Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Star Reminds Me...

I was reminded last week of a story.  (I love stories!)  It is a true story and also a precious memory.  In the spirit of the advent season, I thought I would share it.  It is the story of how we came to own this tacky, and slightly gaudy, little Christmas tree star.

Many years ago, Bobby and I were spending our first Christmas together as a couple.  We had decided that we were not going to do Christmas.  We planned to just let the season and the day pass us by.  There were many reasons for this decision.  For the purposes of this story, you should know that we were flat broke, poor, no money.  We were living in a rent-by-the-week mobile home on the edge of small town Mississippi.  We didn’t have the money to do Christmas.  (Or so we thought.)  It just seemed much easier to do nothing.

We stay firm on our no Christmas decision.  Until December 24th.   Late afternoon on Christmas Eve, we drive pass a store advertising Christmas Trees at 75% or 80% off.  I don’t remember who but one of us said, “We might could afford a tree at 80% off.”

So we turn around.  We walk through the few trees that were left and find a small heavily discounted tree that we could afford.  If you picture Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree, then you get an idea of what this tree looked like.  But it was our tree – our very first Christmas tree!  We put it in the car, and head home. 

That’s when we remember that we do not own any ornaments or decorations.  So we stop at the dollar store.  Now I don’t know if you have ever been in a dollar store 30 minutes before closing on Christmas Eve.  If you haven’t, try to imagine a scene of chaos and mostly empty shelves, with employees who really want to close so they can clean and go home. 

(This is an excellent moment to pause and say a prayer for all the people who work in retail during the holiday season.  It is a tough job with long hours, low pay, and too many grumpy customers.)

Anyway, there we were, picking through what was left of ornaments, lights, and tinsel.  Thankfully most everything is heavily discounted for the last minute shoppers like us.  We manage to scrounge together a few things which look somewhat decent, including the tackiest looking star for the top of the tree.  

Once home, we put on some Christmas music, made some hot chocolate, and decorated that little tree with the dollar store ornaments.  It wasn’t much but all the tinsel reflected the lights, the ornaments were colorful, and at the top the multi-colored lights of a little foil star blinked.  We sat on the couch together enjoying the view.  We didn’t have much that year.  We had a lot of problems and no gifts to give.  But we had each other and, at least for a moment, life was good.

Over the next twenty plus years, our lives changed in many ways.  We worked through most of our problems, we learned to follow God’s leading, and we were able to afford bigger Christmas trees and nicer ornaments.

Some things didn’t change and became a tradition with us.  At some point in December, we would put on some Christmas music, make some hot chocolate, and decorate our tree.  And for twenty some odd years, at the top of our tree, we would place this tacky tinsel and foil star with multi-colored blinking lights.

Bobby would pull the star from its box and we would tell each other the story of how we got it. Over the years it became a tradition.  That star holds many memories and was a reminder to us each year of how much our lives had changed, a reminder of God’s blessing and provision.

Even today, when Bobby is not here to open the box, that star still serves as a reminder to me.  It reminds me that what can look like the most imperfect Christmas today can well become a perfect Christmas memory in years to come.  It is a reminder that the best gifts are love and hope.  It is a reminder of the most perfect Christmas story when a baby slept in a manager under a star in a little town called Bethlehem.   

Merry Christmas to you all!  May the star be a reminder to you of the angel’s words,

“There has been born for you a Savior,
who is Christ the Lord.”

Sunday, September 24, 2017


“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart…..down in my heart to stay”

As I thought about joy, the words from a song I learned in Vacation Bible School many years ago came to mind. The memory of that brings a smile and a reminder of the simple joys found in merely being a child. As adults, we tend to make things difficult, but as a child I knew that I had joy in my heart simply because I had Jesus in my heart. The two things, Joy and Jesus, were linked in some spiritual way that I didn’t quite understand but which I believed fully. 

My understanding of joy has grown over the years along with the occasionally yearning for that simple childlike faith. Jesus said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to the little children (Matthew19:14), a reminder that we are, most importantly, children of God. And in that knowledge, there is joy. This joy reminds us that our Father God loves us very much, He watches over us, and He sees each of us, not as a grown adult trying to get by, but as His precious child. He wants us to experience the joy that comes from humbling our self to serve Him, giving our self over to His purposes for His glory, and sharing that joy with others.

Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Joy is different from happiness. Happiness is a temporary emotion which comes and goes according to the circumstances. Joy is an inward state of being. We can be joyful even when we are not happy. 

I have joy because I have hope – a promise that I am His and there is a much better life awaiting me. I have joy because I am content – I know what is valuable. I have joy because I am loved and I can love. I have joy - down in my heart to stay. I hope you also have that joy!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Thoughts from a older grad student

As year two of graduate school will be starting next week, I've been reflecting over the past twelve months.  I know when I first decided to return to college, I knew I wasn't going to be just an adult student - I was going to be an older adult student.  It was a huge, scary decision to make. I had lots of questions and I googled everything I could think of hoping to learn something from the experiences of others.  This is a long post, but I'm hoping to give back by sharing with the internet some of those questions and the answers I've learned through personal experience.

Will I be the oldest student in the class? Will I be older than the teachers?
Depends on how old you are.  The average graduate student is 33 years old according to data from 2000.  Many of the students in my classes are in their mid to late twenties.  Even though this does make me one of the oldest students, I have not encountered any issues with age.  I have had teachers who are younger than me and teachers who were older. 
One of the interesting things about age diversity in a classroom setting is the mixture of viewpoints from different generations during class discussions.  I try to avoid using phrases like ‘back in my day’ or ‘when I went to college the first time’, but I do share my life experience in class discussions.  And I am getting a unique opportunity to hear thoughts and ideas from today’s twenty-somethings.

Should I do online or on campus classes?
First make certain that whatever graduate program you are considering is properly accredited.  Otherwise, online or on-campus is a personal decision.  There are unique benefits to each.
Although I’m attending an on-campus program, I seriously considered an online program.  Online classes are flexible and you are not tied to a rigid schedule of lectures times.  You can watch the lectures whenever and wherever you want, as long as there is a good internet connection.  And you are able to replay the lectures if you want.  If you are working and raising a family, this is a huge benefit. 
I decided to enroll in a traditional on-campus program for the people connection.  For me, this has turned into a really good decision.  I enjoy getting to know my professors face-to-face.  In a live classroom, the professor is able to be tailor lectures to the questions and discussions that come up during class.  Class time sometimes tends to go in unexpected directions.  Online pre-recorded lectures don’t have this level of flexibility.    
One benefit that I didn’t foresee is that, for a limited time, I’m getting to be somewhat of a peer with the younger generation – those young men and women who will become future leaders in our field.  I listen to them talk about their passions and their hopes for their future careers.  There is a lot of negativity out there regarding Millennials but I have been so impressed with the students I’ve meet so far.  On-campus classes are giving me a unique glimpse into their lives.

Will I be able to do the work?
Yes, you will, but it takes effort.  And time.  It will take lots of time.  Graduate school means a ton of reading, a good bit of research, and papers to write for every class.  I don’t read as fast as I use to so the reading part has been a challenge.  I make an effort to stay ahead but the end of the semester always seems to catch me a little behind in the reading.  I enjoy writing but have had to learn to not be quite so personal in the assigned papers.  Some classes require a paper every week while others assign one long paper to be turned in near the end of the term.  But I won’t lie – graduate school requires a commitment of time to get the work done well. 

Will I be able to balance everything? 
In my opinion, you will not be able to balance everything perfectly.  When I made the decision to go back to school, I made a list of everything I was doing and then decided what the top three priorities would be during the grad school experience.  It has gone well – I work a full-time job, I do school, and I serve at church.  There are some things which I’ve had to temporarily put on a back-burner to be picked up later.  Graduate school is, after all, a short-term experience.

Will my family and friends support my decision?
You will certainly need the support of family and friends   I can not stress enough the importance of having people in your life who agree with and support your decision to return to school.  I could not do this without the encouragement of many different people in my life, some of whom I don’t get to see as often as I wish because I’m focusing on school.  

Becoming an older adult graduate student is not the right decision for everyone.  There is a lot to think about and the choice should be a well-considered one.  But, for me, it has been the right choice and I’m looking forward to continuing my studies.  If you are considering grad school, I hope this post has been helpful.