One of the things that I set as a goal for 2010 was to read last year’s journal. I have a two-fold purpose in doing this. First of all, it’s interesting to see what all we did last year and refresh my memory on the little stories, incidents, and happenings that I didn’t remember. I also enjoy looking back to see what I was doing on “this day” a year ago! 🙂 Secondly, I often write down thoughts, spiritual insights, and Bible verses that have special meaning to me at different times of my life, and it’s encouraging to go back and see God’s hand working in ways that I didn’t notice at the time, or have already forgotten. While reading through a few days ago, I found today’s entry (January 25), and it included a verse that the Lord showed me that day, which I hadn’t entirely forgotten, but needed to be reminded of!
Psalm 81:10b says, “…open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” That seems to be very commonplace language, but the more I meditated on it, the more I found. (God’s Word is like that: perfectly inexhaustible, just like He is!! I Corinthians 2:7-10; Psalm 90:2) In the context, the Lord is speaking to the children of Israel, recalling the signs and wonders that He had done for them since the beginning of their nation. He reminded them of the ways that He had miraculously preserved them as a people, protecting and helping them, and delivering them from bondage in Egypt. Then He pauses His narrative to deliver a singular plea and promise, “… open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.”
When I first read this, it reminded me of Matthew 7:7 – “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” God promises that “…[He] shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus”, and that “…no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly.” But we must “ask,” “seek,” and “knock.” As I pondered this, I immediately thought of the example of baby birds. When they are first hatched, they are tiny, defenseless, and totally dependent on their parents for their warmth, shelter, and food. Anyone who has cared for, watched, or studied birds knows that the chicks seem to be hungry all the time. Often, looking into a nest, one can see several little mouths gaping, waiting for their parents to come fill them with the life-sustaining food. However, what if one day, the babies decided that they could live without their parents’ help? What if, when feeding time came, their mouths remained stubbornly shut, refusing to take the nourishment absolutely necessary for survival? Of course, we know that they would soon die of starvation.
As God continues His story in Psalm 81, He sadly tells of Israel’s response to His promise in the next verse: “But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lust: and they walked in their own counsels.” Our Father is more than willing, yea, He longs, to bless us, but we must prepare the fields of our hearts to receive His showers of blessing! In verses 13-16, we see God lamenting over what He wanted to give to His children, and which they stubbornly refused: “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries. The haters of the LORD should have submitted themselves unto him: but their time should have endured for ever. He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee.” What a sad commentary on the perverseness of the human heart!! And yet what a beautiful elaboration of the mercy and love of the Lord and His desire to bless His children!!!!
In a way, we are much like baby birds, dependent on our heavenly Father to care for us. We cannot possibly make it on our own; He is the One Who created us(Isaiah 64:8), and He is the only One Who can keep us alive, both physically and spiritually! However, as the story of the children of Israel sadly illustrates, we must be willing to receive His blessing. If we shut up our hearts, pursuing temporal allurements and insisting on our own way, we will soon perish in our sin, starved of the life-giving support from the Word of God and His Holy Spirit’s work in our lives (Jeremiah 5:25). God will not force Himself upon us (Genesis 6:3); He has given us a free will, and though He calls us to leave the world’s shallow pleasures and follow His loving path for us, He ultimately leaves the choice to us, for He wants us to choose to love Him! (Isaiah 57:15-16; Revelation 3:20) We must forsake the idols of self, possessions, position, or aspiration, and seek His will for our lives, living only to give Him glory. (Mark 8:34-37; Mark 10:21) Then, when we have given up the idea of finding contentment and peace outside of Him, and have turned our whole heart over to His control, He can pour out His matchless grace upon us (Jeremiah 6:16)! He wants to bless us; He holds out His gifts and offers them to us (I Corinthians 2:9; Isaiah 64:4); all we have to do is “open our mouths wide, and He will fill them” with the goodness and blessings that only He can give!
Psalm 31:19 – “Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou hast wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!”
On January 9, Daddy led our family in a vision meeting where we reviewed the events of 2009, wrote out our family purpose, and then made goals to accomplish together in 2010. Right before we did this, Daddy had us separate into different parts of the house to spend time reading God’s Word, praying, and then writing down ideas we had. When the quiet time was over, we came together and began the official meeting. While looking over what the Lord has done for us last year, Daddy challenged us to compile a list of those who have been especially influential in our lives. Just doing that was a excellent way to cultivate a thankful attitude! With that completed, we put down our family purpose in writing. It was exciting to build together on the ideas that Daddy had already penned! Finally, we worked on making goals of things we hope to accomplish over the next twelve months. Some of them were spiritual goals, such as a specific Bible-memorization plan; others are physical, like getting more exercise together and taking certain trips. 🙂 Some of them are things we will do together, like reading at least one book out loud a month; and still others are things that we will do privately. The day was very enjoyable, and now we all have a better view of the things to be accomplished within the months that lie ahead.
We highly encourage every family to do this! (It is never too late, and we’re still in the first month of the year!) Why? Proverbs 29:18 states the main reason: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” As we look around, it is heart-breaking to see how many families are truly perishing because of a lack of vision – a vision that is Christ-centered, biblically based, family oriented, and one that is led by the God-ordained head of the household – the father. So, take a few hours and sit down together as a family to think, pray, and then plan. The results are immensely rewarding, as the whole family will have a good idea of what Dad is thinking (and he will know that he has your support), others can give valuable input and suggestions, and then the first steps of action can be charted and begun.
Thank you, Dad and Mom, for taking the time to pass your vision on to us, so that we can see where you desire to lead us! We love you and are very excited about where the Lord will take us and what He will allow us to accomplish together, as a Team, this year!
When Amanda, Jessica, and I got home from the Wilds, the skies had dumped a regular blizzard on our area and our front hill was perfect for sledding! (Keep in mind a “good snow” for our area is about four inches! Ha ha!) The rest of the Team had already had quite the time out there enjoying it with some of the neighbors, and they had great tales to tell and wanted us to experience it too. So… on our first night home, out we all went – even Titus and even though it was only 10 degrees – and what a time we had! We started at the top of the hill and were able to fly to about 15 -20 feet from the creek! (Come see us to completely understand the Neely geography.) It’s a wonderful blessing that we didn’t go any further – it was a little too cold to take a refreshing dunk in the stream. 🙂 The evening was lots of fun and made a lot of funny family memories! Hurray for the snow!!
Wow! What can you say after a week of incredible preaching, inspiring music, fun activities, and refreshing fellowship?? That is what we experienced this past week. Amanda, Kathryn, and I were blessed with the opportunity to attend the Wilds Music Conference with some friends, Katie Hornor and Martha Guzman. This was something that we have all dreamed about doing for several years, but it has never worked out for a number of reasons. It was really exciting to see how the Lord orchestrated every little detail to make it actually happen.
After packing what seemed to be an enormous amount of luggage, we loaded our little green van, said our goodbyes, and left to pick up our friends. We then headed over the mountain, bound for the Wilds. We were looking forward to the week ahead. We knew that we would be spiritually refreshed, and thought that we would get rested physically. What a joke!! But more about that later. 🙂
The key-note speaker was Dr. Jim Binney – a powerful preacher who we have now been privileged to hear twice, once at a family camp held at the Wilds. There were also other men who spoke, such as Matt Herbster, Ron Hamilton, and Tim Fisher. Topics included the fear of the Lord, praising God through trials, seeing God’s beauty, forgiveness and confession, having a vision for the impossible, and the sufficiency of God. The messages were all inspiring and encouraging. We would go back to our room at night and discuss them all over again, talking about what we’d learned and what stood out to us in the sessions. Most nights, the discussions carried us well past 1:00am!!
During the day, we enjoyed fellowship with other musicians and music pastors, whether it was between sessions, while eating the wonderful meals prepared by the Wilds kitchen staff, or sipping delicious concoctions in the famous CoolBeans coffee shop! We also did a lot of our fellowship while walking, because there was a lot of that to do to get from session to session to meal to back to the dorm, etc. 🙂 Our schedule was extremely busy (activities were planned from 7:45 a.m. until 10:30 or 11:00 p.m.!), not allowing for the physical rest we had thought would take place, but from the beginning we were all immensely spiritually refreshed! We came home with more musical knowledge, a whole list of challenging things we each needed to change in our relationships with others and our walks with the Lord, gobs of new music, and several new friends. The Lord is good! Praise His name!
By the way, if you are involved in sacred music in any way, we highly encourage you to check out the Wilds Music Conference for 2011!
As an excellent conclusion to our week of blessings, the Barnes family came for a wonderful time of fellowship! Target shooting, playing in the freezing outdoors, working jigsaw puzzles, looking at the amazing pictures from their trip to Yellowstone this past summer, playing PIT, making music with the guitars, etc., filled our time and brought great joy! They were able to stay for church on Sunday, and Wesley helped us praise the Lord in song with his guitar. Our time together was exciting, encouraging, and lots of fun – we’re looking forward to next time!! Thank you, Barnes family!
About 28 hours after the Conns left, 🙁 we had the joy of hosting the Staddon family for a few days!! While passing through on their way back to West Virginia, they blessed us by spending their New Year’s Eve with us! It would take hours to tell about all of the JOYFUL activities that took place; but we’ll spare you the time and just give a few highlights. 🙂
– watching “The Star of Bethlehem” and then discussing the incredible power, sovereignty, majesty, and wisdom of our Creator
– spending quality times around the table, reading the Bible, relating our most embarrassing moments, sharing spiritual insights, singing, laughing, writing lists of everything else we wanted to do, etc. 🙂
Well, needless to say, when the “Staddon Wagon” pulled out of our driveway on Friday, we were left with a sense of loss but also one of having been wonderfully refreshed! One particular thing we appreciate about the Staddon family is their constant JOY!! (That comes from having Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last.) Whether in helping prune our fruit trees, eating a peanut butter ball, helping clear the table, or playing Catan, they constantly had smiles and words of encouragement! Thank you, Staddons!
Note: For more stories and pictures, please visit the Staddons’ blog!! (We promise, it’ll be worth it just to see the incredible gingerbread-house-explosion shots!!!)
The last week of December was an unbelievably BUSY week… but it was also one of the highlights of the year because it was filled to overflowing with something we love: having tons of people in our home! During the whole week, we had fantastic fellowship and magnificent memories! Let’s tell about the first part first… and maybe we’ll catch up on all the stories before another week goes by…
It started on December 26th. Actually, it was closer to December 27th. After a busy day of preparation, the younger ones had gone to bed and all of the rest of us were waiting with much anticipation for Mommy’s brother and his family to arrive! Though we have seen them several times this year at their home, Uncle Dan, Aunt Lisa, David, Brian, Rachel, and Samantha had not been to our house in over eight years!! (Way too long!!) Well, they finally arrived… and, for now, we’ll let the whole Team give you the highlights of our time together.
Hannah: “Playing games with David and Brian was fun.”
Kathryn: “One of my favorite memories of the weekend was lying out on our deck (in the freezing cold, that is 🙂 ) looking at the stars, the brilliant moon, and Mars, exclaiming rather loudly about the funny shapes we saw in the passing clouds, 🙂 and discussing the magnificent wisdom and goodness of our Creator! When we became so cold that we couldn’t stand it any longer, 🙂 we came inside, prepared steaming cups of hot chocolate, and then went to the basement to spend some time in sharing prayer requests and praying together. What a blessing to have cousins that aren’t just relatives… but good friends and those with whom we can share what the Lord has been teaching us!! A few more highlights were showing Brian some things about the violin, as well as finding out that he is finally taller than me!:)”
Dad: “It was just a blessing to have them here; it’s been a long time! We’ve been the recipients of their wonderful hospitality many times but they seldom give us the opportunity to return it. I have had a tremendous respect for and have admired big brother Dan for many years and consider myself blessed to be part of their family. I especially enjoyed our time out with just Dan and Lisa.”
Amanda: “We had a FANTASTIC time with the Conns!! It was such a blessing to have great fellowship with family, and we thoroughly enjoyed having them in our home again after eight too-long years! Without a doubt, my favorite part was the prayer meeting that David, Brian, Jessi, Kathryn, Victoria, and I had on Monday night! There was such a unity between us as we exchanged prayer requests and then lifted our prayers to God! To hear each other’s hearts and then to pray about it together was extremely uplifting, to say the least! Another one of my favorite things was the time that I had to talk one-on-one to Rachel, sharing with her, and her sharing with me. It was a very special time! I also thoroughly enjoyed the general time with everyone… playing games, talking to Uncle Dan and Aunt Lisa, getting up early to make breakfast with our cousins – it was all wonderful!”
Susanna: “One of my favorite times was getting to play in a little hideout with Rachel, Lauren, and Herman. We pretended that we were orphans and that that was a house that our pretend grandfather had once used as a hiding spot during a war. We even “found” some old things that he had hidden in secret places! That was so fun!”
Mom: “How exciting to have my brother and his family here for a visit!! I loved all the one-on-one time chatting, and our couples night out was a definite favorite!!”
Lauren: “I really liked it when all the parents went out for supper and left all of the kids at home together. We played “Sardines” and “Hide-n-Seek” in the dark!! Then, when the parents called and told us that they were on their way home, we all hid in the basement shower together! It was really squished and kind of hot, but it was so fun! Then the parents had to find us when they came inside. How funny!”
Victoria: “Our whole weekend was a HUGE blessing! I really enjoyed all the time we got to spend playing games and getting to know all of our cousins better. Spending one-on-one time with Samantha playing the violin was also a blast!”
Jessica: “Wow! I was told to write a brief summary of my favorite part, but what can you say when everything was buckets of fun! I didn’t used to think about the relationships that I have with our cousins, but the older I get, the more I realize what a treasure I have, not to just have cousins, but to consider them friends. This time that we had to make memories with them was something that will not soon be forgotten. It is difficult to pick one thing that was my favorite because everything was so much fun! Lots of memories were made playing “Sardines” and having thirteen people crowded into a small area, laying outside on the deck in freezing weather looking at the stars and talking about the greatness of our Creator, getting up early and making breakfast together, having meaningful discussions, and the list could go on! It was hard to let them leave, but we look forward to the next time we get together, whether it is at our house or theirs!”
I have been trying to get this up for several days, but it’s better late than never, right? 🙂 So…
Every year, we try to think of ways to simplify the Christmas season so that we can concentrate more on the true meaning of Christmas – that Jesus came to Earth to save us from our sins. Sometimes we succeed; and a lot of times… well, we’ll just leave it at that. This year, we had a kind of “forced simplicity”, which made Christmas 2009 go down in Neely Team history as probably “the most unusual Christmas we’ve ever had!”
The night of Christmas Eve, we were planning to follow our regular Christmas traditions the next day, and to just enjoy the time with each other. We had invited about ten other people to come have Christmas dinner with us, so we had gotten the house in ship shape,and by the time we went to bed that night, we were ready for a good night’s sleep, in preparation for what looked like would be a fairly busy day the next day. Yes, it was busy, but not quite in the way that we had planned!…
For me, it all started around 5:15 am, when I awoke to hear the excited whispers and restless movement of two of my sisters, in the bed next to mine. We have a rule that no one is allowed to get up before 6:00 on Christmas morning, to allow the sleepy ones (i.e. Dad, Mom, and a couple of us “stick-in-the-mud” older girls 🙂 ) a teensy bit more time to sleep! 🙂 So anyway, I was lying there, trying to tune out the noise of the girls’ excitement and go back to sleep, when I suddenly realized how dark it was. The power had gone out! I didn’t think much of it at first, because we have power outages all the time (especially when we have a windstorm like we had that night), and they usually don’t last very long. However, it was about 5:45 before I finally drifted off to sleep again, and my last thought was, Hmm. I wonder if the power will come back on in time…
Well, that altered a few people’s plans to get up at 6:00, as they were still lying in bed, wondering what would be the point of getting up in the dark, with no lights, no water, and no way to cook the breakfast we had planned! Finally, around 6:45, my siblings managed to wake me up enough to get out of bed, and all nine of us headed downstairs to Mom and Dad’s room, to wake them up, too, in spite of the dark. After all, that’s what flashlights and candles are for, right?
That morning was actually very similar to other Christmas mornings, except that we got up later, couldn’t turn on our Christmas lights, couldn’t turn on ANY lights, except for our candles and flashlights, and had scrambled eggs and grits (which we cooked on our gas-powered stove) instead of baking the breakfast casserole that we usually have on special occasions. After it got to be light outside, Dad went out and hooked up the generator, which some friends just helped us hard-wire to the house back in October – just in time! 🙂 The effect was wonderful! It wasn’t like having all of our regular electricity on, but it was good enough to run a couple things at a time, so that we took turns running things like the hot water (for showers and dishes), kitchen lights, refrigerators, and freezers. It’s amazing how attached we can become to our modern conveniences… and how much we miss them when they’re gone!!
After breakfast, we all gathered in the living room again to read the Christmas story and open gifts. Usually we just read the Christmas account from Luke 2, but this year we READ it, taking time between each verse to discuss the scenario and imagine what it would’ve been like to really be there. From Luke, we went back to Matthew and read the story about the wise men. Then we got into a discussion about “the star.” What was “the star” that the wise men followed? We had quite the discussion about that, and talked about several different possibilities; all in all a very interesting conversation! But more about that later…
We had to cancel our dinner plans with our friends because of the power outage. That was okay, because it gave us more family time; more time to relax and enjoy each other’s company. We altered our meal plan just a little, so that instead of baking the turkey, we grilled venison cube steaks and tenderloins – delicious! 🙂
We had another interesting twist to the day when shortly after dinner, the generator suddenly ran out of gas! We had called the power company, and they had said that they hoped to have the power back on by 11:00… PM… on SATURDAY night!!! So, with that in mind, Dad decided that we had to try to get some gas, so that our refrigerators would stay cold. At first, he was planning to go out by himself, but after some discussion, we decided to all load up and go. So, we enjoyed our time, spending Christmas in our 2nd (or maybe our real) home – the van! 🙂 I have to mention here that usually we spend a lot of Christmas afternoon settled down in the living room, sitting in front of the Christmas tree. It’s so cozy and homey… but obviously that wasn’t going to work very well this time, so we loaded our two-foot-high tree into the van, plugged the lights into a power inverter, and enjoyed our little Christmas tree in our “home away from home” – how appropriate! 🙂
I realize that this is pretty long, and I don’t want to bore anyone, so I’ll skip to the end of the story… The power actually came back on around 7:00 pm, so that night we cozied down and watched “The Star of Bethlehem.” Let me take just a moment here and encourage anyone who has never seen that video to PLEASE do so!!! It is AMAZING!! Words fail me when I try to describe it, but it is an unbelievably fascinating tribute to the accuracy of the Bible and the sovereignty and perfection of God!!!!!! To know that the God of our universe would actually come to Earth, be born as a human baby, live a perfectly human life, and die an excruciating and horrible human death… just to save me, and all of us, from our sins and give us the opportunity to live with Him forever, is hard enough to fathom!!!! Then to see the design and perfection with which He had planned the universe to announce His coming, birth, and death… it was incredibly humbling!! It was a wonderful end to a truly wonderful Christmas!!!!!!!!!!
*Editor’s note: I just realized that this never got posted when it was ready a couple weeks ago. Sorry for the delay!
Every Christmas we like to ice Christmas cookies together. This year we made them early and then froze them so that they were ready to ice when we finished school and were ready to do it. Kitty made blue, green, red, yellow, and white icing, and Mommy bought us lots of sprinkles to decorate with! Herman, Belle, ‘Berty, Kitty, and I did them all together, and it was FUN!!! I am glad we get to do fun things like that at Christmas time!
Two weeks ago, we had the immense pleasure of visiting with the Dalrymple family for 27 –too-short hours! It was a little spur of the moment, but our time together was full of fellowship, group games, music, and just plain fun! One of the greatest blessings of the weekend was getting to listen as they practiced and performed music with voice, violin, viola, cello, flute, and piano. Listening to them was a little taste of what heaven must be like: continual praise and glory to our Heavenly Father!! Thank you, Dalrymples, for your willingness to be used to encourage so many around you with your music! Can’t wait till next time!!!!!