you, God, for today. The present. It is a gift.

For this, I am grateful.

Lord God – some days we find ourselves questioning so many things. Certainly, this can be a helpful exercise. I pray we find islands of gratitude in our daily lives to keep us connected to today, the present. Thank you for being a part of our lives today. Amen.

Blessings –


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