The Eagle Has Landed…in Tamale Country

Well, we made it to Texas with no trouble at all ~ even though we had to go through Newark, New Jersey.  They were STILL clearing snow from the runways and tarmacs there, and we were surrounded by a lot of disgruntled, delayed, and “bumped” travelers, but fortunately we were not included in that group.  We did have some disgruntled children though, when they learned that our seats on the plane on EACH leg of the trip were NOT together.  We were scattered all over each plane and the children were less than pleased about it.  Kayla and I did manage to sit together on the second leg, when another kind traveler offered to switch seats with one of us, which was a blessing, since that leg was 4 HOURS long.  Ugh.
Another reason we were thankful that our trip was uneventful was that we planned to meet my dad and sister and her kids for nothing less than……you guessed it…….Mexican food!  Well, Tex-Mex, that is ~ as you can see from the description on the restaurant.  It was a fun reunion, complete with queso, fajitas, salsa, migas, tortilla soup, and enchiladas.
After dinner, the kids loaded up in Grandad’s suburban and headed south of Austin to his house.  Robert and I made a stop at Starbucks for tea and Wal-Mart for zinc lozenges (trying to nip a cold) and hair spray (it is the land of big hair, ya know).  When I walked out to the parking lot to find Robert, who was waiting in the car, I was approached by two adorable little Mexican boys…..
“Hello, ma’am!  Would you like to buy some tamales?” they asked.  (I kid you not.)
“Oh, no thank you.  Not tonight.”  I replied.
“OK.  God bless you, ma’am!”
So yes, we have definitely left Massachusetts, and arrived safely in the land of tamales and Tex-Mex.  Heavenly!

My Gifts: A Ring and A Prayer (and a book)

“Wow, Mel. That’s not normal, you know.  And I mean that in the best way possible.”  my sister said as I described the gifts I received on Christmas day from my loving husband.  After we talked about her Christmas morning with her kiddos and then ours, and what everyone had received this year, she asked me what Robert gave me.
“A really pretty and simple silver ring from James Avery with my birthstone.” I replied.  “He said that red is my birthstone and it’s a Christmas color.  I just love it.”
“And he also gave me a small red journal that was full of his prayers for me in the last year,”  I continued.
“Really? From the whole year?” she asked.
“Yes.  I know.  It’s really amazing.  He gave me a list of 12 things he would be praying for me in the coming year  ~ last year.  I knew he was praying for me, of course, but I had no idea that he was writing it all down each day.”
I’m pretty sure that’s when she came out with the “not normal ~ but in a good way” quote! It made me laugh, but I know it’s true.  He is my greatest treasure and gift from the Lord.  An attentive, selfless husband can be a rare thing, unfortunately.  I am made aware of this on a consistent basis as I interact with lots of different women.  But before you start thinking that there’s a perfect wife, husband, and marriage in this house, let me quell your fantasy by telling you that just two weeks before Christmas, we had a doozy of a fight and for almost a whole week he could do no right in my eyes.  Oh, how humbled I was as I opened this gift on Christmas morning and saw that he had been praying through that entire week ~ for his transformation and mine!  No ~ no perfection here, just daily trusting the Lord for deepened friendship, intimacy, and admiration as we go.  But oh, how He honors our dependence on Him ~ and truthfully, Robert leads out in this dependence.  He always beats me to repentance and reconciliation.  My heart is much slower than his to finally come around, but how can it not when he’s already there, humbled and desiring all things to be made right between us?
There is Someone Else whose heart is always open and desiring of relationship with me ~ even when I’m angry, hurt, and confused ~ even when I’ve been the one in the wrong. (Which, in this particular case, is always.)  Robert has been the most tangible experience of Christ I believe I will ever have on this earth.  The tears that came as I opened his gift hopefully give evidence to my deep gratitude, because words are just not enough.
 My other gift was a book I’ve been wanting for a while.  I’m sure many of you have noticed  it at the top of the New York Times bestsellers and Amazon’s “Most Gifted” books of the year.  What?  It’s not there, you say?  Well, I just can’t believe it, because talk about a compelling, earth shattering biography!  And who hasn’t heard of Banner of Truth Publishers?  Surely you have all been dying to read the biography of Charles Hodge, Stephen Charnock, and Charles Spurgeon!  Banner of Truth has those books as well as other enticing titles like Repentance, Suffer, and While the Bridegroom Tarries.  Okay, so you’re not sold yet?  Well, call me a nerdy puritanical pastor’s wife and Bible scholar wannabe, but this stuff gets me all excited.  I prefer to say that I am “in earnest” (have I mentioned that I love that phrase almost as much as the word “hitherto”?) about knowing the lives of earlier saints in our country and God’s previous work in our nation ~ especially here in New England.
And maybe I’ve mentioned that one of my favorite saints is Elizabeth Prentiss ~ author of the beloved hymn More Love to Thee and many books; most notably, Stepping Heavenward.  Wouldn’t you agree that that is just a lovely painting and depiction of the delightful Elizabeth P. on the front cover of her recent biography?  Maybe you’ve already clicked over to order it based on the pleasant countenance of surrender to Christ you can see written all over her face.
Well, I read this paperback version of Stepping Heavenward at least 4 times, before Robert got me this beautiful cloth bound version from Lamplighter Publishers.  (Another “bestseller” book company in my archaic opinion.)  It is the story of a woman named Katy told through her journal from age 16 until her death.  It beautifully, and with raw authenticity chronicles the sanctification process which all believers find themselves in as they walk with the Lord in this fallen world ~ most specifically women, since it is a woman’s life and heart to which we get an insider’s view here.  I would go as far as to say that second only to the Bible, this book has greatly encouraged me in my relationship with Christ, taught me how to love Him, and exhorted me to accept the situations, “schools” Mrs. P calls them, in my life as gifts from the Savior to conform me to His image.  The Bible prescribes that lifestyle, and for me Stepping Heavenward describes it in a way that I can easily relate to ~ even though it was written in 1869!
Well, I’m more than halfway done with the biography, and I’ve been simply engrossed.  First of all, it takes place right here in Massachusetts at times, and at other times Elizabeth and her family are in Portland, Maine, New York City, and New Jersey. Harriet Beecher Stowe  (another favorite saint and author) and her father make an appearance in the book, as well as Charles Spurgeon, the Queen of England, and the author of “Jesus Loves Me.”  The Prentisses were involved in church planting here in New England and New York WAY before Mark Driscoll hit the scene (like by 150 years or so), and they even got burned out and had to take a sabbatical in Switzerland!  Elizabeth, though full of faith and devotion to Christ, struggled with depression and extreme weariness, but tried to faithfully give those struggles to the Lord. Is any of this sounding familiar? Reading about her life helps assure me that I am not abnormal in my own struggles, though they aren’t even close to the deep sorrow she experienced over losing 2 children to an early death, and numerous other loved ones.
Included in the book are excerpts from letters and journals of both she and her pastor husband, George.  I will leave you with one of those.  It is from a letter that she wrote to George, not long after they were married, and it also expresses what I’m feeling for my own husband these days ~ and have since we married. Not every day, of course, (obviously. see above.) but definitely as an overarching feeling for our entire marriage…

How I do love you! It already seems to me that you have been gone a week, and how will it seem tomorrow, I wonder?  My heart has been full of thankfulness as it could hold ever since you went away.  Oh, how much better I love you than I did before you were my husband; how infinitely more I admire and respect and esteem you!…Ever since our marriage, I have half wished you would go away that I might write and tell you as I never can when with you, how every hour and every moment I am running over with love.

 It seems that I end a lot of posts about Robert by saying that I am blessed.  Well, surely you can understand even better now, because it’s true.  I am blessed.  His Christmas gifts are wonderful ~ his gifts of unconditional acceptance and grace are life-changing.

It Was Merry & Bright Alright…and Almost White

 There were so many blessings and things to be thankful for this Christmas.  It seems that every year I’m thanking the Lord again for His provision for us in so many ways during the holidays. This Christmas was no different, of course.
I’m sure no one remembers this.  Actually, I didn’t even remember until I read my Christmas post from last year, but last year I wrote that I hoped to have tamales this year as part of our Christmas Eve dinner.  Tamales are a Christmas Eve Tradition in Texas, and I have fond memories of my dad and grandparents buying them ahead of time, freezing them, and then steaming them to eat on Christmas Eve.  A few weeks ago, I began thinking about this and wondering where I could find some for our family to eat. (Remember the Pace Picante Sauce commercials?  New Jersey?  I felt a little like I was in that commercial thinking I could get tamales in Massachusetts.) Well, almost immediately, Joel came to mind.  Joel has been a wonderful addition to our church family this year, and I knew that with his Puerto Rican heritage and connections, it was highly possible that he could get me some tamales.  I asked him last Sunday…
“Joel, do you know where I can get some tamales for Christmas Eve?”
“Tamales?? (in proper Latino accent and pronunciation) Do I know where to get tamales????  Of course I know where to get tamales!!!”
“Really!?! Well, they are a tradition for Christmas Eve in Texas, so I was hoping to get some this week.”
“You want me to get you some tamales?  I will get you some tamales.”
He called later in the week to see how many we wanted.  We requested 2 dozen and offered to pay for them.  (They are VERY labor intensive!)  Joel refused any money, and insisted that when his friend, Lupe, heard that an American family wanted tamales for Christmas Eve, she was just overjoyed to make them for us!
I spent a couple of days making refried beans, Mexican rice, and 2 kinds of enchiladas, we invited several friends over, Joel arrived with the tamales, and it was a Mexican FEAST!  (Well, actually we called it a Texan-Gringo-Puerto Rican-Yankee feast!)
It was so fun and just one of the blessings and provisions of this Christmas…..tamales.
After the tamale feast, we all headed to church for our candlelight service.  Kayla played the piano, Cooper played djembe, Kory ran the powerpoint, different folks read the Christmas story from Luke, Robert preached on the Holy Spirit’s role in the story (It is a big role He played!), and we lit votives, because we couldn’t find the regular small tapers made especially for passing the flame during “Silent Night.”  It was all very beautiful.
 Back at home everyone opened their gift of new pjs, and modeled them for the annual pjs-in-front-of-the-tree photo.  (I won’t even tell you how many “takes” this took.)  We read the assigned reading of our Jotham’s Journey Advent book and then sent the kids to bed!  Robert and I stayed up stuffing stockings and transporting presents to the tree, watched Miracle on 34th Street (we’d never seen it before ~ short and sweet) in bed, and then went to sleep for just a few hours it seemed until we heard footsteps going down the hall and bathroom visits being made which meant that everyone was up and eager to open gifts.  We managed to hold them off until 7a.m.
 Giving gifts to our kids is another provision and blessing the Lord allows every year.  I absolutely LOVE buying the gifts my kids request for Christmas, but I never know quite how it will all happen.  Prices are high and the budget is tight, but somehow every year He provides a way for us to bless our kids and each other with several special gifts.  (We even got to give gifts to a couple of others ~ folks in need ~ this year.  Those gifts are going to stay our little secret, but can I tell you that it blessed our family so much to give away like we were able to?  Wow ~ it IS more blessed to give than to receive!  The kids were especially thrilled with these opportunities.) Can you tell that Kayla is VERY excited about the next installment of the Percy Jackson series?  Each kid usually gets a new book, a new game, an article of clothing, new pjs, socks and undies, and a couple of specially requested items like…..
 Legos!  No one requested or received Legos last year, which was a first in many years, but this year we were back to Legos.  Cooper and Kayla both wanted 2 special sets that they had spotted in catalogs throughout the year.
 Kory got this Longhorn sweatsuit and several books and DVDs on World War II ~ one of his biggest interests.
 I gave Robert something he has never even mentioned wanting!  It was a risk, but when I saw these Fossil brand leather commuter bags/briefcases, I was pretty sure he would be pleased.  Well, he was, and in true church planter humor (which precious few of you will appreciate, of course) he said, “Many will come to Jesus, now that I have this awesome bag.”   (It’s just a joke, y’all. There has emerged a certain “style” to this profession/calling which is mostly ridiculous, but hey, when you are the “old guy” a little “hip” can’t hurt!)
The rest of the day brought Lego building….. a city house and winter village bakery for Kayla.
And more Lego building…..

 ….the city public transport set ~ complete with cool sports car for Coop’s professional Lego football players for Cooper.
 And look at these cute buttons I found for everyone’s stocking.  Can you guess who’s who?  I’ll give you one hint:  The “handsome devil” is Robert, of course!
Today brought the snow ~ we were just about 36 hours from having a white Christmas ~ and the packing up of all things Christmas.  The decor, that is.  With blizzard conditions outside, it was a good day to stay in and get a lot of cleaning accomplished. Robert took this picture after we had cleared out the tree and taken multiple Rubbermaid containers filled with garland, ornaments and such, back to the attic.  It seemed like all that was left of Christmas, but it really wasn’t.  The Christmas that hopefully won’t ever get packed up around here is the Emmanuel part ~ His nearness to us.  He has shown it to us in so many ways this year and this holiday season ~ whether it be tamales from Worcester, MA or a church family to worship with, abundant provisions for family gift giving, to the blessing of being able to give to to those who aren’t expecting it.
Yes, merry and bright and white with abundance.
Thank you, Lord Jesus.
(Maybe tomorrow I’ll find time to post about the gifts I received.  So special.  And evidently “not normal.” Stay tuned.)

New York Nostalgia & A Good Idea

There are a few places I love to visit at Christmastime.  My sister and I even shared a moment of giddiness on this subject on the phone the other day when I called her in Austin, Texas and asked her what she was doing…
“Shopping at Whole Foods,” she replied.
“Oh ~ how fun!” I said, “Especially at Christmas.”
“I KNOW!  I love coming here at Christmas!” she squealed. (Totally understandable.)
Going to Whole Foods (Especially the flagship store in Austin ~ oh my!) on any day is a treat with its gourmet and luxurious specialty food items, but at Christmas?  Well, it’s just a wonderland of rich organic chocolates, gigantic gingerbreads, handmade oversized candy canes, and sparkly ciders and champagnes to add cheer to the already festive holiday.
 Last year’s birthday and New Year’s trip to NYC
 Another favorite place of mine during the holiday season is…..Starbucks.  As silly and shallow as it may sound, the first glimpse of those red holiday cups entices me toward the green mermaid sign like never before, and I bask in the retro Christmas tunes, my grande americano, and the holiday tea.  And while I’m on a roll, revealing “all the vain things that charm me most” about this already too commercialized season (yes, I know), I might as well tell you that I also visit Barnes and Noble at least 100 times during the holiday season, which is where I stumbled upon this puzzle.  It is such a delightful rendition of the enormous Rockefeller Center tree in New York City.  It made me nostalgic for the city that I wouldn’t be visiting this holiday season. 
It also gave me an idea.
As hard as we try to celebrate this special season ALL the days from Thanksgiving to Christmas with numerous Advent activities, my kids still grow restless waiting for the actual day. (It’s REALLY difficult for it to be about anything but the gifts when you’re a kid, ya know.) And I grow restless with their “hovering” as I like to call it ~ hovering around me and asking me all sorts of questions, adding items to their wish lists, updating me on the exact number of days, hours, minutes, and seconds via their iPod Advent countdown app, and aimlessly wandering around the house (and me) when all schoolwork and chores are done.
 In the Time Warner Building ~ There’s a Whole Foods just downstairs!
So, I bought the puzzle.  500 very tiny pieces ~ perfect! It would be a fun reminder of another of my very favorite Christmas destinations (one that I wouldn’t experience this year), and a way to occupy my aimless, hovering, restless children for at least a couple of days.
 I kept it hidden until school was finished for the semester (last Wednesday), and then brought it out when some children began asking questions I couldn’t answer….Who’s coming over on Christmas Eve? Who’s picking us up at the airport in Texas?  Why can’t we drive to Texas?  I don’t like to fly. What are you going to make for breakfast on Christmas day?  Can we have waffles this year? What time can we start opening presents on Christmas morning? Could we start at 6 a.m. instead of 7? Is anyone coming over on Christmas day? Will you take me shopping for presents?  Has granddad’s package arrived? 
Yep.  Time for the puzzle.
Kayla and sweet sister friends ~ Kenzie, Maddie, and Mikiah at Rockefeller Center in 2008
I cleared the coffee table in the living room, set out the puzzle, and announced that completion of this project was not optional, and that Christmas presents would only be opened on Christmas Day if the puzzle was complete.  There was quite a bit of incredulity and balking at first, and then…..
 …a diligent silence fell upon my house. 
And not only that, but brothers and sisters worked together in unity.  There was strategy, harmony, laughter, and teamwork. Amazing. Desperate times require desperate cooperation, I guess.
Dear friend and fellow church planting wife ~ Christie and me at the Plaza Hotel
 They worked off and on for two days and finally finished!  They had been really “in” to the project while it lasted, and were very proud of their accomplishment. It was only Thursday afternoon though, so on Friday I pulled out a new puzzle that friends had given us for Christmas the night before and suggested they give it another go before Saturday.
 Would you believe that they adamantly refused?
Okay, okay…..but guess what next year’s “restless hovering remedy” will be?
Hopefully, this puzzle AND a trip to New York City!

Merry Christmas From the Krum Fam!

 A midnight race through Central Park
to ring in the brand new year;
a Texas 40th birthday party
with folks Mel holds so dear.

Back home to lots of baseball games~
spring, summer, and how does “fall ball” sound?
Kory managed to make his favorite sport
last the whole year round.
We even saw our first Red Sox game
after just 10 short years in M-A.
Big Papi’s first homerun of the season~
What fun to finally be at Fenway!

Kayla danced and sang in a choir,
planted a garden, and played with her bunnies.
She studied the Bible with girlfriends all summer,
and fell in love with Hobbes and Garfield funnies.

Guitar, backyard football, a Lego sports center
filled Cooper’s days  (Kory’s, too),
and bike trips to UMass for basketball fun
to escape Saxon math as their sure doom.

We escaped to Maine quite often~
anniversaries, retreats, and vacations;
lobster, steak, and Cadillac Mountain.
So blessed by this close destination.
New Hampshire, too: first back-packing trip~
White Mountains, 3 days, 2 nights.
23 mile loop?  No Problem. (Ha!)
We’re still getting over our fright!

Mel spent her days in the kitchen & “classroom”~
Meals, menus, math, and Punnet squares;
Austen, Dickens, even Francis Schaeffer,
and new varieties of farm squash to compare.
She loved teaching Sunday  “University”
to young women with hearts to learn
which labels and thoughts to abandon;
that Christ’s love is given, not earned.

There were youth camps, conferences, baptisms,
sermons, small groups and more~
church renovations, wedding invitations;
Robert’s gifts used like never before.
New churches planted, young pastors encouraged,
a wife and kids were loved so well.
His humble heart with passion and vision
Really never ceases to swell.

Still grieving the loss of our “Buddy.”
Our golden boy is so sorely missed,
and though he’ll never quite be replaced.
a new puppy’s on every one’s list.

Surely blessed, but often overwhelmed;
life seems so hard to maintain~
people, tasks, needs never ceasing,
by just One we are daily sustained.
Our hope, the anchor of our souls,
in joy and sorrow mixed.
We trust Him daily for endurance
on Jesus our eyes desperately fixed.

Shear Joy!

 She’s been wanting to try a new haircut for a while ~ nothing too short, but a trim and maybe some bangs.  (I was pretty worried about the bangs idea, because she’s so used to tucking it all behind her ears and having it completely out of the way!) Kayla’s first ever haircut was only about four or five years ago.  I was her stylist then, and have been ever since, so when I suggested a “real” haircut at a real salon, by a real professional, she was a bit reluctant.
Yesterday I suggested making an appointment for today, but when she got up this morning she had changed her mind…
“Maybe I don’t really need a haircut, Mom. Will they have to wash it?

“Well, you don’t have to get it washed, but I think it helps and that’s almost the best part of it all!”

“How do they wash it?”

“In a sink.  You just lay your head back, and the stylist stands behind you and washes it. She even massages your head!  Actually, it’s so amazingly wonderful, that I’m pretty sure that once you do it today, you will never want Mom cut your hair at home again!”

“What if soap gets in my eyes?”

“Oh, I don’t think that will happen.  The person washing your hair is highly trained in keeping soap out of eyes.”
 I made the appointment for 3:30pm this afternoon.  Before we left, I looked up a few “girl’s hairstyles” for Kayla to think about.  We printed out a picture of the one she liked the best ~ long and tapered, with long bangs ~ and headed out to the salon.
 Briana met us at the front desk with a big smile, and was so sweet to Kayla. She’s so sweet and gentle to everyone, which is why I knew she would be perfect for this first cut! (Apologies to Patrick, if he’s reading this.  You’re pretty sweet, too, Patrick, but I thought a girl would be best this time!)  She asked Kayla about how she wanted her hair done, we showed her the photo, discussed the strategy, and headed back to the sinks. I wondered if I would get emotional about this “big girl” haircut, but no tears were shed ~ even as about seven inches came off to create bangs!
 I think part of why I didn’t cry is because I’ve almost never seen Kayla quite this happy about something.  At different points of the cut, Briana would ask her if she liked it.  Every time Kayla had a big smile and an eagerly nodding head.  It was the cutest thing, and it made me happy to see her so overjoyed about her new “do.”
And here’s my beautiful girl in the “after” shot along with Briana.  You can’t quite see the finer details of this cute cut, but there’s a bit of a taper low on each side, and a few slight layers in the back.  
It’s just super cute on her.
Thanks, Briana!
She smiled and skipped all the way back to the car saying, “Mom, I really like it so much! And I do want to do that again sometime!”
(Oh my! So much for not crying…the tears are brimming over now as I write!)

And Blessed is She Who Believed…

After Gabriel tells Mary that she will soon give birth to the Son of God, he also mentions, as extra confirmation, that her cousin Elizabeth is expecting a baby in her old age. Mary receives the news, believes, and then goes immediately to Elizabeth’s house. Upon arrival she hears these wonderfully, welcoming words from Elizabeth:

“Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord.”
Luke 1:42-45

And then Mary sings. 
It seems she had always believed there would be a fulfillment of the promises to Abraham, and now it’s happening.  The lyrics of the song are all praise, remembrance, and gratitude. The Lord has come through for her, just like she knew that He would.
Friday night I crawled into bed, and the tears came.  I never know just when this might happen, but I know the potential for it is never buried too deep.  I wish I could anticipate it better, because then I might do something to prevent it.  Stop.  Rest.  Take a day off. (“Might” is the key word here, unfortunately.)  I’ll think I’m doing okay, (a much better place than I was a couple of years ago) and so I go, and I go, and I go, and then it hits, and then I know. I know I’m already past the point of no return, and the tears of weariness come.  And then the hopelessness speaks louder.  The restlessness rears up.  Discouragement prevails and sadness settles in again.  And I can’t ever quite put my finger on any good reason why.
Then a patient husband rolls over to talk and embrace and pray, and it helps. But then guilt washes over and is joined by other voices of condemnation. 
You’ll always be this way. 
He’ll get tired of listening. 
How could you possibly be sad?  
You are so blessed. 
Obviously you are just selfish and ungrateful.
Crying makes me even more tired than the things (whatever they are) that I was crying over in the first place, but I pry my puffy eyes open the next morning and open my Beth Moore Esther study, my Bible, and my journal (a brand new one!) before I even get out of bed.
I’m on week 9, day 5.  It’s entitled  “A Time of Happiness.”
Hmmmm…don’t think this is going to be especially relevant, but in obedience (my specialty) I forge ahead.
The Jews have just experienced a “great reversal” as Beth likes to put it.  They have just received word that a previous edict, the one that guaranteed their impending annihilation, has been countered with a second edict: the right of the Jews to assemble and defend their lives.  There is now pure happiness among them. When the first edict went out there was “mourning, fasting, weeping, and wailing.” ( chap. 4, v. 3)  With this new edict, there is “light, feasting, gladness, and joy.” (Chap. 8, v. 16-17)
It is a great (and quite obvious) reversal.

From mourning to light.

From fasting to feasting.
From weeping to gladness.

From wailing to joy.

Hmmmmm….so maybe I can relate to this.  We’ll see….
Then Beth suggests to me, “Maybe you could use a reversal right now.  Write four words that describe the condition of your soul, and then four words that would be a great reversal of those negatives ~ positives you wish He’d enact instead.”
Well, okay. But haven’t I been doing this for two years?  Yes, I have.  In fact, as I glance back to the previous day’s journal entry, I realize that I went through these same exact motions just yesterday (and those without Beth’s prompting!)….
Please, Lord…I keep asking that you would right and renew my heart ~ for you and for your people.  Remove from me negativity, anger, hopelessness, and depression ~ and fill me with hope, joy, and passion.
On this particular day my four descriptions were only slightly different:

From weariness to rested strength.

From discouragement to hope.

From sadness to joy.

From restlessness and discontentment to acceptance and contentment.

Then Beth exhorts me to, “Stop right this moment and pray in Jesus’ Name for God to bring a great reversal in your life with these exact results. Confess to Him the negative conditions you’ve suffered, and then express your deepest heart’s desire for Him to turn them around.”
I stop and do just as I am told. (More dutiful obedience.  I’m really good at this part.)
I finish praying, get out of bed, and begin getting ready for the day.  It’s Saturday and there’s breakfast to fix, dance class to get to, groceries to buy, Christmas cards to write, packages to mail, and a dinner invitation to keep.  I gaze into the bathroom mirror while putting on mascara and I almost audibly hear these words:

But you don’t believe that I’ll do it.

You’ve asked the same thing for years now, but you’ve never actually expected me to come through for you ~ not with the healing and transformation you long for.  You’ve resigned yourself to a rigidly defined temperament, and you’ve decided that it will just be a life long battle.  You trust me on behalf of others, but you don’t trust me for yourself.  When  C calls to tell you about her despondent husband, you speak hope to her that I will repair the brokenness.  When R lets you know her oldest is rebelling and failing classes, and that her finances are depleted, you tell her that I will provide for her, that I am a God of miracles, that nothing is impossible with me.  When G tells you she’s so worried about the future and her current performance in life ~ worried enough to hurt herself, you pray and tell her that I accept her unconditionally, care about her deeply, and desire her to be made whole.

So, why don’t you believe that I think and desire the same things for you?

Tears and mascara don’t really work well together, and so I just stop and confess:  You’re right Lord, and I don’t know why I still keep resisting your fatherly love and  intimate concern for me.  Show me how to receive it. Show me how to believe it.
Sunday comes, and the sermon at church is on another “great reversal.”  The one who is born in almost complete obscurity (“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”) ~ the one who “humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” is the also the one whom eventually “God highly exalted” and gave the “name which is above every name.”  In fact, before that unknown baby in a feeding trough, one day every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord.  A great reversal ~ all the work of a loving father ~ all on behalf of a believing, obedient son.
The centurion believed ~ with greater faith than any Jesus had seen in Israel, and without even laying eyes on his paralyzed servant, Jesus healed him…

“Go your way; let it be done to you as you have believed.” Matthew 8:13

And the disciples were encouraged to believe…

“And all things you ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.”  Matthew 21: 22

Lois and I listened to a Tim Keller sermon on the way home from a baby shower on Sunday.  The title was “Praying our Tears.”  That patient husband of mine just happened to have uploaded it the day before and put it in my purse before I left on the 2 hour drive.  Tim reminded us that upon conversion, we are given a heart of flesh to replace a heart of stone (Ezek 11:19), and so we should fully expect the tears, because hearts made of flesh feel more sensitively and hurt more deeply.  Then we should invest the tears, like a farmer sows his seed intentionally in the fertile soil.  And then we should pray the tears.
I tried it out this morning.  I got up early and knew that the Lord was leading me to read and pray Psalm 40.
Please give me something to believe for this coming year, Lord.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; and He inclined to me and heard my cry.
He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay;
And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.
He put a new song in my mouth ~ a song of praise to our God…”
Psalm 40: 1-3

A song.  A new song.  I’m believing Him for a fresh new melody ~ not the same melancholy song of resignation and despair, but a new one.  A song, like Mary’s, of praise. A song of rested strength, hope, joy, and contentment. A song of belief and trust for the great reversal.
I believe He is able ~ even for myself this time.
And blessed is she who believes.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…

…and without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”
Hebrews 11: 1, 6

Gluten Free Cranberry Almond Granola

I just love granola, and I love giving it as a gift even more.  It’s fairly healthy, and always yummy.  Kayla and I are the biggest granola eaters in our house ~ and usually on yogurt.  To make it gluten free, we just are sure to buy specified gluten free oats ~ like Bob’s Red Mill or Laura’s.  Regular oats are gluten free, but almost always grown and processed right alongside of wheat, so these brands come from dedicated farms and facilities. There are just tons of different granola recipes out there, but here is the one I have been using for a couple of years:

Gluten Free Cranberry Almond Granola

6 cups GF oats
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
dash nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sliced or chopped almonds (I start with “raw” ones)
1 cup dried cranberries (cherries and raisins work too, of course!)
1 1/2 sticks butter
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp vanilla (optional)

In large bowl mix together first 7 ingredients.  Melt butter and honey together in a small saucepan, and then add vanilla if desired.  Pour butter and honey mixture over dry ingredients in bowl and mix well.  Spread evenly onto 2 cookie sheets and bake at 325 for 30-40 minutes ~ stirring occasionally to prevent over browning or burning.

Ministry Mamas Night on the Town

 Actually, it was a night in the mall, but even THAT is a rare occurrence for these special ladies ~ all of whom are either married to a pastor, or are on staff at one of our church planting network churches.  They are an incredible group, and I wanted to make sure they knew it!
We started our evening at 4pm by gathering together, piling into 2 mini-vans, and heading south to one of my favorite local getaways ~ West Hartford, CT.  
P.F. Chang’s was our first stop for dinner and dessert.
 Cindy (left) is our wonderful worship leader at Mercyhouse, and Jen (right) is the Women’s Ministry leader and administrative assistant at Valley Church ~ our most recent church plant.  They are digging into “The Great Wall of Chocolate” here.  And don’t worry, they shared the “Great Wall” with at least two others!
 The other half of the group shared the “Banana Spring Rolls” ~ complete with coconut-pineapple ice cream and caramel/vanilla sauce!
Introducing….Nichelle, Jennifer, Sarah, Sarah, Christie, Cindy, Mel, and Lois
They were given an assignment a couple of days prior to this outing:
Bring a small object that you can use to illustrate how you are currently doing ~ what life is challenging you with at the moment, etc.  
During dinner, we all took turns sharing our objects and catching each other up on our lives.  I guess I wasn’t really surprised that there was a common theme….
A small toy firetruck ~ 
“I’m putting out lots of fires, I need to make sure I’m properly equipped and rested or no one is helped or rescued.”
An iPod ~
“I am overwhelmed with choices and opportunities like the music on here.  I lose motivation quickly.”
A glass heart inside of popsicle stick house ~ 
“I’m struggling with security and contentment. I  long for a safe and comfortable home more than ever. My current home feels like its made of popsicle sticks and is crumbling.”
A lavender scented spa pillow/neck warmer ~ 
“I never stop to rest.  I thought that once my time was more structured, I would take better care of myself, but I don’t.”
A broken Mary from a Nativity set ~ 
“I’m emotionally broken and have been for a while. It’s no fun, but in His grace, the Lord is making me deal with the brokenness now.”
A “Hope” tree ~ 
“God has been giving me a theme for the year recently.  This year He wants to show me Hope.  I tend to feel hopeless.  He wants me to believe there is hope in all situations.”
A 9-volt battery ~ 
“This is my guitar battery, and it’s almost dead, but not quite.  That’s me.  I feel burned out in ministry and its all-consuming nature, but I’m not totally dead yet.”
A running shoe ~
“Life has me running constantly.  The treadmill just seems to get faster and faster and I can’t seem to get off.  This shoe was a gift from a friend, though, and in gifts like this He shows me He’s sustaining me.”
 After each woman shared her “object”, I could hardly wait to give them a gift.  From a couple of sources, I was able to pull together a Christmas card with a modest amount of money inside and treat each of these special ladies to a mini-shopping spree!  They were HEARTILY encouraged to spend their money THAT night in THAT mall BEFORE we left to head back home.  I’m sure many of you can relate to the difficulty of this, when you are so used to only giving to others ~ in ministry to your family and your church.  That’s why the hearty exhortation to these sacrificial and humble ladies to treat themselves for at least one evening.
So…..on your marks….get set…..SHOP!  They had less than 2 hours to find something.
And almost all of them did!  Two of these ladies are pregnant, so it was a little more difficult for them to find something, but I’m hoping that eventually they will.
I can not express how much fun this was for me!  Fun to be together with wonderful women, fun to be with them and share burdens and joys, and fun to give them just a slight reprieve from a lifestyle of constantly giving their own lives away for others.  I am blessed to know them, and I know the Lord is so pleased by their devotion to furthering His kingdom here in our little happy valley.
    Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain,
         But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.
    Give her the product of her hands,
    And let her works praise her in the gates. 
Proverbs 31:30-31

A Tea Party ~ Minus the Tea

Quite different from the recent Saturday afternoon football fests that have been going on around here, eleven little girls showed up at our house this Saturday for Kayla’s 5th annual Christmas tea party.  That’s right ~ 5th annual!  We got out all of the old invitations to see just how long we’ve been having this special get together, and found that we began this tradition when Kayla was 6 years old.
The menu is almost always the same ~ cut veggies and dip, cheese and apples, Christmas cookies, and chocolate covered strawberries.  Some years we’ve done tea sandwiches as well, but this year I decided to go with all fairly easy and naturally gluten free items and not make separate sandwich plates. (The lemon bars and sugar cookies were homemade and gluten free, though.)
Now, usually I make a pot of hot chocolate and a pot of peppermint tea, and usually there are takers for both ~ but not this year.  I think it was because I mentioned that I had whipped cream to top the hot cocoa with and cinnamon and sugar to sprinkle on top of the whipped cream. Not that those things can’t top peppermint tea also, but no one went for it this year!
Gingerbread houses is another tradition.  I thought they might be getting tired of this activity, but I was very wrong about that! I learned that while driving a few of these gals to a birthday party at a skating rink last weekend.  They were all giggling and talking in the back of my van, and the tea party came up in the discussion…
“Are we going to make gingerbread houses again this year?”
“You’re not tired of making gingerbread houses every year?”
“NO!  We LOVE making gingerbread houses!”
Have you noticed that a few of the girls have red dots on their foreheads?  Many of them also have henna designs on their wrists.  This is because Hannah had her 9th birthday party the evening before the tea party.  (Her mom, Trish, and I had to coordinate schedules so that all of the girls could do BOTH the tea party AND the birthday party!)  Anyway, Hannah’s party had an “India” theme, so each girl was dressed in a beautiful sari upon arrival, ate Indian food for dinner, learned some interesting facts about the country, and finished the evening by receiving henna tattoos on their arms.  What a wonderful time they had!
We finished the tea party by making special gifts to give the girls’ moms for Christmas and wrapping them.  I wish I could tell you what they are, but some Mamas might just be reading this!  I think they’re going to like them, though.
Lois stopped by for a while, and when she did, we were drinking our hot chocolate, eating goodies, and listening to a Christmas storybook.  She couldn’t believe how quiet it was!  We joked about the differences between girl parties and boy parties.
But then, after all of the planned tea party activities were over, the girls all piled onto the trampoline for some louder, rougher, crazier play time.  Robert came home with our boys around this time and ran out and snapped this picture.  Just love those smiles!  
Kayla is blessed to be surrounded with wonderful girlfriends ~ and the tea party is such a fun way to get them all together ~ even if no one drinks the tea!  ; )