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Changing seasons

I gladly admit that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday.

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That does not negate the fact that Christmas is designated as the date for the birth of Jesus, and Easter is the day I celebrate His resurrection. But those holidays have morphed into something different, something other than the sacredness of the original. Thanksgiving, however,  still calls us to give thanks, to gather with our family and friends, to enjoy the bounty of a God who gives good gifts.

As the day approaches, I ponder how we will celebrate this year. Our menu remains relatively the same, each of us cooking our special recipes, but there will be differences in us. Because families change.

When I was young I celebrated with my parents and extended family. Me being an only child and my mother and aunt being sisters/best friends, the family units combined to make one big happy one.  As my cousins and I became adults and added spouses and children to the mix, place settings were added and the house got a little louder.

I recall the first emotional change for me. It was the year of my mother’s death. Thanksgiving approached and I could not wrap my mind around doing it without her. She had been a vital part of the day, cooking with my aunt, her voice and laughter ringing in the kitchen where steam rose from the stove and aromas led us to ask, “Is it time to eat?”

I asked Sweet William to take me away that year. I could not act like everything was the same, because it wasn’t.

Through the decades, members of our family have been added and subtracted. More often our circle grew, but sometimes it diminished due to death, divorce, travel or a move.

An open invitation policy meant we might have new neighbors, a pastor’s family, or friends needing a place of welcome. It was interesting to see who was at our Thanksgiving table.

This year, once again, I long for my dear ones in a distant state. I miss my dad, gone from us five years now, and remember how his birthday often fell on Thanksgiving day. I miss others who have not been at our table for many years. We have adjusted to their absence. But we don’t forget their faces, their laughter, and the richness they brought to our lives.

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Friends come to mind who face the struggle of a loved one gone this year. My heart hurts with them. The first year is the hardest people say. But grief is not on a timetable. We must give place to the heartache, allow the tears to come and vent the sorrow. We need to be patient with ourselves as we work our way through the loss. Because joy will come in the morning.

Thanksgiving will always be my best family holiday. There will be hugs and laughter, deep discussions and funny stories, memories and questions.  After dinner, the older men will meander to the couch to watch football and maybe take a nap. The women will browse Black Friday ads, whether we intend to go out or not. We’ll talk, circling around one subject and then another, never missing a beat. The young parents will discuss politics, careers, home, and children. The kids will be on an adventure of fun.

We will look around and be glad for those near. We will give thanks for those who have come and gone, remembering how they impacted our lives.  We will wish for days when the entire family will be together once more.100_2694

We will remember God’s faithfulness through all the years of our lives. And we will give thanks to the One who blessed us with all of this.

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Sunday grace

The sun shines in the afternoon, and I feel it in my bones. Cold dark days are hard to navigate sometimes.

Thanksgiving anticipation looms in my view. Most of the shopping is finished except for broccoli that needs to be crisp and fresh. Recipes have been pulled from books and boxes. They are old and spattered with years of memories. I recognize my mother’s handwriting on one of the folded papers.

I remember other Thanksgivings. Some are full of wonder, like last year when my dear ones drove long to be here around the table. Others years found me with an ache in my heart, like the year when my mother first became sick or when there was one less person at the table.

Holidays are a mixed menu of sweetness and salty tears. It is the stuff of real life. The rain and the clouds can suddenly turn into rays of brilliant sunshine. And vice versa.

When we gather at the table this year, let us give thanks for those who are there. Whoever they are, whether relatives, long-time friends, or new acquaintances, they are gifts God has given us for a time, this very moment.

They are more important than the food or the table settings. More important than the football game or the black Friday ads. More important than the Christmas gifts we are hoping to get at a bargain.  More important than Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

We will set across the table from one another, face to face with daughters of Eve and sons of Adam, God’s image breathed into human form.

Let us give thanks for each one and love them with all of our hearts.

Sunday grace.

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At the table

There is something delightful about creating in the kitchen, sugar, flour, and spices floating in the air.

My mother was a good cook. She learned from her mother. I was invited into her expetise when I was young, and I enjoyed the whole process. I tried to grasp her technique and how mother’s dishes always tasted so delicious.

Sugar, butter and bacon grease.

I like fixing a pot of soup in the crock pot. Usually what is currently in the refrigerator and freezer is what goes in the pot. The chopping of vegetables and seasoning with herbs from my garden patch in the early morning is a promise of deliciousness as the aroma fills the house.

I’ve been very domestic since my recovery. I guess I’ve missed the creativity of the kitchen. I made Irish soda bread for the first time, to go with the leftover soup. Hot from the oven and slathered with butter, it was scrumptious.

Mother was right about the butter.

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The act of cooking and eating is about sustenance of course. We have to eat to live. It can become mundane and habitual as we fix three meals a day and then clean up the resulting mess of pots and pans. I often feel as if my life is being lived out in the kitchen.

Some of us live to eat and relish finding a new restaurant or trying Pinterest recipes. I admit to having an old fashioned recipe box containing index-sized cards, spattered and stained from my concoctions. They are the tried and true. I have tested them and found them good, worthy of returning to regularly.

I baked a pie last week and invited the neighbors who live in the house next door. Our quiet dwelling was soon filled with the noise, the talking and laughter, of people we love. Add cups of steaming coffee rich with cream and it was a party.

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The littlest neighbor, just two-year-old, was not so interested in the food. He was content with the gently-used matchbox cars, the ones collected years ago and loved by two generations of boys.

Food brings people together. It offers a welcome of friendship. It brings comfort and fills us in more ways than just the physical.

The taste of soup and fresh bread, of an apple pie fresh from the oven embodies the warmth of hearts joined in fellowship.

Around the table we talk about the weather, the latest news, and our current projects. At times we go deeper into what concerns us, the decisions we must make, and how life is challenging.

And maybe, just maybe we open our hearts and reveal our true selves. We laugh and we cry. We listen deeply and we carefully craft our words to encourage rather than instruct. It becomes more than mere conversation. It becomes communion.

At the table we are enriched and fed.

Scripture records Jesus feeding people and being fed by them. His humanity was revealed by the mere fact that he also needed nourishment for his body. It was at the Passover table where he shared bread and wine with the disciples and opened his heart with final words before his death on the cross.

After his resurrection, he prepared fish over coals of fire on the shores of Galilee, inviting his friends once again. It was a time of restoration and healing for them.

There is something to the idea of comfort food. Because sometimes the present trial is hard and the future is unsure. We wonder how we are going to face the days ahead or endure our disappointments today. The taste of something delicious, especially when it is shared, brings us back to this moment. Right here. Right now.

This moment is what we have. This day, this hour. And when we gather at the table, we can eat and be filled. We are refreshed, revived, and strengthened for the journey.

Gather at the table. It only takes a loaf of bread. Or maybe a freshly baked pie.

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Sacred ordinary

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Twinkling lights on the tree.

Old house transformed into new home.

Moments with dear friends, sweet communion, heart to heart.

Deliciously prepared food that melts in the mouth.

Love filling the rooms, the halls, the corners.

Hot strong coffee with whipping cream.

Comforting conversation.

Tender gestures that speak love.

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And long, long ago, a Baby was born and a mother nestled Him.

The ordinary becomes sacred and all of it a gift.

Christmas gifts.

Life becomes sacred.   Ordinary moments becoming holy.

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Notice the sacred ordinary.  Treasure the moments.

With grateful heart

I really did not intend to blog today.  It’s the day before Thanksgiving and my Marathon Cooking day. Not that my preparation is so monumental because tomorrow Sweet William and I will joyfully drive just a quarter of a mile to my cousin’s house where family will gather with a wealth of food.

But this is my day to cook, people.  And sample. {smile}

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Yet, on this very busy day my heart is full of thanksgiving, even from the early hours of the morning as I wrote my Joy List, the annual numbering of blessings from the past year.  It is a habit that started years ago, and the list just grows longer.

With my grateful thoughts, tears are the special ingredient all day.  Tears of joy.  Tears of hope.  Tears of longing.  Tears of heartbreak.  They are a wellspring in me today.  They are cleansing my soul.  And my Lord understands each one.

I thank God for the gifts that have come brightly wrapped, all cheerful and joyous.  I thank Him for the gifts that came shrouded in dark mystery for they sent me running to His safe and everlasting arms.

So I lift my heart in praise and enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise.  I will give Him thanks and I will bless His name.  Because He is good.  His love lasts forever.  His faithfulness extends to my children and my children’s children.

How can I not give Him the honor due His name?  He has been good to me.

 

 

Merry Christmas Eve

Speaking of interruptions, (see yesterday’s blog post) I burned the ham I was planning to serve our family for our Christmas Eve dinner. My Sweet William said, ‘Don’t worry about the money. Just go get another ham.” Interruption.

Bill struggled in the bathroom (he’s just had knee surgery) and knocked several things onto the floor. Nothing was broken, but water from a vase went on the floor. Interruption.

After bowls of oatmeal and raisins (the last good-for-us-food we will probably eat today), I donned my Neiman Marcus green felt fedora (a cast off from my cousin – a find for me), hoping to cover the bed-head hair, threw my cape over my PJ’s (actually sweat pants and an old shirt of Bill’s), put on my sunglasses, and set off for Kroger, hoping to see no one I knew.

I quietly asked the Lord for a close parking spot. He gave me one, bless Him! I rattled my memory for the four items I was going to get: ham, a package of dry yeast, whipped cream, and a replacement soap dispenser for the one in the bathroom that quit working this morning. Interruption.

I only saw one person I knew at Kroger. She looked at me with her head slightly turned, smiled and wished me a Merry Christmas. It was the hat, I’m sure.

I grabbed my items quick as I could, trying to be pleasant to other last-minute shoppers like myself. I bought chocolate cream puffs from the frozen section, a substitute for homemade cookies this year.

I went through the self-serve check-out and wished the young man stationed there a “Merry Christmas.” The car trunk popped open with the press of a button, and I deposited my purchases. I took two bascarts back to the store, and a Kroger employee smiled sweetly and said a genuine ‘thank you.’ I smiled as I walked to the car.

At home, I put the new ham in the oven, careful to follow the instructions this time. I went into a food preparation frenzy. In between recipes, I grabbed stockings and stuffed them, put gifts in bags and added some tissue paper hoping they would look OK. It’s been such a busy few days with quite a number of interruptions.

Before the family came, I managed a quick shower and change of clothes, fixed my hair and make-up. Soon the house was full of my loved ones, lots of smiles and laughter, hugs and hearts filled with thankfulness that we have each other. And after all, isn’t that the best Christmas gift of all?

Merry Christmas everyone. Joy to the world, the Lord has come!

Interruptions

A sweet friend sends a daily message over the internet.  She said she gets them from different places.  They are meant to be uplifting, thought-provoking, and turn our eyes heavenward.  I enjoy reading them each day, and sometimes they hit me right where I live.

Recently she sent this one:

“Christ comes to us in the unexpected, in the interruption and not necessarily on our schedule.”

Life’s interruptions come often, don’t they?  The question is ‘what to do with them?’  You can’t go around them; can’t go over them’ can’t go under them; gotta’ go through them.  Wisdom sometimes comes from a child’s game.

My Sweet William and I had an interruption this week.  He went to the hospital for another knee surgery.  Neither of us really knew how the day would turn out.  As it turned, he spent two nights in the hospital.  Definitely an interruption and not on my holiday schedule. 

I am a planner, not very spontaneous.  Bill helps me be a little more spur-or-the-moment than my personality tends to be.  It is not natural for me to drop what I’m doing and go on an adventure.

So an interruption such as surgery the week before Christmas and two nights in the hospital really turned over my apple cart.

As I listened to the news with Bill lying in the hospital bed, I saw people in California dealing with flooding, mud slides, and houses drowning in the river of waters.  I heard about someone’s sister and her husband who were hit while driving to another state to visit family.  I got an email informing me a sweet elderly member of Little Flock died as a result of a fall on the ice.  Another friend’s wife underwent back surgery though she didn’t know she needed until this week.

Interruptions are the stuff of life.  All the planning we can possibly do will not stop the unexpected.  Sometimes it is an irritation, sometimes it’s a tragedy.  And sometimes it comes as a pleasant surprise and a blessing from above.  Like the pre-op nurse handling Bill’s surgery preparation reminding me she had been in one of my Bible studies.  Her presence gave us comfort in a stress-filled situation.  Like the sweet choir member who brought lunch for the Little Flock staff on Tuesday, and there was enough left for me to eat on Wednesday.  What nice interruptions.

The good news in all of this is that our God knows the end from the beginning.  He is from everlasting to everlasting.  What we face tomorrow, He has gone before and knows what we will need.

Proverbs holds wisdom about life’s interruptions.  Chapter 16: 9 says:

“In his heart man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”

Another gem is written in chapter 19:21:

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Bill’s two days in the hospital were spent with a fellow patient who had just had knee replacement surgery.   He and Bill had quite a time talking, joking, laughing, and making the week before Christmas quite interesting for the orthopedic staff on duty.  The nursing staff actually said these two men made their job  easier with their positive attitude in spite of their pain.

Jeremiah 29:11 says:  “I know the plans I have for you” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and future.”

Even with all the interruptions I must accept and endure, God is sovereignly planning my life for my good, for a hopeful future.   I have a little card on my desk that I look at and pray, “Lord, I want to be part of Your plan today.”  And I really mean it.

God interruped the world and sent His only Son in a most unexpected way.  And I say, “Thank You, Lord!” 

 Merry Christmas everyone.