“The reason one writes isn’t the fact he wants to say something. He writes because he has something to say.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald


"But how could you live and have no story to tell?" ~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky


"Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph" ~Matt Hardy


“A mother keeps a garden of the heart, planting the seeds of faith and character that give her children hope and purpose for the years ahead.” ~Anonymous


“If your story is never told, it becomes something else...forgotten.” ~Anonymous

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Close Out of a Year

Whew!  Have you been able to take a moment and stop and catch your breath after the holiday "gladness"?  (I'd say "madness" but that word only fits in certain cases and not in this one :)  I've said it before...I love the holidays!  But, this week between Christmas and New Year's can be a bit of a "no man's land".  Sleeping in, eating up all the leftovers and goodies, continued visits with guests and the big decision "Do we have a New Year's party or not?".  (oops...forgot the other big question "Do I take down the tree and all the decorations, or wait until the first week of January?"  This week holds all the possibilities of getting something "done" or continuing on with celebration.  Once your family and guests leave...we are left with...what now?  

At this moment, my dear sweet and incredibly gifted, strong husband is re-rocking our fireplace (is re-rocking a word?).  We have an old grey brick front on our fireplace and have for 6-1/2 years wanted to replace it.  An unexpected "blessing" is enabling us to do this.  It was "planned" for January, but the rock came in yesterday and since Jim has a couple of free days...and yes, if you know my husband at all...it will be done in a couple of days!  My tree is still up; the garlands still hanging, and my living room looks like a rock quarry!  The questions playing in my mind yesterday (as in the first paragraph of this blog)...have now been answered.  The only thing getting "done" this week is that fireplace!  I am hiding in the bedroom!  Actually, I have been invited by two very close girlfriends to go to the coast for a couple of days...Jim was invited also, but with the arrival of the rock...well, you get the picture....I get a girls' trip away and it couldn't have come at a better time :)  When I return, all will be done, the dust and rock will be cleared (I HOPE he reads this blog :)  and I can rejoice with a lovely fireplace setting.  The Christmas clean-up will wait :)

My favorite part of this week is the quiet waiting upon the Lord to get a sense of His plan and goals for the coming year.  I always ask Him for a Scripture reference to "pray over my children" for the next 12 months.  I ask for a sense of purpose and some practical goals I can write in my journal.  I admit that I feel a bit distracted as I write this and hear banging in the next room, but I am hoping and anticipating the quiet time at the coast will give me some direction for 2012 :)   My prayer for you, my dear friends, is you will also be able to find some quiet time with no distractions to wait on God and hear His voice and His heart for you for 2012.  It brings a sense of joy and peace to go into a new year  having heard from Him.  I certainly don't get all my questions answered or have a 12-month plan, but just knowing in my heart I am being held by His hand enables me to face January with a measure of hope.  Some of us need hope for the coming year - perhaps 2011 was definitely not what you expected. Life threw some curve balls at you.  If the past twelve months is a year you do not want repeated in any shape or form...and you need hope and joy once again, take some moments in these last couple days of the year to sit at His feet and draw strength from Him.  So that "times of refreshing may come from the Lord" Acts 3:19    

And I pray the God of all peace will grant you all the strength, comfort, peace and joy your heart is needing and wanting as you close out 2011.  

Friday, December 23, 2011

Advent Baby, Part 2

I watched a Christmas movie the other day where a children's pageant was being played out.  I was reminded of my own children in the days when they were shepherds, wise men and, yes, angels (oh they were so cute!! :)  One time as the procession was making their ascent on the stairs to the stage, the narrator proclaimed "and the wise men fell down before the babe and worshipped Him."  One wise man did just that...he tripped and fell flat down before the manger.  The crowd loved it, although it wasn't planned :)   (I think that was the moment my son decided he had acting ability :)

Can you imagine the scene....the shepherds, the wise men, bowing down before the King of kings?  All humanity worshipping before the greatest baby ever born?  

What happened to the baby?

Revelation 5...

"...Do not weep!  See the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.  Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne..."

"You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with our blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth."

"Then I looked and heard the voice of many nagels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.  They encircled the throne and the living creatures and elders.  In a loud voice they sang...

"Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!"

Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:

"To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power, 
for ever and ever!"

The four living creatures said, "AMEN" and the elders fell down and worshipped."

THAT is what happend to the baby :)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fourth Week of Advent: Where Did the Baby Go?

The anticipation and waiting....the days and weeks before Christmas are full, frenzied and can be fun as we get ready to be with loved ones to celebrate.  We are in the midst of the fourth week of advent (and yes, I missed Sunday...but never too late to ponder).

The fourth week of Advent centers on the theme of LOVE.  Not enough words or thoughts to fully grasp what love means during the Advent season.  God stuffing himself into human form....living in the flesh on our little planet to draw us to Himself...giving his life for our redemption....trading our sorrows for His joy, our pain and sickness for His wholeness.  Our past and present for His future :)

I heard a comment this week about how people try to be so much nicer and kind and giving during this time of year.  Why can't they be like that all the time?  Why do we focus on being nice and unselfish seemingly only once in 365 days?   I thought... well, given the condition of the human race, at least one time a year the entire world focuses in that direction - which I think is good.  At least once in 12 months the world thinks about Christmas and giving ....and many have the name of Jesus touching their lips.  The choruses of Hallelujah, Joy to the World, O Come All Ye Faithful....they are being sung in different languages all over the globe!  Yeah!!  At least one season a year, the entire universe (and our schools, concerts, secular singers, etc.) sing about the birth of the Messiah.  Even if the other 11 months of the year, they don't even pause to give Him thought.

I wonder...in Luke 2:21-38 we have the story of baby Jesus at eight days old being taken to the temple to be presented.  Simeon, a righteous man, awaiting the "salvation of Israel" recognizes the Messiah and praises Him (verse 29-32).  Anna, a prophetess, also thanks God and "spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel." (verse 36-38)  This man and woman had been "looking" for the Messiah (and I think actively seeking, not just "living religion") -  so when He came, they recognized Him.  Jesus' parents marveled about what was being said about their son (verse 33).  I imagine those in the temple that day heard something that amazed them.  Then...where did this baby go?

A step back...the shepherds after seeing the angel and going to the stable, they spread the word concerning all they saw and were told about the baby Jesus. (Luke 2:17-18)  Then what?...where did this baby go?

We read about Joseph and Mary taking baby Jesus to Egypt to escape King Herod (Matthew 2:13-15) and his return to Nazareth (Matthew 2: 19-23).  We catch up with him later in the temple at 12 years of age (Luke 2:41-51) and he grew up in Nazareth.  And we don't hear about him again until he is around thirty years of age (Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3:23, and John 1:29).  What happened during all those years?  We are told he lived in Nazareth and grew in wisdom and stature, in favor with God and man (Luke 2:51-52).

Where did the baby go which so many heard about?  Did some look for him?  Inquire about him?  Wonder where the "salvation and redemption of Israel" went that Simeon talked about that day in the temple?  There are quite a few years where I wonder...did people even think about him or what they had heard?  Again, where did that baby go? (until He shows up on the scene 30 years later and changes everything!!)

Well, not much has changed really.....we are here again in December and people are thinking about Jesus and His birthday, and singing about it in all their concerts and pageants.  We, as Christians, celebrate one of our most revered holidays.  For others, it is a winter holiday, but the season does give space and opportunity to draw hearts' in a certain direction and towards the Redeemer.  

One last thought....this time of year is not easy for some.  The holidays bring memories of pain, loss and heartache.  It is not a time of celebration for all.  As we go about our celebrating, let's extend a hand of grace and LOVE to those around us....that person who bumps you in the store and doesn't apologize; the lady who cuts in front of you in the line (or takes your parking space :) and returns a dirty look or perhaps worse; the person you smile at but he/she in turn  doesn't return the kindness.  We don't know their hearts or their life story...perhaps they need just a kind word, a favor or a smile (even a prayer on their behalf :)  Or even closer to home, that scenario where you could argue or say an unkind word out of impatience or irritation to a loved one or friend.  So much busyness and not enough hours in the day to get it all done....let's extend grace to those around us...in our homes...and in our neighborhoods.  Let's "do" grace and love - take a deep breath, and not let those small irritations ruin our day or moment.  Practice forgiveness rather than anger and bitterness.  The baby is still in our midst...here in the now and present.  Immanuel - God still with us :) Some may "forget" Him in January, but for now, let's love and be gracious!  It could make a lasting difference in the life of someone around you.

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Chocolate Covered Christmas

This is not a serious post....

It is the middle of the month...

It is the last full shopping weekend before Christmas....

It is the fourth Sunday of Advent in 2 days....

It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas....

And...it is "National Chocolate Covered Anything" Day (it really is!  You can google American Food Holidays and find it!)  And so in honor of this day...

Frozen Peppermint Cheesecake with chocolate drizzle - you can find the recipe @ 

Cherries dipped in Belgium milk chocolate (oh please :)

 A mix of chocolate and salty...mmmmm :)

Oh, my...these are fun!

Chocolate covered waffles .... what a way to start today :)

Another way to get your servings of fruit :)

Double sweetness, but for those who adore marshmallows :)

For the Oreo lover....

Anything is possible....a bit of protein with your chocolate :)

And yes, I said ANYTHING is possible....

Okay...you don't have to go that far!

But since it is Chocolate Covered Anything Day...and the holiday season conjures up all sorts of sweets and goodies for us....chocolate has a generous part to play.  Indulge a bit today and cover something fun in chocolate :)  (and I will see you in January at the gym!!  :)  

Happy Chocolate Day!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Third Sunday of Advent: The Amazement of a Baby

We move into the third Sunday of Advent (tomorrow).  I'm a day early, but last week I was a day late, so I am evening things out a little :)

If I were to put a thought or theme into words for this Sunday, it would be JOY or amazement....EXCEEDING JOY!  (again I know there are traditional themes for the Sundays, but this word is leaping out at me today).  Take time in the next couple of days to read the birth of Christ in Luke 2.  A story you hear every December...from the amazing moment in "Charlie Brown's Christmas" to pageants and concerts that fill our calendar days this month.  These historical words ring out all over the world....we hear them every year, yet do we stop and ponder their overwhelming significance?

Our first "witnesses" of this history altering event were the shepherds.  They were terrified and probably equally amazed to have an angel appear to them with a message.  Shepherds in first-century Palestine were a despised group.  Their very job kept them from observing ceremonial law, which at that time meant a lot to the religious of their culture.  They were not a trusted group of men and often considered unreliable, unable to even give testimony in the courts of law.  (interesting considering they probably provided food and livelihood for many of their day - what would they have done without their shepherds?)  Yet, God chose to use this dirty, outcast class to bring the very first message to the people on earth of the birth of His Son (not including the angel, of course).

And they were so AMAZED at what was told them, they hurried to Bethlehem to see "this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told them".  Imagine their excitement when they found exactly what the angel had announced.  Staffs in hand and cloaks a flying, they rushed off to tell everyone they saw.  "And all who heard it were amazed at what the (dirty, unreliable, untrustworthy, ceremonially unclean) shepherds told them" (my emphasis :)

We are missing something vital if we are not AMAZED at what the shepherds saw and proclaimed - GOOD news that will cause GREAT JOY for all people (vs. 10).

I cannot begin to fathom GOD the maker of earth, Eloiym (Creator God), Yahweh (Covenant God), El Elyon (Most High), Adonai (LORD, Master)....becoming a BABY in the flesh for us.  Our salvation.  Our redemption.

I will never forget an eye-opening moment our first Christmas with our oldest daughter.  We were attending a large Christmas dinner with about 100 others.  At the end of the meal and program, my husband gave closing remarks and a prayer.  He held up our baby and with tears streaming down his face said "Can you even imagine GOD ALMIGHTY inhabiting a baby to save us...look at this baby....can you even comprehend it?"  No, I cannot.  It is beyond what my mind and heart can understand.  But yet, He did just that.

Our very good friends' son and wife just had a baby.  Several of us went to the hospital to celebrate with the couple and their newborn.  As I held this darling infant, all swaddled in soft blankets, and I looked upon his beautiful face, I was enamored.  I could have stared into his sleeping face all day.  He was a beautiful newborn baby.  And....I was reminded of our baby Jesus.  I could stare into His face all day!

The birth of babies make our hearts burst with joy, celebration and amazement.  Their innocence, beauty and perfection bring a new sense of life, purpose and beginning.  When a couple of a new baby walk into the room, everyone runs to see the baby and want to ooh and awe and hold the darling.  That is what the arrival of a baby usually does.

"Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" - what the shepherds told her. (vs. 19)  Oh let's ponder today, tomorrow and as we get closer to the day we celebrate the birth of the most incredible and amazing baby ever to be born upon this earth.  Every time you see a baby, ponder.  Every time you gaze at an infant, be amazed at the fact that God actually came in infant form.  


Josiah James
born November 29, 2011
(our newest friend :)
And you can see why I could stare at that baby face all day :)

Friday, December 9, 2011

O Tannenbaum

O Christmas Tree O Christmas Tree
Your branches green delight us!

It's fascinating how a simple green tree adorned with lights seems to awaken a childlike excitement in us...or some of us anyway!  I love when it is time to put up the tree.  Once you get the past the figuring out which lights work, the untangling of the strings of lights and get them on the tree draping just right....it is rather enjoyable.  Like many of you, I put on Christmas music, have a hot cup of tea on hand and enjoy the tradition with the giddiness of a young child.  Even though I don't have little ones running around helping me any more, I enjoy immensely that my youngest daughter still finds time to help make this tree look incredible!  She, like me, is a visual person, so this tree has to look just right...and she is the one to make it happen!

But have you ever wondered..."why in the world do we go outside every year the first week of December in the cold and oftentimes rain, to cut down a tree, drag it home on the roof of the car, let it dry a bit, trim the branches and then comes the task of getting it to stand upright...all the while getting stuck and pricked with needles?"  My husband posed this question to me in our first year of marriage.  He is from "down under" and let's face it...a eucalyptus branch is more likely available than a Douglas Fir.  I remember a Christmas in Adelaide one year when the children were little and we were visiting family, that we found a bunch of palm-tree like branches, stuck them in a large container and decorated with paper-chains and popcorn.  It was great!!

But the non-American man in my life has always posed these questions to me - why do you Americans do what you do at holidays?  He just wanted to know why we do what we do?  My answer...I don't know...we just do!  :)   So early on in our marriage, I had to research a bit and explain why pumpkins have faces and why our floor every December is covered in dry needles from a big tree in the corner.

There's a lot out there if you Google, but one earlier version says that Martin Luther in the 1500's was walking in a forest one cold Christmas eve and was struck by the beauty of a group of evergreens dusted with snow shimmering in the moonlight.  He went home and brought a small fir tree inside and decorated it with candles to signify the light of Christ and His birth.  We attribute our decorating of a tree to Luther.

Earlier in history the Egyptians were part of a long line of cultures that worshipped evergreens.  When the winter solstice arrived, they brought green date palm leaves into their homes to symbolize life's triumph over death.  Many peoples of history - the Romans, Druids of Great Britain, Germans and Scandinavians, just to name a few, brought greenery into their dwellings to signify life, ward off evil spirits (oh great!) and show their hope of the forthcoming springtime.

The idea of the Christmas tree was most likely brought to America by the Hessian troops during the American Revolution or with German immigrants to Pennsylvania.  The custom spread slowly, however, and it wasn't until 1851 when a farmer brought a load of trees to New York City and sold them.  By 1900, one in five American families had a tree and nearly 20 years later the custom had caught on nationwide.  Christmas tree farming sprung up during the depression as nurserymen couldn't sell their evergreens for landscaping, so they began to cut them down for Christmas trees.

A quick note...artificial trees began being produced as early as the 19th century in Germany and in 1930 a U.S. based company began producing artificial trees using brushes...they used the same machinery to make toilet brushes (lovely!) and then dyed them green.  Today trees are made from a variety of material (the aluminum tree became popular in the U.S. and but in 1965 the year Charlie Brown's Christmas aired for the first time, the negative portrayal of the aluminum tree caused sales to decline in the years to follow...that's a tidbit you probably didn't know).

The tradition of a tree in living rooms around the world has held fast.  We have years of fun memories and family times that fill our hearts with good cheer.  It's the little things that accompany this time of year that I do love so much.  And now you and I know "why we do what we do" :)

I do have a confession....in the past 8 or so years, we have enjoyed our very own artificial tree...the year all the kids were "busy" and hubby and I trudged out on our own to a tree farm, cut the evergreen without all the pomp and ceremony that came with little ones...we decided something had to change.  That was the same year, due to overwatering (fear of fire and our need to see this baby live as long as possible :) and the stump of the tree being waterlogged...that our beautifully elaborately decorated piece of art fell over TWICE in the space of a week.  My daughter will only help me twice to decorate or fix a tree...after that, she told me I was on my own!  We put a rope around our "tradition" and nailed it to the wall!    

I adore Christmas trees....I love decorating....and I especially appreciate the smell.... in a matter of minutes, I assemble the tree, straighten branches and viola!  I have my tree! I have Bing Crosby crooning in the background "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas", my hot cuppa and a balsam candle burning.  I have it all!!  And I am happy!  I just await my lovely daughter to help me finish the job!  (The other day a friend of hers came over and said how Christmassy it smelled in my home....yes!  I achieved my purpose...even with an artificial tree!)

However you enjoy your tree and all the traditions of this season, do just that...ENJOY and don't miss the special moments that accompany these December days.  A favorite for me is in the evening to sit by the tree, with only the Christmas lights aglow and enjoy the peace of the night.  I hope your days and nights are filled with similar delights and memories!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

St. Nicholas Day

Hidden amongst the first days of December and the beginning of the holiday extravaganza, noise and bustle, is a holiday most Americans are unaware.  This special day, along with the Advent season, became a tradition of our days in Austria.  And is the namesake where Father Christmas and Santa Claus get their beginnings....

Nicholas was born in the third century in the small village of Patara, once a part of Greece, but now is modern day southern Turkey.  He was born to wealthy parents who raised him as a devout Christian.  His parents, however, died in an epidemic when Nicholas was very young.  His uncle, a bishop in the church, went on to raise Nicholas. This young boy spent the rest of his life obeying Jesus' words to give to the poor and needy, the sick and suffering.

There are stories and legends that follow his life.  One interesting one I found in Wikipedia:

In his most famous exploit,[18] a poor man had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of the poor man's plight, Nicholas decided to help him, but being too modest to help the man in public (or to save the man the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to his house under the cover of night and threw three purses (one for each daughter) filled with gold coins through the window opening into the man's house.
One version has him throwing one purse for three consecutive nights. Another has him throw the purses over a period of three years, each time the night before one of the daughters comes of age. Invariably, the third time the father lies in wait, trying to discover the identity of their benefactor. In one version the father confronts the saint, only to have Saint Nicholas say it is not him he should thank, but God alone. In another version, Nicholas learns of the poor man's plan and drops the third bag down the chimney instead; a variant holds that the daughter had washed her stockings that evening and hung them over the embers to dry, and that the bag of gold fell into the stocking.

Thus, the origins of our own Santa Claus.  St. Nicholas was a real man, however, revered amongst Catholic and Orthodox Christians.  He gets his reputation of gift-giving due to the fact that much of what he gave to the poor and needy, he did in secret (or tried to).  He died on December 6th, 323 AD in Myra, Greece.  The day became a holiday celebrating a man who selflessly gave and he is honored in many Catholic nations today as the protector and helper of those in need.

December 6th is celebrated today as a primary day of gift-giving before Christmas.  Children set out their shoes the night before and they awake in the morning to find them filled with candy, nuts, oranges, etc.  (the shoes come from another story where Nicholas used to put a gold coin in the shoes of children)  Another aspect of the "celebration" is the part where if you were not "good" you woke to find a lump of clay in your boots instead of goodies.  (that naughty or nice thing :)

I lived in a missions community during my time in Austria.  We had such fun with this day.  We would all put our shoes out at night outside our door and then take turns going around in the middle of the night to put goodies in our friends' footware.  Once we discovered our shoes in the morning, we would all celebrate with a festive brunch and the joy of being together, laughing, telling stories and singing and worshipping the God who is the ultimate Giver.  

My most memorable St. Nicholas day was the year my roommate and I got fooled.  We lived in a small room at the top of the small "castle" which was our home on Schneedorflstrasse (little snow village street :).  We had a room at the end of a very long and narrow hallway.  Only one other person lived at the opposite end of that hallway.  My incredibly fun roommate and I decided to put out not only one pair of shoes, but every shoe, boot, and slipper we owned.  Understand we are two young women in our twenties...have lived in Europe for years, and I lived in Italy for 3 years during a time when the dollar was good and leather shoes were inexpensive.  You get the idea...we had LOTS of shoes.  Out went the shoes lining the long hallway and off we went to bed.  It was so fun lying in bed and hearing the giggles and sometimes loud laughing of those who came to fill our shoes.   It was a great night.....then came morning :)  Opening our door to find our shoes filled....every last one of them with coal!  There wasn't a candy or nut in sight!   We laughed so hard and enjoyed our friends more than we could say!  Of course, we found out later who it was that took all our candy and filled the shoes.....our neighbor in the hallway lived in "fear" the rest of his days on the top floor of our little castle :)

December should be filled with celebration....there are scores of those who have gone before us that we honor for their giving and generosity.  Enjoy St. Nicholas day...maybe for the first time....and bless someone today - perhaps in secret - but give out of the abundance of your heart and an expression of the greatest Gift of all during this season. 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent Peace

I know, it is Monday...the day after the second Sunday of Advent.  It was one of those weekends....lots of activity and celebration; I celebrated a birthday. Last night when finally laying head to pillow, my heart was filled with thanksgiving for my life - my family and friends and the blessings of knowing Him.  When I awoke yesterday morning I told the Lord that when I laid down at night at the close of the day, I wanted to be overwhelmed by His goodness and my eyes would see how much He had blessed me in my life.  Suffice it to say, overwhelmed was an understatement!  HE IS SO INCREDIBLY GOOD and when we ask Him to show us how good, He loves doing just that!  I had a great birthday and weekend - surrounded by the love of family and friends. I am most grateful :)

Yesterday we lit the second candle of Advent.  Looking back through my notes, each candle holds a meaning and they vary depending on who is writing the information.  As we are meditating on His birth and anticipate His coming, I don't think it matters much the order in which we process the historical data.  At our own church service, the candle signified PEACE, followed by the prophetic words:

"And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
Isaiah 9:6b

A prince...a member of a royal family, nobility; another definition says "an officer who administers the affairs of a province".  I like that....he administers peace into my affairs.  What peace it brings to my heart to know He is in charge of giving me peace when I am in need of it.  He will bring everlasting peace to our world one day.

When we need peace it is usually because we have a lack of it.  Anxiety, fear, apprehension, worry...all crowd our judgment and influences how we think and act.  There have been many times in my life when I have needed an overabundance of peace....and sometimes several times a day I can be found calling out to God for it.  One of my favorite photographers has a photo that to me, shouts out peace in the midst of turmoil....

This lighthouse, La Jument, sits on the northern coast of France.  In 1989 a storm raged for days and the lightkeeper was trapped inside.  On about the 7th day, he heard a helicopter and thinking he was about to be rescued, he opened the door to come out.

The helicopter held the photographer, Jean Guichard, who was photographing the storm and the lightkeeper realizing his mistake, was able to retreat and close the door before the wave swept over the lighthouse once again.  Yes, he was eventually rescued.

"The name of the Lord is a strong tower.  The righteous run to it and are safe." 
Proverbs 18:10

The most famous baby ever born....the Son whose government will be on His shoulders...the Prince of Peace whose birth we celebrate this holiday season and...await His second coming, He comes to give PEACE now and forever.  I hope today and this week, when you need peace, you will find it in His presence and in His promise.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


My house is a mix of boxes, decorations, an unadorned tree and furniture being moved.  Yes, it is that time of year when we pull out those glittery balls, tinsel, candles and wreaths!  I absolutely LOVE this time of year!  I have so much fun decorating (although I admit it was much more fun when the kids were little and helping me....Bing Crosby crooning in the background "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas"....egg nog passed around, candy cane stains ringing round the mouths of the little ones.....and the tree looking like we all had a hand in decorating it...all those hand-made ornaments, stories with each one!  I loved it!  Years of memories!)  It's still fun, but usually I end up being the decorating queen as school, work and events keep others pretty busy at this time.  Although I couldn't do the tree without my partner-in-design daughter who keeps me in line as to how many lights and where the proper ornament should hang. Her word is final when it comes to the tree :)  Love it!

Yesterday when I was pulling out ornaments, I was on a mission...finding my Advent wreath. With the first Advent Sunday behind me, I had to find it so it would be ready for next Sunday.  This bit of symbolic meaning holds a place in my heart like no other decor.  I attribute this to my years in Europe.  Even though we here in America don't put as much emphasis on it as in Europe, I still like to have it sitting on the table - it stirs memories and reflection and hope in my heart.

Advent wreaths take on all manner of appearances (greenery, wood, metal) and have changed over the years, even the colors of the candles changing).  Traditionally the wreath is round (of course!) and greenery woven throughout.  The circle represents God's eternal being, Himself, without beginning or end.  His endless mercy.  The green symbolizes hope of renewal and newness of eternal life in Him.  

The candles are traditionally three purple (some churches have changed them to blue to distinguish from the purple of Lent) and one pink, with a white candle in the center.  The first purple one lit (last Sunday) represents Expectation or Hope....in the advent or coming of Christ.  Purple for royalty, repentance and a changed life.  The first candle lit also speaks of prophecy of the coming King.  An additional candle is lit each Sunday, the pink one being lit on the third Sunday to represent JOY.  The progression of the candle lighting represents the Light of the world and lighting our way in the anticipation of the Advent of Christ.

This week is a meditation on our repentance, His redemption and appearance as our Savior.  Take some time this week to process the significance of repentance (is there something we need to ask for forgiveness for....a changed life means that....not just feeling sorry or bad, but actually turning away from the act, behavior, attitude....asking God for forgiveness and living a different way...with God's grace).  Reflect on the truth that He has already come, paid the price and offers us eternal life, hope, reconciliation with our God who loves us so much!  

I will never forget my first Christmas as a true believer in Jesus Christ.  The entire season took on a new and personal meaning for me.  In the middle of the festivities, parties, frivolity and presents stood the Savior of my soul.  As we like to say...the REAL REASON FOR THE SEASON :)  I never want to lose that incredible overtaking of my heart and emotions as I celebrate the birth of my King.

As we close out November and move into the last month of 2011....anticipate the Advent of the King of kings, the baby born King, the HOPE of ALL NATIONS. Even if you don't have a wreath, light a symbolic candle and reflect on the Light of the World who lights our way, forgives our sins, and gives us a future.  In one word....ANTICIPATE!

Oh, and by the way...here is my Advent wreath....my mom bought this for me years ago....not your "traditional" wreath, but symbolic in character :)

Yes, the gang's all here....three kings, a shepherd, an angel, Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus.  Like I said, not your traditional Advent wreath, but unique and a conversational piece all the same!  

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent Wreath

We had an incredible message yesterday at our church out of John 9 and the healing of a man born blind.  This is the story where Jesus heals a man by spitting on the ground, mixing mud and spreading it on the man's eyes!  I won't repeat the sermon, but it was one of those that really challenged our hearts.  I praise God and am so thankful to be part of a body where the preaching and teaching is from His Word and you leave carrying with you Truth which can be applied to our lives daily.  Real stuff to live by!!  

We lit our first candle on our Advent wreath, and two adorable small boys with candles doing the lighting.  Our pastor shared a word of Hope for that first candle.  Yesterday when I wrote the blog, I wanted to include a picture of an Advent wreath...still haven't unpacked mine yet :)  So a short blog today before unpacking and decorating today...but enjoy the visual and carry the HOPE in your heart of our returning KING and the JOY of the birth of our SAVIOR this season!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent Sunday

Wow!  Did it seem like this last week was a blur and frenzy of activity, only to realize now that another season of busy-ness is upon us?  The planning, shopping, cooking and cleaning that takes place before the guests arrive on Thanksgiving...the fun, fellowship and full stomachs that follow....and then the day after when we stop to breathe?  Unless, of course, you ventured out to take on the masses of shoppers for Black Friday....of which I confess, I do not do.  That part of Thanksgiving week I can definitely do without.  I prefer to stay at home and out of the parking lots :)

And now....we enter into the weeks of preparing for Christmas.  It's was absolutely amazing to me to hear of those who already had their tree up and house decorated by the day after Thanksgiving!! (some even before!)   That tells me this is a season most people love and look forward to.  There is something about the sights, sounds and smells of these coming weeks that brings an anticipation to our hearts of the arrival of family, friends and, yes, presents :)  But even more so, for the believer, we greatly anticipate one of our most joyous seasons of celebration...the birth of our Savior.  

Today is the beginning of the Advent season.  A season beginning anywhere from twenty-two days to twenty-eight days before Christmas of spiritually preparing our hearts and minds to the advent of Christ upon our earth.  This is a church tradition that began in our Western world around the tenth century.  I knew nothing of this tradition growing up, but my early adult years of living in Europe held weeks of enjoying this special and memorable time before Christmas.  Rich in tradition and meaning, it not only highlighted the season for me, but made the holidays so much more personal than presents and decorations.  I love this time of year, but I love what it means much more.

A wreath is the symbol around which we celebrated.  The greenery was adorned in a circle into which four candles are inserted.  A fifth candle, which is lit on Christmas Eve, is placed in the center.  The candles can be any color, but traditional colors are white, purple or blue.  In another post I will expound on the meaning of the colors...as soon as I find my earlier notes which are packed inside my own (artificial, but beautifully crafted wooden) advent wreath....still in storage as I have yet to pull out the boxes to decorate...that comes this next week :)

Each Sunday, beginning with the fourth Sunday before Christmas usually on or nearest to November 30), a candle is lit and a time of meditation on the advent of Christ.   We celebrate and ponder the Advent of the Lord in the flesh at Christmas, His Advent in Word and Spirit, and the final Advent when He will return bodily in all His glory.

Today, Isaiah 9:2-6 brings life to us...

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned...
For to us a child is born,
to us a Son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And He will be called 
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, 
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

Think about darkness.  Our power went out week before last for about 2 hours at the beginning of dusk, so this is fresh to me, and I was alone in the house at the time :(  It is black, dark and silent.  When it is really dark, it is so incredibly silent.  And even the slightest noise can bring your imagination alive with fear. You move around looking for candles or a flashlight, bumping into things, possibly getting hurt because you can't see to live or move.   But when the lights come on, you blink with wonder and relief, and think "now I can live again, move around and get on with life".  

Spiritually speaking, isn't that the way it is with us?  We walk around in darkness, stumbling to find our way, but when the Light of Jesus comes on...enters our life...our eyes adjust, we breathe, and we can finally live and see where we are going.  JESUS is the light that helps us to SEE!  

As we reflect on the birth of this Child that makes such a difference, also is the thought that when a baby comes on the scene, all quietness flees as well!  There is noise, flurry of activity, life abounds!  A baby means LIFE!

As you begin this very busy and hectic season that most of us are entering, take a moment....every Sunday, or at the beginning of each packed and full day, to reflect on the Light that has entered (or wants to enter) your life.  This Christmas season will take on new meaning as you SEE  your way through to the birth of the Savior of the world.

Enjoy this first Advent Sunday, light a candle if you can,  and join me in the coming days and weeks as I reflect on meaning, history, tradition and all the joys of the season.  This will be a fun ride....maybe I can find a sleigh, some reindeer and snow to accompany us :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What Storm?

There's a messenger at my door knocking loudly to be let in. He's panting, sweating and barely able to stand. He's come a fair distance and encountered many obstacles to bring these words.  He breathlessly cries out,  "The Good News of Jesus Christ - the Message - begins here..."

That's how Mark begins his writing of the Gospel (The Message Version).  I began to read his words this week and was immediately, like never before, impressed with how he wastes no time in getting to the point.  For some reason, to me anyway, the other accounts of the Gospel, are smoother - Mark seems to say to us the sooner we get the message, the better off we will be.  God is good, God is here and He is on our side!  

Mark is black and white...this is what happened and let me tell you.  Easily enough to relate to in our world today when we turn on the radio, TV or any hand-held electronic device and get our news...slam-bam in 30 minutes or less.  And all at the touch of a finger.  Here on the pages of God's Voice to us, in 16 breathless, exciting chapters is some news we can't afford to miss!

Let me just share briefly what I encountered today....chapter four.  The retelling of the famous story of Jesus in the boat with his disciples.  They are crossing the lake and a furious squall came up.  The disciples, scared out of their wits, wake Jesus...who just happened to be asleep with his head on a pillow...and say "Teacher, don't you care if we drown?"   What hit me was, in the previous chapters, Mark tells us that Jesus already healed MANY people....those mentioned are Simon's mother-in-law, a man with leprosy, a paralytic, and a man with a shriveled hand.  There were already demons cast out of men.  All of this done right before the very eyes of the disciples!  And in fear, they say to Jesus "don't you care?"  

He then proceeds to calm the wind and the sea "Quiet!  Be still!"  Hmm...was he talking to the elements or to the disciples :)  He asks them why they are so afraid, do they still not have faith?  They, in turn, are terrified and ask each other "WHO is this?  Even the wind and waves obey him?"

Isn't it just like us to experience the miraculous of God, His provision, maybe His healing, so many monumental blessings from His hand to our lives, and before you know it, we begin to question.  I can sit back and be hard on the disciples reaction....but am I (or us) any different...really?   Sometimes the moment the "natural" around us takes over and our circumstances are being rocked and tossed by the waves of whatever life has just unexpectedly thrown at us, we begin to question and panic. Let's face it, our mornings can begin calmly and the evenings end with disarray, trouble, panic, grief.  One minute we can be on the hillside enjoying our conversations with Jesus, and the next minute in the boat with a hurricane raging around us and asking him "don't you care?"

Don't get me wrong, I don't in any way make light of the horrendous things that take place in our lives....people we love get sick, some die prematurely, accidents happen, jobs are lost, homes are taken and the list goes on and on.  Life happens....we are not immune. Questions are asked of God....and He wants us to pour out our hearts and hurt to Him....who better understands than the One who can calm the storm?  But THANK GOD, we have SOMEONE in the boat with us :)  I rather think I ask a different question when those waves hit me...not so much "Who is this?"  but... "Where are You?"  Not the who, but the where.  I know the WHO....sometimes I question the WHERE.  And oh my heart, why should I?  He is good, He is here, He is on my side and BY MY SIDE.  There is no question, God is WITH YOU.  

Today I am THANKFUL God is always with us.  My life is better because He is.  Mark's message cries out to us to believe that.  I would rather have Him asleep in the boat with me in a storm than being alone on a peaceful sea. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans and Ravioli

Today is Veterans Day....and how many of us really know what this day means, other than it is a federal holiday and no mail is delivered?

** A national holiday in America honoring military veterans taking place on November 11th.

** Also known as Armistice Day, the day the Armistice was signed to end World War I.

** The war formally ended with the Germans signing the Armistice on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918.

** The official spelling of Veterans (for this holiday) contains no apostrophe, as declared by the American government.

** Officially became a U.S. holiday in 1938 as "a day to be dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be thereafter celebrated and known as "Armistice Day".

** In 1953 the owner of a shoe repair shop in Kansas lobbied to include all veterans honored in the holiday (not just WWI) and on May 26, 1954, by an act of Congress, President Dwight Eisenhower signed and declared the day a federal holiday honoring all veterans of all military conflict.

** June 1, 1954, Congress changed the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day (without the apostrophe!).

** Lastly, it is a tradition to celebrate the day with a meal of ravioli (okay??) - dating back to President Woodrow Wilson feeling that when the weary soldiers returned home from WWI, they would want a home-cooked meal.  He invited 2,000 soldiers to the White House and helped his staff cook them ravioli, which had then become a mainstay in American households due to the rise of commercial canning.  (thank you Wikipedia :)

TODAY, on this 11th day of the 11th month I am THANKFUL for the many men and women whom over the years have defended our nation and laid their lives down to preserve freedom and democracy.  Thank you for your sacrifice which so many of us cannot begin to comprehend.  Thank you for the months and years you have served away from your loved ones.  Thank you for believing in us. Posthumously "thank you" and "thank you" to those who are still with us, though some continue to be miles away. And to embrace this more personally, thank you Rich, Melissa, Matthew, Micah, Ryan, George - so many more friends and family with real names  - God bless you with safety and His presence.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

God's Story + You = BESTSELLER

Once upon a time.....

In the beginning......

A story, a beginning....the greatest Story ever told...the greatest Beginning ever...

When we read God's Word, we are invited into His Story....not the other way around.  So often we take His Story and fit it into our lives.  The purpose of His Word to us, is to invite us into His Story.  He spoke, He began, He created, He worked, He rested, He gave, He loved and on the story goes.  

I just finished a book which brought a small part of His Story alive to my heart.  We concluded our autumn Bible study last evening, a study on the Psalms of Ascents.  Oh my, words I have read many times over the years came afresh to my hungry heart and I learned so much...and He spoke such fresh bread to me.  New jumped off the page and old was rekindled crisp, clean and alive.   I LOVE how His Word to us NEVER grows old, always has an invigorating, seemingly first-time-read approach.  

In using an addition to the study, this book blew me away....

Eugene Peterson's book was recommended by a good friend and it was a perfect companion to the study!  Any ladies reading this who took the study...read this to finish off a great meal of God's daily bread to you :)  I highly recommend reading this along with Psalms 120 - 134.

But the closing epilogue of the book captured it all for me...and that is where the Story line comes in.....His Story, our life merging together to be complete.  His Word....HIS VOICE to us, Him speaking to us daily as we pilgrimage on our journey on earth.  (I don't think I want to use the term "God's Word" anymore, I think I have fallen in love with "God's Voice"...because that is what it truly is :)

And so.....today, the 10th day of November...I am truly and forever thankful for


Without it, I am deaf and unable to find my way.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Thankful Hearts in a Thankful Month

I just can't seem to get further into the month of November without thanking God out loud to you...Psalm 34:1 "I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise will always be on my lips."  It seems fitting as this is the time of the year most people stop to say they are thankful...at least on one day of the month :)  Considering the words "thanksgiving" and "to give thanks" appear in the Bible at least 67 times that I could find, let's do more than just roll it over in our hearts and minds....

30 days of thanksgiving ....

1)  My salvation (Psalm 40:1-3) is my personal song to the Lord :)

2)  My incredible husband (Psalm 112 is again a personal psalm I pray over him continually :)  God gave me the BEST for me and I am forever grateful!

3)  My oldest son, Andrew, so many stories of God rescuing him and preserving his life so he could fulfill God's purposes for him in his generation :)

4)  Oldest daughter, Anya, the life this girl brings to us is beyond words....God has a destiny for her that is beyond what we could ask or even imagine :) 

5)  Kristina, our JOY (her middle name), really does bring us so much joy...her bubbliness, laughter, and heart for God blesses us more than words can say :)

6)  Jamie, God knew we needed Jamie in our life to complete us...such energy, such life, such prayer that he keeps all his limbs in tact as he skateboards, wakeboards and snowboards....he has kept us young!  

I love my children more than words can say....and there is so much more that I am so incredibly grateful for in their lives...this is a fraction of my heart for them!

7)  My mom....she is 83 now and a blessing to so many of us.  She is always there for us and is a support and friend to my aunt, who is 89; they are the only ones left of her family.  She is so giving and fun to be with.  As a mom myself the last 24-1/2 years, I am so much more aware and thankful for all she did for me, and the first ten years of my life, so much of it alone.  She is incredible!

8)  The "community of families" God has given to our family.  Jim's family is all in Australia and mine lives states away, so the closeness God has given us here with our "family" means more to us than they can imagine....and they know "who" they are.  They really are FAMILY to us in every sense of the word, and we would do anything for them.  We've been together for years (30+ for some of them and our kids have grown up together) - memories packed in our hearts!

9)  Thankful for our church body that loves us and we are honored to minister together with them.  They are committed to God's Word, loving and serving others and reaching out with abundant life and hope to all those around us.

AND that is only NINE days into the month!!  Let's take Psalm 103 literally this month....(Message Version)

"O my soul, bless (thank...my words) GOD.  From head to toe, I'll bless His holy name!  O my soul, bless (thank) GOD, don't forget a single blessing!

**  He forgives your sins - EVERY ONE!
** He heals your diseases - EVERY ONE!
** He redeems you from hell - SAVES YOUR LIFE!
** He crowns you with love and mercy - a PARADISE CROWN!
** He wraps you in goodness - beauty ETERNAL!
** He renews your youth - you're always young in His PRESENCE!"

Now those are words I want to wrap my heart and mind around in the next days...even when I can't quite grasp it or don't actually "see" it in the day-to-day, week-to-week, sometimes hardness of life.  But, I would venture to say, if we are thankful each day for something, God will bless you and you will be singing Psalm 103 along with me.