Monday, December 31, 2012

Year End Odds and Ends

Today is the sixth anniversary of Jeff and Penny Ingram of Olympia, Washington. I don't know them, but I heard their story on StoryCorps. Jeff has a rare form or amnesia that wipes out his entire memory when he has an episode. Jeff and Penny recorded their story so that he would always have a tangible record of their life together. You can hear the brief recording (three-and-a-half minutes) here.

* * * * * *

Here is a creative group of young people who make instruments from what they find at the dump. Amazing music on ingenious instruments!

Landfill Harmonic film teaser from Landfill Harmonic on Vimeo.

* * * * * *

The Dead Sea Scrolls are now available online. Just this past week thousands of high resolution images were posted, including even portions of Genesis and the Ten Commandments! NPR reports on it here.

* * * * * *

That's it for 2012. See you next year!

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Boat Keeper

Photo Credit

I walk down to the dock in the early morning, thinking I'll row out into the lake and watch the day wake up. But as I approach the dock I see my friend's boat is also tied to my dock. It has a certain charm and character lacking in my own boat, but I would have finished the wood differently, perhaps invested in a sturdier paddle. I'm not sure how seaworthy it is, yet it has not sunk and its floor is dry.

I see him on his dock, smiling as he waves at me. He's planning to spend the morning in the middle of the lake, fishing. I hate fishing; I'd rather take some music, a thermos of herbal tea and a novel when I row out into the lake. Two of his friends have joined him on the dock (I don't care for his taste in friends) and they are talking about the sandwiches they're going to eat and how they'll manage all the fish they are going to catch.

How can he get his boat ready for the day if it's tied up to my dock, not his, I wonder. Why did he tie it up to my dock anyway? Slowly it comes back to me -- I am the one who tied his boat to my dock. I don't fully approve of how he uses his boat, nor was I sure where he was when I saw the boat adrift on the lake. I thought I could fix it up for him. I have some ideas that might really make a difference for him. So I brought it close to me, where I could keep my eye on it and help him work out some of its quirks. But how will he fish today if his boat is tied to my dock?

I bend down and untie the rope. "The boat's all yours," I call to him. "Enjoy your day."

* * * * * * * * 

Have you got anyone in your life who is tied up to your dock that you need to untie? Let me suggest that you set them free from your expectations and opinions, so that they can live their own life and you can live yours. Wouldn't that be a great way to start the new year?

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas, Christ Has Come

Here are two videos to complete the Advent songs for this season. I hope you enjoy them, and that you have a blessed Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Dear Santa

December 21. 1959

Dear Santa,

Is there a pile of letters on top of you, yet? If so have Mrs. Santa help you.

When you stop by my house on Christmas eve if in your sack is a stamp album, some stamps from other lands, a stuffed puddle, a stuffed shaggy dog, and my neckless I got for my birthday, fixed, I would have a merry Christmas.

I wish you and Mrs. Santa Claus a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year!!

Truly yours,

Note -- I wrote this letter to Santa in 4th grade, mistakes and all. It first appeared on Three Minutes to Nine on December 21, 2009.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Yes You Can -- Quilts Beyond Borders Blesses Burundian Orphans

The youngest children of Burundian widows don't have too much that they can really call their own. Mostly what they have has been handed down to them by somebody else. But 300 youngsters whose mothers are part of Sister Connection each have a colorful quilt, made for them with love by Quilts Beyond Borders and carried into the country by the members of our team that traveled to Burundi in July.

Sister Connection's US director, Denise Patch (good name for a quilting story, don't you think), contacted our team in April. She'd been offered child-sized quilts for the kids we'd be working with; could we each carry 25 in our luggage? Well, who could refuse a request like that? Of course we would!

Nearly half of those quilts ended up at my house and I got to hold each one, examine their unique styles and colors, and marvel at the creativity and love that went into each one. I laid them across the back of the sofa and took photos of them in the early morning sunlight. I packed up boxes to send to other team members and I rolled and folded the quilts I would carry into Burundi myself. 

We arrived in Burundi and were at the Widows' Retreat with 300 women and their young children. When the announcement was made about the quilts, the mothers and children rushed to the corner of the church where they would be distributed. I made my way outside so I could photograph kids as they came out of the building carrying their quilts. Here are some of the pictures, taken by various team members.

I loved being a part of this wonderful gift to these beautiful children. But I wondered about the people who had made the quilts. So I decided to choose a quilt and follow it from its creation to the child who would receive it. Here's the story of the bug jar quilt, as told by quilter Sue Seward:
I was in a quilt group for several years with my friend Mary Jane (MJ) Morrison.... She had quite a long fight with cancer, and after she died in June, 2011, her husband Ed asked me to help sort and deal with her quilting stash/tools/machines, etc. There were four of us who took on the project of distributing her collection, which filled the basement of a rather large house. We sorted fabric, notions, projects, art supplies, book, yarn, etc. for 4 days, leaving each day with our vehicles loaded with stuff to donate various places. We donated yards and yards of fabrics to local quilt/sewing groups: a church group that makes quilts to sell, the porceeds going towards the support of a homeless shelter; a grop that makes quilts for children and donates them to the children's hospitals in Colorado; Quilts of Valor; the living skills department of the local high school...
Then we went through the Works in Progress. Ed chose several quilt tops or sets of blocks that he wanted finished for their family...The rest of the projects, and a lot of yardage for backs, mostly came to my house...MJ was a big fan of bug-jar and I-Spy quilts, so she had lots of precut blocks for those... Since last summer I have been working to create finished quilts out of the blocks MJ made. To date [June] I have finished 8 quilts that have been donated to Quilts of Valor to go to our country's service men and women. I finished and delivered 7 quilts to Quilts Beyond Borders at the International Quilt Festival in Houston in November, 2011, and 18 quilts that I sent to you in April this year for delivery to Burundi...
MJ would be very pleased to know that her quilts are making it around the world and touching so many lives. I am thrilled to be part of making that happen.
MJ and Sue's Bug-Jar Quilt

The girl who received the Bug-Jar Quilt

Do you have a passion, something that you just love to do? If you are not already doing so, can you use that passion to bless others? MJ and Sue -- just two women with a passion, teaming up with like-minded people, crazy for quilts, getting their quilts into the hands of people who will benefit from what they do for the love of it. You can use your passion to bless others. Yes you can!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Three Takes on Elizabeth

Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age. She who was said to be barren is in her sixth month. For nothing is impossible with God  (Luke 1:36-37).

When Gabriel came to the virgin Mary to tell her that she would give birth to Jesus she was stunned. "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" she asked (v. 34). Gabriel gave Mary a brief explanation of what was to happen, then followed up with the example of Elizabeth. Although there may be many more, here are three different ways we can read this.

1. "If a dried up prune like old Elizabeth is going to have a baby, certainly for you to have a baby, even though you are a virgin, is not an impossibility. God can do anything!"

2. "She who was said to be barren..." This is about timing. People called her barren because they saw no fruit from her, but God didn't see her as barren. She really wasn't; it was just a matter of God's timing. When he was ready for her to have a child, she would.

3. "She who was said to be barren..." This is a matter of perspective. We judge by what we see, and what we see is such a limited picture. How easy it is for us to make assumptions and pass judgment. We put people in boxes and say they are _____________ (whatever). By all appearances, they are that. People saw Elizabeth as barren because she was old and had never had a child. Isn't that the definition of barren, after all? But God didn't see her as barren! He saw her as upright and blameless (Luke 1:6). He saw her as an instrument of His grace, ready for whatever he had for her. Even in her barren years, she was fully accepted by God.

How can we persist in calling it as we see it when that's not how God sees it?

Lord, forgive us for our need to hold people to the way we see them. Open our eyes to see as you see, each person loved by you. Help us not to make assumptions or judgments based on our limited view. We do not know your mind or your purposes in our own lives, much less in the lives of others. Might we remember that you know people's hearts and minds, their past, their future, and their current circumstances. And you will use whoever you want in whatever way you want, whenever you want. You might even use us. Indeed, nothing is impossible with God!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Henry's Prayers

Henry Jones died last week. She could barely hear and her vision was failing. At 91, she expected to die and had for many months.

I went to visit her a few weeks ago. She was in bed, in a lot of pain, but she was alert and full of stories and questions. I had a question for her myself. "How did you get the name 'Henry?'" I said. She looked surprised that I would ask. "My mother gave it to me!" she responded. "She liked the name. My middle name is Etta."

We talked about her life, her family, her reading -- she read several books a week. We touched on politics and current events. She was pretty "with it" for a woman of her age, and savvy with the computer too.

But what she really wanted to talk about was Africa and Sister Connection. I took my laptop and showed her slides of my trip to Burundi in July. She'd never been to Africa, so the terrain, the colors, the faces of people she'd heard of meant so much to her. She asked questions I had no answer to, about the politics of the country and the geography. Her mind was alive with interest.

Henry had trouble sleeping and was awake many hours most nights. She spent those hours praying. She would pray for people in different parts of the world during the hours that they were actually awake, no matter what time zone they were in, because she was awake then, too! Of the many ministries she cared about, Sister Connection was especially close to her heart. A widow herself, she identified with the Burundian women who have lost their husbands and are struggling to survive. She sent small financial gifts when she could and usually included a note of encouragement or a scripture with each gift. But it was her fervent prayers and unflagging faith in God that had the greatest impact  on Sister Connection. Denise Patch, the US director, told the widows at the retreat in July about Henry's prayers and her faith that water and electricity was coming soon to Mt Hope, the land given to Sister Connection by the government and being developed for the ministry. Even now, the well is being dug and the electricity will soon be connected!

So I'm wondering, what happens now that Henry is gone? Who will step up to pray in Henry's place? Of course there are many, many people who pray daily for Sister Connection. (There is a monthly calendar that goes out to people who are SC's prayer partners.) But when a fervent prayer warrior passes away, what happens?

Prayer is mysterious and I can't say I have it figured out. But I believe that God welcomes our prayers, delighting in them as sweet smelling incense (Psalm 141:2 and Revelation 8:3). The Holy Spirit prompts us in our praying, so that what we pray brings honor to him. He may not answer that prayer for a long time -- I'm sure you've experienced that! -- neither does he forget it. He gathers our prayers up and answers them when the time is right.

Yet when he calls a prayer warrior home, he desires people to take up the slack. We cannot depend on Henry's past prayers for the longterm work in and through Sister Connection.

My mom told me a story the other day that I'd never heard before. About 25 years ago she had a dream. She was talking to her friend Lucille, who had just died. She and her husband Clarence were in Heaven and she told Mom, "The only difficult thing about being here is that there is no one to pray for our children." Mom told Lucille that she would be glad to do that. When she woke up she committed herself to lift up the family to the Lord each day, and, to this day, she continues to do so.

Is there some person or ministry that the Lord is inviting you to pray for on a daily basis? Sister Connection could use a few more Henrys; your family, your neighbors, your local schools, the homeless shelter in your town, or any number of people and ministries could benefit by you carrying them daily to the Father.

Henry is gone now. What will you do to take her place before God's throne?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Third Sunday of Advent

We prepare our hearts for Jesus' birth and for His road to the cross through the words of this song. O blest is He that came in God the Father's name!

Prepare the Way

Prepare the way, O Zion; ye awful deeps rise high;
Sink low ye lofty mountains, the Lord is drawing nigh;
The righteous King of glory,
Foretold in sacred story.
O blest is He that came in God the Father's name.
O Zion, He approaches, your Lord and King for aye;
Stew palms where He advances; spread garments in His way.
God's promise faileth never,
Hosanna sound forever.
O blest is He that came in God the Father's name.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Remember: He's On His Way to Set Things Right!

Yesterday not only were 20 children and 8 adults (including the shooter and his mother) killed in Newtown, Connecticut, but 22 children were attacked at their school in China by a knife-wielding man.   There is so much hurt in our world. People we know and those we only hear about are dealing with tragedies that bear down on us and would crush us. Where's the peace on earth, goodwill to men that we sing about at Christmas?

Yet it was not such a different world than ours into which the Christ child was born. Darkness was tangible, like it is now. Hope was allusive. For 400 years God had been silent, and when he fulfilled his promise of a Savior it was not what the people expected.

Take hope, my friends. This Advent season, this pre-Christmas time of preparation, remember this: he's on his way to set things right! (1 Chronicles 16:33b, The Message). Indeed, he has come, bringing life and light. We are told that the Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn't put it out! (John 1:5, The Message). Take hope, Christ has come! And he is the only one who can set things right.

I encourage you to listen to these two songs. The first is from Handel's Messiah, the opening number. It is a song of comfort and hope. The second is a prayer for God's mercy. What could be more fitting today in the face of the suffering and pain in our world?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Glass Duo -- Sugar Plum Fairy

Something else to get you into the mood for The Nutcracker!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

God Has a Surprise for You

You may have heard recently of the two boys, ages 12 and 13, who were at a community swimming pool last summer. They didn't know one another -- they lived 20 minutes apart -- but they hit it off at the pool, splashing and goofing off together. A friend, watching them play, said, "You guys fight like brothers!" Sure enough, they are brothers! The story of how they got separated and how they got back together is quite remarkable.

Some people call this meeting "chance." But it was not chance that brought them both to the pool that day. I imagine God smiling as the boys woke up that morning, in their separate homes, unaware of what the day held, and saying, "This is the day that you get to meet your brother!" This was not chance; this was one of God's surprises.

Our lives are filled with small surprises from the Lord that come when our paths cross with a former friend, or we find a library book that grabs our hearts or learn something about a person or situation that gives us greater understanding. They come in deep hued sunsets and spectacular cloud formations and light fog, hovering above the horizon or laying gently on the fields. God's surprises come in the words of a song or a scripture that seeks out a thirsty patch in our hearts, nourishing us with living water. Some surprises come as an unexpected gift from a friend. I had one of those yesterday. I'll share it with you some time, but for now I am just absorbing the beauty of the gift, this surprise from God through a friend.

When the angel Gabriel appeared to the virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38), she was "greatly troubled," and understandably so! But the angel assured her, "Mary, you have nothing to fear. God has a surprise for you" (verse 30). And what a surprise it was, for Mary and for all the world.

God is at work in our world in big ways and small ways, day in, day out, surprising us with signs of his love. I want to live my life with eyes wide open to recognize his surprises. How about you?

Monday, December 10, 2012

Tim's Stuffed Squash

Every now and then my very creative gourmet brother sends me a recipe he has "cooked up," shall I say, that is delicious and worth sharing. Here's his latest.

Tim's Stuffed Squash

1 delicata squash
2 cups cooked brown rice
1/2 yellow onion or a really big shallot
big handful of button or crimini mushrooms
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped pecans
scant 1/4 cup shredded coconut
chopped parsley to tate
salt and pepper to taste
3 tbsp Braggs Liquid Amino Acid or soy sauce

Slice the delicata squash in half lengthwise, seed it and brush the top with olive oil, then put it upside down on an aluminum lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. (Note: We substitute butternut squash, but we had to cut out some extra flesh after removing the seeds to make enough room for the stuffing mixture.)

Meanwhile, saute onion and mushroom in a little olive oil. Combine rice, onion, mushrooms, cranberries, pecans, coconut, and parsley in a bowl. Season with Braggs or soy sauce and salt and pepper to taste.

Check to be sure the squash is pretty well cooked. Scoop the rice mixture into the hole in each half. Pat with butter and bake 10-15 minutes, just to warm the stuffing all the way through.

Serves 4-6.

Thanks Tim. It was delicious!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Second Sunday of Advent

Gabriel's Message, Good Shepherd Band

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 maid," Gloria!

"For known a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee,
Thy Son shall be Emanuel,
By seers foretold
Most highly favored maid," Gloria!

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 maid. Gloria!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Memories of Christmas Past

Edith on left, in front of her mother
The following story, originally a Christmas letter to her family, was written by Edith Redman, and appeared in the November/December 1994 issue of the magazine we published, Family Scrapbook. Edith grew up next door to Tom's mom in Houghton, New York. They were lifelong friends. 

* * * * * * * * *

The first Christmas I remember, nearly sixty-five years ago, was a wondrous season for us four stair-stepped preschoolers. Our small, safe world was mostly centered around Daddy and Mama, who knew everything and could do everything.

But holidays brought Aunt Annie, Mama's youngest, schoolteacher sister. Mama had helped her through school on her teacher's wages. Now Mama was married to a struggling farmer, beset by some ogre called a mortgage, only mentioned after we kids were supposedly asleep. So Aunt Annie brought much of Christmas in her big brown suitcase.

To begin with, she had time to play with us. She played patty-cake with baby Fred, then took tow-headed, chubby Ernest, curly-headed Lisbus Anne and big sister Ede out from under foot to play "fox and geese" in the snow. That gave Mama a chance to make pies and cookies and set bread to rise, while the baby slept.Mama only had time to tell us stories Sunday afternoon, but Aunt Annie sang the songs and told the stories she'd used in her classroom, every evening.

The day before Christmas, Daddy set up the tree in one corner of the living room. Aunt Annie had helped us string popcorn. Mama brought out the box of ornaments, and we decorated the tree on Christmas Eve. We hung up our long tan stockings on a line behind the Round Oak heater, said our prayers, and were tucked into bed pretty early.

The next morning, each stocking was knobby with walnuts, some hard candy, an orange, a banana, and a real store-bought toy -- perhaps a ball on a rubber string for the baby, a top for Ernest, and dolls with china heads for us girls. The cookies and milk we had set out for Santa were gone. Instead, there was a note from Mrs. Santa warning us girls to take better car of this year's dolls. How could she have known about the cracked-off noses, the ones left out in the rain, or slung by one limp leg as a weapon in a quarrel?

We ate those delicious bananas for breakfast, taking small bites to make them last. Oddly, the three grown-ups each had one too. We watched Daddy dress the plump hen he had culled from the flock. Mama stuffed it and put it in the big, black range oven. Then she and Aunt Annie peeled squash and potatoes and turnips, chopped cabbage, cooked the cranberries that came out of the brown suitcase, whipped rich Guernsey cream for the pumpkin pies. I set the silver carefully on the white damask tablecloth.

After dinner, instead of going back out to the barns, Daddy sat down by the fire and read the real Christmas story from Luke in the big family Bible. Then we sang Away in a Manger, and other carols, while Aunt Annie pumped the wheezy old organ. Then we opened the gifts that had appeared under the tree. There was a blouse or an apron apiece for us girls with the very same daisies that had been on Mama's favorite summer house dress, and little flannel shirts from one of Daddy's shirts that had worn through the sleeves, for the boys. And there was something else for each of us -- a comb, a mirror, a box of ribbon candy from the aunt and uncle who couldn't come. Later in the week we would go in the sleigh to visit our two grandmas in Rushford.

There have been many happy holidays since, but none happier. We four had no idea that we were "poor," for we were rich in the things that mattered. Since that day, Mother and Dad conquered that mortgage, despite the depression that followed the crash of '29. We four grew up; now we are the grandmas and grandpas, the aunts and uncles, and our children or grandchildren, nieces and nephews are growing up in a vastly different world. But still we can join together in anticipating the day:
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Lessons from the Loaves and Fish

The only miracle of Jesus that is recorded in all four gospels in the feeding of the 5000. (See Matthew14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:1-15) There are several common threads in all four accounts, and some interesting differences. Let's look at them.

What the accounts have in common
The compassion of Jesus is very clear in each writer's telling of the story. The disciples have just returned from their first mission and they are full of stories for Jesus, and tired as well. So Jesus is trying to find a quiet spot to spend time with them. But the crowds, who have seen him heal and heard him teach follow Jesus. His compassion for them is great; he sees them as sheep without a shepherd (Mark) and welcomes them.

Each of the gospel writers give the same details for how Jesus goes about feeding the people. He has the crowds sit down, he takes the bread and fish, gives thanks, breaks the bread, then has the disciples distribute it. Everyone eats and is satisfied, and 12 baskets of leftovers are collected.

The differences in the accounts
In Matthew, Mark and Luke, the disciples come to Jesus late in the day and demand that he send the crowds away. Each author gives us a bit of insight into their feelings.

Matthew -- They aren't our problem. Let them fend for themselves! This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send them crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.
Mark -- They are a financial liability! When Jesus challenges the disciples to feed the crowds themselves they say that would take more than half a year's wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat? Do you detect a bit of incredulity in their voices here?
Luke -- This is a logistical nightmare! Not only did the crowds need to be fed, but they also needed lodging. Send the crowds away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here. When Jesus told them to give the people something to eat themselves, they responded with sarcasm, yeah, like we can feed 5000 people with these five loaves of bread and two fish! 
John -- Of the four gospels, John's is the only account in which the disciples do not tell Jesus to send the people away. He sees the crowds coming and asks Philip, Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat? Philip has no idea, but Andrew has already taken inventory and offers the five loaves and two fish. But how far will they go among so many? he asks.

What we can learn from this miracle
Of course the story of the feeding of the 5000 has many, many things to teach us, but here are a few insights that speak to us today.
1. We often come to Jesus with a problem, demanding he do something. And we know what it is he should do! We tell him there's a big hungry crowd in front of us (or a financial crisis or a broken relationship) and he should send them away because we don't have the resources to meet the need.
2. When we approach Jesus this way we usually feel overwhelmed, defensive, sarcastic, or any number of other strong feelings. We aren't listening for the voice of Jesus because we are busy telling him how to handle our problem.
3. We cannot meet the challenges of life on our own. Indeed, we do not have the necessary resources to respond on our own to whatever we are facing.
4. Jesus longs to initiate these conversations, to have us respond with offering him what we do have (as Andrew did) even though we realize what we have is inadequate.
5. When we have Jesus, we have enough. He fully satisfies.
6. Jesus has a plan. He asked Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do (John 6:5-6). Our problems don't catch Jesus flat-footed. He already knows what he is going to do!
7. Even beyond that, Jesus knows the whole story. John tells us that after the crowd had been fed they started talking about him being the Prophet who was to come. Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself (v 15).
8.We can trust ourselves to the One who knows the end from the beginning, who not only knows how to handle our problems but also knows our hearts. All he wants from us is to trust him and let him work out his will in our lives.

Monday, December 3, 2012

This is My Body, Broken for You

Amazing Love by Deborah Woodall

As we do on the first Sunday of each month, we celebrated Communion at church yesterday morning. A lovely Christmas tree graced the front of the worship center and the first Advent candle glowed. As Pastor Pat blessed the bread and reminded us of Jesus' words, "This is my body, broken for you," I thought about the glory of Jesus in Heaven, pre-existant with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It was that glory that he laid aside when he took the form of an unborn child, growing in the womb of a young woman. Mary carried him and sang over him. She marveled at her role in his life. When his little body was fully developed, she delivered him, nursed him, raised him. His was the body that was broken for us. His was the body that took up our sin and shame, our sickness and sorrow. Through his stripes we receive healing.

After the bread, the cup. "This is my blood, poured out for the forgiveness of sin." We're told in Leviticus 17:11 that the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for youselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life. Indeed, without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22). The blood that flowed through that child in the womb, that tiny baby, that little boy, that teenager, that young man, that despised and rejected one hung on a cross, that blood was given to pay for our sins.

Only in retrospect can we know the future of an infant. When we hold a newborn in our arms we do not imagine a stormy life or a terrible death. Such possibilities are unfathomable for one so small and innocent. But now we know that "the little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay" was born to be broken, so that he might restore our broken lives and our broken world.

From that manger hear the Lord Jesus speak to your deepest places, "This is my body, broken for you." And feed upon this truth in your heart.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

First Sunday of Advent

Long Ago Prophets Knew, Lichfield Cathedral, England

Friday, November 30, 2012

He's On His Way to Set Things Right!

As Christmas approaches, our minds go a thousand directions -- decorating, shopping, baking, parties and programs, Christmas cards (do people still do those?), favorite movies and carols, plans for Christmas day. These concerns are added to an already stunning array of things to think about -- keeping up our homes (our furnace isn't working this morning, brrr), keeping our kids fed and clothed, health, family finances, relationships, balancing schedules, kids struggling at school, how to pay for fill in the blank with whatever you're dealing with right now (let's hope it's not a new furnace), healthcare costs, violence in our neighborhoods and cities, poverty and hunger around the world, wars and natural disasters -- to name just a few of the things that occupy our minds.

On Christmas day we celebrate the Incarnation, when God became man and moved into the neighborhood (John 1:14, The Message). But that didn't just happen one day, without warning. The world was in a dreadful mess and had been for centuries. Throughout scripture we read that God promised a remedy for the world's woes and we even see Christ foretold as early as Genesis 3 when God spoke to Adam, Eve and the serpent after the Fall. 

The season of Advent calls us to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus. Into a desperate world of hurt and need, Jesus came. And today, into our desperate world, we welcome him. We are reminded of the words from 1 Chronicles 16:33b (The Message), he's on his way to set things right!

But first, Advent. Preparation.

I asked my musician friend Jerry Piger if he would suggest some Advent music I might consider using this season. Of the 25 titles he sent me, I knew only three! So I researched them and have chosen five or six wonderful songs of Advent, songs that prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ, to feature on the Sundays of Advent and on Christmas day. Most may be unfamiliar to you, as they were to me, but I found wonderful arrangements that will minister to you as you listen. 

For today, I want to share O Come, O Come Emmanuel, a more familiar hymn. As you listen, allow the words to soak deeply into your heart. Whatever is on your mind these days, be assured, he's on his way to set things right! Rejoice!

If you'd like an Advent reading guide, you might be interested in this one that features a different hymn for each of the 28 days of Advent.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dancing Slippers

Here is something that I had never given much thought to. It's a very nice piece about ballet shoes -- to get you into the mood for watching The Nutcracker this Christmas season.

New York City Ballet "Pointe Shoes" from Galen Summer on Vimeo.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sunday Drive

It was a beautiful weekend -- bright blue skies with dramatic clouds and patches of fog hanging over the hills -- and it called us out for a drive. We remembered Skylark's Hidden Cafe in Fairhaven, so we headed north for lunch after church yesterday.

It's a charming eatery, with one street entrance and the other, the hidden one, off a little plaza. The walls are covered with family pictures from the early 1900s, as if you are having lunch at your grandma's house. Our large, lovely salads (with tasty homemade dressings) filled us up as we watched the comings and goings on the plaza.

Here's what we saw as we drove to and from Fairhaven. Not bad for the end of November!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Recent Facebook Sitings and Black Friday Options

I have some pretty cool Facebook friends. Here's a sampling of things they have posted recently.

(posted by two different friends)

So much to be thankful for. Lord God, thank you for the gift of your Son and the sacrifice that was made on the cross so that each and everyone of us can have an intimate friend in You. YOU are the ultimate FRIEND. You will NEVER "unfriend" me, no matter what! You will never "unfriend" my children or anyone who puts their trust in you. I thank you for that. Help me to be the friend to others that You are to me.  (Lisa B)

We have reviewed  the original story of how the pilgrims gave thanks for surviving their first year in the New World. I was impressed that most of the children survived. I believe it was due to the sacrifice of the rest of the group. Today I am thankful for all the sacrifices that parents/grandparents/caregivers make for the kids. Every day I see that sacrificial love, and am blessed by it. The kids will survive and grow strong by this kind of love. Keep it up and don't grow weary in doing good...there will be a reward. (Lisa R)

I am so thankful for so many things that it's hard to write about. So I'll just talk about the pie, because it was the most awesome pumpkin pie I've ever had. Why? Because my daughters and I chose seeds that grew pumpkins that make great pie, planted the pumpkin seeds, fertilized the plants with coffee grounds and oyster shells, watered the plants, gathered and cured the pumpkins, scooped the goop, saved the seeds, cooked it, pureed it, added spices, put it in a shell, and baked the pie. From seed to pie, this is something for which I am profoundly thankful: that I have a relationship with my daughters that includes teaching them how to grow and forage great food and medicine, and to care for the land. Thank you, God, for this life. (Julie C)

* * * * * * * * * * 

And now for something different:

This is Black Friday, the days retailers are expecting the stores to be overrun by hordes of shoppers, kicking off the Christmas shopping season. We aren't going out today, even for the half-price socks at Fred Meyer. We'll be talking to our sons about choosing a project that we, as a family, can give that will impact others.

We learned about Sawyer Water Filters as we were browsing this Christmas Gift Giving catalog put out by International Child Care Ministries of the Free Methodist Church. Besides child sponsorship and the Busoma Project, they have various programs that are made possible through gifts of caring people. Check it out! I believe it's just what you're looking for!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sing to God, Everyone and Everything!

From The Message, here is 1 Chronicles 16:23-33. After David became king over Israel he had the Ark of the Covenant returned to Jerusalem. This passage is part of David's psalm of thanks on that occasion. It is fitting for our celebration of Thanksgiving and ends with a promise that we'll think more about during the Advent season: "He's on his way to set things right!"

Sing to God, everyone and everything!
Get out his salvation news every day!
Publish his glory among the godless nations,
his wonders to all races and religions.
And why? Because God is great -- well worth praising!
No god or goddess comes close in honor.
All the popular gods are stuff and nonsense,
but God made the cosmos!
Splendor and majesty flow out of him,
strength and joy fill his place.

Shout Bravo! to God, families of the peoples,
in awe of the Glory of the Strength: Bravo!
Shout Bravo! to his famous Name,
lift high an offering and enter his presence!
Stand resplendent in his robes of holiness!

God is serious business, take him seriously;
he's put the earth in place and it's not moving.
So let Heaven rejoice, let Earth be jubilant,
and pass the word among the nations, "God reigns!"
Let Ocean, all teeming with life, bellow,
let Field and all its creatures shake the rafters;
Then the trees in the forest will add their applause
to all who are pleased and present before God
-- he's on his way to set things right!

Copyright 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H Peterson

Monday, November 19, 2012

Picture Yourself at Yummy Noodles

The first thing I notice when I walk into Yummy Noodles and Grill in Stanwood is -- well, I can't quite decide. Is it the yellow formica top booths and tables with red and yellow chairs in the brightly lit restaurant, reminding me of my childhood? Or maybe it's the warmth from the fragrance of Asian foods wafting from behind the counter. Perhaps it's the people who sit at the tables now, chatting over their meal. Yes, I notice all of these. But what really draws me in are the hundreds of snapshots spread across most of the wall space of the shop and are even displayed on the windows and ceiling.

Running out of wall space!
They've got pictures on the ceiling too.

They have been snapping pictures of customers since the shop opened about 6 years ago.

I study the walls and find folks smiling back at me from the pictures at my table. Everyone looks happy. And who wouldn't be at a place that serves delicious food -- everything is homemade, down to the soups and sauces -- and staff that thinks of their customers as family?

Steven and Jenny

Jenny Dang's large Vietnamese family came to the US 30 years ago and settled in Seattle. Her sister Alexis found this building for lease and knew it would be the perfect place to open a noodle shop, far from the city's busyness and great number of Asian restaurants. She operated the shop herself until she had a brain aneurism a could of years ago. So Jenny stepped in to help out. She not only manages the restaurant, she also cooks and creates the sauces that live up to the shop's name, Yummy.

I asked her if the commute from Seattle is a problem. No, she doesn't mind the commute, she said. She likes the local people of Stanwood/Camano. They make the trip worth the drive.

Last week when we were there Tom got a lesson in how to eat one of their dishes -- grilled chicken vermicilli. Steven, who works the counter and serves the meals, brought Tom's order, a red square plate with noodles and grilled chicken on one side and a lovely green salad on the other. After he'd eaten, Steven stopped by to chat with him.

He was pleased that Tom had enjoyed his meal -- it means a lot to him to have people like the food. What did Tom think of the homemade fish sauce? He liked it a lot, Tom told him, and he used it on his salad.

Oh, but that isn't salad, Steven said. It is intended to be merged with the noodles and chicken and mixed all together, with the fish sauce added in to suit one's taste. I just serve it that, Steven said, because it seems to be what Americans prefer.

Steven told Tom about a trip he made to Vietnam several years ago. As he sat at a restaurant table he noticed a large number of children hovering nearby. The children's eyes were trained on the plates of the customers; if there was any food left on a plate when a customer got up to leave, the kids would swoop in and grab it. "That really broke my heart," he said, "so I invited them all in and bought them a meal, which was very inexpensive in Vietnam."

Are you on the wall at Yummy Noodles? Tom and I are. It took a couple of visits to find ourselves, but there we are, on the wall under the counter, in the second row from the bottom, smiling along with the rest of the crowd. Just a part of the family!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Yes You Can -- The Busoma Project

Malnutrition is a serious problem in the nation of Burundi. For this country that has seen tremendous devastation through years of civil conflict, food shortages are often a problem.

In 1990, with a desire to provide good nutrition to the people of Burundi, Frank Ogden, a missionary doctor at Kibuye Hospital, created a porridge that continues to give life to thousands of Burundians. The cereal's name, Busoma. is an acronym for BUrundi Soy, sOrghum, and MAize. Busoma is loaded with nutrients especially needed by children after weaning. Yet Busoma is used by children and adults alike to prevent starvation and malnutrition. (taken from Free Methodist World Missions Hotline)

One of my goals in going to Burundi this past July was to visit the factory where the Busoma is made. Frank Ogden (now retired) and his wife Carol are friends of ours and I was interested to see the Busoma being made and the feeding program and nutrition class that is held at Kibuye. As it turned out, our team spent several days at Kibuye, staying in the guest house, attending the local church, and visiting the hospital and the Busoma plant.

Each month six tons of Busoma are produced there, with most of it being distributed to Free Methodist churches around the country. The soy, sorghum and maize are purchased from growers inside Burundi, cleaned  and dried in the sun, then each grain is roasted separately. It is then mixed with a paddle in a re-purposed Maytag washer that has had the spinner removed, and finally it is milled. Next it is bagged into half-kilo packages, enough for eight servings. This happens every day, Monday through Friday.

But making and distributing the Busoma is not enough to overcome malnutrition. The hospital has instituted a nutrition and feeding clinic as well. When children are brought to the hospital for their check-ups, they are weighed. If their weight falls below the appropriate level for their age, they are enrolled in the feeding program, a weeks long class that meets either on Monday or Friday. The mother and children come on the given day for their check-up and, while the cooked Busoma cools down enough to eat, a nurse gives a teaching on nutrition. Lunch is then served and each person who has been fed is given a half-kilo bag of Busoma to take home, good for eight more meals.

The scale at the Busoma plant serves two purposes. It is used to weigh Busoma grains and it is also used as a public scale, making a small side income for the project.

There are many people involved in the production of Busoma. As the superintendent of the mission station, Fidele Niyongabo also oversees the Busoma project. (His wife Helene is the assistat administrator of Kibuye Hospital.) There are also many locals employed by the project, including those in the factory and the nurses that operate the feeding program. To each of them, to those with the vision  required to begin and maintain this project, and to those who help fund it through ICCM, let me say, "Thank you." And to those who want to do something that will help other people and find it to be more than you can do alone I say, "Yes you can! With the help of God and the people He provides, yes, you can!"

Click here if you would like more information about the Busoma project or any other outreach of International Child Care Ministries through the Free Methodist Church.

Below is a photo tour of the BUSOMA project. The Ogdens graciously shared their stories and these pictures with us when we visited them at their home recently.

Dr Frank Ogden chatting with a friend

Kibuye Hospital's sign read, in Kirundi, reads"We work with the God
who heals and who gives life." This sign, for the Busoma factory, says
"Good food for the entire family."

Unloading the grains from a recent delivery

Sorting and cleaning the grains 

Notice the wood beyond the men. It will be used to roast the grain.

Carrying the grain to the drying area

Laying out the grain to dry in the sun

Each grain is dried separately

The grains are also roasted separately

Pouring the grains into the re-purposed Maytag washer

Hand mixing the grains

The mixed grains go into the mill

Bagging up the milled grains

Measuring out .5 kilo bags of Busoma

Mixing the Busoma with water before it cooks 

Waiting for the cereal to cook (boil for 8 minutes)

Preparing to dish up the Busoma

These mothers and children have had their nutrition teaching
and are now ready a nice cup of Busoma

Time to eat!

Weighing a neighbor's grain

Dr Frank and Rev Carol Ogden with church leaders

Fidele and Helene Niyongabo