Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Last Day of the Year

Sitting in my favorite coffee shop with twenty-five minutes til closing time. And less than ten hours to the closing of the year.

A word keeps popping up in my mind as I reflect on this year...


For over a year I've kept a gratitude journal. Inspired by the story of the ten healed lepers in the Bible, I wanted to be like the one who came back, falling at the feet of Jesus and giving thanks.

Just a handful of things each time I wrote. Some days the items easily flowed from my pen. Other days it took effort to give thanks with the tears. Yet I never once came up empty.

And now as I read back over it, I'm reminded of the transforming power of giving thanks. Of the richness of the gift of life...that from His fullness we have all received (John 1:16).

I'm opening my journal and sharing some of my blessings this year. Won't you join me in counting our blessings as we count down to the new year?

For the YLCF article about fear, and the beautiful thought that God doesn't always ask us to fight the battle--sometimes He just asks us to stand, to stand on His promises, trusting and waiting for Him to save us or fight for us. -Jan. 12

For banana bread and cappucino muffins. -Feb. 24

For safety and security, a home, health, a family and friends, my Faith, and being loved. -March 15

For times when the clouds part and the sun comes out--literally and figuratively. -April 10

For my parents' ability and choices to forgive and not let things ruin our relationship. -May 22

Mercy, grace, hope. -June 29

Eating supper together as a family after a motorcycle ride with dad. -July 18

That even when I struggle to comprehend God, I see parts of Him in the good, the true, and the beautiful because He is the Source of all that. -Aug. 25

The bluejay outside today. -Sept. 20

An hour jog/walk with K. downtown yesterday. -Oct. 10

For the phrase on the radio tonight: "in hope of the grace that is freedom." -Nov. 17

For grace. Always grace. Sufficient, transforming grace. -Dec. 31

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wisdom for Wednesdays

"Wisdom is knowing the right path to take...integrity is taking it."

-M. H. McKee

(I'm a work-in-progress when it comes to following this advice!!)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

On this Holy Night...

May you be blessed. May you open the deepest places of your heart for His light to shine through, just as a Star shone through the windows of a stable long ago. May you believe in miracles and have the eyes to see the ones He's already sent. May you receive the gift of being known and loved by an amazing God. May you have joy and peace that surpasses understanding.

May you remember that no matter what, life is beautiful.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Baking: Two New Recipes

“We don’t sell holiday trees; we sell Christmas trees. We don’t sell holiday gifts; we sell Christmas gifts.” She was on a roll and her voice tightened. “We don’t eat holiday dinner; we eat Christmas dinner. People don’t put out manger scenes because the holiday child was born. It’s not just a holiday that brings people into this store every year at this time. It’s Christmas. No one looks at their calendar in December and says, ‘Oh, holiday is coming up on the twenty-fifth. They say Christmas. So ‘Merry Christmas’ is what I will say."

-The Christmas Secret, by Donna VanLiere


And we don't do holiday baking...we do Christmas baking. My little pumpkins brothers are home from college for their break. Earlier this week, they visited for some classic Christmas cookie-making (and taste-testing?).

I tried these new recipes from a Taste of Home magazine and LOVED them. The 'Quick Cookie Mix' is the main recipe-- it makes 4 different cookie recipes. *Note* I cut it in half and only made two of the four recipes, which are posted below.

If you are looking for an impressive yet easy recipe-- these are it!! Perfect for gifts if you don't eat them first. I especially liked the Butter Almond cookies--it doesn't get much better than cream cheese mixed into the dough...have I convinced you yet?

Quick Cookie Mix**

1 ½ cups butter
3 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
6 cups flour

Beat the first three ingredients together; gradually add flour just until crumbly. Store in fridge in airtight container for up to one month. Yield: 8 cups. Use to make the following recipes.
***Note: If you are only making the two recipes below, you will want to cut all above ingredient amounts in half...however, the recipes below are yummy enough, you just might want to double it!

Toffee Triangles

2 cups Quick Cookie Mix
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup mixed nuts, chopped

1. In a large bowl, beat the cookie mix, brown sugar, butter, and vanilla until coarse crumbs. Add egg and mix well.
2. Spread in greased 9 x 13. Bake at 350* for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned.
3. Sprinkle with chocolate chips; let stand for 5 minutes. Spread chocolate over bars. Sprinkle with nuts. Let stand until chocolate set. Cut into squares, then cut each in half to form triangles. Yield: 5 dozen.

Butter Almond Cookies

6 oz cream cheese, softened
6 TBS butter, softened, divided
1 egg, separated
2 cups Quick Cookie Mix
¾ cup sugar
2 tsp almond extract
¼ cup sliced almonds

1. In large bowl, beat the cream cheese, 5 TBS butter, and egg yolk until smooth. Add cookie mix and mix well.
2. On lightly floured surface, knead dough 15-20 times or until smooth. Roll into a 12 inch square. Spread remaining butter to within ½ inch of edges.
3. Combine sugar and extract. Sprinkle over half of dough. Fold dough over sugar mixture and pinch edges to seal. Lightly beat egg white; brush over top of dough. Sprinkle with almonds.
4. Place on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 375* for 20-25 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
5. Transfer to a cutting board. Cut widthwise with serrated knife into ½ in slices; cut eat slice in half lengthwise. Yield: 4 dozen

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Best Christmas Books Ever (besides the Gospel of Luke)

Less stress and more peace this week. Thankful. And I've even carved a bit of time to curl up in my favorite chair with some Christmas books. My friend K. called me yesterday afternoon...

(Hello? sniff, sniffle. Sorry, K. sniffle. It's just that I've been reading Christmas stories and-- sniffle-- they've got me tearing up and smiling at the same time. They're SO good!)

Thus, without further ado, I'd like to share the titles with you:

Christmas In My Heart series, compiled by Joe Wheeler
LOVE this series and read them every year (not all of them, of course. There are about fifteen volumes!) Beautiful, touching, old-fashioned Christmas stories. If you get the newer versions, they have beautiful illustrations as well.

Christmas Miracles, compiled by Cecil Murphy and Marley Gibson
This is the new book that had me sniffling when K. called. The coolest thing about this collection of Christmas stories? They're all true. Real-life stories that will remind you to look at life with eyes that see miracles.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wisdom for Wednesdays

"Meister Eckhart once said: ‘What good is it that Christ was born 2,000 years ago if he is not born now in your heart?’

"Lord, we do far too much celebrating your actual coming in our hearts. I believe in God, but do I believe in God-in-me? I believe in God in heaven, but do I believe in God-on-earth? I believe in God out there, but do I believe in God-with-us?

"Lord, be born in my heart. Come alive in me this Christmas! Amen."

-Christmas Prayer, Living Faith, Vol. 4, # 3

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Glass Heart

Once upon a time there was
A beautiful glass heart
Unequaled in shine and sparkle
Truly a work of art.

Many looked upon the heart
And were awestruck and amazed
At the beauty and the glory
Coming from its rays.

One day a wise old man appeared
At this famous heart to look
His face held disapproval
And his head he sadly shook.

Do they not see, dear heart of glass
Your beauty is so cold
Your glorious walls of glass are sharp
And trap you with their hold.

The room then shook and off its perch
Glass heart fell to the ground
Shattered pieces filled the air
People gasped--then not a sound.

Hesitant, they now crept forward
Filled with curiosity
The walls of glass had broken
Inside what could there be.

The old man gently knelt beside
And cradled in his hand
A living, breathing, human heart
They began to understand.

Though bleeding from the shattered glass
And bruised from such a fall
The heart was now set free at last
From its false and captive wall.

Warm flesh instead of walls so cold
Beating, no longer still
Its beauty was a different kind
Loving, humble, real.

The old man smiled with joy and peace
As he saw they understood
The lesson of the broken heart
From pain there can come good.

Sometimes in life we lose our hold
The ground below us shakes
We sin, we bleed, we cry, we bruise
We fall and even break

But never doubt that through it all
Reaching out to me and you
Is the One who lifts us from the pieces
To heal and to make new.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Decking the Halls and Being Merry

Swapping cookies at this year's Cookie Bake and Swap

The CUTEST cookie jar I won as a door prize at a nurses' night out

I didn't have a candle that fit in the glass why not some peppermints? ;)

Christmas shopping trip--taking a break for some lunch at Panera!

Silent night-- no words needed.

Christmas shopping out of town is more fun when you can stay at a hotel afterwards.

The annual cookie baking bonanza and swap

My rescued Christmas tree and my Advent "wreath" on the table

Saturday, December 17, 2011


The end of this week finds me exhausted.

Overwhelmed at work from too much to do and too few nurses to do it.

Frustrated with noisy highschoolers at CCD class this week who seem oblivious of the fact that there is a God who wants to know them personally. Frustrated that I lost my patience (and temper!) with them.

Discouraged from mistakes in my solos during choir practice. Too tired to sing.

Nameless emotions from two doctor visits in one week. Abnormal labs. Again. Specialists. Again. Fighting to trust. Again.

I'm tired.

Tomorrow is the fourth week of Advent. And though I don't feel as though I've grown in the way I wanted to during this season before Christmas, I'm comforted by thoughts of Mary during that first advent before Christ's birth...

She was familiar with waiting. The unknown. The struggle for trust and faith.

She was tired.

She traveled a long journey.

But she continued to focus on the gift of Christ within her.

I see her example. I want to follow it as the Magi followed the star.

Despite everything...because of everything...focus on Him. Maybe this what it means to live Advent.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wisdom for Wednesdays

"Take time to be aware that in the very midst of our busy preparations for the
celebration of Christ’s birth in ancient Bethlehem, Christ is reborn in the
Bethlehems of our homes and daily lives. Take time, slow down, be still, be
awake to the Divine Mystery that looks so common and so ordinary yet is
wondrously present.

"An old abbot was fond of saying, ‘The devil
is always the most active on the highest feast days.’

"The supreme trick of Old Scratch is to have
us so busy decorating, preparing food, practicing music and cleaning in
preparation for the feast of Christmas that we actually miss the coming of
Christ. Hurt feelings, anger, impatience, injured egos—the list of clouds that
busyness creates to blind us to the birth can be long, but it is familiar to us
-Edward Hays, A Pilgrim’s Almanac

Friday, December 9, 2011

The (Im)Perfect Christmas

If you know me well (…or actually if you know me at all), you know I love holidays. I love decorating, cooking, hosting, and anything festive that coordinates with a holiday. I drink tea in pink mugs for Valentine’s day and make red-white-blue desserts in July and read Christmas stories in December. Oh yes, I celebrate holidays with the best of ‘em.

So don’t think me a Scrooge when I say the commercials on TV this year are driving me crazy! Every other commercial teaches us about the ‘perfect’ Christmas. First, everything must look perfect—clothing, smiles, food, families, homes—with the assumption that perfect things make a perfect holiday. Secondly, the preparation for a perfect Christmas includes buying, buying, and more buying—the more expensive the item, the more you love that person.

The perfect Christmas, right?

I don’t think so.

The only perfect Christmas I know of…was the first one two thousand years ago.

When nothing about it looked perfect… a full inn, an uncomfortable stable, a tiring journey.

Instead of elaborate, it was simple.

Instead of noise and hurry, there was silence and stillness.

Instead of extravagance, there was humility.

Sorry, media. The perfect Christmas looks a little different than you thought. It’s not about making the yummiest cookies, sending the most cards, or even giving the best gifts.

It’s not about stuff. It’s about souls. Salvation. The ultimate gift from the only One who is perfect. It’s about preparing our hearts to give Him even more room than we have before.

Happy Advent, sweet friends. May you have an imperfect Christmas season that leads you closer to our perfect God.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Wisdom for Wednesdays

"...Hear the words again, fear not and know that God is near

For the God who spoke is speaking still

And the God who came still comes

And the miracle that happened still happens in the heart that will believe

And receive the miracle of Christmas."

-lyrics from The Miracle of Christmas, by Steven Curtis Chapman

Monday, December 5, 2011

Holy Mysteries

The wind howled angrily outside the century-old country church. The thick rain pounded the parking lot.

But I was safe inside as I closed the door behind me.

I walked through the dark church to the front, familiar steps from years gone by. I paused at the step before the altar and gently sank to the floor. I slipped off my shoes, for this was a holy place.

And I sat at the feet of my Jesus.

Darkness. Except for the light of the small red sanctuary lamp. The flicker that says He’s here. He’s waiting. Just for me.

Quiet. Stillness.


I had unspoken thoughts and emotions on my heart, but no words. So I hoped that my soul would speak to Him when my mind could not.

It wasn’t the first time I had sat in this spot, that I had brought Him my uncertainty and fear, my hope, my awe and wonder. The past memories whispered in hushed tones, reminding me of the prayers I’d prayed in this very spot over the years, some with answers manifested and some with answers still unknown to me but known in heaven.

How many before me have knelt here in this hundred-year-old place of worship?

How many have sat here at Jesus’ feet in those hundred years, offering hearts and receiving graces?

Beautiful faith. Handed down from generation to generation. Seasons change. Years pass. But He is always there. The red glow beckons us to His feet. He is there, waiting with love and mercy and grace and healing. The Ancient One from Abraham’s time; the same God yesterday, today, and forever.


Friday, December 2, 2011

Life is Beautiful...

-sitting with the choir members once again. So happy to be back with these dear people, my incredible uncle, and the beauty of music ministry.

-spending a night at my parents, eating popcorn and watching "The Middle." That show is too funny (and the middle child is way too much like me at that age! Braces on her teeth, nerdy, and dramatic!)

-laughing with each other at work when the stress levels start to rise.

-finding a bloom on the clematis vine during the month that my grandma died five years ago (one of her favorite flowers!)

-singing way too loud with A. and the radio on a late-night drive back from our Wisconsin trip.

-with the sentimental comfort and joy of a Christmas fiction novella.

-watching little nephew L. walk around with a grin on his face and my (knockoff) Ugg boots on his feet

-having a truly understanding sister-heart on the other end of the phone line when I needed someone to cry talk to.

-working out with my girlfriends on Monday nights, laughing and whining and sweating and talking all at the same time.

-remembering how rewarding it sometimes feels to get down on your hands and knees and mop a floor (but that feeling will last awhile; no desire to mop again anytime soon).

-beginning a new year in the Church as the Advent season arrives. Preparing, worshipping, believing, and hoping with the other members of the Body.

-counting the haves when I’m tempted to count the have-nots. Choosing to trust in the unseen and knowing that He sees all.