Sunday, December 23, 2018

A Good MRI

My blogging break didn't last long. So many of you have faithfully prayed for us that I wanted to share some good news this time.

I have been concerned about the results from Ed's MRI since his ability to focus was declining, and his fatigue was increasing. He didn't feel as bad as in November, but the symptoms were worrisome.

But Ed's MRI this week was a huge improvement from his last one in November. The inflammation was decreased, and the tumor/scar tissue areas were much smaller. We haven't had an MRI this encouraging for many, many months. The new medication he started in November must be having the desired affect.

We are adjusting some of his medications in hopes that we can increase his focus and energy level. Once again I have to practice gratefulness for what I have instead of focusing on the losses. I try to enjoy today without worrying that next month's MRI could move in a worse direction. We try to find things we can do as a family with Ed's limited energy.

This afternoon, just for fun, we drove over to the Gettysburg Battlefield. We climbed some monuments, scrambled over rocks, and shared a winter picnic. We've had so many rainy days that even though it wasn't sunny, the day felt pleasant. 

Thanks again for your prayers. We couldn't walk this road without prayer.

"The Lord will give strength unto His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace." 
Psalm 29:11

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Christmas Links

I don't plan to blog for the rest of December.

Unless I can't help myself. Several of you have told me that when I post, you are reminded to pray for our family. So if we are in need of prayer extra prayer, you might hear from me again before January.

And who doesn't need prayer? We do. Every day. This past week Ed hasn't been feeling as well. His ability to focus is declining again, though not as bad as in November. I have to push down the panic when I think of his next MRI and the bad news we could possibly hear.

But back to this post...I do plan to take a blogging break. But I'll be back. I'm excited about some of the topics I hope to write about in January, Lord willing.

But if you want some reading now, here are some links to Christmas posts in past years. (The children look so little in some of these posts that I get hit with a wave of nostalgia.)

Favorite music of Christmas

What Makes a Meaningful Christmas?

Book Lists

Favorite Christmas Books for Children

And Another List for Children

And Yet Another List for Children

Chapter Books for Children

And a list for Adults


Lemon Strawberry Swirls

Peanut Butter Critters

Graham Cracker Houses

Monster Cookies


Monday, December 17, 2018

Three Recent Nonfiction Reads

A few nonfiction books that I've enjoyed in recent weeks.

This post contains affiliate links.

One Thing You Can't Do In Heaven by Mark Cahill

I often evaluate a book's quality on whether I want to read it again. This book I finished and immediately planned to reread it. Cahill is passionate about sharing Jesus with others. I'm a wimp when it comes to opening up my mouth and witnessing for Christ, but Cahill didn't make me feel guilty, just inspired. He shares so many practical ideas on how to get conversations started and answer common questions.The book isn't long, but it is full of information and will be pulled off my shelf again. I think every Christian would benefit from reading this book.

Kara wrote this book when she was dying from breast cancer. As a mom with young children, she writes about the challenge of facing death and leaving her family. The book is a tear-jerker, but I didn't find it morbid or depressing. Instead, Kara reminded me that the God that gives grace to die of old age is with us when we face death by cancer as a young mom. My faith was bolstered by Kara's testimony. I read my sister-in-law's copy of The Hardest Peace but when I finished it I immediately bought my own copy. 

I slipped this little book in my purse last month when Ed had a number of stressful tests at the hospital. It was the perfect fun read in the waiting room. Anne shares her love of books and infatuation with reading that has led to the popularity of her podcast What Should I Read Next. If you love books and want some light reading, this book is a joy.

What are you reading?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

In Search of a Mary Christmas

I shared this article two years ago and am sharing it again as a way to help me focus my attention on Christ this Christmas. I wrote this article for the Daughters of Promise magazine in December of 2016.

In Search of a Mary Christmas

I love Christmas. I love the music, the whispered secrets, the yummy food, and the glittering lights. 

I say I'm celebrating the birth of Jesus, but sometimes when I'm scouring Pinterest for craft ideas, printing off another Christmas cookie recipe, and sighing over the pictures of beautiful table decorations in the pages of Southern Living, I wonder what Jesus would think of my celebration.

Is my Christmas any different than society's holiday? If you evaluated my calendar, credit card statement, and to-do list what would you discern about my priorities? Would you know that the goal of my Christmas (and my life) is to lift up the name of Christ? I might not max out my credit cards or wake up with a headache from the spiked eggnog, but too often my Christmas is centered on me.

There must be more to Christmas than uncounted calories, the pressure to find the perfect gift, and a dozen opportunities to catch the latest version of the flu. Unhappy with my me-centered holiday I began to look for ways to have less worry and more worship in December. I studied three women in the Bible named Mary who knew Jesus while He was here on earth. These women's lives were changed by Jesus. Maybe my Christmas could be changed by their stories.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus

With the angel's words, “thou art highly favoured, . . . thou shalt bring forth a son,” (Luke 1:28) Mary's plans shattered. To mother the Messiah, the Promised One? This honor meant the end of a normal life for a Galilean girl, but Mary shows no hesitancy. Her answer was immediate. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

Mary did not base her decision on what was popular or what would promote her in the Nazareth society. Carrying this baby made her the next possible victim for a public stoning. Mary gave up her dreams of a perfect wedding and the expectations of her firstborn's birth. Because of an oppressive tax law, her baby was born far from home in crude surroundings without even the comfort of a mom or sister to assist with the birth. That first Christmas wasn't twinkling lights and warm, fuzzy emotions. While Mary traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem to Egypt and back again, I wonder if she was tempted to compare her crazy life with her friends' “perfect” lives.

Last year I waddled into Christmas with a due date in early January. My calendar was full with weekly prenatal visits. I had zero energy, limped with every step, and looked like I should stay home with an ice pack and a Tylenol. But I enjoyed a more peaceful, less frantic, more meaningful Christmas than usual.

The difference? Expectations.

Our culture places a lot of expectations on us women. I coddle daydreams of the picture-perfect Christmas: crackling fires, ten kinds of Christmas cookies, and a fun schedule with holiday concerts, cookie swaps, shopping, family reunions, and church events. When I can't keep up, I start comparing myself with all the talented ladies who appear to get it all done.

The disappointment of dashed expectations curdles the enjoyment of December and is often the enemy of my peace. But last year I felt no pressure to attend every event possible. I made plans with the caveat “if we can make it.” I didn't expect to do everything, so what I did accomplish was a treat, a gift. And for once I wasn't comparing myself with others.

Alexander Pope said, "Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed." He might be right, though I prefer David's take on expectations. "My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him." (Psalm 62:5) 

There is One, only One, who never disappoints. If I, like Mary, “ponder these things in my heart,” maybe I can build expectations on the One who won't leave me feeling frustrated. I want to give up my idealistic expectations every year, not just when I'm nine months pregnant. 

Mary of Bethany

We all know the story of Mary and Martha and their sisterly spat on which was most important—preparing a meal or listening to Jesus. (Luke 10:38-42) Jesus said that Mary made the best choice—to sit at His feet. 

But how does that work when I have laundry to fold, dishes to wash, Christmas rolls to bake, and bathrooms to clean? Reading my Bible all day just isn't an option.

From other Scriptures in the Bible, we learn that Mary and Martha's house was a regular meeting place for Jesus and his disciples. I assume that both sisters spent many hours hosting guests. The fact that Martha was irked to find Mary shirking her duties on this occasion tells me that usually Mary was right beside Martha chopping vegetables and washing mugs.

Service can be a way to worship God. 

Jesus did not condemn Martha for serving food—just pointed out her bad attitude. Martha was “troubled” in her service. Maybe if Martha would have spent time listening to Jesus with Mary she would have served with joy. Gordon MacDonald said that “the inner world of the spiritual must govern the outer world of activity.”

Each day I make decisions on how I use my time. I need to choose between many good options to find the best, especially at Christmas. There are not enough hours in the season to do everything that I want to do.

Last summer I repainted a few rooms and discovered just how much Stuff we had accumulated. After painting, I added back to the room only what I deemed necessary or meaningful. We ended up getting rid of some furniture and many boxes of books, and rehung only half the wall decorations. Less Stuff gave a feeling of freedom, cleanliness, and quiet. (Though with six children our home isn't often clean or quiet.) 

Could I do the same with my schedule? What would my December look like if I shook out the calendar, dumped out all the holiday traditions, quit listening to the voices of obligation/guilt/expectation, and then added back to December only what was necessary, meaningful, and worshipful?

Does it mean I would quit baking Christmas cookies, throw out the candles, and skip the family reunion? Not necessarily. Those things can be part of living out my life of service and worship. I can bake cookies for a fun activity with my children. I can light a candle on the table and invite others to join in the warmth of shared conversation. I can attend a reunion and strengthen family ties. But I can also decide that none of those things will be priorities this year because, for whatever reason, God is calling me to lay aside this particular Martha activity to make time and energy for Mary worship.

Looking at my priorities may mean clearing the schedule of some enjoyable activities to make time for what is truly important. If my fun day of shopping makes me too tired for the church caroling in the evening, I haven't chosen well. If I spend my afternoon chasing the children out of the kitchen so I can create a lovely meal for guests, I have Martha's troubled spirit. When I'm racing the clock, my voice sharpens, my chest tightens, and I know my priorities are skewed. Except for rare times of true emergency, I don't think God meant us to live in panic mode.

I have a tendency to accumulate traditions. We make gingerbread houses one year and think we need to do it every year. But time is limited and to keep the schedule (and me) sane, I must eliminate something every time I add an activity.

I can also learn from Mary and Martha to accept others who have made different choices. What is overwhelming to me might be relaxing to another. I love that we are not cookie-cutter gingerbread ladies, and I want to enjoy each woman's talents without comparison or judgment.

Mary Magdalene

We know little about Mary Magdalene's past except that Jesus healed her from seven demons. (Mark 16:9) Mary Magdalene is listed with several other women and it is implied that they were women of wealth who used their own money to serve Christ and his disciples. These women watched as Jesus suffered on the cross, then took spices to his grave. Mary Magdalene found tangible ways to show her gratefulness to Christ, and she was rewarded by being the first to see the risen Saviour.

Mary Magdalene gave her wealth, her time, her comfort, her reputation—to serve Christ. She served extravagantly; spices were expensive at that time. Neither do I need to be ashamed to serve others with special touches that say, “I love you.” But Mary Magdalene wasn't serving for her own glory; she was serving Christ.

Christmas shouldn't be about me, but how often are my motives to impress others? How many of my holiday traditions stem from the pressure of obligation or bondage of approval? What is my goal—to have some great photos for my blog? Or do I aim to show the love of Christ by choosing activities that will nourish my soul and the souls of my family and others?

Every December we give homemade Christmas cards to the residents at a local nursing home. I can do this out of obligation, “I should do this.” I can do it out of pride, “Look what we are doing for these poor people.” I can stress myself out trying to make cards that are picture perfect (and end up making them all myself). Or I can allow my two-year-old to color a simple star with her favorite purple crayon and focus on giving the residents a smile. I know what Mary Magdalene would choose.

December may always be a busy month, but all three of these women named Mary had busy seasons. Mary, the mother of Jesus took several long trips when Jesus was small. Mary of Bethany hosted many guests in her home. Mary Magdalene served a hungry band of travelers. Yet all of them found time to proclaim God's grace, listen to His words, and wait for His presence in a quiet garden. 

I want to praise my Lord like Jesus' mother, rejecting all the expectations and comparison games that steal my peace. 

I want to choose the best and spend time with God's Word like Mary of Bethany. I want to give my time and possessions to serve Christ with joy like Mary Magdalene. 

I want December to hold less worry and more worship, less panic and more peace, less jolly and more Jesus.

How do you keep a Mary Heart at Christmas? Or any other time of the year?

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Dream Isaiah Saw

On Sunday after the song Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence, the choir immediately sang this song. I love the combination of words from Isaiah combined with a call to bow our hearts before the Lord.

The Dream Isaiah Saw
by Thomas Troeger

Lions and oxen will sleep in the hay,
Leopards will join with the lambs as they play,
Wolves will be pastured with cows in the glade,
Blood will darken the Earth that God made.

Little child whose bed is straw,
Take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
Life redeemed from fang and claw.

Peace will pervade more than forest and field:
God will transfigure the Violence concealed
Deep in the heart of systems gain,
Ripe for the judgment the Lord will ordain.

Little Child whose bed is straw,
Take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
Justice purifying law.

Nature reordered to match God’s intent,
Nations obeying the call to repent,
All of creation completely restored,
Filled with the knowledge and love of the Lord.

Little child whose bed is straw,
Take new lodgings in my heart.
Bring the dream Isaiah saw:
Knowledge, wisdom, worship awe.

And here is a chance to listen to the song. I love that the last chorus is sung acapella first, then sung again with the orchestra for a fitting climax. (Click over to the blog if you are reading by email.)

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Today we are back at the hospital for Ed's second infusion. Ed continues to improve, and his doctor is pleased with his progress in the past three weeks.

The biggest difference I see in Ed is that he is talking again. For a few weeks he had been so quiet, hardly able to hold a conversation and showing little emotion. Now he is back to his quick retorts and one-liners, making me smile with a deep quivering relief. I don't need anything else for Christmas.

Since Ed is feeling so much better, we've been throwing ourselves into enjoying December. The craft show this weekend was so much fun. I loved seeing old (and new) friends.

On Sunday we went to a Christmas concert held by a local community chorus at a beautiful chapel. This place holds sweet memories for Ed and I. We had been there numerous times when dating, including the Christmas Eve that Ed proposed. but we had not been there since we've had children. This year we decided to take our children to enjoy their Christmas program. The youngest grew bored and fell asleep, but the older ones enjoyed climbing the bell tower and watching the carillonneur play the bells.

And the music. Wow. I forgot how good it is to sit high in a balcony in a building with amazing acoustics and hear the waves of music swell up from the orchestra and choir.

Every year I have a favorite Christmas song. Last year I was struck by how much Christmas music refers to Christ's second coming. Maybe because I've been reminded so often this past year that peace on earth won't be truly found until Christ's return.

One of the songs sung was "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence." This is an ancient hymn, but new to me even though I found it in our hymnal. In Sunday School we are studying Revelation, and this hymn reminds me of glory of Christ described in the first chapters.

So much of the way we celebrate Christmas is self-centered and commercial. This Christmas hymn reminds me of the awe found in the presence of the exalted Jesus Christ.

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
Translated from the Liturgy of St. James by Gerard Moultir
Hymns of the Church #202

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing early minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descending
Comes our homage to demand.

Kind of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spread its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
Comes the powers of hell to vanquish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Here is a recording of you want to listen. (If viewing by email you may need to click over to the blog.)


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