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3 posts from March 2011

Monday, March 28, 2011

Even in Hardship - An Abundance of Blessings


Many changes have taken place in the 30  months that Big Bear has been out of work.  There have been many difficult and humbling changes, but nothing that has really been negatively life altering - like having cable turned off (which obviously means no television), or lowering the thermostat in the winter and raising it in the summer, or finding creative ways to earn money to pay the utility bills.


We've learned to be conscientious energy consumers and we turn off unnecessary lights, we don't run the dishwasher or the washing machine unless it is full.  We also don't run errands as often as we did for most of the last 18 years together.  We plan our trips to the grocery or whereever else we need to go so as not to waste gas.  It's just too expensive.


We've learned that shopping at the Goodwill really isn't all that bad after all.  I mean, I've come to love shopping there!  Just this past few Sunday's we've stopped in after church and I've found some surprising deals.  I found a perfectly new Burberry handbag for 99 cents.  I found about 4 dresses for Sarah for 4 bucks a piece - all name brand too and in excellent condition.  I bought Matthew and Glen some nice dress shirts to wear to church too.  For me, it has become a bit of a treasure hunt.  I'm not ashamed to admit any of this because I can honestly say, without hesitation, that I've learned a great many things over the last 2 years, and most of it has been good.  I'm actually grateful for the Goodwill.


I've learned that I (yes, little ol' me) am fully capable of carrying my family of 5 financially through the blessings God has given me to write, paint in oils, sew, craft, and design websites and blogs.  My crafts have turned into a full-fledged business and God has brought me the business to keep me busy.


I've learned the value of a dollar - more than ever before.  I will never again waste a dollar on frivolous purchases, and instead will think about the value of saving that dollar. 


Sure, it was nice having the money to go shopping and spend it on whatever I desired that was within our budget of course, but still, we've been very comfortable for most of our marriage and have never wanted for anything.  Now, of course, our lives have changed, but has it been all that bad?  Not really.


We've all been praying.  Praying that Big Bear finds a good job and we can get our lives back, but as the days and weeks and months have passed, what I thought was an unanswered prayer has actually been answered abundantly.


Honestly, I think we needed a wake up call.  And "wake up" we have.  Even for all the resumes that Bob has sent out and for all the interviews that he has been on, no job is on the horizon - at least not one working for someone else.  Still, we are happy and healthy.  We have our home and we have each other.  We have family - and nothing is more important than family.


In addition to all the hard-learned lessons, I wouldn't take back one day of the last 30 months.  I believe, for us, this has been the Lord in action in our lives. We've each had difficult days, stressful days, days of worry and turmoil, but the sun has always shined brightly the next day.


Where as we used to make excuses for not getting up on Sunday morning and taking our family to church even when our children asked us if we could all go, we now go every Sunday without fail.  The children are happier than ever before - not that they weren't happy before, but Sunday's have come to represent time with God, time with prayer, time to reflect, and time with family.  Rain or shine, we've gone to church every Sunday.  I made a promise to my daughter, Sarah, that unless we are all sick, we will go to church on Sunday.  I won't break my promise and I am better for it.


As a result, we are becoming more active in our church.  We love our congregation family, and we absolutely love our pastors (yes, I said "pastors") as our church has 6 pastors.  Every Sunday we leave feeling renewed and blessed.  We each share our experience and thoughts as we drive home to begin our week.  I love this time we share and I look forward to Sunday now more than any other day of the week.


I also made a promise to myself and God that I would read the Bible this year and I have been reading almost daily.  I enjoy reading God's word in the morning before I begin my day.  It's amazing how it calms me and brings things into focus.


Think about it ... How often do our schedules, long to-do lists, and our immediate line of priorities trump the things we claim to love the most?  A pile of laundry certainly seems insignificant the day a family member becomes sick or injured, or your mother falls ill.  Yes, life involves a great deal of responsibility, but it also involves a need for responsiveness to urgent situations - like a child struggling in school or a loss of a job.  We need to gain perspective - fast - and respond accordingly.  I am proud of my family because we have each stepped up to the plate and helped each other through these tough economic times.


We've had to respond, and in doing so, we've prayed that God show us the way for our journey through this "relative" hardship.  I say "relative" because really now, how bad is it really for us?  Not.  Think of those poor souls in Japan, or the families who have lost their homes to this economic situation.  Think of our young men and women fighting a war in Iraq and Afghanistan, or the fighting in Egypt.  Perspective.  Suddenly "this" life we are living seems glorious by comparison.


In the last year especially, I've managed  to grow and nurture a business from nothing to something - Red Easel Designs - and it has carried us through.  My painting commissions have picked up too for my Vaughn Fine Art business, and I've sold a number of my crafts too.  I had a task to fulfill and I needed to step in quickly to honor that need for my family.  With God's help, I've been able to do this.


Talk about putting things in perspective - think of Moses.  Here's a man who was tending sheep, fulfilling his daily responsibility, when God intervened with an urgent call.  Moses was available and obedient, but when God told him what he wanted him to do - to go back to Egypt and lead a rescue mission for the Hebrew people, imagine what must have gone through Moses' mind.  "I can't do this, I'm just an ordinary man" (maybe)  In many ways, I thought that being able to carry my family financially while Big Bear continues to look for work was impossible and it scared the bageebees out of me.  I didn't think I could do it.


Like Moses, I certainly felt inadequate for the job of picking up where Bob left off, and I felt ill equipped for this mission in my life.  However, I've learned that when God calls us to do something bigger than we think we can accomplish, He will equip us by working through us, just as He did with Moses.


I've learned to rely on God's strength and not on my own abilities.  That is how we can become more confident in our own successes.  His great power overcomes our lack of confidence or talent.  We act in the power of the great "I Am."


So when you hear the call to step up, just as I have in the past few years, answer without hesitation "Here I am Lord!"  God's call.  God's strength.  Your availability.  I'm proof positive that the Lord works wonders and blessings through hardship - little ones and big ones.  We may not see His answer in our time, but we will surely see it in His.


Love to all my readers and friends - you are my family and I am so grateful for all of you. 


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Top of the Mornin'


For the last week or so, I've had the hardest time pulling myself out of bed in the morning - but for good reasons.  When I lay on my left side I can look out my window, but for the last week or so, the evenings have been "cool" and the mornings have been sunny and cool and breezy as well, so I have been putting the screen in my window and leaving it there.


At night, when the lights are out and all is quiet, there is a slight breeze that filters into the room and I find myself drifting off to sleep within minutes.  Even my brain is quiet when the cool breeze finds its way to my face.


I'm in a coma until morning.  I get up with the children and get them off to school and then I scoot back to bed and curl up under the covers until the sun comes out.


The breeze picks up and the white sheers are blowing into the room, but what I find completely amazing about North Carolina are the birds.  The song birds.  The music serenades me for what seems to be hours. 


Honestly, having lived in Maryland, Virginia, Florida, Missouri, and North Carolina, there has never been a place so filled with song birds like North Carolina.  It really is amazing and one of these days I am going to record the music outside my window and let you listen for yourself.  Even with the windows closed I can hear the serenading outside.


Of course, there is "Peepers" who I spot looking in the windows every now and then. 


And there is a family of owls that live in our forest of trees in our backyard that whooooot the night away.


Aren't they beautiful?  These are only a few of the birds that live in our backyard, but are native to North Carolina.


And see that Turkey Vulture?  We have a bit too many of them around here.  As a matter of fact, about 3 years ago, a Turkey Vulture made his way onto my front door step, and began knocking at my transom window.  Adolf (our German Shepherd) just looked at him through the window in amazement.  He was there for hours and I finally had to call animal control.  They caught the Turkey Vulture and as it turns out, he was dying - at my front door no less. 


I've discovered in the almost 6 years that we have lived in North Carolina that not only is there an abundance of birds and wildlife, but just like the people of this great State, the wildlife and the birds are very friendly too. :)

Whereever you are in this world, I hope your mornings are as glorious as mine have been lately, and I hope the birds are serenading you too.  I feel totally immersed in God's magnificent creation.

Can you identify any of the birds in this post?  If so, leave a comment below and let me know where you live too!


Sunday, March 06, 2011

Cracker Barrel Not All it's Cracked Up To Be


We "used" to love Cracker Barrel.  We used to love stopping at Cracker Barrel when going on trips, and after church on Sundays too.  We'd always stop at a Cracker Barrel for good food and a great shopping experience.  But, things have changed, and I'm really distressed over it because now, I'm not so sure we will go to Cracker Barrel again, not even for their country store.  Bottom line - the food is lousy and very costly.  The service is still good, and the management does take an interest in the customers, but if you are looking for good food, Cracker Barrel is no longer the family destination of choice.

Why?  Well, I'll tell you.  The food has changed.  The cornbread is absolutely terrible and has about as much flavor as cardboard.  My son and daughter ordered pancakes this morning, and they were not cooked.  We couldn't believe it, but the inside of the pancakes were still pancake batter.  The chicken tenders are bland and the cinnamon apples - the one thing I used to enjoy - had apple skin that was "tough" to swallow.  The food has become generic, bland, and - well - bad.

Now this is not the way we like to enjoy our Sundays after church, nor do we like to complain, but I do feel a need to share this experience with you, and not just because "our" experience was bad.  You see, we talked to the manager and he explained to us that a lot is changing and it isn't all good.  The manager explained to us that by going the "Corporate" route, the food is prepared off-site and shipped in, which has eroded the "home-cooked" meal experience that Cracker Barrel was originally built on.

Woooh!  Food is prepared off-site and shipped into Cracker Barrel?!!  That's scary if you ask me.  Off-site, as in "where" off-site?  You mean my food is not actually prepared and cooked "here?"  And, apparently, this disgruntled family of ours are not the only customers voicing concerns about the problems with food and pricing too - it is rampant across all Cracker Barrel franchises, because they all serve the same thing and have all gone through the same changes - or, so, this is our understanding.

Here's the thing, at least 5 employees at Cracker Barrel spoke to us and all of them asked me to "PLEASE" write a blog post about this.  You see, they know me there because we used to frequent the establishment.  Now we go about once every 3-4 months, and in the past year, each time we have dined there has been a horrible experience.  Literally.  I suppose old habits die hard, because each time I was convinced it had to be the cook in the back or some other reason the food was so bad.  

One afternoon about a year ago, I stopped in with my mother for lunch and we both left disgusted with the food.  It was terrible and expensive.  I swore I would never go back, but here we are - back at Cracker Barrel hoping it was just a fluke that the last 3-5 times we've gone there it has been a bad experience.


Anyway, the employees who spoke with us today said that customers are leaving unhappy every day and by the multitudes and they desperately want "back" the best-of-breed restaurant and quality food service that once was Cracker Barrel.  

Just so my readers know, I am not here to rant on Cracker Barrel.  I've loved the eating-out destination for years, but when a family of 5 can't eat for less than 60 - 80 bucks and you end up waiting almost 45 minutes for your food (even on a slow day) and then it isn't even cooked, or good, or hot - it begs the question "What happened?"  

To Cracker Barrel - Wake UP!  You are not going to grow any customer love by slacking off in the one area that once was your banner of pride - good home-cooked food goodness.  You cannot make up for bad food with a nice country store either.  Why?  Because if your customers no longer like your food, they will most likely not shop at your country store either.

It really pains me to write this post, but we are a family that enjoys the occasional Sunday afternoon brunch after church together.  It is quality family time.  Time to enjoy a good meal together.  Time to talk about our blessings and our church service.  Time to reflect on the coming week.  Just good quality family time.  Cracker Barrel used to be our favorite "after church" destination.  We'd even enjoy sitting and playing checkers while we waited for a table.  I'm sad to say that we will not be going back to Cracker Barrel.  At the very least, not until we discover through word-of-mouth, that the food has improved, and the home-cooked goodness that Cracker Barrel was built on is once again a promise.

I hope my readers who frequent Cracker Barrel will comment and share their experiences - and I'm not talking about Cracker Barrel employees or families posing as happy customers either.  This is a real problem and I hope the company resolves it soon.  We sure do miss happy memories at Cracker Barrel, and hope things will change soon - for the better of course.


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