And the Winners Are…

Three Merry Memories emerged as the top stories during the contest. They are the stories submitted by Dana Ethridge, Kristina Odom and Gina Simpson. Congratulations to these three writers! Send me your mailing addresses (byhcontest@gmail.com) and you will receive all three items from the holiday specials at The Colley House! Here they are:

XmasSpecialElders

XmasSpecialDDRocks

Here’s the first winning entry. As you read this story by Dana Ethredge, just think how much better off we’d all be if we could make practical application of Matthew 6:33 throughout the holidays, de-emphasizing those things that are purely mercenary and/or unimportant and placing the priority on the things that make for true happiness. Merry Christmas, sisters! You make my life richer all year ‘round!

Here is my humbly submitted entry for the Christmas tales contest. I hope it’s not too long!

My family is composed of an abundance of spoilers. Because of this fact, I have tons of great childhood Christmas memories. However, my best Christmas thus far (and what will forever be my best Christmas) occurred as a very young adult and centered not on material gifts but on love.

December 25th, 2002 was the day I married the man I am sure was made for me. Why did we get married on Christmas? Well, we weren’t supposed to, but I’ll get to that. Six months earlier–Independence Day to be exact (we like to do things on holidays)–we became engaged. That is quite an awkward story for another time. Any who, we (mainly me) decided to be married in about a year. I started planning immediately. My then-fiance was not into wedding planning or a wedding at all. He just wanted to be married. In hindsight, I admit he’s much more sensible than me. So, conversations would often arise about foregoing the wedding and eloping. To be truthful I should call them minor arguments rather than conversations. But I was sold on the whole fairy tale wedding idea and wouldn’t hear it.

About six months into wedding planning, I began to be especially frustrated with it all and those emotions were showing. On the way to a family Christmas party (four days before Christmas), another conversation started up in the car about eloping. He saw my frustrations and didn’t understand why I would continue to put myself in a stressful situation. This conversation turned into a full-fledged fight complete with crying and explanations on my part about familial obligations and wanting my family to witness my marriage. At some point during that scene, I realized he was right. The wedding event wasn’t worth it. The realization hit me like a punch in the face. I understood all of sudden that I wanted to marry this man, and I was fighting about how to do it. It wasn’t right. I knew then I wanted to be married immediately and begin our life together. So, we decided that night, in that car on a compromise–a surprise Christmas wedding.

On Christmas day we were already hosting both of our families at his house. The people I really wanted to witness our marriage would all be gathered together in one place. We would just need someone to marry us. The next day we asked the preacher for our congregation if we could borrow him on Christmas for about an hour. He agreed. The next two days were a mad rush to get blood tests, marriage licenses, and something decent to wear for the occasion. I didn’t think we could pull it off, but we did. Everyone showed up anticipating present-swapping and eating and they got to witness a wedding as well. The shortened explanation of why we kept everything secret was to avoid more of that aforementioned stress.

After everyone left, it was time to go to Bible study (Christmas was on a Wednesday that year like it is this year). Therefore, the memory is sweetened by our first act together as a married couple being Bible study. Undoubtedly due to that dedication on both our parts to serve God (though we are so far from perfect in that service), we have truly lived happily (and pretty stress-free) ever after.

The important lesson I learned from all of that is to not worry about how things look or about pleasing others to the point of distressing myself and my spouse but rather to focus on actually making sure things are functioning properly in my relationship with my husband (and now my children).

Thanks so much for reading!

Sister to Sister: Merry Memories Countdown #4

1485957_10151752408396384_735300211_o(Be sure to send your Merry Memory for the contest! Details at http://thecolleyhouse.org/sister-to-sister-merry-memories-countdown. Submissions are coming in! )

Merry Memory #4
The Little Bed

It was Christmas Eve. The loving Father was putting the final touches on the little cherry rope bed. It was the young carpenter’s best work to date. He had chosen his best cherry wood. He had planed, measured, and cut it. He had cut the little bed’s tongue-and-groove joints with precision. The finish was a mixture of boiled linseed oil and pumice stone. The three little stairs that she would climb up and down hundreds of times to reach the bed, and the little trundle he had built to match were all finished, at last. He called his wife and they strung the heavy braided sisal rope through the finished holes that he had drilled in just the right places. The mother and father tugged and tied the ropes as tightly as they could, remarking about the origin of the phrase “Sleep tight.” He watched as she outfitted the little bed with sheets and a pillow and then she placed the sunbonnet girl quilt that had been begun by the baby’s great grandmother and finished by her mother on the sweet little bed.

It was almost midnight and the little blond haired, blue-eyed girl had long since been sleeping in her crib in the other corner of the room. So sound asleep, in fact, was she, that she didn’t even stir during the assembly, the roping or the making of the little bed. She slept soundly as the loving father picked her up from the crib and laid her gently in what she would later term “the big-girl bed” where she would sleep from that night until the night when the father would walk her down the aisle and give her to another who would love her and provide a new place for her to sleep. That wedding night, at the time, seemed so very distant. All the same, the father knew he was providing a resting place for the times the little girl would be sick, the times she would giggle all night with the twins or the cousins who would come spend the night in the little trundle, the times she would be propped up in the little bed studying for an exam, the many phone conversations that she would have while lying there and the few times the pillow would be dampened with her tears, when she was heartbroken by a beau or disappointed by some friend. He didn’t like to think about any hurt coming to the little girl, but he knew times of pain were inevitable. He knew that, one day when she lived far from that little room, her memories of home would include the prayers that were offered from that little bedside and the stories from the Good Book that were told in that sweet place. The father made the bed so he could lay her in it on Christmas Eve and see the light in her eyes on Christmas morning. But he knew, too, that He was providing a place for her future and maybe even for the future of those to whom she would one day give birth.

We have a loving Father who provides for His children with every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). He has made for us, in Christ, a place of rest (Matthew 11:28). He has placed us there for our security now; for our protection in the darkness of this world. He knows about the times of rejoicing and weeping. He knows about the people who will disappoint us. He knows about the battles in which the devil will engage us. He knows about the trials of sickness, and heartache and failure in this life. But, in the provision, He has abundantly prepared for our future. What he has built for us is all we need now; but His eye, even in the building, is on heaven. He knows there will be one night when you and I will cross the chilly waters of Jordan and reach the timeless side of eternity. We will be far removed from the troubles of the world and the new rest will be beyond our imaginations. It will be eternal (John 14:13). The loving Father has already provided what we need for all of eternity. That’s the great providence (provide-ence) of our great Father.

It is interesting to notice that in I Timothy 5:8, which speaks about the responsibility of an earthly father to “provide for his own”, the Greek word for provide, “pronoeo”, means to “look out for beforehand” or “to consider in advance”. I am thankful to be married to a the kind of man who made that little bed and who made so many more important provisions and weighty decisions in view of the future of our children. Most of all, I am unspeakably thankful to be the child of the heavenly Father, who has considered, in advance, my everlasting well-being and has provided my place of rest for this life and for eternity!

Sister to Sister: Merry Memories Countdown #6

1401947_10151737914806384_1495421258_oThe next six posts will be short recollections of holiday times with family. Each will include something that somehow is etched permanently into my memory from holidays past. And each will include some lesson learned from that magical (or, in some cases, mournful) holiday moment. Do you have a Christmas memory you’d like to share with readers? If so, send it to byhcontest@gmail.com. The best three entries will earn the writers one of each item in our three holiday specials this year. This prize set will include:

  • 1 “How to Build Great Kids” DVD
  • 1 “Shepherd’s Special” DVD
  • 1 “Digger Doug Rocks” CD

So, take a few minutes to tell us what rocked your brightest holiday. Tell us that sentimental story about the good old days or even about the year you accidentally left the 90% off tag on your mother-in-law’s purse or the year the dog got into the Christmas turkey before you did. Be sure to complete this sentence at the end” “The moral to this story is…”

So hear goes: Merry Memories Countdown

#6 A Dickens Christmas

One of our favorite pastimes is reading aloud to each other as we travel. For 25 years or so we read as a family. Now I mostly read to Glenn. It helps keep us awake on the long speaking trips and passes the time in airports. Sometimes we read biographies that help us understand events in history. We love British fiction and both fiction and non-fiction by C.S. Lewis. Sometimes we read Jan Karon or James Herriott. But for the past couple of weeks we’ve been reading various sections of a Dickens anthology. More specifically, for the past few days, we’ve rather labored through a tale called “The Chimes,” featuring what seems to us to be a somewhat psychotic little crippled man named Trotty and other characters with funny names like Mrs. Chickenstalker, who is really Mrs. Tugby. I know…it hardly makes sense to us either, and we’ve spent a lot of hours in that New Year’s tale. We’ve decided Dickens really came into himself somewhere between this tale of a man who learned a lot from his long and labored dream and the famous one in which we watch the Muppets or my personal favorite, Patrick Stewart, every year.

Thanksgiving Day this year found Glenn and me out in the country at a beautiful Christmas tree farm. Our son, Caleb was visiting from grad school and we were expecting our daughter Hannah and her husband, Ben, later in the afternoon. Putting up the Christmas tree is a pretty important tradition at our house and nobody wants to miss the raising and lighting of the 12-16 footer that graces the eastern window of our red saltbox house every December. (We’re good with the tree decorating tradition being a priority for Caleb and Hannah. And one day if grandchildren have their own traditions in their own houses–traditions that trump ours–we’re good with that, too. We’re good with pretty much anything that has to do with potential grandchildren!)

Since Thanksgiving night was the only feasible time the whole gang could be together for decorating, I had to call the tree farm and make a special appointment to go and choose our tree and chop it down. (The farm doesn’t officially open till the day after Thanksgiving.) So 11:00 a.m.–we’re there. We have exactly one hour before the farm owners need to leave to go and celebrate the holiday with their family. That’s plenty of time to choose the perfect tree, cut it, load it on our trailer, take a few pictures, measure, and be on our way…our merry way.

We’re pretty indecisive, though. I mean Cheesecake Factory is not a good dessert place for us. Playing Monopoly takes forever at our house (No, I mean, more “forever” than at your house!) and you sure don’t want to accompany me to the paint store to pick a color for the bathroom. We don’t even know what “Is that your final answer?” means. So by the time we decided between pine and cedar, it was already 11:40 and we still had a lot of trees left to eliminate. The pressure was on. We had to decide quickly.

“Wait. Before we make a final decision, can we drive back to the entrance and look at that giant cedar one more time?” Caleb asked. By now, we had wandered far from the entrance to the tree farm…far from any workers…and we were absolutely the only customers on the big tree farm.

Glenn said, “Okay, but then we have to cut a tree! We can’t make these people late for their family Thanksgiving dinner.”

And so we got back in the SUV and, as we accelerated on that hillside, it took just a few seconds to notice that the Pilot wasn’t cruising along like the one on the current “Happy Honda Days” commercial. The front right tire was completely flat. Have you ever changed a tire on a Pilot? First you have to unload everything that’s in the hatch so you can access the spare compartment. Then you have to get the wrench and twist and twist and twist on a bolt that lowers the spare tire to the ground beneath the rear end of the vehicle. Then of course you do all the regular things. But if you’re on a hillside, you soon learn that, even when you get the car jacked up to the maximum height of the jack, you still can’t get the flat tire off.

So there we sat, scratching our heads about what to do. “We need something to put under the jack,” Glenn said,”something to lift the car just a few more inches.”

So we started looking. There was a dolly wheel in the trailer…too unsteady. A bag of clothing…not substantial enough. Things like cameras and shoes, but nothing that would hold up under the weight of an SUV.

“Well, there IS that Dickens book in the console,” I said.

“That might work,” Glenn said. “Besides we have to try it because we have no other choices.”.

The inscribed etching of Charles Dickens went face down and the jack rested on the back of the book. Slowly Glenn turned the wrench until the entire weight of the Pilot, all 4400 pounds, rested on the Dickens anthology.

In another couple of minutes the tire was changed and we were glad we had brought along that chainsaw. We picked, cut, measured, loaded and paid in very short order. Deadlines remedy indecision.

The tree is up now and we have finished “The Chimes.” It got better once the hero woke up and the heroine got to marry her good, albeit, poor betrothed. For a while, we thought the heroine was ON heroin. I think we may start a new tradition of finishing a Christmas tale from this anthology around the newly decorated tree. There is an impression of Dickens on the front of the book. But there’s a much deeper impression of a tire jack on the back now.

The moral to this story is…That book was the most unlikely object to be bearing the weight of an SUV on a cold December day. It was placed way out of it’s normal sphere to do a job that, at that moment, no other available tool could do. Sometimes people are like that. We somehow get into situations in which, if we get out of our normal routine a bit and step out of our “regularity”, we are able to help bear a load that no one else may bear. I think there are lots of examples of unlikely people who saved the day in the Word. A little girl stepped up to a princess and spared baby Moses the separation from his mother in Exodus 2. Gideon, the great victor, was terrified because his family was “poor in Manasseh” and he was the “least in his father’s house” (Judges 6:15). Peter and John were called “unlearned men” (Acts 4:13), yet they still teach millions of people the saving gospel each year. People even said of our Lord, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) and “Is not this the carpenter’s son?” (Matthew 13:55).

Decide today that, at least once, during this holiday season, you will step out of your comfort zone. You will take a gift, along with an invitation to worship, to a neighbor you’ve not yet met. You will take a tract to your dentist, your favorite waitress at the diner or your mail carrier and say “I just thought you might enjoy reading this.” Maybe you will make a meal for a shut-in in your congregation, someone you don’t know well, and go and spend a few minutes getting to know her. I know people who have, with a simple step outside the comfort zone–with just a few words–begun to forge strong bonds of friendship, initiated relationships that turned into strong Christian marriages and started Bible studies that evolved into eternal salvation.

And these people, just like the book, are forever changed. The task completed left an imprint for good that continually reminds all who are “reading” their lives that great good comes when unlikely candidates stretch from the everyday to the extraordinary…when we stop being just the common and start acting like the called.

Okay, so maybe I’m stretching to get profundity from the Dickens anthology. It’s okay if you stretch. It’s the holiday season and this season is for having fun. So write it down. Have fun with it. We can pull little lessons from our memories without trivializing the greatness of our God and what He has done for us! All entries must be in the inbox by noon on December 20th!

The Encouragement Tree

It’s the season when I pass the “angel tree” at the mall, when I get scores of empty returnable envelopes in the mail for charity, when I help the young pros in our congregation find children with needs and when the Toys-for-Tots bins are filling up at WalMart.

This giving phenomena always makes me think about how the greatest need that people have is not addressed by “charitable organizations,” but is ONLY addressed by THE charitable organization that was purchased by the ultimate act of charity at Calvary–the church of Jesus Christ. The church is the vehicle by which the world finds access to the gift that is supremely preeminent to all other pitiful material gifts. Access to fellowship with angels that are not just on a tree, charity that goes eternally beyond a returnable envelope, and the ministry that puts malleability into hard hearts so that they become “like little children” for “of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Mark 10:14), —each of these is found only in Christ. Getting His Word to those around us should be our greatest “charity” and gifts to needy souls should be far more important to us than what is under the tree. (I have to really examine my personal priorities here, and work on them, because I love putting gifts under that tree in my living room!)

So what if we could assemble an “encouragement tree” that ministers to the needs of downtrodden souls? What if I list for you the names (not the real names–the pseudo-names–of real women with whom I correspond who are your sisters who have needs of the soul during this holiday season? What if you choose a name from this list and write a letter of encouragement to a sister you don’t even know, send it to an email address or, if it’s handwritten, to a postal address I’ll include, and I will deliver them all for you before the end of the year? You may even wish to choose a name from the list and have the women in your church bring you their own encouraging notes and mail them to me in a large envelope. I know each of the ladies that I will list. One or more of you readers may even find yourselves “hidden” in the list below. I hope lots of women will find (take, snatch, manipulate, redeem) the time during this busy season to participate. It’s the most important kind of giving and yet even a sister with an empty pocketbook can participate in this giving tree. Best of all, there’s a real sense in which you, as you write your letter, are encouraging the Lord, Himself: “Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you’ve done it unto me.”

Here’s the list:

1. Tricia: A now-faithful sister, in her thirties, who has a deadly STD.
2. Brenda: A grandmother whose young grand-daughter is very sick with cancer.
3. Treena: suffers with MS (in her fifties)
4. Marsha: suffers with panic attacks (in her fifties)
5. Maria: a busy homeschool mom and preacher’s wife who is very sick.
6. Angel: a mom who is really trying to beat anger management challenges and be a good wife and mother.
7. Priscilla: a very faithful single mom who is standing for truth in a very worldly area of our United States.
8. Carol: the wife of a faithful elder who is “standing in the gap” in an extremely difficult situation.
9. Jasmine: a busy young mom whose father is fighting for his life (cancer) in a city far away from her.
10. Krysten: a young and newly converted college student who is beginning to think that there are no really faithful guys “out there.” It just seems to her that their religion always turns out to be a facade and not an “all-the-way-through” lifestyle.

Remember the “children” on this “tree” are children of God. They are your sisters. You may reach them by sending a letter (include the pseudo-name, so I can sort them) to byhcontest@gmail.com. or a handwritten note may be sent to Cindy Colley, 1519 Old Monrovia Road, Huntsville, AL 35806. The deadline is Dec 25th. And many thanks for giving of your most valuable commodity: time.

How Are You Going?

One of my friends from Australia always asks “ How are you going?” It means the same to her as when I say “How are you doing?” but I like the way she says that because it really fits the way I live. We are on the go and never more so than each year during the month of August. Several very influential events are  happening in the next few weeks and I want to be sure you are taking advantage of them if at all possible.

First, Polishing the Pulpit starts this Friday in Sevierville, TN. Scores of sound teachers, classes and activities for all ages will be part of what has become, in my opinion, the event among our brethren and sisters with the broadest scope of influence. It gets underway this weekend and continues through the following Thursday. I do not want to miss a moment and I’m pumped about seeing lots of you there. This year, it will be fun to have all THREE of my children there and my biggest challenge will be finding the time I want to spend with them, and all of the other blood relatives and blood-of-Christ relatives, while getting in the prep time I need for the lessons and still getting to hear some of my favorite speakers. This is a taste of heaven, for sure, but I am looking forward to all of the fellowship and singing and visiting without the time restrictions. Come and let’s get ready for that place and time together!  Go to www.polishingthepulpit.com for details.

PTP: Great Fellowship Awaits!

Before I leave the PTP promo, let me say thanks to all of you who submitted tips for deep Bible study. Winners in the “best study tips contest” are these three: Sandy Cook, for her idea of group study, Brian Giselbach, for the wisdom from Guy Woods he passed along, and Dana Ethredge, for what she is doing with Halley’s Bible Handbook. As promised, you will get all these tips later. But for now, Sandy, Brian and Dana, look on the site www.colleybooks.org, pick out your free product and let me know where to send it by emailing byhcontest@gmail.com.

Next, ladies, please don’t forget about the ladies seminar “This is War” to be held on August 27th at the new West Huntsville at Providence building. You can reserve your spots for attending and free lodging, if needed, by going to www.westhuntsville.org. You can also, obviously link to the event from this blog. The deadline is officially August 15th. We want to work to have room and food and seating for everyone, so do let us know as soon as you can. You will be so glad for any effort you expend to be part of this.

Speaking of West Huntsville…Yesterday we became West Huntsville at Providence as we assembled in our beautiful new building at 1519 Old Monrovia Road in Huntsville. If you are ever our way, be sure to stop and worship with us. We are so blessed to be in this new facility and be able to start sowing the seed in a fertile neighborhood that’s “on the grow.”  As a matter of fact, I often think that the devil will surely try hard to defeat the great things that are happening at WH-P. But, we are family, in the truest sense of that Word, and we plan to fight him tooth and nail to keep our close bond of fellowship centered on the gospel of Christ. If you can’t physically visit us, stop in to www.westhuntsville.org and download some of the strengthening messages we’re blessed to hear on a regular basis.

West Huntsville at Providence
photo by Tony Anderson

Then there’s the beginning of school for so many moms who read the blog. Please know that I am praying for your children as they head into another school year. So many people prayed me through the school years of my children and I know it was because of His mercies that Caleb and Hannah have been able to remain faithful in this society that would wrest convictions of faith from our kids. I’m praying for yours. Some of them I often take to the throne by name, and some I pray for “en masse”, but God is faithful. Some of you are keeping your kids at home this year for the first time to home educate them. I am thankful for your choice. Be diligent.  Some of you are praying for them as you have delegated a part of their education to someone else. I am praying with you. Stay involved and alert. “In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”

Bible study tips for today:

Sandy Pritchett says “One of my favorite ways to study the Bible is on topics that either I am going through or something that I came across and I am interested.”

Kirby Cole says teaching a class is his best tool for deep Bible study because you have to know the material you are presenting & be prepared for any questions that may be brought up. “Teaching also gives you an incentive to study.”

Alyssa Cole says listening to relatives that are faithful Christians gives her a jumpstart to study because “they inspire you.”

More tips next time. Have an awesome August!

It’s a CONTEST!!!!!

What is your very best tip or tool for deep Bible study? Best answer(s) by Friday (8/5) get a free item of choice from www.colleybooks.org. Please send your ideas in a private message (facebook me or email me at  byhcontest@gmail.com), so the lesson on this topic will be fresh for PTP. Then I will publish all your answers in the blog www.cindycolley.blogspot.com in the coming weeks. 1…2…3…go!