Friday, December 31, 2004

Peeking Into a New Year



"A new year may bring anything."

Now be honest... How many of you read that sentence and imagined something negative? I hope not too many.

Last December 31st I'd never even heard the world 'blog' before. Imagine! And yet now this blog has become a large part of my Monday through Sunday life. And I find myself caring for the 60.3 of you who read my words daily--I care that I put down something worth reading, something worth chewing on during the day's remaining hours.

Who knows what a new year may bring? I have a feeling this year will bring enormous changes for me. Naomi is forming plans to get married in February... Tom and I are forming plans to move back across the United States, meaning we'll be separated from Naomi for the first time in 25 years. Huge changes!

But I've learned you have to move with God or get left behind in a stagnant pool. Whether that means moving all your household goods or just stepping outside to introduce yourself to your neighbor. I've also discovered wherever God goes, the air is like deep, lasting joy. It permeates everything, and everyone, you touch. You discover new paths which take you to new places. Like this very good place where I now live.

And like this very good place called Blogland.

For each of us, bloggers and readers of blogs, this new year will bring new paths, new people, new experiences. The excitement of the journey, though, is spoiled if we travel afraid. Or, heaven forbid, with a mind which resents new things.

***
"This is what the Lord says...'Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.'"- Isaiah 43:16,18,19



***

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Living Ready

It's times like these--with so many tragic deaths from the huge Tsunami-- that I reaffirm my resolve to always live ready.

Live ready to live fully.

Live ready to die.

Live ready to go.

Live ready to stay.

Live ready to hold on.

Live ready to let go.

Live ready to share hope.

Live ready to share Jesus.


Rather like this:

“At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps." Matthew 25:1-4

I want to live ready and not be taken by surprise. It's always too late to get ready after the time of change has arrived.

***

"Living life with an open hand attracts blessings which would be skittish as birds if grabbed and caged for selfish reasons..."


***

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

A Historic Day

It is a historic day in my life.

Tom came home from the doctor's office around noon. He'd gone in because his hips were hurting more than usual. I was outside shoveling snow when he drove into the carport, so he gave me something to carry into the house and said he'd be right in. Then inside, two minutes later, I heard a knocking at the door. Odd, I thought.

I went to the door and just outside of it, Tom was lying on his back. He'd slipped on perhaps the tiniest bit of ice beneath our carport. That area is covered.... I had spread lots and lots of rock salt around...and still he slipped. He has fallen much too often lately (remember, he has that bum leg from polio).

Well, as I helped him stand up, I simultaneously let go of any dreams of staying here in this lovely old town more than just a few more months. Neither Tom nor I can take this any longer--this risking his bones every time he steps out the door each winter.

We have loved our eleven years here...our house and all the big old homes around us. We love that we live near two of the Great Lakes and tons of old farmland and historic places. We love that autumn here is mind-boggling with color.

But we can't take the snow anymore. Well, if I lived alone, I could. But I don't, so I can't.

We will have to move next year to a place where it never, or nearly never snows. A place not too far from California where our relatives live. Oregon perhaps? Though a place where the sun shines more than the fog rolls. A place where old houses are respected and can still be found for less than $100,000 (they are everywhere here where we now live, so yes, they do still exist). A small, old-fashioned community...

If you know of such a place, tell us. The search has begun.

And we are trusting God and Grace to see us through this with joy. Somehow.

This will be a test, a huge one, but I've been preparing for tests. I believe in every day 'doing my homework' so that when the tests come--as they always do--I will be ready. Well, I guess we'll see just how faithful I've been with the homework...just how prepared I really am.


***

Grace In The Details



You live and you learn. Ideally, anyway, that's how it's supposed to work.

Grace helped me learn a few things.

If I'm watching the news and Grace isn't sitting beside me, oh my... I go down to sad, dark depths and wallow and dread the alarm clock. And I am no help to other people down in those sad, dark depths because I'm just as sad and dark as they are.

But if I hear Grace say, "Go ahead and watch the news. There is a specific reason I want you to, so I will bear you up under it," then I can watch and stay up in places of light to pray and do what I can.

Listening to Grace has kept me out of a heap of trouble.

If I am writing when Grace is here, my writing reflects her light. But oh my... When I write while she is off in the other room, the writing is hard and my words cause a lot of flack with people.

And if I am tucked away in a corner with God, basking, but Grace is standing at the sink waiting for me to wash a leaning tower of dishes, then the basking is not basking. It's more like, "Hmmm...where is God, anyway?"

(And that works the other way around, too.)

Grace is in on all the details. I love her to be there.


***
"I have received grace, he thought. What else could it be, although I don't understand it and cannot explain it. But why should I understand or explain it when I live by it." ... Mika Waltari, Finnish writer






***

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Recognizing Grace



Grace walks into the room and now I recognize her. I rise, smiling, and step over to greet her.

That wasn't always so. For years Grace was a vague, wispy somebody who came and went because I didn't understand her. I didn't know how much I needed her, nor how much I'd neglected her ever since God sent her to me.

But one day I woke up, and there she stood at the end of my bed, wordlessly inviting me to rise. Then all day long she walked beside me, helping me to do every chore-- and because of her presence, the chores became sweet. I no longer dreaded them, but anticipated them because Grace would be there with me, smiling and helping me to do what I could never do alone. 


I even learned to recognize when Grace wanted me to watch the news and when she didn't. As long as I could pray for those in trouble and stay 'up', I knew Grace sat beside me. But when all the disasters clung to me, making me feel like a disaster, I knew Grace had stepped away, but I'd stayed anyway.

Grace could be stern. When I would try to do things, even good things, which God had told me to release, Grace would shake her head and back away. And when I'd stubbornly persist in doing those good things anyway, because I thought I "should," Grace left the room. And there I'd be without Grace's strength or light. Instead, I'd be back to struggling, trying to force that good thing to work. Joy disappeared and there was no flow from an oil of peace. No, just struggle and obligation remained.

And finally, through the hallways of Time and Experience, I learned to recognize Grace. When she was beside me and when she wasn't. I discovered a good thing is no longer a good thing if Grace is not helping me with it. I learned I am in the wrong place if Grace is not there.

With Grace, I can do anything, and do it with peace and tranquility. Without her, Life is cruel.

And now when Grace walks into the room, I run up to her and we leave together, smiling smiles of courage, to change this weary world.






*****



Monday, December 27, 2004

News of Earthquakes

Whenever huge earthquakes happen, I am always reminded of Jesus' words from Luke 21. I read them this morning and it was like reading the front page of the newspaper. I find them fascinating and comforting, too. Especially the parts where He tells us to make up our mind not to worry, to stand firm and not to let our heart be weighed down by the anxieties of life. If we desire to comfort others, we cannot be despairing, ourselves.

Here are those verses....Again, I find them exciting, especially since they were written so long ago.

Luke 21:10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

“But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death.All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life.

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

“I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. For it will come upon all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Sunday, December 26, 2004

"I'd Like To Thank The Academy...."



Tonight in my kitchen I was, for the 70th time, relishing this day, December 26th--the day after Christmas.

And suddenly the funniest picture popped into my head. I could see myself behind a podium in front of a large group of people. And raised in my hot little hands was a golden statue-- the "I Survived Christmas Award." You know, the coveted ISCA, which many of us aim for throughout each harried December.

And I began my acceptance speech with: "This award belongs to many people. First, I'd like to thank my family for putting-up with my many and varied holiday inadequacies. Thanks for your patience.

And I'd like to thank the makers of Christmas movies such as Prancer and It's a Wonderful Life. You kept me inspired and humming happy little songs while I shopped in crowded stores. And also, Larry and Balki, from Perfect Strangers-- Thank-you for making me laugh through numerous viewings of both your old Christmas episodes while I baked pies and washed dishes.

I'd like to thank the makers of coffee for the quick afternoon boosts to keep me going. And I'd like to thank Amazon.com for making shopping online a peaceful and easy reality. And for the inventor of Christmas gift bags--bless you!

And I'd like to thank my fellow bloggers and online friends for often writing about the real meaning of Christmas--and reminding me to keep everything in perspective. And for letting me know I'm not the only person who feels ambivalent about this whole Christmas celebration thing.

And most of all, I'd like to thank God for sending his Son, Jesus, as a baby into this dark world, as it says in God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen-- "to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy..." Thanks for being my heart's reason to celebrate.

This award really belongs to each of you. Thank-you."




***

Saturday, December 25, 2004

The Christmas Attitude



Tom arrived home in the cold, dark morning hour of 7 a.m. He works at a power plant, in case I've never mentioned that, and he worked the graveyard shift last night, Christmas Eve. We had planned to open gifts, along with Naomi and Carl (Naomi's fiance), shortly after Tom's return home, then afterward he would go to bed and sleep all day. Naomi, Carl and I would hang out around the house. Then we'd have dinner around five o'clock.

Well, we had dinner around five, but that's about all that went according to plan.

First thing at 7, Tom decided he was too tired to stay up and open gifts and Naomi, who had a late night, agreed she'd rather go back to bed, herself. Reluctantly, I (wide awake) agreed that the four of us could wait until 3 p.m. to open gifts.

That meant, though, that I'd be pretty much alone for eight hours, while the whole world was opening their gifts and having a wonderful time. And years ago, I would have whined and complained in my head all day long, thereby spoiling the day.

But you know... I decided to have a wonderful time anyway. While watching The Snowman (you've missed something in life if you've not watched that), I opened a gift from my sister and a gift from my Gladys Taber online friend. I ate chocolate. Stepped through the snow when I gave the backyard birds their Christmas breakfast. Checked my email and wrote to a couple of you. Cleaned the house(quietly) and baked a pumpkin pie while watching the Christmas episode of Perfect Strangers (on video) in the kitchen for the 23rd time (at least).

The sun came out and glittered upon the snow, so I sat at the windows and watched the Christmas afternoon gleam and shine. I played with the cats. And then, it was time to slip the roast chicken into the oven and get Tom out of bed and ring the Titanic bell at the foot of the stairs as a signal for Naomi and Carl that the opening of gifts would commence.

And now, it's 7:30 p.m. and I'm alone, again, and for the night's remainder. Tom has returned to work another graveyard shift and Naomi left with Carl to visit Carl's family. She even took one of her cats with her, but there are plenty more cats to spare--don't worry.

And it's still a lovely Christmas. My fellow three family members gave me an incredible gift together-- an old-fashioned-looking combo unit which plays records, CD's, cassettes and has a radio, too. I've wanted one for years. Especially the record player, so I could play records and feel 10-years-old all over again.



And after they all left, I lugged this wonderful player from its box, hooked it up and brought out all the records we've found on the curb over the years. An old vintage boxed set, Magical World of Melody, is one I've been aching to play ever so long, with sides labeled like:

Mr. Show Business -- Irving Berlin
The Fascinating Rhythms of George Gershwin
The Sophisticated Moods of Cole Porter
The Sweetest Sounds of Richard Rogers
The Enchanted World of Debussy
...and so much more...

Oh my... I will end this note to all of you then return back upstairs and dance alone beneath all my strings of tiny white lights. No, not alone, but with Jesus. To Clair de Lune, we will dance His birthday waltz. He's been with me all day long while the rest of my family was elsewhere. I've not felt alone even one minute.

And that has made all the difference.



***

Friday, December 24, 2004

Out Shoveling Snow Tonight



...and thought I would share our neighbors' house with you on this very cold (16 degree F.) Christmas Eve. They live two doors down and their house and yard illuminated our driveway as I shoveled in the silent, cold night air. But it wasn't all that dark...not with their lights radiating light in the darkness--lights which helped me see to shovel better.

Hmmm...something to think about!

Merry Christmas, Everyone!



“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden." ... Matthew 5:14





***

December Report Card



It's Christmas Eve--the time is nearing to get brutally honest with myself. Ok, pretty darn honest, anyway.

While this month of December made many, many folks insane with the hustling, bustling, shopping, partying, egg-nogging, gift-wrapping, cookie-baking, running, running, running.... I have to ask myself, "How did I do?

On the ol' December report card, what kinds of grades did I get?

Did I remember to stay calm? Did I recall the real reason for Christmas (Jesus)? Did I take many coffee breaks just to think about Him? Was I so tipsy on Christmas-doings that I neglected loved ones? Did I remember not to overdose on the whole Christmas movies, Christmas songs, Christmas cards, Christmas shopping thing?

Hmmm... So ok... I overdosed a bit....got distracted... And ok, I am so looking forward to December 26th.

Ahhhh.... December 26th. Don't laugh, but if I had to choose my favorite day of the year, that would probably be it. Because it's my personal Return to Living Christmas Day. A natural, hour-by-hour type of Christmas which I enjoy 11 months out of the year.

But that last month--that December month...hmmm... That's my personal test month. It severely tests all I have learned the previous eleven. I think I've become more patient this year--then December comes along. I'm sure I've become more peaceful, glad-minded, and trusting---then December comes along. And so do the tests to see just how many of my changes were Real.

Some of you understand that, I'm sure.

So hooray! December 26th is just two days away. I'll wait to look over my December report card then. It's always easier to open it and view my grades when I am surrounded by the lovely, back to Living Christmas hours of December 26th.


May you have a wonderful Jesus' birthday tomorrow...


***

"Examine and test and evaluate your own selves to see whether you are holding to your faith and showing the proper fruits of it."
...II Corinthians 13:5



***

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Going Through Life Awake



This arrived in an email forward yesterday. All in one place it expresses thoughts I often have, so I thought I'd share it here.


Take Hold of Every Moment


A friend of mine opened his wife's underwear drawer and picked up a
paper-wrapped package:
"This, - he said - isn't any ordinary package."

He unwrapped the box and stared at both the silk paper and the box.

"She got this the first time we went to New York, 8 or 9 years ago. She
has never put it on; was saving it for a special occasion.
Well, I guess this is it. He got near the bed and placed the gift box
next
to the other clothing he was taking to the funeral house, his wife had
just
died. He turned to me and said:

"Never save something for a special occasion. Every day in your life is
a
special occasion".

I still think those words changed my life.

Now I read more and clean less.
I sit on the porch without worrying about anything.

I spend more time with my family, and less at work.
I understand that life should be a source of experience to be lived up
to,
not survived through. I no longer keep anything. I use crystal glasses
every
day. I'll wear new clothes to go to the supermarket, if I feel like it.

I don't save my special perfume for special occasions, I use it whenever
I want to. The words "Someday..." and "One Day..." are fading away from my
dictionary. If it's worth seeing, listening or doing, I want to see, listen
or do it now. I don't know what my friend's wife would have done if she
knew
she wouldn't be there the next morning, this nobody can tell. I think
she
might have called her relatives and closest friends
She might call old friends to make peace over past quarrels. I'd like to
think she would go out for Chinese, her favorite food. It's these small
things that I would regret not doing, if I knew my time had come.

I would regret it, because I would no longer see the friends I would
meet,
letters... letters that I wanted to write

"One of these days".

I would regret and feel sad, because I didn't say to my brothers and
sons,
daughters and sisters, not times enough at least, how much

I love them.

Now, I try not to delay, postpone or keep anything that could bring
laughter
and joy into our lives..
And, on each morning, I say to myself that this could be a special day..

Each day, each hour, each minute, is special.

...copied





***

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Blogging Hope

On one of the listservs I belong to, a woman sent in such a sad email yesterday. This woman, in her 40's, told us she'd had a very best friend since childhood. And this friend now had two children, ages 13 and 10. She taught fourth grade. She'd helped raise money in her community for someone with cancer and she'd been voted a model citizen for her town.

And this week, that woman committed suicide.

I can think of nothing sadder. It hit me hard, even though I've never even met either of these women.

It made me think of many things, among them--blogging. I've always felt like my blogging was a responsibility, but now I feel it even more. I asked myself, "If someone who is considering ending her life stumbled across my blog in a desperate search for a reason to keep breathing, what would she find here? Would she find a reason within my words not to hurt herself?"

With all my heart, I hope so.

And I will also add, as other women on our listserv added, too--if you ever consider taking your life, please--please!-- do not hesitate even one minute to ask for help. No one will consider it a bother to take you to a doctor. So many people are running around with undiagnosed chemical imbalances, stress overload or thyroid problems while imagining it's something so much worse--something worth taking their life. But nothing--absolutely nothing--is worth destroying the life God gave you.

God gives us life, but He also gives us the hope and courage to face that life. And He gave us Jesus to walk us through it all. And He gives us each other. But things like too much stress or past tragedies or unkind people can blind us to what's good about Life and make the world appear dark and hopeless. But it isn't. At least, not with God beside you.

And at this time of year--this Christmas time-- we are reminded of the Light which God sent to this dark place to help us find our way. And that light was--and still is--Jesus.


When the world says, "Give up,"
Hope whispers, "Try it one more time."
...Author Unknown



***

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

A Change of Plans



Yesterday began like a "Christmas... Bah humbug!" kind of day.

Naomi got annoyed with Tom and me. We both got annoyed with her--and then we got annoyed with each other. Not a big, hairy kind of thing, but just enough to set the perfect day I'd had planned off the ol' train track and into a ditch.

And yet... After you've reached your 40's, you stop expecting people and days to be perfect. And when you're really, really grown-up, you learn to enjoy life in the occasional ditch. You look around the walls and think, "Hmmm... Maybe this isn't so bad. Just needs a little light. A little decoration." Rather like when Linus says, "You know... I never thought this was such a bad little tree." And then all of Charlie Brown's friends gather together and make the tree beautiful. At least, as beautiful as that tree could ever possibly be.

That's a little like what I did yesterday. Camped-out in my sunny yellow room with my lamp and books and a cat on my bed. Watched Prancer (yes, again). Read a little. And then Tom even brought me lunch which he'd gone out in the 12 degree F. weather to get me and we both apologized for letting small things annoy us so that we, in turn, get annoyed with each other.

But we still needed space, so he went back down to the computer and I ate my lunch in bed and watched The Honeymooners. Talked with God (listened, too). Took a little nap. Had popcorn for dinner. Later Tom came in and read the newspaper and we talked a little while.

And I was reminded that a day spent in a Derailed-Plan Train, in a ditch, can be peaceful. Can even turn into one of the best days of the year. Just depends upon my attitude while I'm sitting there.


***
"But I am sure that I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round...as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely."--Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol)



***

Monday, December 20, 2004

Christmas Eyes



I went surfing my blogroll this morning as usual and thought I'd bring back this delightful post about children for you. Enjoy.

Her post brought this to mind:

"You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding." ... Francis P. Church


I want no veils hiding from me all the beauty and glory beyond. Whatever is beautiful and from God--I want to see it.

May cynicism never train my eyes to find the one wrong thing in an other-wise perfect room or situation. May negativity never blind me to what only the hopeful can see.

May I not give voice to a sad story when another person shares a happy one. May I not spoil another's joy.

May I anticipate more good things, not bad ones, when Life feels 'too good.'

May my imagination never creak to a stop due to rust caused by tears and inactivity.

May my good thoughts and words be endless, like long, long strings of white lights wrapped around the circle of this Earth.

And if I err, may it always happen over on the positive side.

***


"The hour is swept and garnished;
The walk has been brushed,
and the stair;
The crystal and silver are gleaming
But oh, is the Christ Child there?"
...Lela Bassford



***

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Now Playing Outside My Window


The scene from my sunroom table.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

I only told you about part of yesterday. After the ghost town mall, Tom and I drove to Salvation Army--one of my favorite book haunts. I snatched up two delightful books, ones by Betty Cavanna and Elizabeth Enright, and hugged them to myself as I stepped back out into the cold and our car.

Then Tom and I went to Taco Bell--his choice this time. We take turns choosing places. Our time there felt so Christmasy--Tom didn't even tell me I could have saved 35 cents if I would have ordered the xyz meal(even though I didn't want a z) instead of buying the x and y and the diet w which I did order. It's always nice when he doesn't point out things like that. We read our books and chatted and commented on the Christmas music. And looked out the big windows and smiled a lot.

Then we were off to the theater where we saw a matinee of Christmas With The Kranks. We snuggled in the cold, dark theater--it's always cold in there--I've been known to sit there with my coat like a blanket even in August. We laughed a lot and cried and sniffed at the sentimental parts. And afterward, ran to the car in the blast of snow-is-on-its-way air.

We have many times and many days like those, but it feels like some are more harmonious than others. Some just flow easier and appear almost wrapped in golden light, even as they happen. Even before we look backward at them from years and years further down the road.



I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. -- Philippians 4:11.

*****

Saturday, December 18, 2004

At The Ghost Town Mall



Early this morning, well, early for us, Tom and I went to what I call The Ghost Town Mall. So-called because it used to be packed with stores and lights and music and shopping-bag-carrying people, but now, there's basically just memories of those days and a handful of quiet, struggling shops.

But there is a big Sears at one end which still does well and Tom wanted to go there, even though I told him I could think of nothing I'd like from Sears for Christmas. No offense to people who love Sears. This year all I'd like for Christmas besides peace on Earth and a more giving heart, are a handful of DVD's. And well, our Sears doesn't carry any of those things.

But anyway, while Tom shopped at Sears for who-knows-what, I ambled down the dark, still-sleeping mall to the coffee shop and bought a plain old little decaf coffee. I carry my own cappucino powder with me in my purse. Saves money, fat grams and probably 3 calories. I sat at a little bistro table in the mall with my Eleanor Roosevelt's Christmas Book, discretely added my cappucino powder and even more discretely put on my reading glasses. Ok, so I'm not yet ready to admit I'm over forty and need reading glasses. Sue me.

But you know... I kept setting the book aside because watching the trickling of people wander around this ghost town mall was much more fascinating than my book. Mothers spoke kindly and cheerfully to their sons. Grey-haired folks greeted one another and spoke about the weather and such. Two young girls approached the coffee shop (which also sells collectible toys), exitedly talking about the gifts they would buy for others. A quiet Christmas calmness was everywhere, even when the powers-that-be turned on the main lights in the mall and shops began to open.

It was lovely. I sat there warming my hands against my coffee cup and felt relieved that there are still many people who handle December well. People who still handle Life well, too. May I always remember that, even when the nightly news tries to hypnotize me into believing otherwise.



"Whatever else be lost among the years, Let us keep Christmas still a shining thing: Whatever doubts assail us, or what fears, Let us hold close one day, remembering Its poignant meaning for the hearts of men. Let us get back our childlike faith again."
--Grace Noll Crowell


***

Year-Around Good Will Toward Men



"...lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled..." Hebrews 12:15

Sometimes it feels like I've earned a right to complain more now that I am older. I've seen bad things happen to sweet people so I can legitimately sit here and rant about it.

Heaven forbid.

If I fear anything, it's having a weed patch inside of me where roots of bitterness spring up because I've tossed around a lot of complaining seeds. Bitterness will slow me down. It will choke out the good stuff I've planted. Make me sick. Make me useless to help others.

I got a mental picture this morning of Jesus spending his 33 years here on this earth all bent over in bitterness because of the sorry ways many people around Him acted. I laughed at that picture because it looked ridiculous.

But it's weird. I can't laugh when I get a picture of myself all bent over with bitterness. Maybe because it could actually happen. I actually could waste my life in a paralyzing, tangled soul garden--growing in negativity right along with the world.

Heaven forbid.

Today as Tom and I are out in the freezing weather, I'll be slinging around seeds of hope as though my life depends upon it. Pulling seeds from my coat pockets, if need be. Hope is like pesticide for bitterness.


Sometimes the heavy sugar-coating we spread over 'the good old days' covers their reality...

***

Friday, December 17, 2004

Sensing The Eternal



Have you noticed that some days you sense the eternal more than others? I do. Some days I just sense that how I treat Tom matters in the eternal scheme of things. Somehow. As though the way I speak to him has an eternal bearing, not only here on earth, but in Heaven, too.

I like to be reminded of that--I need to be. It's like looking around my shoulders and then saying, "Oh! I almost forgot. I'm wearing something like an old-fashioned mantle and I need to wear it with care." And in order for that mantle not to become a burden, I need God's help in every little area, every single minute (I don't know about you, but I need lots of help).

I need to be reminded that even what I blog somehow matters eternally, both to me and to others. And the way I conduct myself around family and strangers, matters, too. Excellence just plain matters. Not a stressed-out, obsessive straining to be perfect--no! But rather, a sort of paying attention to details. If I'm going to say I'm a Christian, I can't be racing through my life not paying attention. Not taking care to notice what I'm doing.

I think words and deeds matter in an eternal sort of way. I can't even explain all the details as to just why I believe that. I just do.

And today I want to act as though my words and deeds--and excellence--matters. Tom will be home all day and we'll probably drive around and run errands out in this stressful, December-crazed world. May I remember to remain calm and unhurried, even if the whole world is racing at the speed of light around me.

And speaking of light, may I remember that I'm to be a light wherever I go. A light shining in the darkness.


In the world to come, I shall not be asked, "Why were you not Moses?" I shall be asked, "Why were you not Zusya?" ... Rabbi Zusya


***

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Gifts For My Readers



I love Christmas shopping online. I grab my Christmas lists, some soda and barbeque sunflower seeds then sit in front of the computer and proceed to shop till I drop.

Wait, there's no dropping involved. And no driving round and round in circles searching for a parking space. And no walking around the mall in wet feet from the snow. And no waiting till people move away from the very items you want to look at. And no standing in line on your tired, wet feet, thinking, "If I hear 'Silent Night' just one more time, I'll throw something!"

Nope. There's just peace and quiet when you shop online. (Or there's your favorite music if you so choose.) I did most of my Christmas shopping online this year and I'm still a little giddy because my Christmas box here at home is filled with gifts which were bought in blessed peace and quiet. Ones that appeared magically inside my mail box.

Is anyone else like this? You absolutely love to give gifts to friends and family, but you absolutely hate to wrap those gifts, especially ones to be mailed?

Or is it just me?

Well, I thought I'd do something different with this post. I thought I would give you, my readers, some gifts. Ones I don't have to wrap...smile... I appreciate all of you more than you know, so here is a small, small token of that appreciation. Here are some gifts for you online, something for everyone, I hope...

Wishing you all an early Merry Christmas and a Happy Hanukkah.....

To watch free movies and old TV series--some of which, ok, are pretty cheesy, but hey! They're free and no credit card is required---- go here:

Movie Flix

To listen, free, to old radio shows from days gone by, go here:

Radio Shows

For free bookmarks go here:

Bookmarks
Country Bookmarks

To see hundreds of incredible old sepia-toned photographs go here:

Heritage Photographs

For a free visit to a beautiful cottage home go here:

Becky's Cottage

For free Christmas gift tags and enclosures go here:

Christmas Fun

To have fun trying on clothes online (forget those depressing dressing rooms! This is more like the days of paper dolls--and you are the doll.)--go here and click on My Model to get started:

Lands End

To download free charts and lists to help keep you and your family organized, go here:

Digital Women

For lots of cool old black and white photos from life in the 1930's, go here:

The 1930's

For free dollhouse accessory printables go here:

Dollhouse Printables

For free retro paper dolls for your kids--or yourself--go here:

Paper Dolls

To find amazing pictures to copy and paste into your emails for friends, go here:

All Posters


***

Child-Like Wonder



Tom slept in the recliner all night because of his back, so I got up quietly this morning and slipped on my coat over my robe. I'd forgotten to wheel the trash can out to the curb last night so I stepped outside into the morning's icy wind to take out not only the trash, but the recycling.

I do love brisk, icy mornings, even when I must take out the trash. I often stand at the curb a few seconds and stare at our house while it resembles a candle-lit shelter in a storm. I feel glad all over again that this little house is ours, and then I run back to its arms and close the door behind me.

Because Tom was still in the recliner, I had to switch to our bedroom for my quiet time. I heated my fake coffee, put the lamp on my bed, and also my wicker tray. Slipped in my music, got my books and diary from the sunroom shelves, then went back to our bedroom and snuggled beneath the covers and the pool of light.

Did you notice the child at the top of this post? Children are great. Most of them don't sit around meditating about how bad they've been. Instead, they spend much time thinking about the next round of fun. How to have it. How to create it.

When I have my morning quiet time, I think a bit like that, too. I put this verse into practice:

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith...Hebrews 12:2

I don't sit there and 'look unto me' and meditate upon how bad I've been or how I've messed up. Instead, I 'look unto Jesus' and I see hope for my failures. Unconditional love. Peace. Tranquility.

I will become like what I think about. What I meditate upon and think about all the time will take hold of me. Like a child, I want to anticipate my future. To look forward to it. I want to think creatively and anticipate joy.

The last thing I'm going to meditate upon during my morning quiet times is my list of failures. No, in fact, I'm on my way back up to bed right now and the pool of light and the books and coffee--and I'll be looking unto Jesus. There is no better way to start this dark, wintry morning.



Lose an hour in the morning, and you will be all day hunting for it... Richard Whately




***

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Now Playing Outside My Window



And today we are due for a high temperature of 20 degrees (Fahrenheit, that is).

Surely feels like Christmas around here.

I ironed clothes yesterday afternoon in the living room while watching A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott version). Of course, there are ways to have more fun than that, but yesterday, well, I couldn't think of any.

Felt like a lot of fun to me.


***

It comes every year and will go on forever. And along with Christmas belong the keepsakes and the customs. Those humble, everyday things a mother clings to, and ponders, like Mary in the secret spaces of her heart.
--Marjorie Holmes

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Friendship Lesson



My post yesterday may have left you with the impression that, while 'wasting time with God,' I've had nothing but fun and good times.

Well, mostly. But not always.

You see, there was the Friendship Test and that one was rough. Have you taken that test yet?

For years--like, all my life up till age 35--I thought friendship was the best thing since peanut butter. And I pretty much stocked-up on friends the same way I would stock-up on peanut butter for winter, too.

See, my family moved every three years, or less, while I was growing-up. My dad was a minister who it seemed, could only put up with the same people for less than three years. And the older I got, the more painful each move became, especially since I was the shyest kid you'd ever met. Starting over in a new school, over and over, was simply--torture. And then moving away again just as I was forming close friendships, well, it always felt like the end of the world.

Back in those days (way back in the 70's), when you moved, you seldom again saw the people you'd left behind. But I was a faithful letter-writer and through all the years and all the moves I collected pen pals from the towns I'd moved away from.

At age 19 I met Tom and we were married four months later (kids, don't try this at home...smile...). Well, anyway, one of our earliest, most memorable arguments occurred when one afternoon Tom got to the mailbox before I did and then teasingly kept my letters out of my reach. He knew I devoured my mail, yet, or because of that, he wouldn't hand me three letters I'd received. Big mistake. Let's just say that's when he discovered for certain that my friends were my lifeline and letters were what I was living for.

Fast-forward sixteen years, a few more moves and thousands of letters from old friends and coffee house chats with new ones. Basically I had become a friendship-aholic. Like some alcoholics, I was able to hide my dependency from most people--I could play it cool around even my friends. But Tom and Naomi probably saw through much of it.

Talk about needing friendship fixes-- I know all about them. The Encouraging Cards and Letters In the Mail Fix. The Friendly Phone Call Fix. The Invitation to Lunch Fix. The "Sit By Me in Church, Ok?" Fix. And add about a hundred others. As long as I got those fixes I was fine. But take them away from me and I was a mess. Well, in a subtly-sad way. Rather like having a low-grade fever, or something.

(I am sparing you so many details.)

But sometime during those hours of 'wasting time with God' the subject of my extreme need of friends popped up. He started confronting me with some heavy-duty, uncomplicated truth. Basically, God started telling me that in order for Him to become my closest friend, I had to start coming to Him first when I needed a friendship fix. First. Every time. Until further notice.

Initially, that was hard. Everything inside me was screaming, "But I need my real-in-the-flesh friends!" (I probably screamed a few other things, but this is getting way too long.)

But slowly, over time--wonderful time-- it worked. I kept going to Him first over and over and over. And slowly, God became my best friend. I came to Him first each time I needed friendship, companionship and sympathy and He met me wherever I was at the time. And there was peace. And there was calm. And there was fulfillment.

And ten years later, it's all still here. And even better.

And now He lets me have all the friends I want, because I can keep their friendship in perspective. He's not afraid I'll turn back into that sorry, sad friendship-horder. And neither am I.


***

"...but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God..." 1 Samuel 30:6

Christmas Around The House



I prefer the kind of Christmas you have all year long. You know, where you 'accidentally' leave a few Christmas decorations up. Ones to remind you of Jesus' birth when the world's negative craziness sneaks inside the door.


I like it when opening a cupboard is like opening a present. This is my very own, mine-all-mine cupboard-- makes me smile every time I peek inside.




It's fun to open a 'drawer present', too. I snatch up damask dinner napkins when they go on sale. This feels like a drawer you would find in a mansion, but it's simply inside my little house.



These Christmas and Valentine post cards stay up in my kitchen all the time.



Tom and I place little gifts for Naomi on this stair post. Tiny things like bookmarks or a yard sale video or favorite candy. They sit here waiting for her to come home and take them with her to her rooms upstairs. Naomi brings home little things which make her think of us, also. None of us can wait months and months till December 25th to give little gifts--so we don't wait.



And these Christmas lights stay lit year around. They are entwined with gold bells strung on beads.



Come and visit me in sultry June and you just might find me drinking lemonade and watching It's A Wonderful Life. Or dusting while listening to Christmas CD's.

Reminders like these help keep Christmas near from January to November. It was especially like Christmas when around August, an email friend and I 'went halves' on a book for another email friend in our group. We had it mailed to her for a surprise. Christmas in August. And in February. Even in June. All the time.

I prefer Christmas that way.


***


Somehow, not only for Christmas, But all the long year through, The joy that you give to others, Is the joy that comes back to you.
--John Greenleaf Whittier


***

Monday, December 13, 2004

'Wasting Time With God'



Already, it's an amazing morning because of Kelly's amazing post, simply called rest. I so wish I could have attended her silent prayer retreat this weekend. Probably, though, I would have disappeared after meeting everyone, sneaking away to hike around the pastures with God. I love open spaces and there are none in my town, well, except for baseball fields.

You see, I became a Christian in a church where immediately afterward, you are told to go out and tell everyone all about Jesus. I laugh about that now because it's like instructing a newborn baby to return to the nursery and tell the other babies all about her parents. What is there to tell? She only just met them.

So I became a Christian and spent years feeling guilty because I wasn't going "to the work, to the work," (as the song says). I didn't know what to say to people because I didn't know Jesus--not really. I had never taken the time to become friends with Him. So I felt guilty. And because I felt guilty, I wasn't happy. And because I wasn't happy, I thought I was a defective Christian. Life felt bleak at times and still, I didn't understand why.

Then ten years ago I began doing what Kelly tells about in her blog (this post, also). She tells it all better than I ever could, so please, go there and read, too.

Basically, around 1994 I said phooey on all this guilt and brittle,conditional happiness. And I started "wasting time" with God.

I sat with Him every spare moment I could find (or make). I stopped doing all the talking and I let God talk to me. And that has made all the difference. I'd get out my Bible and let God explain things to me, instead of trying to figure them out myself. I'd sit and look out the window and dream, and slowly, I began to feel new life, new creativity flowing into what had been dry, parched places.

After days and weeks and months, guilt was replaced with peace. And joy. And somewhere along the way I noticed while on my neighborhood walks, Jesus' steps were matching mine. He had come along with me. I would come home and watch TV and feel Him sitting beside me. (I would tell you about the times in 1995 when I'd get into my car and clear junk off the passenger seat so Jesus could sit there, except that you'd think I was crazy.)

But at least I am happy now. At least I have a friend who never disappoints me. One who's always here, too.

Knowing about God and knowing God for yourself--they are different. There is a time when the Bridegroom gets tired of sitting and watching the Bride run around working, working, working. There comes a time when He wants her to sit down and just be with Him. To know Him intimately.

Thanks, Kelly, for reminding us.


Be still, and know that I am God... Psalm 46:10

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Enchanted By Prancer

Don't laugh, but, I've probably seen the movie, Prancer, 15 times.

Child-like enchantment rubs away the harsh barnacles this negative world tries to latch onto me. And when Jessica hangs paper reindeer across her bedroom window while her Christmas album is spinning, I want to string reindeer in my own bedroom and play Christmas records, with her. I am hurled back into my childhood years which were encircled by imagination and creativity. Days when the thrill of construction paper, glue and scissors traveled deep.

I find myself wanting Three Oaks, Michigan to be just like the movie portrays it. I want to visit lonely Cloris Leachman in her brick mansion there on a snowy afternoon and help her clean her mysterious, magically-cluttered room. I long to take trips up to her attic and string bright old Christmas lights like a rainbow spider web from rafters to stair rails.

I want Michael Constantine to be Santa at the little mall down the road and Abe Vigoda to care for my farm's sick cows. I want Sam Elliot to live in the wall-papered farmhouse, especially after he has softened toward life and toward Jessica, because he has regained hope.

Oh yeah... And I want Prancer to eat gorgeous, yummy-looking Christmas cookies for breakfast.

And through the amazing Rebecca Harrell, as Jessica, I get to do all that every December. Even in July if I so choose.

Two reviews of this movie are here and here. I've worn-out two videos and now it is time to buy the DVD. See you over at Amazon.com.

And I'll see you over at snowy Three Oaks, Michigan. I'll be helping Jessica string her paper reindeer across her moonlit bedroom window. Drop by and help us. You can flip the Christmas record album over when it's time to listen to the other side.


Cherish your visions and your dreams as they are the children of your soul, the blue prints of your ultimate achievements... Napoleon Hill

***

Choosing Words



...As an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord....Above all, my brothers, do not swear–not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned... James 5:10,12

Hmmm... Some Christian bloggers lately have been swearing like crazy.

I don't get it.

Can you fill me in as to why this is suddenly ok? Really, I am trying to understand the reasoning behind it--I keep failing. I can never, ever, imagine Jesus speaking such words. Especially--especially!--in front of women.

Did I miss the heavenly memo that floated down from the sky and said, "Christians no longer must be imitators of Christ. Go ahead and be in the world and of it, too. Signed, God."?

Well, whatever... As for me and my blog, we will remain curse free.



Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord... Hebrews 12:14

Profanity is the crutch of a conversational cripple. ~ Jay Alexander

Wherefore come out from among them, and be separate, says the Lord... II Corinthians 6:17
***

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Charlie Brown Confidence



Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known... 1 Corinthians 13:12

In years past, I've watched A Charlie Brown Christmas over and over, even in July or August sometimes. But I've not watched it this December, maybe because I have its message memorized and it's become part of my heart.

Basically, Charlie Brown was miserable and confused because he didn't understand what Christmas was all about. But when he discovers the uncomplicated truth that Christmas is simply about the miracle of Jesus' birth, his confusion vanishes. He picks up his little scrawny tree, and walks out into the cold world, quietly confident and at peace.

Some things I will always just 'know in part' as long as I'm alive on this earth. The Bible tells me I'll not understand certain things until I get to Heaven.

And well, I can let that frustrate me--and--

...challenge me to keep splitting my head against a brick wall trying to discover those unanswerable questions anyway--and--

...run to keep up with the 'big kids,' to know what they know, do what they do--and--

...become depressed by trying to figure out God's ways with my own, limited brain--and--

... then become no earthly good to God or anyone else because I've become a paralyzed, questioning, unhappy couch slug.

Or--

I can walk out my own door in an even more lasting Charlie Brown confidence--believing simply, that life is about just two things:

Loving and serving Jesus.
Loving and serving people.

In that order.

And I can walk through this life with my own scrawny tree--my child-like, willing heart--learning from Jesus what He wants me to know.

And be fulfilled.

And help a few people along the way.


***



God has made every thing beautiful in His time... Ecclesiastes 3:11

Friday, December 10, 2004

Seeing It All



Some days I sit where I can see three rooms of our house with a single sweeping gaze. And some days I just see:

tables and chairs that need dusting
tilted paintings and scratched hutches,
dust-bunnied oak floors and cat-haired carpet,
lamps whose bulbs need changing and chipped plaster walls.

But other days, I lean back with a coffee mug cradled in my hand, and look beyond stark reality, the kind money buys or lack of time neglects.

I see more.

The table is surrounded by friends, laughing over nothing, really. And the chairs are pushed back, chatting-style, while people sit with gold damask dinner napkins upon their laps. Lamps glow here and there, candles flicker upon the table's center while shadows play in corners.

And country folks in the paintings shake themselves long enough to call me to dream a little in their countryside, before settling back into their poses. Likewise, my old friends in dreamy worlds between book covers beckon me in collective crowd murmurs. The painted hutches smile with dish gifts and trinkets from cloudy estate sale Saturdays.

And upon wooden floors are remembered-footsteps of people no longer here. The carpet has cushioned us while we rolled around with the cats beneath the portraits of sepia-toned people watching with their camera-captured eyes.

The walls surround me like a hug, though they never divulge intimate memories from years they spent hugging other people. Their autumn-colored coating will keep our life secret, too, for those who come after us.

It all depends upon how I look at my home.

It all depends upon how I look at my life, too.



To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk... Thomas Edison

Imagination is more important than knowledge... Albert Einstein

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Singing or Groaning?



Over at Saija's blog, she wrote about the hymn which she tends to hum around the house.

And that reminded me... (don't you love it when another blog makes your life easier by acting as your spring board?)... Each December when I slosh through snowy parking lots or wander down bright department store aisles, I hum "Angels We Have Heard On High." The wispy, raspy, milk-it-till-you-cry version. I hum that song until it feels almost like a movie soundtrack and I'm the main character who, at the time, is shopping for gifts while somewhere in the background, film of my golden past memories is rolling.

Always, December is a reflective month. Perhaps because it is the final month of the year and there will be no other. Or perhaps because there's so much Christmas-ing going on that my mind is saying slooow down and count your blessings from Christmases long, long ago.

But all this reminds me of yet another thing. I rarely set an alarm clock for mornings because usually, though it's still pitch black outside, I can feel when it's time to arise. That's because of the songs--I like to call them the songs in my heart. When I open my eyes and can hear one of those heart songs playing, then I know it must be quite close to 5:00 a.m.

Talk about changes... Huh. Years ago it was the groans inside my head which got me out of bed. You know, those 'records' which play those awful, complaining moans.... "Gotta do this. Gotta do that. Same old things all day long. Better get started. Hurry. Hurry."

Things are different now. But in order for them to change, I had to let God change a few things about me. (Okay, so a lot of things.) And I had a whole lot of letting go to do. Like letting go of:

Self-imposed stress--and--
Thinking things must always be a certain way--and--
Expecting too much from other people--and--
Worrying about every tiny thing--and--

..well, you know....

But it's been so worth it. I much prefer the sweet, snappy morning songs.



"...where morning dawns and evening fades, You call forth songs of joy." Psalm 65:8


***



Wednesday, December 08, 2004

A Recovering Cheapskate Speaks



I realize most people probably have the opposite problem. In fact, if your problem is over-spending, then you may want to stop reading this immediately.


Hi. My name is Debra. I am a cheapskate.

Well, a recovering cheapskate.

Until eight years ago I was a 'professional' penny-pincher--I took saving money to a whole other realm. Or thought I did. Maybe some of you will recognize my symptoms (you know who you are):

If I forgot to bring a couple 25 cents-off coupons to the market with me, I would not buy those two items I'd planned on purchasing. No, instead, I'd return days later, spending more than 50 cents in gas, and using-up inordinate amounts of time driving to the store, then weaving my cart down the store aisles (again), standing in line (again), then driving home through stressful traffic (yeah, again). I'd arrive home and whine, "I wonder why I'm tired all the time?"

All to 'save' 50 cents.

If I wanted to buy some shoes and I fell in love with one pair, but they were five dollars more than I'd planned to spend-- I would, instead, purchase a cheaper pair which I didn't like as much. And then almost immediately I'd grow tired of wearing them because they didn't look 'right.' Or they fell apart. All to 'save' $5. I would do that with just about everything imaginable: clothes,furniture, dishes, paintings, etc. (This one still trips me up at times.)

I would buy more than we could use of items on sale. I'd buy cereal I didn't really even like just because it was a dollar cheaper than the tasty kind.

I'd keep toasters, window screens, typewriters or anything which had broken 'just in case' I could fix them someday.

I'd almost never hire any teens to shovel snow from our driveway (never thinking that I'd be sowing good seeds by giving them a way to earn money).

I'd feel like we'd soon be packing for the county Poor House if I discovered that Tom or Naomi had left the lights and/or the TV on all night.

You get the idea. (Anyone else been there, done that?)

Then one afternoon God used Joyce Meyer to wake me from this insane nightmare. I watched her teach a message from her More Than Enough series in which she shared that she, too, was a recovering cheapskate and knew all the tricks we penny-pinchers pull.

And I was never the same. Oh, it's taken years to shed some of these scales, but Joyce shined the spotlight on my silly, penny-squeezing ways and for the first time, I longed to wiggle of that trap.

Yes, it is a trap when a Christian fears spending money on himself.

It's a trap when we fear that God will only provide a certain amount of money and then we will be cut off...

It's a trap when we put no value on our time--and frizzle and frazzle our bodies into an early grave because we tried to save 50 cents....

It's a trap to eat foods we don't even like (and let go stale in the pantry). Or buy clothes that make us look washed-out or frumpy(and ones that end up petrifying inside our closets).

It's a trap when we can't freely give to others in need.

It's a trap when we make financial decisions based on fear instead of wisdom.

And no, I'm not talking about spending twenty dollars more on a pair of jeans just because they have a cool, sought-after name.

And yes! By all means be a good steward of what God gives you!

But all I'm saying is that sometimes the Fear of Lack causes us to be, well, stupid. (Okay, I'll speak for myself...). There is a giving and receiving ebb and flow to life and I can clog it up by my fear-based, miserly ways.

I don't want to do anything out of fear! There is a better way. It's called Wisdom.

Go around your town acting in Godly wisdom and see what you bring home.



(Now, if any of you spend-crazies are still here, consider yourselves warned! If I hear that any of you are walking around saying, "Debra said that God said you can just spend all the money you want!"... well, I will look for you, and I will find you and I'll snatch your Visa card out of your hot little, spend-happy hand!)






"...for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her..." Proverbs 8:11

Wisdom can help us avoid a whole lot of trouble...

***

Two Different Radio Stations



Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29,30


I grew up in church. Literally. My dad was a pastor and one of our parsonages was actually the classrooms, kitchen and bathroom of the fellowship hall. That was fun.

No, really.

All my life I've been around Christians. Watched them. Learned from their example-- both what to do and what not to do.

There's one thing I've noticed. It's almost as if there are two groups of Christians tuned into two different radio stations.....

It's as though one sad-faced group is listening, ad nauseam, to these old records produced and spun by the devil, himself:

Boy, Is God Mad At You Now
Count Your Bad Times, Name Them One by One
Happiness Is For Others, Buddy, But Not For You
Don't Go Actin' Like You've Been Forgiven
Peace Has Passed You By Forever
Gotta Work Harder To Get Those Little Gold Stars From God
No, No, No... You'll Never Be Good Enough


But the other group, the one with joyful faces, is listening to the station which plays these Greatest Hits:

Jesus Still Loves Me This I Know
Forget My Bright Ideas--Jesus Has All The Good Ones
Bringin' In The Sheaves And Lovin' It (a.k.a. People Want What I've Got)
I'm Growing-Up And Moving Forward With Jesus At My Side
Pass Me Some More of That Peace That Passes Understanding!
Not Afraid Of Evil, No, Jesus Is Here With Me Now


To which station is your radio tuned?



***

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Instant Christmas


WARNING: Die-hard Christmas traditionalists may be greatly traumatized by this post. Smelling salts will not be provided.

Long ago (well, maybe 8 years ago), Tom, Naomi and I realized that going out shopping for a Christmas tree had become our yearly family nightmare.

The rest of the year, on the most part, the three of us got along great. About as nice and sweet a family you could ever hope to meet. But just let us show up at a Christmas tree lot and we all morphed into monsters. Each person had their own vision of the perfect Christmas tree and each person was determined to tie that vision to the top of our car and carry it home.

Well, one year it hit us. None of us wanted to attempt the annual family Christmas tree a-hunting-we-will-go. We kept putting it off. Later and later and still no tree and still no one felt like going out and buying one. No one wanted to wreck the family peace.

That became what is fondly referred to as The Christmas Without a Christmas Tree. We just piled the presents against a wall and managed to celebrate Christmas anyway. We barely noticed we had no tree. And since Naomi had two years before stopped helping me decorate the tree, well, I was the only one who missed that part. (Okay, so I missed it like I would miss being hit by a speeding reindeer.)

But our friends noticed and made little questioning remarks. I could tell they questioned our sanity/motives/parenting ability by the tone of their voices.

Well, the next four years we used a fake Christmas tree, one that (here's where I lose half my faithful readers)--one that Tom found on the curb. But hey! It was a faux tree and to us, they all look the same. It served its purpose.

Now here is where I lose the other half of my readers---when it came time to take down the tree and put all the ornaments away, I chose, shall we say, the road less traveled. I carried the whole tree, ornaments and all, up to our attic and left it in a corner. And okay! I confess that the following December I was absolutely thrilled that all I had to do was bring that thing down from the attic and stick it in a stand.

Poof. Instant Christmas.

Well, if anyone is still even reading this blog, let me reassure you. I no longer do that. No, our attic has been finished-off and is part of Naomi's 'apartment' upstairs. There's hasn't been room for a real-live fake Christmas tree up there for years.

No, for the last four years we have used that gold grapevine thing that you see in the picture at the top of this post. And yes, we keep it on our dining room table the whole month of December. To top it off, I even burn pine-scented candles nearby so that Naomi will associate that scent with Christmas since we have no real tree.

And then when January comes around I fold-up that gold grapevine collapsible tree, ornaments and all, and carry it down to our basement, always to the same corner. There it will sit ready to be unfolded next year, placed upon the table for again-- Poof! Instant Christmas.

Hey... It works for us. We laugh about our sweet little tree each year. And how much nicer it is to have a funny, peaceful December than one where we dread that one day formerly known as The Battle of The Christmas Tree.

There are no more battles this way. No , just more time to celebrate the real meaning of Christmas.

***


At Christmastime, more than any other, it takes a brave soul to create traditions different than those of all his neighbors...

Blogger Sharing



Yesterday Tom brought home another old hutch from the curb. When he came into the house and told me about it, at first I said, "Oh no! Not another hutch!"

Oh, I love hutches, of course. But within the walls of this Craftsman Bungalow are places for only so many. And we have...hmmm... nine or ten spread throughout these autumn-colored rooms. I am addicted to books so our hutches support me in my book habit. My dish habit, also.

But I found a place for this latest hutch, this last hutch as I firmly told Tom while we heeved and hauled it up our snowy front porch steps. We squeezed it into our sunroom, then decided we will share this one. Tom likes to pack his Ebay boxes in the sunroom while watching tv on weekends, so now he has a real out-of-the-way cupboard and drawer for his packing supplies, instead of just hiding them between the recliner and the wall.

Sharing. A good marriage requires immeasurable sharing. A bedroom, a bathroom and all other rooms. Cars, chores, money, time, the TV, the computer, the last word, disciplining children, meals, taking turns at answering the door and the phone and running errands. And so much more.

And then there's a type of sharing we as bloggers do. We share pieces from our lives, almost like pieces from a pie. And because we cannot serve the whole pie, we are sometimes misunderstood or even, not understood fully enough.

But still we blog. Still we present a certain vulnerability as we grow and learn--and write about the bits we decide to expose. And often, unknowingly, we help others grow and learn, also.

But without vulnerability--without risking being misunderstood or maligned--we will help very few people. That is true in any form of teaching. More people will respond to an open, visible heart than one only peeking over and speaking from behind a don't-hurt-me wall. And people who want to be good teachers, or helpers of any kind, will let God tear down the walls they've spent years and years erecting brick-by-brick. No matter how scarey or painful that may be.

At least, that's been my experience.


The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.
--William Arthur Ward



Monday, December 06, 2004

Accepting December



This month, especially, I think acceptance is vital.

Accepting that things are the way they are--right now--but not forever.

Accepting that this is December, the month of Christmas and ambivalent feelings-- and there's nothing I can do to change that. There is no way I can fast-forward-spin the Earth to January.

Accepting that people are the way they are and the World is the way it is (and the weather is what it is, too).

If I am known as a big-time complainer--if I am complaining that there are only 19 days left till Christmas and that I've only made tiny dents in my card-sending and gift-buying, then that's a sure sign I'm not accepting that things are the way they are.

Acceptance does not mean giving-up hope that things will ever change. It does not mean I just sit back and say "Forget sending anymore cards this year," or "So what if I run out of time to give gifts?"

Just the opposite.

Acceptance says, "Okay, so I'm running behind. Relax. Some things just will not get done, but today is packed with potential. Who knows how much I can accomplish in one simple day?"

And acceptance can look Disappointment in the face and say, "I am disappointed at this moment. But that will not always be true. My life is like an endless string of lights made-up of millions of moments, and this is just one tiny moment, one tiny light."

Have you ever gotten sick of hearing yourself complain? I have. And four years ago when I got a hold of this acceptance stuff, I stopped complaining so much. I could now look at a moment objectively and have assurance that this, too, shall pass.

And the bad times do pass and are replaced by good times. And I keep accepting the bad times, but I hold and examine and re-live the good ones.



***
I won't finish some things before Christmas, but the World will keep spinning anyway.


***

Sunday, December 05, 2004

So Ironic, So Laughable



Over and over, since birth, I could have won the award for the World's Most Non-Photogenic Person on Earth. Whereas Tom easily could cinch the World's Most Photogenic Award.

So what happens? Finally a good picture is taken of this middle-aged me, but Tom ends up with the weirdest expressions on his face ever!

We picked up our vacation pictures this morning and laughed and laughed about this picture, till I thought Tom would drive off the road. I'd wanted to include copies in our Christmas cards this year, so Tom and I even discussed cutting his head off one of our many great pictures of him, gluing it onto this one, then scanning it to Kodak for them to make copies.

Hey, I meant it when I said I am just not photogenic. We have no good pictures of me. This is it.

So we are desperate.

Tom and I do have such good times together.


***

Imperfect Paradise

This morning that's what came to me. What we have at our house is imperfect paradise.

Last night, immediately after I wrote my previous warm and fluffy blog entry, this household fell apart. Well, sort-of.

Tom brought home these huge boxes and spread them all over the dining room and our tiny entryway. We already had other boxes, ones I'd tried in various ways to disguise and hide, awaiting to be sent off as Ebay shipments. And actually, considering my first-born, neat-freak ways, I've been pretty patient about this whole Ebay business of Tom's. All things considered, anyway.

Well, he carried in all these extra boxes and I asked him--patiently, after all, I'd just written that nice, sweet post--if we couldn't move some of them down to the basement.

Now, Naomi was in the kitchen and my words were apparently her cue to make some rather unkind remarks about my requests. And then she began on what I call our one recurring clash point--that I am disgustingly-sloppy about some things around the house. We've played this record a few times and I guess both Tom and I were sick of hearing it. Things escalated and so did the topic. Tom and I formed a united front (which has always driven Naomi bonkers) and told her that perhaps if she didn't like the way I keep house, or make rules, well, perhaps she should leave.

We had never given her that invitation before. But there it was.

And frankly she appeared quite challenged by it and is making plans quite quickly to follow through on it. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with my daughter, take a peek to the right of your screen and you will see she is 24 years old, not 12, lest you think we are mean, wild-eyed parents.)

Funny-sad how you can make such nice plans and have them all fall apart in five minutes. Poor Tom was wound tighter than a top, in his quiet, make-your-joints-hurt-worse way, and I spent the next hour calming him down. I reminded him that this day would come and by now, we both should certainly be prepared for it. But of course, I also told him I'd always wished Naomi would leave on the very best of terms--just as a natural progression in the happy scheme of things.

So Tom and I talked awhile and then realized we needed to laugh--to lighten up--so we came down here and watched a terrific episode of Jack Benny at Movie Flix. One where long-gone actors like Fred MacMurray, Dan Dailey, plus, Kirk Douglas, Tony Martin and others met at Jack's house for a weekly 'jam session.' What a delight to watch them play their instruments in Jack's livingroom while trying to keep from laughing out of pure, sheer fun.

It was almost as if they'd gathered in our own home. Almost. And that brought back all the memories of musical gatherings we *have* had here through the years...and all the dinners with friends... and Naomi's birthday parties... and the movies we've watched as a family...and Christmas mornings... and just plain living life and dealing with one day at a time.

So much Life and Living goes on beneath one roof, neighborhood after neighborhood, town after town. It's true we must take the bad with the good. But it's also true that the present bad should never cancel-out or blur any past good. Maybe they should both just blend to make something real. And something forever.

Imperfect paradise is still good enough for me, especially while living upon this oh-so-imperfect Earth.


***