New England Summer Lovin’

We didn’t plan specifically for this, but a classic New England summer has been in full swing lately. Kinda hard not to call it classic when it kicks off with a trip to Fenway Park on a PERFECT June evening.

We were offered two Red Sox tickets by an unnamed source (whose name begins with an A and might just be one of their biggest fans) the morning of the game, and somehow were able to make quick arrangements for a trip to Boston that afternoon. The commuter rail from the Worcester area was suggested for parking and traveling to Fenway and back. I took full advantage of someone else driving by sleeping most of the way back to our car that evening.

Our ticket giver was not too happy about having to forgo the game that night due to being under the weather and exhausted from travel, so we tried to fully enjoy her great seats and even indulged in some Cracker Jacks for the occasion. (I’m just glad it wasn’t a 16 inning game like they had against the Yankees on Saturday night.)

It was on the way to the Red Sox game that we realized that in just five short days, we’d be at Tanglewood in the Berkshires for the John Mellencamp and EmmyLou Harris concert. The only thing that would have made this event more “classic” would have been seeing James Taylor instead, but we’ve done that several times already. (It never gets old, though!)

There were big black trash bags under our blankets and holding our cooler, shoes, jackets, and more. Miraculously, everything stayed dry and we enjoyed our Whole Foods snack dinner before the concert started.

 John Cougar and EmmyLou were fantastic!  We enjoyed every minute – even the minutes we had to snuggle under the umbrella due to a couple of passing rain showers. We did not expect to see the sun at all, but it finally pierced through the clouds and made for a gorgeous evening.

A few days later it was time to celebrate the Fourth of July. With barely a hint from me, Kayla (and then Mary!) agreed to plan, shop for, and prepare ALL of the food for our annual picnic for the Amherst fireworks. I was so relieved! As much as I enjoy hospitality and putting meals together, it can certainly wear on me, and I was just not wanting to go to the effort.

Kayla and Mary to the rescue!

These girls took everything on the to-do list and executed it with zero help from me. (Well, a few cooking consultations, but that was it.) Not only was it a huge relief to me, it was a big blessing to those who joined our picnic that night. They were truly amazed by what we pulled out of our picnic bags and cooler – everything put together beautifully by these two young ladies.

And my kitchen after their afternoon of cooking and baking?

Spotless.

Ahhh…..

Kayla even created her own beautiful shopping list. They WALKED to the store and back (because I wasn’t up for chauffeuring either, and Kayla can’t drive friends yet) and spent several hours in the kitchen. A fruit pizza was not on the list, but it was a part of their vision and such a fun treat! (P.S. The grocery store is only a stone’s throw away. 🙂 )
Vi is every child’s second mama at our church!

Little Joseph was happier than any of us had ever seen him – and he’s definitely already a good natured and happy boy. Dancing and laughing and eating, he was mesmerized by the fireworks, and it was a gift to us all to experience the holiday through his eyes. A gift to be with his mom, too, who had never experienced fireworks in person, and who could not get over the feast that Kayla and Mary had prepared.

Not one bit afraid. Just mesmerized.

The very next day was our last time to meet as a small group. Bittersweet for sure. I loved being with these ladies so much and working our way through the whole Bible and redemption narrative using the Seamless workbook.

Vi made us a set of flash cards for the icons used in the workbook, and so we had a bit of hands-on practice with the order of events. I think I mentioned that we accidentally ordered the wrong book and ended up doing the “teen girls” version. Everyone just rolled with it (still a great, substantive study!), and on our final night together, SouYoung said that she thought it was no accident.

Yes, these grown women eagerly indulged me in my photo taking and flash card games.

“No mistake at all,” is how she worded it. New to faith, to church, and certainly to the Bible, she added a richness and freshness to our study. She enabled us to see Jesus through the eyes of a new believer (her retelling of the story of the woman caught in adultery brought tears), and challenged us with her ability to perfectly recall all thirty events in the redemption narrative. She was truly a gift to us.

The very next day, Robert and I were off to the North Shore of Boston – maybe one of THE most quintessential New England locations – to prepare for a week of youth camp at Gordon College. Dinner at Woodman’s in Essex  (because everyone was hot and sweaty and not up for fine dining) with a few members of the camp staff got us started off right.

EVERYTHING (except onion rings, clam strips, and bread, of course) gluten free. We were shocked…and giddy!

Yes, we had a side fries with our fries.

Not a paleo meal by a long shot, but gluten free fried fish is such a rare treat. It felt like a little taste of heaven, and we ate way too much of it.

(Legal Sea Foods uses all gluten free batter now, too. Woohoo!)

We got settled into our dorm/apartment at Gordon College later that evening, and started preparing for a week of teaching and preaching, of late nights and early mornings, and of ministry to over 500 teenagers and their chaperones from all over New England.
Blueprint was the theme this year. God’s plans for building and rebuilding.

It was an incredible week, and I’ll have to tell you about it next time. We’ve only been home three days now, and are still somewhat in recovery mode. We’re also in planning mode for our next and annual New England adventure – a trip to Ogunquit, Maine.  Planning for our 25th anniversary trip on August 1st as well. I haven’t told many of you about that one either, but it’s a big one and I’ll fill you in soon.

For now, I’ll leave you with a fun pic of our camp staff this year.

Photo Credit: Nancy J. Williams, The Dijitl Group

Feeling really thankful for the privilege of doing ministry (and living life) in New England today.

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.

A Week Of Thanksgiving

Last week went way too fast, and had to be highly scheduled as you can see.  Our boys arrived home for the Thanksgiving break Monday night after Robert, Kayla, and I had gone to bed. Cooper picked Kory up in Boston on his way home from Gordon College which was so perfect. Since Kayla and I would be gone early the next morning, I had to leave them a schedule for Tuesday.

The schedule included a list of mealtimes and appointments.  One kid to the spine & sport clinic for a scoliosis check up (all is well!), one kid to the dentist for a cleaning and wisdom tooth evaluation (which led to a wisdom tooth extraction appointment for the Christmas break), and one to the eye doctor, because a much needed prescription for new contacts was being held ransom there until an updated exam was in the books.

When you add in the cooking meals, monitoring of everyone’s checking account, school schedules, social engagements, and summer plans, it really becomes a full time job. The calendar is always up on my phone, and I don’t know what I would do without my iPhone “alerts.”

I decided to include cookies to soften the rude awakening: Welcome Home! Now…get up, get dressed, get in the car, and hurry! Time’s a wastin’!

There was, however, still time for reunions with old friends.  My boys got time with several of their “back home” friends – both at our place and at their friends’ new places. And Kayla got time with her friends at a Gilmore Girls party the day after Thanksgiving.  (More on that soon!) Thanksgiving Day was also a fun reunion of old friends.  That and enjoying lots of new friends, too.

My family still likes to eat breakfast on Thanksgiving Day while watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV, so I made two paleo dishes: Sausage-Rosemary-Sweet Potato Frittata (from Danielle Walker’s Meals Made Simple) and Almond Butter Blondies. (I double that recipe.) Lots of protein to keep everyone satisfied until our 1pm meal.

I had to make these in our toaster oven, since the big oven had a 20lb turkey in it.
It worked surprisingly well!

Pies and sweet potatoes were all made the day before, but not until the late afternoon, since our backsplash was getting its grout on Wednesday morning. Not having access to the kitchen for most of the day was a bit of a Thanksgiving challenge, but I’m so happy about these much needed upgrades.

This pic is actually from Tuesday when the backsplash was installed.
Our across-the-street-neighbor put it in and gave us a tutorial and a few tedious jobs
along the way. We were so thankful for his willingness to teach us.

Our first guests arrived fully awake at around 10am – can’t you tell? Actually, their mom forced them out of bed, so she could come early and help with the meal prep. Can’t believe these guys are all in COLLEGE now. Just yesterday they were all 7 years old.

From left to right: Baylor, Boston University, Gordon College, UMass)
All gluten free except for the flaky crusted fruit pies which Izckra brought.

 Here they are a little more wide-eyed, because…food.

This year we tried moving our dining room table into the living room and using smaller long tables from church in the dining room.  It seemed to work pretty well.

Our guests were a true blessing. Our worship leader, Cindy, and her family, since she had not yet given birth to baby #2 (4 days overdue at that point!) was here, and local students, too – one from New York, one from Kansas, one from Vietnam, one from China, and one from Kenya. Three from Amherst College, one from UMass, and one from Smith. Each one with a story and each one with a competitive spirit in the after-dinner game of Taboo. My friend, Izckra, and her family as well as our beloved Lois were also able to join us.

This guest book was a wedding gift 24 years ago, and we are only a couple of pages away from it being totally filled up. If I remember correctly, it was given to us by one of my grandmother’s friends, and it seemed like an odd gift at the time. Turns out it was somewhat prophetic, and having a steady stream of guests in our home throughout the years has been one of our greatest blessings. Truly. A blessing to us, and to our kids, too.  In fact, it would not really be a holiday or a Sunday lunch if we weren’t “having people over” to put it in their words. The community the Lord has provided for us over the years is something I am so very thankful for. Each person has left their mark, and we are forever changed.

I splurged on a couple of tablespoons of white potatoes and even had a piece of pecan pie for dessert, but am
still trying to stay on the GAPS/Candida diet for the most part. Feeling lots better, too!
Forgot to get a before pic!
Here’s a pic of the new counter (with appetizers!) and backsplash – though we hadn’t wiped off the haze of grout yet.
Even though it was cold and drizzly on Friday, we managed to pick out and chop down a Christmas tree at our favorite local tree farm. We even ran into friends from church there. (Hi Brett, Jenna, Edison, and Graham!) Wish we had thought to take a picture with them.
It was so nice to be able to chop down the tree all together this year, but I couldn’t help wondering if it might be the last time, and so I was determined to get a photo. They’re growing up and outgrowing home in some ways – ways that are probably good and healthy, but it’s all bittersweet to me.

There was the annual post-Christmas-tree-chopping trip to Starbucks, and then we said goodbye to Kory on Friday afternoon, but not before we put him to work on our Gilmore Girl party preparations (!). Cooper took off Sunday afternoon after having his old friend Cameron over on Saturday evening. Lots of basketball playing, zombie killing, and junk food eating.

All of it making me thankful. A full schedule. A full house. A full heart.

(And a full report on our Gilmore Girls Party and movie marathon is coming up next!)

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!

Running in the New Year (With the Forerunner)

Yesterday I made my third airport run (in a car, not on foot) in six days.  We said goodbye to family over the weekend, dropping them at airports in New York City and Boston.  Then we had to say goodbye to Robert who headed to Texas and Oklahoma out of Hartford yesterday for two weeks of preaching, reporting on the ministry here, appointments with friends, family, and supporters, and probably several Mexican food dinners, too.

Thankfully, Robert and I got to have an overnight getaway before he left.  During the holidays, and especially when the house is full of guests, there’s not much time to “be married.”  It was so nice to be away from the house, eat two meals out at nice restaurants (via his birthday gift cards!), stay in a hotel, and to talk and reflect on the past year. Over dinner on Tuesday night, we went through a set of questions designed to help with the reflecting…

What was the best moment or time of the last year?
What were the biggest obstacles?
What were the greatest joys?
What were the unexpected difficulties?
List three words to describe the past year? etc.

The answers to each one are blog posts within themselves!

After two days together, it wasn’t easy to drop Robert off at the Hartford airport and say goodbye for 12 days.

Driving his red truck, we pulled into Starbucks on our way out of town.  I had been fighting with the sun visor which has a CD storage thing-y dangling from it.  It’s full of CDs, so it swings heavily if you pull the visor down to shade your eyes and becomes only a source of injury and frustration beyond any shielding it may do at that point.  I had taken the thing off a few weeks back (no one listens to the CDs anymore), but my hubby had returned them to the visor fearing they would be stepped on by some teenager riding in the cab jump seats.

Since I was driving at sunset and really needed the shade, we pulled the CDs off the visor again.  Jokingly, Robert pulled out a CD and popped it in. I rolled my eyes expecting to hear Sting’s “In Your Eyes,” but to my strange delight it was Twila Paris instead.  Maybe that will give you an idea of just how long that CD holder has been dangling there.

I had forgotten how much I love the music of Twila Paris.  After I dropped Robert off, I put this particular song on repeat all the way back home.

Courier valiant, bearing the flame
Messenger noble, sent in His name
Faster and harder, run through the night
Desperate relay, carry the light
Carry the light

Obstacle ancient, chilling the way
Enemy wakened, stoking the fray
Still be determined, fearless and true
Lift high the standard, carry it through
Carry it through

Mindful of many, waiting to run
Destined to finish what you’ve begun
Millions before you, cheering you on
Godspeed dear runner, carry it home
Carry it home

Runner, when the road is long
Feel like giving in, but you’re hanging on
Oh runner, when the race is won
You will run into His arms

“Runner” by Twila Paris, 1986
(The music is so great, too.  You should really take a listen here. But don’t watch the video.  Just close your eyes and listen.)

I have been in love with this song since I was a sophomore in high school, and may have even scripted a few lines of it on a photo collage for my boyfriend at the time, but I really had no idea back then exactly what those poetic words meant.

 Before we left for the airport yesterday, I read some of Hebrews.  Somehow, it just didn’t seem the right time to start back at Genesis even though I just finished reading cover-to-cover.  I was greatly affected, overwhelmed by this:

God…in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.
Hebrews 1: 1-2

He speaks to me, to us. In Jesus. Jesus is the near and bodily form of His Word.  His voice. Himself.

In Jesus coming as a baby…He speaks compassion to me.
In Jesus living humbly and purely…He speaks encouragement to me.
In Jesus being nailed to a Cross…He speaks sacrificial love to me.
In Jesus forgiving the undeserved…He speaks grace to me.
In Jesus dying…He speaks forgiveness and love to me.
In Jesus rising…He speaks hope and victory to me.
And now by His Spirit inside…He speaks help and wisdom to me.

Truly amazing grace.
But this race is so long and hard that it’s easy to become deaf to His speaking.

And then this morning I kept reading (which I’ve learned really is the key to hearing)…

For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.  And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Hebrews 6: 10-12

He has taken note of previous work and ministry. Nothing I have sacrificed has escaped His notice, but He wants me to keep going.  He knows it’s the only path to hope.

2015, as far as I can tell, will be full of pretty much the same things that previous years have been…motherhood, homeschooling, church ministry, ministry to women, lots and lots of grocery shopping, even more cooking, cleaning bathrooms, doing dishes, scheduling, driving to activities and events, returning lots of emails…

Good, important things. Necessary things. Things that God has not forgotten nor will forget. I used to be so excited about all of those things, but they’ve lost some of their luster.  Maybe you are chuckling at my naivety. Some folks start with a more realistic set of expectations than I did. Maybe it’s easier for them, but I often feel pretty sluggish, not wanting to lace up the running shoes of life. Oh, the external diligence it still there, and the internal sluggishness is sort of a recent development. The pace of life has always felt too fast for me.

God knows all of this and yet still requires diligence ~ for my sake and His.  He knows that diligence will bring me full assurance of hope, and that is certainly not something I want to miss out on.

So Twila’s words were so comforting to me. The music was inspiring, and I sang it loudly for the hour it takes to get back home from the Hartford airport.

And the encouragement came…

This is an important, noble, crucial calling.
There is an enemy and there will be obstacles.
Many have gone before me and they cheer.
Others will come behind me and they watch.
The arms of Jesus are my sure finish line.

That Twila knew and felt those things in 1986 (seems so long ago!) was so encouraging to me.  She’s one who has gone before me (at least by 12 years) and she’s cheering.

Truth is, folks knew these truths and realities in 1950 and in 1860 and even in 1620. They knew them in 1066 and in 586 and in 70AD.

More comforting than all of this is that Hebrews calls Jesus the “forerunner.”

fore·run·ner
ˈfôrˌrənər/
noun
  1. a person or thing that precedes the coming or development of someone or something else.
    “the icebox was a forerunner of today’s refrigerator”
    synonyms: predecessorprecursorantecedentancestorforebear

    “archosaurs were the forerunners of dinosaurs”

He ran this race way, way back in the day, and He did not become sluggish, but remained diligent though the obstacles were many ~ for my sake and for the joy set before Him.

So, if this post seems hopeless (I really hope not, though), let me assure you that I actually look forward to running the race in 2015. He’s taught me so much in the last year, and though they have not all been enjoyable lessons, I feel stronger in Him because of them.  I trust Him more, because I’ve seen His faithfulness, though not usually in the way I desired it displayed.

Yesterday was my first run of the new year.  It was a Thursday, so I met Betsy for our usual 5 miles around UMass. I talked her into a 7:30am start time ~ an hour past our usual, but then I ended up being awake until about 3am (long story involving teenagers out on new year’s eve), and it was 19 degrees outside.  I did not want to run.

But it was good…and necessary. Layered tights and ski mittens, hat and new thermal vest. (I wish I’d taken a picture. You might not have recognized us.) Cold air burning our eyes, we shared stories from Christmas, hopes and goals for the new year.  It was all warm hearts and bodies when we finished, and it felt so great. So hopeful.

And I’ll be out there again tomorrow. And next week. And next month. (Lord willing, of course.)

And all by his grace, so as to experience the fullness of the hope that is in Him, and to enjoy the warmth of His embrace at the finish line.

Here’s to running toward a growing hope in Christ in 2015 ~ in the midst of the best moments, the greatest challenges, the unexpected difficulties, and the great joys.

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!

Gluten Free/Paleo Friday ~ Christmas Prep & “Coffee” & Homecomings

 Christmas can kinda make you (or just me) crazy, it seems. Here’s evidence…

On Wednesday, I was frantically running around town doing errands and frantically running around the house trying to clean it and make Kory’s bed for his arrival home from his first semester at Baylor.  Somehow I got it in my head that his plane arrived in Boston at 5:30pm.  This was perfect, since we had tickets to a really special version of A Christmas Carol at 7:30pm in Concord, MA. We got on the road at about 3:45 after having to make two trips to the bank, since the teller forgot to give Robert back his driver’s license.  Kory texted about 30 minutes later: “On the ground in Boston!”

Boston is 80 miles from my house, and we had traveled only about 10 of those.

Robert had thought Kory’s pick up time was 3:45pm, and indeed it was ~ with a 30 minute delay due to snow in Boston.  I pulled up his itinerary, and 5:30 was not a time anywhere on the thing. So, Kory was right on time and I am crazy.  The poor kid had to wait in Boston for TWO AND A HALF HOURS before we arrived.  How’s that for a warm welcome home?

And I’m not even going to describe the traffic going out of Boston to Concord and how we missed the opening scene of the musical and how I was in tears over missing this long-planned-event and how everyone’s bladder was going to burst in the process and how we ate dinner at Denny’s at 11pm and got home at 1:30am.

Hordes and hordes of these

 Last night we planned a family shopping trip to the “big” mall half an hour from our house.  We knew we wouldn’t make it home in time for dinner, since the trip had to be after Cooper’s driving hours scheduled with his Driver’s Ed school that day.  We all had a great time, got most of our gifts purchased, and had a fun Mexican food dinner out.  Watched a movie when we got home while some of us took turns upstairs wrapping gifts. (Not me, though.  NONE of my gifts are wrapped, and only about half of them are purchased. Sigh…)

This morning I realized that while we were out having fun and accomplishing tasks we also missed Kayla’s final gymnastics class before the holidays, which she also missed last week due to being sick, which we also paid quite a lot of money for this semester.

I am losing my mind.

Gingerbread house-making supplies

 But it’s okay.  The Lord is teaching me to trust Him and not myself, and showing me that despite my failing at my to-do lists and obligations, HE is accomplishing things, and we’re having Christmas just like we always do.

There was a tea party ~ or “cupcake and cappuccino” party as we called it this year ~ for Kayla and friends, complete with a French theme. (And yes, I know that cappuccino is not really French.)  And it was complete with all the usual gingerbread-house-making, treat-eating, and craft-for-mom-creating.

Ready to be decorated by Kayla’s guests!

Madeline HAD to make an appearance at our France-inspired Christmas Tea Party

 We even managed a family cookie baking night for the 3rd Sunday in Advent.  Dad, Cooper, and Kayla ALL got in on the action, and while that is a bit stressful for me (I like to be in control of outcomes in the kitchen), it was nice to all be working together and listening to Dean Martin, Amy Grant, and Karen Carpenter sing our favorite Christmas tunes.

One of my favorite Susan Brach Cookbooks ~ opens to this page automatically!

 There was an eye doctor appointment which led to shopping for a new winter coat which led to Christmas shopping for siblings (and self!) and then a lunch at Whole Foods with Cooper, who is quite entertaining to be with at all times, except for when he texts people from my phone and says questionable things without making the true author of the text known. He’s a laugh a minute, that guy.

Did I mention it was an intense snowstorm and snow day for most while Cooper and I were shopping?
This is the front of Whole Foods right as the snow started.

 More cookies were made in anticipation of my dad’s arrival Monday, and for dinner guests on Christmas Eve. ALL cookies are snug in the freezer, and I stationed an armed guard in the basement to protect them from pre-Christmas thieves.  Well, not really, but “out of sight” has so far resulted in “out of mind.”

 And while I don’t really have time for trying new recipes, let alone creating them, I have been sipping on a new form of “coffee” that was inspired by a recipe my friend Karla posted on Facebook, as well as a recipe my chiropractor sent out to patients for tea.

It’s delicious, and I look forward to a cup every afternoon if I am home and can spare a few moments to prepare it.  I haven’t had coffee since the beginning of October when I read about its cross-reactant properties with gluten, and I can tell a huge difference with digestion/tummy issues. Here’s the recipe:

Coconut Milk “Coffee”

1 1/2 cup coconut milk/almond milk
1/2 tsp tumeric
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom (I LOVE cardamom!)
1/4 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp grass fed butter

1 tsp coconut oil
1 Tbsp honey
In a small saucepan heat milk and add spices, butter, coconut oil, vanilla and honey. After about 5 minutes of heating make sure butter and oil are melted and then blend in a blender for 15-20 seconds until frothy. (Be very careful blending this hot mixture, though.  Hold on to the lid of the blender!)
It’s sort of like drinking chai minus the tea, but you could certainly steep some tea in this if you desire.  I think it is delicious, and a delightful coffee replacement.
Here’s a photo of the homecoming.  This was taken at about 10:30pm on Wednesday night AFTER the musical and BEFORE a late night Denny’s meal.  Aren’t they cute?  It’s so nice to have everyone home together for Christmas!

I hope you are not feeling as crazy I am right now.  Still so much to do here. Now, I’m off to shower and then head out to buy LOTS of groceries, ribbon, gift tags, gift cards, and a few remaining gifts.  We did manage to get our 250 Christmas cards in the mail early this morning on the way to the gym. Whew!

Here’s what I’m trying to keep in my heart and mind as I go about the dizzying list of tasks.  It’s what Scrooge said, or actually what he prayed, down on his knees, in Wednesday night’s beautiful performance, (based on Charles Dickens’ own spiritual transformation) when he finally understood what God was trying to reveal to Him all along…

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessing of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.


O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray.
Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel.

Yes, descend to me, abide with me, enter in to my world of sin and chaos,  keeping my heart meek, soft, and open to You being WITH me, as I forge ahead in my own strength all too often to “do” Christmas.

I pray you are also able to experience His nearness despite the frantic pace, and will have a very merry weekend-before Christmas!