12.27.2013

A Pair


These two stick together all the time.
When they appear on the backyard patio or out in the garden, 
they seem joined by an invisible thread, never far apart, perfectly in tandem.

They have become 'The Mockingbirds' in my staring into the backyard reflections.
Like 'the Smiths', 'the Harpers', or 'the Glenns' - a couple known by a single title.


Would you like to have dinner with 'the Wilsons' next week?
'The Parkers' are throwing the New Year's party this time.
Look - 'the Mockingbirds' are enjoying the patio furniture!

In flight, and poised to follow - perfect.


12.23.2013

Meager Offerings



Ouch! What happened to his hand? I can tell you that his hand used to hold a lantern.
And that really explains everything. What? You still don't know what happened to his hand?
Well, if  he was holding a lantern, and he was,  then that lantern would have been much coveted by 
each of my sons. One more than the others, but I will not point the finger here. But I'm sure I know exactly who did the deed on the innkeeper. And so, in trying to get the innkeeper's lantern away from his tiny hand, that's probably how the hand AND the lantern disappeared.  
 But I'm just speculating.
The innkeeper's solemn countenance convicts me. He does not seem so merry, does he? Poor guy
has gotten a pretty bad rap all these years for not ousting one of his guests into the cold 
to allow a(nother?) pregnant woman share a room with her husband. How was he supposed to 
know it was the mother of the Messiah? At least he didn't slam the door in their faces - 
there must've been plenty of other innkeepers who had already done that! 
He did make room, however meager it turned out to be.

And consider the directions given by the angel to the shepherds, 
"This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."
 It's not hard to imagine that there might've even been other newborn babies
among the crowds swelling the sleeping rooms in response to the new taxation.
It would have been much easier to find the only newly-born baby laying in a feeding trough than
it would have been to locate the tiny Messiah among the masses packed like sardines
into Bethlehem's inns.

Worked out pretty well, I think! The innkeeper was an unexpected tool of God's sovereignty!
The Father was not in heaven wringing His mighty hands at some slight delivered by a Hebrew
innkeeper. He was not tsk tsk-ing or shaking His Omnipotent head at the callousness of the
human race in the City of David that night. The Savior placed in a feeding trough was 
a divine foreshadowing ... and an easy place for shepherds to find. 
What we may judge to be the 'meager' offering of the innkeeper was, in truth, exactly what
was called for on that un-Silent Night.

*****

Father, let me be a tool of Your sovereign grace in someone's life this Christmas!
Bless even my most meager obedience and by Your mercy
make it much more than I could ever imagine.




12.20.2013

Bowing


Here he is - the older shepherd, quick to bow the knee and clasp his hands in recognition.
He's spending his Christmas days in the living room window, looking out over the backyard.
I really identify with this character this year. 
I'm feeling old these days - stiff and sore - but still determined to bow!
You know I get all teary at Christmas carols at this time of year, and I LOVE
when the singing goes beyond the first and last verses. The really good stuff is
in the second or third verses, you know. 
Like this third verse of 'It Came Upon a Midnight Clear':

O ye beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow;
Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing.

Click HERE  to listen and take time to ponder and treasure up!


12.18.2013

Unashamed Shepherds

 I broke up the traditional huddle of our nativity scene and carted off the members to stand on their own around our house. After so many years of seeing them all in their every-Christmas positions, I want to see them, to consider them, with some fresh perspective. 

The shepherd boys pass the days of the Holiday in the dining room window, with their sheep nearby.
In our set of the Nativity, these two shepherd 'young men' are standing with the sheep, 
while one clearly older shepherd fellow has fallen to his knees. 
This, I think seems so true to life. The older we get, the more strongly we feel our need for a Savior, and the more it makes sense to just fall on our knees in acceptance, gratitude and praise!
The shepherds were the first to hear that their Messiah had been born, and not
in some ordinary way. A "multitude of the heavenly host" came along to announce
the Good News! No room for doubts or misgivings, and no matter their age, they "hurried" into town to see the newborn Savior. They "told everyone" about their experience and what they had
found following their obedience to the heavenly directions.
Oh! That I might share the Good News with the complete abandon of a shepherd boy!
How would Christmas change if my boldest move was much more than a cheeky 'Merry Christmas'? 
What if I shared, with shepherd-like excitement, my experience of a calling from Heaven
 and my discovery of the much-needed,  just-in-time Savior? 
* Don't you think the sheep look a little smug? *
** Click HERE to read the shepherds' story **



12.16.2013

Treasure Up

I broke up the traditional huddle of our nativity scene and carted off the members to stand on their own around our house. After so many, many years of seeing them all in their every-Christmas positions, I want to see them, to consider them, with some fresh perspective. 

Mary is holding a spot on the fireplace mantel in our bedroom, so I can see her often. I know I've
talked about her here before, but  we have so much to learn from Mary!
It would be an understatement to say that this young woman's life was turned upside
down and inside out, starting with the appearance of an angel in her childhood 
home on some ordinary day long ago. Was she stirring the afternoon meal? 
Maybe folding linens near her sleeping mat?
Was she in the back garden with her hands in the soil?
"Greetings, oh favored one ...!"    
What?!
Becoming the mother of the Savior of the world must've been  stressful,  to say the least. 
We are given a peek at one way she may have coped - 
"But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart." 
Is it just me, or does this tiny nativity figurine seem to be demonstrating exactly that?
I think a stance of adoration toward the Christ child must have been the actual intention 
of the producers of this set, but
separated from the manger scene and all of the other creche characters ... I think 
Mary might be doing some pondering! Not only pondering, but both times this verse is repeated
 in Luke 2, the phrase 'treasured up' is mentioned in lots of other translations.
This season when the stress gets high, when the overwhelming-ness of the LISTS
seems to be too much, I want to, like Mary, fold my hands instead of wringing them and take a moment or two, or 23, to ponder. More frequent intermissions dedicated to 'treasuring up' might help 
me focus on things that really matter and allow me to worship more effectively this Christmas



12.13.2013

Hop Over


Have you seen my post over at A Bird and A Bean
Just in time for Christmas ...

... make your own aroma jar to keep or gift.
Click here to visit there - lots of fun stuff at ABAAB!

12.12.2013

Don't Sit Down


It might seem a little bit harsh.
Zechariah lost his voice for all of Elizabeth's pregnancy due to his display of unbelief at the declarations of an angel. God finally loosened his tongue for speech at the baby's circumcision ceremony  when he agreed in writing  with his wife's instructions about the miracle baby's name - John. You gotta love that!

The scripture says he was then 'filled with the Holy Spirit' and he prophesied. Just one bit of it says:
" ... the sunlight shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

I know many who sit in darkness. Some sit in the darkness of their own sin, thinking they can generate enough light of their own to find their own way. (Glowworm Logic) I breathe prayers for them, that the light will break over their hearts and that they will rise up and "being delivered ... might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness ..." (Luke 1:74-75) 

But even those who know Christ, who revealed Himself as the Light of the World, can still sit in any number of deep and overwhelming darknesses - illness, grief, loss, rejection, abuse ... it's a long list. Although the light of Christ has dawned in our lives,  sometimes we are led into places that chill us with 'the shadow of death' that Zechariah mentions. 

Maybe the difference lies in being led through and not sitting down!  
David said Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil - for YOU ARE WITH ME! 
Immanuel - God with us!

In this season when it often turns out that all is NOT bright and all is NOT calm, let us press on and continue to run the race.  Let's resist the overwhelming urge to fold our trembling legs and just slump into a pile of flesh mush, right in the middle of the Shadowy Valley.  Toes that are pointing at the sky are not in the right position to be guided 'into the way of peace'!

We can rejoice that in John 1, the writer says that 
" ... in Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness
and the darkness has not overcome it."
THE DARKNESS HAS NOT OVERCOME IT
Now that's something to recite whenever you see those beautiful Christmas lights!
And that's what I'm going to do.

(Christmas lights on the front of our house against the evening sky.)


*** Read Zechariah's entire story here.


12.09.2013

Snow, Pajamas, and Training


We've had so much snow and ice around here lately! The snow is fun to watch floating gently down, and I can never be unhappy about  a snow day,  better known around here as PAJAMA DAY. 
 It is certainly no burden to slouch around the house in my comfy clothes with every curtain thrown wide open to let in the wintery view and that special light that only radiates from a sky crowded with snow clouds. Hot chocolate must be had by all, the kind that slightly scalds the tongue and overflows with marshmallows! 
 No more do my snow days include any requirement to tromp around outside wearing a get-up which even a homeless person would consider "eclectic".  But when the boys were little, SOMEone had to be out there help snowsuit-clad children back to their feet, to wipe icy residuals  from necks and wrists, while making light of a  snowball in the face
"Haha, ha, ha, ha - no harm done!" 
Yeah, right. 
Convincing anyone, even a gullible little person,  to overlook an offense  is pretty much impossible. Training that little person to first  give the benefit of the doubt  regarding the misdeed of a brother --- so, so difficult, however necessary it might be.
And I'm not sure that task ever gets any easier... for any of us.
Now I can take photos from the relative comfort of my own bedroom using a zoom lens, which happens to be an amazing, exciting new experience! But I did end up out in the snow tromping about in snow boots, which are the same as barn boots, looking for fragrant cuttings.

More on that to come in my upcoming post at A Bird and A Bean.



12.05.2013

Elda's Christmas Cloth



Elda sorted through the bottom drawer of her bureau with both hands. Finally feeling the stitched edging of the linen come into her hand, her spirits rose upward. It was the sacred time of year, yet again, and her heart swelled with anticipation at what her Savior might do in the next few weeks.

She moved slowly into the sitting room of her small apartment in the 'senior community' where she had only recently settled, unfolding the Christmas cloth as she went. Elda remembered how stiff and proper it had been when she'd purchased it as a twenty-year-old girl, at the dime store one block from her seminary quarters. How threadbare it had become!  Just like me, she mused as she held the cloth up to the light streaming through the block window over the tiny second-hand couch.  Elda smiled and shook her head, I once was stiff and proper too, but now I'm thin and soft with all my dignity worn away. She yielded praise for the uncanny wisdom of her Lord and began to remove the framed photos from her coffee table. 

Her gnarled hands spread the festive fabric over the wooden surface and stroked the folds smooth. This foldable Christmas token had traveled the world's mission fields with her over the last sixty years, one of the few things she took wherever she had been sent. Always tucked securely in the bottom of her leather satchel, together they had slipped down jungle rivers by canoe, crossed mountain borders by train, and trekked miles of remote pathways. 

Countless brown fingers had caressed it with curiosity, and always, always she had waited breathlessly for the questions which would follow. What is this cloth? What does it mean? What is Christmas?  Her chance to share the Gospel through the story of the Lord's birth! Elda remembered with joy the faces of those who had knelt  with her in tiny huts or curtained alcoves, on so very many dirt floors, to be born anew into the Kingdom of God. Wherever she had been, in whatever discomfort was necessary, these opportunities had been her favorite gifts every December. 

Peace on Earth had come to many whose hands she had grasped over this very cloth. And now as she spread it again, she looked forward, wondering who might be brought to her this year, her ninety-first year, to discover and celebrate the true Christmas. Father, if You will, let this old missionary woman of Yours share the Good News one more time this Christmas! 

Elda's doorbell buzzed and the entry swung open to admit the nurse on duty for this corridor of apartments. She smiled a welcome to the young woman who wheeled a small cart overflowing with pills and syringes. The nurse directed small talk at Elda, telling her about the weather and letting her know what would be brought for dinner in just a couple of hours. She packed away her gear and stopped short as her eyes finally fell upon Elda's Christmas cloth. 
Oh! You've decorated for Christmas, have you? 


Click this link to hear the Good News of Christmas for yourself.
I think Elda would approve. 


Buy Elda's Christmas Cloth here.




12.03.2013

What Did They Say?



Have you ever had a conversation like this with anyone (your husband) after 
something big has happened?

"Oh my gosh, I can't believe that happened! What did he say?
Well, what did she say? Did they say anything? And did he have anything to say?
What did they say when you said that?" 
When something big happens, I want to know EVERYthing! 
And I want to know how everyone involved reacted.


That's how I'm reading the Christmas stories this year -
How did Mary react? What did Joseph say? What did Zechariah and Elizabeth do?
What about Anna and Simeon? Did the shepherds get a chance to talk?
The Magi? And all those angels!

I encourage you to linger and ponder over the scriptural accounts of Christ's birth every day of this sacred season. Read every cross-reference and chase down every rabbit. Wipe the dust from that old commentary and dig up some historic details. Persevere in these stories until every decoration is boxed again and stuffed away for another year. Let's plan to leave December 2013 with something from the scripture, something eternal, which we can take into the new year! 
A gift for ourselves!
'Good friend, take to heart what I’m telling you;
    collect my counsels and guard them with your life.
Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom;
    set your heart on a life of Understanding.
That’s right—if you make Insight your priority,
    and won’t take no for an answer,
Searching for it like a prospector panning for gold,
    like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,
Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours;
    you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God.'



* Photo taken in Madison, IN, as we were driving into town on an after-Christmas overnight. 
This was the only Holiday decor on or around this little town home. I was impressed.



12.01.2013

Bliss


1988 in Charleston, South Carolina. 
We were post-wedding bliss.
Honeymoon Me

Can you see our faces sort of glowing?
Honeymoon He

Our First Married Morning
on the front steps of the Graustein Inn in Knoxville.

These photos were rarely seen, boxed slides and have been recently transferred to digital. 
I'm thinking this might be a fun small business. 
Let me know if you have some slides you'd like to have switched over - I've got the gear! 


11.27.2013

Overwintering Geraniums - A Casual Tutorial


As promised in my post at A Bird and A Bean, I want to show you how to keep the same geranium plants year after year instead of buying new ones every time the garden stores open for business in the spring.

There are probably some containers outside on your patio or porch which have geraniums
waving pathetic and mostly dead stems around in the cold November air. Maybe you even have some geraniums
out in your flower beds that were lovely this summer and fall, but which you now consider a loss -
along with once vibrant impatiens, petunias, periwinkle and lobelia.


You might think it's too late to save them now, but geraniums are a pretty hardy lot, and what do you have to lose? It only takes a few minutes to prepare them for overwintering, and if it works, you'll have geraniums for free next spring. And free is the very best price for any plant purchase!
So here is a very casual tutorial - a scheme to get a few free plants.

******************

Here's a container with one geranium plant mixed in with other annuals and perennials.
Can you see it pointing up at us? 


Use a hand spade or the blunt part of your trimmers to pop the entire plant out of the pot, roots and all.
Does this photo make my wrist look fat???


Shake off most of the dirt, especially if the soil was very wet.

Trim the stems to about this height.
It's not rocket science, so don't obsess about exactly how much to leave. 
The new growth will erupt right out of the stems that are left.

Pack the  geraniums in a box where they'll have plenty of room for a sleepy winter. Remember - Nobody likes a crowded bed!  The box should close loosely so that a little air can circulate around and keep rot from forming. A friend of mine has great success wintering her geraniums in paper bags. Whatever you have handy is fine.
Go for broke and try both methods! Carpe Diem!

Make sure to label the box and store it in a cool, dry, dark spot like a garage or a basement shelf.  I'll be storing mine in the Maid of Honor dry sink in my greenhouse - someplace I'm sure to look when winter begins to finally fade away. As you can see, it's one of my favorite stashing spots. I meant to use those paper lanterns all summer but never did. I must do that in the spring!
Sometime around the end of February and certainly by the beginning of March, you'll want to get out there and check on them. You might open the box to find new growth already on the stems, but don't think your experiment failed if they look like they're goners.

Go ahead and trim off any dead bits and place them directly in a basin or bucket of water for a few hours to moisten up the roots and jump start their new lives. Then place them directly in some slightly moist potting soil. Leave them in a warm spot, with plenty of direct sunshine. New leaf growth should begin to sprout in about three weeks!

Now you can spend money on a new pair of spring flip-flops instead of buying geraniums! Yippee!



11.25.2013

Quitter


Some people do not know when to quit.
Just like this snapdragon that continues to bloom, even in these subfreezing temperatures.
I can peek around the corner from my bedroom window and watch its blossoms wave 
in the frigid breeze.
When is enough finally too much?
How much does a person have to endure before throwing up hands and walking away, and who gets to make the call? I'm not sure where the lines lay, but I see that Peter wondered the same thing.

I took some begonias into the greenhouse when we started to have frosts.
They should've been fine in there, even though it's not a completely enclosed shelter.
A week or so later, sadly, I found them completely grayed out - touched by the frosty air and dead.
In contrast to these spunky snapdragons which were left out in the open to deal with the 
full force of wintery weather, those fragile begonias gave up the ghost at the first signs of chill.

I want to endure in relationships like a snapdragon and NOT behave like a begonia.





11.20.2013

Beverly Jean Fights Back




Beverly couldn't help it. She chuckled to herself as she squeezed  the extra-strong starch solution out of her newly made antimacassar. This time when Albert's slimy head came to rest on the back of her best, and favorite armchair, he'd get a little surprise! How many years had she been asking her brother to stop wearing so much of that greasy hair oil? And did he ever listen? Did he consider how she wore her hands to a mess cleaning those stains out of the upholstery every time he came to visit? No, he did not! What foolishness - slicking perfectly healthy hair down with all that ... what was it ... Wildroot! Wildroot Cream Oil, that's what! Well, she was finished with such nonsense! She didn't have fine things, like he did, but she did have clean things. When he took to her chair for a nap after stuffing himself at Christmas dinner, he would not be resting his vain head as comfortably as he had on earlier holidays. Beverly Jean was going to make sure of that. 



Wildroot advertisement - here

How to starch your own doilies and antimacassars - here

Buy Beverly Jean's starched creation - here



11.18.2013

Browning Blues

We closed the gardens on Saturday, since it was such a warm day. 
It's all hands on deck when that big job looms between me and the (real) Holidays.
But this year, all hands meant only 6 - Husband, My Youngest and myself.
One of us was less than enthusiastic about spending Saturday afternoon this way.
And it wasn't those of us over twenty years of age.

Now listen, I know it's way more effective to motivate an un-motivated teenager by 
praising positive effort and casting a vision of the many 
satisfactions of a job well done
 than it is to 
goad and fuss, or prompt and point.  
Encouragement is always better than prodding - that seems easy to agree with, doesn't it?
But when I want something to be done, I find it so, so hard to discipline myself to stay on the right side! 

And in a nutshell, that's what parenting is REALLY all about, isn't it? 
Yes, there are lots of hugs and warmth and blessing abound, 
but I don't think it's hard to admit that it's also the Refiner's fire at times. 
The poor kid probably thought I was having some sort of personality disorder eruption right there
in the middle of the lamb's ear patch. One moment pleasant and smiling, encouraging ---
then frowning, huffing and haranguing. It's a battle, people! 
*** Making a side note of the obvious - these photos! ***
One of the jobs on Saturday was removing old hydrangea blooms. The weight of a heavy snowfall(or ice)  can break the canes if the mopheads remain on the bush through the winter, so it's better to take them off as part of the fall clean-up. 
An easy, standing up sort of job! Clip and toss! It's freeing! They just blow away! 
What teenager wouldn't want that job, I ask you?

Look how the deep blue color fades top to bottom from this bloom - is that cool or what? You can see on some individual petals how the color is fading to brown - brown and sky blue on the same petals! Beauty in the most ordinary, disposable items!  The Father is certainly lavish in His displays of splendor!