Her name is Marie

Standing in line at the post office, I ran through my list of to-do’s while staring blankly at the rows of P.O. boxes. The woman in front of me was trying her best to understand how to work the self-serve kiosk.

She was doing okay, but was slow – well, slower than what I wanted.

I’ve worked the kiosk dozens of times at least and can do it with my eyes closed. I began to get restless and thought about offering her help, but she didn’t need help. She just needed a little extra time.

Was I going to be gracious and wait patiently, or would I begin to do the unspoken motions of impatience – shifting my weight, an obnoxious sigh, making some borderline rude comment to the person behind me or offering her “help” with a curt tone that is obvious more about helping myself get out of there more quickly than truly helping her mail her boxes.

We all know these actions. We’ve done them and they’ve been done to us.

I closed my eyes and took a deep, silent breath.

“Marie!” a voice called.

It startled me and I opened my eyes to see a woman coming through the doors. She called again to the older woman who was studying each kiosk screen very carefully.

“Marie! How are you! It’s so good to see you.”

The older woman, obviously Marie, looked up from the kiosk and smiled. She was a little rattled having been shaken out of her deep concentration, but was delighted to see her friend. Her voice was soft. Her smile, warm. It was easy to see she was a kind soul.

The two exchanged a brief hello before Marie returned her focus to the kiosk.

As I stood waiting my turn, I thought about what just happened. I was bent on my to-do list. Hustle, hustle, hustle. My day, my time, my list, my errands.

I saw Marie as an object, not a person.

She was holding up my day, my time, my list, my errands.

The very moment another person recognized her as a person, calling her by name and engaging her in brief conversation, I was immediately able to see her as a person, not an object.

She is a person who has seen decades of life and has had countless experiences tucked behind her thick glasses and droopy overcoat.

I asked myself if my initial feelings toward Marie as an object would have been different if she were my neighbor walking by my home; if she was introduced to me through a friend at a restaurant; was having a hard time carrying groceries to her car and needed help.

Of course I would have responded differently! She would have been a person in each of those circumstances. But because she was the obstacle in the way of my day, she was an object, and that justified my feelings of impatience.

Suddenly, my impatience melted and my heart warmed up to her. I realized she didn’t want to spend her time delayed at the post office any more than I did. She was doing the best she could.

She finished up and it was my turn. I’m grateful God showed me, once again, how easy it is to treat people as objects and how hurtful that can be to others.

Just before leaving, I heard the postal clerk ask a customer, “Would you like religious stamps or not so much?”

The woman replied, “Not so much.”

Hmm. I felt a wave of relief wash over me that I had not let my impatience get the better of me, lest I give a black eye to Christ as a believer.

People are watching and looking and hoping for the real deal. They want to see believers working out their salvation in a slow line at the post office, in heavy traffic when they’re late, dealing with a screaming toddler, returning an item without a receipt, and in every other annoying or inconvenient circumstance way more than they want to see us clustered in our Christian groups sequestered from society.

I am going to remember Marie and the woman who wanted the “not so much” stamps the rest of this holiday season.

My faith may be real, but so are my emotions and weaknesses. Christians aren’t perfect by any stretch, but we do have the choice to choose how we are going to – respond in faith or react out of emotion and weakness.

This Christmas season, let’s be sensitive to others around us. It benefits them and holds us accountable, which is a good thing.

Let’s look for opportunities to bless the Marie’s and be an example for the “not so much.”

On our own we can’t do this. We’re organic, sinful creatures. But with Christ we can do everything as He gives us strength to do it (Philippians 4:13).

Let’s invite Christ into our errands, daily grind and grunt work Monday – Saturday just as much as we invite Him into our worship and Bible studies on Sundays.

Make the most of the opportunities we are given. We never know when they are truly divine appointments.

Photo credit

 

Culinary Quest #19 – OREO Truffles, non-refrigerated

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There are a million OREO truffle recipes online. The maddening thing is, they are all the same! That recipe calls for mixing OREO cookies with cream cheese.

The problem is, because the truffles aren’t baked they need to be refrigerated due to the cream cheese.

Our family coordinates a huge bake sale every Christmas. I’ve always wanted to add OREO truffles to the truffle selection we already offer, but I can’t in good conscious offer an item to the general public that needs refrigeration. We don’t want anyone getting sick on our watch. Yikes!

So this year, I tackled making up my own OREO truffle recipe that needs no refrigeration. This is so good (and easy) I wish I had tried it years ago.

I’m posting this recipe for everyone who has also been looking for OREO truffle that doesn’t need refrigeration. I’ve read so many comments and threads stressing concern over the cream cheese, I hope this will be helpful.

I included a photo, but will preface it by saying I literally whipped these together simply as a test recipe. It’s not my best-looking performance, but wow do they taste heavenly!

OREO Truffles, non-refrigerated

Ingredients:

1 – 14oz pkg OREO original cookies (I don’t recommend generic brands as they are softer than the OREO brand)

1 can vanilla or cream cheese frosting (Cream cheese-flavored frosting does not actually contain cream cheese so these truffles do not need to be refrigerated.)

1t vanilla

2 pkgs marshmallow Candy Melts (If marshmallow melts aren’t available, use “white” melts which are vanilla flavored or almond bark.)

Directions:

  1. Crush OREO cookies till pulverized (I use a food processor). Save back about 1/4c.
  2. In mixing bowl, combine crushed OREO cookies, frosting and vanilla. Mix until blended (I use my hands).
  3. Shape into balls and place on parchment paper. (No chilling for firmness required!)
  4. Melt Candy Melts according to directions on the bag, one bag at a time.
  5. Dip the OREO balls into the melted marshmallow melts.
  6. Extract them from the melted melts by using a small spoon. The filling gets soft with the hot melts so it slides through a fork.
  7. Immediately sprinkle a little of the reserved crushed OREO cookies on top of each one as you go before the coating hardens OR using melted chocolate, drizzle on top.

Christmas came early this year

I have never peeked at my gifts. Ever. Growing up, I knew where my mom hid them, but dared not look. As a wife, my husband and I have our own hiding spots in the house for each other. I stay far away from his.

Why? I’ll answer that question with a short story…

Once upon a time I had a conversation with my mother-in-law I’ll never forget. We were on this very topic, and she unashamedly confided in me that she always peeked at her gifts. She said she was a master at taking a pair of scissors and slicing the Scotch tape, carefully unwrapping the gifts, then taping them back up. No one was the wiser.

By the time she was finished telling me, my jaw hung agape with eyes wide and mind perplexed. I responded, “How could you do that? All the effort someone went to! Haven’t you ever felt guilty?”

Oh boy. There’s the g-word – and my reason why I don’t peek.

As curious as I might be as to what is hidden under colored paper, bows and ribbons, I can’t bear to ruin the surprise factor for the giver. Even though, of course, I know where my husband stashes my gifts, I would never ever peek. I still wonder who is more right – the one who peeks and fakes acting surprised, or the one who doesn’t peek out of sheer guilt.

For the first time, my husband suggested yesterday that we get separate Amazon accounts. Ha! I had to look up an order history for something I ordered recently and all of a sudden an item appeared that looked exactly like what I had hinted to needing (not just wanting). As fast as I could, I closed the window tab and got back to my work. We laughed about it later, but I think he has a point about separate accounts.

This year, however, some Christmas gifts came early. They weren’t delivered by USPS, UPS, FedEx or drone. They weren’t wrapped, hidden or accidentally sent to my email to download and redeem.

Like opening advent calendar windows, a gift here and there has surprised me amid this bustling Christmas season. I’d like to share them in hopes other people have received something similar. I have to admit, in a season of giving (which we love) I have abundantly enjoyed receiving these personal presents –

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This soup starter was made by a 2nd grader named Katy. It was given to our widow friend, Ms. Betty. My husband and I took Ms. Betty to our church’s annual widow’s Christmas luncheon. It’s always a great time. I get a real kick out of these ladies. This year, I came with a heavy heart. I feel like my heart has been turned inside out, stepped on and wrung dry these last months. As I sat at a table adorned with a crisp white tablecloth, evergreen and candles, I looked around the room at women whose silver hair complimented the gold glow of the candles. I thought about all they’ve endured. I thought about their loss and legacy. I asked one woman if her friend sitting with us had any children or grandchildren nearby. Her response surprised me, “I’m not sure. We ladies mostly rely on each other. For most of us, each other is all we have.”

I love our seniors and believe they have rich experience and wisdom to share – if we’re listening. Usually they keep me laughing, but on this widow’s annual Christmas luncheon, I sat teary-eyed and speechless. I thought to myself that if they can get up every morning so can I. I’m sure many of these women know this familiar pain in my heart. I’m sure they’ve seen more than me. Yet, they continue to find purpose and meaning in each day. They match their shoes to their purse, smell of sweet perfume, and wear a smile that seems to say, “Yes, but I keep on going.” I admire these ladies so much. They are my inspiration. They gave me the gift of hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11) that day. A hope I cling to.

On our way home, our lovely Ms. Betty insisted we take the soup starter home. She said, “You have a family to feed. Me? It’s just me. Take it. I insist.” The gift that keeps on giving. A precious 2nd grader named Katy gifted Ms. Betty and Ms. Betty gifted us. I almost don’t want to use it. Every day, I see it in our pantry and thank God for both ladies, who may be at opposite ends of life’s spectrum, but share the same generous, loving heart.

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Another early Christmas gift was from two different people, and neither of them knew. We were having an extraordinary week of demands and I was trying unsuccessfully to keep the threads of life from unraveling. My mother-in-law was visiting. She’s gluten free. Typically, I like to take on new culinary challenges and treat her to what she may not make for herself. Salmon and broccoli always make the list, but this time I couldn’t even think about meal preparation.

Out of the blue, I received a text from one of my dearest friends saying she had made too much lasagna and would like to bring us the other half. I was so thankful for her random act of kindness to feed 3 teenagers, I quickly accepted. However, my mother-in-law couldn’t eat it. I didn’t know what I was going to do.

As I perused the freezer hoping something would magically appear…something did! We had been at my brother-in-law’s home for Thanksgiving and my sister-in-law packed our cooler with some of the Feast’s leftovers for us to take. Among the turkey, Watergate salad and mashed potatoes was an aluminum pan that didn’t look familiar. The label read, “Pasta.” I texted my sister-in-law to ask her about it, thinking she’d made a mistake and gave me something that should’ve stay at their home. She replied that she meant to because she made it gluten free and thought we could use it.

We went from whatever-you-can-find-to-eat-for-dinner (again) to homemade pasta for everyone from two women whose hearts are richer than their recipes. What a gift!

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Attending our youngest’s band concerts is always fun. I love seeing everyone all dressed up holding their shiny instruments. I feel their nervousness and study their faces of deep concentration reading sheet music, with constant, frantic glances at the band teacher, their maestro, for direction.

In addition to seeing our boy bond with his band friends, we love to watch him play with all his might. One particular piece had his bow tie in a knot. It was a difficult piece in which he led the rest of the band in rhythm. Not only did he play fabulously, my favorite part of the song was when all the music stopped. The song ended and our boy broke out into a huge smile! He was beaming! He is often hard on himself, perfectionist that he is, but even he knew he did a great job on that song. He smiled and smiled and smiled. It was contagious to his mama. My eyes were fixed on our young man who struggles to see what he does right. This was a win for him and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. So thankful God urged me to put down my camera and just enjoy the concert. That was a gift in and of itself.

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Every year our family hosts a charity bake sale (more on that in another post). The sale was over and it was time to count the money. I glanced over at the moneybox and suddenly, as if I were given eyes to see for the first time, I noticed it sat right next to my Bible. Immediately, Matthew 6:24 came to mind, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

I sat and gazed at the two. I thought about the past 10 years we’ve held this bake sale, and how faithful God has been in it. It was a sweet moment of reflection to know that after all these years, the purpose of the sale hasn’t changed. It’s all for His Kingdom work.

It was also a good reminder going into the Christmas season that what we buy for others isn’t nearly as important as Who paid for our ransom from our sin.

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In the middle of an extremely busy day, I whizzed by the doorway to our music room (which in a normal house would be a dining room, but we’re not normal 😉 ). I stopped in my tracks and noticed our little dog. This is the pic I silently snapped. Every day she waits in this chair for the kids to come home from school. How does she know when they are coming? It’s like she can read the sun (or a clock, which is less likely). This is her routine about 15 minutes before they arrive… every day. It’s just so tender to watch. She teaches me patience and that good things are indeed worth the wait. I am thankful God tapped me on the shoulder mid-stride and gave me eyes to see. I need this message at this point in life. Good things are worth the wait.

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Speaking of patience and waiting, as I mentioned before, this has been a heart-testing season. Brutal. Raw. Most days I feel this season will never end. A random Friday had a unique gift in store for me. My girl and I went for pizza and on the counter were free Our Daily Bread devotionals. I took one, and sitting down at our table I flipped it open to try to find that day’s date.

The booklet opened to January 16th.  Is there something special about that day? Nope. However, again with eyes to see, it was like God sent me a message saying, “This season you’re in won’t last forever. Each day feels like an eternity, but it’s not. There will be days past this. There will be January 16th’s, March 29ths, and July 12ths.” Even if not literally, as we are not promised tomorrow, (James 4:13-15) it still speaks to my heart that there is an after, after this season. The ominousness of heartache is all-enveloping. Like a gloomy sky of gray clouds hiding the sun. But, there is still a sun shining above those clouds. It’s still there. Keep looking toward the future. Look past the gray todays. Look for the sun. There is always hope for a better day.

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On a cool Sunday night, we stopped everything, jumped into jammies, snuggled under a blanket and watched the first colorized version of I Love Lucy. Fire crackling. Fuzzy socks. Awesome night. This was the gift of family time. It warms the soul.

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Every Christmas we enjoy baking for neighbors and friends. And just as much as this is a tradition, so is the inevitable question from my family, “Do we get to keep anything?” Many years the answer is no, I guess because I feel like I can make treats anytime – but seldom do thanks to watching our waistlines. This year, I surprised my crew and made a batch of buckeyes just for us. To keep things fair, and to avoid bloodshed, I bagged and labeled an even number of each so everyone can do with their 5 confections as they wish. They were beyond excited and their faces were worth every effort. I wanted to gift them, but they wound up gifting me with their gratitude.

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I’ve coined a phrase for my job every Christmas…I am the Christmas Keeper. Always have been. As a child, I did much of the decorating in our home. I never understood why this was often a solo job. It was very sad, but also very special. From the ceramic Christmas tree that held little plastic bulbs, to fake spray snow (a mess to clean!), to the small brass candle holder with angels and a fan so when the candles were lit the fan spun the angels in a circle, to angel hair (which was basically strands of thin glass and gave me paper cuts every time) used as snow, to our nativity, my favorite. I absolutely loved setting up the nativity every year. It is a mystery as to how I wound up with ours. Once Mom died when I was 16, everything in our home was sold. I can count on one hand what I have left from my childhood, literally. This nativity is a such a gift even though the supporting cast has dwindled over the years. Breaks, chips and missing pieces have left us with just a few figurines. I can’t bear to buy replacements. It wouldn’t be the same.

Each morning/night I turn on/off the nativity. It’s my quiet moment to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. Perhaps if I had company setting everything up when I was little I wouldn’t appreciate the richness of the task. I am our family’s Christmas Keeper. However, it has been such a joy to see our youngest embrace the special purpose of this task, as he has become the one to set up the nativity. He loves this job. I could help him (not that he’d need it, just for the company), but somewhere down in my heart I am hoping he’ll make his own memories of experiencing the richness of what Christmas is all about on his own, just like I did.

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Friends are a gift anytime of year, and I do NOT take my wonderful girlfriends for granted for a second. They are my heroes, the sprinkles on life’s cake. I have no idea what I’d do without these amazing women who are strong, fearless, tender and compassionate. I count myself exceedingly wealthy in this life because I have the best girlfriends anyone could ask for. We laugh, we cry, we talk, we sit, we walk, we celebrate, we help, we push when needed, we back off when we should, we pray, we endure, we play and we serve together. I love love love them. They are priceless treasures in my heart. Irreplaceable. Incredible. Beautiful inside and out. They have been my lifeline, my prayer line, my patience, my encouragement, and my comic relief. Only with real, true friends can we laugh and cry at the same time. Only with real, true friends can we be ourselves – the good, the bad and the ugly. Their texts, calls, emails, drop-ins and ventures out with me have been my saving grace through the most difficult season of my life. I thank God a million times for them. They are a gift all year round, but especially remembered at Christmas – the season for hope and giving. They are one of my biggest joys and I. Am. Grateful.

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Eight minutes. This was a gift I gave myself. I came to a point one afternoon where I just needed to take a deep breath. Plates were spinning, but in that moment I had nothing more to give the day. So I found a quiet spot, alone, and sat. I sat for eight minutes and did nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was marvelous and gave my body the feeling as though I had taken a restful nap. Too many times everything else takes center stage in my days. Many people can relate. We’re left physically exhausted, mentally frustrated and emotionally spent. I may not get it right often, but for that day those eight minutes were divine.

This is a gift I hope to not only learn for myself, but to pass on to my children. Following the airplane oxygen mask metaphor, I want to teach our children that in the middle of considering others more highly than themselves (Philippians 2:3-4), they are no less important than anyone else.

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This may sound silly to some, but another early gift was breakfast the other day. I am always grateful to have a meal, and am constantly cognizant of those who regularly go without nourishment. This meal was a gift because of what it was. Our daughter made chili the night before for dinner. Pared with sourdough bread and it was a savory meal for a cold night. Sourdough happens to be my favorite type of bread. The next morning, I found myself passing on the fruit and egg whites and staring at the leftover bread. An idea came to me! We had everything needed to make my favorite breakfast. Call me crazy, but a perfect breakfast is: sourdough toast with strawberry jam and chocolate milk. Chocolate milk is the one thing I hope is in heaven. 🙂 But for now in this life, I don’t afford myself these pleasures because this isn’t exactly a breakfast of champions. In fact, I only splurge twice a year with this meal – my birthday and Mother’s Day (when it’s brought to me in bed!).

Throwing caution and calories to the wind, I made my favorite breakfast and enjoyed it all by myself. This wouldn’t count as an early Christmas gift to some, but to rule-followers, and “C’s” like myself (on the DISC scale) breaking my own rules isn’t easy. But, it’s something I’m actually working on in many areas of life. More and more, God is showing me that many of the things that drag me down are self-imposed. I’m not at all saying there shouldn’t be boundaries and a strong moral compass set by the Bible. I’m talking about rules and regulations that I unknowingly adapted and adopted over the years which has only led me into a self-made prison of sorts. A box that tempts me with guilt and shame if I push on its sides. So in the name of calories I limit myself to this meal to two times per year. Doing this for myself this time was indeed a real treat – not solely because of what it was, but because of the freedom I allowed myself, guilt-free.

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Definitely a real treat this month has been baking with our teenage daughter. One day, we spent 12 hours in the kitchen concocting confections for our neighbors and friends. She is an excellent baker and cook. We work well in the kitchen together. We scoured our family cookbook, trying out a few newer recipes as well as sticking with some old favorites. We shopped together – she had her list and I had mine. The best gift in this day was spending the day with my girl. The second best gift was that she offered to cook dinner! So while I was mixing and stirring and measuring she did all of that in addition to cooking dinner from scratch. It was SO wonderful to sit at the table, with aching back and feet, and be served a hot meal. Oh wait! There was a third best part of the day – she also cleaned up the entire disastrous mess we had made that day. A triple blessing!

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I’ll admit, this one is a favorite gift to me throughout the school year, not just in December. Before school, our middle schooler and I often take time to read Jesus Calling over breakfast. Well, I read while he eats. It’s only a couple of minutes, but that is precious time spent with my boy that connects our hearts for the day. We read. We chat. We ponder. Then we bolt out the door! But, for those few minutes life stops. Hearts connect. A prayer is offered. And I can send our boy off to middle school knowing God is with him. I love this gift.

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I had a precious moment recently…our oldest came home from work for a lunch break on Saturday. I was alone doing many household chores. I immediately saw this as a lunch date opportunity with me and my firstborn. Stopping everything, I heated him up some chili and we sat at the kitchen counter and chatted about the day. When we went to leave, he said, “Man, what a great day! It’s grey and drizzly, which I love. I had a hot meal and got to spend it with one of my favorite people in the world.” (she blushes) I will never forget that my 18 yr old son said I am one of his favorites and that he values spending time with me. There is no greater gift he could give me.

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Hands down, one of my very favorite early Christmas presents was a date at Starbucks with my man. On a Friday night, thick in December when many people attend parties, there we were slunk in Starbucks’ comfy chairs talking. Other than us, there was a man at the counter nursing his coffee with briefcase in tow; another man tucked deep in the corner in his sweats working on his laptop; and one other couple with chairs turned for privacy. There we all were. No Friday plans or holiday parties. My man and I loved it. We were able to cover more topics of discussion that had been on hold all week in that evening that would normally take the entire week to dig through.

It reminded me of a time years ago when we had rsvp’d to a Christmas party. The kids were little and sitters broke our bank, thus we didn’t go out much -at all. We left our home that night for the party, but somewhere along the road we got talking about how seldom we actually went on a date. The next thing we know we’re at the movie theater! We totally ditched the party (a large, corproate event) and went to the movies. Our thought was, if we’re going to get all dressed up and pay a sitter, we would rather spend time with each other – coveted time that was badly needed – than attend a party, though we were flattered to be invited (no offense).

Funny part is, on our way out of the theater, we ran into friends who knew we were supposed to be at the party! Embarrassing!! We did what any couple would do – we dodged that bullet with a quick hello and kept walking. We may have been caught, but we weren’t going to confess. Looking back on that stressful time of life with three small children, demanding work and endless other factors of life, I still don’t regret that decision. That spontaneous date night was cool water to a thirsty marriage. And, no one ever even asked us why we didn’t make it to the party so I’m pretty sure we weren’t missed. Ha!

None of these gifts could have been wrapped. They are intangible gifts birthed from an overflowing heart from our Heavenly Father. Moments and experiences that money can’t buy. They are little things that make a big difference, and big things that make a big difference. This gift list could also be called a grateful list. Either way, I am thankful that God made sure I haven’t missed one single blessing that these December days have brought me.

Timeless treasures. Priceless presents. Glorious gifts of love and care.

Never underestimate the power of an unlikely gift, or the purpose for which it is given. It reminds me of a certain child born among livestock who exchanged His crown for flesh, which He voluntarily sacrificed for you and me, so that one day we will share in His glory.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

Light the world

I was in the bank recently when God met me there with a word for the day. An armed security guard’s poised stance, with hands folded in front of him, greeted me at the door. I walked passed him and said, Hello. Nothing.

Entering the bank, I noticed I was the only customer. Good! A quick transaction and I’m outta there.  The teller was friendly. The room quiet.  When she stepped away for a second, I looked around the sterile square building with the ambiance to match. However, next to me was a Christmas tree. Festive! Unfortunately, it wasn’t lit. I looked closer to see if it had lights and indeed it did.

Hmm.  Maybe there isn’t an outlet nearby, I thought. The ornaments were pretty, but it just didn’t catch an eye without the sparkle of tiny lights brightening up the tree.

The teller and I finished our transaction, and I took a chance on offering something potentially embarrassing.  I asked, Would you like me to plug in the Christmas tree lights?

I held my breath for her reply.  Glancing at security cameras, I was reminded that in a bank, one is expected to act within a tight box of behavior. Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing to draw attention. Do what you need to and leave. Rummaging around on the floor was far from the norm.

Yes! Thank you! she smiled. The outlet is on the wall near the back.

Relieved, I turned toward the tree and searched for the outlet.  Finding it, I realized I’d need to get on my hands and knees to reach it.  Down I went, searching for the plugs. One plug in.  Two plugs in. Done!

I crawled backwards from underneath the tree, still with my purse slung over my shoulder, and stood up – only to find a long line of people now waiting for tellers…staring at me.

EEK! I thought no one was around.  I made no eye contact and quickly headed toward the door.

When lights are plugged in, whether it be on a Christmas tree, on garland, on bushes or mantles, people usually like to stand back and take a look.  I never looked back, though I wanted to.

As I reached the door with the same security guard still not speaking, God met me and reminded me of my dear friend’s words. She often tells her children, Be a light in this world.

With the hustle and bustle of this short Christmas season, where panic and stress is thick in the air, God reminded me that wherever we go, whomever we speak with, we are to leave their lives brighter than we found them.  As followers of Christ, we have the privilege and responsibility of illuminating conversation, situation and circumstance with Jesus’ light – especially at Christmas.

When we are long gone, if we have done our job well as an ambassador for Christ, His light will continue to shine in the path we leave – just like the bank’s Christmas tree was something now beautiful and brilliant to look at while waiting in line.

We may never know the impact of Jesus’ light shining in our lives, but if we could see our path from God’s perspective, it must look pretty cool.  Imagine the map of the world we’ve seen as nighttime sets in.  Suddenly, there are pinpoints of light clustering all around the globe.  If our lives looked like a map, how bright would they shine?

The holidays are hard in their own right.  They bring pressure, stress, distraction, exhaustion and dynamics of relationships that can be both sad and difficult. Believers’ lives are no different.  We have our own share of struggles. But, this is when we need to let Jesus’ light shine in our lives even brighter.

Give the person in the car behind you that great parking spot you could have. Pay for someone’s meal. Bring cookies to the unpopular neighbor, teacher or coworker. Make Christmas more about people than things. Celebrate Christ, not stuff.

Only God can take a wacky moment of lighting a bank’s Christmas tree and turn it into a devotion for me that lasted the whole day. I love that about Him!

Let’s look for places we can shine His light – and begin at home. A hug for a difficult teenager. Patience for a preschooler. Grace for a spouse. And let the path of light continue into every relationship, every moment of this season. After all, this is not only exactly what Jesus did…it is who He is.

John 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Without His light glowing in us and through us, we are just a prickly, sticky mass with a lot of bling hanging off of us.

His light may illuminate spaces that just might surprise us…like our own hearts! Be a light in this world. Shine on!

Now THAT’s Christmas Spirit!

Outside, the air was cold.  Damp. Windy.  People hustled to and from the parking lot with chins tucked, arms folded and feet shuffling as fast as they could.  I sat in my van outside Wal-Mart waiting for my turn to slowly inch toward the exit, careful not to bump into pedestrians as they crossed.

A familiar bell rang in the background.  It was the sound of a Salvation Army worker.

I just love these guys.  They make shopping in December festive!  They remind me as I enter a store that this is no ordinary trip.  I am shopping for a gift to give someone I care about.  The time and effort should be enjoyed like savoring my favorite chocolate bar (and not a chore).

Stores who don’t allow The Salvation Army to stand out front are Scrooges.  They want to offer an “uninterrupted shopping experience.” Had this worker not been there that day outside of Wal-Mart, there would be no story to tell.  I am quite happy for the interruption.

An elderly woman, very elderly, pushed her very elderly and disabled husband’s wheelchair as they left the store and stepped into the crosswalk.  A sight not uncommon.  But, she also struggled to pull their shopping cart behind her.  One hand on his wheelchair.  One hand on the heavy shopping cart.

As I waited for them to cross, suddenly the decline of the road caused the shopping cart to pick up speed.  Within mere seconds, the shopping cart and it’s bags were headed straight for this poor woman’s back…she was unaware.

My eyes widened as I sat helpless watching.  There was no time for me to react.  She struggled so much with her husband’s wheelchair – his head hung low as if he were exhausted from the excursion – she had no idea what was about to ram into her back.

The shopping cart picked up speed, and just as it was about to slam into her, throwing her into her husband’s wheelchair or worse, the Salvation Army worker jumped from his post and dashed in front of my van.  He caught the cart by one finger and stopped it just as the metal cart brushed the back of her coat.

She was unaware of the danger she was in, and that he had saved her, but that wasn’t all he did.  After he caught the cart, with a broad smile, he took hold of the handle and scooted up along side her.  They exchanged a brief hello in the middle of the road as he offered to help them to their car.

The elderly woman gladly accepted.  They began walking in one direction toward the parking lot, but confused, she changed directions…still pushing her husband’s wheelchair with his head hung low.  The Salvation Army worker calmly followed her in the bewildering quest to find their car.

Yes, he left his post with the familiar red tripod holding the red kettle of money.  But, he ran to the aid of two people very much in need of help – something no one else passing by them was interested in doing.

He brought back humanity to the Christmas season for me.  His actions spoke clearly that people are more important than things. And civic duty is more important than protocol.  That going out of one’s way to help someone is the right thing to do.

This man’s random act of kindness has stayed with me every day since.  His huge smile and happy heart replays in my mind even more than his actions.  It was his pure joy to help them. There was no applause or reward for his kindness.  He simply saw an urgent need and ran to meet it.  He is a Christmas hero.

He reminds me of another Christmas hero…the first One.  Jesus.  He came to serve, not be served (Philippians 2:5-7; Matthew 20:28).  He left His heavenly post to save us, because He saw we were in grave and certain danger of being eternally separated from God – even if we were completely unaware of it at the time.

Jesus did for us what no one else has ever done.  He reached out His hands and let them be nailed to a cross in our place.  He did this with joy in His heart (Hebrews 12:2) and a grimace on His bloodied face. He caught us from an eternal fall and saved us from ourselves.

Christmas is so much more than what it appears on the outside.  I heard a man say just today that for him, “Christmas is about the three f’s: family, friends & food.”  I would add a fourth: faith (not in that order).

Christmas is about Jesus being born so He could die in our place.  It’s a time of great joy as we marvel at the sacrifice He made for each and every one of us.

When I think about the Salvation Army worker who, without a thought of himself, selflessly jumped into the road to save an old and exhausted couple, I think of Jesus who hung on a cross to save you and me.

The worker’s act of kindness was spontaneous.  However, Jesus knew His time would come from the beginning of creation, yet He came to Earth anyway because He loves us that much.

Let’s continue to enjoy all of the blessings this Christmas season has to offer, but may we never forget why we are celebrating and Who it’s really about.

A New Advent

***The Christmas season is short this year.  I, like everyone, am working fast and furious to get it all done without losing sight of the precious gift of the season – Christ.  Pulling out our advent candles reminded me of a post I wrote last year.  The real meaning of Christmas can get tangled up in strings of half-working lights; lost in the back of the attic; or consumed in maddening stores and kitchens that smell of cinnamon and vanilla.  For me, setting up advent candles is a time to stop.  Breathe.  Appreciate who Christ is and what He did for us. May we have many moments in this season of rediscovering the awesomeness of His Godship, His sacrifice and His love.  Peace to you today, Kristi ***

Is it okay to break away from tradition at Christmas?  Perhaps that depends on which tradition.  For our family, it was time to step out and try something new with advent candles.

When the vision of a new advent candle scene came to mind, I felt a little guilty, like I was breaking a rule or something.  It felt legalistic.  Sacrilegious.  Freeing!

Earlier this month, I had an unexpected and disgusting surprise in our attic (via post Christmas Shocker!).  One thing we couldn’t keep was our advent candle wreath, so we started from scratch.

I could have bought a pretty or ornate one, but when I stopped and thought about it, after all the years of my life, I still cannot recall the 4 meanings/Sundays of advent (in order nonetheless).  I asked my husband if he could – and he couldn’t.  Somehow this left a hole in our holidays.

What have we been doing wrong all these years that traditional advent doesn’t stick?

Will it be the same for our children when they have their own homes to decorate when they are grown?

God is far more interested in a relationship with us rather than religious observances for the sake of tradition, so I asked Him what we could do as a family to make advent more real to us.  Reading back through Luke, and contemplating what God was revealing to me, I focused on the aspects of Christmas that were just as raw back then as they are now.

This is the product of a precious journey with Him…

A

Here’s what it all means to our family –

The first Sunday is the black candle and black candle holder.  This is for TRUST.  Looking at Scripture, there were many people involved in the birth of Christ who were asked to trust God when it was scary and downright dangerous.  Joseph, Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, shepherds, wise men, and all of the prophets who announced Jesus’ coming centuries before.

The enemy of trust is fear.  It’s no wonder the angels who spoke to Joseph, Zechariah and Mary each said, Do not be afraid.  Fear paralyzes us.  Trust frees us.  Fear pushes us away from God.  Trust draws us to Him.  Each person surrounding the birth of Christ was asked to believe the unbelievable. To trust the impossible.  We, too, are asked to trust God when the way is dark.  Lonely.  Unknown.  Trust forces us to give up control.  That can be very hard to do.  But with trust comes peace.  Peaces musters up the courage we need to take a deep breath and utter the words, I trust You, God.  Your will be done.  

Mary could have been legally stoned to death for being an unwed mother.  Joseph risked his reputation, Mary’s reputation and the reputation of his family.  Zechariah had long lived with disgrace of his wife being barren.  He was old.  She was old.  His doubt caused him to live the remainder of Elizabeth’s pregnancy being mute.  I suppose that gave him a great deal of time to contemplate things.

The shepherds forfeited their flocks and sleep to trust there was a stable that housed a young, poor family whose baby is the Christ child.  They risked being shunned by anyone they may have met along the way because of their filthy state and humble status.  The wise men risked their community reputation as they set off to seek the Messiah.  They, who studied stars for a living, held a very high rank in their communities.  Can you imagine what people must have thought as they left their families, packing extremely expensive gifts, to set off for an unknown destination, for an unknown length of time, following a star hung in the sky?  I’m sure some where amazed at their quest, but surely others thought this was a risky, if not crazy, idea.  A black candle and holder seemed the most appropriate color for trust as we follow God wherever He heads even when we can’t see His end plan.

Psalm 56:3-4 – When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?

Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

Psalm 20:7 – Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Luke 1:38 – “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Then the angel left her.

A

The second Sunday is the blue candle with an ivory holder.  This is for HOPE and FAITH.  Once we took a deeper look at what it means to trust God, even when we can’t see His plan, the next step is to act on it.  Thus, with hope, we live out faith.  The ivory holder and twine remind me of what they may have worn back then.  Simple.  Unassuming.  The blue candle represents the days they had to walk putting one foot in front of the other in sheer faith that God was leading them on the path He planned.

Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

Psalm 62:5 – Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;  my hope comes from him.

Isaiah 40:30-31 – Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

2 Corinthians 5:7 – We live by faith, no by sight.

A

The third Sunday is the white candle and glass holder.  This is for JOY!  When the angels proclaimed the news of Christ’s birth to the shepherds, and Jesus had drawn His first breath in this world, holy joy was breathed into the world as fresh as when life was breathed into Adam’s body and Noah’s dove returned with a dry branch in its beak.  Even a multitude of angels transcended through the spiritual realm into the earthly atmosphere to proclaim this good news.  However, this small family of 3 was in the dark.  In a cave.  Surrounded by animals.  Rejected by people.  Shepherds didn’t win the lottery and buy a new car.  They had jobs to go back to after witnessing the Messiah.  Lonely, smelly, lowly jobs.  They were – the outcasts still.  Wise men merely set out that night on their quest to seek the Savior by the light of the brightest star.  They didn’t reach Him by daybreak.  In fact, Scripture tells us they found Jesus, by then a toddler, in a house.  Think of how long their journey must have been!  Then, after beholding the Christ as a child, they set off for home.  They had jobs to return to.  Families.  Community responsibilities…and a long journey back.

Despite, the appearance of circumstance, unspeakable joy ignited in all of their hearts because their hearts were forever changed by Christ!

We, too, can have that same unmovable, unshakable, unchanging joy – even if our present circumstances don’t change.  Even if we are stuck in dead-end jobs, are praying for wayward children, are suffering silently in a lonely marriage, are overwhelmed in school or aren’t sure how to pay the car loan.  Joy, true joy, is a gift from God.  It is not the same as happiness.  Happiness is a feeling – an emotion – that changes like the wind.  God’s joy is of another world, and thus this world cannot steal, squash or snuff it out.

Luke 2:10 – But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

Isaiah 51:11 – The ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.  Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Nehemiah 8:10 – Nehemiah said, “…Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 

1 Peter 1:8-9 – Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

A

The fourth Sunday is the red candle and wooden candle holder.  This candle symbolizes the love that God has for us.  John 3:16.  Jesus was love wrapped in flesh – His love and the love of the Father.  The wooden holder represents the manger, or feeding trough, that was Jesus’ first bassinet.  It still takes my breath away that Someone so beautiful, resplendent, and perfect could be cradled by such a humble abode.

Psalm 36:5 – Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies.

John 3:16-17 – For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Psalm 119:76 – May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.

Romans 5:8 – But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

1 John 4:16 – God is love.

A

The fifth candle is lit on Christmas day.  It is majestic gold and symbolizes Christ Himself!  I was on a search for just the right candle and holder to represent the glory of the Lord.  Turns out, it took 2 holders!  They were different colors, so I spray painted them gold.  The candle is gold as well.  Together, all 3 elements signify the reason Christ was born…it was so that He could die in our place on the cross.

Luke 1:30-33 – But the angel said to (Mary), “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Phil 2:6-11 – Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself  and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

John 14:6 – Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Hebrews 9:27-28 – Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Isaiah 9:6 – For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,     Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

A

So, what has this new advent candle set up done for our family?  It has changed everything!  Whereas before we simply read the designated Scripture and the definition of the candle (which we can’t recite).  Now, all 5 of us can tell you 5 elements of Christmas both for those who lived it then and those who believe it now.

All 5 of these components: Trust, hope & faith, joy, love and salvation are completely relatable to our lives.

As a family, we talk about these and give examples of both those in the Bible and in our lives.  It has been utterly amazing how rich the conversation has been!  I have learned things about my children’s lives I never knew before about how God has worked in their lives to strengthen their walk with Him.  This alone was worth the change in how we participate in the advent season.

I am sure there are purists who would disagree with our candles, holders, and some of the spiritual elements, and that’s okay.  Traditions have their place.  For our family, we needed something that helped us draw closer to Christ in a season of life that is crowded with work, homework, and commitments that taunt us to tell Jesus there is no room for Him in our present-day Christmas.

When He knocks on the door of my heart, I don’t want to be so busy with the “stuff” of Christmas that I don’t recognize His voice.  I don’t want to be so tired that I don’t answer the door.  I don’t want to find too much value wrapped up in things either under the tree or on my calendar that I miss the opportunity to invite Jesus into my Christmas.

Is there room for Christ in your Christmas?

If you need a change, feel free to use our advent ideas for your home.  After all, it’s not the glow from the candle that counts.  It’s the fire in our hearts for Jesus that illuminates the dark world around us.

Let His light shine in you this Christmas!

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Post note – I thought I would include information about the things pictured in the photo in case you’re interested.

  • The tablecloth is from Crate & Barrel (Last year’s after-Christmas clearance).
  • Chargers are from the Dollar Store.  (99 cents each)
  • The nativity figures are from Hobby Lobby.  They were 50% off.  They look like wood, but are resin which are easy to clean and will last a long time.
  • The black, ivory, and wooden candle holders are from Michael’s. (Using coupons!)
  • The glass candle holder and unscented white pillar candle are from WalMart.
  • The black, blue, red and golden cross unscented candles are from Hobby Lobby. (On sale!)
  • The two candle holders spray painted gold are from Hobby Lobby.  The smaller one actually looks just like a crown with crosses on the sides of it.

What he said, she said about love

Happy 2013!!

I am so excited to continue this blog into a new year – this is a first!  We have 364 more days to traverse together, God willing.  Before launching forward, I want to share a December moment that I hope will be a blessing to you.  Ironically, this moment of the recent past has become a springboard in my life for a better future.  So perhaps this Christmas post does have a rightful home here today as I pray the same encouragement for you.

This Christmas was our first time using our new advent candles (via a recent post).  I really didn’t know how this would work out, and felt like I was bucking the system making up our own.

Turns out, we have had more meaningful conversation surrounding these candles than any other year ever.  On the 4th Sunday, we lit the 4th candle, the red candle of love.

A

We asked the same question around the table, Anyone have a story of love they’d like to share?  My husband, Bruce, spoke up, I’ve got one.

He continued, looking at our children, Your mom and me.  She’s the only one for me.  Over two decades ago, she accepted me just the way I was – failures, flaws and all.  She was way out of my league.  I am still amazed that she chose to love me, but I’m glad she did.

I listened, then added with a contemplative smile, That’s funny, because I remember it very differently.  I couldn’t believe you wanted me!  I was such a mess.  I was a broken person with a shattered life, who felt very unlovely and unlovable.  You were my knight in shining armor.  You swept me off my feet – especially in your Air Force uniform.

Two people.  Two very different stories about the same love affair.  How could this be?

There was one common denominator that went far beyond our starry-eyed love for each other.  It was God’s love for us – and still is.  He is the God who saw our whole lives, and purposed to intertwine them together.  We have always loved each other, but it is God’s unending love for each of us and for our marriage that is the foundation, the glue, the common ground on which we stand – even if we don’t always see eye-to-eye or momentarily dislike one another.

We read 1 Corinthians 13, known as the love chapter, and we see what we strive to be to one another.  However, when I look at our marriage through God’s eyes, I see His vision for us, as well as where He implements this passage in our relationship.

God is 1 Corinthians 13 to us because God is love (1 John 4:16 ).  Knowing He has our back gives us strength to show love to one another.

God gave up His only Son out of love for the world.  Each December, we begin the reflection of this great sacrifice at Christmas as we walk Jesus’ timeline on this earth.  We do this every year in honor, remembrance, and celebration.

Spouses can have this same love in their marriages as well.  Whether it is as Christmastime, New Year’s, or any of the other 363 days of the year, we can light God’s light of love in our relationships. We do this not in our own strength, but in His.

God is for marriage – the way He intended it to be.  God is for His children who are the husbands and wives that make up the millions of marriages in this world.  It pleases Him to see men and women living in healthy, loving, covenant community with one another.

If you’ve come to a point in your marriage where the light seems all but extinguished, hope is elusive, and warm hearts have turned cold, seek God first.  Ask Him again to be God of your marriage.

He is the tie that binds when we are frayed and frazzled.

I look back at the beginning of “us” and am in awe at how differently Bruce and I saw the beginning of our relationship.  Both broken.  Both flawed.  Both dependent on God alone to guide us by His mighty hand.

We’ve called on that same hand for twenty-two years.  To hold.  To warm.  To lead.  To sustain.  It is strong enough to carry any load.

Because we have been forgiven and set free from our sins, as believers, we have total freedom to love each other as Christ loves the church, even as we still wrestle with our carnal natures.

It will always be a mystery to me that God can take two broken people and create one whole marriage.  I’ve never been good at math, but how does 1 + 1 = 1?

Scrapping the math book (gladly, I might add) I turn to the Bible for the answer.

“Haven’t you read,” (Jesus) replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” ~ Matthew 19:4-6

I believe with all my heart that one of the main issues tearing marriages apart is that husbands and wives fall into the trap that in an argument, touchy topic, or whatever threatens to divide, there must be a winner and loser.  In a marriage, if there is both a winner and loser, both people lose – and so does the marriage.

We must daily remind ourselves that we are on the same team.  I know.  I’ve been both the winner and the loser and neither position was productive in our relationship.

When we take sides, we divide what God declared as one entity.  This only leads us farther down the wrong path.

As 2013 begins, may I challenge each of us to examine our relationship with God, with our spouses and all of our relationships?  Are we loving others as He loves us?

No matter how wonderful or not our marriages are today, there is a whole year just waiting to happen.  We will ride the highs and feel ran over by the lows.  Today.  Today we must decide what our plan will be.  That begins with God’s plan.

Whether you are married, engaged, or seriously dating, one New Year’s resolution worthy of doing (not just making) is to pray for these relationships, release our control of them, submit to God and His plan, and love as Christ loves us and gave Himself up for us.

Let’s make this year, 2013, the year God has full-reign in our hearts, minds and actions for His glory and our good – and all of this begins at home.

What do our relationships look like from God’s perspective?  Read with me 1 Corinthians 13 as God Himself sets the example for each of us to follow…

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

God’s grace, peace and blessings to you this new year,

Kristi