Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fun Ideas for Christmas

How on earth is it already November???!!!  Well, it is.  Halloween is over, so it's time to start thinking about Thanksgiving and Christmas.  With how fast it has flown to get to this point, I thought it wouldn't be too soon to share these Christmas tips with you so you could plan ahead to take part in some of these ideas.  I hope you do and would love to hear which ones you are excited to try or ones you do try and how they touched your heart and the hearts of your friends and family.

I'm going to break these tips down into three sections (just click on the titles under the pictures):  One with tips for your family, one with tips for yourself and the other about simple gestures you can do to brighten the lives of others. 

Throughout the season, most of all, let's remember the reason for the season and do everything we can to be an example of Christ's character to everyone around us.

God bless and Merry Christmas!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Happy 35th Anniversary, Willow Creek Community Church!

35th Anniversary Service Program

This weekend, at church, we celebrated the 35th anniversary of it's beginnings.  Started in 1975, by a rag tag bunch of very young people, Willow Creek started holding it's original services in the Willow Creek movie theatre in Palatine, Illinois (one of the movies listed on the marquee was Woody Allen's "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask" - too funny and ironic).  God indeed showed up in that unlikely location along with 125 original attendees.  Now, 35 years later, Willow is in a beautiful location and building of its own in South Barrington. This celebration really touched my heart more than any of the other anniversary celebrations because of what our membership at Willow Creek has meant for our family and our lives.
I was not raised in a religious home.  By the time I came along, any attempts at church attendance had faded and the only time religion was ever introduced into my life was when I was invited to the church events of friends.  For some reason, I definitely felt like something was missing, but just couldn't get it figured out.

When Randy & I got married and got started on a life of our own, we were an absolute mess!  We had no idea how to handle our finances and just two months after our wedding, our marriage was in shambles and I felt I had made a mistake and wanted out.  But we stuck it out and continued to make a chaotic mess of things.  I went through life mocking those who followed Christ and tried some funky spiritual offerings that just lead me further down the wrong road.  I still felt something was missing and would talk to God about wishing I knew who he was and how to pray, but it wasn't until we had our first precious baby and nine months later lost her to Pompe's Disease, that I decided it was definitely time to get this God stuff figured out.  My sister, Nancy, told me about a concert at a church in South Barrington called Willow Creek Church and we went to it with a work friend of her's who attended there.  I was absolutely enthralled and completely intrigued with the amazing Christian concert that they put on.  I looked around the Lakeside auditorium and the large size of it and thought, I could come here anonymously and see if I can make any sense of this Christianity stuff.  I would attend services and sit up in a balcony section with my arms firmly crossed over my chest, still thinking these Jesus freaks were freaks indeed!  Randy wouldn't attend with me for a time, but I finally coaxed him into joining me (I think the dug-in heel marks are still out in the parking lot) and we heard very relevant, applicable messages about God that kept us coming back.  The music and dramas were equally incredible, so we made many efforts to return.  I would continually ask Randy, who was brought up in a very religious home to explain the Jesus element to me over and over again and I just couldn't buy it.  But one day (wish I documented the exact day), in my parent's living room, he explained it yet one more time and for some reason, the lightbulb just went off and I actually understood what it meant to accept Christ as my savior.  And, accept him I did.
A beautiful, fall view of the Willow fountain
Over the years, as we had our two healthyand beautiful girls, we brought them to Willow, but for some reason, they just couldn't accliminate to Promiseland as real little ones, so we lost a few years here and there while they were little (and let me tell you, when we'd get notice that they were beyond consolable, the walk from the balcony down to Promiseland was LONG and exhausting).  But, the day came, when we could finally attend on a regular basis and we did.  We learned amazing lessons on how to have a healthy marriage, manage our finances well and raise our children to love Christ and to instill morals in them that never seemed to matter to me before believing.
On the bridge among the willow trees
And, now, fast forwarding to today, I thought of how far I/we have come through our attendance at Willow and how our daughters are now, at the ages of 17 and 20, God loving, serving, wonderful young women and I can't be anything but eternally grateful to Bill Hybels for following the vision he was given so many years ago and to Willow for all of the opportunities we've had for learning, belonging, serving and giving over the years that have built up our spiritual lives to what they are today.  I have also made some of the best friends through Willow that a woman could ask for (and you all know who you are!).  Has our marriage been all wine and roses - far from it.  But because of what we've learned, we've stayed loyal to one another and devoted, even in the worst of times.  Have our daughters been perfect angels throughout the years, staying on the completely straight and narrow path themselves, of course not.  But, again, because of what we've been taught and the support the church offers, we've done our best and as a family, we've gotten through the lumps and bumps and hills and valleys and are a very happy, loving family with a hopeful and bright future.  And, all of the glory and praise goes to God for it all!!!  I truly don't think I'd be saying that today if it weren't for Willow.  I'm pretty certain our marriage would not have survived losing Jessie and God only knows the pain and chaos we may have endured in our lives, far worse from what we already have.

When I look at where Kylie and Chelsea are these days and I reflect on where I was at their ages, I just marvel at how amazing God is with Chelsea attending a Christian college (and loving every single opportunity and minute of it!) and Kylie being in a worship band and wanting to major in worship arts in college.  I am not at all bragging on them, but I am indeed bragging on God!  I couldn't be more grateful!

A large cake in the lobby with rubber bracelets at the base that we all wore according to the decade we started attending
So, Happy Anniversary, Willow!  I owe my life to God and the fact that I even walk with him to you!

Bill Hybels newest book and a book about the 35 years of Willow
And, as a side note, everyone who attended the anniversary services this weekend received a free copy of these two books.  I was so thrilled as I've been trying to get my hands on a copy of "The Power of a Whisper" and now, when I need it as such, I have it in my hands - as a gift.  Again, thank you!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Where Seldom Was Heard a Discouraging Word . . .

"Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing"(Proverbs 12:18, NIV)

Whether you are religious or not, reflect on this verse and burn it onto your heart and then act!

This is a rough world we live in, am I right? I have had a week where one certain word just keeps playing through my days - encourage. Imagine how much easier this world could be if we all could program our brains to dole out tons of encouragement throughout our days - good, honest, sincere encouragement.

On Tuesday, I had a coffee date scheduled with a school friend at a coffee place that I've been wanting to visit and she called right beforehand sounding distressed, needing to cancel.  Instead of heading to my desk to switch gears and work there, I decided to still head to the cafe with some work in hand.  I had a meeting nearby there later in the morning, so this would be perfect.  I slowed down my getting ready, and am so thankful that I did as I got a text from another friend who also had a coffee date cancel, wondering if I could grab a cup of coffee with her (just a few minutes later and I would have been headed in the opposite direction and would have said, "no").  I mulled the idea over and decided yes, I've been wanting to run something past her lately anyway, needing some encouragement on my walk in life, so I took her up on the offer.  I received encouragement from her far beyond what I hoped for and expected, and it just set the tone for a really great day to come!

I left that date and headed to my meeting, instead deciding to visit the new cafe afterwards (am I losing you?  I do tend to babble).  My meeting was great, very upbeat and encouraging and I was flying so high by the time I got to the cafe.  I settled in there, and was enjoying a REALLY good cup of iced coffee and was getting a lot of work done when about 2 hours later, who walks in to grab herself a quick cup of joe on the run, but my early morning coffee date.  While she was waiting for her order, I called out her name and she spun around and was so shocked to see me sitting there.  She had time to sit down and we talked for almost 2 hours, going over a VERY rough year she has had and I am so hopeful that I doled out a hefty dose of encouragement on her.  I have been SO encouraged by her strength and perseverance!  She is an AMAZING woman!

Yesterday evening, I had yet another coffee date with a somewhat new friend who I have not sat down with over coffee yet, so I was REALLY looking forward to our time together.  After 4 hours together, I walked away from that meeting so totally encouraged by her stories about how she has felt so led by God in so many ways in her life.  I am encouraged to be still and know . . . I need to purposefully quiet and slow myself down to hear what it is that God wants from me in my life.  One story that she shared with me was about a homeless man who is frequently spotted walking up and down a local highway.  I knew exactly who she was talking about, as we too have seen him many times.  My friend was so prompted to stop one time to talk to him and while she shared that she has absolutely no idea yet what it is she can do for him, I am sure that her kind and gentle words to this man were so very encouraging to his hard life.  She told him that she would pray for him, not knowing how he would take that, but I imagine he felt very encouraged by knowing that.  She has since stopped again to talk with him with her husband and he too spoke some very encouraging words to him.  Both times they were able to give him some money and along with their words, most likely gave him the courage to go on for yet one more day.  She is sure their involvement in this man's life isn't over and I am excited to hear the future stories about their encounters.

So, who in your life can you slow down to encourage?  Or are you, yourself, so in need of encouragement that you can't even imagine doling it out for others?  Do what I did this week - surround yourself with some really amazing people, share your story, listen wholeheartedly to theirs and soak up the encouragement that will flow.

Through my blogging, I have come across a really cool blog called (In)courage (click on the name to check them out).  It is a blog about encouraging stories and ideas for spreading encouragement.  They had a giveaway this week where the first 400 people to respond would be sent a package of cards to use to send out an encouraging word to whoever is laid on their hearts.  I was one of the first to sign up and I can't wait to get my set of cards.  The deal is, though, that we have to report back on September 12th with a story of how we used our cards.  I can't wait to see who God lays on my heart to send them to and how the dose of encouragement was received.

Please join me in becoming an encouragement warrior and let it become a way of life for you.  And, as always, be sure to share your stories of encouragement with me, I would love to hear them!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

It's Emmy's Night!

It's that time of year again, time for the Emmy's!!!  I love awards shows (though, I have to admit, I usually get bored about 30 minutes into them and start multi-tasking during the show), and I think these days, the Emmy's are my favorite!  When I was younger, it used to be the Grammy's, but let's face it, a middle-aged woman has pretty much no clue who a lot of the recording artists are these days, so Emmys it is.

So, will you be watching and if so, who are your favorites that you are hoping to win?  Mine?  I absolutely loved watching Glee and Modern Family this past year.

What an uplifting show Glee is!!!  I pretty much love all of the characters (Sue Sylvester is the best - such delicious nastiness!) and love singing along to a lot of the numbers.  And, then there's Modern Family.  Oh, what to say about Modern Family in a quick blog post???  That show is an absolute SCREAM!!!  Love the fact that there is no laugh track and I always get a kick out of The Office-style of shooting a show where the characters look at the camera as if they are attempting to connect with us.  And, can I just say, I am TOTALLY Claire!  The episode where she couldn't figure out the remote??? - me all the way!  And, when she woke up early to get in line to buy her hubby an IPad, only to fall asleep on the couch while getting ready to leave??? - me!  And, then while waiting in line to buy the IPad, only to find out the credit card is instead at home with her wallet??? - me!  And, that is what is so endearing about this show.  If you, yourself can't identify with a character, you can for sure connect someone you know to at least one of the characters and wonder, "How on earth did the writers nail so and so???!!!".  If you haven't seen this show (be sure to click on the show names above to watch a promo of the show), you have to give it a gander this fall (yes, I just said "gander").  You have to pay close attention to not miss a thing and just to be safe, Tivo, DVR, etc. (whatever your mode of recording is) the show to do what we do - we end up watching it again and again during the week - to catch every last little hysterical comment/face that was made.

So, get your popcorn ready, put your feet up and enjoy The Emmy's.  And, for the first time in a long time, my award show-watching buddy will not be with me (and you know who you are - the fact that you might be too busy having fun to even watch the show makes it totally forgiveable).  Another little way that life is changing in the Franz household.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Being His Hands and Feet

Today, a group of us had the opportunity to reach out to a new friend, Amy (a new friend to me) and be God's hands and feet to her.  Her father recently passed away and because she was being a dear soul to take good care of him in his dying days, she was unable to give her beloved gardens the attention she usually likes to.  And, as we all know, unless you can stay on top of your gardens regularly, they can become overcome with weeds.  A friend and workmate of Amy's, Meagan, was given the idea to gather a group of women together to help Amy combat this task.  You see, last year, Amy was God's hands and feet to Meagan as she battled stage 3 breast cancer.  One of Meagan's favorite gifts during that time from Amy was a scrapbook to uplift and encourage Meagan through her battle.  So Meagan put out the word, and friends from church and their workplace, Lou Malnatis (big, huge YUM!), showed up with tools in hand to do the best we could to give Amy a good jumpstart on recovering her lovely gardens.  It was a complete surprise to Amy when Meagan knocked on her door with sign and balloons in hand at 8 a.m. Amy quickly composed herself and we helpers started to trickle in.
Meagan and Amy - Surprise!!!
 Amy worked along side us and we got to know one another and enjoyed some really good fellowship time while putting in some good, hard work and helping a friend at the same time.

Betty & Sue
I was also so touched and impressed by a couple of the ladies who went the extra mile to add to the fun and comfort of the day.  One woman, Sue, made the most delicious zucchini bread ever and brought a cooler of water bottles to share and another woman, Wendy, brought everything the rest of us seemed to forget (plenty of kneelers, garden waste bags, donuts - those are totally necessary when gardening, right?) along with a gift for Amy and some pansies to add more colors to the gardens.  Very thoughtful of you, ladies.

Wendy D. - the Oh-So-Dramatic Gardener (but she brings donuts, so we'll forgive her!)
More friends helping in the backyard.
We even had Meagan's wonderful husband join us so that was nice too!

This isn't Meagan's husband, but it is Meagan!

As life goes on and we all have our ups and downs, I know so many wonder, "What's the point?  I mean, why am I even here?"  God needs you, with your special giftedness, at this exact time, to be here on earth being his hands, feet and voice for him.  It just plain and simply comes down to that.  Sure, some of us are gifted writers, writing fabulous, inspiring books and some of us are gifted speakers and others are gifted to be brave, hard-working missionaries, but there isn't a day that goes by that someone in your immediate life doesn't need a hand or a kind word.  Be that person for them.  There's a reason it feels so good (and it ALWAYS does) - it's what we're here to do!
Amy's adorable cottage home.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Chapters of Life

Our lives seem to basically be made up of chapters:  youth, school, work, dating, engagement, marriage, children - to name the obvious biggies.  In just a few short weeks, our oldest daughter will be embarking on a new chapter in her life and it is indeed a biggie - she is leaving home for the first time to start her junior year at a four-year college.

It doesn't at all seem possible that this day is upon us, and indeed it came in the blink of an eye!!!  And it is such a bittersweet time for us, to be sure.  What some of you don't know is that Chelsea isn't our first child.  Yes, I did say that she is our oldest, but she is not our first.  Randy and I were first parents to the most beautiful, big blue-eyed little girl named Jessie.  She was with us for only 9 short months.  When she was 3 months old, I took her to the doctor for what I thought was a severe cold and we were soon to find out that our daughter was instead very sick with a fatal disease called Pompe's Disease (the disease that the recent movie, Extraordinary Measures was about).  So, for 6 months of her very short life, we had a lot of loving to do before she was to leave us.  It was the most painful time of our lives, as you can well imagine!  I always wanted to be a mom and was devastated by our loss.  We were told by our geneticist that we probably shouldn't try to have our own children as Pompe's is a genetic disease, but Jessie's cardiologist pulled me aside and said, "Don't listen to him.  If it's in your heart to have your own children, then follow your heart".  And follow our hearts we did.  We were later blessed with not just one, but eventually two, unaffected, healthy baby girls.  And blessings they have been indeed!!!

And here we are, 20 years later, shopping for dorm supplies and watching Chelsea clean out her room and start to pack, preparing herself for the next chapter of her life.  I am hoping and praying that this next chapter will be one of such amazing opportunities for fun, success, new experiences and maybe even love.  How fun to experience this new launch with her.  Yes, I will miss her so incredibly much, but I didn't want more children to cling onto them forever for myself.  It was so I could do the best job possible to raise responsible, respectable young women to go out into the world and do great things - and I know that is exactly what Chelsea will do!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rebuilding Together

After a week of various serving opportunities, I feel supernaturally at peace today!

Last Thursday, Randy, Chelsea and I went down to Willow-South Barrington to help with seed packing (read more here). On Friday, Brandon and Randy took the work truck to pick up donated building materials to deliver to Cary-Grove Neighborhood Life. Then on Saturday, we got a random team together to help Rebuilding Together's Restore Aurora project - 30 homes in the Aurora area were rebuilt/restored by various volunteer groups.

We teamed up with James Frangella and ServPro of LaGrange Park / N. Riverside and brought down with us one of our employees, Brandon; the husband of one of Women's Group friends, Steve; our daughter's youth pastor, Kevin; a dear friend of our's, Carrie; and our roofer sent down two of his employees. Along with Jim's team, we had a State Farm employee and her boyfriend, and two men who are part of a real estate investment club and one of their daughter's. Like I said, totally random group, but the most awesome group I could have hoped to work with. There was not one ounce of ego or attitude floating around and we got quite a bit of work done in a pretty short amount of time.

Check out our quick photo album from the day on Our Facebook Page.

If serving isn't your thing . . . make it your thing. Your soul will thank you!!!