Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Bluebirds

I just want you to know that I have seen tons of bluebirds this Christmas. No, unfortunately they weren't the tiny, fast-flying type that catch your eye as they flit through the air. But they were the blessings of a truly special Christmas season, one filled with family and good food and fun times and significance.

And so, here is a list of some of the beautiful "bluebirds" I enjoyed this Christmas:

  • A responsible teenaged daughter who is helping take care of 3 dogs down the street while their owners are away. Abby has gotten up every morning on her own to walk down the street to tend to these dogs, most mornings in her pjs and a coat. She has to give one of the dogs a pill at 7:00 am & pm. She wraps the pill in cheese and the dog bites her hand each time he takes the pill. Another one of the dogs likes to dart out the door and jump in the ornamental pond in the backyard a couple of times each day. Subsequently, Abby has to get the dog out of the pond and bathe it. After the dogs have been in the yard for 20-30 minutes she lets them back in to eat. Inevitably they choose to then poop in the house, which of course she cleans up. I'm proud of her. She's been a real trouper about this ordeal!
  • A son home from college. I LOVE having my son home. Yes, he sleeps most of the time. We rarely see him before noon, but just knowing he is here is a blessing to me. I miss his dry wit and charming smile. I miss hearing him go on and on about thngs I know nothing of, like calculus and computer science and all things technical. Today I will do some of his laundry and I will love it!
  • A husband who insisted that he and the children clean up the dinner dishes, pots, and pans after the big Christmas meal yesterday. HUGE, HUGE blessing to this weary cook.
  • Sitting around the dinner table with my small but so complete family. They thrill me.
  • Sweet and precious Christmas cards from friends far and close. Many included pictures and/or letters. We enjoy these so much. I often feel very isolated out here in the 48th state. It is good to hear from loved ones at this time of year.
  • Going on a spiritual Journey to Bethlehem with my blogger friends on my other blog, Off the Beaten Path. I'm sure there were many days when no one actually read my posts, but writing the posts each day certainly helped me to think more about the meaning of Christmas and our wonderful Redeemer. So thankful for an opportunity to take that spiritual journey.
  • We woke up to a beautiful snow one morning this week, can't even remember which one it was now. But snow always completes a Christmas season.
  • I've been watching the first season of The Waltons on DVD for the past couple of weeks. I started out watching the first season of Thirty-Something, but found my old addiction, I mean friends, to be too whiny.  No kidding, they're ridiculous! And I used to make sure I had my babies down for a nap each day by 1:00 so I could watch Michael and Hope and Nancy and Elliot and Melissa and Ellen and Gary on Lifetime TV. I guess I was whiny back then too and that's why I liked them so much. But after watching about 6 episodes a couple of weeks ago, I couldn't take any more. I asked my husband to get me The Waltons instead (he has NetFlix!). And I've been so grateful for this not-whiny-at-all family. And if one of them does whine, you know John or Liv don't put up with it!
  • I have been a little sentimental lately about FaceBook. That's right, FaceBook. It struck me just the other day how glad I am that this crazy social networking site has allowed me to reconnect with friends all over the world. Most of my FB friends are people who are no longer part of my daily life - friends from high school, college, former churches, extended family relatives or military families who have moved away. I no longer talk to most of these folk on the phone or see them in person. Even if I did live close to them, I probably wouldn't be tightly involved in many of their lives. But FB has allowed me to see what kind of people they have become, a glimpse into their family life, and hear their views on politics and even Jesus. For the most part (probably 99.9%) I have been very delighted at what I've seen. It's so nice to see that so many of my high school classmates are raising their children in godly homes, active in their churches, and worshiping the one true God. I love that most of my friends have the same political views I do. And I love hearing about the little things that fill their days - visiting grandkids, cooking dinner, going on mission trips, going on date nights, taking the family camping, watching the whales, homeschooling, you name it. And it really tickles me when friends who don't even know each other and live in different states are doing remarkably similar things or having the same sentiments about some common, everyday type of event. Amazing.
Precious bluebirds, everyone. I guess it doesn't take much to please me. These are all so simple and ordinary. But lovely blessings all the same.

What are some of the blessings you've enjoyed recently?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Christmas at Our House '09

Welcome "Christmas Tour of Home" Friends!

Welcome to Christmas at our house! 
We're not fancy, but very comfortable and nostalgic. 

The dining room is the first room you see as you enter our home. I love this metal tree. I use it for Easter and occasionally Valentine's Day too, with different ornaments of course!

Another view of the dining room featuring one of my favorite Christmas treasures: a fairly rare Blue Ridge China Christmas Tree plate in mint condition.

My husband gave it to me one Christmas along with 11 other Blue Ridge plates in a 12 Days of Christmas extravaganza. I got a plate a day for 12 days and this was the 12th.


This tapestry of the three wise men actually hangs in my dining room year round, but it is especially significant at this time of year. I just can't bear to take it down after Christmas.

We have a couple of nativity sets. This one sits in the dining room on a table that belonged to my great grandmother. I love the fact that I have this precious little children's book to sit beside it.

We got a new tree last year and everyone in my family except me is still miffed about it. The old one was exceptionally gorgeous, but it took a full day to assemble and then it took me a whole day and a lot of scratches to put the lights on. This one has lights already, though one strand has already burned out! :(

The tree is decorated with the same bows, candles, and garland we started with over 20 years ago. But we've added hundreds of ornaments over the years. I think we have over 400 now. Some belong to my two kids (Cherished Teddies for Abby and Santas for Daniel)and will leave with them one day (boo hoo!) and others were collected on vacations. And I have a few created by my children which are very precious to me.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

These are my hikers!

This is Abby's newest one.

This is a Hallmark ornament modeled after the very first Barbie I had as a little girl. Love it!

One of my Madame Alexander ornaments my friend Kim gives me every year.

Two vacation ornaments and one of Daniel's Santas.

By the way, James has a whole tree for his own ornaments at his office. They are, fittingly, all shepherds.

This little mouse hangs on our drapes every year.

 Greats me every morning.

Maybe you'd like to join me for a cup of hot tea now?

Hey! Join me at my other blog for a 15-day Journey to Bethlehem!

Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Last Teenage Birthday!

My college boy turns 19 today, his last year in the teens. Despite the fact that he just left for Vinny's where he will eat a slice a pizza by himself because he prefers to (and refused to let any of us go with him), we think he's a great kid, um young man.

Daniel's never been a conventional kind of guy, and his birthday celebration is no different. Instead of a birthday dinner, he chose to have a birthday breakfast at Denny's. Then he took a birthday morning nap from 11:00 - 12:30. Now he's off to Vinny's by himself. While he's gone to lunch by himself so he can read while eating pizza, I'll be baking his birthday brownies. Then he's organized an afternoon game of four square for him and some friends at the park. He says we can join him for that if we want, but not to play, just to watch. I doubt we will. Finally, we'll cap his birthday off with an animated movie, "The Fantastic Mr. Fox," based on one of his favorite childhood books by Roald Dahl. Oh, and for a birthday gift, he requested a Math text book. See what I mean? Not conventional at all.

But we're crazy about Daniel. And here's why.

Daniel has always been a very well-mannered, respectful young man. He's bright and fun to be with. And he loves his family. Daniel's teachers and coaches have always spoken very highly of him and that means the world to us. He's a good son and brother and grandson. He's a serious thinker, a little quirky, and knows exactly who he is. He puts on no pretense and doesn't expect you to either. He's a great conversationalist, once you give him the freedom to talk honestly with you, and he's full of interesting information - like obscure web sites, Japanese short stories, and the exact date the University of Arizona mascots were married.

Now if you know a different side of Daniel, don't assume that we're disillusioned and blinded to reality. We are all very well aware that Daniel can also be cynical, sarcastic, and a little moody. But nobody's perfect. We certainly aren't. Daniel is a work in progress like all of us, but the man we see Daniel becoming is right on track. God is at work in his life and we like what we see Him doing.

Daniel is generous to those he loves, compassionate toward those who are struggling, and patient with those who are trying. He tips well, waits patiently in lines, and speaks kindly to sales clerks. Daniel has worked hard at the part-time jobs he has held and has developed a true compassion for the working man or woman.

This year we are praying that God continues to bless Daniel with good health, good friends, good experiences, and good times. We ask Him to help Daniel to grow closer and closer to Him so that he can see just how much God loves him and has good things in store for him. And we pray that Daniel grows in godly wisdom at the same rate he is growing in knowledge (basically at supersonic speed). May Daniel always use his talents and gifts and knowledge for the glory of God and the good of others. May he stay humble so God doesn't have to knock him down to get his attention. And may he always feel loved and protected by his family.

Happy Birthday Daniel. We love you!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Picture This!

They say a picture's worth a thousand words. Actually words are so overrated, it would probably take a lot more than a thousand to express what a good picture can with a single frame. Problem is, my pictures aren't worth two words. I'm not a great photographer.

Here is an example of my picture taking ability and you can see that you wouldn't pay 2 cents, much less 2 words for it.

So if I want a picture that's worth a thousand words or more, I have to go to the professionals. And I've found a great one that I would love to pay a few thousand words for her photos.

I stumbled across a great contest here in Arizona. Jaime Hulsey Photography is offering a free photo session with a CD loaded with photos to some lucky winner. I hope it's me! But if not me, it could be you! Check it out and look over her portfolio while you're at it. You can enter too, thanks to me telling you all about it - in less than a thousand words, mind you!

Monday, November 9, 2009

I'll Have Water, Thanks

Normally when I go to a restaurant I have a battle with myself over whether I'm going to order a Diet Coke or a glass of water. I love a good fountain soda and it doesn't faze me at all that it's diet. I'm so used to it by now that Coke tastes too sweet. I know water is free and it's better for me, but still...

This morning my Bible reading was from John 4 where Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well. He doesn't have to decide between Diet Coke or water; He just immediately asks this woman to give him some water. Tired from His journey and waiting for his disciples to bring Him something to eat, Jesus knows that nothings satisfies like good fresh water. So He asks for some.

Of course the woman is startled that Jesus is even talking to her and says as much to Him. But Jesus' response is even more surprising than His first request.

"If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."

Did this woman know what "living water" was? I don't know, but it seems odd to me that she glosses right over this part of his offer and instead gets all hung up on the fact that He doesn't have anything to draw the water with. Who cares? What I'd want to know is what is this living water?

Living water. When I put those two words together, here's what I come up with. Tell me if you agree. I get fresh, clean, good-tasting water that isn't stagnant and never has been. It's moving water, like in a bubbling fountain. And it's just the right temperature - pleasantly cool, but not so cold that it hurts your teeth - heaven's no, it's not that cold! It's just right. And it's shiny because the sun is dancing off of it. That's how I picture living water. You wouldn't even have to add a lemon to it (that's what I generally do at restaurants so that it tastes a little fresher!).

And what promise did Jesus make concerning this living water? In verse 13 of Chapter 4 he tells her, "Everyone who drinks of this water (meaning the water in the well) shall thirst again." But He goes on to say of His living water, "but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life." Wow....

Folks, I want me some living water, the kind that satisfies completely, the kind that doesn't leave you thirsty for anything else, the kind that even bubbles over in your life so that other people around you can get a swig and taste it for themselves. Then they get satisfied and have their own well springing up in them and so on and so on and so on....

You know, we want for so much and we partake of so much in order to feed our wants. In other words, we get thirsty and we drink Diet Cokes and orange juice and milk and Koo-laid and sweet tea ('cause I'm from Georgia) and hot chocolate. And all that is good and satisfies for a little while. But nothing satisfies like good 'ol water! Just ask someone who's been hiking in the mountains or working in the fields or roofing a house. Nothing satisfies like water - good, clean, fresh, cool water.

Now you know I'm not talking just about physical thirsts beverages, and Jesus wasn't either. We're talking soul thirsts and soul quenchers. The stuff we long for, crave, desire. Love, support, friendship, significance, attention, security, peace, rest...... The stuff that really matters. That's what Jesus was talking about.

Regardless of what we're craving, Jesus offers us a plentiful supply of the very best, the most filling, the most satisfying. But we're so accustomed to our "sweet drinks," we're not thirsty for what He has to offer.

Jeremiah 2:13 says, "For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water."

Are you trying to fill up some broken cisterns? Are you substituting the "real thing" with sugary substitutes? I know I have. But today, I have a hankering for some good fresh water and I'm going to drink it in. And don't worry; there's plenty to go around. It's bubbling up!

Friday, November 6, 2009

My Search for Significance

Lately I've been experiencing one of those divine lesson plans. You know, it's been one of those weeks where everywhere I turn God is sending me little learning exercises that reinforce the overall truth He seems to be trying to teach me. He is indeed the Master Teacher, even uses multiple teaching aids to get His point across so that no matter my learning style that particular day, the lesson finally sinks in with me. And He's not afraid to load me down with some homework either!

At any rate, this week our theme has been "The Search for Significance." Through multiple venues God has been teaching me that indeed we all desire to feel a little important, noticed, sought out, significant. And maybe, if the truth be known, I'm one of those people who is more hung up on that particular craving than most. Some people crave security, others hunger for love, and others desire companionship. To be honest, I want to be noticed. Some of you who know me pretty well are probably thinking, "I knew it! I'm glad she's finally admitting it!" Indeed, I do relate to those pathetic people of Babel who were trying to make a name for themselves! It's sad, really. But don't worry, God and I have been working through this and He's already shown me where my pride is tripping me up. He's faithfully knocked down every tower I've tried to erect and, just like at Babel, He's made sure I'm left stunned and confused when necessary.

But here's the good news. I've learned from so many different sources this week that I can indeed be important. That is, I'm already important. To my God, that is. He loves me. I'm the apple of His eye. He wove me together in my mother's womb and designed me just so. He chose me to be one of His own. He sent His son Jesus to live, die, and rise again for me. He forgives me for every wrong I do. He's preparing a lovely place for me to spend eternity. And one day He's going to send Jesus to come and get me and bring me home. I'm extremely important. And, good thing is, I don't even mind that you're extremely important too. With a God as big as mine, there's plenty of significance to go around.

You see I believe our pride can fuel an over stimulated need to feel important and that kind of drive can lead to arrogance, self-importance, defiance, and a life poorly lived. But I also believe that God Himself has planted within each of us a certain measure of desire for significance. He wants us to hunger for significance. Why? Because He wants that hunger to draw us to the only true source for significance - Him.

Have you ever so admired someone famous or important that you just want to rub shoulders with them a little? You think that maybe if you hang with them a little some of their importance might rub off on you? I know I have. But when I really put enough thought into it, I realize that hanging out with someone famous in this world would not be fulfilling at all. For instance, if I were having lunch with, say, Laura Bush at a cute little restaurant in Dallas, I might feel important for a little while, but inevitably people would probably keep interrupting our lunch so they could talk to Laura. They wouldn't, however, pay me any heed. As we left the restaurant, the manager would probably smile and say, "Thank you for dining with us today, Mrs. Bush. Please come again." But he probably wouldn't say anything to me. No, the truth of the matter is that rubbing shoulders with Mrs. Bush would not make me feel significant at all. In fact, I'd probably go home feeling less significant than ever!

On the other hand, when I spend time with Jesus, He makes me feel like He is totally focused on me, and I believe, somehow, He is! Not only that, no one is allowed to interrupt Him when He is talking with me or listening to me. If there are any interruptions, it is on my part, not His. And when I close the time on our session together, I leave His presence feeling more significant than ever. He elevates me by giving me purpose and work to do on His behalf. He reminds me just how important my work is to Him - the little things, that is, like taking care of my children, encouraging my husband, and speaking a word of kindness to a Christian sister. And I can go through the rest of my day knowing that I matter. Not because I built a mighty tower or made a name for myself. Not because people are lined up for my autograph or even because some editor wanted to buy my article. Not because I have money or talent or fame. No, I'm important and significant because I ... am ... His.

Feeling a little insignificant lately? That's how my week began. But God has been so good to teach me this week that I am extremely significant. If you're hungry for a little significance, tell Him. In fact, whatever you're needing, tell Him. He's a Master Teacher and I bet He can give you some homework too.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Looking Back At Yesterday

First of all, if anyone at all read yesterday's blog entry, let me apologize profusely. What was I thinking? Well, actually I think I was delusional when I wrote the post. You see, I have since realized that I had the beginning of a stomach bug yesterday which is still lingering with me today. That is why I had so many issues with food - loving it, hating it, shopping for it, not wanting to prepare it, etc. Who cares! For Pete's sake, I am so sorry if anyone actually read that post!

But yesterday's craziness only got me to thinking about deeper matters today (praise the Lord! Get us out of the shallow end, please!). As I've continued to feel less than great today, I've realized that yesterday my behavior was a direct result of an inner sickness, a physical one. I didn't know I was ill yesterday; I just thought I was having some strange food issues. But today I recognize that I am and indeed was ill. Thus, my thoughts, attitudes, behaviors, and words were a reflection of that illness yesterday.

Perhaps this still isn't a pleasant subject for a blog post and not much better than yesterday's delirious ramblings about food, but stay with me if you can stomach it (pun intended, I must confess). I think I've stumbled across something here. You see, it occurs to me that we often act out of our inner illnesses, and indeed we always act out of our inner condition whether that be healthiness or sickness. In fact Jesus taught this in Matthew 12:33-37 where He said that good trees produce good fruit and bad trees produce bad fruit. The inner condition of the tree determines the fruit.

Now many of us grasp this equation and it even makes sense to us. But my realization today is that often I have already thought, spoken, and acted before I realize what is on the inside producing my symptomatic thoughts, words, and behaviors. By then it is too late to do anything about it beyond apologizing and doing my best to mop up the mess I've left behind me.

I had an experience like that last week. I yelled at my husband and stomped up the stairs and locked myself in my bedroom. (Completely unjustified, I assure you!) Later I yelled at my friend on the phone and insisted on getting off the phone in a huff, coming just short of hanging up on her. (Also unjustified and childish) Now I'd like to blame all of this on a major PMS week. I do have some crazy symptoms during this time of the month and these behaviors do seem to pique on this week like clockwork, but I refuse to cling to this excuse any longer. I don't believe I have to live in bondage to even a medically excused syndrome. I'll accept the terrible cramps, the hot flashes, the digestive issues, and the cravings for chocolate, but I refuse to blame my bad behavior on a biological occurrence that I've dealt with for over 30 years.

Folks, the truth is, what is inside comes out on the outside for all to see eventually. And if it's not on the inside to begin with it can't come out. Yesterday I was sickly and delirious and, so, a delirious and sickly blog post came out. No big deal. I was ill and I didn't really post anything offensive or hurtful or damaging. But what about when the sickness of my heart comes out in the form of hateful words, a bitter tone, slammed doors, rude facial expressions, or haughty body language? That's a big deal. In fact, Jesus said in Matthew 12:36, "And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment." Now I may get a pass on the day of judgment because of the grace of Jesus my Lord, but I don't want my speech even to be "judge-worthy", if you know what I mean. Jesus takes my words and behavior seriously, and I do too.

If you've noticed like I have that sometimes your behavior and words are less than desirable, maybe you need to consider the source. What's going on inside that eventually produces such bad fruit? For me, I know I have some poor-mouthing self-talk going on that needs to stop. I also need to be more consistent about forgiving other people and keeping a clean slate in my relationships instead of allowing bitterness and resentment to build like a cancer in my heart. Then perhaps I'll show a little more patience and grace when push comes to shove, or when my hormones are pushing all my buttons.

Today, while I'm still on the mend from a yucky stomach bug, I'm thankful for God gently using a little illness to show me a bigger truth about myself. Is God showing you things every day too? He wants to. He wants to speak to you through His Word, through your interactions with others, through nature, through the simple words of your children, and so much more. So even if you're a little under the weather today, take the time to ask God to speak to you. He will. Even through a stomach virus.