2016 – The Year to Celebrate!

I’m sorry that I’ve been absent for the past month! The beginning of the year has slammed our schedule hard, and I feel like I am just now beginning to crawl out of the hole of lagging behind. Blogging had to get dropped to the side for a few weeks so I could get a handle on everything else.

If you read along with our journey in 2015, you know that God very specifically gave me a word for the year, brave. I had quite the experience with that word, never knowing that God was asking me to be brave as we lived through a year of cancer.

So, it was with some anxiety that I asked God for another word this year, but I believe that He has given me one – celebrate!

This is the year that God is asking me to learn to celebrate again. We lived with a lot of fear and anxiety last year, and we learned so much about God’s plan in suffering. And now, I believe that God is inviting me to relearn how to celebrate life – life in Him, life with my family, life in my community, life filled with joy – regardless of what may come in the future.

It would be so easy to continue to live in fear, waiting for the other shoe to drop, but God gives us hope in His Word:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame. This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them. Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:4-8

God invites us to enjoy Him with all our senses, to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” That’s my goal this year, to seek out the beauty that God has created, to look every day for His imprints in my life.

Just like last year, I don’t know where God will take my journey to celebrate, but I am eager to get going and find out!

 

Celebrate the Season – Week Five

I wish you well. May your table be graced with lovely women and good men. May you drink well enough to drown the envy of youth in the satisfactions of maturity. May your men wear their weight with pride, secure in the knowledge that they have at last become considerable. May they rejoice that they will never again be taken for callow, black-haired boys. And your women? Ah! Women are like cheese strudels. When first baked, they are crisp and fresh on the outside, but the filling is unsettled and indigestible; in age, the crust may not be so lovely, but the filling comes at last into its own. May you relish them indeed. May we all sit long enough for reserve to give way to ribaldry and for gallantry to grow upon us. May there be singing at our table before the night is done, and old, broad jokes to fling at the stars and tell them we are men.

We are great, my friend; we shall not be saved for trampling that greatness under foot … Come then; leap upon these mountains, skip upon these hills and heights of earth. The road to Heaven does not run from the world but through it. The longest Session of all is no discontinuation of these sessions here, but a lifting of them all by priestly love. It is a place for men, not ghosts—for the risen gorgeousness of the New Earth and for the glorious earthiness of the True Jerusalem.

Eat well then. Between our love and His Priesthoood, He makes all things new. Our Last Home will be home indeed. – Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb

We are at the end of 2015, a year that I have to say I am glad to see away. We have struggled and we have celebrated, and through it all we have been reminded that this world is but a shadow of what is to come. There will be sort of like here, but better, greater, more glorious, more than our imaginings can imagine.

So I want to leave you with one more song that is so fitting for us at the end of 2015. Eric Peters is a great singer-songwriter who you may not know but really should. Listen as he sings “The Old Year”:

At the end of 2015, I echo the words of Robert Farrar Capon above – “Come then; leap upon these mountains, skip upon these hills and heights of earth. The road to Heaven does not run from the world but through it.” I hope you have celebrated the season with a fullness and richness this year that has nothing to do with the presents that were under your tree but were more about savoring the gifts of God. I pray that we would carry forth in the same way into 2016, ever watchful for the beautiful and the joyful. I will see you next year!

 

Celebrate the Season – Week Four

The Word became flesh and blood,
    and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
    the one-of-a-kind glory,
    like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
    true from start to finish. John 1:14, The Message

This is the week. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, the next Christmas Day. All our preparing, shopping, baking, and planning often come down to these two days.

Where has your striving led you this year? Have you worked yourself into a frenzy, setting yourself up for disappointment (again)? Have you put everything off until the last minute, and now find yourself impatient with family, friends, and the mailman? Or are you taking intentional moments to #celebratetheseason?

Take just a few minutes today, maybe with a good cup of strong coffee (or hot chocolate, but make sure it’s the best kind), and reflect on the beauty of Christ. Enjoy the twinkling lights and beautiful decorations, smell the cookies in the oven, and give thanks for the beauty around you. Remember that it is ALL a gift – a beautifully wrapped gift from our Savior. “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His love endure forever.” (1 Chronicles 16:34)

Recipes and Traditions

For decades, a branch of my family tree has had a reunion of sorts on Christmas Eve. We have turkey and dressing, sides, desserts, kids play, adults tell tall tales, and generally everyone has a great time. It is a standing date and time on the calendar, and no one really ever asks, “Are we doing it this year?” because it’s just assumed that we are.

When I was little, my aunt’s peanut butter balls (buckeyes to our friends from the north, but since we are most decidedly Southern, we don’t call them that) were a centerpiece for the little ones – myself and my cousins. The original recipe has been lost, but the one that I now use is a good substitute (courtesy of Katherine Magnuson). This is an easy candy to make, and kids can help. The recipe makes around 50 walnut-sized balls, so if you don’t need that many, you can reduce the amounts to suit your needs.

  • 3 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 cups peanut butter

Mix together to make a stiff playdough-like dough. Adjust amounts depending on how sticky or dry the dough is. Form into balls, and dip into chocolate bark. It’s really that easy!

Are you ready for Christmas to come? Are the gifts wrapped and the food prepared? What about your heart? Are you really ready for the coming of Christ, or is there no peace on earth (or at least, not in your house)? He is ready and waiting to give you that peace. Spend some time with Him today.

Celebrate the Season – Week Three

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her. Luke 1:38

Can you imagine young, innocent Mary, confronted with the question that is posed to all of us – will you serve the Lord? Will you accept what He gives? Will you gladly submit to His will for you?

God calls each of us to something – to be a mother, an employee, a spouse, a single person, a writer, a baker, a musician, a lawyer, a plumber, a teacher, an accountant, and on and on. Sometimes he calls us to hard things – illness, job loss, a broken heart, sadness. Through all of it, He calls us to follow Him. What is He calling you to do today? Whatever it is, do it with all you have, because this is the task He has given you.

Recipes

You may have picked up on the fact that I love Christmas food (this may be an understatement). The stretch from Thanksgiving to New Years is a great excuse to pull out baking and candy-making skills. The great thing is there is something for everyone, whether you have a degree in Julia Childs or just in opening a cake mix. One of the easiest and most fool-proof things that I make is candy bark. Basically, you can pick your favorite chocolate and add in whatever combination of sweet and salty sounds good to you. One of my favorites is to melt three bags of white chocolate chips with a tablespoon of vegetable oil, and then combine with craisins and pistachios. Spread it out on a sheet pan and let it harden before you break it by hand into pieces. It’s that easy!

Traditions

I can’t get enough of Christmas music. We are very involved in our church’s music ministry, and this is my favorite time of the year for church music. There are so many beautiful and inspiring arrangements of new and familiar songs. But there are also some silly Christmas songs too. This is one of my favorites. Remember, folks, this is satire! Laugh and enjoy!

 

Celebrate the Season – Week Two

We greet a friend or welcome a stranger
Let him sing or cheer him on his way
And celebrate the child in the manger
Born on Christmas day

In our social-media obsessed world, I am afraid that we have forgotten what it actually means to be, well, social. To greet our friends and strangers, to wish them good tidings and peace on earth. To spread Christmas cheer to everyone we meet.

This isn’t a fake cheer that fails to acknowledge the evil in the world, but an intentional push-back against our self-obsessed, self-indulgent world, seeking ways to encourage and love those around us.

Especially in light of the shooting in San Bernardino, California, I am burdened that we embrace the lost art of kindness, including to strangers and those who are different than us. Our natural reaction is to strike a defensive posture, to assume that the person at the post office is a terrorist, and so we treat strangers with contempt, reacting from our fear.

How would the world change if we chose to assume the best, and to treat friends and strangers with lavish kindness? Could we, person by person, change the course of violence in our world if we just showed love and compassion in tangible ways? Christians, we are commanded to love everyone, to extend grace, to demonstrate kindness to everyone we meet, all because of the extreme love and mercy extended to us in Christ.

This song by The Carpenters is one of my favorites from their Christmas album because it speaks to everything I love about Christmas. (If you don’t listen to The Carpenters at Christmas, you are seriously missing out. It’s one of my favorite Christmas albums ever.)

Today, while you are running errands, working, carpooling, or wherever else life moves you, be intentional to find ways to spread some Christmas kindness to those you meet. Be generous with your smiles, kind words, Christmas wishes. You may make all the difference in someone’s day. You may change the course of someone’s life.

Recipe

Holidays in the South just don’t happen without some sort of congealed salad. There are lots of variations on this theme (strawberry pretzel salad is probably my personal favorite), but this cranberry salad is one that my mother made for many years.

1 6 oz. package cherry jello

2 c. boiling water

1 1 lb. can whole cranberry sauce

1 small can crushed pineapple, drained

1/2 c. chopped pecans

Dissolve jello in boiling water and stir until dissolved. Add pineapple, cranberry sauce, and nuts; chill.

Traditions

I have an arrangement of “Silent Night, Holy Night” writt12346863_10156251635085244_1670046393_n[2]en for solo piano, arranged by E. E. Crerie, and published by a company called Volkwein Bros. in Pittsburgh in 1917. I can’t remember if it was a piece of music that my mother had from her years of piano lessons, or if it something that my piano teacher gave to me. I know it was a hand-me-down – it has markings all over it that I didn’t make. The paper is old, and showing its age. The arrangement has a very old-fashioned feel to it, no syncopated rhythms or modern chord structures. It even has a section where the left hand crosses over the right! I will play it at any and all opportunities during the Christmas season, even if just for myself at home. I’ve played it since I was a young teenager, and my Christmas-listening just isn’t complete without it.

Celebrate the Season – Week One

So many others have tried their hand at putting together a story of the wonderful harvest of Scripture and history that took place among us, using reports handed down by the original eyewitnesses who served this Word with their very lives. Since I have investigated all the reports in close detail, starting from the story’s beginning, I decided to write it all out for you, most honorable Theophilus, so you can know beyond the shadow of a doubt the reliability of what you were taught. Luke 1:1-4

Like the author Luke and Theophilus, his audience, let’s take some time this Christmas to remember that this is not just a nice story. It is a TRUE and RELIABLE story, the story of our redemption and salvation. The story of how a perfect God rescued an imperfect people. We are supporting characters in the story, but it is HIS story – the story of God become man, sent to dwell with us.

Christmas is a season of mystery, of excitement of what is to come. It comes at the end of our calendar year, but what it signals is just the beginning of the glory of Christ. One of my favorite Christmas albums of all time is Carolyn Arends’ An Irrational Season. She beautifully conveys the wonder of the season. Here’s a little bit of the reason I love it:

This is an irrational season. We use our wonder, our imagination, to believe – to trust, have faith – that an infinite God came to live among us as a tiny baby. It is not reasonable. It doesn’t make sense. And yet God, who is full of surprises, did just that. Sit is awe of this reality. Soak it in. Believe it is true.

Recipes

I love to bake all year, but especially during the holiday season. Quick breads are some of my favorite gifts to make for others, because they are just what the name implies – quick. No yeast or kneading involved. If you can use a mixer, you can make them. Here are a few of my favorites:

Zucchini Bread

Strawberry Muffins

Cranberry Orange Bread

Traditions

carolersSometime in 2003, Chris and I went to the Wakefield-Scearce Gallery in Shelbyville, Kentucky, and while wandering through rooms filled with beautiful antiques and hand-crafted silver, I found a room filled with carolers – specifically Byers’ Choice Carolers – and I fell in love with the little hand-carved faces. For each of the last 12 Christmases, I have added one new caroler to my collection. The past two years, Henry has gotten in on the fun and picked out some animals to go with our collection. We have fun walking in the store and picking out one we think would like to join our mantel.

I hope you will join me each Wednesday for the month of December as we celebration the season with music, food, and traditions. I also hope you’ll join in the fun and share some of your own favorite things! You can also find me on Instagram as we #celebratetheseason!

When You Have to Be Brave – Moving On

Thank you for bearing with me for the last ten weeks as I have tried to write down some of my thoughts from the past year. Revisiting all that God is teaching me has been very helpful, and I hope that it has given you the courage on whatever journey you find yourself.

But, it’s time to move on, to begin looking toward 2016 and the promise of a new year. I am still unpacking what it means to live a brave life, and probably will be doing so for the rest of my life. Learning to be brave is not something that you can do in three months, or even in a year, albeit a year filled with challenges.

So, in the spirit of moving on, I am going to take the next couple of weeks off, and then begin a Christmas series the first week of December. There are lots of really good Bible reading plans for the month of December, and I hope you will take time to find one that suits your schedule and needs. This series will not be one of those.

You can think of my series not as an advent plan, but as a coffee break in the middle of the day to focus on the good things of the season. I’m planning to share some of my favorite Christmas music, some scriptures, and hopefully some of the other things that I love most about Christmas. I hope you will join me on December 2 as we find inspiration in the Christmas season.

Until then, I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with a juicy turkey, the good kind of cranberry sauce, and lots of pumpkin pie!

When You Have to Be Brave – All for His Glory

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. Romans 11:33-36

This is an amazing truth – we do not know the mind of God, we cannot understand His ways, but we trust that His word is true, that He is in and through and over all things, and through everything, we can give glory to Him.

Through cancer.

Through heartache.

Through despair.

Through rebellion.

Through evil and suffering.

Through whatever we face today, tomorrow, and next year. God has given us enough grace in Jesus to give Him glory whatever comes our way. I think that this is really what it means to be brave – to be able to say, “Lord, whatever You give is good. Your wisdom and judgment are beyond what I can understand or fathom, and yet I trust You.”

We may not always feel like giving the Lord glory in the middle of our suffering. There will be days when we want to kick and scream (and maybe we actually do!). We will have moments when we are tempted to despair. We will feel like giving in.

We have a choice. We can choose to give in to those feelings, or we can choose each moment to give God praise for all He has done and all He will do.

My cancer, although not good, has brought glory to God. Whatever you are facing can also bring glory to God. Choose today to praise Him in the middle of the trial. Let others see your hard praise. Step out in faith that He will provide your strength for the next step, whatever that may be.

Choose today to live brave.

When You Have to Be Brave – Refusing to Live Overwhelmed

This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine … Everywhere I go, I’m gonna let it shine…

You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16

Now that I am living “after cancer,” I am learning that I still need to rely and depend on God every single day. During treatment, I was very aware of my dependence. I was aware of God’s strength and grace in every breath, every step, every good day, and every bad day.

I see clearly how Satan wants me to live overwhelmed – overwhelmed with worry about the cancer returning, regrets from the things I missed while in treatment, worry for the “what-ifs” of the future. He certainly doesn’t want me to live a brave life! And too often I find myself caught up in his subtle games. I succumb to the worries, the regrets, the what-ifs, especially on days when I struggle physically (yes, the physical struggles of cancer treatments continue even after the treatments end). Have you noticed how it’s the days that you are already feeling a little off that Satan seems to launch his greatest attacks? That’s because he’s always watching, waiting until we are most vulnerable.

But through God’s grace, we don’t have to live in a place of defeat! Praise the Lord, He has given us all we need in the life to come, but also in this life! We don’t have to live overwhelmed by the Enemy’s lies. We can live victorious lives, all for the glory of God.

If you are God’s child, He has given you a light to shine in this dark world. Like the verses above, God is painting this world with our lights, each individual light working together to make a grand masterpiece. If you are living overwhelmed by the lies and accusations of Satan today, can I send you a little piece of encouragement? Living overwhelmed is not the life you were created for! You were created, specially designed, to be brave!

Father, I pray for myself and for those who are reading this. Give us a tangible awareness today of how we are created to shine our lights for You. If we are overwhelmed, lift us up. Give us the strength and courage to shine our lights bravely for You.

When You Have to Be Brave – When We are Carried By Others

Two in a bed warm each other. Alone, you shiver all night. By yourself you’re unprotected. With a friend you can face the worst. Can you round up a third? A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped. Ecclesiastes 4:11-12

I have said it many times, but it bears repeating – we could not have walked through the last year without people supporting us, encouraging us, and taking care of us each step of the way.

From our church family who provided for us by cleaning our house and cooking our meals for four months, to school families who took care of Henry after school on days that I had chemo, to friends who watched Henry on the long day of my surgery. Cards, texts, emails, and little gifts piled up.

Part of being brave is learning to let others care for you.

Our culture values independence. We pride ourselves on not needing others. The self-made woman, the DIYer, the loner, call it what you will, but living in community, while we give a verbal nod to it, is easier said than done – especially when you find yourself the one in need of help. Sometimes it seems like it is easier for me to give help than to receive it!

In Ecclesiastes, Solomon reminds us that we can’t survive hard times alone. He says we are unprotected when we are alone, and I love the way The Message reads – “with a friend you can face the worst.”

This last year felt like the worst, but we learned how many friends we do have, and that together we can face difficult days.

The lesson here is two-fold. First, when we are in trouble, we need to find a friend to confide in, to lean on. That only happens when we make our needs known. If we choose to pretend that everything is fine and we don’t need help, we should not be surprised when we don’t receive it.

Second, we need to be actively looking for people who need our help. Our friends may be just as reluctant as we are to ask for help. We would never have asked for help for ourselves with meals, but a good friend stepped up and said she wanted to arrange meals for us, and did so for the entire four months that I took chemo. That was so over and above what we could have imagined, and what a blessing it was to us!

Are you facing trouble today? Allow yourself to lean on your friends. Do you have a friend facing tough times? Ask to help. Pick something specific and offer it. General offers are nice, but are less likely to be taken. Specific offers are much more helpful, and are more likely to be accepted.

Not sure what you can do? You can pray without ceasing for your friend. During chemo, I had days when I literally could not pray for myself. Chemo does many things, including reducing mental capacity. I knew I needed to pray, but I could not form the words. On those days, I had a real, almost physical sense that others around the country were praying for me. Do not underestimate the power and comfort in your prayers for others.

How have you learned to rely on your community of friends during difficult days? Are you reaching out to others around you who may need encouragement? How can you offer physical help to someone? Who are you actively praying for today?

(PS – I added a new tab at the top of my page where you can find all of my “brave” posts and other posts connected to my cancer journey. I hope this will make it easier for you to find a particular post for yourself or to share with a friend.)

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