One Word

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As this year draws to a close, I haven’t made one resolution for the upcoming new year but I did pick one word.  My word was actually an umbrella word over 2014 that protected and sheltered me.

ENCOURAGEMENT.  That’s my word.  It had the most overarching effect on me and it brought me to the threshold of 2015 with a sense of being supported and loved.

As a writer, I sometimes wonder if stringing words together on a page is worth the effort, because for me it’s not about using big impressive words or strutting my writing abilities around.  It’s about trying to inspire and move hearts.

At times I look back on my writing and cringe.  As I write on, I’m amazed at how I would choose my words differently just days after I write a piece.

Then a card comes in the mail.  Someone took the time to hand write a note to let me know what my words have meant to them.

ENCOURAGEMENT.  And so I keep writing…

Whether it’s a comment in person, writing or in an uplifting email, I’m always humbled by the encouraging words from people who tell me they’ve enjoyed or been touched by my words.

ENCOURAGEMENT.  And so I keep writing…

I haven’t arrived at a place where I’m completely satisfied with my writing but the beauty of life is that we are in all in process.  No matter what we’re doing or how we use our gifts, we haven’t arrived.  There’s always more to learn.  I change and grow daily and I’m learning to be okay with that and enjoy the process.

ENCOURAGEMENT.  It has pointed me back toward my passion and to remember why I write.

As some of you know, 2014 hasn’t been an easy year for my family.  Cancer came into our life this past summer when my husband was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia.

I’ve shared some of our journey in the following posts:

Again the encouragement that we have received from family and friends through the storm has been like a ray of sunshine through the dark and like a flower breaking through the winter.

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God uses people.  All the encouragement that covered my family brought with it the confirmation that God cares and that He will never leave us.

Yesterday we got test results from Bob’s oncologist that the markers for the Leukemia are decreasing in his blood significantly.  At their highest the markers were 89.  In September they were 49.  Yesterday the good news was that they are 6.9.

The goal is to have Bob’s chemo medication reduce the markers until they cannot be seen by the human eye anymore.  Then they will call it remission and he will take the chemo drug for life to try to keep it there.

ENCOURAGEMENT.  I know how much it has benefited me and I want to focus on being a better encourager in 2015.

Words have the power to build up or tear down.  I’d rather be a builder upper!

I will have my eyes open through the new year to look for those I can buoy up and support.

I’m going to scope out my surroundings and attempt to become conscious of:

  • the downtrodden
  • the sad eyed
  • the dejected
  • the ones who have lost hope
  • the struggling
  • the ones who have given up on:
    • their dreams
    • their gifts
    • their talents
    • themselves

I know from my experiences in 2014, just how the right words at just the right time can spur a person on and keep them from losing hope.

Lists of resolutions can seem daunting, most get broken anyway, but one word to carry into the new year is possible.

Now I’d like to ENCOURAGE you.  If you’ve tried making resolutions and said “Eh, that didn’t work,” why not join me and pick just ONE WORD to apply to 2015?  Then let me know what it is and how you’re using your word.  I’d love to hear from you.

Happy and Hopeful New Year to you and yours!

Nancy Janiga©2014

It’s the little things

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Christmas is over but there’s still remnants left.  There’s a bag of crumpled wrapping paper tucked behind a stool in my living room.  The lights still twinkle on my decorated tree and there’s a few cookie crumbs on a plate sitting next to me on my dining room table.

My fingers click away on my laptop amid all the signs of the Holiday and my thoughts drift back to when my living room was full of chatter and laughter just days before.

Family gathered around our decorated home on Christmas to share a meal, share gifts and share memories of years past.  Lots of the memories hang from the branches of our Christmas tree.  It’s always fun to look at the ornaments and recall the memory attached to each one.  And finally we shared an indoor snowball fight with a pail of forty synthetic snowballs.

I think the best purchase, hands down, that I made this year was that pail of indoor snowballs.  They actually feel like the real deal minus the cold.  I grabbed one and threw it at my son.  Startled he sat back in his chair, smiled and said, “What?  Are those snowballs?”  Then came the laughter while snowballs, being tossed at one another, filled our living room.

In those moments, watching, listening, observing nothing was wrong and all was right in the world.

A few days before Christmas, I was making my mom’s traditional date nut bread–a recipe that she handed down to me.  As I mixed the batter, I watched a couple of neighbor boys, through my kitchen window, playing catch in the street.  As they threw the ball their dog ran along side it trying catch it in his mouth.  The sun was shining, it was 45 degrees and they didn’t have jackets on.  It’s unusual in this area to have such mild temps at this time of year.  What’s even more unusual is seeing kids running and playing outside at anytime of the year in this electronic age.

As I watched the game outside and prepared the nut bread, my thoughts went back in time–a time that seemed a little simpler–with my mom baking the bread and the streets filled with kids throughout the neighborhood and usually in the snow at this time of year.  Being inside the house for too long, wasn’t that common back then for kids.

Then I burst into song.  A song that I wouldn’t ordinarily think of.  I can’t carry a tune and you won’t catch me singing out loud in front of you but alone I’ll belt out anything…

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you.

I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world.

Louis Armstrong ©1967

…and I think to myself it’s a wonderful world… and I hummed it for the rest of the day.

The hum carried on through Christmas and there was nothing wrong in my world.

But we all know there is something wrong.  We read the headlines, listen to the news, hear the stories, hear the cries, see the suffering, hearts get broken, tears flow…

We’d like it to stop.  We’d like to see peace on earth and good will toward men.

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Christmas began in the manger but it didn’t end there.  When we put away Christmas, let’s not put away Jesus.  That’s where hope starts.  That’s where love begins.  That’s where joy originates and that’s where peace flows.

Among the chaos of the world, that little child in the little manger brought us God. And He brought us the potential, through our dependence on Him, to have peace on earth and extend good will toward men and women.  It can only begin one heart at a time.

May we embrace it.  Embrace Him.  And in the midst of it all find joy in the little things in life–like those blessings mentioned in the song, “It’s a wonderful world” because the little pockets of joy that we find in the chaos of life are really the big things.

Written by Nancy Janiga @2014

No Lists, Just Love

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He’s making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice, Santa Claus is coming to town…

Most of us have heard those familiar words many times.  The nice get a gift and the naughty, well…they don’t get anything or, if they’re lucky, they get a lump of coal.

As my husband and I were traveling down the expressway last week, my eyes caught a sign outside of a church facing the cars that were driving by.

 SANTA ISN’T THE ONLY ONE MAKING A LIST!

“What?!?  Did I read that right?  Santa isn’t the only one making a list!  That’s the message the church is communicating to those passing by,” I told my husband.

On our next drive down that same expressway yesterday, I stayed alert watching for the sign.  I read it carefully thinking that maybe I was mistaken the first time but I wasn’t.  There in bold letters fastened to the large sign of the church were the words:

SANTA ISN’T THE ONLY ONE MAKING A LIST!

“If you want a gift, you better be good, because Santa is making a list and checking it twice and he’s gonna find out who is naughty and nice,” many parents sing the song and retell the story year after year.

It’s all in fun and I don’t think there’s one kid, that I know of anyway, that has been harmed or traumatized by the story of Santa.

But the message on the church sign?  I’m not so sure about that one.

Is that the message that they want the world to accept?  The message that God is making a list of all our wrongs and that we better be good or He won’t love us?  Is their message saying that we have to perform, do good works, clean up our act, obey the rules, or else?

I know there are thousands of good churches that communicate truth with love and I attend one.  I’m not implying that I know exactly the motive behind the sign but the perception comes across as God is making a list so if you’re naughty you better watch out!

We can shut ourselves up inside brick structures to make us feel safe.  We can hide behind programs, methods, procedures to puff ourselves up and think we’re secure because we’re us inside and not them outside.

We can point out the wrongs in others, forgetting who we are (or who we once were) and erect barricades of false security, we can have rules that make us harsh judges or we can have LOVE.

There in the manger on that quiet night long ago LOVE was born.  When we were the naughtiest LOVE came for us.  Jesus was born to die that we may live.  He took our punishment so we wouldn’t have to.

He knew our list of wrongs, all too well, and left His throne of glory and came down to rescue us.

We receive the gift; the greatest gift when we deserve it the least–we don’t have to be good enough to receive it.  All we have to do is accept it.

That’s the beauty of the gift.  God wipes our list clean in one swift stroke and writes across it PAID IN FULL.  Then slowly but surely we’re transformed in a way that rules could never accomplish. 

When we have LOVE, know LOVE, and extend LOVE our pointing fingers will come down.  Then the greatest gift of Christmas, who wrapped himself in love and is LOVE, can keep on giving…

Written by Nancy Janiga ©2014

The Light That Keeps on Giving

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Twinkling lights are sure to catch our eye at this time of year.  We’re attracted by their shimmer through our neighborhoods and homes.

I especially enjoy waking up in the morning before dawn and clicking on my Christmas tree lights.  Sitting in the dark with just the glow from the tree is the best part of my day.

Light.  We’re drawn to light.

Jesus referred to himself as the light of the world.  Yet Isaiah 53:2 tells us that, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him”.

The light of the world, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords didn’t enter this world with majestic brilliance.  There wasn’t any pomp and circumstance, fanfare, no castle, no royal clothes, no trumpets sounding or a parade to usher in His arrival. 

He wasn’t draped in purple but in simple swaddling cloths.  He didn’t have a cradle just an animal’s trough as a bed.

Surrounded by the smells and sounds of animals and with the love of His parents–a carpenter and young peasant girl–He came quietly, modestly into our world.

Not too long ago, King George of England was born.  The airways, the internet, the media exploded with the announcement.

The only spectacular light that shone the night Jesus was born was around the Shepherds.  An angel brought the Shepherds the birth announcement surrounded with the glory of God.

Then the sky resounded with shouts of praise from a multitude of angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”  Luke 2: 14

The shepherds–who were considered the lowly of the low–they were the ones standing in the company of angels and surrounded with God’s glowing presence.

Did you ever notice that God does things completely the opposite of the way we would expect?

Consider King David whom Jesus descended from–he was just a young shepherd boy tending the sheep when Samuel arrived at his father Jesse’s house to anoint the next king.  Samuel thought for sure it would be David’s older brother, Eliab but the Lord told Samuel, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  All of David’s older, stronger brothers weren’t picked by God.  David the youngest, smallest less obvious son was anointed by Samuel to become the next king.  (You can read the story in 1 Samuel 16). 

Our world often focuses outwardly on appearances, the bigger, the better, the beautiful, the powerful, we love the wow factor and success is often measured by the opinions of people.

Jesus’ wow factor came from His words of authority, His light came from turning the attitudes and thoughts of His culture upside down and inside out.

Jesus grew up and lived a total counter cultural lifestyle.  The King of Heaven’s light burned bright in the way He treated people.  He valued women, reached out to the poor, welcomed the downtrodden, was merciful, associated with those that earthly kings despised, He comforted, healed, loved and protected.  When the religious walked around with a holier-than-thou swagger pointing out the sin in others, Jesus embraced the sinner and encouraged them to follow Him and He reprimanded the accusers.

Jesus was born to become Israel’s Savior (and ultimately the whole world’s) but the people of Israel thought He’d be a militant savior.  God himself, clothed in skin, didn’t come to save Israel from a political leader and to set them free from Roman bondage.  The people were looking for an earthly king, someone to rescue them from their circumstances.  When they didn’t get what they wanted, many walked away–they turned their back on Jesus.  Their souls became blinded by expectations and they couldn’t see past their perceived ideas.  They couldn’t see that He was their Spiritual Light to lead them back to God and give them eternal life.

Those who did believe, spread the light and it kept burning throughout the world until it reached us and now we, who believe, become light carriers and the Light of Christmas keeps on giving…

Written by Nancy Janiga ©2014

Grace~It’s All About Grace

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The words slid off my tongue like butter from a knife.

Smooth, slick words rolled out of my mouth and into my listener’s ears.

If only I had caught my words that morning and took them captive while they were still a thought.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Restless, agitated, mulling over my words, trying to convince myself that I spoke ‘truth in love’ was how I spent the next few days.  My soul felt like a clogged channel and I was looking for ways to unclog it.  The truth is–I couldn’t do that myself.

Around the same time, I was meeting with a group of women studying a book titled, “Seeking Him–experiencing the joy of personal revival” and what an eye-opening, wow inducing, all-encompassing truth encounter that was!

I rested one morning in the chapter on having a clear conscience and dealing with offenses toward others.  Emmanuel ~ God’s astonishing grace with me, was pointing out, teaching, empowering and challenging me to live out the gospel.

I may have failed to live it out just days before but I could begin again.  It’s what we do after we make a mess that really matters.

Acknowledging the messiness before God was liberating.  His grace ushered in peace, but my peace, wasn’t enough.  I had to bring peace into the relationship with the woman, that I had offended.  I needed to apologize.

With an invitation to a party in hand (that I knew she would be attending too) I planned my move.

I was hoping my words would slide off my tongue like butter (this time too) but I envisioned them more like peanut butter sticking to the roof of my mouth as I tried to force out an apology.  I wanted her to understand the motive behind the words; defend myself and I kept rehearsing how I’d say it.

But none of that mattered on the day we met.  I said a prayer while walking into the event and courage and power flowed through my once clogged soul and I simply said, “I want to apologize for what I said, it was uncalled for, will you forgive me?”   She smiled, “Wow I appreciate that.  Yes I forgive you.”

We sat at the same table, enjoying the party together, with the air cleared of everything but GRACE.

Grace.  It’s all about grace.

God wrapped Himself in grace on that first Christmas, over 2000 years ago, and the gift of grace keeps on giving.

It’s grace that meets us in the middle of relationships and helps us speak the simple words “Will you forgive me?” And it’s grace that allows the response, “Yes I forgive you.”

It’s not enough for me to accept His gift of grace, I need to extend it.  Freely I have received so I can freely give.  There isn’t another way to live the life of faith except through grace.

When we first believed it was by grace; living our faith daily is grace upon grace, upon grace, upon grace…it’s all about grace.

Is there someone who needs the gift of grace from you this Christmas?

Written by: Nancy Janiga ©2014

Sentimental Journey and the Moments that Count

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I’ve felt sentimental lately.

A dear aunt of mine passed away on Thanksgiving.

The older I get my aunt’s age of 77 doesn’t seem that old.  Of course I know that younger (much younger) people or children pass away and the reality is that death is no respecter of age.

Either is illness.  My aunt actually left her family a few years ago as Alzheimer’s snatched her from her loved ones and kept her captive until being released and set free on Thanksgiving.

She was a big part of my childhood~and even into my adult years~so the memories of the lovely person she was with her beautiful smile and contagious laughter are washing over me like a stream from a waterfall.

I’ve felt the need for stillness in the days that followed the news.  I’m sensing a holy hush, a reminder of how fleeting this life really is.

Not only am I visiting memories of my aunt but memories of other loved ones, that have passed on.  I’m brought back to different places in time recalling the moments spent with each one, who they were, their personalities, their quirks, their uniqueness and how they mattered.  How they mattered to me.

I’m sitting here, in my pajamas (as noon approaches) with my third cup of coffee, and a half eaten bowl of steel-cut oats, clicking away at my keyboard.

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Then out of nowhere my husband approaches and says, “Your brother, Frank, got us hooked on steel-cut oats, remember?”

I slide my glasses down my nose and look over them, “Yes, I remember.”

And I’m transported to another time; another memory.

Frank made a big pan of steel-cut oats for us, on one of our last visits with him, before his death.  Coffee, oats and laughter filled our morning.  Frank always made us laugh with his quick wit and funny stories.

You’ve been there too, I’ll bet.  I mean the journey back to those sentimental places for a visit.

Then after a brief visit, we return.  We come back to here, now, the moments of today and hopefully begin to savor each one.

I savor through photography.

Some people may think that taking pictures doesn’t allow a person to truly enjoy the moment.  For me, just the opposite is true.

My camera engages me with my surroundings so much so that I become aware of things that may go unnoticed by others, especially in nature.

“Some people say they prefer living life instead of taking pictures of it.  That’s missing the point.  Photography gets you more involved in your environment.  Most of all, it gets you out of the house and into the sunlight, where a lot of what I call “present-moment living” happens in the first place.”   Jim Miotke

My camera has been a gift from God to help me focus on the blessings that surround me.  One by one I see them, frame them with my eye and then snap them.

I don’t have to have a camera to savor the moments and either do you.  We just need an awareness of how precious they are and give thanks for every gift.

The point is we often rush through our days without savoring much but when we make a conscience effort to savor we become engaged in the moments without letting them slip by.  And we engage with the people we’re with making the time with them count

During this busy season of December, taking notice of when we’re harried, hurried, stressed (and with a deep breath) remember what really matters–the moments–the people–that’s what will help us refocus again and again.

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it is a memory.” Dr Seuss 

Let’s savor and value the simplest of moments now–the everyday blessings–even before they become a memory.

Written by:  Nancy Janiga©2014