A Trip, A Tea Party, & 3 Winners!

Macy’s on 34th
John Piper’s Advent reading plan on the Bible App has been giving me a lot to think about and be challenged by lately. Here’s part of what day 22 said:
“You can read every fairy tale that was ever written, every mystery thriller, every ghost story, and you will never find anything so shocking, so strange, so weird, so spellbinding as the story of the incarnation of the Son of God.”
Urbanspace on Vanderbilt
Thank you, Jenna, for the recommendation!

You can also travel to New York City and take in all of its elaborate window displays, giant Christmas trees, and holiday music playing everywhere and forget to set your mind on Jesus. You can even host a Christmas tea party for a great group of teen girls, make gingerbread houses, create handmade gifts, and eat Christmas cookies without considering the baby born to die.

But we tried not to do that this week.

Mary & Izckra got to try the gigantic doughnuts.

Just choosing to go to NYC at the beginning of a busy week was an opportunity to trust God! I had to fight the temptation to fret over all that was not yet done back home, but the calmer of the seas was providing peace and helping me to laugh at the days to come.

We tried the pistachio-cardamom gluten free bread and the chocolate truffle cookies.

First we had a taco, cookie, and doughnut feast at Urbanspace on 44th near where we parked. Then it was shopping on 5th Avenue – Topshop, GAP, Uniqlo and more.  Later we hit the H&M near Macy’s, of course.

It was a Sweet Sixteen celebration for Mary!

Skating at Rockefeller was the plan, but the girls decided against it once we were there. It was pretty cold and windy out, so we headed underneath the big tree for dinner and more shopping – gluten free Mediterranean wraps, soup, burgers, sweet potato fries and Starbucks. Wandering around in Anthropologie took us about an hour, but no one dared purchase anything due to the mile-long check out line.

Saks 5th Avenue is directly opposite the Rockefeller tree.  If you’ve been there, you know that if you turn 180 degrees from looking at the tree you see the front of Saks. Not only are the window displays beautiful there, but they do a light show on the front of their building every ten minutes. Such fun treat – and a lot to take in in just one spot!
My old friend Mike stopped by Rockefeller for a quick hello and then swiped us all onto the subway headed in the direction of Macy’s. From there we Ooo-ber’d it took an Uber back to our parking spot and enjoyed chatting with our driver who is planning to enter the NYPD Academy in January and shares a love for the show Blue Bloods. How cool that someday soon he’ll be working for Commishioner Tom Selleck.  😉

Saks 5th Avenue Light Show
Wednesday was spent getting ready for the tea party (and tonight’s open house), and Thursday morning we enjoyed having several of Kayla’s friends over for her annual tea party. I just love this tradition!
Dress Code: Pj’s

Some friends have moved away and some weren’t able to make it this year, but just look at how much they’ve grown! When we first started doing this, I could totally envision this past Thursday’s scene in my kitchen – big girls enjoying all the same tea party activities that they did when they were little.  Does anyone ever outgrow a love for decorating gingerbread (well, graham cracker) houses?

Tea Party 2008
Thanks for reminding me of this pic, Virginia!

After decorating our houses, we moved on to the actual tea party part – eating finger foods and drinking hot tea, hot chocolate, and we’ve added coffee in the last couple of years. We used to read a children’s Christmas book together while everyone was eating, but this year we switched to a passage of Scripture. I chose Mary’s song – the magnificat – to read to these girls who are all probably about the same age as Mary was when she was visited by the angel.  We talked about the meaning of “bondslave” and discussed Mary’s virtuous character and love for God as revealed in her song. I pray that each of these young women continues to grow in her desire to know and serve God in the same way.

Next we made our gifts for mom – a coconut oil, sugar, and peppermint hand and/or foot scrub…

 And pocket sized hand warmers – fabric squares sewed together and filled with rice which can be heated in the microwave. I thought I might have to spend a lot of time helping them with the sewing machine, but thankfully (and impressively!) several of the girls knew how to use it.  I hardly had to help at all, because they just naturally helped each other.

The boys hung around for a while before letting us have the house to ourselves.
So nice to have them home!
So nice to also have Ms. Abbott with us – or “Sabbott” as she is now affectionately known.
Even Sabbott got sewing instructions from Jessica!

There was cookie decorating and game playing later and I enjoyed every minute of the morning into early afternoon – even the kitchen cleaning from which I could hear the girls laughing and chatting in the living room. Truly a delight.

Mary’s song always serves to help me remain in awe and worship during this season…

My soul exalts in the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior…for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on generation after generation toward those who fear Him… Luke 1: 46-50

Thinking on the Mighty One, the Savior, and His mercy have sustained me this week.

John Piper has given me words to pray in request for a heart that is spellbound by the incredible gift of the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection…

“Oh, how I pray for a breaking forth of the Spirit of God upon me and upon you; for the Holy Spirit to break into my experience in a frightening way, to wake me up to the unimaginable reality of God.”

May your heart be wakened by the Spirit this Christmas to the reality of the God who put on flesh for you, to Emmanuel, the God who came near.

And now for the winners of the giveaway…

(I used this website to help me draw your names!)

For bundle #1: The Broken Way by Ann Voskamp, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield, and the Bird’s Nest Necklace.

Congrats, Itamar!

And for Bundle #2: One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss, and the Bird’s Nest Necklace.
Congrats, Angela!

And I decided to add a third prize: The One Thousand Gifts Devotional by Ann Voskamp.
Congrats, Michelle!

I’ll send these your way mid-January and I pray they encourage you as they have me. And if you’ve already read them, pass them along to someone who could use them!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

He Calms the Seas AND the Season ( Plus…A Giveaway!)

Tea Party Prep!
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays always start the same way for the 40-somethings at my house. 
Up early. 
Workout clothes on.
Bible reading with a side of hot tea. 
Out the door for a run – on the nearby rail trail or at the nearby Planet Fitness depending on weather conditions.
(On Mondays we add the special treat of breakfast together at Whole Foods and a “What do you have going on this week?” conversation.)
But last Wednesday I couldn’t do it. 
The homeschooling. 
The holidays. 
The endless (but good!) events, deliveries, visits, houseguests, conferences.
The deep needs of people – both inside and outside of my home. 
The anxiety rising up in the heart of this introvert who could not remember the last time she was alone and not required to either talk or actively listen. 
And the stark reality that Christmas was just 10 days away.

Drove slowly through the snow to see Ebeneezer Scrooge: A Christmas Carol.
In those coming 10 days there would be several coffee dates, doctor appointments, a retreat planning meeting, a trip out of town for a musical, church, a congrats party, a meal delivery, babysitting gigs for the teenaged girl, a trip to New York City to celebrate her dear friend’s Sweet Sixteen, airport pickups, an annual tea party, an open house, a Christmas Eve Candlelight Service, and a Christmas morning worship service.

And not one gift had been bought. Not even one.

I should confess that these are all my choices and felt responsibilities and desires. I like to be busy. I like to put extra effort in celebrating the Christ-focused holidays. I like to serve and host. I like people and parties.

But I still don’t know my own limits.

I think I’m fine. I feel strong and full of life in all of this whirlwind of activity and people. And then it hits me, and all of a sudden I’m weary, and slipping into despair. I wish there were clear ways of calculating when this will happen. A formula to follow. (Not that I would follow it.)

So, last Wednesday, I stayed in bed in the early morning hours. The other 40-something brought me a cup of tea before he went out the door to exercise without me.

I was so tempted to grab my computer and start shopping, because….NO GIFTS! How many days do I have left before they won’t arrive in time for Christmas? I had already received a reprimanded by my father who had been calling me daily for ideas and sizes for all the grandkids.

I resisted the urge in my driven heart and restless mind to start crossing things off my very long list, and grabbed my Bible instead. Immediate temptation rose up again – to not read everything I usually do. To skip the advent devotion…or the Proverb….or the New Testament chapter. Or prayer. (Oh, how often that one gets cut short. Prayer is “the greater work…” as someone reminded me last Sunday, and it’s so true.)

So I started reading.
I read everything I was “supposed” to read.
And He spoke. (As He ALWAYS does in this situation.)
And what a gift…

“And He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea, ‘Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them ‘Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ And they became very much afraid and said to one another, 
‘Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey Him?'”
 Mark 4: 39-41

“When the whirlwind passes, the wicked is no more, 
but the righteous has an everlasting foundation.” 
Proverbs 10: 25

“So that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.” 
I Corinthians 2: 4-5

And I prayed (like, wrote-it-in-my-journal-prayer)…

Lord, I am in need of your peace and your wisdom in the whirlwind of Christmas. There have been so many people and concerts and meetings and even gift-wrapping gigs for CC and more. I fought the tears of the accumulation of input and interaction all day yesterday. Please help me to have faith in your power and your wisdom and not in mine. I don’t know how to manage my time well and factor in my own needs. I want to be poured out for your church, and so I say yes to a lot of people and seeming responsibilities, but then I crash. Show me how to have a better balance, so that I’m not going from one urgent request or need to another with no time for reflection or real prayer. Help me to prioritize that. Show me how to be thoughtful and mindful and how to pray and how to listen to you – hearing your guidance.

I went on to pray for help focusing on and resting in Him, for gift ideas for friends and family, for wisdom in preparing for the retreat meeting, and for protection from the enemy who is truly ramping up his game lately. (Maybe more on this later?)

Small Group Christmas Party
True Highlight of the Season: Amherst College Christian A Cappella concert

And He is answering my prayers. He’s bringing to mind those scriptures and realities…

My faith is not in earthly wisdom. (i.e. Christmas is about gifts! Get an early start!) God is the one with power and true wisdom. (Christmas is about Him. Emmanuel. God come near to be with us.)

When the whirlwind passes (and it will), I’ll still be standing. (Both the Christmas whirlwind, and the eternal judgment whirlwind!)

He has sovereign control. (Over the raging sea AND over this season. It’s all going to be okay.)

Oh, I’m working down the list. The packages are all mailed off. The Christmas cards go out today…all 225 of them. The teenaged babysitter has been dropped off and has already had Starbucks and lunch delivered to her. The trip to NYC is tomorrow, and I’m not even fretting about the tea party for a bunch of teenaged girls which is two days later. It’s really going to be okay.

The Christmas Eve open house for our church members will be icing on the cake, and I can’t wait. We’ve even recruited some dear helpers for the evening. (Thank you in advance, Corey & Yulia!)

After my tea-and-Bible-in-bed-morning, I went out and did some shopping and then had a couple of appointments. I made up my morning run on Thursday morning, and miraculously the earth kept spinning on its regular axis. I even almost finished up the shopping after that morning workout.

That Christ has power to calm the sea, gave me peace all throughout those days. That I’d still be standing on December 26 (and forever), because He promises to sustain, gave me hope.

He even gave me the idea and desire to offer you all a couple of gifts, and I’m super excited about sharing some of my favorite authors and trinkets with you. If you comment here on the blog or on Facebook or via private message with a verse that is sustaining you this advent season (or in the recent past), I’ll put your name in the hat for one of these bundles. There will be two winners – one for each bundle.

Here’s the first:

Bird’s Nest Necklace from JoyWares

And the second:

Bird’s Nest Necklace fro JoyWares

I have not read The Broken Way yet, but I asked for it for Christmas. If it appears under my tree, it will likely consume the remainder of my Christmas day. Ann Voskamp has an intriguing style, and I find it so full of truth and encouragement. Her son makes the necklaces and several other wonderful items for encouraging faith in families. Check out his site, JoyWares.

Ok – comment away!  I’ll pick a winner on the morning of Christmas Eve, so you’ve got until midnight Friday. I’ll let you know via message and will post it here as well.  You can expect your goodies by the middle of January.

In the mean time, may you find peace and hope in the One who presides over the seas and is the very reason for the advent season.

Wonderful Winter Catch Up

Those aren’t two words I would normally use together ~ “wonderful” and “winter” ~ but there’s no denying that winter has brought many wonderful things so far.
It was -1 degree here yesterday.  (Not so wonderful.) Betsy stopped by at 7:45am to pick us up for our weekly ski trip to Mt. Snow, Vermont, and as we were standing in my driveway loading up gear and lunches, she said, “It’s cold.”
Ha!
I think we were both of the mindset that the negative temps were over (we already had a week or so of those), but we live in New England, and it’s still January, and that sort of thinking will only set you up for disappointment.
Icicles on your eyelashes isn’t all that wonderful either ~ but laughing over it with a friend is!
We survived this week’s blizzard just fine, and truly enjoyed a day off together ~ though the pastor wrote a sermon, paid bills, and had a conference call. Even so, we managed to make our way through four episodes of the Gilmore Girls, which is the whole family’s latest addiction. (Ahhhh…Lorelai, Rory, Suki, Dean, Luke, and Lane… now we all want to move to wonderful Stars Hollow and be your best friends!) We only got about 10 inches of snow, whereas our Boston and Worcester neighbors had more like 34 and are still shoveling out today!

 Thankfully, it was not -1 in Vermont yesterday.  It actually got to be 28 degrees there and that temp plus sunshine is just perfect for skiing!

We really still can’t get over the fact that we get to ski in Vermont every Thursday for six weeks in the winter.  It is something we look forward to each week.  An hour and a half of ski school (yesterday we did a black diamond and learned how to spin!) and then a couple of hours of free skiing.  So much fun! So wonderful.

 The pics above and below are pretty standard poses for these kiddos.  For some reason, the guy below is always sitting or lying on the snow ~ when he’s not in motion, of course.  He loves his (well, his brother’s) trick blades very much.

When we’re not on the slopes, we’re often at the gym for one of Coop’s basketball games ~ his last year to play…

 …or we are hanging out at some indoor track facility (Smith College in Northampton or Reggie Lewis in Boston) watching Kayla run various winter track events.  Her favorite event by far is the 55m sprint, and tonight is her last night to qualify for further meets.  She needs to go from an 8.17 to and 8.12.  I told her to just go for the 8 seconds flat.  I mean, what’s so difficult about that?

Turns out it is fairly difficult, and we’re so proud of her hard work and great times as a freshman.

I never got around to telling you how wonderful our Christmas was, so here are a few (lots of, actually) photos to fill you in on just how wonderful it was.
Part of the recipe for “Wonderful Christmas” was having Kory home from college.
And not only did Kory travel from Texas, but my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew came from California, and my youngest sister traveled from Colorado ~ their presence bringing together even more wonderful ingredients to the holiday.
Day after Christmas shopping at West Farms Mall in Connecticut.
Christmas Eve Chili and Queso dinner before and after a Candlelight Christmas Eve service at Mercyhouse.

Probably THE most wonderful moment for me was being gathered at the dining room table on Christmas Eve, taking turns reading an Advent devotion, and then ALL praying together, thanking God for the gift of Jesus at Christmas.  Hearing everyone’s heart for Christ through their prayers and coming together as a family to worship him was just so wonderful.  Really.  I can’t think of anything more wonderful.

At the Candlelight Service

 And second only to those precious moments of worship, and making Christmas extra-extra-wonderful was having THE CUTEST TODDLER IN THE WHOLE WORLD at my house for Christmas.

Just see for yourself…

He liked his blocks, Aunt Melissa!

See what I mean?

CUTEST THING EVER.

Okay ~ I think we’re all caught up now. Well, except for telling you about Robert’s two week trip to Texas and Oklahoma in January.  It was wonderfully exhausting.  And I started back to seminary.  I’m only taking one class again, and I still really love it.  Learning tons.

And I’m leaving out all of our church happenings, too.  We’re getting started on small groups this week, and are also in the middle of planning a women’s retreat.  Lots of meetings and preparations.  Again, wonderfully exhausting.

A trip to California for a church planting conference is just around the corner for Robert and me.  Pretty sure we’re the old fogies they are bringing in to participate in discussions about collegiate church planting which wasn’t even a “thing” when we accidentally did it 15 years ago. (It was highly discouraged, in fact. Ha!)  Anyway, we look forward to being with young church planters and seeing a new part of the country for us ~ the Bay Area.  I get to see one of my very best friends from high school while we’re there and can hardly wait.

Happy Friday ~ and have a WONDERFUL weekend!

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.