Monday, December 31, 2007

Look from the Top

This is a spendid word for a busy day
with its crush of work of all sorts. If we get
caught in the crush and pushed down, so to
speak, the next thing we know is that we are grovelling in the dust.

Things are on top of us, we are not on top of anything.
SO the words come "Look from the top"
Come with Me from all that, come up the mountain with Me,
look from everything UP to the Lord Jesus, Who is our Peace,
our Victory and our JOY, for we are where we look ...

from Amy Carmichael in Edges of His Ways re. Song of Songs 4:8

End of Year Review

It's a clean up day ... getting decorations put away (still keeping the tree up a bit longer for Spouse) ... washing linens after the house guests have left, organizing some stuff for Good Will, getting started on writing the thank you notes (called by an article in the London Times, the "last bastion in an epidemic of discourtesy"--see
the_way_we_live/article3097017.ece), and generally drying out after a wonderful three days of much needed rain. 

As I putter about, it's time to muse on that End of Year Review, or better yet, "how I'd like to do things better in the new year." No resolutions, mind you, just seeking God and His leading ... wanting to become more like Him.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Rondo Rendezvous

We celebrated Christmas on the 26th when family members arrived in town. In the midst of setting the table for our special dinner, I collected the mail and out fell a small packet from a dear friend in England. Inside? "Mini coasters," which Janette knows I love. The package called them "mini rondos." So I guess that's their real name. Amazing ... arriving just in time to add to the table decor! They looked so lovely! And the packaging told me Janette had purchased them on High St. in Arundal ... a place I have been to with her! Thank you, Janette! We loved using them, and none spoiled so they can be used again next Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

It's All About the Manger

jesus & mary in the manger
Originally uploaded by podso
From my sister's Christmas letter: "Each Christmas as we struggle to preserve a sense of worship and gratitude amidst all the busyness which accompany this time of year, it seems as though there is some point [when] God breaks through and moves me with a song or verse, or maybe a word from a friend, and I am blessed. This year it was the last line of one of the songs in our choir cantata, sung as a solo by a sweet and clear soprano voice: 'The manger held it all.' So simple and so profound.

"Everything we need in this life and the next was held in that Bethlehem manger 2000 years ago. Our hopes, desires, dreams, and above all our need for forgiveness and fellowship with God, are all gathered up and met in Christ Jesus. One of [our] father's favorite Christmas carols, 'O Little Town of Bethlehem' says, 'The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.'"

Saturday, December 22, 2007

messy deeds

good deeds
Originally uploaded by podso
The other day I lingered in bed after the phone call came telling me I could stay home from work. The luxury of sleeping in tempted me briefly, but is easier said than done when my mind begins to work. I wiggled my toes and stretched as I thought of the luxury of unplanned free time. The gift of a day. Maybe I would just spend the whole day reading. Or making a few Christmas cookies. Definitely time for myself.

Then I remembered an elderly friend who had been rushed to the hospital the night before. I should check on her and maybe I should take my mom along with me to visit her. There was someone else I needed to visit in another hospital too. And find a plant to take to her. And then there was someone else who I needed to help with a change to a new drug plan. Suddenly my day seemed planned as I hopped out of bed to start it. I decided, okay, this would be a day of giving to others. I pictured myself serenely gliding through the day, bestowing acts of kindness on others like the sprinkling of fairy dust.

Well it certainly did not turn out that way. I did do what I needed and wanted to do, but it was a big case of one thing can lead to another. Throw in the mix holiday traffic, not the right plant where I thought it would be, and some extremely inept insurance people on the phone with me for an hour reducing me to tears. The day deteriorated rapidly.

I came home with a splitting headache many hours later (long after I would have arrived home from work). I had a talk with myself on the way. What led me to believe that acts of kindness come wrapped in ease? Did I think I was owed a "walk in the park" just because I was helping others? Nowhere does Christ say our doing good for others will be pain free. If anyone knows about that, He does.

One of my prized possessions is a little soup bucket I have in my kitchen. The story, as I understand it, is that my great grandmother used it to take soup to sick people. I have a mental picture of a tiny Dutch woman in her heavy brown cape, walking down a city street carrying a little pot of soup and probably a basket of bread too. My soup bucket reminds me to think of others. My guess is that she didn't have an easy time with her good deeds either. 

Friday, December 21, 2007

Out of Africa

We have two new ornaments on our tree this year--a gift from some women in Nigeria who live with great challenges. They receive help from our mission and wanted to thank us all so made ornaments and sent them to our headquarters. I love the color and the tie-dyed fabric––in the shape of the continent we love so much! Another reminder at Christmas of our beloved Africa!

Very Cool French Bread

I am making my good friend Susanna's French bread today. I love using recipes that remind me of friends or family members! The nifty thing about this is there is no kneading and you can make it ahead and refrigerate up to 24 hours before baking. So you can get the mess cleaned up, yet have very freshly baked bread when it's time to eat. There's nothing like the scent of bread baking to warm the heart (and start the stomach growling!)

Cool Rise French Bread

2 C flour
2 pkg. active dry yeast (or 2 1/2 Tb. loose)
1 Tb. Sugar
1 Tb. Salt
2 Tb. softened butter or margarine
2 1/4 Hot tap water

Combine dry ingredients to blend and add the hot water and butter. Mix with electric beater on medium for two minutes. Add one cup flour and beat on high for one minute or thick and elastic. Scrape sides of bowl and gradually mix in enough flour (about 2 more cups) to form a soft dough that leaves the sides of the bowl. Turn out onto floured board, round to a ball, cover with plastic wrap and a towel on top. Let rest for 20 minutes.

Punch down and divide into two equal portions. Roll into approx. 8 x 15 in. rectangle. Roll up tightly like a jelly roll, beginning with the long side. Seal edge and tuck in and seal ends. Place on greased baking sheet, seam side down. Brush with oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

Refrigerate from two to 24 hours. Remove, uncover and let stand 10 minutes while preheating oven to 400. Brush gently with cold water and slash tops of loaves at two inch intervals. Bake for 30-40 minutes.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Marshmallows, Not

Our little friends from across the street came for African stew last night––oh, yes, with their parents of course. First Kayla presented me with the frilly blue girl. "Oh!" I exclaimed, "Made from a marshmallow."

"No, not a marshmallow," came her soft, endearing reply. Then Jack presented his some kind of protector guy. "Well this must be made of marshmallows," I stupidly insisted, not being up on the very latest in art supplies. "Nope!" came a more determined answer.

We had a good time, and I love my new Christmas decorations!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Angel Exchange

It's been more than ten years ago that I belonged to a small group that did an ornament exchange at its Christmas party. We were a feisty bunch so it was a lot of fun as we bantered about, grabbing up each other's adored ornament in exchange for one we didn't like as much. One particular year, two of us were going after the same angel ornament. I won, but felt bad later. So, I dropped the angel off at this friend's house, with a note that simply said, "to an angel."

I liked this idea, so the next year I dropped another small gift outside her door labeled "to an angel." This went on a couple of years (I always had to stalk her house and find a time to drop it by when she wasn't home.) One year she "caught me." I quickly waved and scooted on out of the driveway.

That's when the angel exchange began. She soon dropped a litte gift at my door. And so we have continued to drop small angel or angel-related presents off at each other's house every Christmas, never with any hint of the gift giver. We don't comment on it when we see each other either. But we know what's going on.

This year I really thought we were done. For we go to different churches and our paths no longer cross except for the occasional wedding or other special event. The pizza delivery guy rang our doorbell the other night. He handed my son the pizza and ... the angel gift sitting by my door in the dark.

What to my wondrous eye did I unwrap but a beautiful spode Christmas plate ... and a glass angel on the side. How fun! Now the ball is in my court. I found a sweet pewter angel ornament marked down at the hospital gift shop Christmas sale. I hope she'll be at work today when I try to drop it at her door. And so the tradition continues.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

Not a White Christmas

Even though it was years ago, I remember the time as clearly as if it were taking place today. We were a young family, just settled down to life in West Africa, when our world came crashing down around us. Spouse got very, very sick and turned yellow.

Due to a recent coup, borders were closed and grocery store shelves were empty. Spouse couldn’t even get a blood test to tell for sure what was wrong. We lived near the university and knew the dean of the medical school, so he made house calls to check on Spouse though there was nothing he could do.

Those were dark days for us as Christmas approached. We tried to make the best of it with our two small boys, while we watched their Papa get thinner and thinner. The bile under his skin caused severe itching and relief only came with a scalding bath followed by a cold shower and then a sit under the ceiling fan––a routine not always possible with frequent power outages and lack of water. We were about out of food.

Often sitting with only the light of an oil lamp, I’d hear God speak words of comfort and peace. He reminded me of Isaiah 40 again and again. "He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…They will soar on wings like eagles…"

God’s grace amazed us. A knock sounded at the door one evening just before Christmas. Linda, a Peace Corps friend, greeted us with a special piece of meat wrapped in shiny tinfoil and a festive bow. Mmm, it was delicious. An adventuresome friend showed up with a cooler full of meat and sack of potatoes bought in a neighboring country (he’d gotten across the border in a desolate area). What a treat!

Not long after that, a friend traveling through our city walked into our house with a gunnysack over his shoulder. He dumped the contents out on our kitchen counter. My eyes opened wide when I realized Henry and Jane had shared from their “special times” stockpile. What stood out the most was a can of powdered lime drink. Now Spouse could have at least a sort of fruit juice. The tiny ants marching around the glass at his bedside didn’t irritate me as they usually did––I was so thrilled to offer him such a treat.

When a truck pulled up to our door I was certain it was a mistake, especially since there were two small barrels for us on it. It didn’t make sense until we learned they had been flown in from London from friends who used to live near us. Having heard of our situation, knowing what the closed borders would mean for our food supply, they knew exactly what to send us. Imbedded in my memory is the thrill of unwrapping foods fresh off English grocery shelves––beautiful, clean packages of flour, sugar, and powdered milk with special holiday treats tucked in. We were overwhelmed at God’s tender care for us.

Before long our doctor friend told us we needed to go home to get better care. It was unsettling to abruptly leave a home and work we loved. But we had learned the valuable principle that God does not make mistakes and knew that He cares deeply for us; and so we trusted Him. We didn’t leave before celebrating Christmas the best we could. We made clothespin ornaments representing each family member to put on our little tree. They are falling apart now, but we still hang them on our tree every year. And when we do, we remember all that God taught us the year our Christmas was yellow.


A young friend told me recently that she is amazed at how everything in our house has a story to go with it. That's what I love about "things." Not so much the actual possession of things, but that most of the stuff around my house has history that is meaningful to me. Christmas ornaments on the tree really bring the stories. I love it when my kids come back home to help put the ornaments on the tree. I get the tree all ready, with the wretched job of stringing the lights all taken care of ahead of time. Spouse sits in a chair––waiting for his single role of plopping the worn angel (given to us by the boys' youth pastor) at the top of the tree––while I dig through unorganized boxes ("next year I'll organize them better") and hand out what needs to be hung on the tree. And while we decorate, the stories flow.

Some ornaments were homemade ... such as "vintage 1978" ... or that was the year I crocheted ornaments, or knitted them ... and the puffy quilted ones I made that mostly remain in the box because of their huge size ... or the painted wood ornaments from sometime in the late 80s ... and then the ones that hung on Spouse's childhood tree (those are really vintage) ... different ones gifted from friends ... and maybe most special, the ones we made from clothespins our "yellow" Christmas. Almost each and every one a "flashback" to something special in our lives.

It reminds me of a program I heard on the radio as a kid called The Listening Post. Stories read aloud, but the listening post would actually open each program with his crackly voice, "In my old wooden heart ... are stories." I like to personify our tree as proclaiming, "Tucked inside my green branches ... are many old stories..."

Monday, December 10, 2007


These carollers landed at our doorstep and hopped up onto our piano. Their singing is delightful and I just love the one lady all dressed in furs. She doesn't really need all that get-up with our 78 degree record-breaking/heart-breaking (where did winter go?) weather, but she looks great. Still their singing does not compare to the heavenly music we heard this weekend when our church choir, along with our local symphony orchestra, gave us The Songs of the Saviour. Uplifting and worshipful!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

BBs at Christmas?

So this is something to tell about how stupid or naive I can be. There is a big increase in huge blow up Christmas decorations in people's yards. I'm not too crazy about them. When some Winnie the Pooh characters appeared at the corner house a couple of years ago I thought, "Well, that's nice for the kiddies." But when I would leave for work early in the morning they would be deflated and crumpled on the lawn. "How sad," I would think, "it's ruined." That evening they would be up in full bloom again, lighting up their part of the world. Then they would be deflated again. I assumed some kids in the neighborhood were going around shooting BBs at the blow up Christmas decorations. I wondered how long these patient home owners would continue to patch their decorations.

Well now that such decorations have migrated to the house right next door to us, and I have heard the sound of the motor that keeps it "alive" I have figured this thing out. Still I smile when I ride by Winnie the Pooh and Tigger up at the corner. Smile at my stupidity. To think I envisioned a gang of BB gun-toting teens running through the neighborhood on Tigger detail. Smile again!

Friday, December 07, 2007

Whose Head?

A wonderful book club gathering last evening at a long table set festively for lovers of the Jane Austen time period. She certainly would have felt right at home with us at the table. But instead of Jane's company, we had a phone call, on speaker phone, with the author of this great little book! How fun is that?

For a half hour we plied Lori, who followed Jane around England before writing the book, with questions, listened to her heart story, and heard about her life since the book was written. We even prayed for her. The book––I recommend it––is a surprise. Each page is like unwrapping a package as the author reveals herself in great honesty, while also telling of Jane Austen's life (sometimes clueing us in to not so well known facts.) I would be reading about Jane and suddenly realize that Lori was telling about her own personal life. The weaving back and forth was subtle but delightful. I have never read a book quite like it.

Book club gatherings are more than just about the book we've all read (sometimes furiously up until the last minute). It's even more about stepping back from life a bit and just being with friends, sharing our lives and thoughts ... sipping tea, chewing on sweets ... you know, much as they may have gathered in Jane's day. An amazing book, and a scrumptious evening. Thanks, Boniface!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Yellow Convertible in My Life

Joy was six years older than me. As a teenager that felt like a big age difference. When we started hanging out, her parents had just bought her a yellow convertible to celebrate her college graduation. When she would pick me up and we'd drive off together with the top down, I felt pretty cool.

Joy came from a family of 12 kids, all strong leaders. A good proportion of them were scattered throughout our metropolitan area, working with youth groups at various churches. During the summer these youth groups would come together on Tuesday nights for a big bash at a barn out in the country. The hour bus ride there was itself a ton of fun, to be sure, but when we arrived, there were even more good times. Over 1000 kids spilled off buses and gathered to play wild games, watch funny skits, sing our hearts out to the rafters of the big ol' barn, and then listen to a "hold-your-attention" talk about faith in God. Many came to a personal relationship with God during those warm summer nights, and for myself, it was a time of intense spiritual growth.

I could never really understand Joy's interest in me. I was a "preacher's kid" (PK) and had had a pretty ideal, "Leave it to Beaver" kind of upbringing. I didn't have any big challenges in life that I needed her counsel about. Yet she, as one of my church youth leaders, chose to spend time with me. We would study the Bible together, and at other times Joy would just take me along for whatever she was doing, talking as we went. Sometimes we'd go to special shops, or to her parents' lake house to canoe ... we would just "do life" together. I guess you could say she had a "ministry of hanging out" with me. Back then it was known as "discipling;" today it is likely to be called "mentoring."

During those years (and it continued into college for I attended the college that Joy taught at), I grew a good deal in my walk with Christ. But I also learned, by her example, to disciple others. I was taught that everyone should mentor someone younger in the faith, and at the same time, be encouraged or mentored by someone older than them. And so I went about my life in this way, naively assuming others knew the concept and were doing the same thing. After all, Christ gave us the example.

When I am doing this actively, I find it stretches me and I grow more as a result. I think this is how God intends it to be. Stretch ... and you grow. And I also realize how much a gift this was in my life, for I know now that not many have had such a privilege as they came along in their faith. And not so many grasp or practice the concept. How God richly blessed me.

I don't see many yellow convertibles any more, but I don't need a glimpse of such a vehicle to take me back to those years of being discipled. I remember them often and will always be incredibly grateful to Joy, a young woman who cared enough to "hang out" with me and bring me along in the faith.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

not a winter wonderland

Today it's gray and cold ... "feels" like snow is in the air. Of course it's not, but sometimes in the south, even the "feels like" is good enough. But, with our ongoing draught we could really use either rain or some white stuff!

Monday, December 03, 2007


Another quote from our pastor's sermon: "Our incessant busyness works against our maturing in Christ." Further: give yourself a gift and stop! Think! Evaluate! It will take all your life to become what you are to be. God is not going to shout over your noise. Be quiet so you can hear Him.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Take Time

In speaking of Paul's preparation for his main ministry in the book of Acts, our pastor told of how Paul went aside twice for long lengths of time (once 11 years), to be quiet and to listen to God. He reminded us of our need to do the same ... to say no to some of the pulls on our time ... and make time to read, reflect, rest ... and listen to what God is saying. Even, and especially, at this season of the year. We ended the service by singing an old hymn, exhorting each other as we turned to face the center aisle to sing. It was a moving time.

"Take time to be holy, speak oft with thy Lord. Abide in Him always and feed on His Word. Make friends of God's children, help those who are weak, forgetting in nothing, His blessing to seek.

"Take time to be holy, the world rushes on. Spend time in secret with Jesus alone. By looking to Jesus, like Him thou shalt be. Thy friends in thy conduct––His likeness shall see.

"Take time to be holy, let Him by thy guide. And run not before Him, whatever be tide. In joy or in sorrow still follow thy Lord. And, looking to Jesus, still trust in His word.

"Take time to be holy, be calm in thy soul, each thought and each motive beneath His control. Thus led by His spirit to fountains of love, thou soon shalt be fitted for service above."

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Five Cousins

I'm in the middle, always the middle of both family sides of girl cousins our age. Which way do I gravitate? Older or younger?
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