Some People

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt.
Luke 18:9

The italics are mine, and I am “some people.”

self-righteous: convinced of one’s own righteousness especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others : narrow-mindedly moralistic.


contempt: the feeling that a person or thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving of scorn.

Ouch.

It’s even more painful to read the parable that Jesus told to some people, ie. me.

It’s the one where the Pharisee (a Jewish teacher who knows well the stories of God and the Ten Commandments and more) goes to the temple to pray. (If that’s even what you can call it.)

He stands. He does not kneel or bow his head, let alone prostrate himself.

He thanks God for his elevated ethics. You know, that he doesn’t steal things or sleep around.

He highlights for God his spiritual practices – scheduled fasting, calculated giving.

“Obsessed with his own virtue” is how one person put it.

He celebrates with God that he is nothing like the tax collector (a Jewish collaborator with the Roman Empire) who has come to pray at the same time.

You know, the one lying face down next to him.

The one unwilling to lift his eyes to heaven.

The one agonizing over and acknowledging his sinful ways.

The one begging for God’s mercy.

Unpleasant as it is, being faced with your (my) “some people” status and finally (or at least more fully) agreeing with it is a gift. It’s the answer to one of those reluctant (but persistent out of desperation in my case) prayers to be made aware. The result of this prayer specifically…

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.
Psalm 139: 23-24

There are hurtful ways in me, but I want the everlasting way.

So with the tax collector I pray, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!”

And even if those are just words on a page in my journal, I pray He will hear them as true prayer and real pleas to be set free from my “some people” status.

***

By the way, I painted my kitchen this week. Hours and hours and layers and layers of white primer and then white paint. It looks great. Really beautiful. So clean and crisp. Just like new. Yet with every stroke, I was reminded of Jesus and the Pharisees. So, I think I’ll have more to say about “some people” and their (my) whitewashed tomb tendencies soon, because I think I might finally be getting it? Maybe.

Birthday Gifts: Part 2

Here’s a better view of those Topo Chico bottles-turned-drinking-glasses. Aren’t they great? What a cool gift. I just love seeing them in my cabinet. I love that the “cut” is just above the textured part of the bottle giving them a bit of a decorative flair. And that green tint? Perfect.

While I was uploading photos of Topo Chico glasses, I came across this photo – also of gifts. The gift of two of the cutest nephews you ever did see is obvious, but it’s what they are wearing that was kind of a Christmas gift miracle. See those sweatshirts? Those, along with matching sweatpants, are what we sent to the California nephews this Christmas. (The fact that they live in Palm Springs, CA and have absolutely no need for sweatshirts and sweatpants is beside the point.)

Now, look at their shoes. We did not give them the shoes. My brother texted me this photo on Christmas to show me that the sweatshirts we sent perfectly matched the shoes they already owned! Wow. I’m pretty sure that making these guys the coolest kids at the skate park that day (new scooters for Christmas!) with their matching Nike gear makes us the coolest aunt, uncle, and cousins. I don’t think it’s any secret that the whole extended family is vying for that title, so thank you, TJ Maxx.

This post is getting really off topic, but I just HAVE to show you who I now ALMOST share a birthday with.  It’s the above pictured Nike nephews’ new little sister, born on Monday, just one day after my birthday. Talk about a gift and an answered prayer. Meet Taya…
Okay… back to the main point of this post.  I got to give gifts for my birthday which is what I desired this year over getting gifts. I really am happier that way.  
The gift of preparing communion. The gift of helping with babies.  The gift of shoveling snow. The gift of giving rides to and from church.
I was kind of tickled over how the Lord answered the prayer for gift giving on my birthday right off the bat that Sunday morning, but wondered if He wanted me/us to give any more gifts after those church-related ones. As I drove home to meet the two kids, I prayed this: “Ok, Lord.  Was that it?  Or are there more?”
Immediately after that prayer, I did a quick check of my email (while waiting in my driveway for the kids to load in the van) and discovered one announcing a new (one month early, but perfectly healthy) baby – one whose mom and dad only recently started attending our church. Robert has been meeting with the dad regularly to discuss the Bible and faith.  Together we have spent time with the mom to discuss the couples’ unique situation. I knew Robert would regret not being able to make a baby-visit, since he is traveling, and it seemed pretty obvious that it was the next gift-giving opportunity. I sent an email offering a meal and my cell phone number, and got a text message within the hour.
“A meal on Monday would be so wonderful. Thank you.”
Not my actual birthday, but still a gift to give.
The kids wanted to treat me to a late breakfast, so we all attended the early service, and then drove to our favorite breakfast restaurant in Northampton. The one with GF ginger-buckwheat pancakes. A tiny cafe and a weekend breakfast means waiting on the wooden bench along one wall about two feet away from those already enjoying their meal. 
Shoulder to shoulder on that bench, I couldn’t help noticing the woman on my right.  Alone and slightly hunched over, she stared at the ground, diverting her eyes only occasionally and very cautiously as people squeezed by to get their name on the wait list. A tad disheveled, she exuded weariness and sadness. She seemed relieved when they called her name and she was able to escape the bench and sitting sardine-like next to me. She sat alone at a table nearby and got her coffee right away.
“What are you thinking about, Mom?” Cooper asked.
“What?” I answered, wondering if we were thinking the same thing.
“That’s what you always ask us when we’re quiet,” he explained.
“I’m thinking that we should pay for that woman’s breakfast,” I revealed. “Since you guys are paying for me, I’ll pay for her.”
I thought we might miss the opportunity, since she was nearly finished with her meal before we were seated, but when our waitress came and took our order, we asked if we could pay for the woman sitting alone at the table by the window. Her eyes raised just enough to be sure of who I was talking about, and she nodded in affirmation. She took my debit card to the woman’s waitress.
The kids worried that the waitress would reveal our identity, so I got up to top off my coffee at the self serve counter and on the way there made sure the waitresses knew it was supposed to be a secret.
“So, tell her that her meal was all taken care of, but not who did it?” they clarified.
“Yes,” I confirmed, and we all shared a secret smile.
“What? Really?” were the surprised responses of the woman at the window when the waitress explained that her bill had been paid for. I couldn’t look, but my kids couldn’t resist slyly observing how it played out.
After she left, Cooper said he had also observed that she seemed sad and possibly disturbed by something. 
What a joy to see her perk up a bit upon receiving the gift.
Paul said that Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” (Acts 20:35), and we were experiencing the truth of that statement.
This post is getting long, but I promised to tell you the rest of the gifts today.  Really there was only one more gift we gave on Sunday – times four.
I drive past multiple homeless people on a daily basis wondering what to do for them. I’d read about this care package idea somewhere a while back. Then, recently, my friend Betsy told me about delivering these packages to folks on Boston Common with teens in her youth group. So, a “theme” was developing, and usually that means I’m supposed to act.
A little more research and a trip to Target on the way home from breakfast led to the next gift. Kayla helped me assemble four care packages intended for those living on the streets. Shopping for and packing them up was the easy part.  I could have done that all afternoon. 
Here’s what we packed in each bag based on great online info about what TO and what NOT TO include in packages like this:
wet wipes
lotion
bandaids
deodorant (not soap or shampoo)
toothbrush
toothpaste
lip balm
tissue pack
beef jerky (not trail mix or nuts)
chicken salad & cracker packs
cereal/breakfast bars (not granola bars – too hard/crunchy)
peanut butter sandwich crackers
applesauce (squeezable)
socks
mints (not sticky, meltable candy)
$5
(There are lots of opinions about what things are best to include. The non-sticky, non-crunchy guideline has to do with the dental issues of many homeless people. Money is encouraged for bus fare, coffee, etc. Also, females have unique hygiene needs, so male and female packs are a good idea.)
I’m estimating that these packages cost about $15 each including the $5. We filled gallon sized Ziploc bags, but you could do quarts and include fewer items.

The next step was more difficult: hand delivering them.

That was the other main suggestion: don’t just throw a package out of your car AT people.

Rather, go TO them. Meet them. Give them the care and attention they deserve.

I thought I might get out of it due to a couple of birthday phone calls I received that afternoon/evening, but my cute little co-packer was persistent that we go driving around looking for folks who might need these care packages. It was about 6:45pm when we finished packing, and Cooper was meeting us for a movie at 7:40.

“If we don’t find anyone, we’ll just keep them in the car for when we do,” I suggested to my eager assistant.

But we drove downtown and there they were. It was dark, and the temperature was in the teens

We parked and gathered our gifts. A bright-eyed, bundled-up young woman was the first we approached. We pulled out our gift and asked if it was something she could use. Her eyes lit up even more as she assured us it was and delighted in the “snacks” that were enclosed. We asked her name and told her ours. We asked if she had a place to stay that night, and she did. The overnight shelter at First Baptist doesn’t open until 9:30pm, though, so she still had over two hours in the cold. She thanked us with much humility and sincerity.

A block away was a man with a sign and another man talking with him. We approached the man with the sign, and inquired again if our little package was something he could use. When he took it, the other man looked on with such interest and praised the gift so much that it occurred to us that he was homeless as well, but we had only taken two bags out of the car.

“Would you like one, too?” I asked. “We have another, and my daughter can run and get it from our car.”

Though he kindly protested, and said not to worry about it, Kayla ran back to our car and grabbed him a bag. While she did, I learned their names, where they were each from, and where they planned to spend the night – one at the shelter and one on a friend’s couch.

As we said goodbye, the men thanked us profusely and kept expressing how thoughtful the gifts were, and how nice that we had come out in the cold, and….and…

There was no denying their genuine appreciation.

As we drove the ten minute route to the warm movie theater where we would sit eating hot buttered popcorn for the next two hours, we prayed for each of gift recipients. Kayla was mesmerized by the encounters (as was I), and uttered these words after a few moments of silence in the car: “They were so nice. They were just regular people.”

Yes, they were. And because of them our hearts were stirred, our spirits were lifted, and what Isaiah says will happen, happened to us that evening…

And if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday. 
Isaiah 58:10 (NASB)

I like how Eugene Peterson puts it as well…

If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, if you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. 
Isaiah 58:10 (The Message)

Yep. My birthday was bathed in sunlight. Giving – even these very small acts of giving –  is the true having, the true receiving. I can see some new habits and traditions forming.

Want to know what happened with the 4th package? Well, it stayed in Cooper’s (who’s home on college break) car, which is the one we happened to be using on our evening excursion. Cooper wasn’t with us, but we told him all about our experience. The following evening, he had to drive out of town and came across a homeless man with a sign at an intersection. It took him a moment, but he remembered that one of the packages was still in his car. The light was green by this time, but despite honks and hand gestures, he reached for the bag, held it out of his window, and waited for the man to come and get it.

I made up four more bags today (and got a better picture of them), and when Cooper saw one of them sitting on the kitchen table, he asked if he could have a couple to keep in his car.

“Maybe our suffering and brokenness begin a kind of healing when we enter into the suffering and brokenness of the world, right through the brokenness and givenness of Christ.” (p. 72)

My own brokenness and selfishness certainly received a bit of healing that day. That of my kids as well.

What a gift that was…and is.

Birthday Gifts: Part 1

“What do you want to do for your birthday, Mom?”  With Robert typically gone to Texas and Oklahoma for the first two weeks of January, my kids are usually left with the burden responsibility of “making mom’s birthday special” on their own. I kind of hate that. I love special days and gifts, but I enjoy giving them more than receiving them. And not because I’m super selfless like that.  It probably has more to do with my unrealistic expectations that all gifts given to me will perfectly match my temperament and desires, reflecting that I am truly known and loved, yet somehow they usually fall short of that expectation.

Hard to believe, I know.

The sad thing is that if you had asked me what gift would be THE perfect birthday gift for me this year, I would not have been able to come up with anything. And if I can’t come up with anything, how in the world would anyone else be able to?

I do love the gifts the two kids left at home gave me: bowls.

I love bowls. I gave away bowls filled with goodies myself this Christmas. I’m guessing what happened is that Cooper and Kayla went to TJ Maxx to get me gifts. Kayla probably informed Cooper that I like bowls. (I could be wrong here. Sometimes he surprises me with his gift giving.) She got me a large white bowl with pretty ridges, and he got me a small white chip and dip bowl with the price tag still on it.  Hers had French macarons, a candle, and a coloring book inside.  He included a Starbucks gift card inside the Anniversary card which he edited to make a Birthday card to accompany his bowl. Both of them wrote me sweet (and funny) notes.  I loved it.

(Side note: Speaking of gifts, here’s one of my favorites from Christmas…

You probably can’t tell too well from this photo, but it’s a set of smallish glasses hand cut and upcycled (and adorably packaged!) by my sister from Topo Chico bottles. If you don’t know Topo Chico and you like your water “with bubbles” you’re missing out!  Check it out here. Such a fun gift!)
Back to Kayla’s birthday inquiry…

“Hmmmm…maybe we can make a couple of special deliveries for my birthday? Maybe hand out some Dunkin Donuts gift cards to strangers like we planned to do with Sarah and Jessica a couple of weeks ago? Maybe take some food to some of the homeless folks downtown?” was my reply to Kayla’s efforts to plan a special day, and she seemed to really like the idea. If you’ve read Ann Voskamp’s new book, The Broken Way, you may recognize this birthday plan. Thoughts I’d had before, she’d actually put into practice, and so I was encouraged to be bold.

“It’s all like a small match to me that could start an explosion. Could there be a better way to celebrate another birthday, than to break through the anxiety that keeps a life bound and small?


learning the art of living is learning the art of giving


For God so loved that He gave


…For God so loved that He gave…Is there any word more powerful than giving? Thanksgiving. Forgiving. Care-giving. Life-giving. Everything that matters in living comes down to giving.


Giving is the true having,” is what Spurgeon said.” (p. 67)

The Sunday birthday approached quickly, and we really didn’t have a set plan. A couple of prayers for ideas and opened doors for giving were lifted up on Friday and Saturday. For open eyes and hearts to see the answers, too.

Prayers the Lord answers quickly and specifically. I’m learning.

We pulled up to church at 8:30am, because Kayla has communion and kid duty, only to find Cindy, our worship leader stuck at the bottom of the incline to the parking lot.  She’d not been able to make it up due to snow and ice, and now her car is stalled and she’s blocking traffic and calling AAA and there’s a newborn in her back seat. So, God allowed us to give the gift of a baby transported to a warm spot and a mama with one less thing to worry about in the moment.

Up the church steps with baby we go, through the…snow.

Snow? Snow on the side church steps. Snow on the front church steps. Snow on the front walkway and sidewalk. 3 inches or so and not the way things are supposed to go.

Oh, but I prayed for this. Yeah, I prayed for gift giving opportunities.

And so now…the gift of snow removal is given to a congregation arriving any moment. First by two hastily recruited, yet very willing volunteers. Then given by me and the one who overheard me worry that the town gets upset about that front walk not being shoveled, not to mention our neighbors, and… “I’ll take care of it,” Brett said.

Him at one end. Me at the other. (Despite his protests.) We meet in the middle with a high five and grab the sand bucket so no one else slides down the incline and needs AAA.

There was…More baby holding. More communion cup filling. Diaper changing. Rides home.

All gifts we got to give on my birthday.

“Just what you wanted to do on your birthday…shovel snow.” Jenna laughs.

“And change diapers,” Cindy chimes in.

“Actually…” I say, “It kind of was…”

No, not kind of. It was what I wanted to do. I’d actually hoped, prayed, and planned for this.

And the answers just kept coming.

We got to give several other gifts that day, and I’ll tell you about the rest of them on Friday.

They were a little scary, but so worth the small risk. Life changing, really.

“…there is no life worth living without generosity because generosity is a function of abundance mentality. And abundance mentality is a function of identity and intimacy.  When you know you are loved enough…you have abundantly enough to generously give enough. And that moves you into the enoughness of an even more intimate communion.” (p. 68-69)

Yes.  Thanks, Ann.

Happy Birthday to me!

(Oh, and maybe on Friday, I’ll have a better pic of those cute Topo Chico glasses!)

Said Goodbye Again, But Not Without A Pic This Time

It’s a new season of family life around here.  I realized that again over the holidays when I was trying to create our annual Christmas card and discovered I had not even ONE photo of our whole family together from the previous year.  So, taking family photos was a top priority for the four weeks that Kory was home between his sophomore year at Baylor and his job back in Texas at Pine Cove Camp this summer. 

We took Kory to the airport early this morning, and it was bittersweet.  It is so nice having him home, and not only because he is so helpful around the house, at the grocery store, and at church, but also because he is so upbeat and positive and eager.  We laugh more when Kory is home. We talk about life and faith and current events more, because he initiates those types of discussions. (The only thing he asked for for his 20th birthday was the “Leading From Your Strengths” online test and evaluation. Personal development? Deepening understanding of himself and others? He’s all about it.) So, bitter? Yes, but also sweet, because every time he leaves he has such incredible experiences. We are so thankful for that.  Makes it easier to say goodbye.

This summer is especially bittersweet, because Cooper will also be leaving soon. He graduated in May, and in just a few short weeks we’ll fly off to California together and settle him into a room in Uncle Stu (my brother!) and Aunt Rachel’s house in Palm Springs, CA where he’ll work on a golf course most likely and take a year to think and pray about next steps and what he would like to study. He’s been accepted to California Baptist University and Grand Canyon University, so he’ll also get to visit those campuses over the next several months to help him make a better decision.

I’m not sure what we’ll do without Coop around. His originality and wittiness are things we have come to love, not to mention his ever improving fashion sense. He’s a thinker, a ponderer, and when he speaks about the things he’s thinking ~ faith, people, circumstances, it is usually profound. He can also lighten the mood and remind us that we (mostly me) need not take ourselves so seriously or be so easily offended. That’s a good thing. So again, bitter, but also sweet, knowing that adventure, growth, and mentorship by a godly aunt and uncle await him, not to mention sunshine, sandy beaches, and swimming pools.  Two small nephews also await him, so I think his babysitting skills will get some sharpening as well.

This girl will become an only child (sort of) at the end of August!  Her dad keeps telling her that ALL of our attention will then be focused COMPLETELY on her. For some reason, she doesn’t seem thrilled by that prospect.  I, for one, am excited to have the next few years at home with my girl. She is truly a delightful young woman. Her faith is strong (“Mom, I want to learn something new and challenging in youth group…”) and so is her creativity (She completely re-decorated her room this summer with a fresh coat of paint and pops of style and color from Good Will and Target), not to mention her athletic ability (She lettered in Varsity track as a freshman this past year). She will really miss her brothers, though. I’m sure of it.

So, we celebrated Kory’s 20th birthday on Monday. Yes, 20th. Hard to believe. I’m so glad he was home for this.  We had a small celebration, mostly so he could see one of his most favorite families ever whom he kept missing at church ~ the Moylans, but a few other friends (Lois & Harringtons & Speights!) joined in for fajitas and ice cream cake as well.

We spent most of the evening doing this. Small children + balls + trampoline + birthday boy = endless-way-past-bedtime-entertainment. Really.

It was BEFORE the party ~ and I mean RIGHT before the party that we took these photos. I’m not sure how she does it, but somehow our dear friend, Lois, comes to the rescue of many families in chaos. Crisis, too ~ but mostly just chaos. She texted me about what time I wanted to take family photos and I responded that I wasn’t sure I could fit it in with all the other tasks the day was requiring. That’s when she asked me to send her my shopping list.

So, not only did she take these photos from about 3-4:30 on Monday afternoon (in next door Northampton), but she also picked up Kayla at 1pm and they went shopping for all of the party food, unloaded it, and set it out for me to work with later. It was amazing. I could not have pulled the day off without her.  We definitely wouldn’t have had these photos if I’d tried. I only wish we’d had a passerby take one photo with Lois IN IT. Sigh…

Our last round of family photos a few years ago had me strategizing colors and outfits for WEEKS.  (I am not good at that!) Would you believe we pulled these together in about 10 minutes? That’s what has to happen in chaos, but it is not my preferred mode.

We DID manage to make a quick trip into Starbucks before heading home. The photo session happened just around back of the store, and the green mermaid was calling out to us the whole time. She’s very persuasive.

 Kory has just landed in Austin, where my dad is picking him up and probably planning on a Mexican food dinner somewhere.  He reports to summer camp and a cabin of 10th-12th grade boys on Saturday. Cooper is off to a lawn mowing job ~ one of three summer jobs he’s had which have earned him enough money to buy a car once in California.  Kayla is writing a letter to a beloved pen pal and printing recent photos to go with it.  Robert is off to a late meeting at church after a very early men’s breakfast (and trip to the airport!) this morning. I am taking a break from cooking dinner and studying ethics this evening to write all of this down. Somehow it’s helpful and healing.

I didn’t sleep a wink last night ~ watched every hour pass by on the clock by my bed which is currently located in our basement. It’s been a week of chaos and it finally caught up.  Actually, the chaos (with a heaping dose of heartbreak and disappointment) can be traced back for quite some time now. (How many of my blog posts have ended like this, I wonder?) But isn’t that usually how it is in the “now and not yet”? That theme has come up in my seminary courses over and over. I know this is not my home, and I’m grateful for that. Even still there have been great gifts in the midst…

a grocery list texted and taken care of
a gathering of friends
a family together
photos to capture a season
future plans and places
refreshing mermaid drinks
tears wiped and understood
laughter
good food
beach balls and trampolines
prayer

and even good, bittersweet goodbyes.

Tonight I am so sleepy, but so grateful for all of it.

P.S. I saved the best photos for a future Christmas card possibly coming your way. (Thanks, Lolo!)

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!

Memorial Day ~ Remembering My Poppy

(A re-posting from 2011 to remember a man who loved his country and me.)
 Spring always reminds me of my grandfather.  His birthday was on the first day of spring, and even though he’s been gone nearly 11 years now, I still write his name on March 20 every January when I sit down to write all of the important birthdays for the year on my new calendar.  Poppy would have been 90 years old this year, but we lost him to cancer in July of 2000. It was a difficult time then, and I wasn’t able to attend his funeral in Texas, being nine months pregnant with Kayla here in MA, but it seems even more difficult as the years go by. I miss him so much. I miss him correcting my grammar.  I miss him being there to rescue me from silly mishaps like running out of gas in the neighborhood when I was 16.  I miss him always encouraging me to order dessert, and then asking for bite after bite until we had shared the dish evenly.  I miss wrapping my arms around his middle and going for rides on his motorcycle.  I miss water skiing on two big wooden skis on Canyon Lake behind his motorboat, and then stopping for Wendy’s hamburgers on the way home. I miss his big band music blaring out of a huge buffet with built in 8-track tape player, turn table, and speakers.  I miss him grilling tenderloin, hamburgers, and sausages out on the grill while we kids swam in the pool. I don’t think I miss rides in his little Cessna airplane, but I sure loved them when I was ten!
I miss his intricately planned vacations and road trips, and I’m positive that is where I get my desire to travel and plan educational vacations for my family.  I don’t know how I ended up with these items from a trip to Washington D.C. he planned for my sister and me back in 1985, but I’m so glad I have them.  I love that he recorded everything, and that even this receipt from the Holiday Inn we stayed at in D.C. for several nights has his notation, “Trip w/ M+M – June 1995.”  (M&M = Melanie and Melissa, my sister) It was an amazing trip that he must have spent an entire year getting ready for, detail by detail.  Not only did we have a V.I.P. tour of the F.B.I. Building (no tours are allowed currently), but we also had a special tour of the White House, and the Capitol Building.  The tour of the Capitol was given to us personally by one of our Texas Congressmen at the time ~ Albert Bustamante.  After boarding our plane back to Texas, Poppy noticed Secret Service Agents out his window.  Once the plane was loaded, he decided to take a walk up to first class to see who might be found there.  It turned out to be Lady Bird Johnson, and he could hardly wait to introduce his two granddaughters to her.
 I miss him being a part of every milestone any of us ever celebrated ~ birthdays, graduations, football games.  I miss the dry-ice packed Baskin Robbins ice cream cakes he and Gigi transported to our birthday parties. I miss the “holly” bow tie that he donned every Christmas without fail.  I miss the Ziggy birthday cards he bought and signed himself (no help from Gigi!) and filled with the same number of dollar bills as your age.  I remember him reading Time magazine cover to cover each week, attending and ushering Mass at his church every single Saturday evening, and playing golf at the break of dawn every Sunday morning.  Not too long after Robert and I were married, he and Gigi drove to Austin to see our first apartment, take us to dinner, and give us one more gift ~ a bread machine.  Always caring, endlessly generous, perfectly loving and continually interested in our lives ~ what a gift and example he was.
 I think he may have loved being a great-grandfather even more than he enjoyed being a grandfather, although that time was very short lived.  He was overjoyed when Kory was born, and found such delight in holding him and watching him develop.  We moved to Oklahoma just six short weeks after Kory was born, and after we had settled in a bit, guess who made another road trip to visit his first great-grandson?
 How I wish Poppy was still here to see what a fine young man that first great-grandson has turned out to be ~ not to mention the five other great-grandchildren he has now.  I know he would be so proud.  I know he would be hopping on airplanes for as long as he was able, to see all of us ~ even 2000 miles northeast of his home.  He would be quizzing me about homeschooling and church ministry.  He would be asking to take the kids out for ice cream or on road trips to historical sites.  He would be asking me how I “stay so trim” after having three babies.  He would be delighting in all of us.  Oh, how I miss him.

{Kory ~ at his 12th birthday gathering ~ 5 years ago.}

When Kory turned 13, he inherited one of Poppy’s flight jackets, and some of his medals from his time in the Air Force.  When I talked to Poppy’s brother, Joe, to get more information before giving Kory the special gifts, I discovered a few things about my grandfather I hadn’t known before.  I knew he didn’t like to talk about World War II, but I didn’t know that he had dropped out of college to enlist as a pilot, having already obtained a pilot’s license as a 17 year old boy.  I learned that he was a member of the 417th Night Fighter Squadron.  These squadrons flew only by instrument, since their missions were always at night.  Though they were all very young, they were highly skilled and very brave ~ eager to serve their country and defend freedom.

Recently, I did a little research on this group of men and found that a book had been written about this very squadron in 2007.  It is entitled Beaufighters in the Night : 417 Night Fighters USAAF.  I promptly ordered the book longing to know as many details as I could about what my grandfather had been through in the war.  I received it in the mail on March 21st ~ the day after what would have been his 90th birthday.
I grabbed the package out of our mail box on the way to take Kory to baseball practice, and opened it once I returned home and pulled back into our garage.  Sitting there, alone in my van, I quickly turned to the index and located his name ~ Tony Speier, p. 62.  The tears began as I read a paragraph on that page that described my grandfather and a few other men, who were stationed in northern Africa, as being detached to Naples to help another squadron ~ the 416th. That crew had suffered many deaths and casualties, and needed some reinforcements.  The 417th was said to have “scored two victories while on loan.”
Then I flipped to the middle of the book, which contains a full 24 pages of photos.  More tears when I spotted my handsome grandfather and that genuine and familiar smile of his.
I turned to the Introduction and read these words:
They were seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, maybe twenty or twenty-one years old.  They came mostly from America’s farms and small towns, but back then America was mostly farms and small towns.  They played a unique, unheralded role in aerial warfare.  They may have shortened the war.  They did help save the world.  This is their story.
I usually call or write my grandmother on Poppy’s birthday, so when I thought the tears were dry, I picked up the phone.  I asked her if she had been to the cemetery the day before, and she had ~ of course.  That’s when she told me it would have been his 90th birthday, and that they would have celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary the weekend before.  “He married me when he was 29, and turned 30 one week later,” she explained.  I began to tell her about our trip to Pennsylvania to attend the memorial service of another World War II vet, and that it reminded me to order a book I had learned about recently.  Then I couldn’t speak anymore, because the tears came again.
“What is it, honey?” she asked
“Joe told me that Poppy enlisted to be a pilot during the war, and was assigned to the 417th Night Fighter Squadron.”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“The book I ordered is about the 417th.  I got it in the mail today, and found his name in the index.  Then I turned to the photos……and……..and……,” I couldn’t finish.
“And there he was.” she offered.
“Yes. There he was. His picture is there.”
At this point, we were both crying too much to speak, but after a moment or two, she asked more about the book. She took down the title and author, and said she would tell my uncles about it and ask them to order her a copy.  I asked her why Poppy never talked about the war with any of his kids or grandkids.  I remembered “interviewing” all of our family members for Cooper’s baby book, and telling Poppy that I would like to know more about his experience in World War II.  “Awwww. You don’t want to know about that,” was his usual way to avoid the question.

(Poppy was my grandmother’s second husband, so not technically my biological grandfather.  Her first husband was also a pilot in the Air Force, and was killed in a plane crash while performing a drill.  She was pregnant with their second child, my uncle Chuck, at the time.  When she married Poppy, he adopted her first two children, and they went on to have two more.  My grandmother is a pretty amazing lady herself.)

“Your grandfather did not like to talk about the war, because he never understood why he was chosen to survive.  Several times, he was assigned a certain mission, but was then reassigned to another at the last moment.  Many of those times, the entire crew of the original mission was killed.  He always felt that he was living on borrowed time.” she quietly explained.

I praise the Lord for that borrowed time.  It has enriched and blessed my life so abundantly even to this very day, and continues on into the lives of my children ~ and now maybe even yours, dear reader.
Many a man proclaims his own loyalty,
But who can find a trustworthy man?  
A righteous man who walks in his integrity ~
How blessed are his sons after him. 
Proverbs 20:6-8

W.A.L.K.I.N.G. with Beth

A much anticipated and worked-for weekend finally arrived last Friday.  A year ago, my sweet friend, Karla, invited me to join her in participating in Beth Moore’s Scripture Memory Challenge. The goal was to hide the Word in our hearts by memorizing 24 Bible verses over the course of the year.  The accountability was having to enter your verse in the comments of Beth’s blog post on the 1st and 15th of each month.  Anyone who did this 20 out of 24 times was eligible for this very special conference at no charge.  All you had to do was get yourself to Houston, show your memory spiral upon entry to First Baptist Church, and be prepared to say at least 10 of your verses to another woman at some point during the conference
 Friday evening and Saturday morning were filled with the wonderful worship music of Travis Cottrell and Beth’s passionate teaching, not to mention a free tote bag, a notebook and pen, cookies and hot chocolate, and the opportunity to be around a lot of beautiful women who love the Lord and His Word, who came from 48 of 50 states, Canada. and the UK!  As you can see, Beth is quite animated and NEVER without great excitement about her Lord and Savior. Her enthusiasm  might be off-putting to those who don’t realize that she has great integrity. Really.  She is never NOT animated and excited.  She is also never without a humble, yet vitally fresh teaching from God’s Word.  This time she spoke on 2 John.  She had memorized its 13 verses, and  “spoke” the book to us twice.  She then exhorted us through its words with this acrostic:
W ~ We’re all starved for some “face-to-face.”
(We need each other in real time and real community)
A ~ All we’ve worked for can be lost. 
(Not our salvation, though, because that’s not “worked for”)
L ~ Listen with the ears of a chosen lady.  
(Eklekte Kuria = “The Chosen Lady” = the Church and me!)
K ~ Keep the pace of true abiding. 
(Not running ahead with “innovation”, and not sitting still either)
I ~ Invest your whole life into love. 
(The whole Law summed up.  Not a new commandment!)
N ~ Never forget the ploy to infiltrate. 
(“Many deceivers will go forth…”)
G ~ Go out into the world walking in what you know. 
(Walking, abiding in Truth, loving God and others)
Go read 2 John if you want to find out what all of this means!  I found her personal testimony of losing and then choosing to “take back ground” she felt she had lost in recent years especially meaningful.  She encouraged us to take some dirt home from Houston, TX to remind ourselves that we’re taking back ground the enemy may have stolen or deceived us into letting go of.
On Saturday during a break, we were to get with a partner and recite our 24 verses ~ special prizes for those who could do all 24. Grace was abounding in all of this, of course.  It was a beautiful sight to see pairs of women all over the sanctuary and in the hallways speaking their Scriptures from memory, and oh what a privilege to be with women who treasure His Word so deeply ~ kindred spirits all around!
(I memorized Hebrews 11:24 – 12:3 & Psalm 71:5-6 & 17-19.  Karla memorized all of Romans 6)
Kindred fashion spirits, too, evidently…
Yes, imagine my surprise to see this top that I ordered from Ruche, an online catalog company, last year for my birthday, come walking down the hall toward me on another sweet, Scripture-loving sister.  What else could we do but laugh and take a photo together?!?  So funny…
As we entered First Baptist Church each day, we walked through a really amazing missions display.  It was like a missions museum with creative presentations of the many missions the church is involved with ranging from building water wells in third world countries, to volunteer work with Crisis Pregnancy Centers, to human trafficking rescue missions across the globe as well as right there in Houston, which, unfortunately, is a major hub for human trafficking in the U.S.A.
I was also so excited to see their involvement in reaching the “unreached people group” of New England through the North American Mission Board’s church planting efforts.  The North American Mission Board is  the organization we were sent by to New England 13 years ago, and who continues to support our newer church plants in Massachusetts.
I’m just kicking myself for not getting a picture of the three of us ladies who were sitting at this vantage point on Saturday night after the conference!  Laura W., who was my first Bible study leader through Campus Crusade at the University of Texas hosted Karla and me for the weekend.  She took us out to City Centre for some delicious gluten free and gourmet pizza, and we all enjoyed sitting outside listening to music, watching the fires and lights and the kids playing.  We didn’t come to any earth shattering conclusions, but discussed the future of Israel, replacement theology, dispensationalism, and other weighty topics like our hopes and goals for the new year as well as our love for butternut squash.  Then we took in the new movie, Iron Lady, about Margaret Thatcher, which was excellently performed, but a bit unsettling.  I have lots of questions now!
Before I left Robert was reminding me of Henri Nouwen’s writing about guests and hospitality ~ that guests have a gift to give, and that we as hosts do also.  He challenged me to look for the gifts from the weekend, and I’m so thankful for his reminder.  The gift that stood out to me the most was that I have a life FULL of people ~ and really special people at that.  Not only is Karla’s friendship a gift, but I kept being amazed over and over again at the people I was able to share with her from my own family, to Laura, to a dear college friend, Yvette, to “Miss Riggs” my middle school Spanish teacher, to my 87 year-old grandmother, to my 73 year old dad.  So, there were many gifts from a weekend of  conferencing and hosting, as you can see, but the realization (again) that the Lord has filled my life to the brim ~ overflowing, really ~ with loving people, encouraging people, joyful people, faithful people, people who’ve surrendered their whole lives to Him was the best gift of all.  
Truly, I am blessed.

Not Just a Gift…..A Treasure

(Cover photo taken by my sister, Melissa, on a coffee/tea date to the Esselon Cafe here in MA!)
You know life is good and you are loved when you are still celebrating your 40th birthday five months after the actual date! And to think…I thought it was all over after the amazing trip to NYC and the surprise gathering of friends and family in Texas.
Boy, was I wrong.
Our dear and long time friend and fellow ministry partner, Lois invited me and a handful of other ladies over to her house on Tuesday evening for a gluten free meal, chocolate dipped fruit, and pedicures. I simply thought she wanted to get a few of us together before she leaves for a majority of the summer for various mission trips. Plus, this little group of ladies hadn’t all been together for this type of thing in over a year.
I was completely shocked when she brought out a gift for me and pulled a lit candle toward me to blow out after they sang “Happy Birthday.” I had to ask the other ladies if they knew this was happening, because I felt like this little spontaneous party was taking away from our real purpose – eating, catching up on each others lives, and toes! But, of course, they all knew what was coming.
And by now you’ve certainly figured out what that gift was. A big, beautiful, heavy coffee-table-type book whose pages are filled with photos and letters from so many people who have been so dear to me over the last 40 years. Complete shock kept the tears from streaming immediately, but it didn’t take long. I think it was my kids’ letters that really got me, but it was also one from my dad, and the ones from young women I’ve had the privilege to develop friendships with through the church through the years – girls I met when they were 18 or 20, who are now in their 30’s in full swing careers or having 2nd and 3rd babies. And the letters from my sisters and my brother….and….
(That is Kayla and me in Maine, sporting our matching french braids before a trip to the beach!)

I am simply overwhelmed by this gift. If you are reading and you were a part of contributing to it – thank you. You will never know just how meaningful this is to me. And thank you to Lois, who planned, tracked down friends and family to request letters, stalked me, my blog, Facebook, and Flickr account for photos to cover every aspect of my life in the last 11+ years! Thank you for adding your own photos and your beautiful touch to make it so special. I know how much work it was, and I know it was out of love and a desire to encourage.

It really is so much more than a gift. It is a treasure. A thing that I will cherish as love and affirmation from the Lord in what feels like “round two” of life. Already this treasure has given me strength and motivation to continue on in the calling He has on my life – to treasure my family, other people, my church, and above all – Him.

…that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is,
Christ Himself,

in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Colossians 2:2-3

Avocado Avalanche

Been meaning to post this one for awhile. I received another care package of avocados a few weeks back! So exciting. The return address was San Antonio, TX and there was a nice note inside telling me to enjoy them – but no name.
It didn’t take me too long – a quick email – to find out it was Jack, a wonderful man and special friend of my good friend and former Spanish teacher, Kelly. (That’s not what I call her though – can’t get past the formality of “Miss.”) They are a wonderful pair, and along with a team of others have an exciting summer of mission work planned together in Africa – visiting Compassion International sponsored children and working in Ugandan IDP (internally displaced) camps. And after that, who knows? He has my approval as husband material, and let me tell you, it was not so easy to get.
The avocados may have been a bribe!?
(P.S. Jack does not like this picture of himself. He’s even more handsome in real life!)

Be Careful What You Ask For

The doorbell rang yesterday, and the kids received the mail and this package from our mailman. They brought it to me, and I saw that it was from my friend Christy in Oklahoma. It was fairly heavy for a small package, and I went through a mental list of what it could possibly be. (I wasn’t expecting any packages from her.) Then, I remembered that she reads this blog (it’s been such a fun way to keep in touch with her), and that I made a joking request a couple of posts ago for a care package for ingredients to a favorite recipe of mine – ingredients that I won’t buy here in New England very often, because they are so expensive!
And then before even opening it completely I thought to myself……AVOCADOS!
I started laughing. When I told the kids the story, they started laughing too. And we really needed a good laugh – it had not been the prettiest of homeschool mornings! This unexpected care package lightened our moods and made our day. Humor is such a blessing – one that doesn’t come naturally to this take-everything-way-too-serious-girl, but I love it when I can laugh with good friends and my family. Thanks for giving us a good laugh this week, Christy – not to mention good guacamole, avocado salsa, turkey/avocado sandwiches, etc. We’re in avocado heaven for the next few days! (P.S. They arrived in PERFECT condition – amazing!)