Random Musings...

Another New Year's Eve.

2009 was a mixture of "the best of times, the worst of times". I'm a better woman for having experienced the extremes. Poised to open the door to 2010, this door is quite beautiful in my imagination. It is barely cracked open, welcoming the future. It is a vintage door with peeling paint, unpretentious, and unlike any door you could find in a design catalog or on the internet or hanging on the front of any McMansion...

...something like this, but my New Year's door is surrounded by urns of the most fragrant flowers, and all this beauty hints as to what lies beyond this door - a fresh, new year. My friend Joe Ewen says, "get ready for the double portion."

Yes, and amen. Goodbye, old...hello, new!

Can't leave 2009 behind without sharing a few more images of Christmas at Our Cottage:

fragrance...great for all of the winter season! (a few slices of orange, some cinnamon sticks, some whole cloves, simmer in water. Done.)

Just a few of our cherished Christmas cards received...need more creative ideas on how to display them next year!

A gift that arrived, via post, from dear friends...

newly-weds and almost-weds, playing a board game Christmas Day...

The beginnings of our Christmas Eve snack table...(see the Red Velvet Cake? I was inordinately proud of it. From scratch, it was!)

The origins of said Red Velvet Cake...

Well. My Tennessee Volunteers have just begun their bowl game, so it is time for me to sign off. Thank you for coming along with me, on a very bumpy but very satisfying 2009 ride. I wish you good health, increased joy, some of what money can buy, and every sort of riches money cannot buy in your 2010.

Let's venture forth and make the very, very most of it, shall we?

I Long to Know My Need More Fully!

"Grace substitutes a full, childlike and delighted acceptance of our need, a joy in total dependence. We become 'jolly beggars'."

C.S. Lewis

...he said, and I quote...

Nothing we have heard at Harvest Church over the course of the entire year of 2009 is new. But a few felt it was somehow new - that Tim made it up himself (accessing that massive stash of sunglasses and Kool-Aid he keeps in his office). This reveals only the fact that the pure gospel has been so little preached in our generation. Most of us have grown up on a spiritual diet of topical this, that, and the other thing; all of it good, none of it the best. And it shows.

Not a bit of the controversy we've experienced is new, either. John Wesley, a die hard proponent of methodical good works and "Christian perfection" (and much of whose thoughts and writing I respect and enjoy) was regarded by many a solid, well educated man of God as being unbalanced and uninformed. "Jolly beggar", Wesley was not. Wesley "scurrilously" (to use an exact word from an original source document - a letter to Wesley himself from a man whom Wesley misrepresented) misunderstood and misrepresented the doctrines of Calvanism and grace. Wesley ended up parting company with several very good men who loved him.


The saddest thing is that I can prove to you that Wesley himself was confused, and at times deeply contradicted himself. He owns up to what he himself calls a "conversion" which took place after years of his own human effort to serve Christ. The passion and peace that passes human understanding of a few Moravians stole his heart, and brought him to a better understanding of the true Christian foundation of faith. Wesley in his own words often reveals mistaken ideas of Christian "perfection". Yet he longed, himself, to be what C.S. Lewis later called "...a jolly beggar".
Nevertheless, let no one diminish Wesley's remarkable contribution to the faith! Simply do not read his writing until you have had a firm foundation of the gospel of Christ laid in your life, and you will gain much from him.

I've known these things for years and years - it is to my regret that I didn't teach them sooner. (Yeah...a true disciple takes responsibility for her own actions, or lack thereof.)

Here are a couple of quotes from one of Wesley's contemporaries (and a man who himself had foibles and faults. Hmmmmm. What do you make of that??) ~

"I will venture to assert that not one grain of Arminianism ever attended a saint [with him] into heaven... They may be compared to Paul, when he went from Jerusalem to Damascus, and the grace of God struck him down: he fell a free-willer; but he rose a free-gracer."

"The Pelagian hopes to get to heaven by a moral life and a good use of his natural powers. The Arminian by a jumble of grace and free-will, humus works, and the merits of Christ. The Deist by an interested observance of the social virtues. Thus merit-mongers, of every denomination, agree in making any thing the basis of their hope, rather than that foundation which God's own hand hath laid in Zion. But what saith Scripture? It avers, again and again, that Jesus alone is our hope: to the exclusion of all others, and to the utter annihilation of human deservings."

- Augustus Montague Toplady

Anyone who would part company with a friend, with a brother or sister in Christ, calling them a heretic or a cult or anything long those lines, over these same old issues that Wesley, Toplady, Whitfield, and others argued over...well, that person has not been well taught in church history. The one who does not know history is doomed to repeat its mistakes. It need never be so.

"Grace Always Embraces..."

I truly want to share with you today from the Precious Pen of Ann Voskamp, over at "a holy experience" (see link to the left)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009
When You Can't Figure Out What the Answer Should Be

Snow falls outside the window, whispers.

I lie on her bed, listening to white. In the grey, night changes into a sweater of day and branches of the bare lilac slips on lace.

She cups into me. She's listening too. Her and I, we often lie together in the early and plan.

"Mmmmm..." I murmur into her nest of curls.

"Mama... today... could I..." she turns and those eyelashes, gold whispers, brush my cheek. Her hands embrace my face and her breath falls warm, desperate.

"Oh, I just know..." Her eyes, dark stars, entreat. "I just know you are going to say No."

In her eyes, I can see mine and I am known for no.

No, you can't and no, that's not a good idea and no, put that away. For no, we aren't going and no, let's not and no, not now. (Oh, sweet child... and to think when they first laid you in my arms, you were all my yeses!)

She can't know of the all the other ones I only speak to myself, about myself, for myself. No, you can't be that -- no, you can't do that -- no good, no chance, no hope. (Oh, to be gentle with self. Grace always embraces...)

Or the ones I try to veil, the ones I shamefully stomp at God? No, I don't want this! No, I'm not doing that! No, don't change this, no, leave that alone, no, don't muck this up, no, no, no! (Oh, but You said yes to me before time began, yes to me in Christ with the arms nailed wide...)

What we speak to others, is what we speak to ourselves, is what we speak to God.

I have wrecked whole decades with that two letter "no" that falls from the end of my tongue, steady drip of a faulty tap. With two-letters of the heavy iron, I've crushed child-dreams... my dreams... God-dreams. What that one word hasn't broken. We walk wounded and I can't think how God bears the scars.

True, it's the mantra of national campaigns, "Just say No." It's what is suggested you learn to say in an effort to simplify your life in the face of constant demands on time: "Learn to say No." Well and good.

But I look straight into her, mirroring straight into me, and I know this is the year: I am done with "no".

The Babe in the manger's but a few days old, He who gave Himself His own name, for He knew, He knew: Emmanuel, "God with Us." The Babe has a name, name that breathes the wonder-hope. But the new year about to birth, it still needs christening.

With the palm of her hand resting on my cheek, it comes to me, what I'll name my new year:

This is the year of Yes.

When 2009 came swaddled in January, I had looked upon it and it named itself like a child often does: The year named itself Communion. My hours, my days, my heart, they needed not more things, more stuff, more consumption. I needed communion. After 365 days, I yearn for more -- not more consumption, but more communion.

And Yes is my 2010 answer to His invitation to come into Communion.

Yes, as in:

"Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." Luke 10:21

"Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." John 21:16

"For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ." 2 Corinthians 1:20

Yes, let this moment be just as You intend it! Yes, Your will be done not mine! Yes -- You propose, ask for my life and an eternity to love-- and I say Yes!

This is the year of yes, to look in the mirror and say, "Yes, He made you this way and it is very good! Yes, you can try! Yes, be creative! Yes, laugh and yes, give it a whirl, and yes, it's really okay, don't be afraid!"

This is the year of yes, to kneel down and peer into eager faces and say, "Yes, you can, yes, that's an ingenious idea, yes, make that, yes, yes, yes!"

Does No ever really need to be said? Isn't there always something else to say yes to?

Yes, honor, yes, love God with your whole heart, yes, submit to one another, yes, say YES to Love and Christ and Grace, and Now and YES!

Every commanded 'shalt not' ultimately asks us say Yes to God.

Could I try?

I don't tuck a stray curl behind her ear. I hold it. I hold a whisp of curl and she peers into me and I laugh and we rub noses.

Snow falls and I whisper with winter and the good gifts coming down from Father, "Yes! I say Yes!"

She squeezes my face tight. "Really, Mama?"

"Yes, we will find something to say yes to!"

She giggles glee.

We slip out of bed and into a fresh new year.

Into the year of Yes.

Transitional Decorating...

I said I'd post pictures. I got our Christmas decorations put away, and dragged some winter branches home from the house of a neighbor who had to trim back a damaged dogwood tree. I haven't cut paper snowflakes, but I did find some pretty snowflakes half price (50 cents for four of them!), to hang from these beautiful bare branches ~

I am in love with mercury glass lately. I found some mercury glass birds for two dollars each ~

(no, I don't iron my tablecloths. ::sigh:: I should.)

And some mercury glass candles for two dollars each (price tags still on them. I was so excited to share these with you, I didn't take time to take the tags off!) ~

(That's an amaryllis blooming there, in the middle, and a mosiac glass maple leaf tray at the far end...)
This should take me through January and February. I so heart seasonal decorating!

My Reality...

But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.

1 Thessalonians 2:4

C.H. Spurgeon

He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing of the wood-pigeons in the forest, the song of birds in the woods, the rippling of rills among the rushes, and the sighing of the wind among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his soul grows heavy. A day's breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours ramble in the beech woods' umbrageous calm, would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive. A mouthful of sea air, or a stiff walk in the wind's face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best.

Now That Christmas Is Over...

Time to plan a wedding, friends. The vibe is kinda vintage, kinda casual, but not completely casual...and done on a small budget. Two weddings in one year...well, enough said. We are trusting God for provision.

We pulled off Hannah's wedding on an equally small budget, and it turned out lovely. So we are undaunted by it all, and I now must move instantly into wedding mode.

(Oh, I will still enthuse about grace and church life and theology and recipes - and thank you for putting up with a blog that runs the whole gamut...even encouraging me to keep writing. You say you come here to be encouraged and inspired and entertained. My prayer is that God gifts me more and more and more to do exactly those three things! Someone let me know last week that they visit my blog each day, hoping to find something new, and are disappointed when I haven't posted yet. That is a high, high compliment, one that I do not take lightly. I shall do my best for my blog friends, new and old!)

Please, please I beg you...if you have any simple, beautiful wedding ideas, things that can be done for little money and big style, email me! I am so open! Any websites, any blogs, pictures, tips, any anything. That is how my creative soul works. I gather and gather and gather inspiration, and then condense it and stew on it, and out comes something hopefully new and fresh and creative.

Here are Sarah's and my inspirations so far (keep in mind these are our visual inspirations, not "the plan"...)

We love the baby's breath!


more baby's breath...

vintage vibe...

outside, casual vibe

barn vibe...(our reception location looks almost exactly like this, only even better, with gorgeous post and beam construction. It is a dream-place!)

Please pray for us, and again, we encourage your ideas, tips, whatever. If you run across pictures that veritably ooze classy- vintage- wedding, send them on!

Let the games begin...

God Rest Ye Merry

(Because of the wonderful response I got on this post last year, I am reposting it, one year later...oh my, it was verrrry prophetic. Looking back over the past year, I can easily see that God knew what battles were ahead of us, and He put His word, His two edged sword in our hand. Merry Christmas to my family, and to all my faithful friends!)

I've always wanted to greet people I care about in this way at Christmas time: "God rest ye merry, my friend."

For many years, I never understood that old carol, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen". It originates all the way back to the middle ages, and was written in old English. In those days, "merry" didn't mean "happy" as it does now. In those days, "merry" meant "mighty". A great and powerful king was a "merry" king, and a great and terrible army was a "merry" army.

"Rest" didn't mean to put your feet up, nor did it mean that you took a nap. "Rest" meant, in old English, "to keep in a continual state of".

"God keep you in a continual state of might and strength, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day, to save us all from satan's power when we had gone astray.

Oh, tidings of comfort and joy! Comfort and joy! Oh tidings of comfort and joy!"

This Christmas, I've been smitten over and over with the simple statement of a great heavenly host. There...filling the heavens...Jehovah Sabaoth, Lord of the Hosts, sent His great host to break centuries and centuries of silence between God and men. God could have commissioned them to say anything. These ministers of His, this great, innumerable host, are as flames of fire, carrying out His Word, down to the smallest detail. They've declared war before, down throughout human history - lots of times.

Would this be that sort of message?

God could have instructed His hosts to give only the facts: "Messiah is here."

He could have sent a message of judgement.

God dropped a bomb, to be sure. He dropped a bomb that would forever make that field in Bethlehem the greatest, most utterly meaningful, most famous "ground zero" of all time. But it was an explosion of joy.

The Grace Message was finally detonated.

A blast of mercy, engulfing the planet. Into the black of the night, into the darkness of our human spirit, came the bright light of Good News. It was tidings of comfort and joy. Jehovah Sabaoth utilized His great host, He sent the mightiest, "merriest" troops in the universe to tell us, "YEAY!" and to promptly throw a party amongst the stars, in full view of a few shepherds.

"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, Peace....Goodwill....to men."



Let it sink in. Let those two words be the good news they were meant to be. Your very own tidings of comfort and joy.

Merry Christmas, dear ones. God rest ye merry...

There is No Place Like Home...

I'm home on Christmas eve, and I'm glad all the way into the marrow of my bones. I'm home...my own home...where I can bake cookies in my own oven, whip up a batch of mashed potatoes on my own stove top, and listen to my "Scottish Christmas" CD.

The designer Coco Chanel, who owned enough houses and had enough of this world's wealth to know, once said about her favorite house, "It isn't the house...it's the life I live there."

I'm no longer impressed with grand houses. I used to be - not unhealthily, mind you - but impressed nonetheless. And I can still appreciate a beautiful Arts and Crafts bungalow, or French chateau-style architecture, or a rustic log cabin. But I have learned, up close and personal, that houses really do mean very little. It is the life lived inside the house, by the people in residence there, that makes the cold, attractive but inanimate piece of architecture a warm and welcoming haven...or a place where warmth might have been the goal, but it is rarely really felt.

As my blog header proudly declares, I live in suburbia, in a declining middle class neighborhood. So it isn't the house....it is the life I live here. I live soulfully and creatively, lovingly and yes, even artistically - all inside the walls of an unremarkable 60's rancher. I have personally shared the gospel with every single neighbor on my street, and even two houses on the street behind me, and even a street or two over, I can show you the homes of people whose lives I've been enabled to bless.

The sounds and smells and sights of Christmas fill this home to bursting. I'm sure there are a few grand and huge and beautiful homes, where the lives of the people living in them fill it with purposeful and artistic living, warmth and joy, perhaps even exceeding my own. But there probably aren't very many. A great deal of those kinds of houses are image props - beautiful boxes that must be artificially filled with stuff that reflects the sort of lifestyle that the owners want to live, but don't actually live.

And there are small houses, in declining middle class neighborhoods, in which joy cannot be found, where the family fabric is shredded, and warmth isn't even attempted.

See, it isn't the house, it's the life you live in it.

I'm home on Christmas eve, and I'm happy to the marrow of my bones. The life I live in this house is built on the foundation of grace - there is no other foundation to lay than that which has been laid, which is Jesus Christ. And I have been very careful how I've built upon that foundation. I've made the tough choices that tend towards abundant life. Therefore, this home will be filled, throughout the day, with family and friends, just like every other day. They will all come and go and partake of the peace and loud laughter that fills these walls. Maybe someday I'll also be able to offer them all a hot drink inside a home that is bigger, with beautiful and far more interesting design - but it won't be the house that touches their heart. It will be the life I live inside the house.

I'm happy. To the marrow of my bones. That is what makes this home a haven.

Winter Solstice

As of this week, the light will be ever increasing. Tucked away in the cold of the first day of winter, we find the promise of spring! I'm no pantheist or wiccan - I am a believer in the good news of Jesus Christ, but every year, I celebrate the winter solstice - that shortest, darkest day of the year. It comes on December 21st, day before yesterday. It is the day when my part of the world silently changes from becoming dark earlier and earlier, to dark coming later and later...the sun setting later and later...a few more moments of light each day. I know the science behind it all, but to me it still is such a small miracle.

"And heaven, and heaven and nature sing!"

On the day of winter solstice, I feed the birds. It is a serene, centering ritual I've enjoyed for years. My thoughts linger over the love of a God who is aware of the sparrow. The birds need food in winter, and my soul needs nourishment, too. By His hand we all are fed. I quietly, in my own heart, think of the promise of spring and the faithfulness of a God who said, "While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease." (Gen. 8:22)

Winter. The season of light (yes! of light!) and bare, beautiful, sculptural branches. I want to bring these concepts into my home, after Christmas, to decorate a few corners and table tops temporarily. I will add touches of light and bare branches here and there. The ideas are still forming...ways to decorate with light itself, when the Christmas twinkle lights come down. I enjoy a home that celebrates the seasons.

I'll take pictures and blog them for you, once I figure this out and execute it. Any ideas? Please email me with them! I'm sure whatever I come up with, it will be beyond simple to do - because I don't do complicated or ostentatious.

Let us love this winter. We might not get to experience another one. Enjoy this one as though it were your first...or your last. There is no such thing as an ordinary season or an ordinary day.

Christmas With Our College-Career Small Group

Tim and I shared a special moment this evening. Our daughter and future son-in-love hosted the college-career small group that typically meets at our house. Sarah still lives with us at home, since her wedding isn't until March. But her fiancee Jonathan rents a little house in town, and Sarah went over there today to help him get ready for small group. It is the first time I've seen the house since they've moved their new furniture in, and got it all painted and decorated...

...it was like walking into an art gallery. Jonathan's beautiful paintings were everywhere. I have to say - the wall colors were the perfect "foil" for his art. (Good job, Sarah!)

But it was so much more than that. Tonight, Tim and I saw the results of some of our labor, as this group of young people, almost twenty of them, worshipped and shared their hearts. We're going through the Truth Project curriculum, but for tonight, we set it aside in favor of celebrating Christmas together. It was Jonathan and Sarah's very first time hosting any kind of small group, yet it was as though they'd been practicing hospitality together forever. The fireplace...the candles...the food (simple but good)...the way they directed the flow of the evening's activities without being intrusive...

I have to say, it is beyond a pleasure to oversee this small group. The couple who previously were in charge of our college-career group resigned without securing a replacement for themselves this past year, just sort of handing it all back to us. Tim and I gladly took it back over. It was bumpy there for awhile, as we prayed our way through, and added new faces to the mix. This group is absolutely flourishing now - it was languishing before we took it back. I almost feel guilty, as though I am scooping up this massive blessing - sort of like when someone else runs into difficulty and has to sell their home for a loss...if I were the buyer, I might struggle with guilt over capitalizing on such a miraculous deal.

This is how I feel! The previous leaders' loss is Tim's gain and my gain. We love this small group, and they love us. They are totally refreshing, totally real, and completely cool and utterly loveable.

Our future son-in-love Jonathan is facilitating the Truth Project, and is doing an amazing job. After tonight, I can already see that the gift of hospitality has indeed been passed on to the next generation.

Good times...good times.

Come On In!

(the wreath I made...I'm so proud!)

Some of you have emailed me and "Facebooked" me, wanting to see a few more pictures of our home. (Thank you for all the sweet notes, by the way!)

So come on in, I have the best hot drink ready for you - here's the recipe:

a 46 oz. bottle of pineapple juice
a can of jelled cranberry sauce
cinnamon sticks

Put the jelled cranberries in a blender and hit them a few times, just to "liquify" them. This will make it easier on you. Then pour it into a 2 quart saucepan on the stove, with the whole bottle of pineapple juice in it. Stir it all in, and steep it with the cloves and cinnamon. Strain before serving. So good!

Come for a tour around our tiny "Ceiligh Cottage"

The fireplace in my bedroom - and where Bocelli and Grant live.

This kitchen sees a lot of action - a busy, busy place.
The diningroom...

A wreath on each bedroom door...

My bedroom - red berry swags and kissing ball are up. We're all ready for Christmas!

Well, we are "T minus 7 days and counting". Rain is turning to snow where I am - hope your evening is well spent, my friends. Enjoy this time of the year...

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas!

Batten down the hatches, east Tennessee, we are fixin' to get us some weather! How do I know? Without the forecast, I can tell.

Did you know that juncos feed voraciously when there is snow coming? They do. Juncos are little dark, charcoal grey birds, with light bellies and light beaks. My back yard is full of them this afternoon. I tried to take pictures, but you can't see these dark birds amongst all the fallen leaves - but I did happen to snatch a picture of a little guy who flew to my fence ~

Can you see him, there in the upper right hand corner? He is one of about a dozen that have been feeding in my yard today - juncos are ground feeders, and these guys are preparing for something...they are scarfing up every last bit of seed that falls from the feeders above.
I say "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow." I'm ready. The pantry is stocked, my shopping is done, I even have only one gift left to wrap....no, two. But that's it. Cookies are made, and I have all I need to make more. Twinkle lights are on, music is playing, that steady sound of rain on the roof, and here I am, warm and dry with sounds of spring, as the canary and pocket parrot compete as to who can sing the loudest. Along with all of Knoxville, I raided the grocery store for milk and bread...and I have a small stack of Christmas movies to watch. And a stash of great magazines to peruse. And a husband to snuggle, once he finally makes it home. I also have a message to prepare for Sunday, but that is supposed to be a surprise.
::she says, smiling::
The juncos are telling me that all this rain is about to change to snow. Let's see if they are right.

Christmas Dreams

I found this piece of paper the other day, and it brought back my own memories - of practicing writing what would soon be my "new name" over and over and over. My Sarah Atchley will soon be Sarah Howe.

Last Christmas, it was Hannah who was engaged to be married. One year later, it is Sarah who will be leaving us very soon - engaged to be married in March. We have no more daughters to give away after this.

It lends a sweet urgency to Christmastime for me. Again (like last year) I've decorated a little earlier than usual. Again, in sudden unexpected moments, the poignancy overwhelms my heart. Next Christmas, there will be no daughters asleep in their beds in this house on Christmas morning.

But it is good....so good. Because these two new sons of mine are so good, so Godly, so fit to love and lead my daughters.

I've dreamed of all this, in Christmases past. I would hear some of the sweet, romantic holiday songs, like "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve", and "Baby, It's Cold Outside", and I would hold my Tim's hand, we'd sing together, kiss each other, and I knew with all my heart that I wanted this for my daughters. I wanted them to be loved and wanted by a man who was handsome and accomplished and strong in the Lord. I wanted them to share kisses by twinklelight with the one Someone Special...back then, years and years ago, it all seemed so remote and far away. I wondered who my "other sons" would be.

Tonight, I know. I know. Amazing!! What was once a misty, dream-like mystery to me twenty years ago...ten years ago...two years ago...has now materialized. My dreams for my daughters have come true. There is someone wonderful and Godly to sing a line or two of "Baby It's Cold Outside" to my gorgeous girls, and each couple is now making the sorts of Christmas memories that only lovers, and future lovers, can make.

This is my Christmas gift ~ two new sons, strong and good, who love my daughters selflessly. The way my daughters' mother has been loved.

Spurgeon Preached It Too...

God looked on Christ as if Christ had been sin; not as if He had taken up the sins of His people, or as if they were laid on Him, though that were true, but as if He Himself had positively been that noxious—that God-hating—that soul-damning thing, called sin. When the Judge of all the earth said, ‘Where is Sin?’ Christ presented himself…what a grim picture that is, to conceive of sin gathered up into one mass - murder, lust and stealing, and adultery - and the Father looked on Christ as if He were that mass of sin. He was not sin, but the Father looked on upon Him as made sin for us. Christ stands in our place, assumes our guilt, takes on our iniquity and God treats Him as if He had been sin…How can any punishment fall on that man who ceases to possess sin, because his sin was cast upon Christ and Christ has suffered in his place? Oh, glorious triumph of faith to be able to say, whenever I feel the guilt of sin, whenever conscience pricks me, ‘Yes, it is true but my Lord is answerable for it all, for He has taken it all upon Himself and suffered in my place.”
Charles Spurgeon, The King’s Highway

5 Ways to Enjoy the Simplicity of the Season

Typically the holidays bug me. The crude commercialization. The old Christmas carols, ruined by pretty-boy bands. The extra work combined with the shortened energy levels that come with less daylight. I have, every year, always found ways to love Christmas, so I'm not a "bah-humbug" in any strict sense of the word.

But this year, so far, I've not encountered the slightest negativity inside. After a great deal of amazed pondering, I offer you a few thoughts - humble, not at all earth-shaking, and maybe not even blog-worthy, but nevertheless...

1. Celebrate your way. In recent years, I had begun allowing "others" to dictate the season to me (and much of my time all year 'round, in fact), in the sense that if they invited me over, I felt obligated to accept for various reasons - to help them through a time of transition, to cheer them up, to just have fun, to assist in this or that, to prevent them from having to be alone. This translated into me always "going", and cutting back on what I love - which is having people in my home, spending time with my family. Over months and even years, I didn't realize how this was suffocating me. Out of love, out of an honorable motive, I was allowing myself to be squeezed and molded into someone else's idea of what makes for fellowship. This Christmas, I have spent it exactly how I want to spend it...in my own home, for heaven's sake! Filling my home with people and things and activities I love. No apologies. I've had a stern talk with myself. I said, "Self, never again will you take what makes your own heart sing, and put it on a shelf in a misguided effort to help someone else's heart sing. They must find their own song, and they must learn to sing it."

2. Get outside. "....and heaven and nature sing..." remember the old carol? Creation is God's means of soothing the human heart. Don't let the cold weather prevent you from getting outside, filling your bird feeders, taking a walk, surveying your winter landscape....just breathing in the chill air, appreciating the change in season. Embrace it.

3. Make something. Pick just one or three projects you've always wanted to try (but never had time, because you were too busy being somewhere else all the time) and block out an afternoon or two and just do it. Arts and crafts are vastly underrated for their therapeutic benefits. So far this season, I've made a real-green wreath, all sorts of evergreen arrangements, cookies and cakes, cloved some oranges, and I am going to cut out a bunch of paper snowflakes, and hang them from little bare branches, as a winter arrangement I'll keep in my house until March.

4. Read what inspires you. Self explanatory.

5. Selah. (in Hebrew, it means "pause and deeply consider"). Selah over what God is saying to your heart this season. Mull over the good news of grace. Ponder "peace on earth, and goodwill to men". Your God is in a good mood, friends, His anger was completely spent at the cross. Christ took the penalty and punishment for you, and for your children. This is crazy-good news. Reason to rejoice. Those swaddling clothes wrapped the baby Christ, He submitted to them, and then they were removed once and for all in the tomb, as the Risen Christ came out of it victorious...for you.

Trust me, this gets dangerous when you begin to take the truth of it and apply it personally. Everyone is comfortable with the doctrine of grace, so long as it stays on the pages of the Bible, where it can't mess with their actual beliefs, where it can't challenge their self sufficiency.

But Christ is all about incarnation. Those who preach the gospel must be incarnational about the truth of it. Let it invade.

These thoughts have totally transformed my experience of Advent this year. Oh, my soul waits for Him, and in His word I do hope!

My Guy...

My guy's been in Florida all week long. He is driving home to me, even as I type. I've missed him so! Love this picture of him, taken just as he was about to officiate a wedding. He's the best - he's my best friend and I've never changed my tune on that song - we've always been best friends, and I have never pretended otherwise.

And you know what they say about "the best of friends"...

...it's true.


Below my own thoughts here, is a piece written by Christine Wyrtzen, of Daughters of Promise.

Believe it or not, there are those who actually feel a sense of pleasure at the idea of punishing someone with whom they are offended. Oh, they would never call it "punishment" - they would call it "standing for what they believe is right."

I have wondered at this, sometimes. I have asked myself, "How can this be?"

Well, Mrs. Wyrtzen has nailed it for me, I think. It's a feeling of high. The temporary rush, the feeling of power that the punisher's sophisticated version of vindication brings them causes them to believe they are in perfect control as they rachet up what they imagine to be the appropriate punishment. (Er - I mean "just consequences".) I have actually observed a weird sense of satisfaction on the face of this kind of person, as offspring, sibling, friend or parent emotionally reaches their limit, under the pressure of a cold, calm and precise punishment, and reacts to it.

This temporary and strange pleasure, each and every time they experience the sense, numbs their conscience yet further. The self deception gets stronger and stronger. The punishments they dole out become increasingly dramatic until they either get their way, or completely separate themselves from others, send them away, drive them away, or otherwise destroy the relationship permanently - and feel justified in doing so. They will wait months and even years, and suddenly find an opportunity to feel the pleasure of punishment - and they will act on it.

All the while, they create a sense of guilt in the person they are punishing...it somehow has to be the punish-ee's fault, always. The punish-ers will expect everyone else to act like nothing has changed. They will say that they mean no harm. Well, just because they say it, doesn't make it so. To them, their choice to continue to punish seems educated, controlled, superior, and right. In reality, it is as craving and base a choice as any drug-junkie makes, only they are control-junkies. They cannot see that their heart is as fat as grease - engorged in the satisfaction of provoking all the stupid people in their lives.

Please, Lord, let me never get a fraction of a moment of pleasure from hurting someone else, whether I imagine they deserve consequences or not. Make me miserable, in Your great mercy, so that my heart does not fatten in satisfaction.

Hearts like that eventually stop beating altogether. That thought fills me with compassion for those addicted to punishing others. There is no way they are innately happy people - they only know their small version of happiness, and they truly believe what they know is all there is to know.

Kudos to Christine Wyrtzen, Daughters of Promise (http://www.daughtersofpromise.org/), for this well-put, succinct teaching. It gives a much needed perspective!


The insolent smear me with lies; their heart is unfeeling like fat.

Psalm 119: 69a, 70a

The effect is given before the cause. Behavior ~ concocting a series of lies about another person for personal payoff. Cause ~ their heart has been fattened by pleasure and has, over time, ceased to feel remorse over their sin.

A rebellious child acts out and others give him what he wants. He sets this pattern for himself for a lifetime. He wears personal power recklessly. He survives by acting in whatever ways will meet his needs. The pleasure he feels becomes his drug of choice; so much so that he ceases to regret the acts he committed in order to ultimately feel good. There is no remorse.

We may have asked the question, "How could this person do this to me and not even feel badly that they hurt me?" This scripture is enlightening and answers the question. The pleasure they got by sinning against you numbed their conscience.

Probably every one of us have been hurt deeply by someone who never offered an apology. They saw our tears, heard our pain expressed, but shrugged their shoulders. We just couldn't understand such coldness of heart. God is our instructor today. An unfeeling heart develops over time, never overnight. It belongs to the person who has been fattened by the pleasures of his choices, even choices that caused pain to someone he claims to love.

Only God can transform the heart of a sinner. Only God can comfort the victims.
Jesus, you knew the hearts of men. You were not deceived. Teach me to look beyond their behavior to the spiritual cause. I need to pray for others' spiritual disease instead of just asking you to stop their behavior. Spirit, show me how to pray. Amen

May This Table Be Blessed...

I'm bustin' to show ya'll my early Christmas present, all "dressed" in ivory and red ~

I have wanted a round, oak table for years. But it had to be the perfect one...and so I waited...

Very Arts and Crafts-ey, geometric lines, substantial, well made...

Gorgeous, chunky (for lack of a better word) with NO "claw feet", NO scroll work, clean and simple...and the perfect size.

The family table has always had huge symbolism for me. Our table has always been a happy and hallowed thing. My table has seen lack - dinners of beans and cornbread - and it has seen plenty - surf and turf with all the best to go with it. But my favorite meals are the countless in-between repasts...all the ones where, to be honest, I don't remember what I made, but I remember the friends, the family, and the joy.

A new table is a big deal for me. It had to be small enough to be inviting for only two - please Lord, never let it be that Tim and I are relegated to sitting, only the two of us, at some elongated affair, I don't care how beautiful a specimen it is. One day it will be "just us", and it has to feel right when it is. It had to be big enough to seat eight at a squeeze (more with a center leaf added)...or just two, without feeling like, "Gee, aren't we missing about ten more people?" . It had to be old, because antique furniture with clean lines makes me happy. And it had to be round, because round tables are best for conversation.

We are all about the conversation.

None of this "the most important people at the head and foot of the table, all others seated in the order of their significance" for guests in the Atchley household. Nah. A round table is an equalizer, and you don't have to turn your head very far to look every person sitting there in the eye and really hear what they are saying.

The moment I laid eyes on this table, I knew it was the one.

Oddly, it is a whole new concept, decorating a round table. I'll be spending some happy moments getting the hang of it, this Christmastime. Please join me in a table blessing - this piece is symbolic of the new season of life Tim and I find ourselves in - a place where the number seated at this table can and will expand or subtract with startling abruptness, and on any given day.

May it see many years of pure joy, whether serving many or few.