Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas, A Very Special Birthday Boy, & Some Recipes To Share

"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever."
Hebrews 13:8

I hope everyone had a very blessed Christmas,
and I hope those of you who are hurting and struggling 
felt the sweet arms of Jesus sustaining you and carrying you through the rough spots.
I hope you will soon find your way through the storm, 
and when you look behind you to where you've been, 
may you see only one set of footprints.
That way, you will know for sure He was holding you close during the worst.

God blessed us with a wonderful Christmas Day.
We so enjoyed our time with Debbie, LD, and Mark.
We started a family tradition a few years ago to have snacks and finger foods
on Christmas Day, since we do such a big meal on Thanksgiving.
All of us love munchie, hors d'oeuvre type foods, so it is really lots of fun.

How abundantly blessed we are....
and how very, very grateful.
I always feel guilty partaking of such bounty,
when I pause to remember how many are starving.

This is what our Christmas Day menu looked like...
(I wish I could include a picture, but our camera was acting up at the time,
and I was unable to get the one I wanted.)

We ate....
Pigs in a Blanket,
LD's Homemade Fried Chicken Wings w/BBQ & Ranch Sauce,
Deviled Eggs,
Mexican Layer Dip and Chips,
Cracker Sandwiches,
Cheese Log with Savory Crackers,
Pepperoni Pinwheels,
and, of course, Zachary's birthday cake later in the evening for dessert.

He chose to have his birthday celebration after our Christmas festivities
at Debbie, LD, and Mark's house this year.
They went all out to make sure it was very special for him.
He was very, very grateful to them for all they did.

From the moment you walk into their beautiful home,
you feel warm, welcome, and loved.

I love going there.
There aren't too many places a person can feel completely at home,
other than their own home, of course.  :)
That doesn't apply to Debbie, LD, and Mark's house.
They do everything they can to make you feel welcome.

After we ate, we had our family gift exchange.

Then Zach's party.

Zach wanted his favorite cake for his birthday again this year....
Lemon Curd Layer Cake.
And we decorated it in one of his favorite things...
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
He helped me make it, which made it extra-special. :)

We started out by baking a butter recipe yellow cake in two layers.
When they were finished baking and had cooled completely, 
we put a layer of lemon curd in the middle.

Zach prefers lemon frosting, Kevin prefers cream cheese.
So to please everyone, I took a store-bought container of lemon frosting,
added green food coloring, until it reached Zach's-satisfaction-level of TMNT green!
This I put on the top to create a foundation for the scene Zach wanted to create.
We used cream cheese frosting all around the sides.
We made a "road" by using black frosting in the tube,
and Zach made little road dividers with yellow-colored sugar sprinkles.
Then we placed the store-bought kit we purchased at Walmart on top.
It looks like the turtles are coming out of the sewer, with the city backdrop behind them.

I am not a professional cake-decorator by any stretch of the imagination,
but Zach was thrilled, and that is all that mattered to me.

Debbie, LD, and Mark bought all of the turtle party decor, 
which brought huge smiles to Zach's face!

He loved it!

Wow, can I tell you how hard it is for me to comprehend that he is 13 years old?

I honestly don't know how Kevin and I could be the parents of a teenager.
But now we are....
and today it hit me how many prayers we have prayed that God would allow the two of us
to live and be in health to raise this sweet child.
I don't think a day has gone by over the past several years
that God has not heard me present this petition before His throne.

As I was praying last night, it occurred to me how faithful God is.
He has answered that prayer to this point in time,
and I could never begin to thank Him enough for every second of the past 13 years.

How I plead for more see the full completion of this precious journey!

Zach often hears me praying my "repetitious" prayer,
and each time I just ask for enough time to fully raise him,
he is quick to scold me.
"Mama, ask for God to spare you and Daddy for many more years after that, too!"
He grows more precious to us with each passing day.
So does life.

I just can't wrap my mind around how quickly the years have flown
since Kevin cut that cord, and the mid-wife placed that little round-faced bundle in our waiting arms.
I have done my utmost to cherish each and every second...
but while I have cherished, the moments have slipped so quickly through my hands.

Who can halt the flow of time?
Only its Creator.

How grateful I am for every minute of motherhood!
I guess I cherish it even more since it took so long for us
and since we weren't given much hope of it ever happening.
It just makes it all the more sweet and precious.
It pays to wait on God....
His way and His timing are always the very best.

Even though we felt it would have been best to have Zach long before we did,
we look back now and realize that God was absolutely right.
He always is.

I wanted to share at least some of the recipes we used for Christmas Day.

Debbie made the cheese log by using our sister, Sandi's yummy recipe.

Sandi's Party Cheese Log

1 Block of Cream Cheese, softened
Finely chopped green olives, to taste
Finely chopped green onions, to taste
One pack of Carl Buddig beef, chopped into fine pieces

After the cream cheese is soft and pliable,
mix the green olives and green onions through it.
Pour finely-chopped beef onto wax paper.
Roll the cheese log in the beef, until it is well-coated.
Serve with variety of party crackers.
Mexican Layer Dip

2 cans of refried beans (either traditional or spicy, your choice)
32 ounces of sour cream
2 packs of taco seasoning mix
2 small cans of chili peppers
Green onions, finely chopped, to taste
Tomatoes, finely chopped, to taste
Shredded cheddar cheese

Spread both cans of refried beans over the bottom of a 9x13 casserole dish.
Mix the two packets of taco seasoning mix with the sour cream,
then spread on top of beans.
Layer the remaining four ingredients in the order shown in recipe.
You can add finely chopped jalapeno peppers to the chili pepper layer, if you want a spicier dish.

Serve with tortilla chips.
Pepperoni Pinwheels

2 blocks of cream cheese, softened
1 packet of ranch dressing mix
Pepperoni slices, to taste
About 4-5 green onions, finely chopped
2-3 jalapeno slices, finely chopped
1-2 tsp. of juice from jalapenos
5 tortillas

After cream cheese is soft and pliable, mix with ranch dressing mix.
Finely chop pepperoni.  
(I use our electric works great!)
It is hard for me to say an exact number of pepperonis, but to give you an idea,
I bought the 3.5 box of Hormel pepperoni.  
There are 2 pouches inside, and I used almost one whole pouch.
Next, finely chop the green onions, 
(again an electric chopper does great and saves a ton of time.) 
Finely chop the jalapenos
(did I mention how much I love our electric chopper??) LOL!
Dump the pepperonis, green onions, and jalapenos into the cream cheese/ranch dressing mixture.
Add the jalapeno juice.
Stir and stir until everything is well-blended.
Lay the tortillas on counter, and spread the cream cheese mixture to fully cover the tortilla.
Fold, jelly-roll style, and use the cream cheese mixture to seal shut.
Take out the next day, and slice about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick.
Serve on pretty Christmas or festive plate.
Also, did I happen to mention how much I love Christmas?
Okay, so it is hard for me to let go.
It is sad to see it go away....again.
You work so hard in the anticipation-stages leading up to it,
everyone's hopes are so high,
and then, poof!
It's a flash.
It seems time flies by faster the older I get.
Is it just me?

God was so gracious to keep us all well enough through the holidays and Zach's birthday,
except my poor Sweetie.  
He was so sick on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
Bless his heart, he plowed right on through, like he always does.
He is the bravest trooper I know.
All three of us have been under an illness attack ever since....
guess it is making its full rounds here in the Smith household.
Say a prayer for us, if we come to mind.  :)

On good, happy, smiling days of celebration,
on not-so-good days of hardly being able to leave the recliner,
God is good.
He is faithful.
He doesn't leave us in the sunshine or the rain.
He enjoys hearing our laughter, and He holds us when we cry.

Seasons come, seasons go.
Holidays are ushered in, then they are gone.

And now....
we stand near the beginning of a brand new year.
Just a couple of days left in 2013.
Time to reflect....and to give thanks to our Eternal, loving God...
for life and breath, yea, and all things.
Time to look ahead....
and hold more tightly to His nail-scarred hand.

Aren't you glad He never changes?

Saturday, December 28, 2013

What's Trending Now?

"Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God.
Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth."
Romans 14:22

I've been noticing, along with everyone else who uses the internet,
that when I sign on to Yahoo to search for something,
there is a box on the right side that says, "Trending Now".
Below the title is a list of the top ten most popular search terms, at that moment,
based upon every hit Yahoo has had in a certain time period.

Usually, it is in keeping with some latest news flash,
and often it is the name of a celebrity or has to do with some kind of scandal,
or a current vehicle or product on the market that is being heavily promoted, etc.

If you want to join the "trending" bandwagon, you can jump on
with a single click on one of the ten topics listed,
and you will be instantly redirected.
Once you get there, you will find every current news flash about it,
along with photos, youtube videos, etc.

As a noun, the word "trend" means:
the general direction in which something tends to move,
a general tendency or inclination,
current style or vogue.

As a verb, "trend" means:
to extend, incline, or veer in a specified direction,
to show a general tendency; tend.

It occurred to me, as I glanced over the "trending now" topics today,
that just because something is "trendy",
just because everyone else is doing it,
just because it has had a million internet hits,
just because the media says its the latest, greatest thing,
that does not in any way, shape, or form mean that it is in my best interest to click on it and be carried away
for the next hour, give or take, reading all about it and indulging in the details.

I have never seen anything that is more crammed full of distractions than the internet,
have you?

I can open a browser with the sole intention of doing research for a devotional,
looking up a Bible verse,
or searching for one specific thing,
and all of a sudden, something catches my eye that is completely innocent in and of itself,
I have taken the bait...hook, line, and sinker....
and before I know it I have been reeled in,
and shamefully, I have wasted...yes, completely wasted....
an hour or more of the precious, limited time we all have coming to us.

I don't know of anything in the world that contains more time thieves
and fosters more of a time-wasting smorgasbord...than the internet.
You can just get drawn in to it to the degree that what started out so innocent in and of itself
has become not-so-innocent anymore simply because you have grossly over-indulged,
left needful things undone because of it,
and replaced what matters most with what doesn't really matter at all.

Has anyone else ever experienced this?

Sadly, there is zero spiritual edification in a big percentage of what is "trending".

I wonder....if we paused to ask ourselves a few, pointed questions
before we become so enthralled in joining the masses...
could we maybe save ourselves some regret?
Could we redeem some precious, valuable time...
right in the midst of the days being so overwhelmingly evil? (Ephesians 5:16)
I wonder if we would be so easily and willfully carried off-track?
The questions need to be asked before the first click of the mouse in the direction of the detour.
Once you click, once you change directions, once you start down that path,
it is more difficult to stop than if you never took the first bite of bait.

So, before we click, before we are caught up in what's trending...
just for the sake of it being popular and sought after,
maybe we should ask ourselves some questions along these lines.
Do I really have the "extra" time at the moment to indulge?
Are there other things I should be doing right now?
Is(are) my child(ren) awake and wishing for my attention?
Is my husband available for some quality bonding time?
Is it good for my soul?
Is it in the best interest of the edification of my relationship with God?
Will watching this and/or reading about it hinder or enhance my daily walk with Him?
Is pop culture a safe and reliable guide to determine 
how I spend my time?
Does it deliver a safe definition of what is spiritually beneficial?
Can it be trusted to guard and protect the part of us that will one day face God and live forever?

To whom should we look for guidance?
Those who follow politically-correctness
 or those who adhere to what is Biblically correct?
Does what is "trending" promote a closer walk with Christ?
Do I really need to sit and watch the vulgar and obscene antics of wayward celebrities...
just because everyone else in the world is caught up in indulging in it?

After all, aren't we supposed to be different from the world?  (I Peter 2:9)
Didn't Jesus say in the 17th chapter of John that we are in the world, but not of the world?
Aren't we a called out people, peculiar in our stand for righteousness? (I Peter 2:21)

Not saying that everything that "trends" is bad for you....
just saying we need to stop, look to the Lord, and listen to His voice
before we leap into anything and everything that is readily available and eye-catching.

Remember, once those images are stored in the human brain,
the hidden malware has been injected, leaving a damaging trail behind.
(Click here to read.)
Our eyes are the windows to our souls.
Once its viewed, it moves...from the the the heart.

Is it really in the best interest of our overall spiritual health to just roll with the flow,
with what everyone else is doing,
and entrust it to anything just because "it's trending"?

There are just certain things we should refrain from participating in....
no matter who else is doing it.
Regardless if the whole world is chasing after it.
In spite of who approves of it and/or says it is okay.

Trends come and go.
Some are good and wholesome, some are not so much.
Trends are not safe to follow, without first applying careful, discerning inspection.

I know some who have strong convictions that it is a sin
to even allow the internet to reside and be available in the home.
Because of the evil that is available on it, and regardless of the good it provides,
they feel they must refrain from it entirely.
Then I know some who don't believe in having the internet in their home,
yet they will lay down their strong opinions and indulge when in another person's home.
Then there are some who believe it is okay to spend time on the internet only during their trips to the library,
since there are time restrictions, filters, etc.
Hey, if that's what they have to do, then by all means, they should do it.

At the same time, no one should ever inflict
what are strictly exclusive personal convictions upon others.
To do that is unfair.
On the flip side, those who allow certain things should not be harsh or judgmental toward those
who do not allow them, because truly we cannot read each other's hearts, right?
Only God can do that.
Haven't we all been on the receiving end of that kind of mean-spirited judgment?
Shouldn't we refrain from inflicting its sting on others?

If we are weak in a certain area, if that area has tripped us up repeatedly,
then we need to do what we must in order to avoid future failures.
We need to put the guard rails in place...based on what it takes for us to individually mind God.
(Click here to read more.)

I believe we can go overboard in any part of our lives and get way off-track...
both on the side of fanaticism and on the side of compromise.
Both sides can be equally damaging.
There is a completely happy medium...
a realm in which we can abide that is completely and entirely approved by God.
Only you and God know of what that is comprised....for you.

It kind of reminds me of the number lines Zachary has been studying in math.
One step to the left of zero heads you in a negative direction.
One step to the right starts you in a positive.
Both sides go on opposite directions.
Zero is completely balanced.
Isn't that what we are all striving for?
Balance in our Christian life?
Maybe in order to maintain balance, we need to keep self where it belongs...
on zero.
Selfless, 100%, fully resigned and surrendered to what God deems best for us.
If the pendulum of our mindset begins to sway towards extreme on either side,
we become off-balanced and less apt to please God or be effective for Him.

Your areas of temptation may be worlds apart different than mine,
and vice verse.

Aren't you glad God is sovereign and it is He, and only He, that we are required to please?

The main point I am trying to make could never be worded more clearly
or more eloquently than through the words in today's verse.
"Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God.
Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth."
Romans 14:22
For the sake of clarification and reinforcement of the force behind these words,
here are some other Bible version translations.

"The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.
Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves."

"The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.
Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves."

"As for the faith you do have, have it as your own conviction before God.
How blessed is the person who has no reason to condemn himself because of what he approves!"
While this verse could be grossly misinterpreted as giving a person free rein to do anything 
and everything they want to do as long as their own personal convictions do not condemn it,
we need to, as in every passage of Scripture, 
rightly divide the Word of truth and keep it in its proper context.

We need to always make sure our personal convictions are God-given convictions.
If they are truly God-given, they will always be in line with God's definition of sin.

"Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth."

The things which we allow...
herein lies the key.
True happiness comes only in this form....
to indulge only in the things of which God approves.
The result is the joy of living life completely void of condemnation.

Allowing ourselves to walk into forbidden territory....
regardless of how popular and "trendy" the world has labeled it to be,
automatically brings a cloud of condemnation and guilt over our spiritual life.
No one can be truly happy when they are willfully partaking of
and making room for things over which they feel condemned by God.

I have found that there are certain things I simply cannot do and remain in relationship with the Lord.
I see others who can.
Not that I am judging them, but based on the sweet spirit they manifest and the spiritual fruit they bear,
I know, without a doubt that they are true Christians.
So, why can they do certain things that God has told me I cannot do
and still stay clear before Him?

It all goes back to 2 Corinthians 10:12,
"For we dare not make ourselves of the number,
or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves:
but they measuring themselves by themselves,
and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise."


Because the Christian walk is an individual matter,
between one's soul and God.
Because everyone has varying degrees of light and understanding.
Because you are only required to walk in the light you are capable of seeing,
and I am only required to walk in the light I can see.
Because our areas of temptation are as diverse as the extent of our spiritual comprehension.
Because Jesus said the precious Holy Spirit is the One Who
"will guide you into all truth: 
 for He shall not speak of Himself; 
but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: 
and He will shew you things to come." (John 16:13)
Because only God can see into the human heart.

Because only He can accurately wield the Sword of His Word that

"is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, 

piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, 
and of the joints and marrow, 
and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12
Because "the LORD is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed." I Samuel 2:3

To attempt to take the role of judge upon ourselves
and look down our noses upon our brothers and sisters because they
do not "measure up" to our personal standards of conviction is just plain wrong.
It is uglier than the very things 
of which we are so quick to pass judgment.

Philippians 2:12 tells us to
"work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."

I don't know about you, but I have a hard enough time working out my own salvation
and keeping myself straight. :)
I don't have the time or energy to go around trying to work out everyone else's
or attempting to make sure everyone else is living up to what I think is right.
Who am I anyway?
Who are these personal convictions for anyhow?
Isn't there a reason they are called "personal"?

I'll leave the judging to the Judge.
What a relief to know it isn't up to me, and I shoulder no responsibility for the actions of others.
How liberating!

What's trending now may or may not be
conducive to holy living and a closer walk with Jesus Christ.
If it is, by all means, pursue it with all your heart.
If it isn't, avoid it like the plague.
Being able to identify the difference requires heavy reliance upon the direction of the Holy Spirit,
staying close enough to God to make sure we can hear His still, small voice,
and being swift to obey and follow His lead.
And remember, just because it's trending now and the greatest thing since sliced bread....
in the opinions of others, at least....
does not in any way suggest that it is good for you....or me to allow in our lives.

Pleasing the Christ child Who came that first Christmas night, 
and Who grew into a man and paid the ultimate price 
to become the Captain of our salvation, 
is what brings true happiness and is what matters most.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013!

"Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, 
 and took unto him his wife:
And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: 
and he called his name JESUS."
Matthew 1:24,25

Merry Christmas!!!

As we gather together to enjoy and savor the Lord's blessings and most precious Gift of all,
my mind goes to those who are hurting, sad, brokenhearted, depressed, wounded, without hope,
those who have bodies racked with pain and disease,
those who are in the midst of the disillusionment and heartbreak of marital separation and divorce,
those who are facing the uncertainties of upcoming medical tests and surgeries,
those who have lost loved ones this year and who are facing their first Christmas without them,
those who will face empty spots at festive tables...stark reminders of the ones who are missing,
those who have beloved ones across the sea, absent because they are selflessly protecting our liberties,
those whose parents are elderly, failing, and soon to say good-bye,
those whose wombs are infertile, whose arms are empty,
those who fold tiny hands every night, begging God for a forever home,
those in nursing homes who will not see one person they recognize this Christmas,
those who wouldn't recognize a loved one should they decide to take the time to visit,
those who are homeless, freezing in winter's wind, stomach empty and heart sick,
those who would give anything they own just to be able to go back and do things over...
to take back those angry, hurtful visit that sad, lonely mother, now long-gone....
to say I love you one more time...
to say I'm sorry....and who will never have another chance,
those who cry...bitter, salt-filled tears, as they hide in corners, fearing the sound of drunken footsteps,
those who see no reason to face one more day,
those who have lost their faculties and are no longer capable of facing life independently,
those who are confined, imprisoned, and scorned, filled with remorse over crimes they wish they could undo,
Mamas and Daddies of the wayward and rebellious, who yearn to hold them once more,
Mamas and Daddies who wish they had done things differently, 
animals who are hungry, cold, abandoned, and alone.

Not everyone is merry on Christmas.
To many, Christmas can be a very sad time...
a painful and hurtful reminder of all they have lost or never had.

"Life itself is a battlefield, and we're all facing some kind of war."
Bill Anderson

That is the express reason Jesus came, my friend.
This is what Christmas is truly all about.

"to preach good tidings unto the meek; 
to bind up the brokenhearted, 
to proclaim liberty to the captives, 
and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; 
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, 
and the day of vengeance of our God; 
to comfort all that mourn; 
To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, 
to give unto them beauty for ashes, 
the oil of joy for mourning, 
the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness..."
Isaiah 61:1-3

To those who are struggling today,

the true message of Christmas is for you.

Just think!

A God Who can cause His Spirit to overshadow the womb of a virgin,
place the seed that would become His Son within her,
bring Him into the world through natural childbirth,
and present Him to the world....His ultimate gift.....
can do anything, my friend.

He is the God of miracles.
The God of impossibilities.
The God of supernatural abilities to transform, renew, and make whole.
Nothing is too hard for Him.

He can open wombs, restore marriages, fill lonely hearts, heal diseased bodies,
extend life, mend brokenness, comfort grieving spirits, protect the defenseless, 
remove the sting of regret, place the solitary in families, bind the power of addiction,
set captives free, give second chances...and third...and fourth....and as many as are needed,
bring wanderers back into the fold...and back home again,
and give the gift of hope to all who need it.

God is bigger than any problem.
He is sovereign over all.
His power is unlimited.
His strength is undiminished.

All we have to do is open our heart, accept the precious gift of the true meaning of Christmas....
the Gift He sent all the way from Heaven to earth....
just for us.
The Gift Mary wrapped and laid in a manger that first Christmas night.

May the dear Lord bless every, single one of you this Christmas.
May He supply every need, comfort every hurting heart, 
and may you know how very loved and appreciated you are.

Our love to each one of you,
Kevin, Cheryl, and Zachary

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Memories

"While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, 
and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease."
Genesis 8:22

The wonderful season of winter is here again!

Time for homemade hot cocoa,
chilly, crisp nights,
the soft, cozy glow from the Christmas stars in our front windows,
remembering Christmases past,
and the sweet anticipation that this Christmas is right around the corner.

I love these moments....every part of this season.

Moments like....
special thoughts of that precious Baby, His sweet mother, Mary, and His loving father, Joseph,
huddled close together and the love that filled their hearts that first Christmas night....
and sitting on the porch, talking to my sister, Sandi,
as our neighbors drove by, shouting "Merry Christmas" to me from their car.....
and hearing Zach count down the days 'til Christmas Eve.....
and reminding him to plug in the Christmas lights every evening towards dusk.....
and turning our kitchen radio on to hear only Christmas carols & music being played.....
and sitting at our kitchen table with Kevin opening all the Christmas cards that came in the mail.
We always love doing that together...hearing from special people,
reading the words they so thoughtfully write,
and looking at the pictures they include in their cards every year.

Today, included in our stack of cards, was a Christmas picture 
from my dear, childhood Sunday School teacher,  Sis. Nancy.
Every time I see her name or hear of her, I have the fondest of memories.
Do you know how you sometimes hear a person's name,
 and the only memories you have of them at all are pleasant ones of the nicest kind?
Their names stir no anxiety or apprehension, 
they conjure no negative emotions,
and you cannot honestly remember one bad memory associated with them?
To me, one of those rare, special my still-dear-friend, Sis. Nancy.
She is one of those special people who truly had a big say in the influence of my young life.
Honestly, she is one of the kindest, most Christlike people I remember knowing as a child.
She was a patient teacher, very soft-spoken and mild-mannered, and always incredibly kind to me...
no matter what was going on in my life at the time....
and even during times of church-splitting and upheaval and chaos.
I never saw her show a bad attitude or set a bad example for the children she had so faithfully taught.
When she was severely tested, she practiced what she had taught us to believe was right.
Can I tell you how much that impressed me, as a child, looking on?
I remember a song she used to sing in church, 
and, to this day, I still have the exact paper upon which she hand-wrote the words for Mom.
It is called, "Thank You For The Valley I Walk Through Today".
I will probably never realize how true-to-her-life's-testimony those words were to her,
as she stood in front of our little chapel singing them to the congregation.
As Kevin opened her Christmas envelope addressed to us today
then handed me the picture, 
I noticed the white fence shown in the background behind her and her family.
I commented to Kevin on how I can still remember that fence.
It's funny...the things you remember.
It has been years since I have visited her home, 
but I remember seeing that fence when I was little, and Mom, Dad, Debbie, and I would go there.
Every year, Sis. Nancy had a special Sunday School Christmas party for us in her home,
and she always gave us a brown paper bag full of goodies to take with us when the party was over.
Growing up, we didn't have much money or a lot of extravagant gifts in our family,
and I SO looked forward to that special party and that brown goody bag every Christmas.
It warmed my heart to get her yearly greeting in the mail today.
I hope she knows how much I love her and how profoundly and positively she impacted my life as a child.
I will never forget her.

Isn't it wonderful that Christmas provides an opportunity for us to keep in touch with the ones
we may never otherwise hear from every year?

Every, single thing about Christmas just blesses me and warms my heart. 

It is sad to see autumn go....
you know me, and my aversion to change!
We are in that phase where pretty much all of the leaves 
have fallen and lie scattered beneath their trees....
creating a beautiful, multi-colored, ground-covering blanket across our yard.
Aren't they beautiful?

Who said God doesn't love colors?

The other night, Zach and I raked a lot of them,
put them in the wheel barrow,

and gathered them all together in one big heap by the gardenia bush 
in our front yard.

He loves doing that each year.
His Mama kind of loves it, too....
especially watching the fun he has.

Of course, running and jumping in, then rolling in the leaves, accompanied by Paige,
is the whole motivation for helping!

How grateful to God I am to still be here with Kevin and him...
to cherish the moments, to watch Zach play, to join in when I am up to it. 
Each time the seasons change and a new one comes around again,
I thank the dear Lord from the bottom of my heart for allowing all of us to see it
all happening one more time.

How precious life is!

I made one more little fall scene with the leftover pumpkins 
we previously used to decorate our front porch.

LD and Mark hand built this birdhouse for Kevin a few years ago
and gave it to him as a gift.
I thought it looked pretty sitting on top of the pumpkins.

Zach is getting beyond excited for Christmas to finally get here!
He keeps begging to open something...anything!
We finally relented and allowed him to open two stocking stuffers today.

In case I haven't mentioned it lately, 
can I just tell you how much I love being this sweet boy's Mama?
Honestly, I never do get over the wonder of him
and how God sent him to us after such a long time of waiting.

I love Zach's enthusiasm and passion for life.
Truly, it has sustained me and prevented me from giving up more than once.
Seeing it all through his eyes...makes it fresh and new.
Isn't that one of the most special things about having a child?
They haven't lost the zest,
haven't yet become jaded and burned out on so many of the things we, as adults, take for granted.

I am cherishing and loving every moment of this precious Christmas season.
I am so glad Jesus came....
and so thankful every year at this time that the whole world pauses to remember.

I hope you, too, are enjoying this Christmas.
I hope you have special memories of Christmases past...
memories that warm your heart and take you back to sweet moments.
May your days be merry and bright,
and may God bless you to create the most special Christmas memories ever....
this year!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Music's Bridge

"The LORD was ready to save me:
therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life
in the house of the LORD."
Isaiah 38:20
"All these were under the hands of their father for song in the house of the LORD,
with cymbals, psalteries, and harps, for the service of the house of God..."
I Chronicles 25:6

"Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings.
Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise."
Psalm 33:2-3(KJV)

There is so much about music in the Bible.
Worship just seems to call for music....
music that flows from deep inside the heart...
motivated from a well-spring of gratitude to God.

Music is such a comfort to me.
The melody of a song has the amazing capability to compel me backwards....
in an instant...
to another place, another time.

To me, music is a bridge...that connects me from where I am now
to where I used to be....
to Mom and Dad and other family members who have gone on to their reward....
to family still living, but living so far away from me that I only see them on rare occasions.
Each time I hear particular songs...or a certain kind of music....
I can close my eyes and be transported back on wings of memory.

Music is a common element that has bound and united my family for years.

Music is a gift from God.
It is an expression of the soul....
a means of the articulation of our heartfelt worship to Him.

"It is a good thing to give thanks unto the LORD, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High:
Upon an instrument of ten strings, and upon the psaltery; 
upon the harp with a solemn sound."
Psalm 92:1,3

Bluegrass has always been the style of music nearest and dearest to my heart.
I have never outgrown my love for it.
To me, it is real...and sincere....and honest....and as down-to-earth as you can get.
No pretense.
No airs.
Just words...and music...sung straight from the heart.

Dad thought bluegrass was the only kind of music there was. :)
He didn't refer to other styles as "music".
He loved the simplicity...the genuineness of the songs.
Here's Dad's Old Kraftsman five-string banjo....
one of my most cherished earthly possessions.

He taught me most of what I know about the guitar,
but as much as I wanted to, I never could catch on to the roll of the banjo.
I can chord, but conquering the roll is something that will probably always evade me.
Many of the members of my family on Mom's side play(ed)
some type of acoustic instrument, too...
and the get-togethers we have enjoyed through the years
are some of the sweetest and fondest memories I have of growing up.

"I will sing a new song unto thee, O God: 
upon a psaltery and an instrument of ten strings will I sing praises unto thee."
Psalm 144:9

Recently, we had a long-overdue get-together with several members of my family,
and, of course, the thing we all gravitated to was music.

Uncle John has been very ill this year, fighting a serious disease.

 How precious it was to see him and Aunt Linda able to sing and play music together again!

What an answer to prayer and gift from our dear Lord!

It brought a deep-down comfort to me to be there that day.
While Zach and the little ones swam in the backyard pool,
the adults made and enjoyed the music.

I so appreciated Kim and Matt opening their beautiful home to host our time together
to make it possible for me to spend time with loved ones so dear to my heart.
What a precious blessing!

Okay, so Chris, is a bit taller than Anna and me...
only by about...oh...say two feet or so!
We never did think he would stop growing!
By the way, we think Anna looks like Kate Middleton.  ;)

It had been years since Jennifer and I got to sing together like that.
(We used to sing together on a weekly Friday night radio program,
strawberry festival, etc.)

Sometimes, you don't realize how much you've missed or needed something,
until you get to do it again.
I'll cherish my memories of that day as long as I live.

Family means so much to me, and to me, music is a big part of family.

There is no harmony in the world like family harmony.

"Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: 
praise him with the psaltery and harp.
Praise him with the timbrel and dance: 
praise him with stringed instruments and organs.
Praise him upon the loud cymbals: 
praise him upon the high sounding cymbals."
Psalm 150:3-5

Speaking of family harmony, we recently discovered a bluegrass group called
The Spinney Brothers,
whose harmony is unbelievable.
Ever heard of them?
Alan Spinney plays the guitar and mostly sings lead,
his brother, Rick Spinney plays the banjo and mostly sings tenor,
but sometimes they switch parts.
What a blessing it is to hear these guys!
They stay true to the old-time bluegrass sound, for sure.
Listening to them reminds Kevin and me of the music we were raised on....
especially the Louvin Brothers,
the Stanley Brothers,
the Osborne Brothers,
the McReynolds Brothers (Jim & Jesse),
Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs,
Mac Wiseman,
and so many others.

They sing a song called, "Old, Roman Soldier", written by David Cooper,
 that will jerk tears from your eyes.
The words are so moving.
And the harmony!
Oh, the harmony!
Honestly, I don't know of anyone who can outshine them 
when it comes to the perfect blending of two voices.
I could sit and listen to these brothers all day long.

Click here if video doesn't load.

Another one I love by them is "Sunday Drive".

Click here if video doesn't load.

That last part made me break down and bawl when Kevin first played it for me.

And, here's yet another....

Click here if video doesn't load.

Don't you just love that old-time, high-lonesome sound?
Boy, does that take me back....
it reminds me so much of the Louvin Brothers, especially.
Dad used to be able to nail that high tenor sound and was often compared to Ira Louvin.

Click here if video doesn't load.

I wish with all my heart Dad could have heard the Spinney Brothers sing.
He would have been their biggest fan.
Dad is listening to angels now instead....
but I wonder how anything could be prettier than the music these two brothers make together?

I wanted to share a few other favorite bluegrass songs of mine,
other than the ones by the Spinney Brothers.

I really love "Wide River To Cross", written by Buddy & Julie Miller.
This one hit a nerve with me the first time I heard it.
I couldn't wait to find out who sang it and get the words down pat.
It is sung by a group called Balsam Range.

I hope you enjoy it.

Click here if video doesn't load.

Can't we all relate to the words in this song?
Don't we all have a wide, wide river to cross?
Life is hard.
Everyone is facing their own struggles.
I don't know anyone who lives life care-free.
Who among us hasn't been through the school of hard knocks?
This song just really speaks to me every time I hear it.

And speaking of everyone facing their own struggles brings me to my next favorite,
"Some Kind of War" by Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers.

 Click here if video doesn't load.

I love this song, written by Bill Anderson.
Could truer words ever be spoken?
We are so quick to judge, condemn, criticize...
when the truth is, none of us really know what the other is going through.
If we did, would we not be a bit more compassionate,
tolerant, patient, and understanding?
The clerk who just snapped at me at the grocery store could be facing her first chemo treatment.
Watching the customers pass through her line...
healthy, vibrant, unaffected by disease...
may have been like pouring salt into the open wounds of her heart.
The cashier at Walmart who refused my repeated attempts at conversation
may be in the middle of a divorce.
Seeing me standing there, holding Kevin's hand, Zachary in tow,
may have been more martial and family bliss than she could take.
The co-worker who rushed past with not so much as the slightest response to "good morning"
may have a teenage daughter who just found out she is expecting an illegitimate child....
the father of the baby being anything but what was hoped for her future.
Uttering the least response may have opened the flood gate of tears held back by a dam of silence.
The pastor who barely utters a word to me on the way out of the church door
may be walking through the darkest, deepest, most desolate spiritual season of his life.
Trying to give encouragement to someone else may be more than he can possibly muster at the moment.
The friend...usually so warm, welcoming, and easy to approach...
who turned her head when I walked in the room
may have just gotten word that her mother's cancer has returned.
Knowing I would burst into tears with her, should she mention it and break down,
may have caused her to turn away until she could compose herself.
The grouchy, old man who snarled when accidentally bumped with my shopping cart
may have just buried his wife of 60 years.
Coming to the store they always shopped in together may have nearly put him over the edge.

"Life itself can be a battlefield, 
and we're all fightin' some kind of war"....
isn't it the truth?

Wouldn't it be best to cut each other a little slack?
Who among us doesn't need a break and some tolerance every now and then?

One of the neat things about Joe Mullins, other than the fact that I love this song,
is that when I was a little girl growing up in southern Ohio,
Mom, Dad, and I used to listen to a bluegrass DJ on WPFB in Middletown, OH,
who went by the name of (Paul) Moon Mullins.
I remember sitting in the car with Mom in front of Globe Tool & Engineering, where Dad worked
listening to Moon Mullins on the radio while we waited for Dad.
When I first heard of Joe Mullins & his current group,
I wondered if he could be related to Moon.
Sure enough, upon looking into it, Joe is none other than Moon's son.

A few years ago, we were first introduced to Joe Mullins' music when
my brother David, sent Mom one of his CDs for her birthday.
He told her there was a song on there that reminded him of her.
I can remember driving down the road with Mom that day,
listening to that CD, tears streaming down her face and mine,
as we listened and realized why it reminded David so much of her.
It turned out that it was a revised version of "Yes, Jesus Loves Me",
sung by Ralph Stanley, Sr., accompanied by Joe and his group.
As we listened,
I kept noticing how sad it was to hear Ralph sounding so much older these days.
I've been listening to his music for as long as I can remember.
It will be a sad day when he has to say "good-bye".

I couldn't find a video to insert, but here are the words.....

Jesus Loves Me - Senior Citizen Version 

Jesus loves me, this I know,
Though my hair is white as snow.
Though my sight is growing dim,
Still He bids me trust in Him.


Though my steps are oh, so slow,
With my hand in His I'll go
On through life, let come what may,
He'll be there to lead the way.

When the nights are dark and long,
In my heart He puts a song.
Telling me in words so clear,
"Have no fear, for I am near."

When my work on earth is done,
And life's victories have been won.
He will take me home above,
Then I'll understand His love

(Wish I could give credit to the writer, but I was unable to identify the author.)

Speaking of Ralph Stanley, brings me to the last song I wanted to mention.
It was written by the late Hank Williams, Sr.
It will always be one of my all-time favorites,
and I don't know anyone who sings it better than another of my other favorite voices to listen to...
Ralph's son, Ralph II.

Click here if video doesn't load.

Hearing these wonderful songs, along with many others, takes me a simpler time....
when I was little...still living at home....
underneath the sheltering love of two parents now eternally resting in the arms of Jesus.
I miss both of them every, single day....
especially and even more so at Christmas.
These songs provide a comforting connection....
a bittersweet bridge...
to those days gone by.

The more I miss Mom and Dad....and the old days, 
the more often I seem to find myself crossing over that bridge.