Friday, December 31, 2010

Walking into Sunshine

The passing of years is comforting to me. I am learning to welcome change. Few people receive the gift of being fully aware of each moment as it is lived, but aging brings the ability to see more clearly. I appreciate the moments more, notice them more as I live them.

A thunderstorm overhead is tugging the old year away. I am going to sit by the fire, snuggled in a quilt while I sip a cup of hazelnut coffee. With my favorite polka-dot pen, I am going to write down some questions for my "Pondering Journal":

What is it I want? I'm setting aside what others would assume I want. I'm letting go of what I've always thought I wanted.

What is it I know for sure? I need to get beyond what I feel, think and have been taught. It's a good time to examine and discern lessons learned.

What shall I change?I need to make decisions about schedules, habits and choices. Some changes must wait. Some changes are ready to bear fruit.

Once the thunderstorm and rain have washed my world clean and fresh, the old year will be gone. As I step into the sunshine and walk into 2011, I will be hoping for a rainbow.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Truly Thankful

Burrowing into my soft robe, I snuggled under a quilt before the fire, a steaming cup of tea warming my hands. Soft jazz soothed my weary spirit. As I breathed in the lingering sweetness of gingerbread and glanced around at the photos of my healthy loved ones, I smiled. The cheerful surroundings called me to a thankful heart with a relaxed ease. A harsh winter may come this year and I shiver at the very idea, but my heart, fueled by gratitude, frequently bursts forth into song.

But am I truly grateful or am I reacting to creature comforts and happy thoughts? Am I thankful only when life is going as planned?

An avalanche of misery and suffering in the world can so quickly overwhelm us. Burrowing into a robe of complacency and snuggling under a quilt of thanksgiving is a mistake however cozy we can make ourselves feel. That sort of thanksgiving is temporary and accomplishes nothing.

Faith that moves mountains starts with being truly thankful in all seasons of life. The me I want to be is beckoning me toward a life of deeper faith, a faith fueled by gratitude no matter what my circumstances. My God is a consuming fire. Blaze, Spirit, blaze! Set our hearts on fire!

Won't you join me? Couldn't we fan the flames in one another and melt the avalanche of misery and suffering around us? Wouldn't the greatest ThanksGiving be that moment when we realize we have indeed made a difference in the lives of people around us?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Gingerbread Cookies and Cinnamon Tea

New readers come to my blog every day from foreign lands. I'm embarrassed to admit that about once a week I have to ask my husband for a geography lesson. But, oh, how quickly God can change strangers into friends!

Knowing you are there creates a longing to sit with you and visit over a cup of tea. Your presence challenges me to love more deeply and pray more fervently. Thank you for spending time with me. You have led me out of myself and into the world beyond American soil. You have welcomed me into your home and into your life.

Joy to the world! The Messiah has come! Immanuel, the God who is with us, is able to silence our differences of opinion, language and tradition. He is the God who reigns over all the earth and unites His people from the North, South, East and West. He is the God who sees us and the God who loves us, the God who is there and is not silent. Let us sing together one and all in joyous song!

Welcome to my life, dear readers. Step into my home and my heart for you have brought much blessing and honor to me. Come sit at my table and share with me - warm gingerbread cookies and cinnamon tea.

May the Lord bless you and keep you. May He make His face to shine upon you now and forever and give you peace.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas With Jesus

I see the countless Christmas trees
Around the world below,
With tiny lights like heaven's stars
Reflecting in the snow.

The sight is so spectacular
Please wipe away that tear
For I am spending Christmas
With Jesus Christ this year.

I hear the many Christmas songs
That people hold so dear
But earthly music can't compare
With the Christmas choir up here.

I have no words to tell you
The joy their voices bring
For it's beyond description
To hear the angels sing.

I know how much you miss me,
Trust God and have no fear
For I am spending Christmas
With Jesus Christ this year.

I can't tell you of the splendor
Or the peace here in this place.
Can you imagine Christmas
With our Savior, face to face?

May God uplift your spirit
As I tell Him of your love
Then pray for one another
As you lift your eyes above.

So let your hearts be joyful
And let your spirits sing
For I'm spending Christmas in Heaven
And I'm walking with the king!

Author: Wanda Bencke. (1998)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Paper Snowflakes

When I was leaving the store earlier this week, I paused to visit with an older gentleman who was ringing a bell for the Salvation Army donation bucket. A small boy dropped some pennies into the bucket, then handed me a paper snowflake he had made.

"Thank you so much," I told the boy. "What a kind thing you are doing to give both your money and a snowflake to help other children."

"My mom gave me the money, but I made the snowflake," he said softly. "Do you think some kid would like to have it?"

I smiled at his "widow's mite" and nodded. "Very much. Snowflakes make everything better, don't you think?"

He agreed and reached into his pocket. Sprinkles of glitter fluttered around us like a snowfall in a rainbow of colors as he pulled out a stack of paper snowflakes. "Would these help, too?"

I glanced up and noticed tears in the eyes of the old gentleman still faithfully ringing the bell. I looked back into the bright hopeful eyes of the young boy. With my hands full of paper snowflakes I began to sing, "Away in a Manger."

The little boy began to sing along. The older gentleman began to sing along. Then an elderly woman waiting with her cart for a ride began to sing along. In moments, a crowd of strangers was smiling and singing Christmas carols one after the other.

One small boy believed a paper snowflake could change his world...and it did.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Notes

Christmas cards and letters greet me when I open my mailbox every day. No matter how hard it is to write words, we keep trying, even if we need help from Hallmark.

Brightly colored Christmas drawings from the children cover my refrigerator. Facebook statuses frequently feature cheery quotes and always bring a smile. Reluctant writers all over the world are putting pen to paper to warm the heart of a friend during the Christmas season.

What a delightful surprise to open the mailbox and discover brightly colored envelopes among the bills and advertisements! How lovely to hold a recent photo that falls in my lap as I open a card or letter. Being remembered by someone warms my very heart and brings a smile to my face as precious memories flood my soul.

Today as I snuggle under a quilt by the fire I will enjoy writing notes in my Christmas cards. It's rather a charming and endearing tradition we have kept through the generations, don't you agree?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Melody of Grace

Soft jazz soothes my spirit. Intricate melodies wash away the stress as the music seeps into my soul and quiets me. I can crawl under an old quilt by the fire, sip cinnamon tea and simply soak up the music.

Maya Angelou said, "Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness." Isn't that lovely? Being mesmerized by music carries me into a different world, a world where life moves at a slower pace and there is time to ponder. Even the word music is pretty, don't you think?

Grace is the music of the spirit. It seeps in to our innermost places, washing away the guilt and quiets the soul. Grace eases away the pain of shame and loss. It carries us to a different world where life moves at a slower pace and there is time to ponder. Even the word grace is pretty, don't you think?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Candy Cane Wishes

I decided to end an argument over who had the most Legos by creating a snack break for the children. They were both cold and hungry, but a couple of hours away from a pizza party. All it took to gather the children was the sounds I make in the kitchen getting out freshly decorated Christmas tree cookies and a pan to make hot chocolate.

Carson and Lydia hurried to my side to help as I got down the snowmen mugs, marshmallows and cocoa. The older siblings, Kaelyn and Joya, joined me and began to get out spoons, plates and napkins. Our cheery chatter turned to sharing memories of favorite treats enjoyed during the holidays.

"Can I have a candy cane with my hot chocolate? And marshmallows?" Carson asked. "And sprinkles and whipped cream?"

"I don't think I have any whipped cream to put sprinkles on," I explained, sorry to disappoint him.

Carson, however, is nothing if not adaptable and creative. He paused, frowned thoughtfully, then easily solved his problem. "Well, then, I will just dip my cookie in it. Can I have the biggest cookie?"

Before his three older sisters could argue in their own interests, I shook my head no. "That's being greedy, Carson. It's not kind."

He grinned. He already knew he was being greedy. "Okay. I'll just have the cookie with the most sprinkles then and a candy cane. And marshmallows. And chocolate in my hot cocoa, okay?"

We all have a greedy child living inside of us, don't we? So easily tempted, we want things that are no longer-lasting than a candy cane wish, even though we already have more than enough.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Father of Light

Good morning, Father.

Good morning, Child.

As I enter this time of fasting will you help me to stay focused on You? Will you remind me, soothe me and mold me? Teach me to see with Your eyes and love with Your heart. Won't You fit me to Your image?

I will.

Please ready me for the fast physically, emotionally and spiritually. Take every thought captive and renew a right spirit in me. Cleanse me from every sin. Free me from the chains that so easily bind me to the world. Empty me of any selfish desires and vain conceit.

I offer You my life because only You can make something beautiful out of nothing. Fill me up with Your perfect gifts of mercy and grace. Show me Your ways that I might walk in them.

I am the God who is able to do more than you ask or can imagine. I am the God who sees you. Every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of Light in whom there is no shifting shadows.

Shine on me, Father of Light. Remove all my darkness. Light me up from the inside out, Father. Open up my heart and shine Your love through me.

Let your light so shine before men that they will see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

I love You, Father. Be Thou my vision, O God of my heart.

Come. Let us away.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jesus, I Come

This mountain You are asking me to climb seems too high, too steep. I don't think I can do it. I don't even want to do it. I am angry that You would ask me to try.

In this world you will have trouble, but I give you My peace that where I am there you may also be.

You want to fit me for heaven. You want to complete me so I am lacking in nothing. You are the Author and Finisher of my faith. I get that. I just think this trial is too much. I'm not ready.

I have your welfare and not your calamity in mind. Trust me. Walk by faith not by sight.

It seems all wrong for me. It takes so much time and focus. It's eating away my heart, my life. That can't be a good thing, can it?

Time is in My hands. A thousand years is but a day.

I'm trying to trust You, but my emotions are in a jumble. When I am weak You are made strong. But this burden rips my soul. I want to please You. I want to be what You want me to be.

Dig deeper.

I don't know how. There's nothing left in me to give. Whatever climbing this mountain of a trial is going to require, it's not in me.

Rest in Me. I am faithful even when you are faithless. I am the God who is able. Dig deeper.

What are You prompting me to do? What are you trying to teach me? Help me to understand. I'm wandering around in the foothills lost and confused. I'm in a bad place, Father. I am miserable here. Help me to be brave and strong. Teach me to be true.

Come. Let us go from this place. I'm walking alongside. I am the Way. Follow Me.

Out of my shameful failure and loss, Jesus, I come. Jesus, I come.
Into the glorious gain of Thy cross, Jesus, I come to Thee.

Out of my bondage, sorrow and night, Jesus, I come. Jesus, I come.
Into Thy freedom, gladness, and light, Jesus, I come to Thee.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Age of Grace

In skin worn old and wrinkled, using battered hands to comfort broken souls, Mother Theresa walked with grace. She endeared herself to us, certainly, for her ministry to the poorest of the poor, but beyond that we are tendered by her gentle undying love and true devotion to God and her world.

How could one woman walk so lightly on the planet as to leave only a wooden bucket, tattered sandals and a tin cup? A woman who gains noble character during a lifetime of faithfulness leaves a fruitful, abundant legacy. Her footprints remain in the sands of time.

Jesus says that I must deny myself, pick up my cross daily and follow Him. My devotion to Him will bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.

Annie Dillard reminds us, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." What an invigorating thought in youth! How sobering the realization to the aged.

Cinnamon Rolls

In Bread Machine:

3/4 c plus 2 Tablespoons hot water
2 Tablespoons soft butter
2 1/2 cup bread flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons bread machine yeast

Run Bread Machine on dough setting.

Remove dough from bread machine
. Roll into a rectangle about 1/4 inch thick. Spread with butter, cinnamon and sugar. Roll into a long roll and cut into rounds. Place in a 9 X 13 pan that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Let rise until doubled in size. I do this in a warm oven that has been turned off. It takes about an hour.

Bake at 350 degrees. Length of baking time is determined by number of rolls. A breakfast may call for 9 large rolls and will take about 15-20 minutes to bake. When served with other sweets, I usually make 18 smaller rolls.

Filling: 1/3 c sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon

Vanilla Glaze: 1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 Tablespoons of milk

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Grandma's Antique Cameo

The antique cameo I inherited from my grandmother shows a woman of refined beauty and character. To see her I need only to remove the silk covering. But the orginal carver once chiseled away what was worthless to reveal the unique work of art that only he could see inside.

My life has been a long quest to find truth and beauty within the ugly stone walls of my marble heart. The day came when I glimpsed a ray of hope. A chip of sin-stone came loose and fell to the scrap pile. More chips, then chunks crumbled away to be carried as far as the East is from the West by the God who is able. I was given a glimpse of the gem God had hidden in my heart.

I passionately hammer away at my doubts and fears, frequently frustrated by my lack of skill, yet determined to dig deeper for wisdom, truth and beauty. I struggle not to make myself into what I imagine I should be, but to discover the treasure the Master Carver has buried.

The God who truly sees me can also see the cameo that awaits deep within my heart. Grace and mercy prompt His patient wait through my struggle, failure and discouragement. To the wise and skillful teacher, discovery by the student is pure joy, valuable and precious. As my Creator, He made me who I am. As the Author and Finisher of my faith, He leads me to discover who he has made me to be.

What waits for me in in the innermost region of my very heart? What will I find when I reach the end of my journey to Middle Heart? What will I see when the clutter that hinders my sight falls away and I am finally able to see the finished product?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Jesus Loves Me

Jesus laughed as He scooped up the children when they ran to Him and begged for stories. He knew every name, every wound, where they liked to be tickled and how many hairs were on each head. The children knew of Him from listening to the discussions around them, but Jesus wanted them to know His love. He craved relationship with the children.

He realized that if not watched carefully, young Noah would be tangled in the fish nets. Ornery Hosea would be tossing rocks into the Sea of Galilee and splashing the old people resting on the grassy banks. The children must have called to Him, jumping and waving,"Jesus! Watch THIS!"

When He was pierced by the taunts of Pharisees He surely craved an innocent hug. How He must have laughed when a child dumped a bucket of cool water over His tired feet! Moments with the children were precious in a world of rejection.

He knows the name of Lydia's favorite doll. It matters to Him that Isaiah is struggling with numbers. He notices that Ellie Rose likes His spiders, beetles and dragonflies. He cares that John delights in grasshoppers and watches spider webs.

We are individuals to Him and He finds that endearing. He knows us. And because He knows us, He loves us.

Monday, December 6, 2010


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 1/4 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon orange extract, optional
1 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon baking soda

1 (8 oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon orange extract
2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9 inch square pan.

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and salt.
Then set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Stir in orange extract.

Mix baking soda into applesauce and stir into creamed butter mixture.
Add flour mixture. Mix until smooth.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 to 50 minutes or until a
toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean.

Beat cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in vanilla and orange extract. Slowly beat in confectioner’s sugar.

Once the cake has cooled, evenly spread the frosting on top. Decorate with chopped candied orange peel or candied ginger .

Creating from Nothing

The alarm pierced through restless sleep announcing morning. Crisp autumn breezes have turned to fierce winter winds in a 16 degree world. I dropped an open canister of coffee, burnt my finger making toast and my "to do" list is longer than usual. My arthritic body feels every moment of enjoying yesterday with 15 of my spiritual grandchildren and their parents.

Just between you, me and the gatepost, my delight in Monday mornings is more difficult to find than my research notes which have mysteriously disappeared. The potential for becoming the worst version of myself this morning is huge. Ever been there?

Tonight at the prison I will speak to the women about "The God of Comfort". The title makes Father sound quiet and decidedly quiescent. Why do we think of the God who rested on the seventh day as inactive? Doesn't He sit on the throne watching the world spin? Have you ever assumed that He loves and forgives you, but is rather disappointed in what little gets accomplished? "There, there, good and faithful servant. I'll forgive you for not being perfect. After all, you're only human."

The earth was without form and void. Darkness was on the face of the deep. Out of this nothingness, God created the heavens and the earth. It is Jehovah-God who lives and works within us to accomplish His good purposes. Tough mornings light up that truth like Christmas tree lights. He takes a day when I have nothing to give and works it for his glory. My God is a consuming fire. He is wild. He has thunder in His footsteps and lightning in His fists.

Father. There is nothing in me that is able to accomplish the simplest of tasks on this Monday morning. I know it. You know it. In my weakness, You are made strong. What I am able to do, I will do. You are the God who is able to do more than I ask or imagine that You can do with this day. I want to sign my name to the end of this day knowing that You created something out of nothing.

The God Who is There

Good morning, Father.

Good morning, Beloved Disciple.

Is the real me talking to the real You? I don't want some fable I've made up inside my head. I want to know the real You.

If You want to know me, look at Jesus.

That's what I'll do. I'll start over at the beginning and look at the life of Jesus.

Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I have commanded.

I mess that up a lot, though. Jesus lived with eyes wide awake to the needs around Him. He was genuine and authentic, completely real. I want to be like that.

Even though you're messed up.

Yes. Even though I'm messed up.

And dripping with grace.

Yes. And dripping with grace. You are the God who is there and is not silent. Your grace is enough. You are able to do more than all I ask or imagine.

I Am.

The Great I AM...The God of Abram, Isaac and Jacob. The One who was and is and is to come. The Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.

I love you.

I love You, too, Father.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A 1 Corinthians 13 Christmas

If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I’m just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family. I’m just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home, and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir’s cantata, but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child.

Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.

Love is kind, though harried and tired.

Love doesn’t envy another’s home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.

Love doesn’t yell at the kids to get out of the way.

Love doesn’t give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who can’t.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust… but giving the gift of love will endure.

~Author Unknown~

Friday, December 3, 2010

Up the Mountain

This hill, though high, I covet to ascend;
The difficulty will not me offend.
For I perceive the way to life lies here.
Come, pluck up, heart; let's neither faint nor fear.
Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.

(John Bunyan, Pilgrim's Progress)

My spiritual climb has seen both painful struggles and leaps of faith, but whatever it took, I now discover my feet have landed on a new plateau. Like Dorothy opening the door to Oz, I am awestruck, intrigued and eager to explore.

A spiritual plateau is an opportunty not to be taken lightly. The climb has taught me to rely on God's direction and each new height provides me a new perspective from which to see things through His eyes. Looking back on the ravines I somehow avoided I now see how deep and dangerous they really were, and how impressive God's careful and powerful guidance.

The broken paths I've been traveling now seem to have smoothed out considerably. Sunshine lights up the view so I can see more clearly the wisdom and protection of God, my Guide.

I stop to collect treasures from this new plateau: a greater clarity of purpose, deeper faith in His Word, a wider comprehension of the scope of truth, and a richer enthusiasm for my faith-walk. There's less "me" here, more of "Him".

It's time to move on. As the old hymn states, "My heart has no desire to stay where doubts arise and fears dismay."

My steps once again are unsure and my vision for the future is hazy. The pathway has grown steep, rocky and dark. Apprehension is to be expected, but experience has taught me that there is a God who sees me and a God who is able. He has brought me this far by faith and He will not fail me.

I am learning to hesitate less when my Guide says "Come" and to worry over my wounds less when I get scraped and bruised. Insights to new weaknesses and strengths have opened up. A new awareness of God's presence, power and love awakens the desire for more time spent with Him.

I'm getting better at dodging the avalanches, great and small, sent by Satan. My weary steps will stumble and, believe me, I do a lot of slipping and falling down. But it's okay that I slip up and skin my knees. God's patient mercy is making a difference. His grace is sufficient, just like He promised.

I can't see the top of the mountain from here, but as I climb, my faith has caught the joyful song of saints on higher ground. Their heavenly music pulls me, soothes me, encourages me, thrills me. I can hear my Saviour calling and I'll go with Him all the way.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


You are my eternal portion, my Father of Light. You are my Prince of Peace and my stronghold, my help in times of trouble, my Joy and the Crown of my life.

You alone are God of the Ages, God before man and God before time.

I have promised to obey Your words because You are faithful to all Your promises and loving toward all You have made.

I am a bruised reed, yet You will not allow me to break.
I am a smoldering wick, yet You will not allow me to be snuffed out.

In all my ways I will acknowledge You so that You will direct my paths. I will hope in You and not lean on my own understanding and ways.

Change me from the inside out, Father. Mend my brokenheart and make me whole again. Fill me with hope and encourage me with Your mercy. Live in me and through me and with me and all around me. You are the Author and Finisher of my faith.

Trust in Me. I will do it.

Father, in You I live and move and have my being. I don't understand it, but I love it, Father. I will hold my peace because You are able to fight for me. You are able to do more than all I ask or even imagine in my life. I trust in You and I will not be afraid. I will keep walking by faith and not sight.

Nothing shall separate you from me...not death, nor life, nor angels...not things present nor things to come, nor powers or heights or depths or any other created thing shall be able to separate you from my love. That's why I sent Jesus. That's why I made you my child.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Queen of Christmas

It takes us about six weeks to celebrate Christmas at our house. Starting with ThanksGiving and ending with New Year's Day, our home begins to resemble Santa's Workshop. My husband is Chief Elf in charge of the Christmas tree, gift shopping and wrapping. My tasks include decorating, baking, shopping for stocking stuffers and making cards. Rushing, whining, overspending and exhaustion are not added to the "To Do" list.

Numbering our days aright will make us wise. A discerning heart focuses on what is important rather than being ruled by the tyranny of the urgent. Simplified schedules and finely tuned household jobs make it easier to enjoy seasonal activities. What a difference it makes to know the heart and home are prepared for celebration and loving people to Jesus!

Savoring each task slows down the mind and alleviates stress. Creativity lightens the mood. Burdens seem less daunting. A calm mind can ponder endings and beginnings. The heart at peace can grieve losses and celebrate victories. Having a month long celebration of who Jesus is and what that means to us brightens our holiday season. Frazzled fray melts into relaxed refreshment.

Father, won't You be Lord of Christmas in our home? You're the Prince of Peace and I will live my life for You. Joy to the world! You have come to dwell among us! Oh, Father, You give a peaceful heart that dances with overflowing joy! Merry Christmas to You, Father! Merry Christmas!