The Hap-Happiest Season of All?

Little could Edward Pola and George Wyle have known when they wrote these lyrics from It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year for singer Andy Williams in 1963 that they would become not only a holiday standard, but perhaps THE idealized standard bearer for the Christmas season.  The song presents a litany of traditional Christmas and holiday activities focusing on family and friend get-togethers.  Hosting parties, marshmallows toasting, caroling in the snow, bells jingling, happy greetings, friends coming to call and all the wonderful images of a Hallmark Christmas ad neatly captured in one song.

But is Christmas really the happiest season of all or the most wonderful time of the year? Today, just nine days before Christmas I know for certain it’s not the happiest season of all – at least not for many people. At this very moment among my dear friends an adult mother holds vigil at the hospital bed of her aging and frail mother watching her progress ebb and flow. As she and her siblings struggle to make the best decisions, I doubt she would consider this the happiest season of all.

A young mother battles yet another round of cancer that has recurred in her well-lived life. Having walked this road before, she and her family are all too familiar with the devastation that lies ahead and the uncertainty of this path. No happy season for them.

Another family struggles with finding balance and peace in their relationship. One step toward resolution and perhaps two steps backward.

A lovely woman recently and unexpectedly widowed is now left alone as primary care taker for her chronically ill adult son.

A young family grieves the overwhelming loss of a small child. And for another family they face the anniversary of the loss of a beloved husband and father, while still another prepares for their first Christmas without the patriarch of the their family.

All these are local families, friends that I love dearly. At the regional level families have been devastated with personal loss, injury and death as the result of the very recent Smoky Mountain fires. Fourteen lives gone entirely too soon. No happy season here. Only cold stark reality of pain and loss.

At least outwardly that is what it would appear.

If joy and happiness are based upon the Christmas image portrayed in this song , then the reason this is the most wonderful time of year rests in the parties, social activities, friends and family events, snow accumulation, hot chocolate and festive decorations. And if your life circumstances don’t align with those expectations, well – you’re out of luck. No happy season for you. Perhaps that’s exactly WHY this isn’t a happy season for so many folks. Their lives may not be facing the enormity of some of my friends but everyone, everywhere is facing some sort of daily battle. And at times that battle seems to be defeating us.

But notice I said, “IF joy and happiness are based upon that Christmas image . . .” Granted the world has done a terrific job of promoting this image. And most of us buy into it to a bit. After all, we DO decorate to some extent (some a lot more than others), we do participate in parties and social events – even if we complain about having to go. We do love the “idea” of a white Christmas with just enough snow for beauty and maybe some sledding but certainly nothing that would delay traffic! And we do carefully plan our calendars to coordinate all the events, activities and gift buying so that no one is left out.

Is this the source of Christmas joy? The events, the activities. Even the Hallmark Christmas movies that I must confess I love, center each drama around an extraordinarily predictable plot that always involves a “Christmas miracle.” Lots of people are waiting on a Christmas miracle, but it’s not one that Hallmark can provide.The Christmas miracle they need was manifested more than 2000 years ago and it came in the form of a tiny baby, born to an unlikely young couple, in the most unlikely place – a stable, a barn – a shelter for livestock.images-jesus

God came to earth in the flesh. Not necessarily to bring us ‘happiness’ but he is the source of our joy. And our joy is based on one simple but beautiful truth. This tiny baby, this bundle of divinity wrapped in human flesh brought us the most important Christmas miracle of all – HOPE. Christ entered the world in a dark time; political tensions were high, the masses felt disenfranchised, oppressed and the long promised Messiah almost seemed a distant memory for  God has been silent with his chosen people for more than 400 years. Where was the hope? The hope of a conquering King, a Redeemer, the one who was to “proclaim freedom to the captives?”

And then the REAL Christmas miracle happened. God showed up in the most unlikely of places and forms in order to show HIS love for us and to give us HOPE. Because it is hope that sustains us even in the darkest of hours. Hope for a cure, hope for restoration of families, hope for peace and reconciliation in conflict, hope that when our loved one is gone – that in the future we shall be reunited. That is the basis for our joy. Happiness is temporary and based upon circumstances, but joy is a state of heart. Christ fills us with joy because in Him we have this everlasting hope.

Perhaps this Christmas isn’t your hap-happiest season of all. But take comfort, you have hope. Wherever you are, whatever your situation, Christ is there to give you HOPE through his everlasting life. Remember, “The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy, Christ comes to give us life and give it abundantly.” (And eternally.) John 10:10

So, enjoy your decorations, participate in events of your choosing, celebrate with family and friends but do not look to these for your happiness. Our joy, our hope is in the tiny baby born in the most humble conditions imaginable. The WORD became Flesh to bring us life and light. May your Christmas season be filled with Light, Life, and HOPE.

Merry Christmas,

Mimi

 

 

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Reflections on Good Friday

Attending last night’s Maundy Thursday Service was deeply moving and challenging. The intimate setting of our sister church and the smaller crowd enhanced the deeply personal story. It was almost as if being there, stepping back in time, experiencing Christ our King, our redeemer, our Savior serving me the wine and bread, washing my feet. There are no words to describe unless you experience it. Humbling indexis far too inadequate a word. And with the soberness of that moment firmly in my mind, this morning I was greeted with an unexpected scripture for my devotion.

Anticipating a few verses highlighting the events of Good Friday I was instead challenged with                        I Thessalonians 5: 12 – 15;

“12 Now we ask you brother, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the LORD and who admonish you. 13 Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. 14 And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone.” (NIV)   Emphasis my own.

What an appropriate scripture for this Good Friday. While not the typical message, it focuses on Jesus’s mission on earth; not only to save us from sin but to save us FOR a better life. One full of compassion not competition.  One of respect and honor to all (even our enemies). Not divisiveness and hatred. One of encouragement not criticism in order to elevate our own status.

Jesus endured all this and more on Good Friday: humiliation, physical abuse and torture, rejection by the previously adoring crowds and worst of all -abandonment and denial by those closest to him. And in this, all this, not once did he cry out in anger or rebuke. Not once did he climb down from that cross as challenged to do.  Neither did he call down the legions of angels available to him.

He did none of this. No retribution, no curses, no final words of revenge. Only words of forgiveness. He quietly completed this part of his mission just as he began it. In love, compassion and utter humility – so that through out acceptance and faith we could live in that same way for the Kingdom of Heaven. In our current era of making to the top at all costs and mud-slinging politics at its worst; his message needs to be told, lived out loud for a lost and dying world to see and experience.

On this Good Friday reflect not only on what Jesus saved us from, but what he saved us to become.  A good place to begin in Romans chapter 8. Seventeen power packed verses. Here are just a few to contemplate.

Romans 8: 1, 2;  Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

Romans 5, 6a: Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace . .

Jesus died to give us LIFE. Abundant, peaceful, loving, eternal life that begins now.

“I have come that they many have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

Good, very good Friday.

In Christ,  Mimi

Keeping Thanksgiving

November has shown off this year. She held onto the glorious days of “Indian Summer’  as tenaciously as a mother protects her newborn child. Typically, our 20141027_071820Novembers are numbered with more gray skies than blue. And while we have had a few gray days, those brilliant blue skies have almost convinced us that winter is not ahead. Even now, smack dab in the middle of November, our trees are still remarkably colorful and the grass as green as springtime. Cold weather will appear as suddenly (and as welcome) as an intruder stealing into our home at midnight.

I dislike the cold. I really, really dislike the cold. But for now I am basking in the 20141027_071931glory of this brisk and beautiful weather. It is perfect backdrop as I contemplate the weeks ahead the remainder of this year. And first on the list is Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is hands down my favorite holiday. It has less of the fanfare and commercialization than other holidays. In fact in the marketing world, it’s only purpose seems to be as a precursor to Black Friday.  At times I get frustrated that there isn’t more promotion around Thanksgiving, but that may be the one thing that allows this holiday to maintain its purity. Apparently, Thanksgiving isn’t commercially profitable.  Perhaps turkeys, cranberries and pumpkin don’t have huge profit margins.

I love Thanksgiving. No parties to plan, no gifts to buy, no specific decorations required, no Thanksgiving pajamas or outfits to purchase, no annual Thanksgiving photo sessions, no last minute shopping for an unexpected guest – because there is always plenty. If Thanksgiving’s purpose is to give thanks, its rally cry is, “abundance!”  There is more than enough, always enough to share and then share some more.        20131127_160643

Our Thanksgiving traditions are simple. The entire family gathers together at our home and we feast. As our family grows, so does the menu because (as I learned from my mother) everyone needs to have their favorite dish. And in this family, it’s rare that any two people share the same favorite food! All the better. Because another tradition; no one eats alone. If any family member knows of someone that doesn’t have family to share Thanksgiving, they better bring them to our home! I am thankful God gave us this home and out of his mercy and goodness we love to share it with others. And our last tradition; as we offer our prayer of Thanksgiving, we stand and hold hands, circling the dining room, the kitchen and sometimes looping into the foyer and hallway. It just depends on the crowd. But the more people, the more my heart fills with gratitude and love. There’s not much that brings me more contentment than seeing my family, my friends, and maybe some new friends I just met – sitting together feasting and surrounded with God’s abundant love.

Cherish Thanksgiving. Keep it in your heart and not just on your calendar. Forget about shopping and pre-sales, credit cards and lay-away plans. Forget about calories, carbs, and unflattering photos of you with food in your mouth. Embrace the celebration of more than enough. Enough would be plenty, but God has given us “more than we could ask or imagine.”  Just look around, you’ll see it. You may not have everything you want, but likely you do have everything you need.

20141020_111431Happy Thanksgiving. May you savor the moments and embrace the abundance of His amazing grace.

Mimi

A Heart-Warming Housewarming: Boots, Burlap & Brown Paper

What a great opportunity to celebrate a precious young couple! John and Jessie moved into their first home, so it was the perfect time to honor them with a housewarming.Granny's bd 027

Depending on which source you review, housewarming is a tradition dating back to medieval times with the purpose to literally “warm the house.” Guests brought firewood as a gift and built fires in the home’s fireplaces. It was also believed the gathering of friends and family created an atmosphere of warmth which repelled evil spirits.

I do know that the welcoming of kith and kin into a home creates a warm atmosphere and it definitely warms the heart!  So our church family couldn’t miss the opportunity to share our love for this couple by honoring them with a “Heart-Warming.” The September afternoon was a perfect fall day for this event and the planning and preparation were just as much fun as the delightful couple.

John and Jessie are all about a rustic cowboy theme; Jessie adds a touch of spaGranny's bd 002rkle and glam. We departed from the typical cake, punch, linen and lace to something more in keeping with their style – boots, burlap and brown paper.  The star of the serving table was the centerpiece; a pair of rugged cowboy boots tied with jute and filled with wildflowers, “roadsidea,” and garden hydrangeas. A sparkly tiara dangling from the jute was just the right touch of glitz.

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Turquoise serving pieces are vibrant against the rustic burlap and boots.

In keeping with our casual theme and a nod to the autumn season, the menu included Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins, Assorted Cheeses & Fruits, Barbecued Cocktail Wieners, Grape Salad, Apple Cheddar Bacon Bread (recipe courtesy of Southern Living magazine),  Zucchini Bread, Hot Spiced Cider and Lemonade.        Granny's bd 009

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In the background, beverage cups garnished with burlap and twine.

Guests arrived with beautifully decorated packages and in no time the gift table was stacked high and overflowing on the floor.  Tables were simply decorated with brown kraft paper, cream pillar candles, white mini-pumpkins and bleached pine cones. A white tablecloth and burlap runner draped both the serving table and the one reserved for the guests of honor.  Jessie’s mother recorded each gift in a burlap-covered journal to later be filled with pictures from the day.  It was a feast for the tummy and the eyes as friends dined while John and Jessie opened beautiful gifts.Granny's bd 050 Granny's bd 051

It truly was a “Heart-Warming,” not just for the couple but for all that attended. A beautiful expression of love by the body of Christ, sharing the abundant life.

In His Grace,

Mimi

Happy Birthday, Mom

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The birthday girl’s monogram.

I can scarcely believe it. My mother will be 80 years old when you read this post. Not too long ago I thought that an 80 year old could barely function; that it was incredible for them to even be alive. Watching my mother grow older has taught me much about life and the graciousness of God.

Time may have slowed her a bit, but it has not altered her passion for living. All the things that brought her joy, all the creative talents with which she was blessed, all the humor (and mischief), all her hospitality, all the devotion to God — it’s all still there.  She still drives herself to town almost daily. In fact, if she’s not at the local department store and Arby’s for more than three days out of a week, they’re sending a get well card and a BOLO!

This birthday was one that could not go without special recognition. So despite the fact my two sisters and I live miles (and states) apart, we did some serious planning and came up with what we felt was just the right celebration event for her. Mother IS a southern lady and loves a touch of linen, lace, silver, crystal and a good cup of hot tea. What better way to honor her special day than a Tea Party with a Southern twist!

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As with many southern ladies she loves a good chicken salad croissant and a dainty cucumber sandwich. These were featured prominently in the menu along with lemon blueberry bread, fruit salad, assorted cheeses, fruit tea and raspberry lemonade.

Granny's bd 166Granny's bd 161Granny's bd 169Mom’s first name is very unique and begins with the letter “G.” As guests arrived they were asked to think of a word  beginning with “G” that describes her. Good-hearted, Genuine, Godly, Garrulous, Gracious, Gregarious, and Giving are just some of the attributes ascribed to Mother. Sharing of stories that illustrated these traits resulted in much laughter!

We transitioned from funny stories to one of Mom’s very favorite things to do – sing. And there’s nothing she’d rather sing than hymns. As my sister played the piano, our voices blended in sweet harmony unique to southern gospel music. Her favorite food, her favorite songs, favorite people.tea

As they left, guests received a cookie monogrammed with “G” and a custom
designed envelope with a tea bag as a reminder of the day. It was the perfect celebration for a remarkable lady.

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And in typical Mom fashion, just a few days later I received a lovely thank you card expressing just how “perfect” was the day. Mom, all I can say is, “Everything I know about hospitality – I learned from you.”

A woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Honor her for all that her hands have done.

Proverbs 31: 30b – 31a

In His Grace,

Mimi

Magic Moments

Yes, it’s been a while since we’ve chatted. June was an eventful month.

Our son’s birthday.

My Dad’s birthday.

Father’s Day.

Baby Shower.

Our oldest grand’s eighth birthday.

VBS Kick-Off for Joyful July.

Each of these events resulted in some wonderful magical moments. I have to share a little magic from the baby gift tea.

Our daughter is expecting her third child (our first grandSON!) in 9 days! Her aunt and cousin graciously offered to host a Gift Tea in his honor and what better place to have it than  . . . HERE! You have a magical beginning when you are merely providing the location and someone else is doing the lions’s share of the work. My contribution was cupcakes and a favor bag of cookies. The hostesses did the rest!

The real magic began even in the planning stages. Aunt K. is a talented graphic artist that has never met a challenge she didn’t embrace. Throughout the pregnancy my daughter has referred to baby boy as “SONshine.” That was all the inspiration needed; the theme was set.  20150620_104054A simple but fun menu of “Sonshine” themed foods included Sunshine Fruit Salad, Habanero Due Date Cheddar Wafers (thank you Mary, Home Is Where the Boat Is) Home Is Where the Boat Is,  Baby Hub Cupcakes, Individual Veggie Cups and the expectant mom’s favorite – Chicken Salad Croissants!

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The guests arrived with beautifully wrapped gifts for baby Hub which continued the colorful sunshine theme, but the real magic was in the interactions among our guests. Much talking, laughter, sharing of wisdom and encouragement were magical and inspirational. Guests from age four to 80+ mingled and embraced the opportunity to celebrate the coming arrival of a precious new baby. One guest exclaimed as she left, “This has been SO much fun!” It was fun. No stress, no fuss, just a wonderful morning of fellowship and SONshine.

Enjoy some of the magic.

20150620_103848 20150620_103901 20150620_104059 April 2014 042With a nod to the nursery colors; gray, turquoise, yellow and orange were the predominant colors. The use of galvanized metal enhanced a more “masculine” look.

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A framed invitation was placed beside a tray of SonShine Cookies for guests to take home as a token of our appreciation. “You’ve brightened out day. Please take a little sunshine with you!”

One of my favorite elements was the serving table centerpiece. A vintage toy dump truck (lovingly used 30 years ago by Aunt K’s son) was filled with succulents. 20150620_105042

Food, fun, fellowship and beautiful treasures given by loved ones for anxiously awaited baby Hub made the day truly magical.  Thank you to the two gracious hostesses that helped make this a delightful day!!

A celebration of the “abundant life.”

In His grace,

Mimi

More to Celebrate

June is banging on the door of May crying for attention!

20140615_101016A glance at my June calendar tells me it’s going to be another very busy month. Three birthdays, Father’s Day, a baby shower, swimming lessons, overnight guests . . .  and those are just the things currently scheduled! But I love it. Since there will be a lot of celebrations at my house I thought it was a good time to share some of our earlier celebrations.

Last year was one of those milestone birthdays for my Dad. Lest this post dissolve into a teary sentimental tribute to the most totally awesome, dedicated, hardworking, loving, faith-filled, believing, honest, sincere, loyal dad on the planet; I’ll just share some of the pics from our low key, not too flashy celebration at church. Dad is not an attention seeker. He’s not big on public recognition. So to honor him in a manner fitting with his character, we chose to do our public celebration at his favorite place – his church.

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The decor was kept very simple with a nod to Dad’s agricultural roots (no pun intended!) Even at the age of 80 years he  works continuously on his farm. It was only recently that he sold the agricultural equipment dealership and actually officially “retired” from business. Retiring from farming will be an entirely different story.

After scouting his workshop, barns and treasures stashed away in his storage sheds we discovered a gold mine of containers; antique tool boxes, wooden nail crates, watering cans and more. Too much to use; but the hunt was more fun than antique shopping. We dressed the serving tables with a few of these items and planned a simple cupcake reception with coffee and southern sweet tea as beverage choices.

No receiving line, no speeches, no big announcements. The grandest overture was my two sisters and I sang a lively hymn during worship service – a treat for both my parents since we’re only together once or twice each year. We invited folks to snack and visit for just a moment during the transition time from worship service to Sunday school class. And it was great.

We focused on his favorite cake flavors and created cupcakes reflecting his tastes: German chocolate, strawberry, and coconut. I took on the challenge of the coconut cupcakes because two of his favorite desserts are coconut cake and coconut cream pie. I was determined to make a coconut cream filled cupcake and after about 2 tries, I was satisfied!64820140615_101016Red and blue bandannas, burlap table runners, baskets and wire containers, sturdy disposable coffee cups trimmed with burlap and twine completed the serving table.20140615_100935

A few weeks prior to the reception, we distributed memory cards designed and created by my graphic designer sister. We asked friends to recount a favorite memory on the card and return it the day of the reception. The cards were placed in one of his various wooden boxes discovered on the treasure hunt. Reading these cards and recalling the memories was the highlight of this celebration. Today they remain in that same box beside his favorite chair where they can be enjoyed again and again. 20140615_101106

Since the coconut cream cupcakes were a hit, I’m sharing the recipe – which is a combination of about 3 different recipes. But it works!

Coconut Cream-filled Cupcakes

1 (18.25 oz.) package French Vanilla Cake Mix

1  1/4 cups buttermilk

1/4 cup butter, melted

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

6 oz. softened cream cheese

1/2 cup sugar

Vegetable cooking spray

Coconut Frosting (see recipe below)

Sweetened flaked coconut

Cream Cheese Filling (see recipe below)

Cupcake Prep: Beat the first 6 ingredients at a low speed with an electric mixer just until dry ingredients are moistened. Increase speed to medium, and beat 2 minutes or until batter is smooth, stopping to scrape bowl as needed.  Mix together 6 oz of softened cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar then add to cupcake batter being careful not to overmix.

Bake at 350° for 25 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove cupcakes from pans to wire racks, and cool until completely cool.

Cream Cheese Filling

8 oz. Cream Cheese, softened

1/2 cup confectioners sugar

1/4 cup milk or cream of coconut

Mix thoroughly. Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups. Using a cupcake syringe (or scooping out the middle of the cupcake) fill each cupcake with the desired amount of filling. Spread filled cupcakes with Coconut Frosting.

Coconut Frosting

1/2 butter, softened

3 oz. cream cheese

16 oz. confectioners sugar

1/4 cup cream of coconut

1 teaspoon coconut extract

Combine ingredients until smooth. Spread cupcakes evenly with frosting, and sprinkle generously with sweetened flaked coconut.

The process isn’t nearly so tedious as it sounds and they are well worth the effort.

Celebrations are our way of honoring those we love in a way that is pleasing to them and reflects their character and personality. As we look around us, the blessings that have be showered upon us, the provision of our Heavenly Father; honor someone you love. Remind them that they are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and that your life is richer because of them.  Put your hands to work in service to others.

In His Grace,

Mimi

Time to Celebrate!

I love a celebration. Not necessarily a party, but a celebration of accomplishment. Some days that accomplishment is surviving the week (or perhaps the day.) On other occasions it’s the anniversary of your birth, or being married to the same person for longer than the world expected. (anything  more than 6 months.)

images (2)But my favorite celebrations are just because . . . because the season is transitioning from one to another, the tomatoes are particularly flavorful this year, a newly discovered recipe, a three day weekend, grand-babies, wildflowers on the road side, the smell of rain, old handmade quilts, friends, family, life in general. It really doesn’t take much for me to be up for a celebration! Too often we wait for the big events or the calendar to dictate when and what we should celebrate. We run the risk of missing out on some great moments if we pause only to recognize those categories of events.

Everyday life is worth celebrating.

Every day, life is worth celebrating.

The celebration I’m talking about doesn’t require extensive party planning or guests lists. Look around. Expect that every day there will be something worth celebrating. Perhaps Paul described it best when he challenged us,

. . .whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.  Phillipians 4:8 NIV

True, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy! That is quite a list of “whatevers” from which to choose. And choice is the key. I can choose to see each day as ordinary, as EVERYDAY, the same. Or I can choose to look for truth, nobility, the right, purity, beauty and excellence. I really don’t have to look far and likely, neither do you. Our world is focused on negativity and darkness. But good is out there because it is within us.

As we choose to see the good and be the good – we celebrate the good. What can you celebrate today?

  • Take a brief walk and breathe in the beauty and majesty of creation.
  • Turn off the television.images
  • Look, really look at the hands of a loved one.
  • Grab a few wildflowers from the roadside and place them in jar.
  • Toss a Frisbee.
  • Bake cornbread.
  • Send an unexpected note of love / appreciation.
  • Sing a hymn while bathing your child.
  • Write/draw on your porch with sidewalk chart.

The list is endless. Just look around you at the goodness and beauty, then pause – and celebrate!

In His grace,