Good Friends….medicine for the sojourn

They roll in, these dear ones in a white van my friend calls the marshrutka, arms laden with gifts and Christmas cheer. These “Ruth and Naomi” friends who have journeyed deep waters with us, know our story well with it’s failures and successes,  still love us anyways.  We share food and culture, gifts and games and history made with friends becomes sacred and holy a gift in and of itself.  And we laugh. Those deep belly roll on the floor guffaws that spell relief, hope.  We chuckle at stories, mistakes, things we said…or didn’t say;  giggle over breakfast brunch, late afternoon lunches during too late evenings and somehow in the candlelight and twinkling tree’s gleam I feel the grey from the year, the grief spilling, melt like ice thawing on a warm spring day. Strange how one can forget what it feels to delight in the everyday, burdens choking joy blooming underneath. The gift is given, one not expected, one not even dreamed of and it is just right, for it is medicine for the heart. And I pray that I will be the gift in return, the friend who brings cheer, who knows the time to cry and the time to laugh and embraces the journey to the finish. Who goes the distance, is willing to suffer alongside no matter how long, to wait for test results and for hearts to change and for the old to be made into the new.  Who expects less and prays for more, who longs to serve rather than be served and who understands that giving is better than receiving.

I flip the calendar to the new year.  Medical appointments looming, deadlines lurking and my heart skips a beat for joy has won in the end, and this weary woman feels strength returning to the soul.

~A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength. Proverbs 17:22~

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The Gift Rings On…

boun·ti·ful

large in quantity; abundant.

This magnanimous, bountiful love laid low, unsparing, unselfish, giving all is here.  And in the winter grey and dim, hope lights the heart for birds are singing spring is coming! Resurrection arrives and redemption appears.  Immanuel, the Holy One is born.  And in the dark, unseen, something inside is being reborn, renewed.

Fire lit, cups warm, cookies brimming and then this… dulcimer notes lilting through the air! This Ukrainian carol “Shchedryk” now known as “Carol of the Bells” filling the room, filling hearts. She announces it, this kindred friend traveling the miles to be near, how this song sung high and low world wide is from the place she calls home. And we unearth the story behind the hymn never knowing it’s original version is about lavish blessings greeting the year and I think of the greatest gift given and how easy it is to forget after all the presents are opened. How is it that I cease to remember so quickly when all I have, all I am, all I will ever be only comes from the source of Life, Joy, Peace? I pause this heart bursting with bells ringing OUR SAVIOR HAS COME!

The King is Here!

advent wreath

In the hustle and bustle, the maddening mayhem, the crisis of last minute lists, pause the soul to rest for the king is here! He’s come, this babe in a feeding trough whispering peace be still to every heart journeying near.  Weary? Downcast? All out of hope? Come to Bethlehem.  There is peace and joy, hope and this Christmas hymn sung through the ages lives on:

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low, who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow, look now! for glad and golden hours come swiftly on the wing. O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing!

Our King has come, not as one strong and mighty, but as a frail and fragile infant. He knows, He understands exactly where you are friend.  He has been there and the God who set the stars in space, spoke into existence light and living things becomes flesh for us. Bask in this gift.  We are loved, infinitely loved beyond what we can ask or think.  Believe in the One who saves, who offers His life for you and live, live in the Love sent so long ago.

Through Deep Waters

I wake to a waning full moon, dawn stealing the sky.  In all this awakening beauty the presence of I AM is whispered.  It would take a lion heart of courage to face the day with it’s unexpected spins and turns that whirl one startled and confused.  And then there’s Christmas and gifts, stockings to fill, cookies to finish and this heart of mine is faint from futile attempts to cross the list clean. Someone please tell me to breathe.

AND there’s the appointment with the doctor.  Everything’s a blur before noon…more tests, strange medical names, blood to be drained from this raw weary body and it’s then it all lets go.  This dam breaks and the tears fall and I enter the hospital chapel desperate for hope, for this journey’s been long and there is no end in sight anytime soon. There resting on a table is a journal filled with cries like mine. Peace to make it through the season, someone named Mike who is ill and needs healing, others who are hanging on by threads. I am not alone and sometimes there is no road around and you just have to go through. I think of the email received from friends experiencing a monsoon of trials asking “pray please” and the phone call from a dear friend not knowing how they can afford to take their sick ones to the doctor and her husband is still suffering silently in pain while another friend’s waiting to hear if cancer’s returned and this heart of mine can barely beat from all the ache in the world weighing it down.

Little ones fall ill and I’m nursing fevered brows all the while lighting every candle in the house in a feeble attempt to push back the darkness. It’s then it dawns on this thick head, this hard heart that has forgotten all she knew. There’s baby Jesus on the mantel stretching his hands up from the manger in the candle light reminding I AM the light of the world. The one promised to bring light to people living in great darkness has come, is here and in the problems that plague and trials that drain there is hope that even though we go through deep waters they will not overwhelm because the God who created, who formed, is with us. He is the great I AM for every situation, every circumstance. He was and is and will forever be, unchanging, always with us. Suddenly the red sea staring is small and He is big and I sigh, weights lifting, mercy near and lights, lights everywhere twinkling.

Counting Down To Christmas with Frosted Butter Cookies

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She tiptoes timid to the door.  What lies behind it only God knows but what she does know she can’t do this journey alone.  It was hard enough to ship her husband off for months with three wide-eyed ones looking up for courage and she felt fortitude fading.  So she breathes long and slow and walks through doors opened and takes the leap to be vulnerable, real among strangers by unfurling her bleeding heart .  This sojourn, or short stay we journey here on planet earth was never meant to be in isolation and she was never more aware of it, than now.  And the body of Christ, these beautiful, broken, pieces unite and in that space of a few hours souls are melded and the ground they walk on united as one is holy.  They dig into the word that brings life to withered spirits and together they suffer and rejoice because if one part hurts the other feels it strong and there is joy when God comes through.  Love comes down in community and there is mercy, grace, healing for every wound.

Some journeys end and others go on forever.  The parting of friends is never easy and each box packed and carried to the moving truck carries a piece of the heart.  They whisper farewells amidst a flurry of activity and in her soul she knows she will never be the same.  These hands and feet have changed her.

They mix butter and sugar, this family of five; flour and vanilla all the while her mind traveling the miles back to what was, what still feels home. A lump catches in the throat and she prays for the hands that first made these for her, for them; those sojourners meeting together finding safety in the arms of love.

“Sally’s” Frosted Butter Cookies

Makes 12 dozen 2” cookies, but my cookie cutters are bigger. You can always freeze the cookies and frost them later if you have too many. Do not frost and freeze, as the frosting gets hard and discolored. Frost the day before you want to use them – let them sit overnight before piling them on top of each other, or putting them in decorative bags with a ribbon.

Mix:

6 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

Mix and add to the above:

2 cup butter

1 ½ cups sugar

2 eggs

4 tbsp milk (¼  cup)

4 tsp vanilla

Chill for 1 hour

Roll out on floured surface (¼ ” – look at a ruler – this is thicker than you think)

Cut in desired shapes

Bake on ungreased cookie sheet

350 degrees for 10-12 minutes – look for edges to begin to turn brown

Frosting

1 box powdered sugar

½ – 1 ½ – 2 tsp vanilla

Water to make spread-able consistency (if it runs off the cookie, it’s too thin…you should be able to push it to the edges easily, or it’s too thick)

Put small amounts in smaller bowls & use food coloring as desired.

Counting down to Christmas with cookies….

butter cookie

I look and her hands are worn and yet each wrinkle tells a story of love.  How many fevered brows have been caressed, seeds planted in gardens and put up in jars for winter, clothes mended and made, meals served all done for the least of these with fingerprints of love.  She takes the rolling pin to lead the way.  “Not too harsh or you’ll flatten it uneven and too soft you’ll be here all day.” We take and cut out tiny shapes and make them nice and even, little buttons of goodness that melt in the mouth.

Twenty-some years later this mom gathers her brood and memories flood and joy is found in the common, the reliving of what was now all the while praying these fingerprints tending to dough and delicate hearts will lead the way to ultimate Love come down at Christmas.

Cream Wafer Cookies

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup of butter softened

1/3 cup whipping cream or half and half

Cream together, then wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Roll dough out to 1/8 inch thickness on lightly floured table. Cut out with tiny holiday cookie cutters big enough for one bite or 2 (my mom always used a donut hole cutter for tiny rounds like buttons). Transfer to a plate with 1/2 cup sugar and coat all sides with sugar.  Use a fork to punch a row or two of holes all the way through the dough.  Place on a cookie sheet and back at 350 for 7-9 minutes until the bottom is lightly brown.  Cool and fill with a small amount of icing.  Sandwich it with another matching cookie.  Enjoy!

Icing

1/4 cup softened butter

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1 tsp vanilla

food coloring if desired

Beat together until fluffy.

A Love Begotten

I can see it plain as day.  Me and my sisters pulling on Christmas plaid hand sewn by evening lights.  We drive out into the icy chill clutching coats and scarves close.  It’s as near as over the river and through the woods this dwelling people now call home.  Lights and trees twinkle in dark windows reminders of the season.  We stand before them wide eyed gaping at these fragile frail souls on the brink of eternity, souls with stories tucked away in minds that have frayed and we offer hope for what else can one bring to someone at the end of their days? The starting pitch lilts through the air and we break into song piercing the dark with light:

Of the Father’s love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega;
He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore!

Furrowed brows relax and lips move with us and my tendered heart brims over this bringing of Christmas hope and joy to the forgotten, forsaken.

O, that birth forever blessed
When the Virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving,
Bore the Savior of our race,
And the babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed his sacred face,
Evermore and evermore!

The melodies build in full harmony as if all heaven joins us now, saints gone before, unite as one in song. And this chant that’s been breathed since the fifth century lives on.

O ye heights of heaven, adore Him.
Angel hosts, his praises sing.
Powers, dominions, bow before Him,
and extol our God and King.
Let no tongue on earth be silent;
Every voice in concert ring,
Evermore and evermore!

The evening ends we whisper goodbyes and Christmas cheer and wheel weary women and tired men down long hallways to their darkened rooms.  I can’t help but linger, one more hug, one more hand squeeze to the lonely the lost the lovely. And this heart is busting full for the world weeping and all I can bring is the babe in the manger.  The door closes, we walk out into a full moon night snow sparkling like little lights, lights that beam heavenward to the gift come down long ago.

Christmas Gingerbread

blog gingerbread

It feels only yesterday in long nightgowns with Christmas carols filling the air, we would spoon up sugar and icing making a magical world of food to eat, to share.  The table was transformed from browns and creams to yellow, red green, white…textures and colors like twinkling lights. We would sing and laugh and dance the beauty of the season capturing every part of us.  And we would name the ones we were to bless, cookie plates filled to the brim with love, and simple messages of the birth of the Christ child.  Then come morning we would bundle in boots and scarves with gloves and coats and through the snow drifts travel door to door arms brimming in sugary treats.  Traditions are the seams that hold the patchwork of our lives together.  So we grow and we leave (and cleave) and bear our own and pass down love through the generations.  Christmas, besides the lights and crèche, trees and stockings, is cookies!  This recipe reminisces my childhood and a recipe we have come to love here in our home.  To tell you just how many we have made (and enjoyed) this season would be difficult to count, but I do know the molasses has disappeared! So grab your kids, or friends and family, and begin to make some memories.

Gingerbread Cookies

1 3/4 cup all purpose flour (I use white whole wheat)

1/2 tsp ginger

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp cloves

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup shortening

1/4 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1/4 cup molasses

Mix the flour and spices in a bowl. Cream sugar, egg, molasses and shortening in bowl.  Add flour and spices and mix until combined.  Roll out on lightly floured surface until a quarter of and inch thick.  Cut out with your favorite cookie cutters.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 8-10 min. just until the edges of the cookie are a light brown and firm.  Immediately transfer to a cooling rack.  Ice and decorate with sprinkles if desired.

Royal Icing

1/2 cup shortening

2 cups powdered sugar

1/2 tsp real vanilla flavoring

1/4 tsp real almond flavoring

cream (add a tsp at a time until correct consistency for decorating)

Beat until icing is creamy and fluffy

Add any food coloring if desired and stir

Loving the friendless, the less than lovely, the least of these…

She comes to me, shy and fidgety as I’m fixing dinner.  I know something is brewing in the mind, puzzle pieces coming together so I wait for her to spill it out.  Long hair streaming in the evening light she is a shadow of the babe I used to carry.  Everyone said it would go fast like a streak of lightning across the sky, this growing up, this growing old.  It feels a mere days not years since I diapered and clothed, rocked and consoled this young girl now tiptoeing on the edge of womanhood. The words come. How she felt a tug in the heart to reach to the one in the class unloved, never chosen.  Decided it would be good to take a chance, pick someone new for a game. She tells me how they grabbed their words and finished their work, how she realized when it was all over, they were the first ones done.  She says “you know mom, that girl has never finished first, never known what it feels to shine.” My heart swells and beats faster, the eyes leak and I remember days of hard planting.  Days when you keep on sowing never knowing if the seeds are taking root and you dig up the soil of the heart and keep throwing them down in rows and you toss yourself in bed watering them with prayers of the weary. We talk and talk, this little girl turning young woman,  how Jesus chose the least, the unloved, the less than lovely. Went to them. Chose them. Loved them. Lived among them.  And I whisper how I’ve prayed and wept that these three I’ve born would lead the way to Love. With arms open wide would choose to care for the downtrodden, the less than lovely, the ones who’ve been cast aside, ignored. That this wounded world bleeding from sin and sorrow would be bandaged up in the hope of the Gospel.  I hug and we smile and our hearts are soaring and somehow in my mother’s heart I sense a coming of age.