Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Behold -- All Things Are Made New!

A new year is headed this way. 2014 awaits us on the horizon. A new day will be dawning soon.

Once again, we are afforded a fresh page, a clean slate on which to partner with God in writing the next chapter of our life stories.

As 2013 draws to a close, I have a lot to think about. Past regrets. Present concerns. Future hopes.

And questions. Always lots of questions.

How will I spend this upcoming year? What will I be doing?  

Will I continue to remain cancer free? 

Will our family still be living here on the East Coast, or will we finally make the much talked about, much anticipated move down South? 

Will I find a new church home?  

Will my son still be working at the same place, and which college will my daughter choose (or which will choose her)?

Will my husband opt for another spinal surgery or continue living daily with his intense back and neck pain?

Will our much loved Doberman Pinscher, Casey, make it to the Big ‘14’ this year?

And where will I be doing our laundry in the coming days? (yes, folks...our washer j-u-s-t breathed its last watery breath TODAY. As in one hour ago. Booyah!)

God says He knows the plans He has for us -- but what are they? I haven't a clue, and I'm fairly certain that you don't either (and truth be told, maybe it's better that way).

So, as 2014 prepares to make its grand entrance, it's a given that there will be changes. Large and small. Some changes will be welcome; some not so welcome.

But they will come, as we all wait expectantly on the cusp, holding our collective breaths.  

I invite you to join me as we leave the past behind and step into a brand, new future, bright with promise and hope. 

Always hope. 

And in case I don't have a chance later,  I'd like to take a moment right now to wish each and every one of you, dear readers, a very happy, healthy and blessed new year!

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
~Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Greatest Gift -- Unwrapping The Full Love Story of Christmas (Book Review)

A few weeks ago, I entered a book giveaway that Caryn Jenkins Christensen was hosting over at her blog, State of the Heart Living. Not long after entering, I had the joy of learning I was the winner of the copy of author Ann Voskamp’s latest book, ‘The Greatest Gift – Unwrapping The Full Love Story of Christmas.’ I was so excited!

After hearing I'd won, a friend of mine suggested I consider writing a review of the book.  And so I did.

In this Advent devotional book, those familiar with Ann Voskamp's writing (from her One Thousand Gifts book, small group study and devotional and her blog, 'A Holy Experience'), will find that, as usual, she paints stunningly beautiful and breathtaking word portraits, dipping into both vibrant and muted color palettes, and using brush strokes that are as bold as they are delicate; as broad as they are intricately detailed.  All blending together perfectly to point us to and present us with the Greatest Gift:  Jesus Christ, the masterpiece of the Master Himself. God, swaddled in fragile flesh; the newborn King and Savior of the world, lying in the muck of a dirty feeding trough for barnyard animals.

Each devotional narrative is carefully woven with a sincere love for and pure awe of Jesus, and Ann writes in such a way that will touch your heart, no matter what you were or who you are now; where you’ve been or what your life’s circumstances are presently. The chapters are not so wordy that you feel they drag on endlessly, nor so short that you come away feeling empty and unsatisfied. 

For me, this book has the feel of her personally taking us, her readers, by the hand and inviting us to come walk with her to the humble foot of the manger, and to join her in gazing in childlike delight and wonder upon the sweet face of the infant Savior.

At the beginning of every chapter, you’ll find a picture of a Jesse Tree ornament (if you’ve never heard of a Jesse Tree or its ornaments, go here to learn what it's all about) with a Scripture verse underneath.  

Next comes a passage of Scripture -- Today’s Reading-- relevant to that chapter’s devotional content.

The devotional narrative follows, and then, at the end of each chapter, Ann issues a daily challenge entitled, ‘Unwrapping More of His Love In This World.’  Below are a few examples:

  • write down something for which you need to repent 
  • surprise someone with a simple gift of love – a homemade treat, a card or a handwritten letter
  • serve someone who cannot help themselves                  
After this comes an inspiring quote, and in the section called ‘A Moment For Reflection,’  Ann includes some deep questions for you to consider which will help personalize what you've just read. You can answer them in the book itself or if you’d rather, write them in a separate journal.

Ann writes in the beginning of ‘The Greatest Gift:’

“Anticipate Christ…and celebrate Christmas, His coming.”

While this book is categorized as an Advent/Christmas devotional, I'd like to suggest that the anticipation, preparation and celebration that is associated with both Advent and Christmas need not be a once-a-year event for us. 

In fact, I would go so far to say that ANY time of the year, when you believe that God is in the process of preparing you for SOMETHING new, different and necessary in your life, this devotional book will be a welcome companion to reach for and bring along for the journey.

I read A LOT of books. Whenever I’m in the midst of one that is meaningful and has a great impact on me, I tend to carry it with me wherever I go during the course of a day.

And that is exactly what I did with Ann Voskamp’s ‘The Greatest Gift.’ 

I absolutely loved this book, would highly recommend it as the very next book on your reading list, or one to buy as a gift for someone else, and I look forward to reading through it again.

Many thanks to Caryn Jenkins Christensen, for choosing this book for her giveaway, and to Ann Voskamp for writing it!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Merry Happy Christmas Greetings

If you're counting down the days, it is only 2 more days left until Christmas. As Eloise, (from one of my favorite Christmas movies, 'Eloise At Christmastime') likes to declare: "It's Christmas Eve Eve!"

People are hustling and bustling to get that last minute shopping done. Running in and out of doors, rushing in and out of stores, wishing one and all a....a what? 

A "Merry Christmas!!!??" A "Happy Holiday!!!??" Or perhaps you're a "Seasons Greetings!!" kind of a person. 

Which one makes you smile with joy....or grit your teeth in irritation? Does one offend you more deeply than the other? Or is being politically correct not even a blip on your holiday radar screen?

For years, I was on the 'Merry Christmas' side of the Christmas Greetings Crusade. Or 'The War on Christmas' to which it's often referred. If someone, be it on social media, at the mall, at work, at a toll booth, etc., dared to wish me 'Seasons Greetings' or 'Happy Holidays,' I would return their salutation with my own MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! faster and with more force than Serena Williams returning a tennis opponent's serve at the US Open. 

But these days, I find myself sad, weary and somewhat irritated over all the arguments and the wars and the ugly back-and-forth, mean-spirited comments I have seen lately on social media regarding these greetings of the season. 

This season that is SUPPOSED to be about celebrating a love so deep, so incredible, so amazing, so breathtaking; a love that would cause our Creator God to send His One and Only, kingly Son, Jesus Christ, into this world -- not wrapped in royal robes, but in fragile skin like ours -- to serve and save us. 

But which seems more about celebrating consumerism, commercialism and our crowing about being among the Christian illuminati of society.

Now, I'm certainly not saying we who follow Christ and call ourselves Christians should ever be ashamed or afraid of wishing someone -- anyone -- a Merry Christmas. Neither am I suggesting that we refrain from doing so. 

But what I AM saying is that there's no need for us to get our noses out of joint when someone fails to say it to us, nor should we respond to someone's wish for us to "Have a happy holiday!" with a pompous and indignant 


We need to be mindful of how we come across to others.

And it would serve us well to remember that Jesus reserved His harshest criticism of and toughest lessons for those who considered themselves to be the elite and religious 'know-it-alls': those self-righteous Pharisees, who always seemed to spend way too much of their time in the New Testament stalking Jesus; eavesdropping on all of His conversations and teachings; nitpicking about them, and trying to trip Him up on everything He said.

During one such time, the following particular conversation transpired between Jesus and another man:

"...when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees with His reply, they met together to question Him again. One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap Him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”

Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” ~ Matthew 22:34-40 (NLT)

In light of this, and in my honest opinion, I seriously DOUBT that Jesus gives a flying fig if we say 'Merry Christmas,' or if we say 'Seasons Greetings.'

Just as long as whatever we say, we say joyfully, with His love flowing from our heart, our soul, our mind...and our lips.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

An Advent Transformation

'The angel Gabriel from Heaven came,
His wings as drifted snow, his eyes as flame;
"All hail", said he, "Thou lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady", Gloria!' ~ 'Gabriel's Message' 

'Mary Is Visited By The Angel Gabriel,' by Walter Rane
Hello, my friends. It has been some months since I've posted anything here on my blog. Close to three months, to be exact. 

I'd had every good and sincere intention of quickly posting the promised 'sister' piece to my last post, 'Ministry Minded.' The majority of it is written, with the appropriate pictures and labels in place.

But here in the Draft portion of my blog it sits. Unfinished. Incomplete. Waiting. Because there was/is something missing. Something important. Something vital. Not in the post itself.

No. Something important, something vital is missing in me. Way deep inside. 

And because of this, I've been going through a transformation of sorts. It's been a slow and painful process, one that, truth be told, is quite irritating. One that I'm finding extremely difficult to embrace or accept. One that requires a willingness to obey (sadly, I don't always have that), AND truckloads of patience (oops...don't always have that either). 

One that leaves me drained and uninspired most days.

I feel like a butterfly just wanting to escape from my lonely, stifling cocoon, only to realize it's not time yet for me to emerge. God's hand keeps pulling me back in. 

Because He and I both know there is a need for Him to do so much more work in me.

courtesy of Koiné
Work that becomes more consistent, more intense and more painful with each passing day, as I journey through this particular season of preparation AND transformation known as Advent. 

However, in the suffocating starkness and silence of this cocoon, where the desire and inspiration to write often seems to have altogether disappeared, I felt God gently nudge me to share this very short, yet hauntingly beautiful song called 'Gabriel's Message.' I hope it will bless you as you listen to it.

I've never heard this song before. As I listen to it over and over -- these words that echo Scripture and set to music -- I'm struck by the thought that THIS...this song about the meeting between Mary and the angel Gabriel...can be taken as a story about another woman's Advent. Her time of preparation and transformation. Mary's set of circumstances are NOTHING like mine. And yet -- through this song, I find I can relate so well to her just now. This young woman on the cusp of change.

'Blessed Art Thou Among Women,' by Walter Rane
Mary's world was about to be forever and totally transformed by this strange, frightening, and unbelievably astounding news the angel Gabriel was set to deliver from Almighty God. She had no idea what this odd message from God would truly be preparing her for nor what it would ultimately require of her:

'"For known a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee;
Thy Son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold
Most highly favored lady," Gloria!'

And yet, Mary's response shows her acceptance and willingness to obey; with words and heart attitudes that I would do well to echo in my own set of circumstances:

'Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head,
"To me be as it pleaseth God," she said;
My soul shall laud and magnify His holy name"
Most highly favored lady, Gloria, Gloria!'

Meekness. Humility. Willingness. Acceptance. Obedience. Oh yeah -- all of THOSE vital, important things.

Maybe you are going through similar experiences. Maybe this Advent season is truly one of preparation and transformation for you. I'd love to hear from you, and perhaps we could pray for one another.

May the love, grace, mercy and peace of Christ abound in our hearts and lives this Advent and Christmas season, and in the coming new year, as He continues His great work in each one of us, however difficult, painful and time consuming it may be.

Tender Blessings,


(all lyrics used are from 'Gabriel's Message,' an original Basque Christmas folk carol, paraphrased into English by Sabine Baring-Gould with musical arrangement by Edgar Pettman; from Sting's 'If On A Winter's Night' CD )

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ministry Minded

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,you were doing it to me!’~Matthew 25:37-40

How many times have you ever had this said to you, or spoken words like these to others?

"You do an amazing job of ministering to others!"

"What a wonderful ministry that man has now, after all those years of battling his drug and alcohol addictions!"

"You know, your family really is your ministry!"

Back in June of 2000, after emerging from over 40 years in the Catholic faith and then becoming a part of a church body of an entirely different denomination, I found myself very confused when people would throw the terms 'ministry' or 'minister' (as a verb) around like a softball to one another.   Minister, as far as I was concerned, was the preacher guy (or gal, depending upon how literally your church takes 1 Timothy 2:11-12); to me, it was a noun, not a verb. 

For awhile, I just chalked it up to another bit of Christian lingo I'd have to get used to hearing.  I never went through the trouble to look up the meaning, surmising that minister, when used as a verb, meant 'caring for others,' and therefore, a ministry was a group of church folk who cared for others. Easy enough.  

I was close. The word 'ministry' comes from the Greek term 'diakoneo,'  which translates 'to serve',  so a minister is a person who serves.  I guess we all could be considered ministers. You don't need to be ordained and sporting a white collar or wearing a zucchetto to comfort a grieving parent or to hand a homeless person a bottle of cold water and a sandwich.  True Christian ministry really just means lovingly, humbly, even joyfully serving the needs of others. To paraphrase the the Navy commercial from the late 70s/early 80s: 

"It's not just a vocation -- it's a lifestyle."

Yet, if you don't view it that way, much like I didn't for years, having a ministry sounds like just another pretty cool thing to sign up for and be involved with.  Glamorous, even, at first. 

But if you don't view it as a lifestyle or a life calling, it can quickly snowball into something that's more about YOU and less about those whom you serve. 

I've found there are LOTS of different ministries out there. To name a few:

Homeless ministry
Prayer ministry
Men's/Women's/Youth/Children's ministry
Prison ministry
Special Needs ministry
Shut-Ins visitation ministry
Cancer ministry
Wheelchair ministry
Church Bus ministry
Greeting card ministry
Helping Hands/Meals ministry
Water bottle ministry
Coffee ministry

Wow -- so many ministries,  so little time.  Some sounding so rewarding. Which one to choose?

Actually, I've found -- and found very recently, I might add -- 

that it's not US who do the choosing.  It's God.  

It is He who chooses and calls us to minister to, to serve, WHATEVER you want to call it, those whom Jesus referred to as: 
the least of these

Hmmm.....and just who ARE the least of these? To me, it's a fairly important question.

According to God’s Word in Matthew 25:40, whatever service we have done for and whatever loving compassion we have shown towards someone who was hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, imprisoned or just a stranger in need...“the least of these”....we have done for or shown towards Jesus Christ Himself. 

I also find it to be a difficult question (perhaps you do, too). I'll address that in an upcoming post.

But for now...please give it some thought.  When you hear or read the phrase, the least of these, who or what comes to YOUR mind? 

Whatsoever you do,
for the least of My people 
That you do unto Me.

When I was hungry, you gave me to eat;
When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink.
Now enter into the home of my Father.

When I was homeless, you opened your door;
When I was naked, you gave me your coat.
Now enter into the home of my Father.

When I was weary, you helped me find rest.
When I was anxious, you calmed all my fears.
Now enter into the home of my Father.

When in a prison, you came to my cell;
When on a sickbed, you cared for my needs.
Now enter into the home of my Father.

When I was laughed at, you stood by my side.
When I was happy, you shared in my joy.
Now enter into the home of my Father.

Whatsoever you do,
for the least of My people 
That you do unto Me. ~ Catholic Hymn

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Taste and See (Join Me Over At The Pure Sacrifice)

Today, I have the sweet privilege of being a guest blogger over at  The Pure Sacrifice,' the blog of a wonderful young woman and sister-in-Christ, Deanna Wiseburn.  

Deanna and I 'met' here in the blogosphere last year, and I've not only seen the tremendous growth in her relationship with Christ, but I've been taken aback (in a good way) at how Deanna has obediently stepped WAY out of her comfort zone to serve our Lord in ways she probably NEVER imagined!  To me, Deanna is living proof of Philippians 4:13 -- she CAN do all things through Christ, who strengthens her!

My hope is once you've finished reading my post, 'Taste And See', you'll spend time looking around and digging deeper into Deanna's inspiring and thought-provoking writings. She has a humble, sincere and gentle spirit, and writes from a heart surrendered completely to Jesus Christ.

But hey...don't just take my word for it. Please click here to head on over with me to The Pure Sacrifice and check it out for yourself.

See you there!

Monday, September 9, 2013

"I Need You!"

I waited and waited and waited for God. At last He looked; finally He listened. He lifted me out of the ditch,   pulled me from deep mud. He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip. He taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise-song to our God. More and more people are seeing this: they enter the mystery, abandoning themselves to God. ~ Psalm 40:1-3, The Message

There come times in the midst of our harsh trials and deep sorrows, our anxieties and fears, our confusion and loneliness when we find ourselves in an abyss; a spiritual dead zone, or broken down alongside a dark, unfamiliar and barren stretch of life's road.

We're lost.

We're weary.

And we're frightened.

So much so that all we can do is send up a flare in the form of a desperate, simplistic prayer, in the hopes that Someone will hear us and come to our rescue.

Nothing wordy or eloquent necessary here.  Four words or less will often do. Words often shouted.  Most times whispered.   Almost always accompanied by tears. 

A plead for help.

A cry for mercy.  

A prayer of abandon and surrender.

"Lord, I need You!"

Joining together with all of you for whom this simple, yet powerful prayer is lifesaving and life giving....

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wordless Wednesday -- Sunrise, Sunset

From where the sun rises to where the sun sets, the name of the LORD should be praised. ~ Psalm 113:3, God's Word Translation

Locations: Various parks throughout Hamilton Township; Brigantine Beach and bay, Flemington, Delaware River in NJ; and Sandy Cove in North East, Maryland

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Wordless Wednesday -- Clouds

“There is no one like the God of Israel.
He rides in the heavens to help you.    
    He rides on the clouds in his glory. Deuteronomy 33:26 (NIRV)

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