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Lessons I Wish I’d Learned Much Sooner Than I Did

Just pick up the pencil

Lower expectations

Be flexible

It’s perfectly ok to celebrate Christmas on a day other than the 25th

I sit, Starbucks Hong Kong coffee mug in hand, as the sun streams through the window and warms my chilled body. I guess I can say I have been there, even though it was just a brief layover, flying from China to Indonesia. After all, I do have the mug to prove it.

As I ponder what to write, a myriad of ideas dart every direction in my head and smash into each other, leaving me with nothing but disjointed, unorganized thoughts. I know I need to work on my book, but today just isn’t the day. Then, when I am about to slam the computer shut, it comes. Still not completely clear, but at least a few uncluttered notions:

Get it down on paper while it’s fresh on your mind.

 Future generations may want to read it.

Just write one sentence, then another, then another…

Keep reminding self: Many sentences make a story!

Christmas 2019

Just a few days before Christmas 2019, I had only one question, “Didn’t we just have Thanksgiving?” On this year it fell on the 28th (the latest possible date it can be.)   Both my husband’s and my birthdays are in December and our anniversary on January 1st. With Christmas on the heels of Thanksgiving this year all of these special dates seemed to literally bump into each other. Thanksgiving definitely got the short end of the stick, with Christmas festivities and decorations merrily hijacking it. Even I, who has always believed it to be just plain wrong to commence with holiday decorations before Thanksgiving, succumbed. Yes, I caved in to the pressure of putting up the tree days before the turkey was carved!

Our 25th of December morning began with just the two of us and no presents under the tree to open. That was okay because we had already gifted each other with a future “event” (attendance at the Colson Center’s Wilberforce weekend in Arlington, Virginia) which had been on my bucket list for several years.

Our day included an afternoon trip to the airport in Austin to pick up our Chicago kids. How could we make the day special for three teens, one three-nager and their parents? With no restaurants open, we knew we had better come up with a plan for feeding two 6’ 4” boys (uh, I mean, young adults, as they constantly remind me), a petite fourteen-year-old girl who eats as much as her brothers (where does she put it?!) and a three-year-old who is always hungry. A bottle of water and a granola bar was not going to suffice.

So, hubby and I spent our Christmas morning in the kitchen making a picnic fit for a king (or queen), perfect for a tailgate party.

As predicted, the kids got off the plane starving. No way could we have made the long drive home from the airport without some pretty hangry peoples. A little side note: Hunger to teenagers translates into, “If I don’t get food I’m going to die!”

The dazzling Johnson City Christmas lights turned out to be the perfect setting for our Christmas meal. These Chicago-land people, used to their heavy parkas and gloves by now, jumped out of the van to a pleasant surprise–their feet landed on soft green stuff instead of crunchy white stuff. They could hardly believe our pleasant Texas Hill Country evening. Everyone grabbed a bag or cooler and headed for the one picnic table that just happened to be right in front of the courthouse.

Our table, set with green and red paper holiday plates and candles to light the table as it got darker, looked beautiful. The main entrée of Texas Crock-pot pulled pork, along with buns, chips, salsa and hummus got everyone’s attention. And what would a Christmas day/eve dinner be without 2019’s ever-popular charcuterie board filled with an assortment of cheeses, crackers, Texas Longhorn summer sausage, chips, olives, nuts, and fruit?!  Hot chocolate and cookies satisfied our sweet tooth and topped off the food selection for our tailgate party on a table.

As the sun slowly dipped behind the horizon, the lights on the courthouse and quaint little houses on the streets surrounding it brightly glistened against the dark sky. The entire area transformed into a twinkling fairyland that could have easily passed for a portrait by the famous artist, Thomas Kinkade, the “Painter of Light.”

The kids chased each other on the lawn and the adults reveled in the soft quiet of the night by the brightly lit sign outlined by tiny lights that spelled out in fancy cursive letters, Hill Country Style. It was truly a Hill Country Style evening I will not soon forget.

If I’ve learned anything over the years, it’s to lower expectations and be flexible when family gathers in large groups for extended periods of time. I wouldn’t have chosen Christmas Day to make a run to the airport, thus necessitating our family celebration to be scheduled later in the week. But, it happened this year, and we still managed to make some memories. I can just hear the kids-young adults-in 2030, saying, “Yeah, remember that year we had a tailgate party on Christmas day and we didn’t have to eat turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce?!”

Maybe, just maybe, it’s perfectly acceptable to occasionally dispense with the year-to-year same old traditions and try something new. And maybe it’s okay to just do it once!

You are Mine by Karen Sheppard

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. Isaiah 43:1 NIV

 Recently, I kept my three-year-old granddaughter while her parents were away. To delay her nap, she gladly welcomed snuggle-time in my lap. However, just minutes before, she lay sprawled on the floor, loudly protesting sleep. This bouncy, spirited little redhead wrapped her arms tightly around my neck and completely relaxed. As she rested her head on my chest, her breath tickled my chin. I began to sing, “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey.”  My annoyance at her tantrum quickly faded. I deeply desired for her to know that she was mine, and I loved her.

In our pain and despair, we sometimes lose hope and shake a fist at God. Our kind and merciful Father responds by declaring us family. His open hands reach out and pull us close as He whispers in our ear, “You are Mine and I will provide strength and comfort through your sleepless nights.

Father, as we enter the hectic Christmas season, quiet our restless spirits. Restore our hope and let us never forget that we are Yours.

Dispensers of Joy

You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

Psalm 32:7 NIV

Six years ago, one malnourished, tiny nine-month-old baby boy was rescued from the streets of China and dropped off at a hospital. Through a series of providential events, he became part of our family.

We can’t imagine our lives without our little Huddy Buddy. He practically levitates off the floor with pure delight when anyone enters the room. He idolizes his family and they adore him. Although at seven our grandson can’t walk or talk, he dispenses joy to everyone he meets with his sweet disposition and ear-to-ear grin. We have no idea what the future holds for this boy but know that God will use him in a mighty way.

Joy and gratefulness should be our mantra this season as we reflect on:

  • the birth of a tiny baby, called Immanuel (God with us.)
  • a God-man whose cruel death on a cross brought new life to all who believe.

Our Father has rescued and delivered us from the dangerous “streets” of an evil world. He surrounds us with a hedge of protection. We have every reason to shout hallelujah as we spread the marvelous joy of our Savior, not only this Christmas season, but every season!

Father, in all circumstances fill our hearts with the joy of your love and let it be evident to all.

Making Fast Friends Fast

Definition of Expat: shortened form of expatriate, referring to anyone who has chosen to live away from their native home country, either permanently or with the intention of returning to their own country. Often a person is offered temporary change of employment. It first meant “one who is banished,” and later “one who chooses to live abroad.”

Life in a new country offers both opportunities and challenges. Stepping into the unknown can be a huge leap of faith, especially in a country where no one speaks your language. Making friends with expats in similar circumstances eases the transition and loneliness. With no close family or friends, the need for relationships to fill that gap is vital.

The Vienna, Austria United Nations Women’s Guild (UNWG) weekly activities provided the perfect avenue to meet other women. In a group of people, for various reasons, we are often drawn to certain ones.

My first time at the UNWG quilting group I immediately gravitated toward Barbara from Maryland and Christine from Canada.

It wasn’t long before we pulled our spouses into the mix for an evening out. Our scientist husbands quickly found common ground in each of their fields of expertise. Conversation flowed easily as the women, eager to begin taking in all the “Vienna experience” we could work into our days, proceeded to made plans to visit coffee shops/cafes, museums, and markets.

As couples, we traveled together, mostly by train, to places in Vienna, as well as neighboring countries. We biked through the countryside and along the Danube River, stopping to visit old castles and places of interest. And, of course, coffee breaks took top priority. As a result of the excellent Viennese coffee, I unfortunately became a major “coffee snob.”

This past weekend we gathered at our house for our first reunion since we left Vienna eight years ago. We reminisced of our Vienna days, recalling places we frequented, such as ancient castles,  re-telling stories of the history of families who occupied them so long ago. We marveled at our stamina to complete long bike treks and walk everywhere in the frigid cold, pulling carts loaded with groceries on and off the ubahn (city transportation.)

Then the women shared pictures of both our finished and unfinished quilt projects, told funny stories of our grandkid’s shenanigans and of course, made time for lots of coffee breaks.

Relaxing at Singing Waters Winery on our way home from Fredericksburg.

Coffee at Local

The men joined us to a quilt hand stitch art exhibit at UTSA.  I think they may have enjoyed it as much as we did.

Three scientists and a quilt

The men reveled in the fact that they had someone to converse with who understand “their language” as they discussed the different roles they each held in keeping the world safe.

None of us may have been close friends in our own countries, but thrown into a strange place, focusing on things we had in common, it became easy to look past our differences. The encouragement we offered one another kept us focused on the positive. Even though we each possessed very different personalities, we instantly became close friends.

As Christians, we also exhibit distinctive natures and hold personal preferences, but our one thing in common, Jesus, allows us to overlook differences as we focus on Him.

 So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching. Hebrews 10:23-25 MSG

This present world, wherever we live, should never feel like home. Our gracious God has blessed us with a community of brothers and sisters to offer encouragement while we travel in a foreign land. As we make our way through this momentary world, let’s never ever forget the final destination.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:20 ESV

Hands

Old hands, young hands, wrinkled hands, calloused hands, soft hands, freckled hands. I love to study hands. I don’t think I have pretty hands, but they are what God gave me and I must realize He gave me these hands for a purpose. So, I need to embrace the fact that how my hands look are not what is important. It is how I use them.

My brothers, sister and I have similar hands, just like my dad’s and grandfather’s. My grandpa’s hands were working hands. He was a plumber. His hands reached deep down into the recesses of toilets to unclog them and plodded through tight spaces under houses in muck and mire to connect pipes. My dad also had working hands–he climbed poles to restore electricity and helped mama cows birth their calves. My brother, 5 years younger than me also works hard with his hands, but not the same kind of hard as my dad and grandfather. He assembles sound systems and builds music studios. My sister, in her 60s, still cleans their cabin rentals every day and still works with her husband to gut and remodel houses

I was ten years old when my youngest brother, Brian, was born. Already infatuated with babies, he became my living baby doll. When he cried nights on end with painful ears, I rocked him back to peaceful sleep. My hands cradled him so lovingly as I cuddled him close, feeling his heartbeat thump, thump, thump against my chest. Sometimes when he was fast asleep, I could be known to jiggle his bed just to wake him so I could scoop him up with my small hands and love on him more.

Then our dad got cancer and ceased being the role model this teenage boy so desperately needed. My brother began to drink with his friends, then left home.

Years passed and I went off to school, married, and moved far away. My baby brother grew up and we drifted apart.

He still worked with his hands. He built a house and played guitar for a living in faraway countries.

Once he came by to visit us in Tennessee on his way home from Alaska. He loved our girls and they loved him. He, the fun uncle, tickled them softly with his freckled hands and made them laugh. Big boisterous laughter! His car, filled with a giant stuffed bear he had brought back, peered out the car window. Our girls, mesmerized by their amazing uncle, begged to have a picture with him and of course, the bear.

The girls grew up and began families of their own and didn’t see their uncle nearly as much as they would like.

We, finally empty-nesters, moved to Austria for a while. I worried about my brother. I knew he participated in risky behaviors, like drugs and alcohol.

We decided that after retirement we’d move to the Texas Hill Country where he lived, hoping to be a positive influence in his life. After two years in Austria, we received news that he tested positive for liver cancer. He finally gave up his drug and alcohol habit, but it was a little too late.

As he lay in the hospice bed, looking like a shriveled up old man, I tried to remember what it felt like to cuddle that soft little babe-in-arms. I caressed his hands, as memories flooded back of days long gone when I called him “my baby.” I gently laid my hand on his chest and it ever so slowly moved up and then down. I leaned over and felt his heartbeat just like I had done as a ten-year-old girl.

And then he breathed his last.

2018 Sheppard Family

First of all, we want to wish all of you a Merry Christmas. What a blessing to continue relationships for many years with those of you we have had the privilege to know not only from the U.S., but also other countries. 

We still love living in the Texas Hill Country and enjoy the peace and tranquility it provides. The workshop Greg has patiently and steadily built from the ground up is nearing completion. He’s excited to be able to finally see the end of this project in the next few months, fulfilling his dream of post–retirement woodworking hobby. 

Pop’s Shop

 In April we moved Greg’s parents to an independent living facility in San Antonio to be closer to us. Moving from their long-time home in Abilene was difficult, but they seem to be enjoying all of the activities offered for  the residents  and also living close to kids, grandkids, and great-grands.We both enjoy the men’s and women’s Bible studies at the new church (in our area) we are attending. I am currently participating in women’s discipleship training and look forward each week to meeting with  my discipleship partner, a young woman the age of my daughters. We also began a small weekly community group in our home in October.

My interest in writing has continued in 2018 and I eagerly anticipate the weekly Christian group meetings each week. My goal in 2019 is to make more time to spend in uninterrupted writing time each day. 

We often sit and wonder how time could have gone by so fast. Our two oldest grandchildren graduated from high school in May. Sydney, a social work major, began classes at ACU in August and Sam is attending college near his home with plans to transfer to another university in a year.  Both Sydney and Sam have dedicated summers during their high school years to mission work in other countries.

Sam
Sydney 

Blake (16) recently began study with a new piano studio. His natural ability & love for piano is evident in his beautiful playing. Brady (12) loves football, and Max (11) continues to improve his game of golf. Brady plays french horn in middle school honors band and Max began middle school orchestra this year on viola. We love living close enough to spend time with the Moreland grands and feel privileged to attend numerous musical events throughout the year.

We were excited to welcome Raiden Levi Sheppard, our #14 grandchild, on November 19th. Deserea and Raiden are temporarily living with us. It’s a lot of fun having a baby around again–just a little easier this time since we don’t have to get up at nights with him. 🙂 His Mommy sure loves that little guy!

Raiden Levi

Aidyn (14) began her own business (TakingtheAdventure.com) this year and is an avid organic gardener. Delaney (13) has taken up volleyball and plays on a team. We hear she is fierce on the court! Anderson (11) and Sheppard (9) both enjoy sports of all kinds, especially football. It warms our hearts to watch the kids be so sweet and kind to their little brother, Huddy. Hudson (6), a delight to all, gets around a little faster now with his new special wheel chair. He loves his new school where he receives physical therapy. He gets so excited to see his friends everyday.  

Moreland and Turk kids

Selah (13), a fantistic big sister to two-year-old Sarah was recently appointed captain of her cheerleading team. Silas (16) began swimming on a team last year and has steadily improved his times. At 6 ft. 4 in. he towers over all of us now.  Sarah, a huge dinosaur fan, is just really good at being cute. She adores her older siblings and they are a big help with her.

Lonard Kids

All of these kids provide their grandparents a lot of joy. We are proud not only of their accomplishments, but also for the kind and caring young men and women they are growing into as we witness their faith in God grow more each year.

Blessings and Happy New Year,  Greg & Karen 

Sarah says Aloha for now!

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men. Luke 2:14

Out of Darkness into Light

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

I Peter 2:9 NIV

As I write this today, September 11th, I am reminded of the desolation and destruction of seventeen years ago, perpetrated on our nation by evil men. 

We are bombarded with distressing news each time we pick up a newspaper or turn on the television.

On the night of Jesus’ birth the state of the nation was grim, suffering oppression by a ruthless, pagan empire. The musty odor of a straw bed in a dark and dreary stable and the stench of manure further intensified the bleakness of the setting in which He was born.

His arrival illuminated a messy, struggling world.

Ready for some GOOD NEWS?!

Jesus voluntarily entered a world of darkness to bring hope and light.

The true light which illuminates every human being was coming into the world. John 1:9 NIV

We hold the incredible promise that God’s love is more than able to overcome any obstacle Satan puts in our path.

Lord, remind us daily to place our hope and trust in You so we can brightly shine your light to a dark and hopeless world.                                     

Four Kids, A Basketball Game, And A Fake Smile

We weren’t actually there to watch the basketball game. Our primary purpose (or so we thought,) in braving the cold, windy December evening in Chicago, was to catch a few minutes of a half-time cheerleading routine.

The girls stood tall and straight, hands planted firmly on hips, waiting for their brief moment of fame. As the game clock counted down, our granddaughter, Selah, quickly glanced in our direction to make sure we were ready and watching. All smiles, they stormed onto the court. We later complimented Selah on a great performance and her beautiful smile, to which she replied in her twelve-year-old, sassy way: “Oh, that was just a fake smile for the crowd. I don’t really mean it when I smile.”  Clearly, their school spirit was at an all-time high on this evening as the voices bellowing out of their petite little bodies reverberated throughout the gym. Then, in a blink of an eye, it was over.

As Selah joined us in the stands, her mother appeared deep in conversation with the three boys behind us. I turned around just as our daughter, Erin, gave her cell number to them, with instructions to call her if they ever needed anything.

As we bundled up, to once again brave the inclement elements of the outdoors, I heard Erin address the kids: “If you all stay here while I take my family home, I will come back and give you a ride.” Without hesitation, Brandon, the oldest, quickly accepted her offer.

On our way home, Erin filled us in on the situation. Brandon, sixteen years old, assumed full responsibility for his three younger siblings when their mom worked. His twelve-year-old sister was on the same cheerleading squad as Selah. They had walked the mile from their apartment to the basketball game. Brandon never left his two younger siblings alone and he certainly wouldn’t hear of his sister walking anywhere by herself. So, that meant if their sister needed to be somewhere, they all walked her there and back. With no dad in the picture, their mom, principle bread-winner, worked most evenings and weekends.

We shivered as we exited the car. The blessing of a warm home on this night was most welcome. Erin headed back to the school to pick up her new young friends.

She had barely turned into their apartment complex when they, one by one, began voicing their appreciation for the toasty ride home. As the youngest turned to close the car door he exclaimed with all the gusto of a car-crazy eight-year-old boy, “This is the coolest car ever-I’m going to have a car like this someday!exactly the kind of car I want to have someday!”

A few days later, Brandon called Erin to ask for a ride to the school to pick up Christmas presents he purchased for his family the previous day at the school bazaar. The school had called to inform him they would be closing the bazaar room in thirty minutes and he needed to find a way to get the gifts. Erin dropped what she was doing and headed his way. He apologized profusely for having bothered her. She assured him she was more than happy to do it.

She sat in the car as he hurriedly ran up the steps. No more than five minutes had passed when the door to the building flung open and a tall, lanky, teen boy, carefully balancing several bags, emerged. Tears overflowed from his eyes and dripped down his cheeks as he approached her car. In a barely audible voice, cracking with emotion, he told her that the school had bought Christmas gifts for a few of their low-income families, his being one of them. After a little detective work, the school district had identified a few needs/wants of Brandon’s family and purchased special gifts for each of them. It greatly touched Erin to witness the compassion and grateful spirit in this young man’s heart.

Our Chicago kid’s plans for New Year’s Eve included an invitation to the parents of their oldest son’s girlfriend. As they prepared for the evening, Erin received a call from Brandon asking if he and his siblings could come over that evening. There’s one thing for sure: a person with a heart for hospitality never turns down a request from someone asking to come over.

Once again, her ragged little Honda Pilot pulled up in front of the apartment complex where four kids and a grandmother eagerly waited to be picked up. The grandmother, whom Erin had never met, sheepishly asked if she might come too. To which Erin quickly and enthusiastically replied: “Of course you can-the more the merrier!”

The kids all gravitated to the den to play games while the adults gathered around the dining table for an interactive game of Apples to Apples. What better way to get know people than through an introspective game?!

As I chatted with Erin on the phone, I told her what I was writing about. She said what I expected: “Oh Mom, it wasn’t that big a deal to reach out to them. For all they have been through, they are such amazing kids. They have taught us so much.”

Fond memories, in spite of the wicked weather, of this December 2017 trip will stay with me for a long time, but the memory that warms my heart the most began with a simple, “Hi, my name is Erin. I think I’ve seen you here before….

And one more thing: I pray that my amazing, cheerleading granddaughter took careful note of her mother’s generous act of kindness. Who knows the impact this has had on her?

I have no doubt that someday she will learn the fine art of how to put on a real smile!

 

Bulverde/Spring Branch, Canyon Lake, Boerne Area Opportunity to Help Rockport Relief Effort

This is my friend, Deb Massey Honeycutt. 

She lives in Rockport and has been a godsend to the people who were so devastated by Hurricane Harvey. For six months she has worked tirelessly to coordinate resources and volunteer efforts for Rockport and surrounding areas. She still plays a major role in supporting the people there, as many of them are just beginning to rebuild their lives.

Our friends, Chris and Amiee, have committed to make trips to Rockport with their 25-foot box trailer whenever enough is collected to fill it. Working alongside Deb, they are able to deliver everything directly to the people there.

Items needed at this time:

Any practical items for daily survival

Furniture, gently used (no king-size beds)

Household items, including cleaning products, toilet paper, paper towels.

Appliances (both large & small) Especially needed: crock pots, hot plates

Ceiling fans (used is fine as long as they work well), air conditioner window units

Building materials (lumber, sheet rock/drywall, insulation, roofing, etc.)

Gift cards are always welcome

What they don’t need at this time:

King-size beds

Clothing or shoes (they have already been replaced.)

If you have donations, please call Karen or Greg (contact info at bottom of page.) We can make arrangements for pick-up if you have a substantial amount to donate or have you take items to a central location.

They Need Help:

Youth group looking for a service project?

Adults, have a day or more to go down and volunteer?

Deb is the perfect contact! She has a long list of people who need help and will be able to organize the delivery of goods and services.

**Please contact Karen or Greg Sheppard to arrange pick-up or if you need Deb’s contact info.

Greg cell: 830-515-8094   Karen cell: 830-515-6718   Email: gksheppard51@msn.com

Gift receipts will be available upon request for tax deductions.

Thank You!!!

Finding Jesus In The Noise

Be still and know that I am God.  Psalm 46:10  NIV

Shepherds guarded their slumbering sheep, while stable animals peacefully slept, unaware of the earth-shaking event happening in their midst.

A special baby was born in the stillness of night. No pomp or grandeur surrounded this new-born King, just quiet and humble surroundings. His parents had no place to lay him but a dusty feeding trough lined with dry, brittle hay. In the night’s quiet, the Christ child peacefully slept as His proud parents tried to grasp the miracle of this moment.

There is something about the muffled sounds of night that bring an almost eerie peacefulness as distractions of the day slowly fade away.

In the serenity of evening, I often sit on my back porch and listen. It’s as if my body’s “mute button” is on. Basking in the tranquility of silence, unburdened from the clatter of the day, brings calmness to my soul. Escaping the noise of daily life, I am able to hear Him more clearly.

The same voice that shattered the silence that night with his welcome cry of arrival still speaks to us today. We need only to be still and listen.

 

God, hush our mouths and take away the noise of this world so that we can hear you speak Truth into our broken lives.