Friday, December 30, 2011

The Canvas of Our Lives

            There is a perfect moment each day that I enjoy more so than any other. It is the early part of the morning when the sun begins to creep from its slumber. The earth fills with shades of pink, purple, and orange, and I envision God with a paintbrush stroking a canvas.
            These silent, still moments are mine alone, and I eagerly look forward to them as I find it is a perfect way to “see” God and spend quiet time alone with Him. The peacefulness of the sunrise fills me with an excitement for the day.
            I often photograph these sunrises, because there are never two just alike. While the photographs capture some of the beauty, one photograph can never fully capture the ever-changing sunrise or the breathless beauty that it becomes through each stroke of the Master Artist’s paintbrush. The sunrises are continuously changing within the few minutes they are there. How do you capture such indescribable beauty in one picture?

            During my many mornings of watching the unveiling of the sunrise, I often think about how each of our lives is a canvas to God. We come into this world blank, and as we grow, He begins to apply different techniques through the work of His paintbrush. We become the individual artwork of the Master’s hand full of potential and gifts.
            Each day, God reveals another brushstroke on this painting that is my life. I can see with clarity how He has painted away the guilt, the shame, and the brokenness of this sinner girl, leaving behind a canvas of grace-filled colors and redeemed gentle strokes of new life.
            There have been times that I have taken the paint and the brush for myself. Either I did not trust God with His artistry or I was just too stubborn to give Him full control. What I created was a canvas of skewed colors and unsightly messes…far from anything that could be considered art. But God…God was still God.
When I finally realized my talents at painting this canvas of my life was far too much for me, God was eagerly willing to accept the brush and paint once again to begin a new work. For that, I am glad!
Then, there are mornings when the sunrise is hidden behind gray clouds and a thick curtain of fog. Seeing the array of colors and the strokes of His brush is difficult. But God…God is still God. And His hand is still working and painting and mixing colors and gifts. And I am still watching and waiting for the explosion of His majesty across the horizon.

Isn’t that just like our lives? Sometimes we get covered up in the fog of our messes and our canvases become clouded with ungratefulness, but God…He is still God. When we give back the brush and the paint and the canvas, His colors of mercy break through the fog and the clouds revealing fresh, new opportunities for each day allowing us to begin anew.
Just as each sunrise is different, so are we. We all have an array of colors and gifts and talents yet to be painted on the canvas of our lives, and I do not want to miss a single one of mine.
The New Year will soon begin and it brings with it the chance for colorful, brilliant new brushstrokes on our lives. Allow the Master Artist to brush you in fine delicate colors this coming year. His artwork is far better than anything we can create on our own.
           “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10
            Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Preparing for Advent

     Often I think we busy ourselves with all of the hustle and bustle of the holiday much so that preparing for advent becomes more about buying and decorating and wrapping and cooking rather than preparing for the the coming.
     I've made a real effort this year to keep all of the distractions of material things out of my way. I have really focused on His arrival.
     Having a seven year old boy has made this even more important. I don't want him to ever think Christmas is about only the taking, because it's so much more than that.
     Preparing for advent is about preparing our hearts for the coming down of the Christ child. HE is the only eternal gift that matters.
     I have decorated the tree and the mantle, but at the center of it all is the Christ child, who I look forward to receiving.

    My son and I have talked extensively this year about what it means to give unselfishly...whole heartedly to others without expecting anything in return. Isn't that the way God did? And isn't that the way we should be?
     So while the lights twinkle and the shiny balls reflect our faces, I am in constant prayer that my heart is a reflection of HIM...not of me or what I have or wish I had...just of HIM and His grace.
     Mary took the task of carrying Him and holding Him, and ultimately giving Him up. That sacrifice is more than my pea brain can absorb. Her faith and determination to be obedient is another part of what  advent is to me. 
     It is a time of rededicating myself to His plan for me.
    And so I wait...I wait with an open heart for the arrival of this Child who loves me, who came without fanfare or parades. He came as a poor child in a dusty stable full of love and grace. That same baby will soon arrive again. I simply can't wait!


Just Some Thoughts

Today, I am full of gratitude for a multitude of things. I just want to write them all down so I won't forget.  
Joining Ann Voskamp in counting His graces for her Multitudes on Monday
I hope you'll join in if you haven't already!

1. I am thankful for grace shown to me in abundance by my Heavenly Father. Having royally made a mess of my life several years ago, I have seen the truest sense of redemption and restoration through His grace and mercy. I have lost everything and would do it again just to gain the peace that comes from a daily walk with Christ. The world may fall apart today, but there is peace in abundance through Him.
2. I am thankful for my wet nosed yorkie, Bella, who makes it her mission every morning to wake me with sweet nudges and a joyful spirit.

3. I am thankful for the gift that is my seven year old son, who challenges me daily to be better, live better, and seek God in how to raise him to be a good, well-rounded, God-seeking man.

4. I am thankful for a surprise email from my father, who severed our relationship 8 1/2 years ago. Just a few simple words remind me that God is still working on our relationship. Praise God! We may never reconcile completely on this side of Heaven, but I know God is still working.

5. I am thankful for the people in my small town, most of whom I don't even know their names, but I know their smiles. I love that so many pass by my office window everyday and wave and share a smile. Even when I am not looking, they tap the glass, to get my attention and share a smile. This makes me happy!

6. I am thankful for Christmas new favorites this year are these: and

7. I am thankful for the things that appear small, but bring great joy like...the red birds in my yard, the Christmas lights around town, the greetings of the people I see in the grocery store and the dollar store, comfortable shoes, and funny co-workers.

These are just a few of the things I am thankful for today. Have a beautiful day and don't forget to be thankful, too!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Living A Bold Mary Life

       The road was dusty and dark and long. Her belly, great with child, must have been filled with fluttering butterflies as she pondered what the future would hold for her son. HE would soon arrive, but there was no room…except in a stable.
       She was young and must have had great expectations, but there would be heartbreak …unspeakable, unimaginable heartbreak. And, yet she carried boldly through with God’s plan.
      During a conversation with my seven year old the other night, he asked me what it meant to be bold. I started describing what the word meant and included people I thought he would relate to as living bold lives. Thus, begun a long discussion of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
     According to Luke 1:28, Mary was highly favored by God, which we can assume from this that Mary had been obedient and completely devoted to God.
      After the Angel Gabriel told her that she would carry the Christ child, instead of questioning and complaining about the magnitude of what she was about to undertake as I would have done, she simply said in Luke 3:38, “I am the Lord’s servant, May your word to me be fulfilled.”
      Wow! Even with all of the questions that must have been running through her head, she was bold in her decision to be obedient.
      I know what I would have been thinking, “What will Joseph say?” “What will my parents think?” “What if Joseph says he won’t marry me?” “How am I going to raise the Savior of the world?”          Finally, I would have said, “Why ME?”
      But Mary, did none of that. She simply took her faith and her obedience and the Bible tells us she hurried to Elizabeth’s house where they rejoiced together.
      Mary was poor in material possessions, but she was rich beyond measure in her spirit. Imagine if we were all that bold in our spirit.
      I am just going to be completely honest in saying, that there is no way I would have ridden on a donkey for miles, nine months pregnant only to give birth in a stinky, germ infested stable. I am quite sure I would have demanded far more. But Mary wasn’t concerned with her own comfort. She only wanted to carry out what God had asked of her.
      Also, I cannot imagine many, if any men, who would have been willing to take a woman for his wife that was already pregnant by some unheard of means to be his wife. But Joseph, like Mary, was bold in his faith and took Mary anyway.
      God chose two ordinary people to parent the Messiah…the Savior of all mankind. And guess what? He still chooses the ordinary to do extraordinary.
      In my often questioning mind and wavering faith, I long to be bold like Mary…to believe without hesitation and to run with delight even when faced with what seems like an impossible situation. Oh to have bold faith like that!
       As the day we celebrate Christ’s birth draws nearer, I am eagerly seeking that bold faith…the kind of faith that allows God to do something extraordinary with an ordinary girl like me. I pray we will all seek that kind of bold faith.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Redeemed and Restored

        As a teenager, I used to visit a small town in the hills of Tennessee on mission trips with my church youth group. I loved these trips, as it was a time of peeling away the layers of modern conveniences like television, and air conditioning, and getting down to what was really important in life like spending time with good people splashing in the fresh water creeks, chasing pigs, riding in the back of pick up trucks through miles of dirt roads, and finding Christ in the midst of it all.
       We would lead vacation bible school for the children in this small community, many of whom waited all year for us to arrive.
       On my first trip, I met a young boy, who was a bright, blue eyed, blonde headed, full of life kind of kid: except he was not really full of life. This sweet 10 year old was dying of AIDS. Robert had contracted the virus through a blood transfusion.
       Keep in mind this was before the time blood was thoroughly tested, and those with AIDS were feared and most were ostracized.
       My dear friend, Rose, and I were never afraid of Robert. In fact, he was our favorite kid.
       On a hot afternoon, sitting in the sticky grass of a field, Robert asked Christ to come into his life. Rose and I prayed with Robert that afternoon, and it was a pivotal moment in my life.
        I continued to visit Robert over the next couple of years and watched as the disease began to take its toll on his precious life.
       After graduating from high school, I went to culinary school at Opryland Hotel in Nashville.  I had not been back to visit Robert in a while and had really not thought about him much.
       While throwing away my lunch one afternoon, I noticed a newspaper on the top of the garbage can in the cafeteria. After taking a second look, I realized the picture on the front of the paper was my sweet friend Robert lying in a hospital bed.
       Later that afternoon, still dressed in my chef’s uniform, I went to Vanderbilt Hospital to see my friend. Robert’s eyes were sunken, his skin was yellow, and it was clear Robert was in his last days. Robert was happy to see me again, but not nearly happy as I was to see him.
       I spent the next 2 days with Robert and his family at the hospital. Robert and I talked when he felt like it, and I would sit quietly with his family during the times he was silent.
      Robert was not afraid of dying, and he told me during one of our talks about his great anticipation of seeing his Heavenly Father for the first time. Even at his young age, Robert had more trust in and love for his Savior than most grown people.
       Late in the evening of the second day, at 14 years of age, Robert went to be with Jesus. I held his hand as he took his last breath. 
       I was with him when he met his Savior for the first time in the hot field as he asked Christ to be his Savior, and I was with him when he went to meet his Savior in Heaven.  Few things in my life will mean as much to me as that night.
       Nearly 20 years later, I still think about Robert. Robert lived this life with grace and forgiveness, and through his life, I learned to do the same. Life is precious, unpredictable, and far too short.
       Becoming a Christian is not about a title or a destination. It is about dying to oneself everyday and allowing Christ to live through us. It is about fully accepting His calling on our lives and seeking to put down our selfish desires and clothe ourselves in who He is rather than who we aspire to be. 
        Christianity is about loving people…completely, regardless of the differences that separate us. It is about turning off the television and the telephones and spending time in His word and listening to His voice. It is not just about believing, but it is about living what we believe.
        My prayer for you this week is that you will take the time to be alone with God, to know Him and allow his strength to become your strength, and His love to become your love and that you will eagerly share it with others.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Chili Cookoff

This weekend, Connor and I participated in a Chili Cookoff. Unfortunately, we didn't win, but we sure had fun. The chili I made was super easy and really good! I thought I would share the recipe since it appears we may be getting some cooler chili kind of weather. Keep in mind this recipe made a full crockpot and served at least 20 people. You could half the ingredients for a smaller portion or freeze part of it to use later.
Connor's Big Boy Chili 
2 large onions, chopped
2 bell peppers, chopped
3 minced garlic cloves
1 1/2 pounds of ground round
2 cans of Bush's chili beans
2 cans of red kidney beans
 1 12 oz. can of tomato paste
2 cans of Hunt's diced tomatoes with onion and bell peppers
1 cup water
1 packet of McCormick's Mild Chili Seasoning Mix
salt as needed
1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
Chopped green onions (optional)
Saute' onions, bell pepper, and garlic until tender. Add ground meat and cook until crumbled and no longer pink. Stir in water, undrained tomatoes, tomato paste and Chili beans. Drain the kidney beans and then add. Add McCormick's packet and the rest of the seasonings. Let simmer on low for 30 minutes. Serve with chopped green onions to garnish.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Love Is Coming Down

           The stockings are hung, and the tree is adorned with ornaments. We sit and watch the twinkling of the shiny lights and sparkling balls.
             The mantle is decorated with garland and lights and trees. The nativity is there arranged with the shepherds and sheep. In the middle of it all is the ceramic Baby Jesus resting in His manger with Mary and Joseph close by watching it all unfold.
             And it is unfolding…the days of Christmas are unfolding before me, and I see in my child’s gleaming eyes the wonder and majesty of the season.
             I remind myself that this unfolding of the holiday cannot be found in wrapped gifts. It cannot be bought or made by delicate stitches embroidered on a gift.
            This holiday is not a product that can be put on a list to be checked twice and delivered by a jolly fat man in a red suit.  This holiday can only be found. It can only be found in the unfolding of the one who IS Christmas into our lives. This holiday is Jesus.
            Christmas is the delightful anticipation of the birth of the Christ child who came down full of love. Joy To The World! Love is coming down!
            And in the stillness of the moment with the lights glistening and the advent candle glimmering, I can almost hear the shepherds chatting with childlike giddiness upon finding the King. I imagine the angelic voices that proclaimed his birth. Can you hear it, too? Can you feel it…the excitement? They found Him, and we can, too!
          What if we all just slowed down this season to breathe deep and set aside lists and stressful expectations?             
          What if we all just simply waited with our hearts wide open for the unfolding of the Messiah?
           The King of the World arrived without fanfare, parades or horns. He came quietly and gently, just as He beckons to us today…quietly and gently, saying, “Be still and know…”
           Might I encourage us all to be still and know the precious child who waits for us this Christmas?
          There, in the cradling trough, is the Christ babe, and He is still there. Won’t you come with me to see him, to hold him?
           Slow down this season. Listen for His coming. Feel His coming. He will soon be here…this King…our Emmanuel. O Come Let Us Adore Him!!!

Friday, December 2, 2011

My Newest Christmas Decoration

After seeing the idea for making a Christmas tree from a tomato plant cage, I decided to attempt it. However, finding a tomato cage in December is, well, impossible. So, I remembered that I had an old cemetery flower easel in the storage room and thought I could use the same idea of decorating the tomato cage, but use the easel instead. Most floral shops have these easels and will gladly give one away.
The first thing I did was wrap the stand down to the triangle portion with garland. I used a couple different kinds of garland, because I didn't have enough of just one kind to wrap the whole stand. You can't tell that there are more than one kind, because I weaved them together.
Next, I wrapped my lights around it. I used 1 strand of colored lights and 1 strand of white lights.
 Then, I wrapped some mesh ribbon around it and put a shiny star at the top.  I poked the legs of the easel into the ground all the way up to the triangle part. It looks just like a Christmas tree as you drive by.
 I got some ornaments to put on it yesterday and will finish it off this afternoon.  This project was super easy!!!! And it turned out really pretty!!!
What are some easy Christmas decorations you have done this year?

Looking Behind, But Plowing Ahead

I appreciate a good driver, probably more so than most. More than just a good driver, I really admire a good backer upper.
            My lack of reverse skills began early in my driving career when I backed over my driving teacher’s foot while learning how to parallel park nearly 25 years ago. Perhaps, I should have climbed out of the driver’s seat then and given up my quest for a driver’s license.
While I am great at driving forwards, my reverse skills are lacking to say the least. Shamefully, I will admit that I have backed over a boy on a bike (he was uninjured, but the bike was not so lucky), two skateboards, three tricycles, two bicycles, a four-wheeler, a scooter, a mailbox, several trees, bushes, and an assortment of flowerbeds. I have backed into enough cars that I no longer keep count of the total. I want even begin to detail the unfortunate garbage man who got an early wake up call in the form of my rear bumper. Suffice it to say, he survived, thankfully, unharmed.
Most recently, I came within a honk and an inch of replacing one of Union’s police car’s front bumpers with the tail end of my car. I would have laid my license and my keys right in the middle of Bank Street and walked away, never to drive again, if I had hit that sweet police officer.
Now, in my defense, I am not alone in this reversing disorder. I come from a long line of bad backer uppers. My grandfather and my father have backed into their share of garage doors, parked cars, and yard fixtures. I acquired my lack of reverse skills honestly.
The mystery of this reverse disorder is that I seem to always be looking behind me just in case there is something or someone that I might hit. I spend more time looking behind than I do forward, but it never seems to help. I still manage to back over a poor unfortunate object.
I have found that my obsession with looking behind me is much like that of the many people who spend more time obsessing with what is behind them rather than seizing what is ahead.
Philippians 3:13 says, “Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…”
Paul wrote the book of Philippians while he was in prison. Even in his imprisonment, he was still eagerly encouraging others to look ahead rather than focus on their past that involved bitterness and unforgiveness.
While the past holds lessons learned, dwelling on mistakes of the past serves no purpose for our lives in the future.
Christ promises to remove our sins as far as the east is from the west. Why, then, is it so hard for us to forgive ourselves? Guilt and shame are of no benefit to anyone but Satan. Dwelling on the past only prolongs pain and suffering, and ultimately, prevents a true relationship with Christ.
Rather than being filled with guilt and shame, we should be repentant. Heartfelt repentance means acknowledging our wrong and pledging to change. Guilt causes us to stay focused on the past rather than moving forward into the future of God’s grace.
I have made enough mistakes in my life to fill every nook and cranny on this side of the Mississippi. However, I know with certainty, that when I ask for forgiveness, not only am I forgiven, but I am given a chance to do things right. With that knowledge, I have a peace that I cannot find by worrying about what I should have or could have done in the past.
While I find it essential to stay focused on the rear of my car so as to prevent any further accidents, I am constantly looking forward to find the peace that passes all understanding through the forgiveness of the past. I pray you will do the same.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

My Favorite Things This Year

 I just read the Favorite Things posts on Nester’s blog today. I loved her favorites, so I thought I would do one of my own.

This is my favorite time of year! I love it! Having a kid makes the holiday so much more special! Seeing the wonder and excitement in his face and sharing the real meaning of the holiday brings me so much joy!

Here are a few of my favorites this Christmas Season:

1. I heard this song on the KLove Christmas station on Itunes. I have listened to it at least a million times.

2. I discovered this blog yesterday What a great way to incorporate doing for others by doing the Light 'Em Up ideas.
3. This is the first year I have done Elf on a Shelf with Connor. O'Neil, our elf, "arrived this morning". Connor had a great time trying to find him. I have found some awesome ideas for O'Neil on Pinterest. I can't wait for tomorrow!
4. Wrapping presents is more of an art than a chore to me. I have the best time wrapping and creating bows and decorations to embellish the packages. I don't buy pre-made bows, because I enjoy making my own. 

5. Mostly, my favorite part of this season is discovering all the ways I can create a Christ centered Christmas, as opposed to getting caught up in the commercialism that can easily distract from the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Here is one of the things I have framed for this year.
What are some of your favorite things this time of year?