Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Two Soups and Two Words on This Second Day of Christmas

Yes, Virginia, I do celebrate Christmas clear up until the day of Epiphany. A week ago I thought of sharing two soup recipes on this day (a broth and a soup to be specific), and I remembered I had two Advent words I never addressed: belief and trust. Therefore, this is a 2-in-1 post. The recipes for the broth and soup follow at the end. (Any responses ought to be interesting. The last time I posted on a soup Zuppa Toscana and Play , I received a strange comment from someone trying to sell me mushrooms. After that, I put my comment section on "check with me first" status.)

First, a picture of Chicken Bone Broth in the making. If you're vegetarian, you can also make this without the chicken bone, or in this case, turkey bone. In the freezer section of my local grocery store, I can buy organic turkey breast on the bone. So, my family and I have a meal of the turkey breast, and then I use the bones to make this broth.

The pictures that follow were the Minestrone soup I made with the Chicken/Turkey broth. Excuse the quality of the photographs, please. Food photography is not one of my skills. As it turns out, my husband likes this Minestrone soup best when made with beef bone broth or vegetarian broth, but I like it any way I cook it. It is much tastier than soup in a can.

The first of these three shows the cut up vegetables, the second the broth (where I realized I had not added the cut up tomatoes yet), and the third is the finished soup.

What does this have to do with words? The words I did not post on during Advent Word 2017 were belief and trust. Here is my connection: last night a random thought came into my head that life was not as easy to control as the making of soup. Then, another thought came to me. I started musing on whether in belief, I have more control than in trust.

The best definitions I have ever read about belief and trust come from Dallas Willard and from Elane O'Rourke in her compilation book A Dallas Willard Dictionary.

"We tend to think of belief as a lesser form of knowledge. Where knowledge is an idea that is true or could be proven true, belief seems to be something we hope (or fear) is true without having proof. That is, in common usage a 'belief' is just an idea we do not know to be true.

"In Dallas's work, belief is a different type of idea than knowledge. Beliefs may turn out to be true or false, but what matters about them is that they motivate our actions. Beliefs have a connection to the will -- to our actions and behavior -- that knowledge does not. You can know something and take no action on your knowledge. If you actually believe something, you are prepared to act on that belief. When beliefs are founded in knowledge, they are reliable guides to behavior. When they are founded on emotion or falsehoods, they may be true, but are not consistently reliable.

"What makes this trickier is that we are not always aware of our real beliefs; in fact, most of what we believe we never even think about. And, judging by our actions, we often believe ideas that, if asked, we would say were false!" (O'Rourke 21)

Still pondering here...this is why when many of my friends who would not call themselves Christians wonder at the behavior of someone who states that he or she is a Christian, it could be that the Christian's real beliefs are ones that he or she categorically identifies as false. Or, the person believes about Jesus but not in Jesus.

AND, the connection to Christ this Christmas: "We are often encouraged to believe something about Jesus...However, believing in Jesus is about trusting him, and being ready with our whole person to act as if what he says is so" (O'Rourke 22).

"We might distinguish between trusting that and trusting in. There's a qualitative difference between trusting that our children will be home by 10 [o'clock] and trusting in our children. Trusting that is more like assenting that a certain statement is highly likely to be true: 'I trust that my child will be home by 10' may say very little about our relationship with the child, but a lot about her chaperone, or the bus she's on, or the training we have given her. But 'I trust (in) my child' suggests an interactive relationship based on knowledge and past experience.

"In this deeper sense, trust has an element of entrusting -- a giving over of a treasure for safekeeping -- or surrender. When you trust your child, you are surrendering your powers of approval and interference.

"Trusting Jesus, therefore, is different than trusting that Jesus did thus and so. When you trust (in) him, you are entrusting your treasures to him, including your treasured willful self-determination" (ibid 287).

From Dallas's book Knowing Christ Today: "But to know Christ in the kingdom of God we must abandon ourselves to a total transformation of who we are on the inside, to taking on the character of Christ through living with him day by day by day and hour by hour. Only that is trust in Christ" (152).

As I close out one year and enter a new year, I want to not only eat well but also to live well.

The recipes:
Bone Broth

I rinse all of my vegetables well but I do not peel them. Then, I chunk them. Also, I will give amounts, but basically, whatever I have available goes into the stock pot which can apparently be ready to use in 4 hours although I simmer it overnight.

Place in a large stockpot (my small crockpot boils over but a large one might do):
1 organic chicken or turkey carcass (I also have used organic chicken wings)
6 unpeeled carrots
2 unpeeled yellow onions
2 leeks (we are probably going to stop using leeks as we are fond of the flavor)
1 bunch of celery (use the heart, leaves, etc.)
4 unpeeled red potatoes (I use all colors, whatever I have)
2-3 sweet potatoes
8 unpeeled cloves garlic, halved (yeah, it sounds strange to keep the peels, but you will be straining this broth)
1 bunch of parsley, if you like (I tend to forget the parsley)
12 black peppercorns
4 allspice or juniper berries (I don't usually have)
2 bay leaves (when I remember)

Make sure the water covers everything in the pot and isn't too close to the top (or be prepared to keep cleaning up the stove and counter).

Skim off the fat that rises to the top (you may not be able to get it all). After you have simmered it at least 4 hours, strain the broth through a large sieve. I push on the vegetables and bones to get all the good stuff out (gives a real visual of squeezing the "marrow out of life" as one squeezes the marrow out of the bones).

Stir in about 1 teaspoon of sea salt. Refrigeration will allow you to skim more fat off of the top. I've read that it can keep in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or the freezer for 3 months. One one hand it seems to make a lot. On the other hand, if you're using it regularly, it seems to go fast. I use it in making...

Minestrone Soup

Heat 2 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a big soup pot.
Add 1 cup finely diced yellow onion (this time without the peels!)
Add a pinch of sea salt and sauté until the onion is golden.

Add the following vegetables (peeled where necessary):
1 cup diced carrot
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced zucchini (I have not liked the looks of the zucchini this winter, but we have some organic vegetables from our local university. The Delicata squash has been great! It has been a first for me in using delicata squash.)

Add the following spices:
1/2 teaspoon chopped garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed (um, yeah, you should see me trying to crush fennel seeds)

Add 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and sauté for another 4-5 minutes.

Add 1/2 cup of vegetable or bone broth and cook until it is reduced by about half (not very long).

Add 7 and 1/2 cups of broth (making a total of 8 cups -- see that's where all your broth goes). Add 1 (14 ounce) can crushed tomatoes (which I know this is going to sound like heresy for making Minestrone Soup, but I think we are going to leave out next time because I do believe -- and, thus, I am taking action on it -- that I am allergic to tomatoes). Add 1 (15 ounce) can of red kidney beans. I made it with red kidney beans the first time, but accidentally grabbed the cannellini beans (white kidney) the second time.
Cook for about 20 minutes.

Stir in 4 ounces of pasta, and cook the amount of time stated on the pasta box. Because I am gluten-free (thanks to my dad who genetically passed on Celiac's to me), I use a gluten-free spiral noodle and break them in half so that my husband won't complain about them.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Musings on This Fourth Sunday of Advent 2017

Although I made it further than I did last year with AdventWord, I ended up unable to blog through the rest of the days. In fact, on the last post (day 19 -- "renew"), I realized I became distracted and forgot to write the thoughts most precious to me. So, here, I am musing about the last of the words, starting with following up my thoughts on "Renew."

I discovered there were a great many times of renewal for which I had no photos. Precious moments of laughter, sacred times of prayer, companionable times of silence filled my memories. For each, it dawned on me that these had been holy moments, moments when I needed to take off my shoes, for I was standing upon holy ground. What a surprise, also, that holy moments can be moments of laughter and dancing as well as moments of reverent awe. This led me to understand that in joy or sorrow, I can look for holy moments.

Whether I am like a quiet child reading, a holy family on an arduous journey, or celebrating with gaiety, I can look for holy moments.

Day 20's word was "greeting" and Day 21 was "child." (The first Sunday of Advent started on December 3; thus, we have twenty-three days of Advent which do not line up exactly with calendar dates.)

I chose this Christmas greeting card to send out to friends and family who would delight in it because the family looks like they could be from Jerusalem. As I enlarged the picture, I saw the artist had painted what looks like dirt under the fingernails. They still look a lot more pulled together than I would after a journey, but the picture had more touches of realism than others I have seen.

Pictures of reality and thinking of others appeal to me. I would like to greet each person I talk to in such a way that I think of the person and his or her personal pool of tears or lake of joy.

My Savior, the child Jesus, grew up and reminded all he met to love others as we love ourselves. We also have Matthew 7:12 -- "Treat others as you would have them treat you." Our insistence upon our way of greeting does not lead a person closer to Christ if he or she is far away.

A child can lead us. My granddaughter delights in the tradition of moving Mary and Joseph. So much so, she used the tradition as the topic of her speech in a second grade public school classroom. She spoke with delight, and the other children asked questions in an equally delightful way. When our relationship with someone we love naturally spills out of us, there's no feeling of "my rights" and "your rights."

The word for day 22 was "believe." Please forgive me if in the interest of space and time, I leave that word (just as I did for the word "trust") for another day.

Today's word is "celebrate." Many families I know struggle with that word this month and this year. Loved ones have died and other loved ones are seriously ill. Families have lost homes to fires that raged throughout my state this year. For each, my prayer is for holy moments, healing and hope; for love and peace when celebration is not there. I close with two poems that came from a dear friend in her Christmas card. The poems were written by a poet unknown to me (Jan Richardson), but I intend to look her up.

May there come 
One searing word -- 
Enough to bare you 
To the bone, 
Enough to set your heart ablaze, 
Enough to make you 
Whole again. 

Blessed Are You Who Bear the Light
Blessed are you 
Who bear the light 
in unbearable times, 
who testify 
to its endurance 
amid the unendurable, 
who bear witness 
to its persistence 
when everything seems 
in shadow 
and grief. 

Blessed are you 
in whom 
the light lives, 
in whom 
the brightness blazes--
your heart 
a chapel,
an altar where 
in the deepest night 
can be seen 
the fire that 
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith, 
in stubborn hope, 
in love that illumines 
every broken thing 
it finds. 

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Day 19 -- Renew on This Nineteenth Day of Advent

Renew "makes fresh" and "strengthens." Ruth 4:15 in the Old Testament says that the Lord will renew your life and sustain you in your old age." God does this for me in both big events and also little moments like this morning. I looked out of my kitchen window toward the children's fort. The sun hitting the frost on the roof made it look as though the fort had a fireplace. I found it charming and refreshing. It was a reminder to me to look around, to look with the eyes of a child, full of wonder and delight.

Renew has special meaning to me because I spent two years studying with the Renovaré Institute, and the meaning of renovaré is renew. Loving God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength, and loving others was definitely strengthened through those two years of study.

Traditions also refresh and strengthen me. Below is a picture showing that Mary and Joseph are drawing ever closer to "Bethlehem" on the fireplace mantle. They are now on the bookcase. (If you wonder, I have not read the classics fully. They're part of my to do list.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Day 17 (on Day 18 of Advent) -- I'm Embracing Open as a Messy Word

Yes, I'm a day late on #adventword2017. I'm still on #open when today's word is #embrace. I thought about open when I first picked up the list of words for Advent. My thoughts went to a poem by Emily Dickinson. Since then, I've moved on like my Mary and Joseph.

My granddaughter loves the picture above because she says her aunt is looking at the Holy Family. She says she is, too, but her head is barely showing. I thought about cleaning up the end table for the picture, but I decided this year to be open in how my house truly looks. My choices for posting the picture below were either "don't post" or "be real" since I noticed the lack of baseboards and something (a bug?) showing after we took the picture.

When I think of Mary and Joseph, I realize the place that was "open" for them could hardly have made the front cover of a decorating magazine. But, when you're about to give birth and the inns are closed, you "embrace" what you have.

Being "open" with our homes, with our lives, with our hearts, minds, and souls takes courage because we can't control every aspect of our lives. There are times and seasons for being closed -- sleep is a good time; times of recharging are good times. My hope is to "embrace" open and closed, each appropriately, wisely, and well so that I and all I come into contact with can flourish in messy love, joy, and peace.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could embrace each other with love? Wouldn't it be lovely if we could enjoy being with those with decorating skills (it takes being open to be willing to share one's talents) and with those of us whose skills are elsewhere (it takes being open to be willing to share in the midst of our messiness)?

Here is where Mary and Joseph are now, under a tree with crooked candles, watched by an angel handmade by my husband when he was in grade school. Sigh, as I look over at the lamp where I took the picture, I bet there's dust showing, too. Open. Messy. Real. Grateful. I have a lamp and I have a roof over my head. God loves me. He loves you, too.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Day 16 -- Dazzle on This Sixteenth Day of Advent

Sometimes I can't help myself: I have to look up a word in the dictionary and find out where it comes from. Dazzle drew me to the dictionary, but I promise to add in extra pictures starting with this one of dazzling Christmas cards.

The Middle English word daze meant and still means "stunned confusion or bewilderment." By the late 15th century daze led to dazzle which means a "blinding brightness." As I type this, I realize the shepherds on the hillside in Bethlehem must have been dazzled by the blinding brightness of an angel choir. Certainly that would lead to stunned confusion and bewilderment!

Today, someone or something with an impressive quality which amazes or overwhelms us dazzles us. The first picture that popped into my head for "dazzle" was a picture I thought I took of a nearby lake when the sun hit it in such a way that it looked like thousands of diamonds glittered on the surface. Alas, I did not have that picture so I tried taking another and my timing was off.

I found other older pictures with the diamond in the water quality.

Several thoughts came out of this meditation on the word "dazzle." Are situations more dazzling when they are rare? Do people weary of that which is dazzling when they see a constant barrage of "razzle dazzle"? Or, does it depend on our mindset? If we expect dazzle as our right and want each spectacle to be more dazzling than the next, we're bound to be disappointed. If we look for dazzling in the everyday, maybe we'll have more moments of overwhelming amazement at the beauty of people and nature and, yes, even things like Christmas cards. Truly all that glitters is not gold, and I neither worship temporary dazzling things nor eternal dazzling created beings, but my soul is drawn to that which is dazzling because my Triune God is dazzling first and always.

At the end of this day, I find my heart filled not only with amazement but also with gratitude.


Sunday, December 17, 2017

Day 15 -- Light on This Fifteenth Day of Advent

The word "light" shows up on an Advent word list every year. I get it. How can it not? However, it becomes more challenging each year to think of a new image. Perhaps we don't need new images, but without a challenge to think "How else can I show light?", we easily fall into complacency.

(Yikes! I looked up the definition of complacency -- "smug or uncritical satisfaction with oneself or one's achievements".)

So, I thought and thought and thought. I decided to show that light comes in colors, too. I was going to dig through my boxes to find the multi-colored Christmas tree light set. Before I did that, I also wanted to see if I could get the colors of a candle flame to show up in a photo. On the way to lighting the candle, I noticed the candle lighter glowed white, yellow, and blue. I liked the picture so much, I chose it for my #adventword2017 #light.

This circumstance inspires me to look for light in the unexpected: people, places, and things --  not to replace the Light of the world (John 8:12), but to remind me to be in constant communication with the Lover of my soul (as Charles Wesley originally penned in a famous hymn, and now known through Hillsong lyrics).

As I sat in a fellowship service today, I noticed light on the ceiling. That was another way to picture light that I had not thought of: reflected light. Plenty of new ideas for "light" exist, if only I have eyes to see.

Past pictures of light for your enjoyment --

These latter two pictures were in my Day 6 post on "Light and Hope".

I know, I have pictures of two candles lit and 4 candles lit and today is the Sunday for 3 candles to be lit. Nonetheless, enjoy the light! 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Day 14 -- Among on This Fourteenth Day of Advent

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us" (John 1:14).

The word "among" implies differences. Yet, it also carries with it a positive feeling, even when it is said of Mary: "Blessed are you among women." Somehow "among" is a word of inclusion rather than exclusion.

Religious authorities were not too pleased with Jesus's inclusive ways. Both the gospels of Matthew and Luke include the story of Jesus eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus did not hold himself apart from people.

Recently I watched a television series The Crown. The episode I watched revolved around the monarch learning to get to know people from all walks of life. Jesus did and does this well...dwelling among us. When one stops to consider where he was born -- it was not even a homeless shelter. Today this word reminds me to be among people, all types of people.

In my last post, I included reverence in creation and quoted Barbara Brown Taylor. Here I continue her thoughts on reverence to include people:

"Reverence for creation comes fairly easily for most people. Reverence for other people presents more of a challenge, especially if those people's lives happen to impinge upon your own" (An Altar in the World 27).

A great deal of impinging happens during the last shopping days before Christmas. I decided after my morning grocery shopping trip that I would not go back out; nonetheless, I will be journeying to the stores next week, and my intent is to practice reverence while I do. I am among the people with whom I cross paths, and it is my hope that each senses in my life: the Word become flesh and dwelling among us.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Day 12 -- Wilderness on This Twelfth Day of Advent

Wilderness gets a bad reputation in much of literature. Think of Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" and Dante waking in the middle of a dark wilderness. Before I lose readers in my literary allusions, I'll cut this reminiscence short with the comment: the wilderness is only scary if one is lost or the woods are on fire (Bambi).

Mary and Joseph are not lost; they're simply on their journey to Bethlehem at my house and encountered a bit of "wilderness." The wilderness can be a time of paying attention, of being reverent. Barbara Brown Taylor writes in An Altar in the World: "We pay attention to the speedometer, the wristwatch, the cell phone, the list of things to do, all of which feed our illusion that life is manageable. Meanwhile, none of them meets the first criteria for reverence, which is to remind us that we are not gods" (24). The wilderness, much as Advent calls us to do, beckons us to slow down and take in the beauty.

I would say the Creator of the wilderness blessed it with an atmosphere of refreshment and wonder. For the most part, the wilderness remains so. One still has to pay attention; it is, after all, a wild place, a place we can not tame.  There are natural cycles of drought and rain, cycles of fire and growth, but there are also surges of unnatural dryness created by cement jungles and unnatural fires born out of greed -- perhaps these are our vain attempts to be in control.

However, as I wait during Advent for the celebration to come, I will wait for the days when "the beasts of the field will not be afraid, the pastures of the wilderness will spring forth, the trees will bear fruit.." (Joel 2:22).

I will practice knowing that God is present in the wilderness. I will practice slowing down and paying attention. I will practice reverence. 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Day 11 -- Voice on This Eleventh Day of Advent

Wow. Voice. How does one take an image of "voice"? I haven't looked at the #adventword2017 site for #voice as yet. Perhaps pictures of choirs and open mouths? I had decided to tell a personal story about voice, but I still did not have a picture for it. I'll tell the story and then tell you how the story led to my picture for "voice."

I did not grow up disliking my voice. It was only when I heard it on an audio device that I shockingly discovered that I had a slightly higher pitched voice. Inside my head, I heard a lower pitch. Not in a cavern low, just pleasingly lower. Since then I have learned I could train my voice to be lower pitched; however, I have also discovered that when I read aloud (even without learning how to speak more deeply), people enjoy what I read.

About six months ago, God took what I had come to be slightly ashamed of -- my girlish voice -- and turned that shame into delight. I was asked to be a lector (and have continued to be generally once a month). Whenever I read, I pray for God's love to flow through the words voiced.

One story leads to another, and I remembered teaching Shakespeare in the classroom. My students and I practiced changing the meaning of one sentence of a Shakespearean play by choosing to emphasize a different word in the sentence seven times: He, was, gentleman, I, built, absolute, trust. "He was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust."(Kudos if you know the play.)

Voice matters in reading God's words as well as the actual words. As I sat in a quandary about "voice" this morning, I read this portion of the SacredSpace Daily Prayer. It was then that I remembered how my students and I used to recite Shakespeare's plays (the second story up above). Beautiful words to emphasize and touch my heart.

The yoke is easy and the burden light because God does not yoke us and burden us in the way that humankind does with one another. Loving God and loving others. My desire is that my voice continues to speak love in the midst of weariness and burden because God's presence, Emmanuel, God with us, brings me rest.

For some reason my blog works best when at least two pictures are shown so if you wonder how Mary and Joseph (and the camel) are doing, here they are as they continue their journey.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Day 10 -- Watch on This Tenth Day of Advent and First Day of Hanukkah

I have read too many books. Okay, not really, but I've read enough that the word "watch" does not always bring up the best pictures. For the literary minded, there's that billboard in The Great Gatsby that is a bit freaky. I had to move past my immediate reactions to dig deeper into joyful meanings of "watch." I found them in three places: "Grandma, watch me!" "Shepherds watch were keeping," and the Maccabees watching in amazement as, according to the rabbinical commentary Gemara (Shabbat 21b), oil that would last only one day remained burning for eight days.

Why the granddaughter faced the shepherd and sheep in that direction, I'm not sure. Are they contemplating the hard climb ahead? Or are they in a valley, unaware that there will be a rough road ahead? Ah, but at the end of that rough road will be a blessing.

In the same way, after a great battle, the Jewish people dedicated their temple -- the Hebrew word for dedication is Hanukkah. While there is a reference to Hanukkah in the New Testament (John 10:22-23 -- "Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade"), we can't be certain how it was observed beyond it being a Festival of Lights (as recorded by Josephus); nonetheless, the current observation is a beautiful one. The blessings recited are as follows:

We praise You, Eternal God, 
Sovereign of the universe: 
You hallow us with Your Mitzvot, 
and command us to 
kindle the Hanukkah lights. 

We praise You, Eternal God, 
Sovereign of the universe; 
You showed wonders to our 
fathers/mothers in days of old 
at this season. 

Children play a Hanukkah game called Dreidel (Yiddish for "to turn"). The dreidel is spun and when it falls, the Hebrew letter on top determines the amount won or lost (in our case, marbles).

The letters Nun, Gimmel, Heh, and Shin are the first letters of the following words: Nes Gadol Haya Shin which means "A great miracle happened there."

On the first night only of the eight days of Hanukkah, the following blessing, the She-heh-cheh'yanu, is said:

We praise You, Eternal God, 
Sovereign of the universe, 
for giving us life, for sustaining us, 
and for enabling us to reach 
this season.

For many, including for me and mine,  this has been a hard and difficult season, one in which a Gentle Shepherd has kept watch and we look forward to saying, "A great miracle happened there." 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Day 9 -- Messenger on This Ninth Day of Advent

If you're wondering about the strange title, I am referring to the word for the day of #adventword2017. The words seem more challenging to me this year than last year. However, I find that each is leading me into great meditation time. After pondering various experiences and feelings associated with "messenger", the verse that came to me was Matthew 10:29 from the New Living Translation: "What is the price of two sparrows -- one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it."

Each bird is a messenger to me of God's love. This past week, a gorgeous hawk flew right in front of my kitchen window and landed on the branch of a nearby tree. I ran to find my phone to take a picture (of course, I could not find it before the hawk flew away), but the beauty of the hawk stayed with me even though I did not have a photo. (This also explains why I'm putting a picture of a bird that came to visit us outside our living room window.)

It turns out (oh, how I love these types of coincidences) that a friend gave me a book to read: An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor. The cover has a bird on it.

I have not finished the book, but I have found a passage that resonates with me as I think about messengers during this Advent season, or any season. It resonates with the type of messenger I want to be.

"Many years ago now, a wise old priest invited me to come speak at his church in Alabama. 'What do you want me to talk about?' I asked him.

"'Come tell us what is saving your life now, ' he answered...All I had to do was figure out what my life depended on. All I had to do was figure out how I stayed as close to that reality as I could, and then find some way to talk about it that helped my listeners figure out those same things for themselves" (xvii).

What is saving my life now? God, Divine Presence, Gentle Whisperer, Holy One, Healer, the One Who loves me and delights in me sees me, strengthens me, sustains me by continuing to show me love by way of the Word, by way of creation, by way of people and community among many other ways. Today I was loved by the team I work with. Scripture words and words in a new book encouraged me. The lights on a little tree brightened my evening. Thankfulness for a group of women who thought of me during a tough time and gave me little handcrafted Christmas tags enabled me to share that gratitude with another group of women. God who sees me opened my eyes to see all that I have to be thankful for. My hope is that in my every day life I can be a messenger of good news.  

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Day 8 -- Prepare on This Eighth Day of Advent

I have a love-hate relationship with preparing. I love to prepare; I hate figuring out how to time the preparation. It's possible that I may even have a reputation for procrastination. This is a questionable trait to have had during my years as both a student and a teacher. I was going to post a picture of luggage because the year I went with family members to Italy, I waited until 2 am in the morning before packing. I can not even tell you what possessed me to wait that long. I started in what seemed like plenty of time -- I think I just have an issue with time itself. My granddaughters will fare better than I. The older one is excellent with math and numbers; the younger one is already exhibiting skill at pacing out when actions need to be accomplished. She gave a speech about our tradition of moving Mary and Joseph from the back of the house to the Bethlehem fireplace mantle. She told her classmates on day five of the journey that she needed to make 19 more moves. We seem to prepare well for this tradition. Perhaps the repetition of the tradition helps! In the picture below, you see that we have the stable (granted, it is a stable and not a grotto) set up and prepared for the arrival of the holy couple.

The animals peacefully await. The shepherds will wait with the lambs in green pastures (also known as a side table and green placemat). The red push pin will enable the angel to hover over the entire creche scene. All very lovely. No apparent chaos. The picture below shows what it might have looked like if I had been in charge.

Yes, friends and strangers, I took this small group on the train to Los Angeles Central Station (and forgot to plan for eating lunch on the train) where we jumped on the FlyAway bus to get to LAX airport where we slept on the floor until it was time to get on our flight to Russia (or maybe this was the on the return home). To prepare is a good activity.

Nonetheless, not everything in life can be prepared for. There have been plenty of situations while flying that I could not prepare for and they had nothing to do with my own personal flaws. A computer which broke down on a plane. A rare occurrence of ice in San Diego which grounded my plane! A flight attendant who didn't show up to work.

Also, natural disasters occur. During 2017, many have lost their homes to fires. One does their best to prepare, but one's best isn't always enough to hold back fire. Sometimes it is something medical that catches us by surprise. While I can't always be materially prepared, I have learned to prepare in other ways.

I can prepare to be peace-filled and patient by learning and practicing to slow down my steps before chaos hits. I can prepare to be kind, gentle, loving, content, gracious, innovative, creative, and unafraid by practicing in small ways before disaster comes. Couldn't it be the repetition of small practices on a daily basis that is really the beauty of this Advent word: prepare?

May we be prepared this season to see, receive, and give the love, hope, joy, and peace of Christ. Then, even if our preparations in other endeavors run into complications, it will be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. (Julian of Norwich).     

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Day 7 -- Focus on This Seventh Day of Advent

I have decided the brilliance of geniuses comes from their ability to focus. As for me, I tend to be more focused in the smaller picture of life and blurry in the large, just like my photos. In thumbprint size, I impress myself with my photo taking skill. Then, I expand my view and realize I wasn't in focus as much as I desired.

The picture came from the wedding of my nephew and his wife. I planned to share all my great pictures with them until I started seeing the same shots in larger formats.

Thankfully, they weren't relying on their guests for great photos! My siblings and I laugh about our "squirrel" moments -- moments like the dog in the movie Up who trots about happily on his way, doing what he is supposed to be doing, until he sees a squirrel. Suddenly, he is focused, but all that he has been doing is forgotten in his "squirrel" moment.

In my former job as a teacher and in my job now as a curriculum advisor, the ability to switch one's focus is a benefit. As a teacher, if one does not have the eyes of a dragonfly, able to focus on hundreds of things (or, in this case, children) at one time, life in the classroom will fall into chaos. However, in other endeavors and other seasons of life, focus becomes crucial. Take the picture of the squirrel up above. The window in the background is out of focus, but the window is not where my focus was. Looking at the picture, I can see that while I wanted to focus on the squirrel, it appears the plant is the focal point!

Sigh. I do that in life and writing, too. I think I'm focusing on one element when really I end up focusing on another. This week at work during a Parent Coffee, our speaker taught us about the power of our words. Often we focus on keeping our children safe by saying, "Don't" but what our words do is focus their attention on that which we don't want them to do! Instead of "Don't run out into the street," our brains will go in the direction of safety if we say, "Let's stay on the sidewalk."

The word "but" negates everything before it. "I love you, but..." How much better to replace "but" with "and".

This one will get you: "TRY". What? It turns out Yoda is right when it comes to our brains. Try implies failure or is an excuse to get out of something. Try opens up a doorway to doubt. The substitute for "try" might be a saying I heard from Dallas Willard: "Take the next right step you know how to take" or "Let's practice doing this."  There are three more words: "just" (gives away your power); "okay?" (sign of negotiation, open for interpretation); "should" (great for guilt trips). Check out the book below.

I will suggest one more phrase, a greeting, where the focus we want is totally lost in the enforcement of either saying it or not saying it: "Merry Christmas." Truly, both sides lose the feelings of love they mean to convey (or, I hope they mean to convey) by either forcing people to accept the saying or to force people to not greet others with it. The focus of both my words and life, in being and in action, matter.

And, for those squirrel moments? I liked how SacredSpace, Pray as You Go, for the Advent season started the day: Sit still for a moment and take some deep breaths. Take in Love and breathe out Thanks. It's a wonderful way to start each day instead of starting out frazzled. It's a wonderful way to end the day instead of focusing on the worries.

God will keep you in fulfilling peace when your mind is focused on God's Divine Presence. I have found God keeps me in love, joy, beauty, truth, kindness, and a whole lot of other goodnesses when my mind, body, soul, and spirit is indwelt by our Triune God's presence.

Greetings of love to you this day and this season. May our focus bless, and not cause harm. 

Friday, December 08, 2017

Day 6 -- Mend on This Sixth Day of Advent

I have planned to write this particular blog piece for quite awhile -- long before Advent, and basically after family members scolded me about my favorite hoodie.

Seriously, I don't know why they had such a problem with it. (By the way, I'm wearing a pink shirt underneath. This is a G-rated blog.)

So, yes, maybe some people would throw away clothing when it reaches this stage; however, I do my best to avoid adding to landfills for as long as possible. My sister (Rebecca, for those who know I have five sisters) said, "Well, then, at least let me mend it. Where is your sewing machine?" At that time, I did not have a sewing machine, nor did I have a sewing machine when I finally did mend it.

My sister's comments caused me to think about why I had not mended it before. Laziness and lack of time were two of my reasons. As I thought longer about it, I had to confess to myself that I was comfortable with my sweatshirt as it was. Uh-oh, with thoughts like that, I knew I was entering dangerous territory. Sure enough, I also started thinking about how the "air-conditioned" hoodie had become a part of my identity, my personality. You can imagine where I went with these thoughts. Too often I don't mend something, whether it is a physical object or a relational issue because I get comfortable with the ways things are. Or, I might have to be the one to change to mend a relational issue, or I may have to admit that rips are not the best.

I did fully mend my hoodie sweatshirt, and I pricked my finger doing it. Mending it was worth the effort because I can wear it again and not get tangled up in all the holes! Granted, to compare mending a piece of clothing to mending a relationship can only go so far. Eventually, I will not be able to mend my favorite piece of clothing any longer. I noticed a small hole just yesterday.

Like relationships, holes are easier to mend when they are small. Yet I understand that relationships are much more challenging to mend. Some relationships have to be given up rather than mended. Then, it may be a matter of mending one's own body, soul, spirit, heart, any combination or all four. That kind of mending is worth every effort.

Advent marks the coming of Love. "God is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit" (Psalm 34:18). This is a mending better than sewing up and saving a torn hoodie. You are loved!

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Day 5 -- Heal on This Fifth Day of Advent

Healing happens best when one heals with a friend (ice cream is a plus).

It has been quite a year! Last year at this time, my husband was healing from knee replacement surgery and the effect of the pain medications. Less than a year later, he wound up in the hospital with a bacterial skin infection which triggered an arthritic flare up in his natural knee. We're thankful his artificial knee was not touched! From there, both of us have had visits with the doctors. The privilege of growing older. Yet, I know many friends and family members of all ages and for many reasons are in need of healing right now. For some, eating good food, moving around, and getting some sleep goes a long ways.

For others, healing is more complicated. Still, I like the subtitle on this book cover: "How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes."

Some days all one can do is to "take the next step one knows to take" -- a Dallas Willard saying that has helped me time after time.

Healing, in the midst of a medical condition or healing in the midst of relational issues, is a journey -- a journey that one often awakens to. For me and mine, we gather our resources, we simplify our lives, and we wait, just as Advent is a time of waiting, for the One who comes with healing in his wings.