Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking Back

As I paused the other day, I found myself thanking God for the ways He is working in my oh-so-human heart, pruning in some painful ways. In the midst of the pruning, it is difficult to see the benefits or to hold onto the hope of new blossoms. But sometimes we get a glimpse of a new bud--and to our amazement, we find ourselves thankful for the pruning.

As the year draws to an end, I look back over the journeys of these past months. The winding paths, the beautiful scenery, and some dark forests. The guiding Light that never left, even when I couldn’t see it.

I see wrong choices I made, the selfishness of my heart exposed.

I see the painful consequences of some of those choices.

Yet I see the saving, loving, healing grace of God poured over my paths and in my soul.

I see how He faithfully brought good from bad, shone light in the dark, pruned fruitless branches.

I see how He taught me, convicted me, encouraged me, humbled me, and overwhelmingly loved me.

And I realize if I could go back and start over…

I wouldn’t.

Sure, if I could go back knowing what I have learned, I would make different choices. I would love more, let go more, hold on more, and trust more.

But if going back meant I would lose the heart lessons, the mind renewal (Romans 12:2), and the soul mending that have come as a result of the brokenness…

It wouldn’t be worth it.

Everyone has their share of struggle, pain, heartache, and uncertainty. Praise God that He can bring good from these difficult paths--sometimes the good being the changes He makes in our hearts rather than changing the circumstances.

I’m still in the midst of the journey, but looking back, I’m grateful (gasp!) for where it has brought me so far.

I don’t want to turn back.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Post-Christmas Prayer

Post-Christmas Prayer

Author Unknown

Long after the angels disappear into the heavens, the shepherds return to their flocks, the magi journey home, and the great star sets, Jesus remains.
The Child in whom we rediscover God's great love for humanity becomes the adult Redeemer who challenges us to imitate his selflessness and compassion in order that we might transform our world in love.
May we allow the miracle of Christmas to continue long after the holiday trappings have been packed away.
May we welcome the adult Messiah and his challenging Gospel to recreate our lives-- making the peace, justice, and hope of this holy season a reality in every season of the new year.

(From Everything Christmas, by David Bordon and Thomas Winters)

Friday, December 24, 2010

This Gift of God

I walked into church last night, feeling the weight of the week’s emotions. Despite my meaningful Advent season, this week before Christmas found me stressed, heavy-hearted, and even a bit irritated, I’m afraid.

Our final choir practice was last night in the church, a last chance to prepare for tonight's breath-taking Midnight Mass. We began and I forgot myself as I sang with the other choir members, these dear friends I’ve made in such a short time, who have welcomed me with kindness into their choir family.

As Ruth sang “Gift of God” with my brother, and the choir gently sang our responses to the verses, I closed my eyes, overwhelmed by the beauty of the music.

I opened them and saw my uncle, the choir director. He lost his seventeen-year-old son, my cousin, in a car accident this summer. Yet there he was, pouring himself out, feeling the music as I was. Finding healing in it. Tears gathered in my eyes as I watched him with compassion and admiration.

And in that moment, I felt the petty details of the week be stripped away. Why had I allowed such clutter to build in my heart and mind this week? Had I been preparing my heart with room for the Savior only to fill it with worries and selfishness just before His coming?

Word of prophets, word of poets, Holy Word of God made flesh…to a world of pain and suffering, comes the hope of joy renewed.” Kyle’s and Ruth’s beautiful voices echoed through the church.

Gift of God, O Emmanuel,” We responded to each verse, with reverence and emotion.

The purity and simplicity of Christmas was right there, in those lyrics, those five words.

This indescribable gift of God—that He came down to earth, to be God-with-us—Emmanuel.

The God who is with my uncle and family in their unimaginable grief. The God who is with me in my heartache and confusion. The God who is with each one of us in our fears, frustrations, and uncertainties.

Gift of God. Emmanuel. It’s that simple. And that powerful.

Merry Christmas Eve, dear friends. Tonight is a holy night.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Monthly Girls' Night: December Cookie Swap!

The baking crew

The of them...

...more cookies...

Oh yes, my friends, even more cookies. *happy sigh*

Frosting (and eating) cookies-- note the healthy veggies on the table as well

Rachel and her Luscious Lemon Bars!

"In the cookies of life, friends are the chocolate chips!"

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Reading

One of my favorite things to do during Christmastime is read. (That's one of my favorite things to do anytime, but that's beside the point.)

I love Christmas books. Devotionals, fiction, magazines, collections of stories. Add a cup of tea, a candle, and I'm content for hours. My library card has had 20-30 items checked out on it consistently throughout the month. (Thank goodness we have a big library, or I'd be feeling a little guilty...)

Here are a few of my favorites, including some new ones recommended this year by fellow bloggers. Please feel free to comment with your own favorites to recommend.
  • Christmas in my Heart: a Treasury of Timeless Christmas Stories, compiled by Joe Wheeler (There are several of these books-- my favorite Christmas series. Beautiful old-fashioned pictures accompany meaningful, timeless stories)

  • Everything Christmas, by David Bordon and Thomas Winters (A delightful collection of quotes, recipes, traditions, and stories. Thank you, Kandace!)

  • Victoria Classics: Holiday Bliss (Victoria magazine-- need any more be said? A feast for the eyes with it's gorgeous Victorian Christmas decorations.)

  • The Christmas Hope, by Donna VanLiere (A new favorite by the author of The Christmas Shoes; this one the story of a couple grieved by the death of their teenage son who take in a foster child for the holidays.)

  • Journey Into Christmas and Other Stories, by Bess Streeter Aldrich (one of my favorite authors, but I hadn't realized she had a Christmas collection! Somehow she weaves tales with both a depth and a simplicity. Thank you, Lanier!)

  • The Farm Chicks Christmas: Merry Ideas for the Holidays, by Serena Thompson (I loved the original Farm Chicks book; this Christmas edition has the same cute, country charm.)

  • An Amish Christmas: December in Lancaster County, by Beth Wiseman, Kathleen Fuller, Barbara Cameron (Cozy and heartfelt-- although the book became due before I had read all of the stories!)

  • The Anne of Green Gables Christmas Treasury, by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson (This book has been a favorite for years and has such a special place in my heart. It includes recipes, decorating ideas, crafts, and quotes from the books.)

  • A Little House Christmas: Holiday Stories from the Little House Books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Another nostalgic collection. How I wanted to go back in time when I read these books...and still do, sometimes.)

Wishing you time for merry, cozy Christmas reading!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ready for Christmas

“Are you ready for Christmas?”

It’s one of the common questions of the season. A friendly conversation starter. Yet I’ve noticed that the answer usually is directed toward gift lists and shopping.

Implying that if we have made our list of gift recipients (and checked it twice!), completed our shopping, wrapped and labeled our presents…then we are truly ready for Christmas.

Yet isn’t being ready for Christmas less about giving gifts…

…and more about receiving the ultimate Gift?

The gift of a God’s incredible, redeeming love in sending His Son to become one of us, to live among us—and to die for us.


I think this is one time when it's better to receive than to give.

Lord, help me to prepare in this final week of Advent, to be truly ready for Christmas. To not get distracted by the world’s requirements for a perfect holiday, but to focus on what You desire of me. To set aside time from preparing gifts, goodies, and activities so that I may prepare my heart to receive You once again this Christmas.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I happily cruised along the snowy roads on my way home from work this afternoon, having unexpected extra time from getting off early. Just as I was driving down a hill, I noticed a school bus ahead with its red lights flashing. Mildly annoyed, I slowed and prepared to stop.

And then I noticed the wheelchair lift appearing from the side of the bus. The young girl who appeared to have cerebral palsy, helpless as the mechanics gently lowered her to the ground. The dad, meeting her in the cold and snow, to bring her back into the safety and warmth of their home. He stood for a moment talking to the bus driver.

And I no longer cared that I had to wait.

Earlier in the day a woman sat down in the chair next to me in the doctor’s office, one of many patients that morning. She turned to me and shared that her sister’s heart stopped while driving last week. That she is on life support and not responding well. They’re ready to pull the plug, she said. But she looked at me with hopeful eyes as she mentioned that they saw a little improvement yesterday, just a tiny movement, a glimmer of a response.

And I remembered how fragile and precious is life.

The Christmases of these two families won’t be like the picture-perfect holidays I keep seeing on the TV commercials. But I have a feeling there will be a supernatural thread of grace woven through them that is missing from the superficial media ideals.

A Scrooge could look at their situations and question if God is in the midst. And because I am not in the exact situations, I don’t know how I would react to those crosses. But on the outside looking in, I see God there. I see Him in the love the father showed his handicapped daughter. I see Him in the miracle of the doctor who just happened to be in the car ahead of the patient’s sister, who performed CPR while waiting on the rescue squad.

When trials come, sometimes we wonder if God is really in the midst of it all. But things aren’t always the way they appear. He is there if we have the eyes to see. Always loving, always comforting, always caring and working in ways unseen.

Just as long ago He was in the midst of a stable—where things definitely weren’t the way they appeared. Who would have thought a baby in a manger could be the Savior of the world?

Emmanuel. God-with-us, indeed.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Joy to the world, the Lord is coming.

My quiet mornings with the Lord are now accompanied by three flickering tealights in the Advent wreath. How quickly the time passes—only one more candle to light.

Week three of Advent focuses on joy. Not a superficial, temporary happiness, but a deep, abiding joy. A joy that is rooted in the gift of a Child that was born to save us from our sins. Of a God who loves His children so much that He became one of us to redeem us, to teach us, to heal us. A joy that glows steadily throughout the ups and downs we experience because we hold onto these truths.

Sometimes I take for granted the joy of knowing Jesus. Of the faith I was born into and now claim as my own. The comfort of His promises when life is uncertain.

Until I meet someone who does not share that belief.

As I listened to a dear friend share some very painful circumstances with me recently, I was heartbroken to hear her express doubt in the Bible and the Church. To hear her wondering about the afterlife. I cried with her for the hurt she is experiencing, but I also was devastated to think of her lacking the comfort and hope that God’s promises give. To see her searching yet denying the very thing that gives meaning and purpose when life doesn’t make sense. I pray that God will reach out to her in this time of darkness and that He will help me do the same.

As I pondered our conversation the next morning, I realized anew the incredible gift of the Savior, of the Church He gave, and of His daily graces. As Christmas nears, my heart is filled with humble gratitude for this gift.

And for receiving it not only at Christmas, but every day.

What a reason to rejoice.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Be Merry

"Be merry, really merry. The life of a true Christian should be a perpetual jubilee, a prelude to the festivals of eternity."

-St. Theophane Venard

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Uprooting Pride, Part 2

In November, I posted about the underlying pride and perfectionism in my prayer to not make a mistake.

As a recovering perfectionist, my new prayer is: "Lord, help me not to make a mistake...unless You will be glorified by my mistake."

Because the fact is, God can and does use our mistakes and our brokenness to glorify Him, to point to His power, healing, and perfection (His power is made perfect in our weakness--2 Corinthians 12:9). He can use our mistakes and brokenness to pull others into His embrace who may have once thought they were too flawed to be accepted. Without mistakes, sin and brokenness, there would be no need for a Savior.

And who could ever say that?

I recently heard the point that we are like a Pharisee when we focus more being perfect than on God's forgiving love. How true and how convicting. We are focusing on ourselves rather than God. (One of my favorite definitions of humility: "Humility is not thinking less of yourself-- but thinking of yourself less.")

There's a beautiful humility in acknowleding our need for Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals. A humility in admitting that no matter how much we love Christ and want to follow Him, we are frail humans who fall short and make mistakes and even sin against Him.

But even more beautiful than acknowledging our need for Him is actually receiving His forgiveness, receiving His unconditional love, and allowing Him to bring good from the messiness and imperfection in our lives.

The third week of Advent begins today. Let's continue to root out the pride in our hearts to make room for the coming Savior, admitting our frailty and need for Him in our lives every single day.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Another Recipe: Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie

As much as I like healthy eating, I confess to splurging at times in the sweets category. This is one of those times. Can a dessert get any better than one that mixes chocolate chip cookies with pie?

I think not.

I took this to a potluck recently and when I went to get myself a slice, it was gone. (But I did get to try a bite of my brother's piece!)

Chocolate Chip Cookie Pie
submitted by Ann Hess to Come on Over, a Gooseberry Patch cookbook (one of my favorite cookbook series!!)

2 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup softened butter
1/2 cup flour
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup nuts (optional)
9-inch pie crust

Cream the eggs, sugars, and butter. Add the flour and mix well. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts, if using. Spread batter in the unbaked pie crust. Bake at 325* for 1 hour or until the center is done.

If you're really letting loose, serve warm with ice cream. :)

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Welcome, Advent

As I snuggle under a fleecy snowflake blanket in my cozy chair, devotionals in my lap and a cup of tea in my hand, I watch the single candle flickering in the darkness. Three more will join it as the weeks go by.

It is the beginning of Advent.

Amid the crazy and lively fun of baking, decorating, and singing around the holidays, I love the hushed calm of Advent. The Church season of waiting and preparing. The season that says, 'Something wonderful is coming and you must prepare-- not by hustling and bustling but by being still and quieting your heart. Prepare Him room.'

So we prepare. And we wait.

Waiting is not one of my favorite things. I like to be doing something. Accomplishing something. Moving forward. Yet Advent teaches me that waiting can be beautiful.

In the spiritual life, waiting is not empty or stagnant. God wants our waiting to be purposeful and full of promise and hope.

Life holds so many opportunities to wait. And in an instant gratification culture, we often don't embrace those opportunties. We look at them with contempt, frustration, and restlessness. Even in Christian circles, we struggle with waiting on God's timing. Waiting for the end, the prize, the blessing.

But what if the blessing is in the waiting itself?

We don't always choose to wait. But we can choose to wait with hearts full of hope, not empty and restless hearts. We can focus on using today to prepare for tomorrow. We can quiet our souls and open them to God, asking Him to change us while we wait. To hold onto the hope of His promises when we cannot see ahead.

"When we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience." (Romans 8:25)

Be still, my soul. Make room, my heart. Grow closer to your Savior in the waiting so that you recognize Him in the coming.