Friday, February 14, 2020

Do You Know What You Have?

Someone out there may be struggling with this holiday called Valentine's Day, and I can relate. This is my third Valentine's Day without my Norman. He was a traditional "flowers and chocolates" giver, and I gave him his faves: Raisinettes and salt and pepper pistachios. 

I am learning to look at these "couple's holidays" through new lenses.

Anyone can be a "Valentine," which is a beloved person. I am laboring not to mope about the absence of my husband, but I do wonder sometimes if people know how rich their lives are with the presence of people.

If you have living parents, they are your Valentines. Do you appreciate what they mean in your life? 

If you have siblings, they are your Valentines. Are you loving them or bickering with them?

If you have children, do you remind yourself that "the fruit of the womb is his reward," or are you allowing too much negativity to spoil those relationships?

If you have extended family members, your life is full of Valentines. Does someone need a call?

If you have friends, you are a rich person with a treasure trove of Valentines. Could you surprise a friend with something unexpected?

If you are dating, engaged, or married, this holiday is really about you. For some of us, this holiday reminds us of the person we're missing. 

Do you know what you have, or are you living like your loved ones are always going to be there? When we have people in our lives who love us, we are immensely blessed. It's so easy to take their presence for granted, but don't do it. Every living soul has numbered days. You may not have your Valentine in your life this time next year.

It's common for people tend to get into arguments or disagreements on idealistic days like this. It happens. Whether we wake up grumpy from a poor night's sleep or we just had a round of tense words, sometimes a holiday can get spoiled by a rotten spirit.

Don't let anything spoil your time with the people you love. Truly cherish one another. Here's what you have: amazingly precious people in your life.

Love one another...on Valentine's Day and beyond.

"For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another." (1 John 3:11)

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Smiling Christmas Cards

Tribe of Taylor--June 2018 recycled pic
There's a growing stack of Christmas photo cards that have been arriving daily in the mail. These have replaced the trend of the 90s: the "Christmas letter" (although I did get one of those). Not one picture has a grumpy face in it. That's how I know they're not real.

Someone in at least one of those photos was not having a good time, but they put on the happy face to hide it. You can hide a lot of stuff behind a smile.

Pictures are images of a moment in time when we posed for a camera. The moments immediately before are often chaotic, and the moments after are usually filled with relief. "I can't wait to have another family photo shoot," said one family out of 10,000.

Have you ever wished you could see Jesus in His family photo?

"Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost." (Matthew 1:18)

This family photo begins with Jesus Christ, His mother Mary, and His earthly father Joseph. We know from Scripture that Joseph was not the birth father, as Mary was "found with child of the Holy Ghost." The virgin birth has confounded people with and without faith for generations. Child-like faith simply believes God.

Jesus was born of a virgin and then became part of a family that likely had many ups and downs. His parents even lost Jesus in a crowd (Luke 2:42-48). How scary was that? Can you imagine the fear as the parents searched for their Son? Sounds like a totally regular family.

We don't have Christ's family photo, but we do have the historical record of His life in Scripture. The Word of God is the family photo for Jesus, and it is God's Christmas Card to humankind.

"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God..." (Ephesians 2:8)

Those who have received Christ's free gift of salvation are in the family photo. This is one of the most inclusive families of all time. Seekers are still finding Him, receiving His free gift and being added to the "family photo" every single day. 

And they share the same name: Whosoever.

Maybe you've smiled for a camera, but your soul isn't smiling. If you are facing major uncertainties such as fear of death or not knowing what would happen to your soul if you stopped breathing, God has a remedy for that.

The Bible calls it salvation, and there has never been a greater Christmas gift. 

"For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Romans 10:13)

Francie Taylor
Editor's note: Everyone will spend eternity somewhere. If you're not sure where you would go after your final heartbeat, read more about it here, courtesy of First Baptist Church of Rosemount, Minnesota:

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Habits that Keep You Broke

Do you suffer from "too much month at the end of the money?"

Being broke is often a result of habits that are kept like house pets. Working so hard and having no money in the wallet is self-inflicted bondage. How does this keep happening?

You've done the Dave Ramsey School of Stop That.

You receive notifications from your bank when your account balance is low.

You know how to do basic math such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

So what keeps happening to your funds? You're subtracting faster than you're adding, multiplying debt and dividing your brain into stress-filled compartments that alternate between "Things are fine" and "This is such a mess." Is this right? No. Then what is it? Sin. Financial irresponsibility is sin. Is that the sound of your mind shutting down? Well, before you go, remember that the definition of sin is basically this: you know the right thing to do, but you're continuing to do the wrong thing anyway.

"Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin." (James 4:17)

Habits matter. Wrong financial habits will keep you working harder and harder and you'll still be that person without a $20 bill in your wallet. Here are some of the common habits that keep people broke:

1. Buying things just because they were a "good deal." 
Stocking up at low prices or grabbing that bargain item makes sense when it is done with planned cash. It's a habit that doesn't make sense when you're using a debit card that has only ten dollars left in the account. Too many people brag about what low prices they've paid, but they still don't have any money. Something is off. Someone is burning through money without admitting it.

2. Refusing to practice self-denial.
"I work hard." That may be a true statement, but working hard is not a license to live beyond your means. If you spend more than you earn, you will need to work harder to close the gaps created by the "I work hard" mentality. This habit is also hard on relationships, because you'll spend less time with loved ones while trying to work overtime and extra jobs to make ends meet.

3. Impulsive financial decisions.
Whether it's a new car, an impromptu vacation or any other unplanned purchase, if you don't have the funds but you still make the purchase you will be broke. Keep this habit up, and you'll have more debt than you can pay off in your lifetime, which is very discouraging. That sinking feeling you get when you go to the mailbox is a side effect of spending beyond your means.

4. No budget.
Even a rough draft budget on lined paper in an old school notebook is better than no budget at all. You know how much money you're earning, and those dollars have assignments. Here's what happens without a budget: the tithe is completely skipped, money enters and exits the bank account in about 24 hours, and then you have weeks with no cash until the next paycheck. Working without a plan is bound to result in overspending and wasted funds. This is like flushing money down the toilet.

5. No savings.
Count on it: The car will need tires, you will need to go to the dentist or doctor, and something in your home or apartment is going to break down. All of this happens on a regular rotation. Knowing that bills create themselves, you will either set money aside for the unexpected or you will use credit cards to dig a financial grave. It's a choice. Choosing unwisely creates pressure that robs life of joy.

6. Pretending to have money.
Keeping up an image is a paper doll lifestyle. Paper dolls had paper clothes that eventually wore out and had to be thrown away. The doll wore out, too. Living on credit to appear to be well off is eventually going to wear you out as you struggle to keep up the false front. You may have the best cell phone and a smartwatch to match, but what good are those toys if you can't pay your bills? The emotional and physical toll of knowing that your bills far outstrip your income is eating away at your quality of life.

7. Refusing to face reality.
When you know that you have a problem but refuse to face it, you are living in your own unreality. You have created a private world of torment where the bills are piling up, things are being paid late, some bills aren't paid at all, and you keep on spending every time you get a dollar. You may not even know how much you owe. Pride keeps you from confiding in anyone that you're in such bad shape, and denial keeps you from facing reality.

These bondage habits can be changed, but you have to decide that you've had enough of yourself. Here comes the Christmas spending season. Are you really going to spend hundreds of dollars on gifts when you are thousands of dollars in debt, or are you going to give yourself the gift of new financial habits?

"He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the LORD, happy is he." (Proverbs 16:20)

You don't have to be a financial planner to handle money wisely. You just have to be a willing student. Even if you've had little or no financial training growing up, you can learn. If you can earn, you can learn how to handle your earnings.

It is not God's plan for you to live in the bondage of financial mismanagement. Choose to make this the season to change. Decide that you are going to honor God by being a wise steward of your finances. Learning how to live on less than you earn will change your life in very satisfying ways. Unwise handling of finances is not "adulting"; it's being a toddler in an adult body.

Pause. Pray. Commit to new financial habits. Make yourself accountable to someone who will care enough to encourage you to stay on task, and will cheer you on to freedom. You've had enough of the habits that have kept you broke. It will feel amazing to have money left at the end of the month.

"Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds. For riches are not for ever: and doth the crown endure to every generation?" (Proverbs 27:23-24)
Francie "Wordsmith" Taylor

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Woman Down at the Beach

"Ah yeah ah...we have a woman down on the ground here at Pensacola Beach. Not sure what happened, but she fell and then she got up and then she went down..."

I could hear a man's voice trying to describe what had happened, but I couldn't speak. I was fighting my way back to consciousness.

All I was trying to do was go shelling at the beach.

I was on my way from my car to the restroom, which is the custom before a long walk. Restroom first. If you're over 60, you don't need a translator. A little toddler on the sidewalk was trying to sweep the sand with her hand, and her effort made me smile but also distracted me. I wasn't looking ahead,  and the moment my sandal connected with the edge of that sidewalk (right where the sand and sidewalk met), I went flying through the air and skidded across the hot, sandy cement.

Breaking a fall usually includes broken bones, so I am grateful to be typing this with no broken anything that I know of at the moment. There is a layer of skin missing from my left knee and elbow, but the right hand that helped break the fall only has gouges from the sand-covered pavement. It could have been so much worse (broken nose and teeth come to mind). 

It was early Saturday morning, because early guarantees fewer people and plenty of parking. This Saturday was different. There was an event called the Pensacola Beach Brawl, which is an annual fitness event. How fortunate for me! I fell and I'm not exactly a light load to lift, so all these strong people were around just in time to help me up!

One muscular chap with a bushy beard was yelling, "Open your eyes, sweetheart. Open your eyes and stay with us here!" I opened my eyes and tried to focus. All I could see was sunglasses and a beard, and then my eyes closed. I was willing myself not to black out again...

Loud Questions:
What's your name, ma'am?
How old are you, Francie?
No way! You look great for 61!

Note to all: Telling anyone that they look great for their age is the same as saying, "Hey old person, not bad for an old person!" Hold that left-handed compliment. And park it right beside this one: "I hope I look as good as you when I get to be YOUR age."

More yelling. Someone on a cell phone calling 911. A woman's voice asking me questions about my medical history...there are easier ways to spend time with people.

My original reason for heading to the beach was to indulge in my favorite therapy: shelling. The two-year anniversary of my Norman's passing happened while I was out of town teaching at a conference, which resulted in a delay of grief. I don't recommend delaying grief. It's like charging too much on a credit card at Christmas. The bill comes later and it hurts.

So I was attempting to make the late payment on grief. I woke up, slammed on a hat and put on my shelling skirt with lots of pockets and an unapologetically wrinkled shirt. The hat covered my uncombed hair, and huge sunglasses allowed me to cry without needing to wipe my eyes.  

I called my sister Janelle on the way to the beach. I never suggest that anyone go it alone when struggling, and I follow my own teaching. Trying to tough it out or shut people out is so overrated, and could actually lead to more serious problems. My sister provides a lifeline whenever needed. She is a gift from God. 

Check on people who appear to have everything fine. Check on people who appear to have lots of issues. And check on everyone in between. Now who just came to your mind? Check on them. Some of us find simple things therapeutic enough to help, but others need more than shelling at the beach. All people have pain. Care about others and just touch base with them. Your timing could be pivotal.

I heard the sirens in the distance. Oh oh. They were surely going to put me on a stretcher and take me to the hospital and that would have made a bad day worse. The temporary blackout was due to the shock of the fall. I hadn't hit my head, but I did trigger an electrical problem with my heart that usually passes if I lie still for several minutes. The paramedics didn't like the story of how I fell ("Ma'am, did you have anything to drink, or are you on any medications? Any drug abuse?") No, no, and none.

But I did eventually go home and have a double. Coffee with TWO teaspoons of maple syrup and TWO running tablespoons of half and half. I'm not making light of problems with substance abuse. I'm just saying that my choice of substance is different. Just as overeating doesn't fix problems or relieve stress, substance abuse won't solve grief or any other pain. But the paramedics had to ask. It was a logical question for them.

"Ma'am, would you like to ride to the hospital to be checked out?"

I'm not writing this from the hospital. The two letter word flew out of my mouth: NO. I wasn't being stubborn or unreasonable. Was the cost in the back of my mind? Not gonna lie: I could estimate the ambulance ride at around $1,500 and the ER visit at a thousand minimum. Since I could answer coherently and was able to sit and then stand, I just wanted to go to Walgreen's for some extra-large bandages and then home.

(Medical people, don't judge, and don't attempt to write and scold me. This is a blog. It doesn't have to make sense.)

I called my daughter Hillary and talked to her through the car phone half the way home. She also is a gift from God. So steady like her Dad. Not easily ruffled. My sister Janelle spoke with me for the second half of my drive. Staying on the phone (hands-free) was my insurance policy while driving home shaken but fully alert. I would not have attempted to drive if I or the paramedics had a shadow of a doubt about my ability.

I'm writing this post to get the therapy I missed at the beach. And I'm writing it to prove that even "special speakers" can have perfectly awful days. I hope that someone out there who may be having a dreadful go of it will remember that these are called "dark threads," and they are part of the tapestry of life. Just as a tapestry would be dull without contrasting colors, life would become flat without alternating joy and sadness. Contrasts. We would never order our own hardness. No need. It's already included.

God will not waste this adventure. My biggest lessons have always come wrapped in the paper of affliction. Sore but not sorry.

It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. 
Psalm 119:71

P.S. A follow-up appointment two days later showed a small shoulder fracture. I went to have the wounds checked but God knew there was more... mending. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019


"Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth." Proverbs 27:1

You were waiting for this big event. It was going to change your life. Counting down to the big day was like watching paint dry. The moment you’d been waiting for finally arrived. But wait…it wasn't so special after all. What happened?

You expected it to be better than that. Expectations are such a plague.

My expectations are a Me-Problem. Your expectations are a You-Problem.

You waited for your wedding day and when it finally arrived, you soon discovered that weddings come with marriages attached. Marriages are a work of heart.

You waited to have a baby and then you finally gave birth to the most demanding little boss you’ve ever met. Parenting is a work of heart.

You expected more of that person, but they disappointed you. Relationships are a workout for the heart.

Expectations magnify events to epic proportions. No wonder they fail to please us. 

When we're waiting for any change in life, it usually comes with a vision in our minds of how life will be once our expectations are met. Visions hold hands with expectations, skipping into our lives looking so ideal, and then reality shows up.

God waits for us to get this: He doesn’t want us looking at tomorrow on the calendar with longing in our hearts. He also doesn't want us stuck in the past. He wants us to live the moments He grants us. Why are we squandering today’s moments on the yesterday we no longer possess or the tomorrow that has yet to come?

Our expectations are in constant combat with reality. It is very rare that the things we’re expecting live up to our imaginations. What can we do with our tendency to live in a state of continuous waiting for people, places, and things to live up to our dreams?

We can take all expectations to God and leave them as prayer requests. When we transform an expectation into a request, we can detach from it. Our demanding expectations do not have to rule us. We can unplug the power of expectations by passing them to the Lord and leaving them there.

Expectation is not a bad word. It's actually biblical, when it comes in the form of hope rather than a demand. If we're pouting because something didn't go the way we wanted, that is demanding expectation. When we're able to sincerely pray, "Lord, your will be done," that is hopeful expectation. Prayer transforms demanding expectations into hopeful expectations. 

Hopeful expectations are never followed by adult temper tantrums because whatever happens, we have already accepted that God is doing what is best for our lives. Abandon the demanding expectations. Trade them for hope.
"And now, Lord, what wait I for? my hope is in thee." Psalm 39:7
Francie Taylor

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Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Not Yets

We pray. We wait.

We repeat.

We pray. We wait.

We repeat...

What's on your waiting list of prayers? I call this my list of Not Yets. 

The waiting period of prayer is labor, and this labor builds strength. We may think that we would prefer to just have our answers without the strength-training, but God loves us too much to give us whatever we want. 

It is possible for an adult to be just as spoiled as a toddler.

Parents know what happens when they let toddlers have their way. It's chaos and crabbiness. We are grown up toddlers if we are only happy when things are going our way. Waiting and praying through some very uncomfortable situations is "wait training" at its best. We wait. We grow. We learn how to patiently endure, and then the next waiting period doesn't seem as hard.

"Wait on the LORD: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the LORD." (Psalm 27:14)

The list of Not Yets is often filled with people and circumstances that matter to us most. We are not taking these prayer requests lightly, and have often soaked a pillow with tears while praying...and waiting. We know that God answers prayer in the manner and timing that He deems best, and we realize that can't rush Him. It's just challenging to wait for answers to things that weigh so heavily on our hearts. 

God is building our strength along with good courage while we pray and wait. We may imagine that it would be easier to just put in a prayer request by 10 a.m. and have the answer by 4 p.m., but having our answers on demand would train us to expect life to be easy. Life is not an endless series of easy paths. Extended times of prayer are also extended times spent with God. We want a stronger relationship with God, so we need to learn to accept that sometimes that depth is developed in the dark and needy times.

What about those times when the answer seems to be "no"? It may actually be a different "yes." When I was praying for my husband Norman to be healed from cancer, I really meant this: "Dear Lord, please heal my Norman and spare his life." God's answer was to heal my Norman by taking him where there is no cancer. A very different yes.

God hears and answers prayer repeatedly. We don't know how or when our particular answer will come, but we have not been forgotten. Until we have an answer, the best position is keep our sins confessed, keep our attitudes right, and trust God. He knows what He is doing, as well as when He will do it and why.

Keep praying. He hears you. And for loving reasons that only He knows, the answer right now is not yet. Pray on.

"Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me." (Psalm 27:7)

Saturday, December 22, 2018

People Are Gifts

Tribe of Taylor--June 2018
On the first day of Christmas break I went to the car wash. At the end of the process where the attendant wipes down the car, I rolled down my window and said, "Merry Christmas! Here's an invitation to a beautiful Christmas service if you and your family would be interested." And of course, there was a generous tip sticking up out of the tract-invitation. The attendant smiled and said, "Thank you very much, ma'am!" And that was the beginning of Christmas vacation. People are gifts.

I was up until 11:00pm on December 21st doing the gift-wrapping while music played. Norman used to be summoned to the dining room to help me with this task. Now I am learning to do it without his help, but I still have the funny memories of watching him wad up the ends of the wrapping paper in his signature "Norman H. Taylor" style. He used a lot of tape on the ends of those wads. The English language fails to describe how much I miss my Norman, but I can finally smile and even chuckle at some of the memories from our family traditions. Good memories are gifts.

And speaking of gifts, every year I say the same thing: "Next year I'm shopping early."

And every year I'm in the stores with the mobs a few days before Christmas. Usually, my sister Janelle and I are shopping together, failing to change our ways and laughing about it as we shop the picked-over stores. 

Don't try to give me any ideas on how to improve this area. I'll admit the truth: I rather like the mobs. And it totally tickles me to shop with my sis. We pick out our gifts for each other right there in TJ Maxx.

"What do you want?" Janelle asks as we run into each other again.

"More flatware to handle all the dinner fellowships I'm hosting," I say. She plunks it into her cart.

"What do you want?" I ask Janelle.

She drops blouse into my cart, and then we head back into the fray. When all the shopping is done, we find her husband, my bro-in-love Dennis and take the poor bedraggled man to dinner. Some men love shopping. Others hate it. Many just endure it. Dennis endures.

This will be our first family Christmas in Florida, and I am grateful for God's gifts to our family:

The gift of Christ.
"Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift." (2 Corinthians 9:15)

The gift of family.
"God setteth the solitary in families..." (Psalm 68:6)

The gift of continued healing from deep grief.
"He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds." (Psalm 147:3 KJV)

The gift of grace and peace.
"Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 1:3)

God also gave me the gift of my oldest Austen son and his lovely wife Jessica as neighbors here in Pensacola. They live a mere 15 minutes from what we now call "the Florida family home," and I can have popcorn and old movie night with them whenever we want.

Daughter Hillary and youngest son Collin are flying in from Minnesota for their Florida home Christmas. My sis Janelle and bro-in-love Dennis are already in town. Nephew Joshua arrives soon as well, and then we'll begin the new tradition of Christmas in Florida.

Home in Minnesota was cold and snowy. Home in Florida is still brisk in December, but sunny and tame enough to grow cold weather crops like collards and lettuces. We are learning a new normal, and God is giving us the grace to do it.

Time spent together is a gift.

Cherish your loved ones now, because you don't know if you'll have them by next Christmas. 

Christ gave Himself as a redemptive gift to humankind, and then blessed us with our families and friends. Love them all abundantly, and don't let anything get in the way of that love.

I had to resist the urge to text my adult children this morning to see if they were at their airport gate. I didn't want to be a Smother Mother, but it was hard to wait for news that they had made it through security at Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, which looks a lot like the Minnesota State Fair.

"Don't text them. Quit being so impatient," I told myself. 

And then Collin texted on behalf of both: 

"We're at our gate!"

People are gifts.

Christmas blessings to you and your family. 

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." 
(Isaiah 9:6)

If you have questions about life after this side of Heaven:

Francie Taylor
Founder of Keep the Heart

Do You Know What You Have?

Someone out there may be struggling with this holiday called Valentine's Day, and I can relate.  This is my third Valentine's...