The fireplace was blazing with a roaring fire, our family of seven huddled around. We were excited it was finally Christmas Eve! “We need to put the fire out,” I exclaimed loudly. Probably around 7 or 8 years old, I wondered why I was the only one worried. The smoke, the fire. It was almost bedtime and I needed to know Santa was safe to visit and would have no trouble coming down our chimney.
That Christmas was the last time I recall our family being together. My memories of life in that house are foggy. Often even when I see pictures, the rooms don’t look familiar. It’s like when we moved away, I left the memories behind. Shortly after that time our parents divorced and things became confusing and chaotic. Suddenly we were a single mom with five young kids.
Why this memory seems so vivid is telling. Regardless of everything else, we believed in Christmas. It was a magical time. Even the gifts under the tree multiplied each year. We didn’t have much money, but we knew Christmas always offered an opportunity to have unrealistic expectations for one amazing morning each and every year. There was truly something in the air that gave way to a bountiful hope and opportunity to dream big dreams.
It was years later when I realized that kind of Hope has a name. When Jesus came into my life, I was able to look back and see His omnipotent presence over all those lost years. Wow! Now that we siblings are grown and can look back, we clearly see Jesus. God’s hand was upon us when we didn’t even know it. Thank you Lord.
Christmas is in the air. It’s not the decorations. It’s not the music. It’s not Santa. While we can participate in the many sights and sounds of the season, it’s Jesus we feel. That hope. That joy. That undeniable wonder of the child within all of us.
There’s an amazing song by Steven Curtis Chapman that sums up the depth of what Christmas really means. “Believe the unbelievable, receive the inconceivable. And see beyond my wildest imagination. Lord, I come with great expectations.”
The spirit of Christmas is the spirit of Jesus. He is the savior of the world and enters as a baby in a manger. He longs to enter each and every heart that will invite him in. He loves like no other and receives us as we are and promises to make us who He created us to be.
Jesus. He is the gift we give and the gift we receive. Receive Him fully, share Him boldly.
Jeff LeDuff is a strong believer in purpose . He was just 10 years old when he discovered his own.
by Lisa Tramontana
“Every Easter, my parents took me and my four sisters to downtown Baton Rouge to buy new clothes to wear to Easter Mass,” he said. “We were crossing the street and my eyes fell on this police officer on the corner. I was awestruck … I remember the sight of those long black boots, the badges and pins that shined like new money, and that big white motorcycle. He saw me as I walked by and didn’t say a word, but reached down and pinched my cheek. I’ll never forget it. I knew that day that I wanted to be a police officer.”
He made good on that promise to himself, becoming not just a police officer, but chief of the Baton Rouge Police Department from 2005 to 2011. People all over the city already knew LeDuff from his 20 years as a motorcycle officer, his years as an instructor at the Police Academy, and his frequent speaking engagements throughout the community. As chief, he worked hard to combat crime in the capital city, and was known for his leadership, his character, and his ability to connect with people from all backgrounds and in all situations.
Despite the crime and violence that surrounded him every day, LeDuff says his faith was never shaken. Why? Because he always saw the goodness in people. “I was Chief of Police during Katrina,” he said. “I saw people who had lost everything, but were willing to share with others what little they had left. I saw how strangers helped families get back on their feet. When five people were killed (four of them in a church) in 2006, I saw people comfort each other. In spite of all the negative things that happen in the world, people will surprise you with how much hope and promise they have in their hearts.”
LeDuff’s faith was truly tested in 2010 when his wife Sandy’s brother, Christopher, was murdered. “That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said. “… to go and tell my mother in-law that her son had died. It would be easy to ask God why did this have to happen? But I’ve never done that. I’ve never been angry with God. I just ask him to please let this be the last time … and I ask him to change us, to change our hearts, to make us better people.”
“When it comes to the end, I want to look back and know that I was a good man with a good heart. I want people to know that I loved God and I loved people and believed that there’s goodness in everyone.” – Chief Jeff LeDuff
When LeDuff announced his retirement from the police force, many community leaders were sad to see him go. They used terms such as “gracious” and “positive” to describe his management style, and agreed that he would be tough to replace. For a few years, he worked as Chief of Security at Baton Rouge General Medical Center, and today, he owns the security firm Open Eyes with his son Kelly. His career has always focused on service to others and the city is filled with people he has helped and encouraged over the years.
For 20 years, he helped operate a Police Explorer camp in Mississippi for young boys, and to this day, he stays in touch with many of them. “They’re grown men now,” he said, “with families of their own. But I still have a relationship with many of them. They call me to get advice, to talk about a new job, or to just say hello. Father’s Day usually fell during that week of camp, so I couldn’t be with my own son. One of the campers once said to him, ‘I’m sorry we take your dad away from you on Father’s Day.’ Kelly was about 9 or 10 and he said, ‘That’s okay. You get him for a week, but I’m lucky ‘cause I have him just about every day of the year.’”
LeDuff is also proud of his 39-year marriage. He met Sandy when they were just 15 years old. “I was an altar boy and one Sunday at Mass, I saw this girl for the first time,” he said. “She was in town visiting her relatives. Being that we were in church, I probably shouldn’t have been thinking this way, but oh, she was so pretty and I really wanted to meet her.”
They did meet, and they’ve been together ever since. Life wasn’t always easy, LeDuff said, but the couple always had faith that God would see them through any trials or problems they might face. Sandy says she loves her husband because he is strong, dedicated, passionate and hardworking. “He believes in something bigger than himself,” she said. “It’s the way he was raised.”
LeDuff has praise for his wife, too. “Sandy is an angel in our family,” he said as he describes how she cared for his sister who died of cancer. “My sister was given three months to live, and she was with us for 13 months. That’s because of Sandy taking care of her. Our family is so blessed to have her.”
The key to their happiness is mutual respect and commitment to their marriage vows. “When you marry someone, the two become one,” said LeDuff. “It’s that simple. You’ve got to make sure the two of you don’t ever fall out of love at the same time. One of you has always got to be willing to fight for the relationship and the love you have for each other.”
His determination to create good in the world comes from the feeling that he’s lucky to be alive. Literally. In 2006, as he rode his motorcycle down Florida Boulevard, a woman in a van hit him and he ended up pinned beneath the vehicle. He remembers the first responders cutting his clothes off of him as they attempted to pull him out.
“It’s because I’ve been through those kind of things that I believe I’m blessed,” he said. “But I’m still here, so clearly, God has more for me to do.”
Last summer when Baton Rouge was reeling from the flood devastation and the tragic shooting that killed three police officers, LeDuff was on hand to offer compassionate words to the community. In an appearance on WAFB-TV, his talk of hope, healing and unity reminded viewers why he is such a beloved fixture in the community.
“Today … I want every person in Baton Rouge to find someone that looks different from you, extend your hand, and introduce yourself. When you get beyond the color, beyond the differences, you’ll find that we’re not that far apart. Love everybody.”
These days, LeDuff focuses on his company and spends time with Sandy, Kelly, his daughter-in-law Shannon, his two grandchildren, and his extended family. “One day, I hope to be so old that I’m bent over, that I’m shaking. When it
comes to the end, I want to look back and know that I was a good man with a good heart. I want people to know that I loved God and I loved people and believed that there’s goodness in everyone.”
Which brings us back to the idea of purpose.
“I think we all innately want to do the right thing. I believe that before we’re born, God holds us in his mighty hands and molds us … and it’s our job to figure out why he made us that way. That’s how we learn what our purpose is … we’ve got to use the gifts he gave us to do good in this life.”
photos by Sharon Holeman Photography/Praise First Media LLC
If you were to meet Harry Mitchell Jr. on the street, you would never guess he had been in prison. Or that he had used drugs, or came from a broken home. His joy is too great, his smile too easy. Standing 6 feet 2 inches tall and entering every room with an unexplainable delight, this modern day apostle is truly an example of walking out our Christian call to be the light in a dark world.
Born in New Orleans and raised in California, his parents divorced when he was 11. After the split, Harry and his siblings moved back to Louisiana with their mom. High school came and Harry began drinking, smoking marijuana, and eventually, using cocaine. Struggling with substance abuse, he was still able to function in the world. In 1981, four years after graduation, Harry got married. It was that same year that he gave his heart to the Lord at a local church, became a father … and went to jail.
The salvation at the church had been real, but his willing heart wasn’t enough. Harry lost connection with the body of Christ, remaining entangled in worldly relationships. Ultimately, he landed in a Thibodaux prison cell. One day, from the corner of his cell, Harry heard a man preaching and knew he needed to go listen. That day a conversation started between the two, and soon Harry had re-dedicated his life to the Lord. Harry even started to lead the group studies on days when the prison minister couldn’t attend. Things were changing for Harry and the other prisoners. Murderers were getting saved. Harry’s life had new purpose.
An early release from prison brought Harry, now divorced, an opportunity for change. He went to live with his sister in Baton Rouge and got a job. He was faithful and hard working. A friend introduced him to a sweet lady named Nicole. They fell in love and got married. A short time later, at the prompting of the Lord, Harry and Nicole stepped out in faith to turn a part time weekend venture into a full-fledged business. They were learning to follow the lead of God’s voice, sometimes blessing others when they were in lack, and continually seeing the Lord’s abundant replenishment in return for their obedience.
On a beach vacation in the fall of 2009, Harry got a word from the Lord. He was to do a major outreach to the homeless community. It was to be on a grand scale, larger than the ones he had already been doing. When he asked the Lord how he would fund such an extravagant venture, the answer was simple: “Use your money.” Again, Harry and Nicole stepped out in faith and found the provision of the Lord. As others heard about the outreach planned for a weekend in mid-December, help came in the form of volunteers and resources. The outreach offered a multitude of blessings, such as clothing, free haircuts, lunch, worship music and the Word. Tears of joy fell from those who were given bus tickets home for the holidays headed for places like Colorado and Florida. More than $3,000 worth of bus tickets were gifted. Most importantly, 75 souls were added to the Kingdom.
Harry expanded his ministry to include speaking at drug rehab facilities and prisons. Using his tests as his testimony, he began reaching out to those in whose shoes he had once walked. Actively learning how to live out his faith, he was personally mentored by Pastor Larry Stockstill for years, and eventually ordained at Bethany Church by Pastor Jonathan Stockstill in the spring of 2015. Today Harry marches on as a faithful soldier for the Lord. He oversees a powerful men’s meeting each week where they worship, study Scripture and build accountability relationships. He continues to minister to the homeless and speaks to those fighting the demons of drugs. He leads a prison ministry inside the walls of the East Baton Rouge Parish facility twice a month, seeing as many as 20 to 30 salvations each visit.
The world may look at someone like Harry and not understand how he can intentionally surround himself with atmospheres of darkness. They might wonder how he balances his time between these activities while running a successful business and maintaining a happy marriage and family life. The answer can be found in Harry’s life scripture: “ But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.(Matthew 6:33 ESV)
So the next time you decide to reach out to the poor and destitute, or those hurting in the world around you, don’t be surprised if while you’re on the street you run into Harry. He’ll be easy to pick out. He’s the one out there serving and sharing his testimony … that fellow with the joyful presence and the easy smile.
Sharon Holeman is a writer and photographer living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She was the project creator, coordinator and co-author of the book Backyard Miracles – 12 American Women, 12 True stories, 1 Miraculous God. Previously published in Her
Glory and inspire Louisiana , she is now penning her first screenplay. Ministry Today
showcased one of her photographs on the cover and several others as article imagery. Sharon is a graduate of the University of Texas at san Antonio and The Art institute of Houston. she is currently attending Bethany College to further her pursuit of the Lord and His Word.
As a child, Suzanne Keller’s Saturday mornings were often spent going to garage sales with her mother, Sandra, who loved nothing more than finding a good bargain.
“It was her hobby,” Suzanne said, “but she took it seriously. She took us all over the place … yard sales, thrift stores, you name it. She drove us to New Orleans to check out places like the Salvation Army stores. She would pick up things from the side of the road if she thought they could be useful to someone.”
So it didn’t surprise anyone in the family when Sandra announced that she felt called by God to open a thrift store – not as a way to earn income, but as a way to donate to worthy causes. Her business model was simple. The family would take in donations and keep half of the sale profits to cover their business costs. The other half would be donated to local charities.
“In other words, we were never going to make money from it,” said Suzanne. “It was simply a way to contribute to those in the community who needed help.”
That was in 1993. The Russell family worked hard at their new enterprise, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow. They bought a sprawling building on Burbank Avenue and spent months getting it in shape. The facility still had dirt floors in some areas. But eventually, the new owners hung their rainbow-themed sign in front of the store and opened for business.
Sandra enjoyed her work – thanking donors, greeting customers and networking with local charities. Most of all, she loved knowing that her work was helping others. Her favorite philanthropies were the Battered Women’s Program and several local churches. “She loved her work,” said Suzanne. “Everything about it made her happy.”
On certain days of the week, Here Today, Gone Tomorrow offers 50% discounts to seniors, students and government employees. The store also participates in programs that provide prom dresses to young girls and business attire for women in need of low-cost professional clothing.
Sadly, Sandra died just five years after opening the store. It would have been easy to just close the doors at that point, but Sandra’s husband Gerry, who had just retired from his job at Shell Chemical, felt obligated to keep his wife’s dream alive. So, he took her place and for the last (almost) 20 years, has worked hard to keep the business going. Suzanne worked as many hours as she could considering she already had a full-time career. Since her own retirement a few years ago, she has worked almost full-time at the store. Her brother Donald has been instrumental in designing a software program used to ring up sales and ensure clients receive proper credit. Two other siblings helped along the way, but are no longer involved.
Inside Here Today, Gone Tomorrow, visitors can find just about anything – furniture, appliances, clothing, shoes, jewelry, LSU and Southern items, artwork, electronics, books, games and toys. There is even a section for vintage hats, clothing, and jewelry. Local residents and groups drop off donations, and volunteers spend hours sorting, organizing, tagging and displaying items for sale.
Local jeweler Rachael Lagarde started as a volunteer in 2013 and now works at the store part-time as Director of Operations and Marketing. Because of her background, she specializes in the jewelry and collectibles section of the store.
“I love my work because I have a chance to see the difference we’re making in people’s lives,” she said. “Whenever I’m having issues in my life, I’m reminded of the people we help – people starting over late in life, parents trying to make ends meet, women who have escaped abusive relationships – it humbles me and makes me realize my problems are small compared to theirs.”
Lagarde says her faith in the business never wavers, and she often sees God’s hand at unlikely moments. She describes a humorous incident to make her point, one that some might see as coincidence, but Lagarde views as an answered prayer.
“We were getting ready to ship some items through the mail and we had run out of bubble wrap,” she said. “We were also strapped for cash. I said a prayer for God to please help us and then I left the store to run errands. When I came back a few hours later, our cashier said there was a surprise in my office. I walked in and saw an enormous industrial-sized roll of bubble wrap. Apparently, it had fallen off the back of a truck going down the road in front of our store. There’s an incline from the road to our building, so when it fell off the truck, it literally rolled right down the hill and landed at our doorstep!”
Over the years, there have been many times when the family’s prayers were answered just in time to avert some disaster or disappointment. But their success is also based on the family’s commitment to Sandra Russell’s memory. “My father is 76 now,” said Suzanne. “He retired 20 years ago, and has ended up working another 20 years because of his love for my mom. Since we started the business, we’ve donated about $1.5 million to local organizations. I think he’s done a great job and deserves to take a break now.”
Suzanne says she is often asked about her goals. “Simple,” she says. “To keep going. To keep helping as long as people need us.”
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow is always in need of volunteers. If you are interested, call (225) 769-2259. For more information, visit the HTGT page on Facebook.
Christmas is one of the most important celebrations among Christians throughout the world. it is both a religious and cultural celebration most often observed on December 25. Traditions range from gift exchanges and family meals to Christmas trees and Nativity displays. At its heart, however, Christmas is a time to recall the beautiful story of Christ’s birth, to draw near to family and friends and bask in the peace and serenity of the season.
For many religions in the U.S. and abroad, Midnight Mass is a highlight of the year. Celebrated on Christmas Eve, it is a peaceful tradition filled with prayer, reflection and music to herald the arrival of the Christ Child
In France, the families gather on Christmas Eve for Reveillon, the holiday meal that typically includes roast turkey with chestnuts, oysters and a variety of cheeses. Nearly every home is decorated with a Nativity crib filled with clay figures of the Holy Family, Wise Men and angels. A Yule log burns in the fireplace through the night.
Peace in China:
Only about one percent of China’s population is Christian, so holiday trees and decorations are rarely seen. However, those who are Christian attend special church services, and in a rapidly growing tradition, give decorated apples to friends and family. Symbols of peace, the apples are wrapped in colored paper and are exchanged on Christmas Eve (called Ping’an Ye), which means “peaceful evening.”
In most German homes, families display Advent calendars as they prepare their hearts to receive Christ in the days leading up to Christmas. On Christmas Eve, the family reads the Bible and sings songs. In families with young children, mothers secretly decorate the Christmas tree while the children are asleep.
Procession of candles:
In Ethiopia, the Christmas celebration is called Ganna, and since it is based on the Julian calendar, it is celebrated on January 7. Most people dress in white cotton garments called shammas and attend Ganna services at 4 a.m. Each churchgoer is given a candle, then takes part in a solemn procession, circling the church three times as they contemplate Christ’s birth.
When in Spain:
The streets come alive in Spain on Christmas Eve. People attend midnight services, then walk through the streets carrying torches, singing, and playing guitars and tambourines. On January 6, the Epiphany is celebrated with the Festival of the Three Kings. On Epiphany Eve, children leave their shoes on windowsills or balconies and find them filled with sweets, walnuts and small gifts the next morning.
Q: When did you begin painting and when did Josephine’s World of Paintings begin?
A: My journey with the paint brush began ten years ago when I was on a break with my children. During that weekend, I painted seven paintings with poetic writings attached. Josephine emerged at that point but was not refined. I realized that God was actually refining me. About two years ago, I picked up the paint brush again and 100 paintings were birthed, each with a message of hope. It was healing for me, genuine therapy. God reminded me that He is very near to the downtrodden and never far from our heart’s cry.
Q: Poetic messages are tied to many of your paintings. Share more about Josephine – what she represents in your paintings?
A: Typically, the painting and message come through someone sharing their personal hardship and how they got to the other side. Sometimes, it’s a scripture that will inspire a painting and sometimes it’s the other way around. Many times, I have worship music playing while I paint and in that infused world of praise, messages emerge from the Holy Spirit. I feel that God told me to “write with paint and paint with words.”
Josephine is a story teller. She is woven into the canvas just as we are woven in the womb (Psalm 139:13). Her color is black because that encompasses all colors and absorbs light best. Josephine was created to absorb the most that she can from her Creator. Her white dress reflects all the Lord’s blessings and mercy. The red stitching symbolizes the blood of the Lamb, a reminder that she is covered and protected. Her arms are always lifted up to show her surrender to God in all things.
“The Green Grass and Silver Linings” painting is very special because it emerged during a very dark time when God gave me a vision. I saw a dark ominous sky and a bright green pasture with one big white cloud lined in silver. He encouraged me to look for the green grass and silver lining in each moment. I call these moments “grassitude” moments. Look for the green moments for they represent hope.
Q: I love the phrase “freeze frames” of hope you mention in one of your blogs. Do all of your paintings represent hope?
A: Yes, each painting is a “freeze frame” of hope. This world is full of darkness and negativity. God will reveal a way out if we lean on him and listen in the silence. Proverbs 29:18 says it best: “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he who keepeth the law, happy is he.” Our walk becomes lighter when we focus on the Great Physician (Psalm 55:22).
I have to shed light on the heroine and opioid addiction attacking and stealing our children’s lives. The painting, “Rising Above with Heart-filled Hands” depicts a single mom who had a vision of climbing a mountain with two or three sons in tow, both addicted to heroin, and finally arising out of their private hell to the mountaintop. The mountain top is where they lay it all before God and where they surrender all.
Q: What is your favorite scripture?
A: Isaiah 61! It reminds us that there is hope for the brokenhearted and paints a picture of restoration despite all the devastation endured.
Q: Where can one find your work?
A: The Foyer in Baton Rouge has many pieces as well as Studio Gallery 30A in Grayton Beach, Florida and the Dollface Salon in Grand Coteau. I am also feeling led to do trunk shows so that it becomes more of a ministry. In addition, I am in the process of setting up e-commerce on my website so cards and journals may be purchased.
Q: Share some personal things about your own life.
A: I’m a physical therapist for special needs students in the school system. These kids minister to me every day. They remind me that blessings are found in the moment. I am married to a wonderful man who is very supportive of my journey as an artist. Thanks to his encouragement, my next goal is to create inspirational greeting cards. I am a mother to Josh and Hannah who are my two blessings.
I pray that my story will help others discover who they were created to be. God did not put us in a box. He gave us wings to fly. Website: josephinesworld.com; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sharon Furrate Bailey grew up in Alexandria, La., and moved to Baton Rouge to attend LSU. She earned a B.A. in English Literature in 1990. She attends Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church. Sharon has been in the field of marketing, sales and public relations since 1996. She is a gifted artist and has been a columnist since 2005. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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Christmas is, in general, an eagerly anticipated time of the year. However, it can be a time when many feel disconnected to the joy of the season. Hectic schedules and the commercialization of the holiday can be the source. For those looking to feel closer to the birth of our Lord and Savior, the members of Florida Boulevard Baptist Church (FBBC) have created an event that could possibly bring one to tears.
The church will become the setting for an outdoor theater for the nativity. Views are asked to park, and upon entering, be counted in the census, just as Joseph and Mary would have been counted to enter Bethlehem.
The actors are members of FBBC including their “Special Friends” Class of the church and their Wednesday Bible Study group for their special needs friends, family and workers.
FBBC believes this will be a touching event that will bring people together. The theme of the production is God’s unconditional love and will be develope scene by scene to show Jesus is God’s gift to us because of His unconditional love for us.
Recorded narration and music will accompany each scene. There will be live music at the stable and viewers will be encouraged to participate in caroling by singing “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night” to the baby Jesus. Without giving anything away, a unique and special ending is planned which includes a song to the heartwarming tones of the violin.
The cast will be available after each performance in their Activity Center and the audience is encouraged to attend. Light refreshments will be served and a Christmas puppet show will be held for children.
Performances will be held Friday, December 15 at 6:30, 7:00 & 7:30p.m. and Saturday, December 16 at 6:30, 7:00 & 7:30p.m.
The Living Nativity is a gift from Florida Boulevard Baptist Church to each of us, and there is no charge.
It should be an event that brings Christmas to life. Take some time to disconnect from your schedule and the commercial side of Christmas. Feel the rejuvenation of the season and your soul recharged when you visit the FBBC Living Nativity this December.
A man must model genuine godly masculine behavior to his children so that they will grow up as godly people and seek godly partners for marriage. That was part of the message from Retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin at the September Man Up men’s ministry meeting at Greenwell Springs Baptist Church. More than 175 men attended.
Interim Senior Pastor Tony Perkins says the men’s ministry program had become less active in recent years. His father, Richard Perkins, had to vacate his position as director of men’s ministries in 2015 due to health problems, and the 2016 flood affected 90% of the church’s members.
Richard was sitting alone at the church last Easter and A Man’s Role in the Family and in the Church by Todd Shupe heard a voice from God asking, “Where are all the men?” He looked around and saw very few men present, and felt a desire to try to reactivate the men’s ministry. He asked Tony to arrange for Lt. Gen. Boykin to deliver the message.
Lt. Gen. Boykin serves as the Family Research Council’s Executive Vice President. He was one of the original members of the U.S. Army’s Delta Force, and was privileged to ultimately command these elite warriors in combat operations. He also commanded the Army’s Green Berets as well as the Special Warfare Center and School. In all, Lt. Gen. Boykin spent 36 years in the Army, serving his last four years as the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. He is an ordained minister with a passion for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ and encouraging Christians to become warriors in God’s Kingdom.
The General’s message was to focus on what he calls the 4 P’s:
A man is a provider, giving identity to his family. It is his responsibility to let children know that they belong. He gives direction and serves as the spiritual head of the family.
A man should also be a protector. He physically protects the family from harm and also sets boundaries to safeguard the family from evil.
The man is the professor of the family. He professes his faith and teaches life skills to children on how to endure hardship and build up confidence. A real man will teach his son how to respect and love women.
Finally, a man is the priest of his house. He is called to be the spiritual leader in the family. The grandfather should always be the priest at a family fathering. This means leading the family in prayer and scripture, and blessing his children and grandchildren.
Richard is a strong proponent of men’s ministry and believes the pastor must be on board to have an effective program. Follow-up meetings in small groups allow men get to know each other and feel safe opening up. The older men can nurture the younger men and this will build the church and healthy families.
Man Up events at Greenwell Springs Baptist Church are open to all men of the community. For more information, please call the church office at (225) 261-2246.
Importance of Men’s Ministry
When a child is first to attend church, 3½% of the families follow.
When a wife/mom is the first to attend church, 17% of the families follow.
When a dad/husband is first to attend a church, 93% of the families follow.
Source: The Promise Keeper at Work, 1996-1999, Promise Keepers Authors Dave Sunde, Ron Ralston, Bob Horner
Todd Shupe is the President of Wood Science Consulting, LLC and served as a professor and lab director at LSU for 20 years. He is active in several ministries including his Christian blog toddshupe.com. Todd is the Secretary of the Baton Rouge District of United Methodist Men, Database Coordinator for Gulf South Men, and volunteer for the Walk to Emmaus, Grace Camp, Iron Sharpens Iron, Open Air Ministries, HOPE Ministries food pantry. Todd is currently preparing to be a Men’s Ministry Specialist through the General Commission of United Methodist Men.
A few years ago my wife bought me a Christmas gift that I’ve really enjoyed. I like to think of it as my “spy watch.” Actually, it is a Swiss Army watch. It has a button on the side that when pushed, floods the dark watch face with a blue light. Cool, right? When pushed three times, there is a small red light embedded in the face of the dark watch that blinks. This is so that the watch can be found in the dark. But I have to remember to make it flash before I take it off in the dark!
However, the light I use and enjoy more than all these is the one that illuminates when I press the button twice. When I do this, an exterior light – an LED light becomes a bright light that I can use as a small flashlight. This little LED light shines with unusual brightness. L – light, E – emitting, D – diode. I use it daily when I’m walking outside or inside a dark room or hallway.
Jesus said he was the light of the world (John 9:5). The Bible also says that he is the True Light coming into the world and giving light to all who believe in him (John 1:9). Jesus is the light that dispels darkness and overcomes spiritual darkness (John 1:5). The little LED light on my watch reminds me that just a little light dispels darkness.
But Jesus isn’t the only light. So are his followers. Christians are designed to be bright LED lights, shining brightly! L-light, E – emitting, D – disciples, if you will.
Jesus said, “ You are the light of the world. ” (Matt 5:14a, ESV). He was speaking to a crowd about life lived under the righteous rule of God as they followed him. But Jesus, knowing the human condition, didn’t stop with a statement, but followed it with an observation I believe can also be cautionary. “ A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 5:14b-16).
The Christians of Baton Rouge must find new ways to shine into our community. We face real challenges in our city. There are tensions in our city. Our murder rate is much too high. One way that I and others have found to be very helpful is for Christians to partner together from across the city, especially across racial lines. Such partnerships have allowed us to put our “LED” light on a stand, casting light more broadly. We at The Chapel have enjoyed a great praying partnership and serving together with Pastor Donald Hunter and New Beginning Baptist Church and Dr. Rene Brown and Mt. Zion First Baptist Church.
If you have questions about how to start and maintain such a light-shining partnership, please email me at Kevin@thechapelbr.com. If more such partnerships and relationships existed within our community, we would shine more brightly and the citizens of Baton Rouge would see our good works and give glory to the Father in heaven. It will take all of us to come together in small and large ways to shine as brightly as we can – find a buddy, come together and be a community of L – light, E- emitting D – disciples. U
Kevin McKee holds a bs from LsU, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological seminary, and a D.Min. from Gordon-Conwell Theological seminary. He has worked in churches in Texas, Colorado, and Louisiana (mostly at The Chapel on the Campus) as a youth pastor, college pastor, singles pastor, and teaching pastor. He is now the senior pastor at The Chapel, mainly at the LsU campus Location. His ministry has taken him all over the world, including Haiti, Dominican republic, Mexico, romania, brazil, China, Prague, and Africa. He and his wife Mary have four children.
Editor’s note: The Christmas season is a joy for us as Christians, but the holiday can also bring painful memories. We are grateful to the author for bringing a heart-felt look at the reality of experiencing loss and new purpose.
” So we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are unseen, for the things which are visible are temporal (just brief and fleeting), but the things which are invisible are everlasting and imperishable.” (2 Corinthians 4:18 AMP)
Shortly after having five miscarriages between my third and fourth child, I felt God leading me to write a book about the pain I felt in my heart and about the struggles I had to deal with trying to move forward. However, I ignored that gentle tug on my heart. I told God that I was a health care professional and not a writer. I kept thinking about all the mistakes I made in life and told God I was not “good enough” to write about my spiritual journey. I thought about the times I told a lie, was rude to people, used a mean tone, yelled at my children or said a bad word, and I felt very inadequate to write about God. After all, the world acts as if Christians are supposed to be perfect, so I had no desire to be vulnerable. However, God quickly reminded me that we are all sinners, and there was only ONE perfect person in this world, and that person was Jesus.
The tug on my heart to answer the calling God gave me never went away, so I started writing off and on but never thought I would finish a book. Then, on March 2, 2015, my world was shattered—a parent’s worst nightmare came true. My beautiful, sweet, innocent four-year old, Sutton, died tragically. It felt like someone ripped my heart from my body when I found out Sutton died, and I experienced the most unbearable pain deep down in my soul, a pain that no one should ever have to experience. I suddenly felt alone in a very large world even though there were so many people around me. My phenomenal inner circle of friends, amazing co-workers and my Bible study group from church were so supportive and were always there for me. But the only people I could truly relate to were other parents who lost children. Several moms who lost children took the time and reached out to me. These grieving moms always reminded me I was not alone, and they were always honest with me about their feelings. I appreciated their transparency.
As I suffered through my heartache and pain, I had no choice but to focus on God. I had three other children who needed me and a business to run. I needed to find a way to make it through each day. I listened to positive, uplifting music, read devotionals, read tons of self-help books, listened to podcasts, went to church, cried, prayed, spent quality time with Editor’s my inner circle of friends and I sought the help of an amazing Christian grief counselor who also lost a child tragically.
It took a lot of hard work, but the more I focused on God, the more I began to see the “big picture” format of life from my little perspective. I realized it was necessary to share my story, and I could no longer ignore the calling to complete the book. I felt God wanted to use me to let people to know that YOU ARE NOT ALONE, just like the grieving moms reminded me!
In Living Beneath the Surface: My Journey through Love, Loss and Forgiveness , I felt led to talk about the things very few people wanted to discuss – the ugly emotions of grief for the days, weeks, and years after Sutton’s death, as well as all the other struggles life brought me. It was so easy for me to put a smile on my face and hide behind my feelings and pretend everything was okay just like the rest of the world did. However, God showed me it was imperative for me to stop wearing a “mask” and understand we are all human, we all make mistakes. He wanted me to grasp the concept that we are all ALIKE in so many ways. God was calling me to “be real.” Although my circumstances may be different from others, we all share the same human emotions.
Throughout my journey, I realized how we are all interconnected and how beautiful life is/can be, even amidst our pain, tragedy, and suffering. I discovered that there is beauty in the ashes, and the darkness of the world cannot overcome the light of Christ. I saw how important and valuable each person’s life is and how we all can make a positive impact on this world. I wanted each person to truly understand that God has a purpose for each of our lives regardless of the trials we go through along the way.
Nativity Collector Enjoy Connection to ‘First Christmas’
by Rachel Smith
‘Tis the season for collectors. From Santa ornaments and snowmen statues to nutcrackers and even Yuletide dinnerware, Christmas-themed collections seem to appear almost everywhere this time of year. But while some collectors enjoy the hunt for their next limited-edition or anticipate the moment their collection is complete, Gonzales resident Mary Oubre has a different mindset. For this active 82-year old, her collection of nativities, displayed every holiday season, invokes memories of special loved ones and brings her closer to the true meaning of Christmas.
“I really didn’t start out to collect nativities. It just happened,” she said, adding that she received her first nativity as a thank-you gift. “I would help my (husband’s) Aunt Gertrude. They owned a furniture and appliance store. But they also had a gift section, and I just admired this nativity set. Actually, I fell in love with it, and one day she asked if I wanted it,” said Oubre.
That was in 1954, and Oubre and her husband, who were just newlyweds at that time, would later use this nativity set to celebrate their first Christmas together. Every year after, they would continue to display it, including when they started a family and welcomed their seven children. But through those years and as their children grew, so did Oubre’s nativity collection. Today she counts a total of 133 nativity scenes.
“I just love them,” she said, explaining the connection between the nativities and her Christian faith, and how each scene is a gentle reminder of Jesus’ birth and the moment “the Word became flesh.”
For Oubre, the connection actually goes way back, as she recalled an outdoor nativity set she made as a 10-year-old child. Among other creative tasks, oubre said she drew and painted cardboard portraits of the Holy Family, then decorated her homemade manger with lights.
“Our parish priest saw it as he drove by and mentioned this at Mass saying that this was the true meaning of Christmas. I was a proud little girl,” she said. Today, Oubre’s collection includes nativity scenes of all shapes and sizes. Some feature the Holy Family only while others highlight Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus as well as the three wise men, shepherds and farm animals. In addition, some scenes have a manger while others are etched on various objects, such as ornaments, cookie jars, wreaths, a cross, and even music boxes (and yes, at least one plays “O Little Town of Bethlehem”).
“They’re all different,” explained Oubre, pointing to nativity scenes made of pewter, resin, glass, porcelain, wood, chalk and even cornhusks.
Several weeks ago, Oubre received the newest addition to her collection. The ornament, showcasing an image of the nativity, was a gift from her cousin. “I receive so many from family and friends,” she admitted, adding that she also found several nativity scenes on her own by going to thrift stores.
Once Oubre acquires an addition to her collection, she tries to write information about how she obtained it on the bottom. She shared that she is most fond of that first set given to her more than 60 years ago by her first husband’s aunt, but she also holds dear special gifts from her children, including a Snoopy-inspired set
purchased by her son, Keith, a larger and more traditional set from her daughter, Alexis, and a portrait of the Holy Family another daughter, Joan, presented to mark Oubre’s 100th addition to her collection. “That one I leave up all year,” she said.
After Christmas this year, oubre plans to keep other nativity scenes on display as well. Since her collection is getting larger, she is finding it more difficult to take out and put away. Normally, she said, it takes one full day to do both, but this year was different. Oubre’s seven children came together to celebrate her recent birthday – a time to count her blessings.
Goal: The object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result.
Setting a goal is placing a marker on your vision. Goals are best defined as “Going over All Little steps” that will lead you in the direction of where you want to be. our path on this journey of life will have obstacles that may throw us for a loop from time to time.
Without a goal, it is nearly impossible to pick up the pieces and move forward, for the final destination has not been made clear. Without a goal, we spend countless hours roaming in circles and occupying our time going with the motion. As children we are taught to work hard and accomplish the goals that have been set in place for us. in order to fulfill small or large goals, a valiant effort must be made.
It is never too late to start setting goals. Ask yourself, “Where would i like to see myself in the future?” Are your current actions leading you closer to that goal? What changes would you like to make to accommodate the efforts of reaching your goal?
Are you willing to make the necessary changes and stick with the modifications? Challenge yourself to better yourself one day at a time and start by Going over All Little steps that will lead you closer to the finish line.
Entertainment is the pulse of LaTangela Fay. singing is her first passion. Among LaTangela’s accomplishments: she began her career as a radio personality at 15 for one of Louisiana’s leading Hip-Hop/r&b stations. she has been awarded Women in Media’s Female Personality of the Year and represents many charitable organizations, including The American Heart and stroke Association where she was awarded the Ambassador of the Year.
The Hallowheel 2017 charity tennis and pickleball tournaments raised a combined $15,169 to benefit the 2018 Cajun Classic Wheelchair Tennis Tournament, to be held March 19-25, in baton rouge. Pictured, from left, are Hallowheel 2017 Title sponsors Cindy and Tex Morris, Abby Heath, Karen serio, Marilu Major, Lynn serio, Martha Turner, Douglas Burket, Hallowheel Co-Chair emily Greene, Cajun Classic Wheelchair Tennis Tournament Director Jennifer Edmonson, Marsha Jabour, and Hallowheel Co-Chair Rusty Jabour.
The Baton Rouge Wheelchair Tennis Association (BRWTA) announced at its board dinner on Nov. 6 that it raised $15,169 to help support the 2018 Cajun Classic Wheelchair Tennis Tournament, to be held in Baton Rouge, March 19-25, at the Paula G. Manship YMCA.
The BRWTA raised the funds through its Edward Jones Investments / Tex Morris “Hallowheel” charity tennis and pickleball tournaments, held Oct. 27-29, at BREC’s Highland Road Park. The tournaments attracted more than 180 players from Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, and Florida.
The weekend also featured the Hallowheel Adaptive Tennis Clinic where 15 children and adults with disabilities took to the courts to be introduced to wheelchair tennis. They enjoyed a morning full of tennis instruction, games, and prizes.
Since 2015, the Hallowheel tournament has raised $45,000 for the Cajun Classic. Hallowheel is one of the most unique tournaments in the United states, as it features a main draw of traditional men’s and women’s tennis doubles, a pickleball tournament, and a separate “UpDown” draw where wheelchair tennis players are partnered with able-bodied players for doubles competition. More info at brwta.org.
“When you think about leadership and Christian values, it starts with understanding your relationship with God and having faith in him to lead you in the right direction when you’re dealing with people.”
Life is full of coachable moments, according to Nicholas Valluzzo, vice president of Valluzzo Companies, the family-run business that owns 50 McDonald’s restaurants in Louisiana and Mississippi. “I’m always on the lookout for how we can directly impact society,” he said. “Are you making that customer’s day better, whether they recognize it or not? You’ve got that opportunity to change the trajectory of the day.”
It’s a set of values he and his brother, Michael, and sister, Christina, learned from their father, John Valluzzo. He hopes to pass along those principles to his children, five-year-old Carson and two-year-old Jane. “My dad always preached, ‘Speak your mind, don’t do things because I’m doing them, go where your heart’s going, do what God’s telling you,’” Nick Valluzzo said. That includes valuing people, investing in them and working wholeheartedly at everything they do.
At age 14, Nick worked the counter at the McDonald’s on Jones Creek Road. “It was my dad’s first restaurant. That was my training ground,” Valluzzo said. It is one of five restaurants Nicholas now owns. After attending St. Thomas More, he graduated from Catholic High where he played baseball and football. He continued his baseball career at the University of Southern Mississippi. At Catholic High, the team wore Philippians 4:13 on players’ t-shirts, a verse that continues to guide Valluzzo: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
“There was not a better saying for me at that time, or any time,” Valluzzo said. “You shouldn’t have fear because you know God is walking right behind you. That should give you the next step forward.”
“I was raised in a strong Catholic family,” Valluzzo said. “I think a good, strong household was key. God was very present in our lives. Every single Sunday we were in church. Currently, I’m at First Presbyterian. We got married there in 2011, so we both joined that church and really enjoyed the whole aspect of what our pastor, Gerrit Dawson, gives us.” Valluzzo said he thrives on a men’s Bible study that meets at 7:00 every Thursday morning.
“There was a period of time in my life from my senior year in high school into college where there were so many opportunities to be distracted. I really let that take over my youthfulness. I don’t want to say I left the church, because I never left God. Then one day, when I met my wife [Rebecca], she brought me back. She brought that holistic view of God as the center point of everything we do. I thank her every day for it – without her knowing – but I do,” he said. “Rebecca and the children are my life and passion.”
He takes a life lesson from Jesus who connected personally and profoundly in order to coach the people around him. “I think not only as a business leader but as a Christian it’s your duty to pass that candle-torch to the next person,” Valluzzo said. Part of that commitment is meeting all of their employees.
“Sometimes they need guidance. Sometimes they need not only God but a kind of adult in their life. They need someone who will tell them, ‘Shake my hand, tell me hello, look me in the eyes.’” he said. “I’m a millennial. It’s an interesting dynamic. I sit back reflecting on myself and I understand; I get it.”
“My brother and I never want to be behind a curtain or behind a screen,” he said. “We’re not going to hide behind phones.” That includes a personal no-texting strategy. “We’re out there in our restaurants; we’re out there in the community. And if you live by the example God gives us, the Ten Commandments, you understand your God and His mission. We’re two brothers who are two years apart, so we have our good times and we have our challenging times, but it’s never not fixed. We believe you can’t go to sleep mad.
“I try to stay focused on, ‘What would Jesus do?’ How are we going to get from the opportunity to the positive side?” He uses the iconic burger as a model for building people up through positive coaching. The top layer of the “meat sandwich” represents the good you see in people. The “meat” is the opportunity to improve. “You end on a positive – how are we going to get from the opportunity to the positive side? We help create the plan.”
“We try to take a deep dive into everything we do. Our philanthropy look is not related to budget. If we’re passionate about something – looking at it from a mission statement from God to how it directly affects people – we sit down and have a good conversation about it. There are some things that we do for philanthropy personally and some things that we do through the business.”
Their commitments include “Dreams Come True,” an organization that meets the wishes of children who are terminally ill. They also support veterans, the Tiger Athletic Foundation and Junior Achievement, among others.
“What’s more important than investing time in the future?” Valluzzo said. Their Vision 2020 will bring a new look and a new level of service to McDonald’s. “Everything’s going to be modernized by the end of 2019. You’ll see kiosks inside where you’ll be able to touch and make your own burger. It’s really neat.”
“Within this experience we really take a hard look at hospitality. So, you’re no longer going to be greeted by somebody behind a counter. You’re going to be greeted by somebody in the lobby. It’s a culture change for our people and also a culture change for our customers. We’ve launched it in a couple of restaurants already, and it’s been a phenomenal success.”
Valluzzo believes that lessons in hospitality – diminishing barriers – apply to the community, as well. “I love Baton Rouge. I wouldn’t change where I live for anything. At some point, we have to get past the hate. I pray for it every day,” he said. “We’ve got to get behind each other and stick our nose right in the middle of it and go talk it out. As long as you’re shedding that light and have faith in what God’s doing, I think we’ll be in a far better place than we were yesterday. I have faith that God is going to lead us down the right path.”
Susan Brown began her career in radio news. she was news director for WJBO/WFMF radio and a journalism instructor at LSU. She holds Master’s Degrees from LSU and New Orleans Baptist Theological seminary, and served as a chaplain at Louisiana Correctional institute for Women.
Achieving good health requires a smart diet and regular exercise.
Success comes to those who wait …
I don’t buy it. success comes to those who work every day to reach their goals and don’t let anything get in their way. if your goal is to be healthy, get ready for a long, beautiful, self-realizing, priceless journey. This daily adventure to learn more about yourself takes patience. “being healthy” is not a destination, but rather a journey.
As a personal trainer, i have worked with individuals ages 8 to 80, each one with specific goals, but all sharing one common goal – being healthy. What does that mean? it means to feel good, to feel confident, and to be physically able. This journey looks a little different for each of us.
Let me introduce you to one of my favorite inspirations – Ms. Karen. When Ms. Karen retired, she wasn’t happy with the current state of her health. For years her career and family took all of her mental and physical energy, so her health was placed on the back burner. She wasn’t where she wanted to be physically.
Does this sound familiar? With mobility comes opportunity. Ms. Karen started her journey by walking … it was that simple. She would lace up her dusty athletic shoes and go for a short walk around her neighborhood. At first she could only walk about five minutes before running out of breath. After about a week, she was almost doubling her time before running out of breath, and in just over 6 months, this short walk evolved into a 30-minute walk.
Then she was ready for more, but didn’t know what to do next, so she came to the YMCA, and this is where we met. I could see the desire to be healthy in her eyes — she was ready. We started with learning how to move her body in a safe way. Every day we took small steps towards her goal, and celebrated each and every reached goal! The first goal was getting onto and off of the floor. I know this might seem like such an easy task, but if this ability is lost, it can be extremely limiting to our lives. It was a slow process due to her fear of not getting back up, and like all of us, she almost lost her momentum. But she never gave up, she kept going, and then, BOOM, she did it!
Ms. Karen is now doing full-body push-ups (practically popping off of the floor), walking two miles (or more) twice a week, regularly participating in aqua fitness classes at the YMCA, and she has lost 55 pounds. She knows the effects of food on her body and knows how to make smart, healthy choices at the dinner table. She has been on hiking trips and has traveled all over the country living her life to the fullest. She is always saying, “Wow, I feel way better than I did when I retired” or “Meredith, you’ll never guess what I was able to do this weekend.”
Guess how long this has taken? She has been on this journey for over five years, and she will tell you it has been worth every second. No more crash diets or “magic pills” and no more missing out on her life. She stayed focused on the long term goal of being healthy, which kept her going when her progress didn’t feel fast enough or when she hit those small bumps along the road.
Being healthy isn’t easy. It’s something we must practice with every step we take each day and with each bite of food we take. We must actively think, “Am I taking a step towards being healthy or away from it?” Always remember that “being healthy” is not a destination, but a journey.
Meredith Atterbery received her bachelor’s degree in Kinesiology from LsU. she is a certified personal trainer, a certified group exercise instructor, and certified kickboxing instructor. Meredith brings her passion for fitness, her love for triathlons, and enthusiasm for all things athletic to her work – through indoor cycling and circuit classes, kickboxing, and one-on-one training. she is now the Wellness Coordinator at the Paula G. Manship YMCA.