Sunday, December 07, 2008

Winner Gifts for Friends

The November winner of A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts is Lois Chapman from Texas. Her copy will be in the mail on Monday. Check out our website
www.christmas-scrapbook.info or the blog at http://scrapbookofchristmasfirsts.blogspot.com. To order ether The Stained Glass Pickup or the Christmas book, contact me writecat@consolidated.net

As usual, send an email to
writecat@consolidated.net or leave a comment here to be entered into the December drawing.
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Friends are the best. What do you gift your friends during the holidays? When I was in elementary school, I had five close friends, and we spent our allowances at the five and dime store on Christmas gifts for each other. My allowance was 25 cents a week, upped to 50 cents by the time I was in junior high. I still have a teddy bear given to me by my childhood friend, Sharon.

Now, instead of holiday gifts, we stay in touch, especially for milestone events in each others’ lives. We even had a slumber party one time and that renewal of friendships was much better than exchanging gifts.

After I married and moved to Montgomery County, I met more friends, who lived in my community. One of them is Doris A. She knows all my weird habits and still loves me. I can confide in her and know that my words will not tie on traveling shoes. Doris knows my everyday schedule and looks out for me. She’s made cornbread dressing for our holiday meal when I was in a bind, babysat my children, and shopped for mother of the bride dresses, and we’ve used up a million miles of telephone wire.

She’s given me Christmas gifts throughout the last three decades, but none are more precious than her acts of kindness, sharing recipes, and offering writing critiques. She’s read all my manuscripts, and I didn’t coerce her, she asked! Our friendship is blessed because we know what is going on in each of our lives, and we know how to stand back or step in to help.

If you really want to bless your friends’ lives this season, think of a unique act of charity that you can do for them. I’m reminded of the seashore scene after Jesus’ resurrection (John 21). Beside the surf, he built a fire and had sea catch roasting, and when his weary fishermen friends returned from a long night at the nets, Jesus said, “Come and have breakfast.” The fresh scent of misty dawn, briny air, and roasting fish drew his friends to a breakfast cooked by God’s own hand, as pleasant as the morning sun he caused to rise.

Author Emilie Barnes tells about a time when one of her friends was very blue and needed an outdoor time of refreshing. An indoor meal just wouldn’t do. Sometimes there’s just too many plastic and artificial things indoor.
Emilie prepared a thermos of hot tea and light refreshments and arranged to drive her friend to a nearby park, where they chatted, sipped tea, and tossed cares to the wind.

Several years ago when I contemplated what I could get my friend Doris for the holidays, nothing came to my mind that quite suited her needs. I could have bought her another cookbook or costume jewelry or a pair of those really furry, warm house-socks, for her barefoot habit. But doodads seemed frivolous that year because she’d been caring for a very ill family member.

That particular Christmas she was pressed for time, like no other, while mine remained peaceful that year. Like most families, her husband and sons, Richard, Jason, Lee and Chris, enjoy pies. She usually baked their favorites for the holidays -- caramel, vanilla custard, pumpkin, and cherry. Early that December, I bought aluminum pie plates, and one day I pulled out my best recipe for pie dough and got busy with the rolling pin and pastry mat.

Within an hour, I had unbaked pie crusts in pans, fluted around the edges, and ready to freeze. A few days later, I phoned Doris and told her I was bringing her Christmas present early. To this day, she says the frozen, ready-to-use pie crusts were the best gift so far.

Whether you have money to buy a gift or not, this year, point the gift of labor at a friend’s need, and you’ll come up with a winner-gift and a winning smile from your friend.

Visit Cathy at
www.cathymessecar.com

Friday, November 28, 2008

The High Cost of Money

In a few days, I’ll draw a name to win a copy of one of my books, The Stained Glass Pickup or A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts. Send an email to writecat@consoldated.net or leave a comment here for the November drawing.
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Roots are showing. No. Not dark roots on a bleached blond. The roots I’m thinking about sprout from a love of money. Although misquoted often in modern times, Paul wrote to the young preacher Timothy that, “The love of money is a root for all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).

Throughout the ages, that prolific love-of-money root has produced a variety of heartaches and misery. And the results aren’t so pretty. Friends bring me a flowering branch and tell me, “Oh, just stick it in some water-it’ll grow roots.” The love of money doesn’t even need a friendly environment to re-shape itself into very large global problems.

Try this experiment -- watch any newscast and see how many wrongs happen because someone adores money. Of course we can’t assume motivations behind criminal activity, but it’s pretty obvious in some cases that love of money effects harm, such as in drug cartels. It seems they have forgotten the damage and human suffering, and their goal is to get the drugs on the street and pocket the money.

Anyone who has money is subject to temptation. Gum chewing clerk or CEO can both fall prey to the talons of the fleeting dollar. Men and women, boys and girls can have wholesome hearts about money or be filled with greed. We’re all somewhere in the cash register between those two extremes.

Here’s a question to consider: Living in the economy of today, what if the only cash you had was two pennies? What would your attitude be toward your two cents? “I’m down to my last two cents” would certainly express relevancy.

When Jesus watched the widow walk toward the temple collection box, he didn’t need to see a bank statement to assess her worth. He knew that the two coins she had were the only two she possessed. She was down to an equivalent in our economy of two pennies, nearly nothing. She didn’t trust the two coins to absolve her poverty. She had lavish trust in God and left the details of her life fully in his hands. She didn’t love her two coins.

Jesus said about her fearless heart that she had given all “she had to live on.” To have that kind of faith in God’s care and his storehouse of provisions must be freeing, very freeing from a love of money.

I brought up the subject of money today because many will be spending it. Today is often referred to as “Black Friday” because this is when many retail stores begin to show a profit. The love of money has a huge price tag. Don’t pay it. Ralph Waldo Emerson knew the consequences because he said, “Money often costs too much.”


www.cathymessecar.com

Friday, November 21, 2008

When the "I" is Mssng

Leave a comment at blog or email me to have your name entered into a drawing for a copy of The Stained Glass Pickup or A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts ~ Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday
If you don’t feel lucky, email me to order some ;-)
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With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, I’d been praying and thinking of what to write in this column, and when I finally sat down at my computer to coax, wrangle, and create a column, a lesson occurred for me. After doing a bit of research online about the first Thanksgiving proclamation, I noticed that the “I” on my keyboard was not working. Do you know how many times an “I” is needed in a 500 word column?

If you keep reading, you’ll see what I worked out to get the “I” in the next few words. Since Hurricane Ike, my desk computer has not connected to the internet with any regularity or predictability. Of course nowadays, writers push a button and send off columns instead of handing in a hardcopy to an editor. Anyway, my wireless laptop has taken up the slack and has served me well these past few months, until today.

Home repairs sometimes work, so I flipped the plastic cover off the key that read “I”. Underneath, a tiny world existed that I knew nothing about and I saw a miniscule rubber cup lying on its side. It looked like the little cup should be turned upside down over the electronic circuit. Also, broken loose from the inside of the teensy cup was a piece of plastic two times larger than a grain of salt. I surmised that that gadget was what was supposed to touch the circuit and let it know that I wanted an “I” in a word.

I thought I might be able to put it back together, but by then other little pieces had come loose under the key pad, too. I didn’t know which tiny part went where. So, I flipped the cover off the “o” and promptly upset the tiny rubber cup under it. I did have the good sense to stop pulling off key covers. I know when I’ve been outwitted. I know when it’s time to get to the computer geeks, who can undo my home “repairs.”

So, I’ve written each “I” and “o” with the key covers off and by making sure the tiny rubber cups are over the circuit board and pressing ever so lightly on them, but they have a mind of their own and often bounce down to the spacebar or visit their neighbor “m”.

You can’t imagine how many times I’ve wanted to shout to Vanna White, “I’d like to buy a vowel. Give me an ‘I’. I’d like to buy anther vowel. Give me an ‘o’.” But still, I’m thankful for the other 24 letters of the alphabet who have behaved very well.

The thanksgiving point in all of this relates to the story Jesus told abut the ten lepers he healed. They all went away ecstatic, but only one got “I” out of the way and returned to say thank you to the source of blessing. When we quit focusing on “I” needs, it is easier to see all the bounty and good workings in the other 24 plus good thing in life.

Happy Thankgvng!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Packrats and Clutterbugs

I didn’t think I was a packrat. Recently though, at the back of closets, I discovered bits and pieces of the past in packets tied with string, banded boxes, and slightly rusted tins. In November, I usually write a column on pies, family and stuff. That column about holiday pastries -- making, eating, and enjoying them -- will come in the next week or so. This one is about stuff. So, Packrats, be warned.

We’re getting ready to move into a “downsized” home. The one we’re living in is not extravagant in square footage, but it’s comfortable. Now it’s time to undo over 20 years of living at this address. I don’t mind giving away plastic containers, extra clothes hangers, and glass jars, but other items might as well be shelved in my heart. While sorting items into piles for garage sale, family members, the trash, or the new farmhouse, I found a small cardboard jewelry box.

Inside were movie tickets and one of those photos taken in a booth, long ago, in the dating years. Inside the lid of this small box was this inscription, “Date to remember, September 19, 1965.” The whole box and contents would have been tossed by a junk dealer. I showed it to my hubby, causing us to reminisce.

One wouldn’t think that cleaning out house cubby holes involved so many emotions, but it does. Guilt assaults, if I throw away a tea pot, broken and no longer holding high teas — because it was a gift. I read a note from a friend who passed, and tears brimmed. Laughter bubbled when I saw funny photos of Halloween costumes.

This is a job I’d rather have delayed indefinitely, however my husband, David, and I made a firm decision to not only downsize the house but contents, too. Abundance doesn’t equal happiness. Clutter doesn’t equal coziness, it just equals clutter.

In the future, hubby and I want to have time for each other, not store and live with long defunct paperwork. We want to walk in the woods with the grandchildren, not mop more floors or dust more baubles. We want to dine with friends, not mow more acreage. We want to meet new people, not hang onto old stuff.

Jesus, who had few material possessions said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15).

We can even be greedy about clutter. Packrats, the kind with two legs, go through your home before Thanksgiving, lay out all the things you think family could use. Let them free-shop at your house after the Turkey dinner. A niece might love that old cracked hand mirror of Aunt Irene’s or maybe not.

That tiny box with the date inscription, we’re holding onto -- it’s the date of our first kiss.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Disappointments

My Grandma Ethel and Grandpa Willie Dudley Turner went through some tough times. In Arkansas, they had a family of eight to feed during the Great Depression. My grandfather was injured in a work related accident and it took nearly a year until his patched-up health returned, a shoulder and arm were never the same.

Later, Grandpa Willie worked in New Mexico while Grandma Ethel cloth-diapered babies and kept children in school. Long distance marriage isn’t good, but it’s especially tough when the woman has six children to console in their dad’s necessary absence.

Like all of us, this couple dealt with disappointments, from tiny to terrible. Yet, I witnessed in them a determined spirit that inspires me to step over life-puddles threatening to dampen my path.

Recently, my Aunt Margaret, my grandparent’s eldest daughter, sent me a letter Grandpa had written to his family while he worked in New Mexico. Along with the letter postmarked “May 1934, Portales N. Mex,” she also sent a picture of Grandpa perched atop a Southwest rocky crag.

I own things worth more monetarily but these items rate high on my sentimental scale. The letter shows the heart of my grandfather, a young dad at that time, longing to be home with his family.

He wrote two pages. One, to his wife, is lettered in pencil on the front and back. He wrote how much he missed her and the kids. He ended it “from your Willie, love to all. Kiss the kids for me.”

On the second page, he wrote individual notes to each of his children. To his oldest son, he encouraged him to be a good boy and told him about the wolves howling in the mountains at night. He even wrote a note to the toddler who couldn’t read and thanked the children for their letters. He told his only daughter to “kiss the baby for me.”

His loneliness is evident, his longing for what he could not have seeps through the sentences. He wrote about wanting a job closer to home. Disappointment seems to be a regular side dish of any life. It can arrive in demitasse cups or by the platter load.

In a few days, nearly half our nation will be disappointed because their preferred presidential candidate lost in the presidential election. But others will celebrate the win of their choice for president. For all, perhaps words from a Supreme Ruler will offer assurance.

Through inspired writers, God often gave periodical reports about nations—good deeds, wrong paths, or if they were off track. Like a father writing home about wolves and sending pictures of craggy mountains, God also reminds us of his role as a father to all and to the leaders of the earth. “For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise…. For the kings of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted” (Psalm 47:7, 9).

Be assured, whatever camp you are in after Election Day, our new King will have the best King seeing after him.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Women

A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts is now available from Leafwood Publishers. They retail for $16.99 and make excellent gifts to families or friends. Hardback, gift edition has full color interior, silver foiled snowflakes on cover, 160 pages, tips to simplify the holidays, stories to warm hearts and encourage families. Learn how to grow myrrh, get 10 scrumptious cookie recipes, meet Grandma “Jeanealogy,” discover why Nova Scotia sends the city of Boston a Christmas tree each year, read about the Nativity hunt and the Santa chair, and much, much more:

Also leave a comment here or email writecat@consolidated.net to have name entered to win the October book give away. Your choice, The Stained Glass Pickup Devotional Book or A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts ~ Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday

Get other holiday tips at our blog:
http://scrapbookofchristmasfirsts.blogspot.com/

The Woman of all Women

She got up before dawn. She reared children. In addition, she helped her husband, bought land and resold it. She also had a thriving textile business and a group of hired hands she oversaw.

No. She’s not super woman; she’s the woman described in Proverbs 31 as a virtuous woman, her price far above rubies. Men knew the worth of such a woman and would rather have her as a spouse than a cache of diamonds.

In the past, I envied the woman portrayed in Proverbs 31, puzzled over how this one woman could accomplish so much. In women’s Bible classes, from pulpits, in books, she was the classic model, placed on a pedestal, and none could seemingly climb to her level of performance. I knew I couldn’t.

If you haven’t read the text in awhile, stop and read it, and then you’ll follow the rest of this column more easily. In all those classes, I missed an important element within the description of her life.

By not looking deeper, I missed that this woman has gray hair. The text doesn’t actually say that she has aged and earned her fare share of wrinkles, but it surely implies that. When I finally saw this, whew, I felt better. For too many years, she had haunted me, trailed my thoughts. Taunted me with her accomplishments. I’m sure the woman herself wouldn’t have done that, but the account of her successes loomed big. I thought if only I had servant girls, then I could do what she did.

Then it occurred to me that I had the equivalent of servant girls in my household tools—washing machine, clothes dryer, electric dishwasher, Hoover vacuum, and a motorized car. Obviously the account in Proverbs 31 is an overview of her life time achievements. It’s not a single day or even a month of her life. An internet site, Proverbs 31 Ministries is dedicated to helping the modern woman create a godly home.

Women do not have absolutely perfect days. Depending upon our daily endeavors, we may have on a pair of high heels, tennis shoes, flip flops or bedroom slippers, and each brings its own set of joys and tests. One woman knew this well and after reading verse 28 which says her children “arise and call her blessed,” the frazzled mom said, “My children just rise up and call.”

This week, I glanced at the license plate on my Dodge Durango—they’ve been on it for years. Anyway, the first three identifiers are P31. I had to smile. The Proverbs 31 images are everywhere from my license plate to your lives, women.

Proverbs 31 women are everywhere. They anchor homes and businesses, and rock cradles. Why not say a great big thank you to one today or even better lend her a helping hand.

Friday, October 17, 2008

BOOK SIGNINGS in Conroe, TX: If you are in the area today, Oct. 17th, I’ll be at Hastings Bookstore at 3:30 until 7:00 P.M. (Highway 105 West and I-45), tomorrow, October 18th at J& D Country Store 105 West across from Metcalf and First Bank of Conroe, 10:00-12:00 noon. Later in this month or next at Christian Source Bookstore.
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A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts is now available. They retail for $16.99 and make excellent gifts to families or friends . This book gently shares many facets of Jesus’ birth and life. Hardback, gift edition has full color interior, silver foiled snowflakes on cover, 160 pages, tips to simplify the holidays, stories to warm hearts and encourage families. Learn how to grow myrrh, get 10 scrumptious cookie recipes, meet Grandma “Jeanealogy,” discover why Nova Scotia sends the city of Boston a Christmas tree each year, read about the Nativity hunt and the Santa chair, and much, much more:

To order from me, contact me at
writecat@consolidated.net or order from Leafwood Publishers, Abilene, TX

Also leave a comment here or email me to have name entered to win the October book give away. Your choice, The Stained Glass Pickup Devotional Book or
A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts ~ Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday

Get other holiday tips at our blog:
http://scrapbookofchristmasfirsts.blogspot.com/

The Hinge
Presidential terms, from George Washington’s to George Bush’s, have been at the mercy of joke makers. In Paul F. Boller’s “Presidential Anecdotes,” he relates a story going around during Woodrow Wilson’s tenure after he drafted Fourteen Points, a basis for a peace treaty and the foundation of a League of Nations.

The story: When President Wilson walked the golden streets of heaven, he ran into Moses. Moses asked, “You are Mr. Wilson, are you not?”

Mr. Wilson replied, “I am.”
Moses said, “I am very sorry for you.”

“Why so?”

“Weren’t you Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States, and didn’t you issue the Fourteen Points for settling the Great War?”

“I did,”

“Well, I’m very sorry for you because they have done such dreadful things to your Fourteen Points.”

“For the matter of that,” Wilson said, “I should advise you to return to earth and see what they have done to your Ten Commandments.”

Whether it’s a document drafted by man or guidelines given by the Almighty, humans will always test boundaries. We are frail beings capable of great good, but we also fail, and sometimes it’s a big fall. Some failures occur because we break the first few of God’s commandments. Found in Exodus 20, they instructed the Israelites to be single minded in their devotion to God.

God delivered them from slavery and said through Moses, “You shall have no other gods before me.” He also instructed them to show reverence by not misusing his name. This happens aplenty in America and across the world. Some sitcom writers seem to have limited creativity and stick the words, “Oh my G__” into every script. And text messaging has proliferated misuse, shortening the phrase to “OMG.”

Someone tested Jesus, wanting him to name the best of God’s laws, he reiterated that the greatest is to love God with all of the heart, mind, soul and strength and to love our neighbors the same way we love ourselves. He went on to say that all other good-living guidelines hinge off of those two.

If a cabinet door hinge is not on straight, the door will not close because of poor alignment. Citizens sometimes adore and pedestal elected officials, money, and selfish gain, making hinges crooked, and no doors will be righted until the proper steps are taken to repair the damages.

Yes, we could take another look at the Ten Commandments, especially the first few about revering God. A basic pivot of life is adoration for God and respecting his name. It’s a turning point on which the rest of life balances.

How is your hinge?

Friday, October 10, 2008

One More Washing

A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts is now available. They retail for $16.99 and make excellent gifts to families or friends who might not know Jesus. They gently share many facets of his life and workings with people. Hardback, gift edition has full color interior, silver foiled snowflakes on cover, 160 pages, tips to simplify the holidays, stories to warm hearts and encourage families. Learn how to grow myrrh, get 10 scrumptious cookie recipes, meet Grandma “Jeanealogy,” discover why Nova Scotia sends the city of Boston a Christmas tree each year, read about the Nativity hunt and the Santa chair, and much, much more:

To order email me: $17.00 includes, S&H and taxes writecat@consolidated.net
Also leave a comment here or email to have name entered to win the October book give away. Your choice, The Stained Glass Pickup Devotional Book or A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts ~ Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday


Get other holiday tips at our blog:
http://scrapbookofchristmasfirsts.blogspot.com/
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Years ago, some would say by chance, I met a woman from Michigan, who still blesses my life. While in Navasota, TX at a street sale, one of those where kettle popped corn permeates the air and the sun chases shoppers to the shaded booths, I met Irene.

At the time, I was a vendor, one who made different items from old pillowcases, embroidered furniture scarves, or lace curtains. When Irene saw some of my handiwork, she asked if I needed any more yesteryear pillowcases. Sensing that she had access to some, I said, “I can always use a few more old linens.”

Today, I still enjoy seeing the work of folks from the Nineteenth and Twentieth centuries, from those who spent hours weaving tiny stitches into both serviceable and beautiful items. Some of their adept needlework became lacy gloves, collars, or booties for babies to wear during the winter. Other sewing projects made by industrious women, and maybe some men, became aprons, bedspreads or tablecloths.

The day we met, Irene and I exchanged addresses and telephone numbers, and we struck up a business relationship. She located and sent me old linens, which I couldn’t resist. Some of the treasures are in my home and some have been gifted to friends. Irene has passed along old tapestry bell pulls, gorgeous hand embellished linen tablecloths, women’s vintage garments, tatted crosses, crocheted doilies, infants’ bonnets, lamp shade covers, and cross stitched Christmas scarves.

But Irene means more to me than the goods she sends. Over the past 15 years, we’ve become friends, exchanging family news, letters, phone calls and even cups of tea and warm cookies when she and her husband, Zolten, visit Texas. Once when I phoned her home, she was teaching her adult son how to make stuffed cabbage. Made me want to parboil cabbage leaves and stuff them for dinner that night, too, especially after getting instructions over the phone.

Again this week, a package arrived from Michigan. I opened it, folding back the layers of white tissue paper and discovered fresh washed linens, with handwritten notes about their history or how Irene had cleaned them. “Soda and Woolite. Good Results.” In one note my friend mentioned that one stack of linen, with more wear, were free, “Bonus. No charge, no way.”

In one note, she also reminisced a bit about those few worn pieces that she’d included, about salvaging those fragile bits which represented hours of toil. She said only her late grandma and Irene would save such tattered beauty, and she quoted an often heard phrase from her grandmother, “Let’s wash it one more time.”

The old ways, more labor intensive, can remind us of industry, and that even worn things can be made usable again. When cleaned up, something good can come from what looks to be useless. Through the prophet Jeremiah folks were encouraged, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls” (6:16).

I can imagine God wanting us to look back at some of the old stories that point to his forgiveness and his just way of righting wrongs. He longs for us to keep asking for wisdom, to keep asking for more goodness and mercy in our lives. But sometimes I hear another voice, a discouraging one that whispers, “You’ve messed up again.”

But God’s compassion overrides, the discouraging voice. And on the days when I know I need yet another overhaul, more wisdom, more repairs, in my heart I hear God’s tender voice, caring, and merciful saying, “Let’s wash her one more time.”

Friday, October 03, 2008

Fill Us Up

SEPTEMBER WINNER: Maria J., has been notified that she is the winner of the September drawing and will be mailed a copy of A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts ~ Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday

October Drawing: Send an email or leave a comment to win your choice of my devotional book or Christmas book.

Check out our Christmas blog at http://scrapbookofchristmasfirsts.blogspot.com/ for upcoming give-aways.
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My apologies for the newspaper column not being sent last week. My server was down. And Internet problems still linger after Hurricane Ike’s disastrous visit. We were without power for 9 days, but all is returning to near normal now. Thank you for all your prayers and offers of help.
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FILL US UP
I have three of them. One is floral with tiny colored buttons on an outside pocket, a gift from a Tennessean woman. Another is lime green and advertises a local dress shop. The last is royal blue, a token gift form a writer’s workshop. What are they? They are re-usable shopping bags.

Sounds noble, but I have a problem. I can’t remember to take them along to have them filled up. Centuries ago, shoppers who purchased goods knew to take along baskets, jugs, or bowls to hold their purchases. By the 16th Century, smaller items such as grains, beans, and buttons were being hawked and shopkeepers started wrapping purchases.

I learned that bookstores sold for scrap paper manuscripts that failed to be published. Merchants bought these and used them as “wrapping paper.” Picture a want-to-be writer watching a clerk tie up a few needles in page 42 of their rejected manuscript. Ouch.

Today, many countries have set a time limit and ban on plastic shopping bags, which can take a lifetime-plus to deteriorate. The amount of plastic dumped into landfills is staggering, besides the amount of oil used in the manufacturing of plastic.

On a trip through New Mexico, my husband Dave and I began to notice plastic bags littering the road side. In a short stretch, we counted over 100 clinging to barbed wire fences, low mesquite bushes, and desert plants.

Although I own at least three permanent shopping bags, here’s my problem. So far, I haven’t remembered to take one into a store with me. And, I’ve yet to see any of you carrying them into the store either. Of course, I know a hand full of you do, and I probably haven’t seen you efficient folk because I don’t do much shopping. I want to be like you and take the bags in and fill them up.

Right now, my shopping bags have made it to the passenger seat of my car, and today, I hope to carry groceries out of the store in them. But why am I telling you all of this, because it relates to a scripture that has been on my mind. God reminded the Israelites that he was the one who brought them out of Egypt, out of slavery. Then he reminded them if they’d show up, desiring to know him better that he’d take care of the filling. He said it this way: “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10 NKJV).

Hungry baby birds stretch open their beaks and clamor for nourishment, and great growth is the result. Like my earth friendly shopping bags, it is good to be ready and available and watching to be filled up, but we can be filled with something better -- the wisdom of God.

Modern plastic bags are decorated with store logos which are artful mini-billboards. The Christian, who is filled up is also a billboard of hope, peace, clarity and calm. Not a perfect advertisement, but an enticing one that may just cause hunger in others, cause them to open wide their mouths so God can fill them.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Calm after Chaos-September 19


Readers, thank you to all of you who prayed for the Houston region during Hurricane Ike. Your prayers were felt. They became part of our shelter through the high winds and water.
As usual, leave a comment here or email me at writecat@consolidated.net to have your name entered into a drawing for my new co-authored Christmas book, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts. Or visit http://scrapbookofchristmasfirsts.blogspot.com/ to enter to win a basket of Christmas goodies worth over $200.
The photo is of daughter Sheryle's house and the pine tree which poked holes in roof and let water rain down in nearly every room. But she and others with similar damage are the most fortunate among those who had losses.
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First, let me say how sorry I am for all the misery suffered in the South East due to Hurricane Ike stomping through our region. The most sorrowful is the loss of life. Less traumatic, but still devastating, others have been stripped of all the belongings that had rested on their patch of real estate.

While the national news, for the most part, has moved on to current stories, this region will be embroiled in sorting out claims, removing fallen trees, and patching up lives for many months to come.


During any storm in life, the violent disturbance can become a schoolmaster. Here are a few things I observed during Hurricane Ike. Trees are magnificent creations. A positive observation is that a grove of them can block fierce winds, but trees can also crash on homes, ripping apart dwellings and taking lives. But they are used in repairs, too, when lumber is used to shore up roofs damaged by their many cousins.

The same wind can blow a home off its foundation and leave an empty barrel upright, unmoved. The wind blew Jan Tickner’s “Hallelujah!” sign off her back gate, but it didn’t blow the hallelujah out of her soul.


Storms cause friends to rally, to ring us up with offers of prayer. Before the storm our cronies phoned from Africa, Ohio, California, and Arkansas. Emails flooded in from friends in Tennessee, Missouri, Florida and many other places. After the event, friends offered to send money to help. We declined their offers, but the gestures will linger as silver linings.


The human faces in our area reflected so much. There were plenty of smiles, but there were also those looks of resignation, saying we’ll manage, we’ll come through this. After eight days of no electric power and coping with all sorts of clean up activities, weariness settled on some countenances, especially those who had not regained electricity.


On the lighter side, on day seven without electricity or running water, we had our first hot shower at a relative’s home who had power restored. We then trekked to Chick-fil-A
(open for limited hours) in our fresh laundered clothes. We felt way over dressed in our clean jeans.


Doing without made me appreciate the most basic, taken for granted things in life -- refrigerators, electric pumps for wells, air conditioning, tap water, hot water heaters, dish washers, and washing machines. It’s tough seeing your neighbors’ lights shine, while just across the street you still have no electricity. I said to myself several times. “Thou shall not covet. Thou shall not covet.”


Storms test us. Heavy oaks topple and delicate crape myrtle blossoms hang on. Storms and their aftermath become perfect times to lend a helping hand and shine a gracious smile toward your neighbor.

Visit Cathy at http://stainedglasspickup.blogspot.com/

Monday, September 15, 2008

Today, hear from the co-authors of A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts

A SCRAPBOOK OF CHRISTMAS FIRSTS

(Leafwood Publishers, October 2008)

A wonderful new gift book called A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts will soon be available. Today, I’ve invited the six coauthors to share their unique story of how they came together to publish this exciting book full of stories, recipes, tips for simplifying the holidays and so much more (click on bookcover to see the trailer!).

First, let me introduce Cathy Messecar, Leslie Wilson, Brenda Nixon, Trish Berg, Terra Hangen and Karen Robbins. Thank you for being here today, ladies.

Karen: Thank you for the invitation.

You are from three different areas of the country—Texas, California, and Ohio. How did you all meet?

Terra: We all six joined The Writers View, an online group for professional Christian writers. Trish and Brenda met in person in 2004 for lunch, I understand, and on 9/18/04, after reading a post Brenda sent to TWV, I sent an email to Brenda, asking if she would like to join with me and walk alongside each other, as a Barnabas group. Brenda said yes that same day, and suggested Trish too. Very quickly Cathy, Leslie and Karen joined in and our stalwart band of six was formed. Living in California, I was so happy to find 5 Barnabas writers in other states so we could bring together a wealth of different viewpoints and expertise

Brenda: Actually, We haven’t met. We’re all great colleagues and friends via the internet. Four years ago Terra and I formed a dyad to support each other as Christians who write in the secular markets. Along came Trish, Cathy, Karen, and Leslie (not necessarily in that order) and we formed a close knit bond of support, creative energy, and professional accountability.

Karen: I met Trish through an online forum called The Writers View and she invited me to join the group.

Trish: Although we belong to the same Yahoo writing group, we met one by one online. Eventually, the six of us decided that since we all write as Christians for a secular market through magazine articles and newspaper columns, we could support and encourage one another.

Leslie: Though we met virtually through The Writers View, I have been blessed to give and get hugs from Trish (at a MOPS conference), Cathy (in the area on business) and Karen (in town for a writers' conference). I can’t wait to meet Terra and Brenda face-to-face, though I feel as though I already know them!

How did you come up with the idea to do a book together?

Brenda: The book is Cathy’s brainchild. She mentioned the concept of telling stories of events that happened for the first time at Christmas and sharing holiday historical tidbits and recipes and each said, “If you need any help, let me know.” That offer morphed into each of us equally contributing and co-authoring A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts.

Trish: Yep, Cathy came up with the idea and the title, and asked us if we wanted to join her on this project. Of course, we said Yes!

Terra: Cathy mentioned the idea for a Christmas book to the group, and someone (I think it was Leslie) suggested that maybe our group could all write the book together. Cathy agreed to lead the way on the project. The earliest email I have on this is from 9/7/05, which shows that this has been a three year collaboration from idea to publication.

Karen: (Chuckling) Terra is a librarian and keeps our historical records by saving our e-mails.

Leslie: Actually, Terra, I wrote that comment (in a group e-mail) kind of tongue-in-cheek. Cathy, the ultra-sweet person she is, took my joking at face value and here we are. However, I believe God prompted the passion and ideas we all bring to the project and that He will do mighty things as a result of our collaboration!

Why did you decide on a Christmas theme?

Brenda: It was Cathy’s concept to write a book centering on Christmas.

Cathy: For several years, I’d been thinking about Christmas as a threshold to introduce Jesus to folks who aren’t familiar with him, and I love a simpler Christmas with the emphasis on family, friends and doing for others. I knew of some families who had experienced “firsts” at Christmas—reunions, losses, special surprises—and I wanted to collect those stories.

Terra: Cathy’s idea immediately resonated with me because Christmas books are “a way past watchful dragons,” as C. S. Lewis wrote. Many people won’t buy a book about being a Christian, but will buy a holiday and family fun book, thus the “past watchful dragons.” People who want to grow in their faith, and people who have no faith but celebrate Christmas will buy our book and hopefully be led to put the focus back on Christ for the holiday, and for their lives.

Leslie: Though Cathy birthed the idea, the rest of us quickly hopped on board. Not only is Christmas special to me—especially now that I have a family of my own—but also that particular holiday cries out to be simplified, to return to the meaningful aspects of celebration, and to lose some of the hype and commercialism.

Tell me a little about what is in A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts? What is your favorite part?

Cathy: I like that you can read one chapter in about 15 minutes and, with all the different suggestions, it feels like Christmas Eve. Makes you want to set up the nativity! Many of the suggestions for family activities can be adapted for any family get-together.

Karen: There are heartwarming stories about things that happened for the first time at Christmas. For instance, one of my stories is about the first Christmas with our adopted children. And the book is pretty. When I first saw the colorful pages and drawings, I fell in love with the illustrator’s work.

Brenda: I don’t have a favorite part – I love it all!

Terra: I like the way the parts are woven into a seamless whole, like a patchwork quilt, that is stronger and more beautiful than the parts.

Trish: It’s like everything you ever wanted to know about Christmas, all the best tips and recipes, and neat stories all wrapped up in this perfect little package.

Leslie: I love reading the special stories, hints, recipes—whatever—and imagining the precious family time that precipitated each moment. Plus, the book is gorgeous, beautifully printed, truly something to be proud of. And we are.

I’ve heard that the book is really a nice gift book; can you tell me a little about the format?

Cathy: Yes, it’s a hardbound book, full color interior. The layout makes it easy to read. It has a definite scrapbooky look on the interior. Different logos identify sections, such as an oilcloth-look Christmas stocking appears beside the “Stocking Stuffer Tradition” (help for connecting family members), and the “Cookie Canister” recipes are on a recipe card, and the back ground of “A Gift For You” is a gift box with bow. It’s a classy gift that they can be placed on a coffee table or in a guest bedroom during the holiday season.

Brenda: I like to describe it as a Starbuck’s sorta gift book. It’s high quality, crisp, and practical.

With six different personalities and areas of ministry, how did you manage to put this all together and still remain friends?

Karen: We pray a lot for each other and it helps that none of us have an over-inflated ego.

Cathy: There were no squabbles. Surely, we had differing opinions, but we knew that any of us could suggest an idea for this book and that each idea would get fair reviews from others. We actually voted on some aspects—everyone in favor say, “Aye.” If you’ve ever watched women at a Dutch treat luncheon when they divide up a meal ticket, it can be intense as they split the ticket down to the penny. As the project came together, I was in awe of my gracious coauthors, unselfish women who respect each other.
For some decisions, we did a round robin—things like book title and chapter titles and what categories to put into the book. Then, as compiler, I’d send out a list of needs to The Word Quilters, that’s what we call ourselves. For instance in a section we call “Peppermints for Little Ones” (hints for children’s activities), I’d put out a call, and the WQs sent in their hints, and then I put them into appropriate chapters.

Brenda: (Smiling) Are we still friends? Seriously, we each have our own platform, ministry, and family life, and those interests kept this project in perspective – it was important but not the only thing on our plates. No one was so enmeshed in this project that she campaigned for her own way. We never had a bitter disagreement or insistence to be “right.”

Terra: We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders.We offer support and ideas for our separate writing projects and for personal prayer requests. I love these ladies, and I have only met one of them in person. So far, Karen is the only one who has met each of us, and one day we hope to meet in person, in a circle of friendship and love.

Trish: I think we are all very flexible and forgiving. We do have a variety of personalities here, but God has worked amazing things through our little group.

Leslie: Though I have seven non-fiction projects in various stages of completion, I could not be more thankful that this is the one to reach publication first. I am truly blessed to have worked with these women, learned from them, watched as they’ve poured heart and soul into crafting a product that will impact lives for the Lord.

Where can my readers get a copy of SOCF?

Cathy: The coauthors will all have a supply, plus our publisher, Leafwood Publishers, will have plenty of copies and discounts for buying five or more. Or they can be ordered at most online stores or by your local bookstore.

Karen: And anyone who leaves a comment here can be entered in a drawing for a free book and a gift basket worth $200! For a list of its contents, check our blog, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts. And while you're there, leave another comment and increase your chances of winning!

Tell me more about your blog.

Karen: We started our blog in July and it is accumulating a wealth of information about Christmas. Each of us posts one day a week following the theme for that week. Watch for new recipes, tips, ways to simplify, stories, etc., similar to what is in our book.

Leslie: Ooh, ooh, let me answer this one. I’m probably the newest to blogging among the group, but I LOVE it. I’ve enjoyed posting and receiving comments back from readers. What an amazing adventure having an online voice can be! This blog will focus on a different theme each week—anything from tips to avoid overeating during the holidays to how to give a guest room special touches—and expand on the material in the book. I think readers will get to know the authors’ individual personalities and connect on a more personal level. Plus, they get that many more ideas, information, inspiration (!) at no additional cost.

WQs: As an added bonus for inviting us to your blog, we’d like to pass along this Christmas tidbit to you and your readers:

Enjoy a blessed Christmas this year! And thanks for inviting us to share our book, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts, with you.



Thursday, September 11, 2008

STORM SURGES


The September book drawing will be for my new co-authored book: A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts ~ Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday
Send me an email writecat@consolidated.net or leave a comment to enter your name. Drawing will be held Sept. 30, 2008.

Check out the new Christmas blog inspired by this book, more contests for gift basket and books begins on Sept. 15th at blog:
http://scrapbookofchristmasfirsts.blogspot.com/

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The 1900 Hurricane hit Galveston, Texas with ferocity causing devastation to life and property. Survivors met with a night of terror on the 8th of September, the night when over 6,000 perished. With little warning, the storm swept into the Gulf and barged into an unprepared community. Homes and families splintered, some to never heal.

As Hurricane Ike approaches, I recall stories of courage and bravery recounted from that 108 year-old disaster. The uncanny date for it was September 8, 1900.

This week I spoke with author Janice Thompson who wrote a compelling novel about the 1900 storm, “Hurricane” (Cook Communications). Although out of print, a few copies are still available online. In her fiction, a few characters’ lives also had storm surges, undercurrents that battered their foundations.

When Janice and I spoke we talked about life rip tides. Janice said, “Everyone is shaped by storms.” We either prove strong or weak. We come through with better understanding or we may be robbed of momentum.

The Great Storm is considered this nation’s worst natural disaster. The Sisters of Charity ran a hospital and an orphanage several miles from what is now known as The Strand in Galveston, Texas. At the first sign of rising water the 10 sisters took a few supplies and 90 children to the second floor of the girl’s dormitory.

During the escapes to higher floors, to comfort and distract the children, they sang an old French hymn, “Queen of the Waves.” When forceful salt water rose to the third floor, each nun used pieces of clothes line to lash 6 to 8 children to their waist cinctures.

Afterwards, only three of the boys were saved by clinging to a tree. They finally made it to the high stacks of rubble in the main part of town to tell of the sisters’ bravery. When burials began, the children, some still lashed to nuns were buried together.

As I finish this column on Thursday A. M., Hurricane Ike is churning the Gulf of Mexico, nearing us, an unwelcome intruder. It looks like we’ll all have ample opportunities to rally and take care of our own and our neighbors, those close to our homes and those fleeing the Bay Area.

Some folk already have personal storms they’re battling, so during this weather crisis, be kinder than you need to be. It’s a good time to follow the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Each year, no matter where the Sisters of Charity are serving, foreign or in the Houston area, they sing “Queen of the Waves” on September 8th in memory of the courageous.

Take care, neighbors. May the greatest caregiver of all watch over this patch of his earth and sea. Be a blessing in a storm.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Generation Hand-Me-Downs-Sept 5

August Book Winner: Jane S. from Wasola, Missouri

The September book drawing will be for my new co-authored book: A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts ~ Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday
Send me an email writecat@consolidated.net or post a comment here to enter your name. Drawing will be held Sept. 30, 2008.

Check out the new Christmas blog inspired by this book, more contests for gift basket and books begins on Sept. 15th at blog:
http://scrapbookofchristmasfirsts.blogspot.com/

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I’m fast falling behind in my knowledge of technology; I'm seemingly stuck in the electric toaster and can opener generation. While I own a few of the newer gadgets, if operational skills were rated, I’d be on the tail end.

I want to buy a few more, but I don’t want to invest two college hours to learn how to turn them on and off. An iPod would be nice, but I’d prefer a grandma-version, storing only 50 tunes.

I’ve mastered the basics on my cell phone and use the camera feature, but my regular digital camera does a better job and doesn’t need film. Wonderful. Through trial and error, I triumphed to upload photos from its tiny disc onto my computer.

It’s obvious to younger members of my family that my techno skills are on the lower end of basic. I can’t even keep up with the coined lingo to describe all the new products. Another thing that I’m falling behind in is “savvy.”

My husband and I don’t watch that much television, but when we do, one of us usually tries to explain the commercials to the other one. And some of the commercials still “zoom, zoom, zoom” right over our heads.

To record a television program or add more memory to a computer, seek help from the thirty-ish age group or even younger, like a six-year-old. Folks past 50 do have admirable skills: we can help those younger because we have accumulated life experiences that can’t be uploaded from a computer. They’re transferred through human contact.

Paul wrote Titus telling him that reverent women should, “Train the younger women to love their husbands and children.” (Titus 2:5). Husbands don’t come with an owner’s manual, and wives aren’t factory programmed to love their husbands for 50 years. Husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Marriage and family skills are often taught and caught from an older person.

A child needs constant attention, love, care, and disciplines to emerge a whole person, one who can pass along good parenting skills to the next generation. So far, there’s not a parenting machine that will introduce children to God, kiss them, change their diapers, and teach them social know-hows.

Younger families, you have great resources beyond devices -- mature older folk. They may save you from a few stumbles. Look to them. They are the real advances in this generation.

All our gadgets bring some help to life but genuine help is found in living breathing people. Older generations, you who have tried all the sugary cereals and are now into fiber brands, look out for the younger families. Come along side of them. Many are just beginning to open their boxes of Cheerios and they need your backing.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Hagar's Hope


Enter your name for a drawing of The Stained Glass Pickup by sending me an email at writecat@consolidated.net. Or leave a message here. Drawing will be held on Labor Day, Sept 1, 2008.

Check out the new Christmas blog inspired by the co-authors of A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts ~ Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday by Cathy Messecar, co-author
http://scrapbookofchristmasfirsts.blogspot.com/

Upcoming contests next month at this new site. Enter to win free books and a gift basket.

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Hagar’s Hope

It was a big mess that’s what it was. But God does some of his most saving work through lives in chaos. Here’s the background of the story: Sarai and Abram, although the ages of a great-grandma and great-grandpa, had no children. Most people long for an heir, and this old couple were no different. According to their customs, a barren wife could “allow” her husband to sleep with a designated servant in hopes of bringing an heir into the family.

The custom may as well have sent an engraved invitation for Jealousy and Envy to strut right on into a household. Sarai gave her Egyptian servant, Hagar, to her husband Abram in hopes she would bear a child, and Hagar did become pregnant, and along with the blossoming she grew a haughty spirit, too. Sarai blamed Abram for the whole situation saying, “You are responsible for the wrong I’m suffering.”

She went on to say, “I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she’s pregnant, she despises me.” Fingers began pointing in every direction. God doesn’t plaster prettiness over the mistakes and sins of Bible characters’ lives, so in Genesis chapter 16, there’s even more about the wrongs done in this household.

Abram, apparently not wanting to get involved in the outcome of this dispute between two women, told Sarai, “Your servant is in your hands, do whatever you think best.” Sarai didn’t exactly follow Abram’s advice about doing what was best because “Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her” (vs.6).

This riff between the two women widened and could not be leaped by etiquette or fairness. God knew Hagar planned to tuck up her robe and run away from this ugly situation, one over which, as a servant, she had no control. After she left, the angel of the Lord found her resting near a desert oasis. The message sent from God is intriguing, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” (Genesis16:8).

Hagar replied, “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai.” The angel told Hagar to go back to her mistress and submit to her, but he gave her a pocket of promises to think on as she walked back toward the feudal minefield. God’s sonogram allowed Hagar to know she’d bear a son, to be named Ishmael (God hears), and while he would be a warrior, his descendents would be innumerable.

At that desert place, that pivotal time in Hagar’s life, “She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me’” (vs.13).

Genesis chapter 16 has given me several “aha” moments, those insights that reveal a bit more about God, about life. One is this question that keeps arising throughout different Bible stories: Where have you come from? Where are you going? I’m amazed at how often that theme arises in Bible text – questions to be answered by everyone.

A comfort also revealed: God is intimately involved in lives. Hagar is addressed by her given name, her situation fully known, from her status in life to the gender of her unborn child. Another message is that sometimes the lessons God wants us to learn are in the middle of the muddle. Go back, Hagar. Did she really want to hear that?

Difficult times furnish teachings where softer moments may lack muscle. It started out as a big mess. That’s what it was, and to this day, there’s still messiness between the descendents of Isaac and Ishmael.

Even though situations may seem hopeless, when God sums up scenes, they do not look so barren, so much like a fruitless place. He often seats us by an oasis and gives us hope. Or as psalmist David later restated about God--He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Parents, Life Educators

A special thank you to all who wrote or commented about last week’s column. Your name was entered into the August drawing to be held on Sunday, the 31st.

It’s August, enter your name for a drawing of The Stained Glass Pickup by sending me an email at writecat@consolidated.net. Or leave a comment at the end of this post.

Check out the new Christmas blog inspired by the co-authors of A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts ~ Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday by Cathy Messecar, co-author here.

Upcoming contests next month at this new site. Enter to win free books and a gift basket.

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Granddaughter Natalie begins Kindergarten on Monday. While thinking about this new path for her, I recalled my son and daughter’s first trek into public school.

My son walked into his classroom, settled in, and charmed his way into his teacher’s heart. Three year’s later I ripped my dress hem from my daughter’s grasp as she held on tight, tears streaming down her face which caused a torrent of sad tears on mine.

If your tear ducts need exercise, peer into a Kindergarten hallway on opening day. Empathy will kick in when you see little ones, clinging to knees, reluctant to venture into new worlds.

By the time children start to school, they have received instruction for five years in their homes. Some homes get high marks and others get failing grades. A home-trained child who respects his neighbor is a delight in the public system. A psalmist encouraged a familial education based on love. “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD” (Psalm 78:4).

These intentional stories about God are handed down so the “next generations would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children” (verse 6).

I overheard a rancher dad tell about driving his high school age daughter to school each day and praying aloud for her. My mind conceived a picture of a stained glass pickup puttering down the road and the gift that dad gave his daughter on school mornings.

I scurried kids off to school for over 25 years, counting the college years, and I recollect both frazzled and smooth mornings. Spilled milk, sticky pancake syrup, dawdling children, misplaced books, sick stomachs, a rattled mom or dad, and lots more can edge into morning routines.

Mishaps are reality, but a purposeful parent can be reality, too. On ill fated mornings, steering family around the chaos presents a loving precedent.

I recall a Kindergarten program, complete with foot lights, brightening only the stage. As children settled onto risers, many shaded their eyes and looked beyond the staged affair for their anchors in life.

Good teachers are better than best blessings, but parents are the ones honored with the task of equipping children with answers that will outlive school tests and diplomas.

The next time you stop behind an afternoon school bus and little kids get off, look at those eager faces. They are looking for their parents—the educators of their lives.

Friday, August 08, 2008

What's on Your Face?

July winner: Lynne L., New Mexico

It’s August, enter your name for a drawing of The Stained Glass Pickup by sending me an email at writecat@consolidated.net or leave a comment here
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What’s on Your Face?


President Thomas Jefferson, along with a group of men, contemplated crossing a swollen stream on horseback. After several successful crossings, a man waiting on foot near the banks waved at the President, thumbing a ride across. Jefferson happily gave him a lift.

Upon reaching dry ground on the other side of the roiling waters, one of the men asked the hitchhiker, "Tell me, why did you select the President of the United States to carry you across the river?"

Incredulous he said, "I didn’t know he was the President! All I know is that on some faces is written the answer ‘NO’ and on some the answer ‘YES’.”

Faces. When faces were given out, no one got to pick their own. Face-scapes are totally God’s choice, but the human wearer gets to do the cultivating, and smiles and grimaces make laugh and scowl tracks. With 98 muscles, faces reflect emotions, what we’re thinking and how we’re feeling -- anger, sadness, worry, fun, pain, disappointment, eagerness, fright, boredom or surprise.

Some folk have face blindness called prosopagnosia, from the Greek words “face” and “non-knowledge.” After a severe brain injury, a patient may not recognize family members. The medical profession has identified similar congenital disorders. Folk with face blindness recognize others through voice or characteristics, but their disability makes them unable to differentiate humans by facial features.

Most of us learn to “read” faces. In the Bible book of 1 Samuel, Abigail is described as having a pleasant face even though married to wicked Nabal, “[T]he woman was of good understanding, and of a beautiful countenance: but the man was churlish and evil in his doings” (1 Samuel 25:3 NAS).

God’s countenance (presence) is frequently mentioned the Bible. In Psalm 89, God’s righteousness, justice, ever present love and faithfulness are praised. The psalmist then says people who know the joy of the Lord get to walk “in the light” of his “countenance” (vs. 15).

This welcoming presence is seen when Jesus walked through Samaria. He stopped at a well to rest, and a Samaritan woman arrived to draw out water. In that era, men didn’t speak to women in public, especially Samaritans, but Jesus spoke to her and asked her for a drink. His receptive manner caused the woman to sing his praises and introduce Jesus to fellow villagers.

Countenance and demeanor “say” a lot. As Thomas Jefferson’s contemporary said, some faces say “No” and some say “Yes.” Wouldn’t it be nice, if disciples of Jesus could truly reflect the countenance of God?

A Christian’s face is like a doormat — in some way it ought to say, “Welcome.” What’s on your face?

Friday, July 25, 2008

My new co-authored book will be out in September, A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts ~ Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday. Check it out at http://ourchurch.com/member/c/Christmas_Sbook/ or check out our new blog where my co-authors and I post six days a week on different holiday topics, recipes, and we post many pictures of products or our families: http://scrapbookofchristmasfirsts.com/

Book Drawing next Thursday, July 31. Get your name in the “opportunity box.” Leave a comment here or email me at writecat@consolidated.net and I’ll enter your name for the July book drawing to win a copy of The Stained Glass Pickup.

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A glossy picture in a Christian magazine shows a young girl from a Third World country. With her hands, she is splashing water onto her face from a trickling faucet. Her hair is turban-wrapped, her eyes closed, her lips smile because she is refreshed by life-giving water.

A look of intense delight radiates her countenance. The caption reads, "She's tasting pure water for the first time. Imagine her excitement when it reaches her soul."

The photo reminded me of the Hebrews' drink-needs when they traveled from Egypt through desert lands. Bible scholars number the Hebrews exiting Egypt between 1.2 million and 2 million, plus sheep, chickens and dogs.

Later, when they grumbled about their thirsts, a rock became a fountain. I had imagined a garage-size rock, Moses striking it with his staff then a small stream of water emerging. But trickles don't assuage thousands upon thousands’ thirsts.

The story of the Hebrews' parched throats is found in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20. Quantitative details about the fresh water God supplied are in the Psalms: "Water as abundant as the seas" and water flowing down "like rivers" (78:15-16). When Moses struck the rock, "water gushed out, and streams flowed abundantly" (20).

Another psalm tells about the "God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water" (Psalm 114:8). The additional information in the psalms deepened my puddle-thinking.

God is not a trickle fountain, nor is he tight fisted. Desert travelers need sufficient water. Moisture-starved pilgrims need abundance, an extravagance of water, and that's just what God gave.

The Hebrews also "drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ" (1 Corinthians 10:3). God kept their bodies alive with water while their spirits feasted on his presence.

Years ago on a country road, my vehicle broke down in 100-degree weather. After walking two miles, my thirst was extreme. Several cars passed but none offered a lift. Disheartened and thirsty, I needed relief. The eventual savior-truck-driver dropped me off at a convenience store. I had access to water again, just what I needed.

Physical thirst is not the worst thirst I've suffered. A need for liquid is usually easily met in my water-pampered culture, but there are worse ways to dry up. Tap water doesn't solve every thirst.

An old hymn lyric states a truth: "There's a fountain free." For dehydrated seekers, family or friends, an oasis is near. In the name of Jesus, a cup of "living water" can be shared – and imagine their excitement when it reaches their souls.

Friday, July 18, 2008

My new co-authored book will be out Sept. 1. Check it out here. http://ourchurch.com/member/c/Christmas_Sbook/ or go to http://scrapbookofchristmasfirsts.blogspot.com/

Book Drawing: Leave a comment here or email me at writecat@consolidated.net and I’ll enter your name for the July book drawing to win a copy of The Stained Glass Pickup.
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Fomites. They are everywhere. But what are they? A fomite is an inanimate object capable of transmitting diseases. The following, plus a whole bunch more, could be “carriers”: an escalator handrail, a doorknob, a piano keyboard or a tricycle.

Most of us come in contact with fomites each day with herds of germs on their surfaces. Now, if those pesky microorganisms would only bray or moo to let us know their presence that might help. Never mind. That’s a poor idea. All those germs emitting sounds might cause paranoia. That’s why God is God, and I’m just Cathy.

I heard that US currency has a fungicide in the paper to combat this passing of germs, but I couldn’t find any credible source to substantiate that. Sometimes I grow a bit obsessed about germs on a grocery cart handle but there are more infectious and dangerous things. One of those is a spirit of grumbling that can pollute a soul with peevishness.

Folks can get into the bad habit of complaining about nearly everything, sometimes causing friends to abandon and family to avoid the bellyacher. In an office, if a coworker inventories their gripes aloud, soon, the whole staff is whining unless a Mary Poppins is on the team, someone who can steer the mood.

Recently, I spent time with dear friend Jan Tickner, a former columnist for this newspaper, who wrote in this same space. I always gain insights from her even if it’s only her answer to my question. “How are you?”

Although her answer is customary, there is nothing stale about it. She answers, “I’m blessed.” We’ve had many, many heart-to-heart talks, and I know her answer conveys her outlook on life – to count the paved roads not the potholes.

In recent years, she gave me a bound booklet, she’d created for her “family and a few very close friends.” Inside are reflections over scriptures and insights gained from what Jan calls “one more lap around Mt. Sinai,” lessons God repeats until we “get it.”

In one devotional, she recalled the grumbling of the Hebrew people, who whined to God so much that he “gave them what they wanted but sent “leanness into their souls.” Bent on their complaining, they “despised the pleasant land” and “grumbled in their tents” (Psalm 106:24-25).

When I go to Jan’s tent, I do not hear grumbling. Instead, I hear about the latest victory or insight or lovely thing in her world. It’s not all rosy, but she chooses the scent of roses over the sting of the thorn.

One of her prayer requests is based on the lessons in Psalm 106, that God will give her a “fat soul and a lean body.”

We can’t avoid fomites, but we can avoid complaining. Instead, pass along bits and pieces about the good life—they come out naturally from the “fat souls,” who fill up at God’s well.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Advantageous Grower

Leave a comment and I'll enter your name into the July drawing to win a copy of The Stained Glass Pickup.




As I walked along the state road in front of our home picking up the weekend warriors’ trash, I noticed something unusual, a short pine sapling. Here’s some history about its growing spot.



We’ve had pine tree stumps in the front for some time. We cut one tree down about eight years ago after lightening hit it. That tree is the third in our yard to get bolted from above. My yard is a good place to not be when humid and cold air rumba. At midnight, one of those strikes occurred outside the bedroom window and the subsequent quake of the house chased off all sweet dreams.



When we cut down damaged trees, we left the stumps to rot down on their own, and they’ve just about melted away. My surprise find was in the middle of one of the rotting platforms — a one foot pine tree sapling is growing right where disaster took place.



Most likely, a tiny winged pine seed shook lose from an overhead pine cone (seeds grow under ovulate scales of pine cones). After the fertile seed broke free, it whirly-gigged down — around and around — until it landed on the stump, embedding itself securely enough to root and take hold.



In 2005, I wrote a similar column about a cactus in an oak tree. We saw it in Fredericksburg, Texas. Back then, I spoke with Hal Hollibaugh of Cactus Jungle in Berkeley, California, and he said most likely the prickly pear was “simply an advantageous grower.” Seeds sometimes germinate in odd places if they find enough nutrients.



I really like the horticultural term “advantageous grower.” It has kinship with the maxim, ”Bloom where you’re planted.” Imagine the bemoaning if the petite sapling were a complainer, whining about his foothold: Why couldn’t I grow among the St. Augustine grass like all the other giant pines in the yard? But if his roots had taken hold in the grass, he’d be long gone, mown down months ago.



Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "For everything you have missed, you have gained something else." Paul advised each Roman disciple, “Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.” He further encouraged, “Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him” (12:1-2, The Message).



What’s happening in your world? Any lightening strikes of late? Are your roots in plain days or difficult? Whatever the circumstances, the pine sapling is willing to teach its lesson—be an “advantageous grower.”

Friday, July 04, 2008

Loyalty

June Book Drawing Winner: Virginia B from Oregon.

My new co-authored book will be out Sept. 1. Check it out here. http://ourchurch.com/member/c/Christmas_Sbook/

Book Drawing: Leave a comment here or email me at writecat@consolidated.net and I’ll enter your name for the July book drawing to win a copy of The Stained Glass Pickup.


Loyalty

On the morning of July 4th, 2000, I fastened a Texas flag and an American flag into the pole brackets on my front porch. My two year old grandson, Jack, watched. I said, “Today is the United States’ birthday.”

Jack asked, “Will there be presents?”

Eight years later, his question haunts me. This country gives a lot—from the sea, the soil, and the government, and we enjoy specific freedoms. My toddler grandson planted an idea. Why not give back to the USA?

I know of a gift that each individual can give, even the poorest among us, one that can affect our culture and effect change like no other — the gift of loyalty. The virtue is not indigenous, but can be cultured.
Loyalty means faithfulness, devotion, trustworthiness, constancy, reliability, dependability — a Fourth of July picnic basket full of good characteristics. Just imagine the difference in government spending and dispersion if each law maker were truly trustworthy, looking out only for the citizens who voted them into office.

Envision the amount of revenue, to assist our citizens, if no one cheated on their taxes. Our friend Gail Curtis said about her dad, Leonard Martens, “When daddy did his taxes, he always added a little to his payment in case he’d forgotten something.” That’s the kind of loyalty and honesty I’m talking about, a high personal standard.

Picture the production level if every able bodied American worked with vigor, giving a full eight hours labor for eight hours of wages. What might happen in educational institutions, if teachers and students were all devoted to teaching and learning?

How might a family benefit if the husband and wife were committed to each other on paper and in person, and their children recognized them as dependable, constant? The family is the largest educational system in America, an important stage where loyalty can be modeled by adults.

Of course, the top model for loyalty is God whose rain falls on the just and the unjust (Matt. 5:45). God is constant and programmed the seasons to never falter “as long as the earth endures” (Gen. 8:22). God is faithful, dishes out hope. He is love.

Knowledgeable citizens have stressed that keeping freedoms and character compatible is a great challenge. A first step in not abusing freedoms is for each resident of the United States, citizen or alien, to check their loyalty quotient.

Today, sparklers glitter, children decorate bicycles, parades queue up, and watermelons chill in ice chips, American flags wave — all signs that it’s America’s birthday. From the Atlantic to the Pacific, citizens will enjoy city-wide bashes and backyard barbeques. Enjoy today and what you receive from the USA, and consider the thought provoking question: “Will there be presents?”

Friday, June 27, 2008

David and Goliath

Book Drawing: Leave a comment here or email me at writecat@consolidated.net and I’ll enter your name for the June book drawing to win a copy of The Stained Glass Pickup and announce the winner next week.


An Israelite father sent his young son David to a battlefield to check on his brothers who served there. As he arrived, home team soldiers formed ranks against the enemy.

A very rag-tag army, with only two swords, readied to fight oppressive Philistines. King Saul and his son alone had weapons because the oppressive Philistines didn’t allow blacksmith shops in Israel. Would I even crawl out of my tent to face an enemy if I only had a garden tool to defend country and self?

Despite Israel’s poor armory, soldiers left camp “shouting the war cry” (1 Samuel 17:20). David heard the rallying call and listened to stories about a defiant, tree-trunk giant, a champion Philistine who maligned God every day. Over nine feet tall, he’d bullied for 40 days, morning and evening.

David expected retaliation from his fellow Israelites, those brave soldiers he looked up to, but on that dewy morning, giant Goliath again bellowed threats and the entire army “ran from him in great fear” (1 Samuel 17:24).

Every day the same scene repeated itself. Israel’s soldiers gave battle whoops, thunderstorms making idle threats, but the army barometer read “low morale.” Who would rescue Israel?

That’s when Victory-Maker-God called a sturdy shepherd boy to carry out his purpose. David enlisted, and his bravery directed the soldiers back to their real champion against evil — God.

Although handy with a slingshot, the homemade tool and the shepherd boy’s skill were only a small part of the later success of routing enemies. David made a speech to Goliath that revealed his heart-set. He said, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty . . . whom you have defied.”

Goliath never ever taunted Israel again. His bravado fell with a thud, and God required Goliath to pay the wages for his sins. His enemy cohorts fled, too. On previous mornings, despite King Saul and all the Israelites being “dismayed and terrified” (17:11), the soldiers lined up and faced their enemies with homemade weapons and a battle cry.

Granted, not much changed, but they did show up each day. I think of the many people who get up each morning in poverty, sickness, or worse, and nothing ever seems to change. For those, remember that God sent a boy and a slingshot to shore up Israel’s faith in God. A seemingly small rescuer is often God’s way of helping out.

God is a courage grower. Whenever we face difficulties, he can change fear to faith and lift hope as a battlefield banner. God, of massive proportions, can rout doubt and our daily giants.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Tree Trunk Marriage Counselor

Book Drawing: Leave a comment here or email me at writecat@consolidated.net and I’ll enter your name for the June book drawing to win a copy of The Stained Glass Pickup.


If laundry is taken down to a certain basement, watch your step. Be especially careful because a very large log is in the bowels of this house. This tree trunk, well it’s a marriage counselor.

When visiting a long time friend in Massachusetts, he gave us a tour of Cape Ann. As we drove past landscapes, seascapes and landmarks, our host Chris Larsen, told us tidbits of information about locales and locals.

As we passed one home, Chris said his grandmother and step-grandfather had lived there. Then Chris told us about the earlier marriage advice his granddad gave him. He invited Chris into the basement, and on the way said, “Always let the wife win.”

In the basement, to Chris’ surprise, sat a heavy log with spikes protruding. His granddad said whenever he felt marriage related frustrations, he retreated to pound a heavy-duty piece of metal into the log. “By the time you’re finished hammering in the spike your frustration is gone.”

It doesn’t take too long after wedding vows before irritants surface. For married couples who draw battle lines, things as small as a muddied kitchen floor or an over budget purchase can cause words and worse to be hurled.

A wise wife knows words can wound like arrows, and that “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). An astute man teaches his family forgiveness—he leads in charity.

When both parties yield to God’s love, it doesn’t matter if the couple met in Kindergarten or through a marriage broker. God’s lived-out love always trumps backgrounds and personalities. One man said he’d just like to go to sleep and let God create a wife for him. Yep, he knew it would cost him a rib.

With nearly 41 marriage years under the same roof, I recommend two loving habits to those who long to strengthen marriages: respect and common courtesies. Respect the contributions that each person brings to the relationship. No spousal belittling allowed in private, in public or behind backs.

Also, work common courtesies into every day: Thank you. You’re welcome. May I get you anything? Sure, I’ll scratch your back.

All problems have solutions, as a novice husband learned when he asked his new bride, “Now that we are married, do you think you will be able to live on my small income?"

"Of course, dearest, no trouble," she said. "But what will you live on?"

Maybe a trip to the hardware store is a good idea. Pick up the large bag of spikes.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Appreciate Dads

Book Drawing: Leave a comment here or email me at writecat@consolidated.net and I’ll enter your name for the June book drawing to win a copy of The Stained Glass Pickup.


My husband, David, told me about a very tired truck driver dad. Twelve at the time, David was with his dad at the Houston port to buy six barrels of molasses for their dairy farm. They were paying for their purchase inside an office where truck drivers came to finish their paperwork.

The trucking office would give each semi-truck driver a cold Coca Cola, in a thick green glass bottle. The cool drink helped offset the blistering summer heat and long waits to get loaded or unloaded. Drivers could drink it in the office or pay the bottle deposit and take the refreshing drink with them.

This particular driver had a wife and child in his truck. In 1959, the 18 wheelers were not what they are today. In 2008, some of the long haul trucks have luxury walk-in sleepers and the berths can transform into a sitting area. Now, trucks have power steering, air-ride seats, air conditioning and room to drive comfortably.

Truck cabs of yesteryear were small and rarely air conditioned. Just steering a truck around town on a humid Houston day might cause the toughest man to long for a different job. The single, cot-size sleep area could only be accessed by climbing through an opening between the cab and sleeper, the entry a bit larger than a welcome mat.

Back to the dad in the freight office, he asked if he could buy an additional Coke and then paid two bottle deposits. My husband, even as young as he was, noticed the driver’s weariness, perspiration, slumping shoulders. He then watched as the dad went to his truck and gave one cold drink to his wife and one to his child.

Too often we forget the hard work that dads do: the long hours, the sleepless nights when bills to grocer, doctor, repairmen and such don't match income. Their health may even be compromised so the wife and kids can live a more comfortable life. And for the most part they aren't whiners. They don't want hero awards. They just want respect and love from the ones they are honor bound to shield.

A Nomadic tribe says that a woman is the tent pole. If they are, then the men are the fabric that protects and holds it all together. They provide security and courage and literally lay down their lives daily for their families.

I have a very soft spot in my heart for labor intensive work that men do, whether they work at computers or at the helm of draglines digging gravel pits.

Give thanks for your dad. Remember most dads just want to be hugged and thanked for what they supply. And give them an additional kiss on the cheek for those extras, the times they handed their icy colas to you.

Many thanks, dads, and Happy Father’s Day.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Tomorrow, Tomorrow


May Winner of book drawing: Alta G. from Texas

Book Drawing: Leave a comment here or email me at writecat@consolidated.net and I’ll enter your name for the June book drawing to win a copy of The Stained Glass Pickup.

Coming in September: A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts
Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify the Holiday
by coauthor Cathy Messecar.
Full color hardback gift book. Check out what others are saying about the book

"Fiddle deedee, I'll worry about that tomorrow," said Scarlett O’Hara, the heroine in Gone With the Wind. On that occasion she shoved her worries to the next calendar day, and she has many present day cousin-procrastinators, including me.

Procrastination means putting off a project until a later date, especially habitually doing so. Delaying decisions, avoiding messy activities or putting off confrontations is as common as sunrise for some folk, but strategists have developed helpful solutions.

Hypnotists claim they can de-procrastinate dawdlers. The Japanese developed psychological methods for dealing with the hesitant. Books and CDs offer self-help. But will habitual delayers follow through by buying the products, and then reading or listening? That’ll probably happen tomorrow, too.

Support groups exist for stallers. I imagine attending a meeting and feeling the warm welcome. "Hello, my name is Cathy, and I’m a procrastinator." These groups actually exist and sponsor preventive programs where the got-it-together folks mentor those lacking initiative.

Written centuries ago, wise Solomon’s advice is still relevant today, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might"(Ecclesiastes 9:10). The same verse in The Message is, "Whatever turns up, grab it and do it. And heartily!"

God’s system in the natural world is a good pattern to follow. The continual action of spring, summer, fall and winter keeps the earth recycling, aiding it to be more tidy and functional. Nature’s cycle of growth, producing, and rest is worthy of imitation. If any season skipped its timeslot, chaos would reign. Timeliness is important.

Most have experienced sheer joy after confronting a dreaded chore or problem. Cleaning out a garage, un-cluttering a file cabinet or ridding any homestead of debris puts the mind at ease. A more carefree spirit cloaks shoulders when relationships are righted or hard work produces debt reduction.

Tackling slothful habits is commendable. Closet cleaning, e-mail clear-out, house painting, eating healthier foods, exercising — are any of those on tomorrow’s list? Fred Brooks observed, "How does a project get to be a year behind schedule? One day at a time."

Put into practice the advice from Solomon. He said far-sighted folks will tackle tasks at hand. He knew that put-off projects have a built in growth hormone. They loom larger and larger in thought and reality.

Someone said, "At a steady rate, we procrastinate. I’ve only this to say—if tomorrow ever gets here, it’ll be a busy day!" Tomorrow or today? Task accomplished or snowballing frustration? Has anything been shoved to the bottom of the list for way too long? Today is perfect for sticking out your foot and tripping that old enemy Procrastination.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Ageless Light

Book Drawing: Leave a comment at here or email me at writecat@consolidated.net and I’ll enter your name for an May 31st book drawing to win a copy of The Stained Glass Pickup.

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As one ages, there are benefits and drawbacks. Of course, one of the minuses is that bodies don’t look or work like they used to. Aging author Patsy Clairmont said younger friend Anita Renfro saw a bumper sticker on an old jalopy. She recommended that Patsy have a T-shirt made up with the same slogan: Honk if any parts fall off.

Art Linkletter, a TV host from yesteryears, said he asked a 100 year old woman the greatest advantage of aging. Her answer, “Not as much peer pressure.”

For me, one of the pluses of aging is longtime relationships with God and friends, folks who have known God a long time. If the ages were added together from the super senior Bible class I attend, there’d be several thousand years of wisdom and rubbing shoulders with God.

Pat S., a longtime friend (take notice, I didn’t say “old” friend) and I chatted about a favorite scripture of hers from Psalm 18. David wrote, “You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great” (35).

This Psalm with 50 verses is full of David’s glimpses of God. A notation about the Psalm tells that David sang the 50 stanza praise to God whenever God rescued him from his enemies. The first words in the song, “I love you, O LORD, my strength.”

Throughout the psalm, David’s timbre reflects God’s protection. God is referred to in metaphorical terms as a shield and stronghold, and he is portrayed as parting the heavens, coming down, and holding his children steady so that “ankles do not turn” (36).

David also depicts God as a designer of spacious places on earth—stretches of life, eases of mind without big stresses. I’ve been there—from oasis moments to days and weeks when peace reigns.

I aged numerically this week. When my dad phoned on my birthday, he reminded me that the hospital and doctor bill to get me into the world was only $90.00. I guess that pretty well dates me. I am antiquish.

Age drove over and left tread marks, and I’ve learned a few things. Crows feet don’t hurt. Spandex is good for saggy parts. Longtime friends are good for sagging spirits. Prune juice isn’t all that bad, and temper tantrums can happen at any age.

In Psalm 18, David also acknowledged God as a personal light source. “You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning.” Even though I don’t feel old, the mirror reflects the truth. The foundation and façade just aren’t what they used to be. I really don’t mind this spacious place of growing older—just as long as God keeps stooping to earth, trimming the wick and shining through.