Thursday, December 24, 2020

And It's Christmas Eve

 Is it time for a catch-up? I haven't done a proper blog post in ages. Today is relaxing: the weather is balmy in that unusual Southern December way. The chickens will be happy about that!

Adam is in the kitchen, baking away. Christmas morning we will enjoy orange cinnamon rolls and coffee. Julia is working (coffee shop) this afternoon, but she's home tomorrow. It's utterly delightful to have her home! She's found a new-to-her vehicle, a job, and is hanging out (well-masked) with old friends.

Adam is feeling better at long last. He's aggressively tapering off prednisone after heavy doses for about 5 months. He needs a yearly infusion now to combat osteoporosis, a side-effect of prednisone. He remains on Cellcept, which turns off his immune system, but we cautiously hope that he may go into remission this spring, and be able to get off that too. He has sleep apnea also, and cataracts, and has gained a good bit of weight -- all results of this illness, Pemphigus Vulgaris.

I am enjoying Christmas! The tree is up and lit, which makes the house magical, especially late at night and in early morning. The Christmas village is settled on the dining room table this year. Its lights remain on 24 hours a day and make the house glow a little in the middle of the night. But the real joy is in having a child in the house, having Julia home. Without her, I think the holidays would feel rather gray.

We continue to have church services with a scattering of people and following all the guidelines against Covid. We had a small, lovely Lessons and Carols Service on Sunday night. Those small events -- carol singing, community events, buying a tree, a little shopping at stores -- they keep us all sane. It is difficult to balance mental health with physical health this year, but both are crucial. It takes ingenuity and self-denial to find a safe balance. 

We've watched A Child's Christmas in Wales and The Secret of Roan Inish, and a very old version of Miracle on 34th Street plus some other sappy Christmas movies. Yesterday Julia and I had a lovely few hours together painting! After Christmas we'll do a shopping day in town, grab a coffee, and eat lunch at the park overlooking the Neuse River.

And I am doing better. I cannot tell you how helpful (in a gradual and slowly relieving way) it was to find a good counselor/therapist this fall. She guided me in evaluating my anxiety sources, diagnosing depression, and finding creative ways to deal with both. I know now that the reason I stopped reading about a year ago ... was depression. Same with the inability to write. For that, I needed diagnosis, someone to tell me, "This is why you are no longer capable of doing so many things you used to love."

With anxiety, it was more about giving me control over all the various ones -- giving each one a name and a face, grabbing each one by the collar, and assigning it a place in the bubble around me as I walk through life. You don't get rid of things like that, I found. But you do decide how much control they exercise over your emotions. My anxieties were running amuck in my life and tying me up in ropes of panic.

This morning I opened a large historical novel by Elizabeth Goudge that I started sometime last year. I'd plowed through it until I simply couldn't anymore. I had no interest in that book, in any book. I started one after another. This morning I opened to page 416 and started again, and I'm loving it. Depression somehow robbed me of my ability to concentrate on a story, to put myself into it and love that place, those people. 

So ... if you struggle with either anxiety or depression (or both), please think about finding help. Don't be afraid to ask a friend for a recommendation. You may be surprised to find that many of your friends have needed that same help and found it.

And it's Christmas Eve! I am thankful, so thankful, for many answered prayers right now, in spite of the horrors of 2020 in our world. I grieve for the great sorrows out there, but I intend to light a bright candle of joy in my heart this Christmas and look to the Christ Child for my hope, now and for eternity.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2020

About Those Youtube Videos ...

I haven't shared my latest youtube videos with you lately -- just forgot. So I'll put a few of them here, in case anybody who reads here wants to go look. I like the latest one (Christmas cookies) because I like the MUSIC! heehee -- the music is most important.

Christmas Snowball Cookies and Candied Nuts:

Healing Herb Ointment Disaster!! Well, to be honest, I'd been dropping things for several days.
Adam and I took a trip to the Neuse and other adventures, including a felt craft project.
Baking pumpkin bread and spinning ...

Advent begins in our home:

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Fear Not!

 This final Sunday in Advent we light the Angels' candle.

The contrast of one small flickering wick against the glowing host of God's angelic army, is a shocking one. This is the candle of peace.

Why did the angels proclaim peace? Because previously they had come for war. They are the heavenly army, and God's Son is the captain of that host. He told Joshua so, when the Israelites  approached the Jordan River.

The heavenly army -- myriads, the Scripture says, which is pretty much an uncountable, limitless number in Greek -- had lost its captain. As the angel stands on the ground in front of the shepherds, telling them about the Christ lying in an animal trough, he might as well have said it this way, "We've lost our commander. He's now one of you. We've often been at war with humans, but now, because He's joined your side, we must be at peace."

We don't see God's army of angels too often in the Bible's account, before that night near Bethlehem. Jacob saw them going up and down a ladder -- going back and forth between heaven and earth as if they were out running errands. That must've been a shock! Do we think of angels back and forth, back and forth, around us every day? 

The prophet Elijah knew the angelic army was there in huge numbers, circling all the hills around the Syrian army. He asked God to show them to his servant. An army at the ready, able to obliterate God's enemies in a moment. One angel alone killed 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night. What could tens of thousands of them do? What kind of power is that?

"Fear not!" Certainly they must tell that to everyone they meet. They inspire fear. They're not floating ladies in sparkly tiaras, singing descants. They're soldiers. 

Since when does an army of unlimited number come down to the enemy camp and say, "Peace"? Peace to all men with whom God is pleased. Peace to you, shepherds. Peace to traveling strangers who seek God. Peace to all the people, they said. 

The peace proclaimed wasn't peace among humans, obviously. It is peace between God and humans, and His army will not be called out against them so long as its commander shares their DNA. His incarnation is our salvation. He is resurrected in heaven right now, in his physical body, so that all those fierce angels look at Him and remember: "We are at peace with them." Hallelujah.

"Are not all angels ministering spirits, sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" Hebrews 1:14

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Pecan Snowball Cookies

I'm putting this recipe in a post so I can find it later and not spend a half hour hunting for it next Christmas! Like other recipes, it will be on the "Cooking" page (see above, on the top bar), with a link back to this post. Phew!

2 sticks butter, at room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup toasted and finely chopped pecans
optional: red/green sprinkles

In mixer, beat butter 1 minute. Add 3/4 cup of powdered sugar till smooth. Add vanilla. At low speed, add flour. Then on high speed beat in pecans.

Cover tightly and chill for 1 hour, hardening the butter. Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
Form into balls. Bake 15 minutes till lightly golden. These cookies do not brown much.
Cool for a minute and then roll in additional powdered sugar while still warm. Cool, and then roll again if you prefer.
After sending these cookies to my mother last Christmas, she told me she never wants ANYTHING else for Christmas. These cookies are her heart's desire :) 

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Shepherds and Their Sheep

 The third week of Advent -- we light the Shepherds' Candle. During the fast that is Advent, this Sunday is a break, a reprieve, a day of joy. 

God the Father announced the birth of His Son with a stunning musical display in the sky! I wish I could have seen that concert. He also deliberately chose to show this 'concert par excellence' only to shepherds. This is rather like Chopin, Liszt, Beethoven, and Brahms presenting a piano concert secretly in the middle of the night in rural Pennsylvania and inviting only homeless people.

A new Christmas carol is popular right now. Here are the lyrics:

"O come, all you unfaithful,
Come, weak and unstable,
Come, know you are not alone.
O come, barren and waiting ones,
Weary of praying, come
See what your God has done.
Christ is born, Christ is born,
Christ is born for you."

There are more lyrics, and they are worth reading. Much as I love the old carols and feel they are true, this is certainly the gospel: Baby Jesus came for the lowest of all. They were invited to His birth -- the shepherds, the foreigners, the travelers, the poor. 

That's why this is the candle of Joy. The most valuable gift in the universe is given to the most needy, yes? Much as it pains me to point it out, at the time He was born, Jesus was hidden from the high and powerful, the bold and confident. Do not look for Him in their ranks. When they are brought low with suffering and trial, then you will find Him among them.

What Joy, to find that God's best gift is for YOU, when you are at your lowest! The angels' song is for you, the miracle is for you, the hope is for you. Heaven is for you.

"Come to me,
all you who are weary and heavy-laden,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you,
and learn of Me,
for I am gentle and humble of heart,
and you will find rest for your souls;
for My yoke is easy
and my burden is light."
~ Jesus

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Little Bethlehem

 This second week of Advent we light the Bethlehem candle. Although we've romanticized it in nativity story, Bethlehem was a troubled city, a city of death and birth. 

Bethlehem's first significant event was the death of Rachel, Jacob's beloved wife, as she gave birth to Benjamin in a difficult labor. As she was dying, and he was being born, she gave him his name: "son of my sorrow."

At the end of the Judges a horrifying story is told. A woman from Bethlehem, the wife of a priest, has left him and gone home to her daddy. The priest retrieves her, fails to protect her during their journey away from Bethlehem, and she is attacked, raped, and murdered. Which townsmen raped and murdered her? The men of Jerusalem -- men of Benjamin. How did the priest express his anger and offense at her death? He cut her into 12 pieces and sent her body parts to the heads of the 12 tribes. The nation was shocked and angry. Civil War ensued. The men of Benjamin were nearly wiped out -- all because a woman left her home in Bethlehem and died a brutal death in Jerusalem.

The very next Scripture is the book of Ruth, which also takes place in Bethlehem. Ruth is David's great grandmother. She's a stranger from Moab, but the rest of the family is from Bethlehem. Ruth has been barren until she comes to Bethlehem where she finds a husband and bears a son. And David's line continues all the way down to Joseph, who takes pregnant Mary there because the census requires that they be counted in their home town. So she goes to have her baby boy there, in Bethlehem.

So many babies!

After they escape Bethlehem by night, the baby boys of Bethlehem are all slaughtered in one night by soldiers sent from Herod, a king terrified of a new baby king. 

These thoughts rumble around in my head and I try to make sense of them. So many babies. So much violence. So much promise, but so much loss. Doesn't it sound like our lives? So much hope; so much loss. Babies fill us with hope, new little humans with years of potential in them! But the story of Bethlehem is a cautionary tale in the midst of that hope. For Mary, Jesus was also the "son of my sorrow," a baby boy destined for brutal death. 

These are uncomfortable thoughts at Christmas, but Advent is supposed to be a time of uncomfortable reflection, of somber preparation, much like Lent. Why isn't it a time of raucous, jubilant celebration because the Savior of the world is coming? Why do we grieve in Advent? Because he comes to die. The prophets foretold that as well. 

Thanks for bearing with me as I ruminate on this new understanding of little Bethlehem. God gives us eternal hope, unyielding hope, but the road to Bethlehem -- and away from it -- is hard.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

One Candle

 A dim light

A faint hope

Come. Oh, come, Emmanuel.

Break forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light!

"There shall a star come out of Jacob
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel,
with might destroying princes and cities.
How bright the star of morning gleams,
so Jesus sheddeth glorious beams
of light and consolation.
Thy word, O Lord,
radiance darting, truth imparting,
gives salvation;
Thine be praise
and adoration!"

    ~ Felix Mendelssohn

"You who are enthroned upon the cherubim,

Shine forth 

before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh!

Stir up your might, and come to save us!"

Psalm 80:1

"There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples -- of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious."        ~ Isaiah 11 

One candle is so little light, but enough light for hope. We are never entirely in darkness. Each week of Advent, as we light the candles, the light grows stronger and the Christ Child comes nearer.