Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Extractor

I received a juice extractor for Christmas. It's a lot of work for a little bit of juice. My grocery bill has definitely gone up, as has my time in the kitchen. I'm enjoying experimenting and discovering just what makes good juice and what doesn't. But I'm not thrilled with the cleanup. First, there is a lot of "pulp," which is the unused portion of the vegetable or fruit. Second, there are a lot of parts to clean, the most difficult being the cutter, the part which contains the very sharp blades and a fine screen--not easy to clean.

The juice, however, is surprisingly good, and very healthy. I realize that the health benefits far outweigh the work involved, even though I do have to use a lot of vegetables for a little juice.

By definition, extraction is the process of removing something, often by force or effort. I got to thinking about extraction, which is what this machine does. It grinds the food at a very high speed, with very sharp blades, and extracts the juice. It removes the juice by force-centrifugal force, to be precise. I suppose I could use the pulp for something, but I haven't figured that out yet. Right now, it's a lot of good stuff gone bad.


The extraction process, as best as I can explain, goes like this: Wash and peel food, cut into small pieces, place in tube, use food pusher to press the food into the cutter, and watch the juice come out. What I don't see happening is the rest of the food being processed into pulp.

We also go through an extraction process as Christians. There is a lot of seemingly good stuff in us; at least, that's what we think when we first come to Christ. But over time, He refines us, and we find that a lot of that good stuff is not so good. Or it's good stuff for the wrong reasons. 

God's Extractor works in a similar fashion: First, He washes us in His blood. That's when we first come to Him, confessing our sins and our need for a savior. We can stay there for awhile, enjoying our new faith, our clean soul. But eventually, we know we need more. We want more. We want to be like Him. We need to be crushed as He was crushed. He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (Is 53:5). 

Nobody said it would be easy. Or fun. Or clean. Sometimes it's very messy and requires a lot of cleanup. But the benefit far outweighs the amount of work involved. 

When we willingly jump into that food tube to be crushed down into the cutter, we are taking a leap of faith, knowing that what will be extracted is pure. The "pulp" which is also extracted, is not necessarily bad, but perhaps unusable. Some pulp can be used, or saved for another time. But the juice, the pure refined juice is the fruit of the Spirit. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. (Gal 5:22-24). In other words, they've been juiced. 

Each time I use my juice extractor, it gets easier. It's not as overwhelming as it was the first time. In the same way, each time we allow ourselves to go through the extraction process, it is easier, less time-consuming, less scary, less stressful. We know the end result will be good, really good. 

Just think...if we walk in only the first fruit of the spirit---love---everything else sort of has to fall into place, don't you think? Love is patient, kind, does not envy or boast, isn't prideful, rude, self-seeking or easily angered, doesn't keep a record of wrongs, protects, hopes, trusts and perseveres and above all, never fails (I Cor 4-8, paraphrased). Just look at that statement and see how many gifts of the spirit are encompassed in love. Without love, we are nothing. Just a bunch of unusable pulp. A lot of good gone bad.

Are you in need of extraction? Go get juiced!

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

Song of the Day (I think I've used this song before, but it's an "oldie but goodie")
Refiner's Fire (Brian Doerksen)

Monday, December 30, 2013

Danger: Mood Swings Ahead

Lately, I feel like I should wear a sign around my neck: "Danger: Mood Swings Ahead. Proceed With Caution." Luckily, I found such a sign, complete with a sexy woman on a swing! The sign makes them seem almost glamorous. If only.

A swing doesn't begin to describe this pendulum. I can't even keep up with myself. I wish I had a sign to warn myself that they were coming. I scare me. Yesterday, minor issues which typically just annoy me somehow became major problems which led to an explosion. I don't recall stashing any dynamite inside, but as soon as I opened my mouth, I detonated it. And the odor was quite foul.

Patience? What's that? I had none. Tears? I had a lot of those. Decisions? Couldn't make one. Suddenly, the normally minimal lunch choices had become overwhelming. Who was this woman? And what happened to the one who had peace? Just where had that peace gone?

The thing is, I know that this is hormone related, and I don't have a lot of control over it. Yet, I felt just horrible after my brief moments in the circus on the trapeze of moods. I felt ashamed of the way I'd acted and reacted to things. I felt guilty for losing control. And I felt unworthy of God's love, unworthy of things like writing this blog and offering encouragement for others. How dare I? 

See, that's Satan's cue. He watches us from Black Bear Headquarters. He knows when we are at our weakest moment, and he sends his cronies to whisper to us that we are unworthy and unlovable. We sink further into our despair. 

I cried out to God this morning (because the swing was still swinging-I literally cried over spilled milk, or, rather, water). "I don't want to be like this, God. Please, help me. I don't want to lose my peace, yet I already have. How can You love me when I have these mood swings and I'm so horrible?"

His answer was this: "I love you. I love you through the mood swings. I understand them." At this point, I wondered how God could understand mood swings. He is not a woman. But of course, God knows our thoughts, and He continued. "I understand them because I made man and woman and I understand hormones. I made them. I made you and I understand you." 

It occurred to me that God loves us through our moods, our sins, our sufferings, even our turning away from Him. He loves us in the midst of them. He doesn't abandon us in the middle of our rantings, our sin, our shortcomings. It just feels that way because when we lose control, we lose our peace, and when we lose our peace, we lose our connection to Jesus. But He understands us. He made each one of us in our own unique design and he completely "gets" us. And loves us anyway.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

Video of the Day
Patsy Clairmont-Emotions




Friday, December 27, 2013

Travel Unencumbered

Notice Foxy's fixation on something;
hence, the leash...always!

The other day was unseasonably warm, so we decided it would be a great day for a walk/hike. The park at Natirar is where we walk/hike. It's a loop, and has a clearly defined wide walking path. It's not in the woods, and the loop is slightly less than 2 miles, so I don't classify it as a hike. It's not quite a walk in the neighborhood, so it's not a walk either---thus, a walk/hike.

At any rate, the dogs were antsy because of the warm weather, so it was a good idea. They were so enjoying themselves, that they seemed to be prancing! Frolicking was the word that came to my mind. Foxy even leaned over and kissed Lucy, an abnormal act of kindness. I actually felt bad that they had to be on leashes. Lucy kept breaking into a trot, then would be pulled back. I wished that I could just let them off their leashes and let them run. I thought, "Well, if Psycho Dog liked people, and could be trusted, we could do that. There's almost no one around."

Almost no one around and no one around are not quite the same thing. As we got about halfway around the loop, we encountered several people-mostly dawdlers, people who are just out for a stroll. People who had no real purpose that day; who were just out because the weather was so nice. 
Notice the water bottle in the hand of the woman
on the right...and her purse

You can tell the difference between serious walker/hikers and strollers. Walker/hikers take large strides and walk with a purpose. They don't walk in clumps or in large groups. They don't chat. They take a water bottle on a 5 mile hike, but not on a short loop. Strollers take their time, pausing to react to something said in a conversation. They dress inappropriately, either too many clothes or not enough. They often wear the wrong shoes. They carry a water bottle on a 1.5 mile loop and their purse. Who carries a purse when they hike? What do they think they'll need? Lipstick? Credit cards? Money for souvenirs? 

This prompted a discussion between Brian and me. He asked if I was going to use this for a blog. I asked him what the subject would be and he said, "Purses for Jesus?" I asked him, "If Jesus walked the earth today, do you think he'd carry a murse?" (That's a man-purse, for those of you who don't know. The term also applies to a male nurse, but I don't think Jesus would carry one of those). Brian thought probably not. Jesus would be too cool, we decided. Maybe a backpack, off one shoulder, not both.  "Actually," I said, "Jesus didn't really have needs, like we do. I don't think he would have carried anything. Or, he would have his people carry what he needed."

"His people?" 
"His disciples. His followers. They would see to all his needs. He would travel unencumbered."

Oh my gosh, we'd turned into strollers! We were conversing! We'd slowed down the pace! 

We quickly returned to our walker/hiker status and stopped talking. But I continued to think about that. I thought about Jesus feeding the multitudes. Did they have provisions in their backpacks? No! The food was provided by a young boy who had five small barley loaves and two small fish. Jesus gave thanks, and the disciples passed out the food. After everyone was fed, they even had leftovers! This is not a man who needed a murse! Or a backpack. He traveled unencumbered. 

When is the last time you took a vacation without a thousand bags and five bicycles attached to your car? When is the last time you left your house feeling like the weight of the world was not on your shoulders?

I think God would like to show us how to travel unencumbered. Yes, we need homes, jobs, food, water, and unfortunately, money. Money helps us to attain these things in order to survive and live comfortably. But it can also become an encumbrance. We can all learn from Jesus what it means to live unencumbered. What it means to you may be different from what it means to me. I don't try to give advice, but this one is necessary: Next time you take a hike, leave your purse in the car. Travel unencumbered.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

Song of the Day: Jehoveh-Jireh, My Provider












Thursday, December 26, 2013

It's Routine

Christmas time with its over-eating, over-baking, over-shopping, and basic over-indulgence tends to throw our systems out of whack. Personally, I ate so many Christmas cookies that I found myself eating them even though I didn't want them, just to get them out of the house!

Now that all the excitement has died down, I'm thinking perhaps I can get back to my routine. I'm not sure what my routine is, but I know I have one. We all do. We go to the same place in the morning for our coffee, we open up the same program on our computer and listen to our messages when we get to work, check Facebook, pack the kids' lunches...whatever...everyone has some semblance of a routine. Just like going to the gym (I'm still working on that routine...)

The problem with routine is sometimes it becomes just that...routine. It becomes so automatic that we don't think about it. A synonym for routine is regimen. That sounds militaristic. We certainly don't want our routine to become a regimen-something rote, that we do automatically, without thinking, because then our lives become dull and boring. There must be a happy medium.


In the same light, when we are busy and overworked, we tend to get out of our routine we have with God...if we have one. We become too busy to pray, too busy to read a five minute devotional, too busy to read our bible, too busy to be kind to our neighbor, too busy to listen for God's voice, too busy to care. The more time we don't spend with God, the easier it becomes to devote our energies elsewhere. Christmas is no exception. Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of preparations, we forget the real reason we have Christmas-to celebrate the birth of Christ. It would be like making all these elaborate preparations for a birthday party only to forget to acknowledge the birthday boy or girl.

Now is a good time to come back to that routine. Forget New Year's resolutions. They're overrated. And we often fail to keep them, and then feel guilty, but that's another blog. Why wait till the New Year? Why make a resolution? Why not simply make an effort? Make it a priority. You can do it, and so can I! If you've fallen away, don't beat yourself up; just jump back in to your routine, or try a new one. Maybe that one wasn't working. Maybe it was becoming too rote, too automatic. 

God wants our devotion, not our obligation. My son, give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my ways (Prov 23:26). We all know when someone is doing something for us out of obligation, and it's an awkward feeling. It means so much more to know that someone is doing something for us simply because they want to; out of love, not obligation. God wants our simple and pure devotion. And I think that's a great foundation on which to build a routine.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary


Song of the Day
Simply Devoted to You (Sinach)

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

I'm not a fan of "Happy Holidays" and there is only one holiday happening today, and this is my blog, so...






May you experience the joy of the birth of our Savior today, and the peace He brings...and get lots of good gifts! Enjoy the time with your family, and try to find time to breathe, relax and enjoy the day! A Savior has been born to you!!! Rejoice!!!


Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Gabriel's Sales Training Put Into Practice

I have one of the most difficult jobs on earth. I guess you could say I'm in Sales. We don't really get into job titles where I come from. See, it's difficult because I have to convince human beings a) not to be afraid because otherwise, they won't be able to be convinced of b) that I have great news.

I say it's one of the most difficult jobs on earth because in Heaven, it's much different. Fellow angels do not have to be convinced, because we don't have doubt, fear, mistrust and lying. We don't understand these things, so when we sit around and talk, it's pretty much, to coin a human phrase... "what you see (and hear) is what you get." Difficult to play poker though. Hard to bluff, if you know what I mean. But I digress.

You see, the biggest obstacle is that humans are not used to seeing us. They don't understand the supernatural, so when one of us appears before a human, they become afraid. If I can't convince that human to be unafraid, not only will they not hear what I have to say, but they won't believe. And that is perhaps the saddest thing of all.

One year, I had an especially hard time trying to convince these humans. It was one thing after another, and I thought, "Boy, these human beings are very hard-headed creatures. It's sad that they have such fear and mistrust. I wonder why Father made them that way." But I was reminded that it wasn't Father who made them that way. It was sin. But that's another story. Let me tell you about this incredible year, well, really only a few months. Well, honestly it was sort of like what you might call a millisecond, since we have no "time" in Heaven.

It all started with this priest, Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, both upright with the Lord, but they had no children, and they were pretty far along in years. One day, when Zechariah was doing his priestly duties, standing at the altar of incense, Father sent me to appear to him. Right in the middle of his burning incense! Of course, Zechariah was afraid, but I was used to this. I was trained to attempt to dispel fear. I told him not to be afraid, then I assured him that his prayer had been heard. Now, he thought I meant the prayers he was offering up for the people, so I went on to tell him that his wife Elizabeth would have a son, and his name was to be John, and he would be a forerunner to the Messiah.

I suppose my sales pitch needed to be stronger with Zechariah, because his response was, "How can I be sure of this? We're old!" A holy man, but skeptical! Unfortunately for him, because he didn't believe, he was struck speechless until the time of John's birth, when his wife proclaimed that the baby's name was to be John. Unfortunate for Zechariah, but such is the often the way when these humans do not believe.


My next stop after Zechariah was a young virgin from Nazareth named Mary. This young woman was chosen by Father to bear His son. What a wonderful girl, highly blessed to have this honor! It would be a delight to appear to her! I was so excited about my assignment, that I forgot to preface my appearance with "Do not be afraid." Instead I blurted out, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!" 

Ok, I scared her a bit and I think I confused her as well, but I quickly recovered with my "Do not be afraid" line. I explained to her that she would come to be with child and to name him Jesus. That He would be great and be called the Son of the Most High. She became more confused. I guess I wasn't explaining this in a way a human could understand, but truthfully, I didn't quite understand the specifics myself. She wondered how this could happen when she'd never been with a man, and I explained that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her. I assured her that nothing was impossible with God.

I think it was that last line that convinced her. I've been told that your closing line is what gets the sale. This young woman---what a gal! I guess my sales pitch worked, because she pondered this for a few moments, then she said, "I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said." No more questions! Just simple and pure belief!

Her betrothed, Joseph, was a little harder to convince. That's a pretty crazy story to be told by the woman you're about to take as your wife! So, Father tried a different approach. He had me come to Joseph in a dream. Of course, even in his dream, I told him not to be afraid. I didn't want him to wake up and wonder who the dream was from! He had to know it was from Father. Fear comes from our enemy, Satan, not from Jehovah. In his dream, I told him that he should take Mary as his wife, that what was conceived was from the Holy Spirit. She would give birth to a son, and would call his name Jesus, because he would save his people from their sins. 

I never thought I could convince anyone in a dream, but I'll tell you what---Joseph awoke from that dream and didn't waste any time taking Mary as his wife, but respected her until she gave birth...if you catch my drift.

I really like this Joseph, and the way he responded to my appearances in his dreams, so much so, that I would choose this method two more times--once to tell him to go to Egypt to escape King Herod's wrath of killing all male children under the age of two--in order to attempt to eliminate Jesus--and the third time to tell him that it was safe to return to Israel. But again, I digress from this particular time.

Well, you probably know what happened with Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem to register for the census (talk about bad timing!) and because of the hoards of people coming to Bethlehem for the same reason, this young couple could not find lodging. And Mary, due any day, ended up giving birth to the King of all kings in a manger, his throne being a water trough.

My next assignment was to let the shepherds in the fields know that a Savior had been born. This was great news, but back then, there was no internet, no cell phones, no CNN. There was no way to get this news to them quickly other than an angel! So, once again, I appeared, and because it was very dark out, the glory of God shone all around. Let me tell you, these guys were terrified! I suppose hanging out with sheep all day and all night makes you pretty lonely. So when you see this celestial being, complete with intense, blinding light, you may think you're hallucinating. We're used to it; we sometimes forget that humans are not.

Of course, I gave them my opening pitch...do not be afraid. What a joy it was to simply proclaim to them, "I bring you good news of great joy! Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Next thing we all knew, my friends appeared all around us--a great company of heavenly host and we couldn't help but praise Adonai. We began singing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

I guess you know the rest of that story, but let me end with this:

We still appear to humans today. Maybe not in the same way. But we are all around. You may not see us like Zechariah, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds did, but we still roam the earth, protecting you, delivering you, guiding you through circumstances, ministering to you when you hurt, and watching over you. We especially look for those "on whom his favor rests" because those are the ones who have the most peace. Sometimes, we even take the form of a human...you never know who might be an angel in disguise!

I know I took a lot of time up today... it was important that you get my perspective on things. I wanted you to know that Father loves you so much that he created you for His pleasure and because He loves you so much, He sent His only Son to this planet you call earth...this tiny speck in the universe...to be born and to die just for you. Glory to God in the highest! Do not be afraid!

Blessings Along the Path,
Gabriel

References: Luke 1&2; Matthew 1&2
Note: Biblical text does not mention Gabriel as the messenger except for Mary; creative license was taken for this blog.

Song of the Day:
Angels We Have Heard on High (Pentatonix) (amazing a cappella group!)
Angels Watching Over Me (Amy Grant)



Monday, December 23, 2013

What Was It Like to Be Mary?

I'll hold you in the beginning
You will hold me in the end
Every moment in the middle
Make my heart Your Bethlehem
From "Be Born in Me" by Francesca Battistelli

Have you ever wondered what it was like to be Mary, the mother of Jesus? I have. Maybe it's because she is my namesake. Maybe it's because I have a son, and I know I could never stand by and watch him sacrifice himself for all mankind. My mother love is too selfish. 

First of all, I cannot even imagine what it must have been like to be visited by an angel! Then to be told by said angel that you are going to have a baby, when you know darned well how babies are made and you know you've never done that. When we read the account of this in Luke 1, it doesn't appear that Mary had a choice, yet she seemed to make a choice. I am the Lord's servant. May your word to me be fulfilled (Luke 1:38). Maybe it wasn't a choice, per se, but more of a reckoning, an acceptance.

But now she had the difficult task of convincing her betrothed that they were going to have a baby who wasn't his, but wasn't any other man's either. Say what? I can just see her, looking up toward heaven, saying, "I could use a little help down here..." Enter the angel again. 

After a tumultuous sleep with dreams akin to those after eating Chinese food late at night, Joseph was on board. Now that Joseph was convinced, the rest of the town needed to be. I'm guessing the angel didn't visit each one of them. I imagine Mary was snubbed at the well, ignored in the market and whispered about in the tents at night. Still, she rejoiced. And I imagine that anyone who knew her character believed her.

Did Mary know that the son she would bear would someday bear the sins of the world? Did she know that the life she brought into this world would sacrifice that life to take the fear of death out of the world? How would it feel to be the mother of the Savior of the WorldDid she ever look at Him while He was growing up and get a vision of what was to come? Did she feel a mixture of pride and sadness when she watched him or heard of his miracles? 

Mary said From now on, all generations will call me blessed (Luke 1:48). You could easily misinterpret that to think it sounds prideful or boastful, but I believe Mary meant that as a complete statement of humility, for it continues: For the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is His name! (Luke 1:49). Imagine...out of all women throughout all eternity, she was THE one chosen to carry God's son! Wow! There can be no greater honor, and only a woman of great humility could handle that. God didn't have a heavenly lottery ball machine up there, choosing someone at random.

I have two beautiful songs to share with you today. One I've loved for years, but it is little known. It's called, Thorns in the Straw, by Graham Kendrick, from a musical called Rumours of Angels (yes, he is British). The other is one I just discovered, called Be Born In Me by Francesca Battistelli. Please take a few moments to listen when you have time. 

Thorns in the Straw (Graham Kendrick)
Be Born In Me (Mary)---Francesca Battistelli

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Rescued

The other day, I was sitting at my desk, watching the snow fall (yet again!) and this big, burly guy came in holding this little ball of fur.

You may remember that we have feral cats in the quarry. Well, one of those cats recently had kittens. This little guy (or girl) and his or her sibling were sitting right in the middle of the road. When my co-worker got out of the truck, one ran away, but this one didn't move. He scooped it up and brought it inside. It was shaking, out of fear or cold, I don't know. Probably both.

Now, you have to understand something. I am NOT a cat person. I don't like them. I don't understand them. So when he brought this quarry kitty in, I wasn't sure what to do with it. I even said, "What am I supposed to do with it?" We looked around for a box and the closest thing was a cooler.  For some reason, there was a comforter stuffed in a corner, so we lined the cooler with the comforter and placed Quarry Kitty inside and put the rest of the comforter on top of the cooler. We tried to give it some water, and it either didn't seem to know what to do with it, or was too scared.


My co-worker needed to go plow, and I started to panic. "What if it jumps out?" I asked. He laughed." I don't think it will jump out," he said. All I could picture was this kitty running all over the trailer and me chasing it, trying to coax it out from under something. "Why don't you just take it with you?" I pleaded.

"I can't," he replied. "But if we can't find anyone to take it, I'll bring it home until we can find someone who will." We both promised to post pictures on Facebook.

That kitten never moved all day. It slept most of the day, nestled in the warmth of the blanket. I guess the poor thing was exhausted from just trying to survive. True to his word, my co-worker brought it home at the end of the day. He told me that the kitty devoured the food he gave it and went right back to sleep. 

Each of us was once lonely, scared, hungry and exhausted from just trying to survive. When Jesus pulled up in His truck, did we run away or did we just remain where we were, waiting for Him to scoop us up and rescue us? I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid (Gen 3:10) When he placed us in a safe place to rest, did we try to jump out, or just rest in the safety of His warmth and security? You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and will surround me with songs of deliverance (Ps 32:7). 

Do you trust Jesus with your life? Have you cried out to him to rescue you, to deliver you, to find you a home? We were all once feral cats. We all lived in a wild or untamed state. It is only when we cry out to him to keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings (Ps 17:8) that we begin to feel safe and secure. When we realize that no harm will come to us when our Savior picks us up, when we realize that all of the taming and discipline is for our good, we can lay our weary head down and sleep all day.

By the way, as of this writing, three people are fighting over Quarry Kitty.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

Song(s) of the Day:
You Are My Hiding Place (Selah)
Apple of Your Eye/Psalm 17 (Sons of Korah)






Friday, December 20, 2013

Laugh Like a Four-Year Old

I just read that the average 4-year old laughs about 300 times a day. Let's assume that 4-year old awakens at 6:00 am, and has a flexible bedtime of, say, 10:00 pm. That means that child is awake for 14 hours, a very long day for the average 4-year old. Math was never my best subject, but if I calculated it correctly, the average 4-year old laughs about every 3 minutes (no wonder they find it so difficult to focus!).

WOW! How many of us can say that we laugh every 3 minutes? Unless you have Tourette's Syndrome (and I'm not laughing at that) or some nervous habit of laughing, chances are you are like most adults, who, according to this same statistic, laugh about 20 times a day. Remember, that's the average adult, not the sad, lonely, depressed, stressed-out, otherwise distracted adult. I wonder if it's because a four-year-old doesn't have the same insecurities, hang-ups or need to be composed as an adult. Or maybe it's because they don't have the life experiences we've had that have robbed our ability to laugh.

Many of us don't have a lot to laugh about. Some people have very stressful, difficult lives, with tense situations. We all know people who are fighting for their lives, battling cancer or other ills. Laughing doesn't happen a lot. Others of us have just become too serious. Sometimes we need to look for opportunities to laugh.

The bible says that a joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones (Prov 17:22). Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy (Psalm 126:2). He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting (Job 8:21).

Christmastime often causes us to become stressed out with so much to do. And I've heard from several people lately that they are sad, lonely, or even depressed right now. They feel guilty because it's "supposed to be" such a wonderful time of year, a joyful time, and they feel anything but.

Let's lighten up and laugh. If your life is too busy right now, let something go. Look for opportunities to laugh. Create opportunities to laugh. If you need help, go find a four-year-old! Laughter is, indeed, good medicine.

“I don't trust anyone who doesn't laugh.” 
― Maya Angelou
“Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning to do afterward.” 
― Kurt Vonnegut
“If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane.” 
― Robert Frost
“Sometimes crying or laughing are the only options left, and laughing feels better right now.” 
― Veronica RothDivergent
“I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it's the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It's probably the most important thing in a person.” 
― Audrey Hepburn
“The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter.” 
― Mark Twain
“Laughter is carbonated holiness.” 
― Anne Lamott
“Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine.” 
― George Gordon Byron
“You have as much laughter as you have faith.” 
― Martin Luther
“Laughter is poison to fear.” 
― George R.R. MartinA Game of Thrones
“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” 
― Victor Borge
“It is cheerful to God when you rejoice or laugh from the bottom of your heart.” 
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

Video of the Day:
I Love Lucy-Top Ten Episodes (Under 30 min)
(The one with the nose catching on fire---that was actually an accident!...and my favorite didn't make it in--the Cheese episode)

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Christmas Memories-1986: The Visitors

Over a quarter of a century ago, I entertained angels. Well, it's a stretch, but they might have been. My at-the-time-husband-who-is-now-my-ex-husband  brought home a friend on Christmas Eve. His name was Wild Ricky. I don't think I ever knew Wild Ricky's last name. He had long, stringy dirty blond hair and tattoos before they were fashionable. He climbed trees for a living (often without safety equipment). He was like a monkey---a wild monkey. He was from the deep south; Georgia, to be specific. He looked tough, but was soft-spoken, with a thick deep south accent and had a heart of gold. Wild Ricky had invited his girlfriend up from Georgia for Christmas, and this girlfriend happened to have a 10-year old son named Brandon. 

I remember this very well, because Christmas Eve was Brandon's birthday, and they walked in with the guys. They were both so excited to celebrate his birthday! Brandon's mom had brought presents, and she had even gotten a cake from the bakery, with "Happy Birthday Brandon" written on it. (You can see just how old this picture is by looking at the gift he was so excited about-it's an I.D. bracelet. Remember those? (I think it took awhile for the "out-of-style" memo to reach the deep south. I remember thinking, "Hmm," I thought, "those went out of style in the mid-seventies." This was the mid-eighties).

I was a new, and very young mom, and my son was not quite 3 years old. 
I was at first, surprised at having unannounced visitors, then angry at being inconvenienced on Christmas Eve with this birthday party. But I was a 26 year old kid who hadn’t learned to speak her mind yet, so I said nothing.  I figured that we’d have cake, sing “Happy Birthday,” watch Brandon open a few gifts and these people would be on their way. However, the guys announced that they had some last minute shopping to do, so off they went and left me alone with Brandon and his mom! 

The guys, being guys, lost track of time. I entertained these strangers for several hours. I can’t imagine what Brandon’s mom and I talked about.  I was a young up-and-coming-Bernardsville-mom, and she was…well, a not-as-young-as-I-Wild-Ricky-kind-of-girl. 

The thing about photographs is that you can look at them years later with a different perspective because the emotion is not there, as it was when the picture was taken.  All of these years, whenever I’d looked at these pictures, it was all about me--- “How could MY husband have brought those people – strangers – into MY home on Christmas Eve, without asking ME?  How could he expect ME to entertain them, and didn’t he realize that he was imposing on ME and disrupting MY Christmas Eve?”  But when I came across this picture a few weeks ago, I realized that I had never thought about the situation from THEIR perspective.

The very person they came to spend Christmas with left them to go to a party-left them to spend Brandon’s birthday in the company of strangers in a strange place.  And they made the best of it. 
Then, it occurred to me that there was another little boy who once spent his birthday in the company of strangers in a strange place.  He would not remember it, because it was the day of his birth, but his parents most certainly would.  His name was Jesus and His birthday is the one we celebrate every Christmas. 

That little boy grew up and thirty-something years later preached these words to his followers – I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.  I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.  I WAS A STRANGER AND YOU INVITED ME IN…whatever you did to the least of these brothers of mine, you did to Me. (Matthew 25:35)

Brandon will be 37 this year-a few years older than Jesus was when He spoke those words. I’m so thankful that I was a 26 year old kid who didn’t know how to speak her mind.  What a tragedy it would have been to not invite them in.

Maybe God really did send them to me, and it took me 27 years to figure it out! We are told in Hebrews, Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing, some people have entertained angels without knowing it (Hebrews 13:2). We really never know who we are entertaining, do we?

Happy birthday, Brandon, wherever you are. 

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

Song(s) of the Day
Perfect Love (Darlene Zschech)
Entertaining Angels (Newsboys)


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

We Didn't Know Who You Were

Have you ever been somewhere and later discovered that there was a "person of importance' sitting next to you? Or maybe you even waited on a person in a store or a restaurant and didn't realize it was that famous person until after he or she left. Personally, that hasn't happened to me, but I imagine that my reaction would be much the same as most other people's..."I didn't know! If I'd known, I would have acted differently!"

Acted differently...how? Would I have tried to impress that person? Catered to that person? Ignored everyone else to pay special attention to that person? And why would I do that? Simply because that person is "someone of importance?" If I didn't know who that person was before, why would knowing who he or she is later change my view of how I think I would have behaved in his or her presence?

As human beings, I think that we are naturally enthralled with someone famous...anyone who is of importance, whether it is a movie star, a political figure, a sports figure or an author who crosses our path. And if we have a talent, a knowledge, a desire for that field, we might just try a little extra hard to get that person to notice us, so that he or she looks up and says, "My GOD, where have you been all my life? You are exactly who I'm looking for to star in my new movie/be my political protege/be on my team/I want to publish your book!" 

When that doesn't happen, we might be disappointed for a brief moment, but reality hopefully sets in rather quickly and we resume our mundane lives. If we'd only known ahead of time, perhaps we could have prepared ourselves, our hearts to receive that important person. Made a big deal. Fixed ourselves up. 

What if it was Jesus? What if I didn't know and treated Him like every other guy who came into my restaurant (if I had one) or store (if I had one)? After He left, what would my reaction be once I was told, "Hey, did you know that was Jesus?" I think that I would be more than just disappointed. I would be heartbroken that I didn't recognize him. I would be mortified that I didn't act more kindly toward Him. I would not wish that He looked up and said, "Mary! Where have you been...." Because I would know that He did know who I was. And He is that Person of Importance who stops and wants me to star in His next movie/be His protege/be on His team/publish my book. I am the only one in the whole restaurant/store who matters to Him, and so are you! But I think that Jesus would wait until I recognized Him to make Himself known to me. That's just my opinion. And after He walked out, and someone says to me, "Hey, did you know that was Jesus?", here is what I think I'd say:

"If only I'd known ahead of time that He was coming. I would have prepared a place for Him. I would have fixed myself up. I would have prepared my heart so that I didn't have so much on my mind. I would have made sure that He had my full attention. I would have made a special dish for Him. I would have cleared the place out....oh, how could I not have known? How could I have missed Him?"

If we lived in the time that Jesus lived, would we have recognized Him to be the Messiah? Would we have acknowledged this baby to be the King we'd been waiting for? Who might you have been most like? Martha, who was always busy "doing"? The Pharisees or Sadducees, the religious leaders who were so steeped in law, that they couldn't accept His radical teachings? 

Or Mary, who sat at His feet? The Disciples, who left everything to follow Him without question? Mary, His mother, whose heart was pure, responded to the angel's announcement that she was to carry God's child with, "I am the servant of Adonai. May it be with me as you have said (Luke 1:38)." She recognized Him. She acknowledged Him. She served Him. And she was His MOTHER! No one had to tell her, "Hey, did you know that was Jesus?"

Let's not miss Him in the busyness of Christmas. Let's take some time to prepare our hearts, to prepare a place, to clean the place up, make that special dish, clear the place out, so that when He walks in on the feet of an infant, we will say, "Welcome, Lord Jesus! We have a special place prepared for You! Right this way!"

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary




Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Hanging Blinds for God

I'm not real handy. Well, I am kind of. But I loathe "handyman" work. I just don't have the patience. Since Brian has an inordinate amount of patience (anyone who knowingly goes into a marriage with me has to!), he is the designated driver of all things handy around the house. 

However, it's a whole different story once I get to work. Today I had to hang blinds. Last I looked, hanging blinds was not in my job description...oh, that's because there is no job description. Hmmm, one should watch out for those "any other projects, as determined by the supervisor" type job descriptions, or jobs without one. Then again, when you work for family, job descriptions do not apply. I really did not want to do this, and I grumbled to myself about that. Then I told myself, "Well, you better change your mind, because you don't have a choice. It's today's project." (Does anyone else talk to yourself as if you're another person?)

I hung 4 blinds earlier this year, without too much incident and somehow, a lot more patience. This time was different. For some reason, I had a heck of a time getting this one screw in (I start the hole with a screw, then put the brackets up). I was ready to throw the drill across the room. The only reason I didn't was because the drill wasn't mine. Nor were the walls in the office. I ended up stripping the screw, so now it wouldn't go in or come out. Then I burned my finger on the heat of the screw, feeling the need to touch it after it wouldn't move (did I think I was stronger than the drill, able to just turn it?). All the screws kept falling on the floor, the chair tipped over as I got off, and the blinds hit the fluorescent light bulbs propped up against the wall in the corner, but luckily did not break them (I did not throw the blinds! Really, they fell of the chair). Did I mention I'm a bit of a klutz?

I ended up propping the one side of the blinds up on the non-budging screw. As long as no one pulls the blinds up or down they should be fine. 

How often do we grumble and complain about the tasks God gives us? When we ask God to "use" us, do we really know what we're asking? We usually want the easy, the glorious, the things that bring us joy...you know, to do what our gifts are. But sometimes God wants us to hang blinds. Do something we'd rather not. Something that is clearly not in our holy job description. Work in the nursery during the big event. Set up or clean up behind the scenes. Spend time with someone you really would prefer not to hang out with, thinking of all the other things you could be doing with your time. Visit the sick or elderly. Make a meal. Go to the homeless shelter or food pantry and try to understand the depth of homelessness or drug abuse. Pray for the person who was asked to do the thing you wanted to do.


Will we go when we're called? And how will we handle the task? Will we leave the babies in the nursery in dirty diapers when the parents come to pick them up, or will we rock them in our arms, marveling at the innocence, dependency and fragility of babies? Will we leave the coffee pot dirty, and tables crusted over with old cake, or will we leave the area cleaner than when we walked in? Will we spend that hour with the needy person and go on our way thinking we did a good deed, or will we clear our calendar for the afternoon and truly listen and care about what this person is going through?

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive and inheritance (Col 3:23). Our inheritance is not earthly praise; it is a reward that we will receive when we get to heaven, and then give back to Him! Our inheritance is Jesus Christ. Our reward can be on this earth-the reward of a job well done. The reward of knowing that we served our Lord, without any recognition. It's a feeling we get deep inside. A warmth. A desire to do it again, even though it makes no sense, because it's "not our gift."

I'm tempted to go back and try to fix that blind, but I did try. The screw is stripped. It needs a man to fix it. And besides, it's hanging quite nicely now. However, I will forever have the picture of the bracket-less blind hanging on a stripped screw to remind me each time I don't necessarily want to do what God asks me to do. 

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

Song of the Day:
Servant Song (unknown)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Breaking Tradition

A young newlywed was planning her first big family Christmas dinner and told her young husband that she needed another pan for the ham. He asked her why she needed two pans. She pondered this and replied, "I really don't know. My mom always cut the ham in half and cooked it in two pans. I'll ask her why." She called her mother and asked her why she always used two pans to cook the Christmas ham. Her mother said, "You know, I don't know. Grandma always used two pans so I did too. I'll call her." So the mother called the grandmother and asked, "Mom, why did you always use two pans to cook the Christmas ham?" The grandmother replied, "Because I never had a pan big enough."

Tradition. Why do we do the things we do? Are some of our traditions like the two-pan-Christmas-ham...we do it but don't know why?

This year is the second year in our new home. Last year I was so excited with all my new decorating space, that I decorated every nook and cranny. I pulled out the family heirloom-the old manger scene, (and I do mean old...most of the sheep have had their legs amputated by now and are usually in need of some prosthetic device to prop them up) and put it on the same table it's always been on. The same gold spray-painted macaroni wreaths with the kids' pictures in the middle were hung on the tree, even though said children were out of the house and had their own trees. I turned a large shelf into a pseudo-mantle. All in all, it was wonderful. Traditional. New house, same old stuff.

This year, something changed. Who was I doing all this for? The kids come over on Christmas and don't even really look at the tree. Brian and I are the ones who have to look at the decorations all month, and I'm the one who has to put them all away! 

I had always wanted a Christmas tree decorated with silver balls and red bows. So I ditched the homemade decorations, the decorations that people had given me, all of those things that had sentimental value, and bought some cheap silver balls at Wal-Mart to add to the few I already had. I added those red bows, and some silver and red ribbon with a big bow at the top, instead of an angel or star. It looks pretty. Sterile, but pretty.

I haven't put out any other decorations. I just haven't felt like it. Not even the old manger scene... "Mangy People," as I've come to call them. I'm not sure if I want to. It may be time for a new one. It might just be time to break tradition. 

Some traditions are good, especially if you have young children. Rituals are passed on, lessons are taught, legacy continues. Traditions are comforting and comfortable. But when tradition becomes something we do out of a sense of obligation, it might be time for a change. Too often we hold on to "things" because of the sentimental value. We look at it and remember the person who gave it to us, the circumstance behind it and the feelings it evoked. But "things" can clutter up our homes, and "things" can clutter up our minds. Aunt Agnes has been gone for 20 years, but we're still hanging up that ugly wreath she gave us because it brings back fond memories (or not) of Aunt Agnes, even though we hate it. It's okay to give it away, or even throw it away. No one has to know. If you want to remember it, take a picture. Start a scrapbook of those "tradition" pictures. You could even display the scrapbook during Christmas. Get creative. 

Don't let traditions that become obligations bog you down. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom (2 Cor 3:17). Jesus came to set the captives free (Is 61:1) from the law of sin and death (Rom 8:2). Jesus wants you to be free from the laws and bondages of traditions if they are holding you hostage. Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that you throw every tradition out the window and say, "I'm free! No more Christmas traditions for me!" I'm simply suggesting that if you are doing anything for the wrong reasons, or there is no joy in what you're doing, maybe it's time to re-evaluate that tradition. This is a time of joy, not of heaviness! Maybe you can fit the ham in one pan and start a new tradition! Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Receive your King with joy!

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary


Song(s) of the Day:
Tradition (Fiddler on the Roof)
(Fiddler on the Roof is a great story about breaking old traditions, making new one, and how those choices affects the family as a whole---you can watch the movie in its entirety for free on Youtube if you have the time) 
Freedom Reigns (Rita Springer)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Son Also Rises!

There are a few things in life that never cease to amaze me. The miracle of the new life of a baby growing in the womb. Snow. The depth and width of an ocean. How a boat floats and how a plane flies. The vastness of the sky. The beauty of autumn leaves and the equal beauty of spring life. And a sunrise. 

Lately, I've been driving to work as the sun is rising. Yesterday was especially beautiful. The sky was filled with a gorgeous shade of red. I remembered hearing this saying when I was a child: "Red sky in morning, sailor take warning. Red sky at night-sailor's delight." We are expecting more snow today, so perhaps this was our warning. It didn't seem like a warning though. If I wasn't driving, I would have been transfixed on this sight.

Sunsets are beautiful in their own way. But there is something different about a sunrise. Sunsets mean the end of the day. Time to rest. Time to sleep. Time for darkness. 

Sunrises never cease to amaze me because each day dawns with new promise of life. Most of us don't pay much attention to the sunrise. Often, we are sleeping, especially in the summer, when the sun rises very early. As I drove through the sleepy town of Peapack, NJ yesterday morning, I saw the usual people out walking their dogs, jogging, and coming out of the bakery with their coffee, in the newly dawning day. Life as usual. We get up and get going. 

How often do we stop to think of the miracle of a new day? New mercies. New promises. New possibilities. New beginnings. New life. New choices. New opportunities. A new "now." But everything exposed by the light becomes visible--and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: 'Wake up sleeper, rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you.' (Eph 5:13-14)

Whatever we have done in darkness will be exposed by the light. But once we awaken, Christ will shine His light on us. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ez 36:26). 

Every new day is like a do-over! The possibilities are endless! You don't have to carry that guilt and shame around with you from yesterday. Let it go. It's a new day! That thing you messed up yesterday? The Son has risen on a new opportunity! If you have an "attitude of gratitude" each morning, you will never cease to be amazed at the wonder of the new day, for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall. (Malachi 4:2)

Blessings Along the Path,
Mary

Song of the Day:
Feeling Good (Michael Buble)
(the video is a bit strange, but the song is great!)

Video of the Day:
Spring Turnout for the Cows & Calves
(a bit tedious, but there is some leaping!)