Friday, December 28, 2018

A Lover of Words

I hope everyone enjoyed a wonderful Christmas.  Mine was special - and involved a lot of change...or new things for our family.  New, in a good way.  (New people. New places.  New plans and new traditions.)  Actually, there has been quite a bit of change around here.  Hopefully, I will be sharing a bit more about those changes in the weeks ahead.  Without realizing it, I think "change" has even impacted my word for the new year.

Although I do enjoy making resolutions - more of a personal goals-setting activity for me - I really find a "word for the year" to be helpful.  It keeps me mentally focused.  (And, I can use all the focus help I can find.)  I will also post more, next week, about my word...but I can give you a preview.  My 2019 word is:  SURRENDER. See the connection?  Between change and surrender.  It is a great word, for me, for the months ahead.

There were other words that stayed on my heart.  One was SAVOR.  I love that word - and the idea of completely appreciating and enjoying something.  It is so easy to go through the day on auto-pilot.  Or to become so focused on a daily agenda.  Or to become so familiar with our routine and/or comfort zone that we actually miss the day.  We miss the details.  The small things and, often, the divine appointments that God puts in our path.  I don't want to go through my days that way.

To savor my days is to mentally slow down.  To take notice.  To be fully engaged.  And then to enjoy each day. Even if it is not my word for 2019, it is still a wonderful goal.  I tried it over the last few weeks leading to Christmas.  I wanted to intentionally savor all the little details that combine to make Christmas uniquely special for me and my family.   Toward the end of the month, I joined Whitney at Come Home for Comfort, as well as a few of her friends, for an Instagram challenge.  It was 12 Days of Cozy.  My Instagram skills are very basic, to say the least, but I loved looking at the everyday Christmas things around my home and seeing them in a fresh way - and enjoying them.

My Instagram is located on the sidebar and you can see the photos I posted during the challenge there.  I won't repost them here but I hope you enjoy a peek into our Christmas - and, yes, there might be more than just a couple of pictures of our granddog!!  At the end of the challenge, I even won a prize.  Chosen from the participants.  Who would have guessed?  Being chosen is a special feeling - and was actually another word I had prayed over for next year.  CHOSEN.  So many words to choose from.....

I pray that you have a wonderful new year's celebration and that your heart is anticipating good things - blessed things - in the year ahead.  Next week I will share a quick recipe on Tuesday and then will post more about 2019's word....SURRENDER.  I anticipate some changes for my blog, too, but for now, I will continue to post every Tuesday and Friday.

Happiest New Year wishes -


Friday, December 21, 2018

With His Stripes


Today is the last Five Minute Friday for this year.  Not only has this link-up been a wonderful challenge throughout the year - challenging my thoughts and my writing - but the other posts have been encouraging, convicting and helpful as well.  For those new to FMF, each week there is a one-word prompt and then we try to free-write for five minutes.  As in, not a lot of over-thinking, preparation and not (too much) editing.  Yes, it has been a challenge...especially for the over-thinking and perfectionist side of me.

Most often, I go with my first thought after reading the prompt.  But, not this week.  I had wanted a light-hearted, even fun, Christmas post but these (more serious) thoughts from today's prompt - WITH - as well as these verses were on my heart.

  "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief:  and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised and we esteemed him not.
   Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows:  yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
   But he was wonded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities:  the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed."  Isaiah 53:3-5

With his stripes we are healed.  That is Christmas.  We all have heard, seen or even read blog posts with the reminders to keep Christ in Christmas.  To remember the real reason for the season.  And I am sure, as Christians, we sincerely want to do that.  But, just as quickly, the busyness, the pressure and, yes, the stress that can be Christmas sneaks back in.  Even the extra fun and "merry" of the season - or just all the coziness - can lull us or distract us and we have, too easily, forgotten that Jesus came to the manger in order to go the cross.

We need the reminders.  Often.  We need to refocus.  Turn our thoughts, our hearts, our priorities and our plans back to the manager - which leads to the cross.  Start our days in God's word and then take it with us throughout the day.  Ask Him to show us distractions or misplaced priorities in order to be purposeful this holiday.  Serve others - it is one of the best ways to take the focus off of us, our agenda and our expectations.  Enjoy Christmas songs but play meaningful music, too.  I think this song, by Ron Hamilton, is so beautiful and expresses, much better than I, the true meaning of Christmas.  (These are just the first two verses.)  If you haven't heard it, look for it and enjoy.  

Merry Christmas!!

Born To Die 

On the night Christ was born
Just before the break of morn,
As the stars in the sky were fading,
O'er the place where He lay
Fell a shadow cold and gray
Of a cross that would humble a King.

Born to die upon Calv'ry,
Jesus suffered my sin to forgive;
Born to die upon Calv'ry
He was wounded that I might live.

Jesus knew when He came
He would suffer in shame,
He could feel ev'ry pain and sorrow.
Be He left Paradise,
With His blood He paid the price -
My redemption to Jesus I owe.

Born to die upon Calv'ry,
Jesus suffered my sin to forgive;
Born to die upon Calv'ry
He was wounded that I might live.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Christmas - A little of This and That

Christmas fun is in full swing here.  I am trying my best to be intentional and to really enjoy this Christmas.  With that in mind, this post is the most random assortment of Christmas, of late, around my house.

FUN VISIT - every December, my husband's daughter comes for a visit.  A long weekend, just by herself, to enjoy her dad.  And the rest of us, too:)  We all look forward to these special weekends.  She just left this morning.  As always, the time goes by so fast but we try to make the most of the four days we have together.  The weather was not cooperative (it was plain ugly) and we had to change a few plans but it was great simply being together. 

We so appreciate her husband, and her mom, doing everything back at home to make these special weekends possible. I know it means so much to my husband!!


YUMMY RECIPES - last week I went to a cookie exchange.  This one was so easy (and I don't know why I have overcomplicated exchanges in the past)!  Even though there were a lot of ladies there, everyone brought two dozen cookies.  And went home with two dozen cookies.  Easy....and delicious!  We enjoyed those cookies all weekend!

I found this yummy cookie recipe (on Pinterest, I believe) and it was a winner. I thought I would share it here but you can also visit the link - because I definitely did not remember to take a picture before I shared them.  And devoured them!



Chocolate chip cookies with a peppermint twist


Makes about 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
⅛ tsp. salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup Ghirardelli peppermint chunks

Instructions

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

In a separate bowl (stand mixer with paddle attachment), beat together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla on medium speed just until smooth. Then beat in the eggs.

Add in the flour mixture, then stir in the chocolate and peppermint chips by hand.

Refrigerate dough for about 30 minutes while oven preheats to 350°F; prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper, and then drop 1-inch balls of dough onto sheet (note that these ones spread while baking, so don't place them too close together) Press extra chocolate/peppermint chips on the tops of cookies for a fancier look.

Bake for 11-12 minutes (I like to err on the side of underbaking) and let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for a couple of minutes to firm up enough to move, then use a spatula to transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely.



I also scored another (sugar-rush) recipe this weekend.  Super easy and, yes, super rich but a nice treat for holiday company. Or for Christmas morning - you can make it ahead!


Cinnamon Roll French Toast Casserole 

Ingredients
2 cans Cinnamon rolls
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream (half & half works too)
3 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped pecans
Icing from cinnamon roll packages

Directions
1. In a large glass bowl, melt butter with sugar. 
2. Beat in eggs, cream, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.
3. Open canned cinnamon rolls, slice each cinnamon roll into fourths. Place cinnamon roll pieces into the bowl of egg mixture and toss to thoroughly coat. Then pour the pieces, coated in egg mixture, into a greased 9×12 casserole dish and spread out evenly. Use any leftover egg mixture to coat the casserole.
4. Sprinkle with pecans and then bake on 350˚ on a low rack for 35-40 minutes or until brown (I stuck a toothpick inside to determine if the casserole was ready. I like mine a little on the moist side, baked for about 35 minutes.)
5. Remove casserole from oven. Warm icing from cinnamon rolls in microwave for 15 seconds; pour evenly over the bake.
*Can be prepared the night ahead without the pecans.  Simply cover the casserole, stick it in the fridge, then in the morning, add the pecans, bake, and voilá! It’s pure deliciousness for your friends or family!
Serves: 6-8

CHRISTMAS TRADITION - while at last week's cookie exchange/party, our Bible study teacher asked us to share a tradition, unique to our family, that we enjoy.  Honestly, I was discouraged because we really do not have many traditions.  Not sure why that is but I have determined to change that.  I am thinking through - working on - traditions for my (all adult) family.  I would love any suggestions you might have.....please share in the comments.

photo from website
My brother and I have actually "created" a tradition that I am so enjoying!  A few years ago, instead of exchanging gifts, we decided to enjoy a holiday event together.  A night out - on the town - just the two us!  We both are loving this new idea and have enjoyed some great shows these past few years.  The Nutcracker.  Elf the Musical at the Kennedy Center (was amazing!!). 


This year was A Christmas Carol at Ford's Theater. (Ah, the costumes!!)   I shared a little bit about it on my Instagram this morning so I won't repeat myself, but it was another wonderful memory.
This week, I have planned extra slow mornings and less busy days.  Hoping to savor this last week before Christmas and to really soak in the story of the Savior's birth. And, perhaps, make another batch (or two) of Christmas goodness!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Be Still My Heart

I shared this photo earlier this week on my Instagram.  It was given to me last weekend while I was visiting my 90-year old aunt.  We were looking through a stack of photos she had stuffed into an old album.  There were several of my parents, my grandparents and many of older relatives I barely remember.  I was, of course, interested and enjoying each one.  However, when I picked up this one and it was my baby, my breath caught.  My buddy.  His matching outfit with the saddle oxford shoes.  The look on his face that immediately transported me back 25 years.  Be still my heart.

That is all I could think....be still my heart.  How often my heart is overwhelmed.  Usually connected with passion or excitement but, most often, simply overcome with raw emotion.  And that tends to happen - more than usual - during the holidays.  These are my simple, five-minute thoughts on today's prompt: still.

No matter how I plan, determine and strategize "to do things differently" each holiday, there always seem to be those moments - even days - that blindside me with emotion.  Most often it is grief-related but, sometimes, I am simply stressed, overcommitted or a victim of poor planning.  And my heart becomes engulfed.  I begin to drown in my emotions.  Gratefully, I have learned to recognize these times before they become disastrous and I know I need to still my heart.  I have to come away and get alone with Christ.  To be honest, often I just want to retreat to my bed; however, I come to my office and open my Bible.

It happened just this week.  The overwhelm.  The wanting to retreat and the armor of apathy that is used for defense.  But, instead, there was a "retreat" to Christ and, then, the calming of my soul. His words speak truth, encouragement and refreshment to my heart.   Isaiah 41:10 ".....I am with thee; be not dismayed; for I am thy God.....I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee....."

Yes, I can be dismayed.  Oh my, grief can be so looming during the holidays. But when my own emotions threaten to engulf me, be still my heart.


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Christmas Prep and Busyness

I came across a fun link-up the other day.  I'm a bit late to join - but still sharing my thoughts.  Just for the fun:)  Around here, I am:

GIFTING - I have finished my shopping.  (well, 99 percent and that is okay for me!)  Now, it is all about the wrapping, although I must admit my husband does the wrapping around here.  He actually enjoys it.  Is that possible?  I do the ribbons and bows but, for him, it is all about strategically getting the maximum number of presents from one roll of paper!  Love him! 

I do want to make a few homemade gifts (think granola and/or chocolate bark) for my neighbors and my sweet senior friends at Tribute.  Hopefully, that will happen next week. 

BAKING - I will be baking tomorrow for a cookie exchange with the Bible study group.  I have not been to an exchange in years and think this will be fun.  Whatever I bring home will probably be our cookie stash for the season.  No one here really wants the sugar.  Sigh.

SINGING - along with the radio.  Way too loud, but that's okay.  My favorite Christmas song is "All I Want for Christmas" by Mariah Carey.  Not the most spiritual song - or even about the season - but she and I do a great duet.  In my car.  With the windows up:)

MAILING - I only have one gift that has to be mailed.  It was supposed to arrive in Florida on Saturday.  We are still waiting.  PLEASE, dear package full of Christmas joy, do not get lost!!

DECORATING - The tinsel is hung and the twinkle lights seem to be in every room.  I just love twinkle lights!  We also put Christmas balls on the tree at the cemetery.  But the front porch could use a little more something!!  Just a note to self.

Is your gifting, baking, mailing and decorating done?  I am trying to allow plenty of extra time to simply savor the holiday - this whole season and the one that we celebrate - Jesus.  If the porch gets redone, or improved, okay.  If not, I am loving the Christmas memories already made this month (jingled at our annual family Christmas concert outing and enjoyed a great trip out of town last weekend to visit family I have not seen in years!)...and more to come (sweet out of town visitor and fun this coming weekend as well as The Christmas Carol at Ford's Theater downtown!)  Christmas blessings!!

Update:  the package arrived in Florida!:)

Friday, December 7, 2018

Christmas Peace

Off-balance.  Out of kilter.  Or, as one definition described it, "....in a state of confusion or chaos." So much in our world seems to be off-balance.  Everything from politics and popular opinion to sports, entertainment and current events.  It affects our world, our communities, our churches, our homes, and our own hearts.  If we are not careful, this constant state of "off-balance" threatens to steal our joy and destroy peace.

Peace has been a recurring theme for me over the last few days - even weeks.  It has been in my thoughts, in my Bible time and continues to "pop up" in several devotionals I have read lately.  As much as we would like to think of Christmas as a time for "peace on earth..good will towards men," real peace can be totally elusive during this season.  However, the truth is my heart should be filled with peace - even in this Christmas season.  Especially at this Christmas season.

Jesus is the source of peace.  Not only peace for our frenzied, hurried - off-balance - world but for my stressed, overwhelmed, grief-sensitive, anxious-prone heart.  He offers peace of both heart and mind.  Take time each day to soak in His peace.  

Time is up for my FMF thoughts on balance (or lack thereof)...but I wanted to include just a few verses related to peace. I pray if your heart is troubled, burdened or hurting that these verses will help focus your heart on the babe of Christmas.  Jesus, who came to give us peace.

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled...."  John 14:27

"These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace.  In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world."  John 16:33

"...the Lord will bless his people with peace."  Psalm 29:11

"and the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."  Phil. 4:7

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Christmas Tree Memories

One of my first (or oldest) Christmas memories is not really "my" memory...but is a memory passed down over the years and shared with me many, many times.  The memory of my grandmother's Christmas tree.  The tree my dad remembered so fondly from his childhood.  Every year, my grandma would begin in November creating the family tree.  It was not an evergreen but a bare branch tree that she lovely, and painstakingly, wrapped in cotton.  Each limb was individually wound in the thinnest layers of white cotton.

I was told this could take her days - even weeks to complete.  With each branch made to look as if covered in snow, then little white lights would twinkle and shine through the "snow" creating a tree that would awe every family member and visitor alike.  Everyone old enough has wonderful memories of grandma's Christmas trees!  I have never seen one of my grandmother's special trees and can only imagine how beautiful it would have been in person.

I do, however, remember the trees we had when I was young.  We would have a real tree (from the nearby shopping center parking lot) and my father would, just as carefully, spray the tree with snow from a can.  Again, each limb was perfectly coated and, then, we would have blue lights.  Blue lights glowing through and reflecting off each white coated branch.  And silver balls:)  It may be hard to imagine but it was beautiful...and it was especially beautiful because my parent's tree was a labor of love.  Just as my grandmother's tree had been for her family.

So much we do this time of year is exactly that - a labor of love.  It might be your tree, the Christmas village you set out or a collection of snowmen everyone remembers.  Maybe it is the color-coded wrapping paper, Grandma's favorite cookie recipe or a million other things.  They probably take extra effort and time (that many do not appreciate) but those extra labors of love are memories in the making - that can impact generations.  Yes, there can be some traditions that change, evolve or even go away as the years go by - I know it has happened at our empty-nest home.  But I don't want to be too quick to let go of all the "little extras" - simply because I think no one really notices or cares anymore.  I believe they do.  Things may take me longer to finish - requiring patience.  I might even have to ask for help - gasp.  But when I see the Christmas labors of love as just that - labors of love for those I love - they bring me real Christmas joy!