Baked Some Cookies, Had A Party, Read a Story, Made Some Gifts…

 This morning had me up early and in the shower for two purposes: getting myself clean and scrubbing the tile.  I learned this whole clean-the-shower-while-you-are-in-the-shower trick from my friend Tamyra in Oklahoma.  Always multi-tasking.  Always.

And the reason I want a super-clean bathroom is because in just a few short hours my littlest nephew will be here from California along with his mom and dad.  (Actually, now that I think of it, he’s not my littlest nephew, because he has a little brother who’s on his way in another 4-5 months!) My youngest sister will also be here today, and we’ll all get to celebrate Christmas together.  I can hardly wait to see them, and it will be so fun to have a toddler in the house at Christmas!

Kayla had her annual Christmas tea party last Friday, but this year we called it a Cupcake and Cappuccino party like last year.  I think “tea party” was starting to sound too childish, and I understand, but we definitely didn’t want to do away with the event altogether.  Kayla is blessed with wonderful friends, and I love seeing these girls all together.

It was also a pajama party!
Like every year, the girls decorated gingerbread (well…graham cracker) houses, and then we played some Christmas-themed games: Candy Cane Pass, A Nativity Passing game, and a Christmas version of charades/Pictionary.  On the menu for lunch was bagels and cream cheese, cheese and crackers, chocolate dipped strawberries, cookies, cupcakes, and a ham and egg casserole.  Tea, coffee, and hot cocoa were the drink choices.  (Pardon the details, but this is part of how I remember and plan from year to year!)
Here’s a link to some fun Christmas party games.  Thanks to Laura Machak for the recommendation!

 When there was a bit of downtime,  the girls ended up having a spontaneous beauty salon and everyone ended up with some form of a beautiful braid.  The most special part for me is watching the big girls and little girls hang out together and in such a sweet way.  The age range was from 6 to 15 years old, and yet there was a kind and sisterly spirit with gracious accommodation on everyone’s part. What a blessing.

 I signed up for Advent devotions for women through Bible Gateway, and one of them included an incredible story about a child in Mexico who received a shoebox through Samaritan’s Purse which contained only socks. Wanting to do some sort of devotion with the girls while they ate, the Lord prompted me to print it out and read it.  You can read it for yourself here.  Might want to have a tissue handy.  Proof that God knows and sees us and is able to provide for our needs.

And while I’m thinking of it, here is another link to a wonderful article about the “why” of Christmas.  Why did Jesus have to come and put on flesh?  Because it was “fitting” that’s why!

Before the party a LOT of baking went on.  This served a triple purpose: the party with the girls, our staff and elders party later that night, and the rest were frozen for Christmas and my family’s arrival.

 I’m getting better and the gluten free butter/sugar cookie thing.  Using xanthan gum and CHILLING the dough before cutting out the cookies AND again after they are cut and on the cookie sheets.  A bit more time consuming, but it really helped.

I love these new blue and green sprinkles, and the gingerbread-looking men have cinnamon and sugar sprinkled on them.  Don’t know why I never thought to do that before!

And here’s a pic of the gluten free version of the “Insanely Delicious Turtle Cookies.”  Oh my….
These were NOT served at the girls’ tea party due to several nut allergies!
 I mentioned in the last post how much I love to give gifts to my kids, but I also love to give a gift to our church staff and elders as well as a few friends who are near.  It’s sometimes difficult to come up with a gift to give to about 10 or 12 folks that is the same.  I’ve done dish towels, bags of mulling spices, and baked treats before, but this year I came across another idea that seemed fun and practical and not too expensive ~ spice mixes. (And NO sugar ~ hurray!  Christmas often feels like the Plague of Sugar!)

 Collecting the spices was probably the hardest part.  It required standing at the bulk bins at Whole Foods for 15-20 minutes and dealing with their not-so-great system for pouring the spices out and labeling each bag.  Some of the spices I bought in jars at our regular grocery store.  I’ve kind of figured out which ones are the best deal and where after years of research, i.e. 20+ years of at least weekly trips to the grocery store. (sigh…)

I also saved lots of apple butter from the fall to give as well, so everyone got 2 different spice mixes and a jar of homemade apple butter.  Then I searched online for printable mason jar labels and found these cute ones for free. It was really fun to put all of this together, and I only wish I had more time for creative and kitchen-y things like this.  Even more fun to give them away!

In case you are in need of a last minute gift idea, here are a few links to the spice mix recipes and the labels.  There are tons of versions of labels and spice mixes out there, but this will get you started.
(I decreased the spices to 10)
(This can also be mixed with oil and vinegar for a steak or fajita marinade!)
(Same as above for a fajita marinade.)
(All of my favorite Indian spices here. Yum.)
Okay ~ off to do a bit more baking, cleaning, and errand running. ‘Tis the season for going to the store A LOT ~ Ha!
I hope you are having a wonderful Christmas week!

Christmas Randomness

Seven years ago this month, I was “tagged” by a real and bloggy friend to write down 12 random Christmas facts about myself.  Kayla was browsing through my blog a few days ago and found the list.  She thought it was very funny and asked me to read it aloud.  When I refused, she started reading it to me and laughing the whole time.  Now, I don’t really think it’s THAT funny, but I thought I would just share it again ~ and maybe update a few things…

1. I used to think the words were, “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer yoogled down in history.” 

(Kinda like I thought it was “Starbucks Lovers” instead of “long list of ex-lovers” in Taylor’s “Blank Space”)

2. Two of my favorite and most memorable childhood gifts were “shoe skates”(you know, instead of the strap on metal kind of roller skate) and a matching Gloria Vanderbilt outfit – courdoroy pants/ matching sweater with large swan insignia on front.

(Just saw a pair of those retro “Shoe skates” at the mall the other day ~ next to a record player and a vinyl record selection!?  So weird to see things from your childhood become “cool” again.)

3. In second grade, Wendy Reardon told me that there was no Santa Claus at a Girl Scout/Brownies meeting, and when it was confirmed later that evening by my mom, I felt very grown up to have this secret knowledge that my siblings did not.

(My own children have always known there is no Santa, but Kayla still insists on believing and leaving out treats on Christmas Eve.  We just thank her for the late night snack.)

4. My sister and I were convinced that the red flashing radio tower light we could see from our bedroom window was Rudolph.

(And Cooper claims to have seen a couple of UFOs in recent years…)

5. I have never seen the Nutcracker Ballet. I really want to though, and hope to take my own little ballerina next year!

(I STILL haven’t seen the Nutcracker, and NEITHER has Kayla!  Maybe someday…)

6. But I have seen the Rockette’s Christmas Spectacular in New York City with my whole family thanks to the gift of my sister, Melissa and her husband! They went too, and it was spectacular!

(I really wish we could do this every year.  My brother and his wife from California are spending three nights in NYC this weekend before they come and spend Christmas with us, and I am SO excited for them.  Nothing like Christmas in New York!  I’m having a HARD time not being TOO much of a remote tour guide.)

7. I hate the thoughtless consumerism that goes on, but absolutely LOVE it when I can buy my kids something I know they really want. Stuffing their stockings is equally as enjoyable

(But it gets more and more difficult the older they get!  What do you get 17 and 19 year old boys???  I really don’t trust myself to pick out clothes for them.  Kayla, on the other hand, provides me with a list via email ~ complete with links to the gifts.  And guess what she wants this year?  A record player and vinyl albums!  If she gets this heart’s desire of hers, it will go very well with her vintage typewriter.)

8. As a child, I became an expert gift wrapper at Rowland’s department store in Uvalde,TX during the season. (It was a family owned business)

(I still enjoy wrapping gifts, but my 75 year old father takes the gift-wrapping cake!  He is a loyal Container Store shopper and purchases only the very finest of boxes, wrap, and ribbons.  He then MAKES his own ribbons at home and attaches them to each gift.)

(And while I’m telling stories on my dad, I may as well tell you that he is known by NAME at Dillard’s J. Crew, Ann Taylor, and more.  My sister texted me from Barton Creek Mall in Austin to tell me that she felt like a celebrity while helping him shop for the grandkids ~ all the sales clerks giving him a personal “welcome back.”)

9. My grandmother, Memo, made something every Christmas that she called “Divinity.” I HATED it, and for some time just the thought of it could make me gag. Now I think it was simply meringues, and I LOVE this gluten free treat! (Especially mint chocolate chip ones!)

(I don’t make meringues for Christmas much, but I do make a lot of cut out butter cookies, peanut butter blossoms, and a new favorite is “Insanely Delicious Turtle Cookies.”  Will be mass-producing cookies in just a while for Kayla’s annual Christmas tea party.)

10. My two favorite Christmas albums are Carpenter’s:An Old Fashioned Christmas (Karen Carpenter’s voice always reminds me of Christmas) and Christmas with the Rat Pack. Consequently, my daughter’s favorite “Christmas carol” is “Baby, it’s Cold Outside.”(which is NOT a carol. Sad.)

(I also never get tired of Amy Grant’s Christmas albums, but Karen Carpenter is still hard to beat!)

11. When my sister and I didn’t share a room, we used to “move in” together for the Christmas season, and decorate with extra tree lights, etc. Actually, now that I think of it, I don’t think we ever lasted until Christmas Day – too much proximity.

(Kayla will be moving into her brothers’ room next week, in order to give her room to her Aunt Melinda, who is coming in from Denver.  For some reason, none of the siblings are very excited to be “moving in” together, and I even bought them Christmas lights for their room!?)

12. I never watched It’s a Wonderful Life in it’s entirety until 2 years ago – but I’m so glad I finally did.

(And since then, I’ve watched it every year.  A few weeks ago, my seminary professor even used a clip from it in class. And Elf is my favorite Christmas movie from recent years.  It’s a tradition now to watch it every year on the day we decorate our tree. I crack up every time.  Love it.)

(And speaking of Christmas movies, how come no one ever told me about the Hallmark Channel? I’ve been following Candace Cameron Bure (Kirk’s sister, D.J. from Full House…) on Instagram, and she’s in nearly every Hallmark movie ever made, I think. We watched her movie Christmas Under Wraps this year, and I tried to win the scarf she was wearing in the movie by responding to her “live tweeting.” (yes, really) (I did not win) The movie was not at all predictable or sappy. I’m kidding. It was, but I didn’t care.)

And even though it was only supposed to be 12 random facts, I added a 13th.  This one also holds true in 2014.

13. Aside from church on Christmas Eve for a candlelight service, and New York City’s 5th Avenue and Rockefeller Center, my next favorite place to go at Christmastime (anytime really) is Starbucks. What is it about that place that charms me so?  The warm wall colors, the hard wood floors, chalkboards announcing the newest seasonal drink, the cool music selections, the chai lattes (with half and half, of course)  And during the holidays, the decor draws me in all the more.  What can I say?  The Mermaid mesmerizes me, and I am simply compelled to enter every Starbucks I walk (or drive) past. 

(We have a new one in town WITH a drive-thru which is particularly dangerous.  I use it as an incentive for my big 3-store grocery trips. Ugh.)

(Oh!  And Whole Foods!  THAT’S a fun place to browse at Christmastime!)

And now I’m off to make cookies and a whole bunch of these for a houseful of teen girls tomorrow. No one ever outgrows decorating a gingerbread house!

Overcome, But Overcoming

Christmas is nine days away.  There are menus and meals and cookies to make, groceries to be bought, and parties to be hosted and attended.  There is a track meet to attend and daily practices to travel to.  There are movie dates and skating dates to arrange with teen friends. There are beds to be made and guest rooms to prepare.  There is a pile of laundry. There are 225 Christmas cards sitting on my dining room table that need to be sealed, addressed, and stamped.  There is a long gift list with lots of blanks by lots of names.

And there are so many people and so many needs.  Some need to be taught how to add rational algebraic expressions and write essays for college applications.  Some need to be encouraged.  Some need healing.  Some need counsel and direction.  Some need to be listened too.  Some need apology. Some need forgiveness. Some need confrontation. Some need prayer. Some need referrals. Some need grace.  Some need truth.

And I needed freedom from the resentment that was resulting.

I wasn’t coping too well and wanted to totally avoid my Bible and my prayer journal.  I especially wanted to neglect them, because I knew that Jude and Revelation were next up in my endeavor to read the thing cover to cover. What weird books. What could they possibly have to say to me in my weary and bitter state?

Deciding to read them anyway, I only felt worse.  The revelation to the churches had me completely depressed, because at the end of each message to each church, there is a promise “to him who overcomes.” The promises are really incredible…

To him who overcomes…

  • the privilege of eating from the Tree of Life in Paradise
  • the crown of life
  • a portion of the hidden manna
  • authority over the nations and the morning star
  • clothed in white garments
  • Jesus will speak the overcomer’s name to the Father
  • being made a pillar in the temple of God forever
  • knowledge of the name of God, city of God, and new name of Jesus
  • a seat with Jesus on the throne
The problem was that I was not overcoming.  Not the stress, not the bitterness, not the tears of sadness or frustration, not the fatigue, not the to-do list.  Those things were overcoming me, which clearly rendered me without any of these beautiful promises now or in the future. Those things are obviously only for those really special, strong, godly, always joyful, always energetic, always grateful folks.  After many years of trying, I know I will never be in that group.
Why did you want me to read this now, Lord? I thought. I was already feeling so inadequate and miserable and hopeless.
And then He gently reminded me of something I had JUST READ in Jude ~ and not only had I just read it, but I had written in down in my journal the day before. Sigh…
Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, authority before all time and now and forever.
Jude 1:24
Why is it so easy to continually fall back into self-sufficiency and self-salvation mode despite the clear teaching of His Word?
He is the overcomer. 
He is the one who keeps me from stumbling.  
He will make me to stand in His glorious presence blameless.
He, not me.
He put on flesh to make this clear. May He also give me a heart of peace and worship this season.
He is able.

Final Exams And Other Festivities

Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure a final exam does not technically meet the definition of a festivity (the celebration of something in a  joyful and exuberant way), but maybe the completion of the final exam does. I took my final exam in Systematic Theology I (cosmological, moral, and teleological arguments, the Trinity, Providence, problem of evil, free will vs. determinism, etc.) on Wednesday morning and certainly felt more festive when it was over!  I felt especially festive when I discovered that I made a 90% on it.  Then I found out that I got a 91% on my research paper on the possible connections between the Trinity and gender roles (eternal functional subordination of Jesus? I Corinthians 11:3?), and a 100% on my last quiz.  
It sounds silly, but a few of you really encouraged me early on when you said things like “You’re not a B student!” (Anne C., Matt B….) when there was that Moodle mishap with my first two quizzes.  (Thank you!) The problem is that for this particular school and program the lowest A is a 95%. So, I will be making a B, but I thank God for the strength to study and learn and make a grade that somewhat reflects the understanding that He gave me. (I say somewhat, because no grade could ever properly evaluate the growth and joy and privilege of learning the deep things of the Word and doctrine or the worship that it calls forth.  For these things I am even more grateful!)
Somehow, in spite of the schoolwork ~ both seminary and homeschool ~ and lots of other things, we managed to cut down a Christmas tree at our favorite tree farm and get the house decorated.
We had a snowstorm the day before Thanksgiving, so had to trudge through
about 10 inches of snow to find our tree!
We cut our tree down two days after Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is definitely a favorite holiday in our house. We always have a houseful for the meal, and even the kids love helping with the preparations the morning of while alternatively watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on TV. Some years we’ve sent the boys away from the house for a football game, but not this year.
Kayla really wanted to make the Turkey this year.  I always cook two turkeys, though.  One goes in at 6am and out at 9am.  The other goes in at 9am and comes out around noon.  I tried to talk her into preparing the 6am turkey and letting me off the hook this year, but she was not swayed.

 She did a great job, and used some tips and tricks she’s picked up from various cooking shows ~ butter and lots of herbs and spices.  She was not too thrilled with removing the neck and giblets, but I made her do it anyway.  Hopefully, that way she will never make the same mistake I did the first time I cooked a turkey.

I left the bag of parts and the neck inside the whole time it cooked.

No one died or got sick, but still.

Here’s a look at the crowd.  27 people which included a toddler and infant.  My house is very small, but people don’t seem to mind too much…

The teen girls’ table
Etienne, Tristan, Katie, and Dan
Kevin (our temporary live-in guest!), Steve, Mike, Kiah, Gwyneth, Logan, Cooper, and Mark 
Me, Theresa, Tony, Christie, Ryan, Izckra, Nicolette, Chris, and Michelle
On the Saturday of the following week, we had a church women’s event called “Mug & Muffin.” The name and idea were stolen from my college and Campus Crusade days at the University of Texas, but it was no less popular than it was back then ~ wow!  About 50 women gathered in the beautiful home of a woman from our church.  Think Pottery Barn + Mary Engelbreit + Williams Sonoma + Susan Branch. It was perfectly delightful in its decor and warmth.  The girls LOVED it.

 They were encouraged to come in their comfiest pi’s and slippers or sweats and bring their favorite mug ~ and as you can see, they DID.  We ate muffins, drank coffee, tea, and hot chocolate, sang, prayed, and heard brief teaching or testimony from two women from our church.  We also used the gathering as a way to get everyone thinking about the women’s retreat coming up in February.

A chocolate stirring spoon was the take-home favor that I had a lot of fun creating the day before. Super easy, cute, and yummy!

 The very next day we had a combined (early and late services) worship and baptism service. Talk about a festivity! We got to hear three beautiful testimonies, and there is really no better way to participate in the spirit of the season than this in my opinion.

And last but not least, I really enjoyed watching several of Cooper’s debates and presentations for Challenge III.  It’s been nice to have a break from tutoring this year, but I always enjoy seeing these teens display the skills and knowledge they have acquired over the last few years.  Cooper’s philosophy presentation was on Humanism and it’s origins and core beliefs.  His debates were on the issues of secession, states’ rights, and the Civil War, specifically whether or not the southern states were justified in secession.  He had to argue both sides in two different debates. Ask him anything! I’m proud of his hard work in preparing.  He’s constantly being stretched beyond what he thinks he is able to do.

Okay ~ that’s about all for now. I only started to think about Christmas gifts yesterday, and have lots to prepare for still. In all honesty, I have been a complete mess (internally mostly, and externally only to my poor husband), but I felt another post about that struggle would not help the situation any. Betsy and I talked about the battleground of our thought life and constant negativity yesterday while running.  I’ve definitely been losing that battle, but as always the Lord meets me in His Word each day and I am sustained in hope ~ though tiny shreds they may seem.

I’ll finish reading the Bible from cover to cover before the end of the year, and I really did not think that Jude and Revelation were going to be of any encouragement.  Silly me.  Maybe I’ll tell you about that on Monday.

He is good, and He is returning! Now that will be a festivity! It will be THE FESTIVITY.

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and he will reign forever and ever.
Revelation 11:15

Costume Changes, Venue Changes, & Celebrations

 Here’s an attempt to recap the last four weeks of life.  Lots of photos here and not much reflection.  I’m writing from Texas, though, so although the days here have also been full, much is removed from the full plate called Life in Massachusetts.  Being 2000 miles away gives a little space to think and thank the Lord for an overflowing life. Time to write it all down, too ~ or at least to get it in the archives via photos.  If you actually read all of this, I’ll know you love me. And I’m repeating myself, I know.

On October 17 we took a field trip to Boston.  It may have been the largest group I’ve ever been on a field trip there with, but it also happened to be the group with the most cooperation and fun. Thanks CC friends!

On October 18 my friend Rachel and I took these ladies to a teen girls conference called Simply Beautiful.  It was a wonderful day of worship, Bible study, hearing “stories” from lots of different young women, and even sessions on fashion/modesty and healthy, homespun skin and body care tips.

 We drove straight from the conference to a dinner gathering of old friends from near and far.  It was a part of our church’s 15 year anniversary celebration weekend, and it was so wonderful to see everyone.

Robert and the guys ~ every one of them is a husband and father now.
The girls and me ~ all amazing 30-somethings, 40-somethings now ~ and ALL of whom I knew as college students

 The next morning we all worshipped together.  John and Cindy began with a song we used to sing “back in the day.”  I was in tears right away, and they lasted pretty consistently throughout the entire service. John was a transfer student who helped start the church from day one.

 When we moved to Massachusetts to plant Meryhouse, Kayla did not yet exist!  This next photo contains another photo of us a year and a half into life and ministry in Massachusetts.

Not really circa 1850.  More like March of 2000. Kory was 5, Cooper was 3, and Kayla was 8 months old.
We all went to visit Robert in the UMass Student Center where our church was doing a Spring Break send off for students.

 Lois did such a beautiful job playing for the service, but she could hardly make it through her own tears.  She joined with us only about a year into the plant, and has only grown more beautiful and in grace and skill and faithfulness with each passing year.

 Matt M. preached for us that day.  He had been a member of our church while a student and football player at Amherst College several years back, and since graduation has continued to serve our church with fundraising and alumni support.  We missed having his wife Janet and their new baby with us.  We have such fond memories of their time at Mercyhouse and of celebrating their marriage here.

It was great to have Greg with us that week!  He also led a directed prayer time in the service.

And these ladies used to BABYSIT Cooper ~ and the rest of my kids, too. So wonderful
to have Rachel and Virginia back for a visit after their years at UMass!
All staff and elders were thanked ~ and I got flowers!
Then it was time for Free Rides ~ which is an outreach our church has now been doing for 16 years.  It is always held on Halloween weekend, and provides a Free Ride to anyone who calls our number from 10pm to 2am. This is the weekend with the most “incidents” in our college town.  I have NEVER helped with this outreach at all until this year. (Small children, early bedtime, escaping chaos, etc…) I am awful at coming up with costumes, and I don’t really like Halloween at all, so no one in my family ever has a costume until about an hour before we need to ~ or not at all.  This year was really no different except that in the hour or two before we had to be at a party and Free Rides, I got an idea, walked to Good Will (all vehicles were in use), and put this costume together. Really. A quick trip to Target for some electrical tape was the only other shopping required.
You have to be a Taylor Swift fan and be familiar with this video to truly appreciate this.  
“Rapper Taylor” ~ Shake it Off

 Kayla, on the other hard, ALWAYS has great costume ideas, so she outfitted her friend Jayden and herself, and we all went to Free Rides to work the 9pm-12:30am shift.  Actually, these girls were troopers and made it through the second shift as well which lasted until about 3am.  They were “runners” ~ relaying the “riders'” pick-up information from the switchboard team to the dispatch team that night.

 We’ve had a friend staying with us for the last few weeks.  Kevin (middle) is working on starting a ministry and non-profit organization in the Dominican Republic community our church has been working with for the last two years.  He and Pedro were connected by Robert due to their mutual concern for the country, and they are a powerhouse duo to be sure.  Kevin will soon move to the DR and begin work on a soap-making factory that will enable the women especially to make an income and provide a sustainable industry for the benefit of their community.

And can I just tell you that I thought my pastor was looking especially handsome that Sunday?

A handsome man in a button down shirt and coat, preaching God’s Word with power and humility.
He gives me flowers and foot rubs, too. Wow.

 Because of the youthfulness of our church, a hospital visit is most often a joyful occasion…

Got to visit Liz and Ellie!  Aren’t they so beautiful?  Would you believe Liz was the first to respond to an email
I sent out the next day regarding help with a women’s retreat coming up?  Yep ~ Mama of two now, barely home
 from the hospital and and still eagerly desiring to minister to the women of our church.  Only by grace.

 The next celebration and costume change was for Lois’s 40th birthday.  We’d been planning it for about two months.  A 1970’s style bash, we knew that forgoing a costume was not going to be an option. I ordered my wig a week before, and a friend (thanks, Sarah!) let us borrow a brown cape. A re-purposed tan sheet and another trip to Good Will for a white long-sleeved top was all that was left to do a couple of hours before the party. Whew.

 A running  costume was needed about 12 hours later for a half-marahon with my friend Betsy. (How did all of these events converge in the course of a weekend?) Due to exhaustion, I had no intention of staying with my speedy friend, but God sustained us up the first seven miles of HILLS (no kidding) and allowed us some of our fastest times ever.  It was a beautiful day, and I’m so thankful for Betsy’s friendship these last 15 years. She’s one of the very first people I met after moving here and she even happened to be a neighbor then and now.

Two days later had Robert and I back in Boston and me on a plane to Texas to celebrate my dad’s retirement from Resistol-Stetson Hats, or HatCo as it is now called. On Wednesday night my sisters and I found ourselves in sea of cowboy hats as my dad was honored for his 43 years with the company. He was referred to as a “legend”, a gentleman, and best all-around dancer. Talk about a costume change.  I even wore boots.  I’ve never really been brave enough to pull off a cowboy hat, though.
Curtis inherited my dad’s sales territory.  He has been working alongside and serving my dad for over 20 years.
A silver engraved belt buckle and this signed photo collage were his gifts.

 Lots of layers and Baylor Bear gear was the next required costume change.  Even though we had returned from Dallas just 24 hours prior, my dad and I packed up and headed back up there (really, nearby Ft. Worth) for Kory’s baseball game against TCU. It takes us about four hours one-way, partly because my dad likes to stop at every Starbucks along I-35 which is just fine by me.

 It was 40 degrees and the wind was whipping. I thought I was back in Massachusetts at a spring ball game with the heaps of blankets, layers of clothing, and gloves we were wearing. My dad skipped a couple of innings so that he could warm up in the car for a while.

Super short stop out there!
They played great and won the game 5-0.  It was SO wonderful to see Kory play, and I especially loved hearing all of the joking and laughing between the guys on the team. Sophomore year has been stressful in more ways than one for this kid, and I pray that baseball continues to lift his spirits and relieve some of the stress.

I head back to Massachusetts today looking forward to more celebrations ~ especially those of the holiday season and two of my siblings coming to celebrate Christmas with us. The weeks of costumes and celebrations and different cities have caused my soul to feel pretty weary, but my heart to feel so full ~ and those really are different things according to my seminary reading for the week. My soul/person/body is exhausted by people and places and parties, but my heart/spirit are full and alive because of the goodness and kindness of the Lord in all of those things.

I know many of you must feel the same way about the pace of life right now.  I’m asking the Lord to help me (and you) to trust Him in the midst of the chaos and even trust Him to embrace it with a smile. My introverted self wants to frown, complain about, and hide away, avoiding all of this activity.  Jesus in me sustains and empowers and gives joy.

Hope to see you soon and with more reflection and less focus on my crazy calendar, but the historian in me can’t let so many family and church happenings go undocumented!

My Weekend: Women of Acts & Romans ~ Patrons, Prisoners, Partners, Sellers of Purple

Robert and I are just about to leave for Cape Cod  ~ again.  This time we’ll be there for a weekend retreat and conference for college students and young adults.  Doesn’t really sound like a vacation, and honestly, it’s been a steep uphill climb to make it to the end of this week, but anytime we get a few hours in the car together and a night in a hotel, we consider it a semi-vacation. I can’t wait!

Another reason I look forward to the weekend is the topic I get to speak on during breakout sessions tomorrow afternoon ~ biblical womanhood.  If you know me at all, you know it’s one of my very favorite subjects.  Tomorrow’s breakout session is called “The Romans 16 Woman.”  I was asked to lead a seminar for women that would encourage and empower them in ministry, and though I always feel inadequate to truly communicate the high, high value of women in and to the church, I can’t wait to have the opportunity tomorrow.  Here’s the session description:

The Romans 16 Woman: You’ve probably heard about the Proverbs 31 Woman, but how much do you know about the Romans 16 Women? In this concluding chapter Paul mentions 29 people, believers who courageously and humbly served Christ in the spreading of the gospel. At least 9 of those people are women.  Paul highly valued the ministry of women. So did Jesus. Both of these men recognized the critical and beautiful gift of femininity in and for the church. Come and discover it for yourself!
I’ve read Romans many times, but it was this last time, just a couple of months ago, that I was awestruck by the number of women Paul mentions in his last chapter.  It made me wonder why Paul always gets such a bad rap and labeled and chauvinist and misogynist.  Have his haters not read his most famous and brilliant letter? He obviously loved and cherished women.  He recognized their courage, their wisdom, their gifts.  He called them partners and co-laborers.  He exhorted other believers to recognize these things as well. He commended them to others and called upon the saints to receive them as sisters, mothers, and valued members of the body of Christ.
But so many are stuck on his commands for a woman’s silence, submission, and modesty.  I think it’s time they move past their pouting and victimization and recognize Paul’s word to be God’s Word. Those were real and serious issues in the early church.The truth is that those rebukes and commands are still things that women need to hear and heed. 
So tomorrow, we’ll talk about Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Junia, Tryphaena and Tryphosa (sisters?), Persis, the mother of Rufus, the sister of Nereus, and we’ll even touch on Lydia, the God-fearing seller-of-purple, and first convert in Europe.
First convert in Europe.  That’s right.  And Mary was first to see the risen Lord and tell the disciples about it.  And the book of Exodus doesn’t begin with Moses and Pharaoh, it begins with women ~ midwives courageously defying orders to kill babies, as well as the five women involved in the protection and nurturing of Moses.  The saga of Samuel doesn’t begin with Samuel, it begins with his mother, Hannah, fervently praying for a child, receiving and child and dedicating him to the Lord.  The Gospel age begins with Mary and Elizabeth.  And in the age of the early church, Lois and Eunice are recognized for training Timothy in the Scriptures.
I’d say Jesus and Paul considered women necessary members and key players in the kingdom, and I can hardly wait to tell this to the young women tomorrow.
And I also can’t wait to tell my favorite Bible heroine stories either:
Deborah and Jael: Judges 4:1-23 and 5:1-31
The Wise Woman of Abel: 2 Samuel 20: 13-22
The Shunammite Woman: 2 Kings 4:1-37 and 8:1-6
(I owe a debt of gratitude to Barbara Mouser for introducing me to these trends and stories through her wonderful study entitled The Five Aspects of Woman.  She completely changed my understanding of my own created femininity, and therefore my life and relationships with men and God.  You can bet I’ll be taking my books and encouraging the girls to start their own study groups.)
Oh, we’ll heed the call to respect men, to submit to their authority in marriage and in the church, to be silent when it is out of bounds for us to speak, and to adorn ourselves modestly.  Those things will only cause our own gifts and labor to be more fruitful.  And we’ll not throw out the beautiful example of a feminine life given to the Lord in Proverbs 31. (I happen to adore her.) We’ll just also be encouraged by the example of the women of Romans 16, and so many other women of the Bible, to use our gifts and to obey God’s call to participate fully and according to our feminine design in His work of spreading the gospel.
We’ll ask the Lord to make us women who are God-fearing, capable, responsible, visionaries, strong, brave, hard-working, devout, dependable partners, mothers, wives, teachers, nurturers, hospitality-givers, businesswomen (Seller-of-purple, anyone?), risk-takers, skilled-laboreres, wise, practical, earnest, prayerful, faithful, servants.
And those characteristics will all be possible for us because of Christ, His life, His death, His resurrection, His promised return, and His incredible indwelling of our female hearts.
Wow.  I’m overwhelmed.  Pray that the women at the conference will be, too.
(P.S. Robert’s seminar is on sexuality ~ and all the many issues you might imagine go along with that in our current culture.  He has a harder job, as usual.  Pray for him if you think of it!)

There’s Really No Time To Blog, But…

 …here’s a few things that have been happening and are about to. A Holy Spirit prompt and a little time taken from Women’s Boot Camp last night to celebrate the engagement of Becky ~ 2nd from the left.  We had a sparkling cider toast.  Then we got down to business ~ The Doctrine of the Trinity. That’s right.

 We returned from Cape Cod on Sunday evening and hit the ground running.  Before that though, we enjoyed a whole day in our pajamas in front of the TV at a friend’s home there on the Cape.  It was rainy and the perfect day to do nothing but sit in front of the TV.  We watched the UT game (during which I attempted to study) and then the Baylor game, which was the wildest, craziest, most amazing come-back of a game I have ever seen. (And I know FOR SURE that I have NEVER watched that much football in one day.)

Kory sent us a picture form where he was sitting.  The final score was 61-58, and it was really just unbelievable.  And you know, I don’t really care about football that much, but this whole winning season makes me so happy ~ for Kory, who gets to be a student there during a super-exciting time, and for our friends the McCaws, who are seeing the fruit of 11 years of hard work in recruiting coaches and players of character and even Christlikeness which draws attention to the Christian University and hopefully to Christ on some level.
But that Baylor-TCU game was an experience.  Felt like I needed to sleep for about 12 hours afterward.
I enjoyed another long run along Cape Cod Canal this time ~ so beautiful!
And we went to Provincetown, which is the very tip of the Cape.  It is sort of a strange place to visit, has an odd feel, and a bit of a strange mix of people, but the view of the entire Cape from there is a must-see and we also enjoyed some of the shops and cafes. (Care must be taken, though, in browsing.  Some places are R-rated.)

 We climbed the Pilgrim Monument Tower to see it.  116 steps to the top.

In this pic you can see both the tip and the curve of the Cape back toward the rest of the state.

That’s all for now.  I’m overwhelmed by the weekend’s activities:

  • An all-day field trip to Boston with 30 homeschoolers tomorrow
  • An all-day teen girls’ conference on Saturday with Kayla and a few moms and friends
  • A Saturday evening church gathering at a local restaurant to kick off the 15 year anniversary weekend celebration
  • A combined worship service and catered lunch afterward with lots of folks from out of town here to celebrate 15 years with us.
  • A haircut (very important ~ ha!)

All good stuff, but my mid-term exam (due Monday by midnight) and the research paper rough draft (due next weekend) and the need to prep to speak at a weekend retreat next weekend have me totally overwhelmed.  I could hardly focus to pray or read my Bible this morning and I kinda feel like running away.

Actually, I am about to run away ~ all the way down the street to Barnes and Noble.  Going to open up my class notes and start studying and organizing them.  Hoping to get at least a couple of hours in.  Cooper and Kayla are going with me.  We all have work to do in order to have a day off for a field trip tomorrow, and, and, and…

Trying to meditation this:

When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul.
Psalm 94:19

Also ~ I so much want to write about our 15 years here as a church, and the church planting adventure we’ve been on for that long, so maybe it will just be a bit delayed ~ like maybe until we’re 16 or 17 years old ~ who knows?!

Okay ~ bye for now!

Pray for me?

Cape Octobers & Good Things

So…October 8 came and went, and nothing out of the ordinary happened.  Maybe the “good thing” that was supposed to happen is something we don’t know about yet, or maybe it was a call to count our current blessings ~ good things that we may be taking for granted. Admittedly, the “prophecy” sounded like it was something big, new, and exciting, but nothing of the sort really occurred.
Lots of regular “good things” have happened, though.
We did have a safe drive to Cape Cod on Tuesday night. We arrived around 11pm, got a good night’s sleep, and didn’t have to set alarms for early morning wake-ups. We’ve been coming to Cape Cod every October for many years thanks to the generosity of a sweet family in our church.  It’s been a good time to take a break after all the craziness of the end-of-summer and fall church activities.  When you live in a college town and have a congregation full of students August and September are full speed ahead.
Robert’s back is just about completely healed.  His constant pain is almost no more.  He’s even been able to run a bit, but not with me on the pavement yet.  Hopefully soon.  This healing is such a good thing ~ something we’ve prayed for daily since December.  And it’s all come about in the last week.  We are so grateful.

Important communication happened on the 8th.  Maybe even breakthrough communication that has possible benefits for everyone involved, granting growth, maturity and freedom.  And this was communication with several different folks about several different things ~ hard, burdensome things, and wonderful, celebratory things.

The beach is always a good thing ~ especially the beach on a sunny, blue sky day.  We took a walk in the sun and wind and enjoyed the refreshment that comes with being out of your usual surroundings and away from your usual responsibilities.  Shoes off, sand between your toes, sunshine on your face. Good things.

This week is an “off” week for Classical Conversations and homeschooling and that’s a good thing for  Cooper and Kayla ~ and me.  They put in a lot of hard work during the week to meet deadlines and complete assignments, so it’s nice for them to have a bit of an academic and mental vacation.  It also happens to be fall break for my seminary, and while it’s nice to have a reprieve from a heavy reading load and weekly quizzes, I do have a mid-term exam next week and a research paper due at the end of the month.  It’s okay though.  I really love what I’m studying and researching.  Good things.

Thursday morning, before we went to the beach, I went for a long run.  Running is such a good thing for me.  It’s a gift to have health and strength, to be outside in a beautiful place, and to have time to think and pray. I’ve also been memorizing Romans on my runs.  Amazing how memorizing it and therefore meditating on it can be so different than just reading it.  It feels like I understand it so much better.  I read Hebrews 9 and 10 before my run.  I love Hebrews ~ maybe more than Romans, I don’t know.  And what I read this morning is relevant to my research paper.  Wow. Good, good things.
I didn’t realize how close I was to the beach at the mid-point of my run!
Speaking of running, I received the gift of new running shoes while here at the Cape.  Church Planter Catalyst (Robert’s new 2nd job) wives were each given a $100 gift card recently. I knew exactly what I would buy.  My old running shoes had over 1300 miles on them, and so it was time.(Actually, it’s time at 500 miles, so this was overdue.)  The local Sports Authority had just my size and brand. This morning’s 8 mile run felt especially good in these new Asics, and they are perfectly timed with the training I’ll be doing in the next couple of weeks for a half-marathon with my friend Betsy.
We’re missing Kory on this trip, but here’s a throw-back to 2008 when all five of us were here, and we played a fun round of miniature golf.  We did talk to him on Wednesday night.  He was super-exhausted and super-excited all at the same time with things join on at school.

Tuesday night he interviewed Ian McCaw, the Athletic Director at Baylor, in front of a crowd of 300 students in the Lead Living-Learning Community. His day leading up to the evening event was completely chaotic, and he sent out a desperate plea for prayers via text early in the day. We prayed for him and for the event, and it ended up going well ~ all of it.  Good things.

So, lots of good things this week. Not of the prophetic dream sort, but still our life is often overflowing with good things that I never stop and acknowledge.

We still have three more days at the Cape, and it’s good to be away. When we return home, life will be very full and fast-paced.  It will be so good, but so busy. For now…we’re soaking up the good rest and good times with each other.

Mondays, Prophetic Dreams, Piper Impersonations, & Senior Pics

Real pic from Monday’s morning run.

 I like Monday mornings, and yesterday’s was especially enjoyable. We were up just after 6am and enjoyed some time in a quiet house (before teens were awake) to read our Bibles and pray ~ Robert in his office, me at the dining room table. I guess I should say that the morning became enjoyable, because in those first moments alone with the Lord, there were fears and tears. The tears were a surprise, because I thought I was free from the minor disappointment. The fears were regarding something still yet to come.  Robert was told a few weeks back that something good was going to happen to him, to us on October 8.  It was a prophetic dream by a somewhat confirmed prophetic-dreamer.  I write it here partly so together we can know if there was really truth to this fore and forth-telling. We will be waking up on Cape Cod tomorrow for a mini-vacation, so maybe that’s the good thing, but that’s happened regularly in October for years.

  I think my fears involve the fact that sometimes God’s “good” is different than what  I might define as good.  Sometimes His good feels really bad for a time.

The view from where I sit at church on Sunday mornings.
I couldn’t get the picture to do the actual scene justice.

 What happened though when the tears and prayers ended and the Bible reading began was Hebrews 6 and the reminder of anchored hope. And as usual, I didn’t go searching my concordance for “hope verses.” They were just there in the next chapters of Hebrews which I’ve been reading on my way to Revelation.  I’m almost able to say I’ve read through the Book from cover-to-cover.  I’ve never done it that way before, and I highly recommend it. Have I told you that He meets you in His Word wherever you are reading and speaks to whatever it is you’re needing?  Well, it’s true.

For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying “I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you”… In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath so… we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.  This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us…
Hebrews 6: 13-20
Totally unedited!  I had to stop running and capture these bright leaves
as well as the view of the path above. My running app even lets me store photos
along with the statistics from each run.
In Jesus.
Who has gone before us in all things.
Sure and steadfast.
Promises of God unable to be broken.
Purposes unchangeable.
Take refuge in this.
Our soul is anchored in this.
I need not mistrust the “good.”  I need not fear the “bad” that the “good” is sometimes accomplished through.  His promise to me will not ever change.  In this I can take refuge.
So, I guess I’ll have to let you know what happens tomorrow.  There will be a “blood moon” I hear. Ugh.  I may be struggling with anger at the prophecy giver, because of the anxiety he’s produced however unintentional he may have been. 
But Monday morning was still good.  The quiet time was interrupted by the desperate need for a haircut by Cooper who had big plans for a hike and lunch with friends and a senior photo shoot later in the day. So there was prayer, Bible, hot tea, and a homemade (yikes!) haircut before leaving the house for my run and Robert’s Planet Fitness workout around 7:30am. (His back is getting better!  If you prayed, thank you.)
Kayla planted a tree on Monday, too! It was our favor from a wedding over the weekend.
Perfect timing to replace the one we said goodbye to last week.

 After an hour of exercise, Robert and I headed to Whole Foods for our typical Monday morning breakfast.  It was good to talk through the weekend and the week ahead over a smoothie and eggs and their delicious maple smoked bacon.  On the ride home, I got to hear about the John Piper sermon Robert had listened to while on the elliptical and treadmill.  It was on what Mr. Piper believes is the best chapter in the entire Bible.  Can you guess?

My first guess was Romans 3. Not quite.  Then John 15.  Nope. I should have known to stick with Romans.

The answer was Romans 8.  Robert was in complete agreement, and I suppose I am too.

I could not control my laughter, though, as Robert began to impersonate Mr. Piper and his Romans 8 endorsement all the way home.  Complete with hand gestures (as much as possible while driving) and booming voice intonations.  If you’re wanting a John Piper at your next worship service, and the real pastor in unavailable, my husband is your man.  So funny.  And laughter is such a good gift on a Monday morning or anytime really.

 Back at home an endless list of tasks awaited, the most pressing of which was apple butter making. The apples had been simmering in the crock pot for 18 or so hours, and needed processing. (Maybe I’ll share the photos and recipe on Friday. Unless…) Then there were seminary assignments, and emails, and phone calls, and an appointment for Coop’s senior photos with our sweet and talented friend, Ify. It felt like my 7 mile run turned into a marathon once back home. Thankfully we have a week off from homeschooling and Classical Conversations!

Somewhere in the middle of the day, I sat down to check email and Facebook and this was one of the first things to pop up on my news feed.  More hope. He wanted me to really believe it, I guess. He has this way of gracefully reinforcing the pertinent and necessary truths.

Later, we picked up Ify and headed to Northampton for photos downtown and photos at Smith College.  The weather was perfect yesterday, as I’m sure you could already tell.  And speaking of perfect…just take a look at this young man and these photos.  I couldn’t be more pleased, and these are only a few teasers from the hundreds of photos taken yesterday.

 Classic Cooper is what these are. His good looks and laid back personality perfectly captured. So thankful for him in my life and thankful for these treasures that will help us remember this special year of his life. He’s got big, exciting plans for after graduation that I haven’t told many of you about.  Maybe soon!

And modeling for American Eagle is not one of them.  At least not that we know of.

So, tomorrow is the 8th ~ the day of good news, good happenings supposedly. Last night I dreamt that someone close to me died.  Kayla also had a dream about this person dying not long ago. And I wonder, where do these dreams come from?  The proclaimed prophetic ones about good things to come.  The terrifying ones that leave you paralyzed in a dark room in the middle of the night too scared to even go and check the cell phones plugged in downstairs to see if you missed the grievous phone call. (All was well.)

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I know a lot of things I hope it will not bring, but I know that the unchangeable God who says “yes” to every promise in Jesus is the only safe refuge every day of the week.

Gluten Free/Paleo Friday: Chicken Tenders With Creamy Cider Sauce

Last Saturday was the perfect day for apple picking.  It was even hot outside, which I always hope for in September.  We went to an orchard we’ve never been to before called Cold Spring Orchard which is actually the one run by UMass.  I remember having someone from the orchard come and speak at The Amherst Woman’s Club years ago.  He brought samples from a large variety of apples.  It was my first time to try a Honeycrisp and a Macoun.  Both are delicious.

 I don’t remember the variety we picked last weekend, but they were large.  Very different from the Macintoshes we typically pick.

Kayla and Cooper were thrilled about picking apples, or was it that they were thrilled about what came after apple picking (a trip to the mall) and just decided it was a necessary evil?  Oh, they really didn’t mind it at all, but it’s so funny to watch the transformation over the years ~ from toddler giddiness to teenage nonchalance.  At least they don’t try and climb the trees anymore and throw apples at each other. Actually, I’m a little surprised about that last part.

 The big apples filled our two half-bushel bags in no time at all.  Robert headed home to finish up sermon and other work for Sunday, and the kids and I headed to the “big” mall to meet up with the McCullah family girls in search of wedding clothes for this weekend.  We did not have any success, and I told my crew that the six mile run I’d been on earlier that morning was a breeze compared to walking the mall for four hours with five teen and tween girls and one baby.  Oh my.  And to leave empty-handed….

The wedding is tomorrow, and none of us have any clue as to what we’ll be wearing.
Monday night we returned to our tradition of having Lois over to watch The Voice.  She made bouquets for the bridesmaids while watching.  I made some homemade applesauce and also a paleo version of this recipe from about three years ago for our dinner together.  The only differences are that I did not “bread” the chicken tenders, but rather baked and broiled them, and that I substituted coconut milk for the heavy cream.
This pic is of the GF “breaded” version from a few years back ~ and before the cream was added and sauce thickened.
And here’s the paleo version:
Chicken Tenders with Creamy Cider Sauce
10-15 chicken tenderloins
4 Tbsp coconut oil
1 onion, finly chopped
1 apple ~ peeled, cored, sliced thin
1 tsp thyme
2 cups apple cider (not juice)
1-2 cans coconut milk (or cream) ~ I used two because I wanted extra cream and sauce overall.
1 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
For chicken: Place tenderloins on a baking sheet.  Rub with olive oil (or coconut oil) and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Bake in a 375 degree oven on middle rack for 15 minutes.  Turn the broiler on after fifteen minutes and move chicken to top rack.  Broil about 2 minutes each side.
For Sauce: Heat coconut oil in skillet adding onions, apple slices, and thyme.  Sauté 3-5 minutes until apple and onion are softened. Add cider and bring to a boil.  Keep boiling until liquid is reduced a bit.  Stir in coconut milk (or cream), dijon mustard, and salt and pepper.  Continue simmering and stirring until the cider sauce is slightly thickened.
Spoon sauce over chicken tenderloins to serve.
Our side dishes were sweet potatoes and sautéed kale.
Enjoy ~ and have a great weekend.  We’ll be rehearsing for the wedding tonight and spending most all of our day wedding-ing tomorrow with a wonderful couple from our church.  Kayla and her friends will be serving during the cocktail/appetizer hour as well as throughout dinner.  We’re praying for no rain and a beautiful outdoor-among-the-gorgeous-foliage ceremony.  S’mores and camp fire will be the grand finale if the weather cooperates.
Now…to find something to wear for all the boys and girls here at my house!