Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Treasures

   The best gifts of Christmas are those you treasure in your heart. It's the moment when a child comes into a room with wide eyes and the biggest grin you have ever seen as she spies the gifts awaiting her under the tree. It's the unexpected bear hug from a tall son who also stoops to whisper, "I love you, Momma," into your listening ear. It's the quiet hubbub of little voices rising and the mothers' gently shushing them as Pappy reads aloud the timeless Christmas Story from Luke 2. It's the laughter around the dinner table. It's the grandchildren peering through the staircase spindles where once your own children pressed their faces in nearly the same way.  It's a granddaddy who rescues a squalling baby and whisks him away to a quiet room where it's just the two of them sharing a moment of precious peace.
   I count myself as one blessed woman. No Christmas is ever perfect, because we are an imperfect people in great need of that Holy One who came to earth on that fateful night so long ago. The real miracle of Christmas is not even the treasured memories we collect and carefully document in order to remember. It is undeserved grace poured out from heaven above. Grace for sinners such as you and I. It is a baby born to die. It is sins forgiven, negated, absolved and remembered no more. It is freedom. It is mercy that finds itself renewed every morning by the power of that majestic giver of all grace, Emmanuel, God With Us.

Getting ready for the celebration.
A lovely banner ordered here on Etsy and a caramel cake from the

The calm before the storm

All set and ready to go
And here they come
Say cheese, please!

And what to my wondering eyes should appear...

 "I don't know about you, but I am going straight for the glass slippers..."
 Nonna and the boys!
Things are getting crazy around here
 The girls' sleeping bags are a great hit!
Let's try them out in the teepee
 Good idea
Brother wants to get in on the action.
Note the matching socks. Not.
This guy is happy happy happy with his new book
Nothin' like a boy and his truck (and a few dinosaurs)
Hey, when do we eat? 
Uncle Bear and I are getting hungry...
While no one is looking, I'm gonna finish up the last of this spinach dip...

The girls feel special at their own little table
And then it gets a little crazy
 The aftermath it's time to chill out, and let the food digest while the grandbabes watch a little Sound of Music

 And the adults open their stockings...
 Am I dreaming or is this room getting smaller
and smaller and smaller?!
 Pappy has found the perfect quiet the teepee...with the grandchildren!

Then it's time for everyone to head home and put their sleepyheads to bed.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a Good Night!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Husband's Christmas Letter 2013


     The Husband works for an incredible organization, Pinnacle Bank, that allows him the freedom to send his Christmas reflection to all 750 bank employees each year. It is a special gift that he does not take lightly. I look forward each year to reading what he has written. This letter really pierced my heart. Here is this year's letter sent the week before Christmas! Read it and you'll see why I love this man so much.

Christmas Blessing 2013

As we once again approach that joyful time of the year, Christmas, I want to challenge and encourage us to contemplate two aspects of this most extraordinary day in the history of the world.  First, I challenge you to really ponder why and how we celebrate Christmas and the indescribable joy which it should represent to us , and secondly, something upon which we rarely focus in our celebration – the three Wise Men and what they should represent to us.

With regards to this particular day, to me unquestionably Christmas is the most important day in the history of the world and reflects the greatest news ever given to mankind.  The baby’s birth in the manger was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy:  Isaiah 9:6 – “ For us a child is born, to us a Son is given. And He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace  “and to the shepherds in the field an angel proclaimed in Luke 2:9:  “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you, He is Christ the Lord. “  Through this day, there are several poignant messages given which we should recognize and claim.  First and most importantly – God loves you.  This love He has for you encapsulates His naturefor in His very essence God is love.  Secondly, God is with you:  Jesus is actually named “Emmanuel” which means “God with us."  Thirdly, God is for you – He wants you to succeed in the things that are truly important.  He desires a vibrant relationship with you – If not, why would He have sent His Son to be with us except to relate with us – not to judge the world but instead to love it and save it.

Let’s not forget the Prodigal Son story in which the father runs out to greet the returning wayward son who had previously abandoned his family.  THAT is the story of Christmas.  It is the Father who runs to greet us in the form of a babe. The Bible clearly states that we were all destined for eternal death in sin but God did not turn His head on us, but instead sent His Son to be with us and ultimately to be the vehicle through whom we can be reunited with Him forever.  Is there anything of greater value to be celebrated?  Life is tough – in fact very tough. Our lives resonate with poor choices; friends disappointing us; family trials; divorce; business failures; debilitating health conditions; deep suffering, separation, and even death. At some point some or all of these are a part of each of our lives.  HOWEVER, Christmas is that good news of great joy which is for everyone who chooses to accept the gift, such that we have something of God's own eternal nature coupled with the power of a heartfelt joy which can supersede and even conquer the temporary circumstances which cause us great unhappiness and anxiety. Through our Lord we now have access to that peace which surpasses all understanding.

You see, a major part of the “Good News” of Christmas is that YOU matter to God.  He knows everything about us – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and He still loves us.  We are not an accident – He has a plan and purpose of life for each of us.  Christmas is God’s chosen time.  It is not about religion, for Jesus did not come to bring us a religion but instead He came to bring us a relationship – the opportunity to know Him; love Him; accept Him as Lord; and be forever reunited with Him.  God sent Jesus to us as the most extraordinary gift possible so we could know what He is like.  God did not want us to love him from a distance but instead desired to love us up close.

Now as to the Wise Men, far too infrequently do we place any emphasis upon them and scrutinize exactly who they were  and why they are important to us.  The Wise Men were part of a totally different culture. They are fascinating people. Certainly in the manger, they looked out of place with their fancy clothes and gifts.  The Bible refers to them as “Magi” – quite wealthy and highly educated – a combination of philosophers, scientists, and astronomers.  They were also seekers of the truth.  In Matthew 2:2 they ask:  “Where is the baby who was born to be the King of the Jews?”  They wanted to worship Him.  They were willing to go to any length to find Jesus – to come from the Far East to the Middle East in Bethlehem to find Him – to embark on a four to five month (or possibly longer) journey across a scorching hot desert to find Him.  All the major religious leaders of the world were basically right there in Jerusalem only six miles from Bethlehem but none of them were seeking Jesus.

Can you imagine what it must have been like when the Magi first saw the baby Jesus?  He looked to be just another baby in a dirty manger, yet they knew immediately that He was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  They experienced such depth of emotion that they stopped in awe and fell on their faces to worship Him.  Also, remember what these Wise Men did next – they gave Him gifts as part of their worship – gifts representing their very best – gold; myrrh; and frankincense.  They bowed down and gave Him their treasures.

So the question for you and me is:  “What will we give Him?” 

Will we give Him our trust?  Will we give Him first place in our life so that nothing robs Him of that place? Will we look at those things which quite frankly represent idols disrupting our relationship with God?  Will we give Him our Heart?  In that most special place of our heart is what we love; what we most deeply value; those things about which we care the most.  Will we share our love for Him with others?   Will we be seekers of Truth like the Wise Men?  And most importantly, as with the Wise Men, will we give Him our best – not simply our leftovers but instead our very best?  Do you ever contemplate that just maybe God wants a present from us?  Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a pearl so valuable that one would sell everything and anything to obtain it.

So the difference in giving our present to God -  our most valuable treasure – our Heart – we immediately get something back in return even more valuable – what a deal!!  The best ever of which I have heard!! We are never to be separated from Him. 
So this December 25th, I wish for you a most special and blessed Christmas – knowing how much God loves you; how He is with you regardless of present, past, or future circumstances; how in His omnipresence and omniscience He is always watching you and always for you.  I pray that we all will give Him our very best and most precious treasure such that we will enjoy Him, not simply at Christmas, but for all eternity. 


Ed White

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

O'er Hill and Vale

   The first snow of the season. A mere dusting. Not enough to sneeze about except that the thin crust of ice on the roads at 6 am sent more than a few drivers slip-sliding over bridges and a semi or two bumping into those careening cars. It was won and done. School was out for the day.
    The Daughter lives in a neighborhood in East Nashville where neighbors holler out across porches, join each other for impromptu dinner parties, and know the vagaries of one another's lives. So today it was time to rally the kiddos and head out for the slopes. The slopes being the Shelby Golf Course, of course.
     Here's what happened along the way. No commentary necessary.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Books Under the Christmas Tree

   I have the honor of having a personal acquaintance with a couple of authors and artists who have new works that have made their debut this fall. Any or all would be a wonderful gift for a special someone in your life.
   Without further ado, I am pleased to introduce you to a few of my friends:
1. I wrote about the author Lisa Patton and a very special occasion in her life here. I am honored to count her as a close friend. Lisa is one of the most delightful women I know and has made quite a name for herself as a Southern writer, in addition to her other gifts. This last book, which boasts my favorite title to date, is the final installment in a trilogy, but don't don't have to have read all three to enjoy this marvelously well-crafted and engaging story. Southern as a Second Language can certainly carry its own weight. I am happy that much beloved character Leelee is back in all her glory. She is a friend that will stay with you long after you have closed the pages of the book. She is delightfully and totally "Southern"... and this book is filled with the things that make Southerners endearing to many. Yet if you are looking for a perfect book to curl up in a corner with, a book that will bring you to laughter and tears, this is the one for you. Oh, and there is also a thread of suspense that pulls you in and along just like an undertow. You'll keep turning page after page just to find out what happens in the end. And if you are not Southern when you pick up the book, when you finish you are going to have a better understanding of the rest of us Southerners. You are also gonna wish you were one of our much vaunted tribe.

2. I have been in community with Reggie Anderson's' family for many years. His wife, Karen, and I are dear friends and we have prayed for one another and for each other's children. She is one of the most tender and wise women I know. I remember when her husband mentioned one evening at dinner that he had begun writing down the special experiences that he had had through the years with his patients who were close to death or dying. I was curious at the time, but forgot about the conversation for many months until Karen told me that Reggie had acquired an agent, met with several publishers and had signed the contract: the book was going to be published. I could hardly wait to open Appointments with Heaven by Dr. Reggie Anderson. It is a deeply personal story and Reggie shares much about his Southern upbringing in a small town not far from Selma. Alabama. His walk with God is an integral part of the story, as is the story of how he met Karen and fell in love with her, but the treasure of the story lies in the way that God reveals himself over and over again in Reggie's life and in the lives of those he serves. If you want to be encouraged, about not just what lies ahead for believers, but what is ours for today, read this lovely gem of a book. It will warm your heart and satisfy your soul.

3. Singer/songwriter Ashley Cleveland has the gravelly power house voice of a rock-and-roller. Think Janis Joplin in her prime. Yet the woman can belt gospel with the likes of Mahalia Jackson. When she performs this woman is a combustible force onstage, and with three Grammy's to her credit, she shows no signs of slowing down. Her voice, if anything, has become more powerful and angst-filled as she has aged. This is not a vocal artist who will lull you to sleep. My life connected with Ashley's when she had just moved to Nashville and had begun attending the same church as I. Our daughters were the same age and in the same small school. She and I also were part of the same small women's Bible study group. After I heard her sing, I always wondered why she had not hit the "big-time" as the world knows it. She seemed immensely more talented that other artists who were singing in the same genre. I'm still puzzling over that one. But enough about the music and onto the book. It's a fairly slim volume but like the woman who wrote it, it conveys powerful truth. This is not a story for cowards. This is a book about the childhood roots of adult addiction, redemptive grace and the love of God for broken people. If you can identify with any of these, this book will carry a ring of truth. Ashley is fearless. She leaves no holds barred in her autobiographical work, Little Black Sheep. If you want the truth about how hard life can be, and how powerful and good God is, read this story. It will be freeing for your soul, and keep you searching for more. Trust me when I say that this is a uniquely Southern voice that must be heard.

Diary of My Second Knee Replacement

   Yep. I just had my right knee replaced. Eighteen months or so ago, I replaced my left knee (and six years I replaced my right hip). In case you are wondering I am planning on giving Lee Majors and Lyndsay Wagner a run for their money. Not that you would know that to look at me. However, I digress. Back to my knee. My First Knee is currently very happy and doing her job, this new knee is not so sure.
Cute isn't it...

I am now on Day 10 of my recovery. I am going to try to give you the run-down to date of what has been happening thus far. Warning: this could definitely boring for those of you who do not have or are not contemplating the addition of artificial joints to your life. So feel free to move on whenever you can't take it anymore!

Some things to keep in mind as you read this:  I was definitely not overconfident going into this knee surgery; in fact, truth be told, I was dreading it and had waited as long as possible to schedule it before year end, but I believed  I was emotionally prepared to handle the recovery process. I was not. In fact, this knee replacement has thrown me for a loop! Why, you ask? The pain. The pain. The Pain. Are you getting my drift?  This knee replacement is totally different from what I experienced before. Sadly, my recovery thus far has seemingly been defined by said pain. I don't want to scare anyone off, I am just trying to be truthful. Stay with me, because I am confident that the picture will change and the pain will no longer dominate my life. I am on that pivot point. I can feel it.

   My surgery group, Southern Joint Replacement Institute, is the best in the Southeast. They are amazing and have a tried and true protocol both for surgery and for the rehab that is phenomenal. I know. I've benefited from it three times. Before I had my first hip surgery and then again before my first knee surgery,  I investigated all of the local doctors that conduct these respective surgeries, and I could not find anyone else who offered the comprehensive level of services that SJRI does.
    After you meet with your surgeon and determine that the joint replacement surgery is a go, several things happen. You meet with the Surgery Scheduler (Susie Ashley, in my case) and she gives you a date for your surgery (you won't be given the time because that is set the week before with Susie and the Dr.); Susie also gives you a time to come to a Joint Replacement Class, an appointment for a blood draw, an appointment with a hospitalist for a physical check-up, and a time for an evaluation by a physical therapist You feel a little like you are going back to school. You are.
    At your joint class, you will be given a notebook. Then you know that this was not an illusion, you really are going back to school. Definitely take the time to read it cover to cover. But do not obsess over the contents. There are no tests. You will just need to be aware of the fact that for the six weeks after your surgery, your life will not be your own. It will almost totally be controlled by that lovely metal and plastic artificial joint that your surgeon has implanted in your knee. It is calling the shots. Trust me on this!
    Six weeks. Get a calendar and mark it off. Make sure that you do not plan anything of any consequence (for example: Thanksgiving or Christmas-- two holidays that fell during my recovery period.) or you will regret it. I will tell you when I get through this, if my timing was as bad an idea as I think it was and is. But I am not there yet. I am in the middle of it!
   I'll be back at some point with info on the hospital stay. Headed off for a required (in my book) afternoon nap!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving to the Best Gift and the Best Giver of Good Gifts

    I learned a long time ago that I talk too much. It started with the report card in second grade that was marked with the telltale notation: Talks when she should be listening. In other years the report card had a little blank for the teacher to fill in that said  "Needs to work on:  fill-in-the-blank  and you guessed it, my blank usually said "talking." In fifth grade my teacher was Mrs. Mary Evelyn Clark whom I managed to adore despite the fact that she wrote on my grade report the words I could no longer ignore: Talks excessively. How embarrassing. And how true.
   It therefore stands to reason that my relationship with God has been governed, to a great degree, by the same struggle. I have never really had any problem talking to God. I have always been a pour out your heart and bore you with the details kind of girl. I figured that God could wade through the junk to get to the real issues a lot faster than I could, so prayer for me was a lot of prattling, some crying, some more prattling, accompanied by some more crying...I think you get the idea.
   And every year when Christmas or a friend or family member's birthday rolled around, I would get nervous. My budget was usually limited and my vision of what I would like to give was almost always limited as well. After years of purchasing things that left me feeling miserable and frustrated, I finally broke down and sent up a fully signed and endorsed (by me) petition to God regarding the whole gift-giving thing. It came in the form of a surrender. I raised the white flag, climbed down on my knees and said the big word, "H-E-L-P." And then I waited. That's really part of the miracle. That I waited. That I did not, once again, bombard the Holy One with details and instructions and requests. I waited. I know He heard me. He always did. The problem was that I almost always did not take the time to hear Him. I waited some more. I remember exactly where I was when this lengthy quiet exchange occurred.  I was lying underneath the dining room table in our house in Temple Hills. It was my "prayer closet." Not a one of my four children ever thought to look for me there, so it was my private place where God and I worked a lot of things out (usually with me doing most of the talking).
    I waited a long time. I am sure (knowing me like I do) that I probably grew impatient. After what seemed like FOREVER, I heard these words spoken to my soul, "If you LISTEN, I will show you what and how to give." Wow. That doesn't sound like rocket science to some of you, but it was revelation pure and simple to me. "If you LISTEN....." What a novel idea. But I had no idea how to LISTEN to God. I had always been too busy talking.
    I could write not just a blogpost, but a whole book about the process God took me through to teach me how to listen, however I have to work around to my point sooner rather than later. Thankfully, I did (despite my sin, my stubbornness, and my unquenchable desire to have my own way) learn to listen. And let me tell you, when I have actually listened and heard and obeyed (gosh, I hate that word), I can always...not sometimes, but ALWAYS tell by what happens that God was and is right on target. For the most part, gift-giving is so different now. Please don't think I am some holier-than-thou amazing gift-giver because God will surely humble me as soon as I write this post...and I will be the person who gives you the gift that makes you roll your eyes, shrug your shoulders in disgust, and scurry to the store to return it as soon as possible. However, I want to go on the record to say that when I listen, He is faithful. In things great and small. If I have learned anything in these nearly sixty years, it is to give all the credit where credit is due.
   So Happy Thanksgiving God! You are the BEST gift and the best giver of all time! You really do give amazingly good gifts to your children. The list is so long I can't really do much except hit a few high points: You have given us the gift of salvation, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of your Word, and the unbelievable gift of yourself. You are a giver through and through. I will unashamedly take all that you have offered. I thank you for giving me grace and mercy when I deserve the opposite. These gifts of yours are what get me through each day. Your grace is also what helps me to understand the price you had to pay to give me a life with you. A price so great I can scarcely comprehend it.  I know that you have told me that I will be your daughter forever. I am counting on it and am thankful for this incredible gift of adoption.  I also thank you for the grace, mercy, and love that were poured out on calvary. I have still got so much to learn from you. But I love listening to you almost as much as I love talking to you. And you and I know that is saying a lot. So I am here. Talking as usual. I need to go sit in your presence, not asking you for anything. Just rejoicing that I am your child and am always welcome.
Just sitting.
Just waiting.
Incredibly blessed.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Taking a Break

   It began with a crashing computer. The one with all of my photographs on it. Then one excuse began piling up after another. My stress level kept rising. I could not organize my thoughts or anything else, for that matter. So after much angst, I gave myself permission to take a break from blogging. Something that is supposed to be fun and therapeutic had ended up becoming a burden. Not a good idea.
   I am back today with a repost of a very special Christmas blessing that has a place of honor in our home each and every year. I just put this treasure out today. I know. It's the week before Thanksgiving. And here I am decorating for Christmas. But I have a good excuse. A really good excuse. I am having my right knee replaced the day before Thanksgiving. So unless I decorate today and tomorrow, the Christmas decor will pretty much be nonexistent. Thus...I have been dragging out my treasures and putting them out...smiling all the way. It's been a delightful day. 
    I do hope to update you all on my knee replacement (this is my third joint to be replaced.) It's not exactly something to which I am looking forward, but it is something that I most definitely need to do. Look for me later. I will be the one in the hideous white TED hose that will carry me right through Christmas. Maybe I'll just pretend to be a snow bunny this year...right.

     During the first twenty-five years of our marriage, it became a tradition for me to purchase something reminiscent of the nativity as a part of the Christmas gift The Husband and I gave to one another. Thus it is that our home at Christmas is filled with creches. When Christmas is over, I don't even put them all away. Some of them remain in place throughout the year as a perpetual reminder of the "Gift" they represent. Some are ornaments that hang upon the tree; others are fashioned of wood, ceramic, or clay, and one set is made entirely of felt. It is just perfect for little grandbaby hands to hold and to move and to place just so over and over again.
       However, the favorite of all of my creches is a very humble nativity, one that is not likely to attract a second glance unless you know the story behind it. Despite its lack of supposed beauty, it has a place of prominence in our home: it has its home on the entry hall table to greet guests when they come in the door. 
       The base is a slab of unfired clay made by one of my children. There are little figures crafted by another of my children, where once there were four figures, only three have stood the test of time. Sadly, Joseph has completely disintegrated. The figures are accompanied by a hand-lettered banner made by yet another child and finished off with a clay plaque by the last of my children. Thus, this beloved nativity represents the collective efforts of all four of our offspring. It was not planned this way, but I am convinced it was a gracious coincidence guided by a heavenly hand.
     The banner is twenty-three years old. I wouldn't trade anything in the world for the "Goly to God in the highest..." Goly was a first grader's way of writing "Glory," but I am sure that God understood exactly what this child of mine was trying to say. 
     Another child lovingly crafted the base which originally was shaped more like a cave and had an overhanging top that has long since broken off. It holds the three figures (there were once four). There is  Mary; she is the figure on the right bending over the tiny figure resting on a bed of clay. It is Baby Jesus but his head is no longer attached to his body and must be carefully positioned or it will roll off on its own. To the right of Jesus and Mary is a lion, crouching in the snow. When the son who made the figures came home with this nativity with the lion, I had the audacity to ask him, "A lion?"  (I am thinking a cow or sheep might have been more appropriate, but mothers should learn early never to ask children questions like this, unless they want to immediately be put in their place. I will never forget that he looked at me with something akin to disdain as he said, "Of course, Mommy, don't you know that the lion goes with the lamb?"  And so it does. I cried. He patted me. 
      The Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God...they go together, do they not, and indeed, are they not one and the same? Yes, some of the most profound truths come out of the mouth of babes. 
     The final complement to this treasured creche is the little clay plaque in the back:.You can barely read it, but in case you can't, I'll tell you: It says, "Jesus I Love You." It was originally supposed to be a cross, an Easter decoration, but when this child brought it home he told me,"I couldn't do the cross, Mommy, I wrote Jesus a letter instead. I thought He might like it better than the cross. I wanted to tell Him thank you." I cried again. He said, "I want it to go with the manger." It was springtime so I asked again, "Do you want me to put it out with the Easter things?"  He shook his head firmly. "No, this cross is a letter, and it goes with the manger." 
       How could it be that a child understood something so deep, so powerful, so profound?  How could he grasp at the age of five, the very essence of the cross? How could he know that the cross, the terrible, wondrous cross, is also a letter, an I-love-you letter from a Holy God to His beloved, yet sinful people. 
       So you see perhaps why this tiny fragile nativity holds a place so dear to this mother's heart. Each child of mine made his or her contribution, unplanned and unscripted over the course of many years to make it complete. There is a Banner of Love (Goly to God...). A little cave to cradle the Holy Family. A lion to stand guard and to lie down with the lamb.  And finally, a love letter that would and should have been a cross, except that a little boy wanted so much to write this letter to say thank you to Jesus for the cross. And the child knew intuitively that this was no ordinary baby, this was a baby born to die to save us from our sins. Christmas irrevocably linked to Easter. It is no accident that we must become as little children, is it? And once again, I cry, "Lord help my unbelief. Help each of us to believe with the wonder and the certain faith of a child."

    It is my Advent song this year...starting with the Week of Thanksgiving.

from the archives

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Beauty Everywhere

   It was a day like no other. The weather was nothing short of perfect. Brilliant sunshine. A cool but gentle tree-ruffling breeze. Temperatures in the sixties. The hint of fall in the air. Lots of golden afternoon light bathing everything in its warm glow. I know that I was not alone in thinking that heaven itself had bent low to create a magnificent day for this special Bride and Groom. There was beauty everywhere you turned. And none more lovely than the radiance of the Bride and Groom.

    It is obvious from these photographs that I am not a professional photographer. Below you can see the real photographer at work doing what she does best...capturing those special moments. I stayed out of the way but managed to get some sweet moments between the Bride and Groom.

Who doesn't love the way that a Bride and Groom look at each other?

The Mother of the Groom, my Baby Sister. Isn't she lovely?

The two Mommas...
 The wedding was held at the lovely Windermere Golf Club outside of Atlanta, GA

 No Auburn wedding would be complete without a Toomer's Corner Groom's Cake. 
Wouldn't you agree?!

More to follow!