Father’s Day Reflections

Tonight my breath caught in my throat as I noticed a bright rainbow just out my back door.  It was positively glowing!  I’ve never seen the violet ribbon so brilliant.  As it expanded into a double rainbow, I could hear my children ooo-ing and ahh-ing from their bedroom window, talking back and forth with their Daddy about what a rainbow means.  Hearkening back to our father in the faith Noah, God our Father keeps His promises, of course.

This spring my Dad designed a little
house for his grandsons.
Tim and our boys enjoyed helping out!


This Father’s Day weekend I am eternally grateful to God for a Dad who loves Him and loves his family.  Some of my favorite memories with my Dad include: when we went camping, going to church, walking the mall and him stopping occasionally to buy me a rope of licorice, bike riding, eating mulberries, him teaching me how to drive a tractor on the farm, horseback riding, chuckwagons in Colorado, and the countless times he listened to me practice the piano, clapping after every song! 

And now I am blessed to be married to a man who is a good husband and a great father.  I am unspeakably thankful that my husband is someone I can respect and trust with my children.  He loves playing with them, listening to them, chasing and tickling, singing with them . . . my cup overflows.

I love this old picture of Tim
and the boys!


Maybe you feel that while others enjoy rainbow memories and relationships, yours have been or are stormy.  Perhaps your dad wasn’t the loving kind.  Instead he wounded you and wrecked your childhood.  What pain and agony!  Perhaps you are single and longing for someone to build a family with, but God hasn’t brought him along, yet.  I remember the ache.  Or, you may have seen your prince charming fall off his horse and land in the kingdom of another princess.  There is no one to love you or the children you had together, and your weary heart is broken.

While human beings fall short in sympathy, God understands what we think and feel.  When His children are hurting, He hurts, too.  And He is closer to us than breathing. Just like the rainbow I saw tonight which followed scary lightening and ominous clouds,  God will help us through the storms of life – He is the safe place of eternal love and forever rainbows.

The following verses are familiar to many of us, but let’s take a few moments to soak in them once again.  Just like sinking our toes into a plush carpet, munching on a warm-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookie, coming home and smelling freshly baked bread . . . let’s come home to our Father and bask in His love today.

Our Perfect Father 

“For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:11-14

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6

“But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand.” Isaiah 64:8

“… your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:8b

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” Matthew 7:7-8,11

“Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” Luke 6:36

“For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” Romans 8:15 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

“I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:18

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ …” Ephesians 1:3

“Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!”  I John 3:1

“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.” I John 4:14

The Quiet House: Ministering with the Father’s Heart to Childless Men and Women

What happens on Mother’s Day at your church? It is typical and fitting to honor the mothers who are present. In some cases moms are asked to stand, given a public blessing and a hearty applause, followed by a prayer of thanksgiving and dedication. Usually a flower or some other small gift is given to each mom. How Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are observed reveal much about the heart of a church.

The Aching Heart
One of the most painful experiences is that of women or men who desire to have children but cannot. They may be married or single, be barren, or have experienced the loss of a child (or multiple children) through miscarriage or death. It’s true that some people don’t desire to have children, but that is the exception. Most believers look forward to having little ones around, and when that can’t happen, it hurts.

The Parent Heart

Some busy parents may look at those without children and think they have it easy. Well-meaning men and women can misunderstand and even sin against those who are childless. They can be guilty of looking at them with jealousy or judgment: With jealousy a parent might think, “They have time and money to do the things they want.  They have more time to dedicate themselves to serving God.”  With judgment someone might think, “Why isn’t he married? There must be something wrong with her. Why don’t they have a baby? How strange, how selfish! Exhausted? … They don’t even know the meaning of the word!” If believers are not jealous or judgmental, they can be neglectful. Sad to say, it’s easy to get so busy that we don’t take time to think about the needs of other people.

The Single Heart

One bright Mother’s Day morning, all of the moms were invited to stand in the front of the church. The pastor spoke glowingly of how wonderful they all were and how greatly the future rests upon their shoulders. My single friend Laura felt uncomfortable, since she was about the only woman left back in the pews.  After they were dismissed to their seats, Laura breathed a sigh of relief that the ceremony was over for another year. However, the pastor had forgotten to give the women flowers, so he had some men pass them out right away. My friend was left empty-handed as she looked around at all the smiling mothers.

Laura cried all the way home from church, again asking God to help her be content in her singleness. Unfortunately the pastor had also forgotten to hand out special books, so in the evening service the deliverers were sent out again. A deacon started to hand a book to Laura, and just as she reached out to accept the gift, he quickly pulled his hand back and said, “Oops!” At that moment Laura felt as though she wanted to shrivel up and die.

On holidays honoring parents, some people without children feel uncomfortable, lonely, and even as if they are unimportant or sinful because they haven’t produced children. While they rejoice with their friends who are moms and dads, they can be grievously reminded of their sorrow. Does the church remember these dear sisters and brothers in Christ on these occasions and throughout the year? It is possible to bless everyone present in our churches on days of honor. To do this, believers need to cultivate the heart of the Father.

The Father’s Heart

In seeking to minister to others, believers can become overwhelmed with the variety of people and their needs. Knowing that someone needs encouragement is one thing – knowing how to do it is entirely another.  Believers can increase in wisdom by asking God (James 1:5), and by learning to offer comfort to the fainthearted.

“Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men.”  I Thessalonians 5:14

Christians may not understand where other people are coming from. Yet with God’s help we can try to put ourselves in their shoes. Believers have no excuse not to do their best to encourage others.

Besides first and foremost praying for them, here are some practical ideas on how church leadership and individuals can minister to people without children:

1. Be friendly.  Don’t talk too much about your kids. If someone in the group is going on and on about their children, smile and start talking about something that they are interested in.

2. Give them opportunities to minister to children.  A precious couple who lost four babies during pregnancy and have no living children are the world’s most loving and dedicated Sunday School teachers.  And what a blessing those children are to them!

3. Include them in family activities. Invite them into your home. Have your children deliver a “just because” card or cookies. Invite them to sit with you in church. Holidays can be the hardest times; if they are not able to be with loved ones, joyfully welcome them to your celebration. You may feel uncomfortable sharing news of your pregnancy with them, but they want to hear it from you. Pray, and God will direct you to the right words and timing. 

4. Remember them on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day.  Send a note, e-mail, or card reminding them how special they are and to let them know you are praying for them. In church honor the moms and dads present, but also focus on the valuable roles of being godly men and women. If the church is going to give a gift, buy enough to give to every man or woman present. Being a parent doesn’t make folks more precious or better people. Some of the best “moms” and “dads” in our churches don’t have biological children. But, oh, the spiritual children in which they’ve invested their lives!

5. Respect their privacy. In most cases it is rude to ask them when they are going to get married/have kids/adopt. And never ask them why they can’t have children. If they choose to confide in you, make sure you are a trustworthy confidant. 

6. Be considerate regarding specific events.  Use common sense. For instance, you probably wouldn’t want to ask a childless woman to be in charge of a baby shower. It may even be too painful for childless women to attend the shower. This doesn’t mean that they are not happy for the new mother. It may be that they know they can’t handle it emotionally and don’t want to cause a scene.

7. Respect and appreciate them. That they don’t have kids or are unmarried doesn’t mean that you can’t learn from them. Single people and married people without children have so much to offer. Ask them to be your prayer partners or accountability partners. On the other hand, church leadership should not assume that childless people have a lot of extra time and should not take advantage of them, always expecting them to serve.


8. Relax and listen. Don’t worry that you won’t know what to say to them. Be a sympathetic listener and pray for God’s wisdom to know what He would have you to say. 

9. Seek them out. Look for opportunities to serve and fellowship with childless friends. This especially means a lot if it’s a difficult day, like the day their miscarried baby was due or the anniversary of their child’s death.

How can we minister to people in circumstances so different from our own? A remarkable reality is that God can use the lessons we learn from going through a trial to help someone going through an entirely different situation! In 2 Corinthians 1:3 and 4 we read , “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (emphasis added). As we learn about God’s comfort, He gives us the ability to comfort others.

After my husband and I lost a child through miscarriage, some of the greatest encouragement came from our single friends and from those who had never lost a child. One friend, who spoke with such wisdom and love, told me that she had asked God to show her what I needed to hear. Another friend prayed and wept with me. What examples these are of godly compassion. Through His Word and Spirit, God can teach us how to minister to anyone.

In this era of support groups believers need to be careful that we do not exclusively mingle with those of their “type.” God marvelously designed us as Christ’s Body, and He makes it possible and necessary for the “hand” to look after the “foot,” and the “elbow” to care for the “eye” (I Corinthians 12). There is a wealth of wisdom and friendship out there among God’s children. And the value of believers’ ministering to believers in stages of life different from their own is God’s will for His children (Titus 2). God helps believers to think of others on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, every day. And may they prayerfully minister, as a church body and as individuals, with the Father’s heart.


 
(c)2009 Regular Baptist Press. Reproduced by permission.

To find out more about Regular Baptist Press or The Baptist Bulletin: http://www.baptistbulletin.org/


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Beauty Is a Choice – Part 1

Yesterday I bought a bag of cotton balls and a jar of face cleanser.  God has given me one face, and I am determined to keep it in the best condition possible.  As I stood in the store aisle, wanting to try something new and feeling overwhelmed by the hundreds of options, I chuckled when I thought about my great Aunt Helen.  She’s enjoying life with God now, but while still on this earth, even into her nineties, she had nary a wrinkle.  The nursing home staff begged to know what face care regimen she subscribed to:  turned out, it was whatever cold cream was on sale at the time!  I’ve been told that at least three enthusiastic nurses proceeded to raid local drugstores, stocking up on Aunt Helen creams.  Thanking God for my beautiful (inside and out) Aunt Helen, I finally chose what I hoped would be the best match for my pores, placed it in the cart next to the doubleroll toilet paper and plush Easter bunnies, and headed toward the check-out counter.

Then, I knew it was time.  Time once again to pass by those Cover Girls we all love.  Their glaring double-lashed eyes and puckered sultry lips mocked me with silent scorn: “What’s the use? You’ll never be as thin and gorgeous as I am!”  Armed with God’s strength, and with the word “airbrushed” palpitating in my brain, I pushed on through the dark tunnel of comparison …  there, at the light at the end of the tunnel, was a friendly normal-sized young woman waiting to take my money.  Glancing back at the beauty queens, I thought, “They too will get old and fat,” as I smiled a comforted, yet pitying, grin.  Focus on God, Sara … soak in HIS beauty.

"If Only"Choose Your Consequences
Eons before Cinderella, Hollywood, and Barbie, our first mother gave in to her curiosity … What if I could be like God? (There weren’t any other women, yet, with which to compare.)  Eve never dreamed the cost of that single juicy bite:

    • sagging, bagging and wrinkling
    • excruciating pain
    • raging emotional battles
    • sapped energy
    • unsatisfied desires
    • loneliness
    • broken marriages
    • tears of despair
    • a billion-dollar skin care industry
    • eating disorders
    • plastic surgery
    • miscarriages
    • abortions/murder
    • self-centered esteem confusion
    • diet programs and weight loss infomercials
    • separation from God
    • death for all

 

We could go on and on, but you get the idea of the extensive “un-makeover” Eve thrust upon the entire human race.  No doubt, if it had been you or me talking to that slimy Devil of a serpent, we would’ve fallen, too.  I believe that if Eve had known the extensive ramifications of her disobedience – not only impacting herself, but bringing misery to all of her children and grandchildren, she NEVER would’ve munched.  Sadly, she didn’t listen to, nor trust, God’s warnings.

Praise God, there is good news and hope for all of Eve’s children!  Because of Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the cross, God offers forgiveness – if we will only receive His free gift by faith – He will remove all of our ugly sin and replace it with His grace, clothing us in His beautiful righteousness.  Our CHOICE to take on the beauty of Jesus also has consequences:

  • a relationship with God
  • contentment
  • forgiveness
  • godly confidence
  • assurance of eternal life
  • a spiritual battle and the equipment to fight victoriously
  • the chance to invest our lives in what truly matters
  • children who will learn about true beauty and lasting values
  • comfort in pain
  • joy amidst trials
  • God using our weak hands to assist the needy and lift up the fallen
  • wisdom to feed the weary with chocolate chip cookies as well as the Word of Life
  • unending beauty that reflects God’s beauty to all around us

The consequences of choosing God’s gift of true beauty are of eternal benefit and priceless worth.

“Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.” Proverbs 31:30

 

Image courtesy of Microsoft free images.

New Year’s Resolutions and Chocolaty Choices

One chilly winter morning during college, my slightly dramatic single friend Wendy approached me with a sheepish grin:  “Last night I snuggled up in front of a cozy fireplace with a tall … dark … and handsome (gulp?) ……….. mug of hot chocolate!” 

My guess is that right now some my single friends are dreaming of someone to snuggle with in front of a fire, and a few married friends are longing for their husbands to take time to build a cozy fire, without being asked, inviting them to share some hot cocoa with them (minus the children).  To clarify misleading lies touting unending bliss – being married, even to a growing Christian, is a huge challenge (ask my husband!).  But, there are some parts which are quite lovely.

To Resolve or Not Resolve?

When asked at a New Year’s Eve party, one of our friends declared that in 2012 he was resolved to get a second home in Tahiti.  With an equally vivid imagination, I eagerly inquired, “Will it be all right if we visit you?”  Terrific!  I already had my dream vacation planned for the year.  As January 1, 2012 approached, I had to deal with the serious business of whether or not I should make a resolution for myself.  My first choice: “I resolve to eat chocolate every day of 2012.”  Yes!  That is one I can keep.  It might be tough, but I was willing to take the risk.  

Then I thought, maybe I should pray about this.  I don’t mean to become “holier-than-thou” on you.  But, if I am going to commit to something, on the first day of the year or any day, I’d better ask my Leader, God Himself, for His opinion on the matter.  Actually, God’s Word has instruction we need to consider regarding making promises and vows (see Deuteronomy 23:21 and James 5:12).  God takes our words seriously.  So should we.

One Word

A couple weeks ago I was challenged by the article “My Spiritual Vocabulary” by Debbie Macomber (Guideposts, January 2012).  Online her article goes by a different title, “Choosing Words to Live By,” as adapted from her book One Perfect Word http://www.guideposts.org/stories-of-faith/choosing-words-to-live-by

Quoting Debbie, “Each year I choose one word to focus on and live by.  These words have comforted me, challenged me and brought me closer to God.  They have changed me.”  A fascinating prospect.  Some of her words have been: hunger, trust, brokenness, prayer, and hope.  A year seemed like a long time to focus on one word, so I contemplated having a word for every month.  It would not be a resolution exactly – more like a helpful tool to make my daily schedule more interesting, more focused.

“Spiritual” Chocolate

In December, Ama (our Ghanian exchange student daughter) and I talked about how we want to grow spiritually in 2012.  We shared areas we need to work on – or rather depend upon God to help us change.  Then came the idea …  Ama’s favorite store-bought cookies are Oreos, so I used that treat to help us remember the essentials of spiritual growth:

O – Off/On (put off the fleshly choices, put on the Spirit of God and abiding fruit)

R – Rely on God

E – Encourage Each Other

O – Overview (accountability)

Ama was delighted!  We’ve had fun encouraging and challenging each other daily, “So, how is O.R.E.O. going for you today?”  

Thus my word for January was born: OFF (the first “O” in “O.R.E.O.”).  I’m afraid Tim thought I was OFF my rocker when I told him about it.  But, as soon as I explained, he seemed to appreciate the plan.  Next month it’s going to be ON, then RELY, and maybe for April – June I’ll go with GOD, ENCOURAGE and OTHERS.  

My OFFering

Adding this creative element to my life has been refreshing and powerful.  Having the word OFF on my mind daily has helped me when I’ve wanted to eat too much, found selfish motives taking over, or noticed pride creeping in.  It’s also benefited my Bible study, journaling, and prayer time.  In Luke 5 Jesus told Simon Peter to put OFF human perceptions, directing him to re-attempt fishing after a night of failure.   When the men returned with two boats ready to sink due to the colossal intake of fish, they realized Jesus was no mere man.  Simon calls Him “Lord,” leaving OFF everything to follow Him in pursuit of a new line of work – fishing for men. 

God is helping me put OFF some physical and spiritual weights…  

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith …” Hebrews 12:1-2a

God is teaching me to put OFF my fears…

“For with God nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1:37

I decided not to make any New Year’s resolutions this year.  I don’t trust myself to keep them perfectly, and for me I think it would be more of a burden than a blessing.  It is, however, my commitment to do my best to keep trusting and obeying the awesome God of my salvation.  My choice to follow Jesus was the most important decision of my life, and it continues on into 2012.  His grace makes it all possible!  

Enough about me … how about you?  Have you made any resolutions?  God can help you keep them.  Do you need to find a creative idea to refresh your spiritual growth?  I’m praying that your 2012 is getting off to a great start.  Now, if you will please excuse me, I need to sign off and go find some chocolate. 

God’s Love With Skin On


Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth … when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb …“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Luke 1:39-43

As I watched The Nativity (a movie presenting the account of Jesus’ birth), I was struck by the importance and beauty of the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth.  They not only had divinely ordained motherhood in common, they also shared the trials of pregnancy and all the changes that a new baby involves, even if that baby is the Son of God or a prophet of God.  

Mary, being the only woman in history to give birth to the Son of God, must have had unique struggles.  Yes, she had God’s Spirit upon her, but God also gave her someone “with skin on” to help her.  Elizabeth!  They encouraged one another to trust God in their special callings.  How Mary must have benefited from Elizabeth’s wise counsel and comfort, while Elizabeth marveled at Mary’s faith and the privilege of being one of the first to meet her Messiah.


Mentoring is a gift from God.  The dictionary defines mentor as, “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.”  God gives us a blueprint in Titus 2:3-5:

“…the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.”

Instead of this happening on a regular basis, we often rush around saying a quick, “Hello! How are you?” while running hither and yon to teach, sing, care for our husband and children, meet with committees, etc.  We hardly have time for an edifying conversation with another woman!  Mentoring isn’t always easy.  It means stepping out of your comfort zone and making new acquaintances, spending less time with those who are like you.  It can also mean making yourself vulnerable.  But, no fears – there is a richness out there just waiting to be explored.

Finding a Mentor, Being a Mentor

God’s Word instructs us to be a mentor, while being mentored ourselves, at the same time.  Please let me introduce the Discipleship Dozen …

1. Pray
God knows our needs and wants to meet them.  Have you asked Him what you can do to be a mentor/learn from a mentor?  We need to pray before we go to church, pray before we go to the store, pray before we walk around the neighborhood, for God to prepare us and make opportunities. A friend and I have agreed to pray over the Christmas holiday about the need we see for fellowship among women in our church.

2. Be Connected To God’s Word
Whether we have time for an hour-long study, or just a few verses on the run, it is critical to make that time.  It’s as important as food, air, and water!  The Word is alive, preparing us to minister and making the soil of our hearts fertile for growth.

3. Ask
Luke 1 tells us that Mary travelled to visit Elizabeth.  How many times do we as younger women seek help from an older lady?  Maybe we’re afraid to bother her, assuming she’s too busy or that she wouldn’t be interested. 

As a mother of a teenager and two young boys, I crave adult fellowship.  We all do, to differing degrees. There are many ladies at church I’d like to get to know better, but recently there was one I felt compelled to meet.  We met at Bible study last year, and while I always enjoyed her input, I was too busy caring for my children afterward to really get to know her.  Recently I asked her if we could meet at Panera Bread, and we had a wonderful time of fellowship.  I sat on the edge of my seat while Linda graciously shared her testimony with me. Hearing about how God has worked in her 60+ years made a huge impression on me.  When I told her God is teaching me about submission, she groaned and said, “I don’t want to talk about that!”  We laughed!  Her down-to-earth kindness warmed my heart, and her lessons in faith inspired me to keep going.  She thanked me for inviting her to meet and said that in all her years, I am the first younger woman to ask her to “Titus 2” me.  I can hardly wait to make another coffee appointment next month.

4. Be Creative
A few years ago, while attending a funeral in a large church, I walked into the ladies restroom and my jaw dropped.  There before me was an easel with an attractively decorated board resting on it.  On the board were little pieces of paper pinned to it: “If you want to learn to bake pies, call June at … (phone #).”  “If you’d like to knit or crochet, call Sandy at …”  I’d love to hear about the friendships and discipleship opportunities started through that simple avenue.  Often the “physical” mentoring (cooking, sewing, walking together, etc.) leads to “spiritual” mentoring. 

5. Be Available
One of my friends has helped start a mentoring group which meets monthly in her home.  While they all study God’s Word, the more experienced women can help the younger ones find  practical solutions to common perplexities like, “How do I get grass stains out of jeans?”  “What should I do to get my family to help around the house more?”  “How can I help my daughter through puberty?” 

While this group is made up of mothers, single women need mentors, too.  I remember when some young women at church asked my single friend Ann to teach them about being a godly woman.  How I wish I could have sat in on that study!

I’d like to add here something God did when I was not expecting it.  Not feeling at all available, I ran into a friend at the church nursery on Sunday morning.  “How are you?” she quipped.  “I’m tired and grumpy!”  I exclaimed.  For days I felt guilty about my outburst, until I received a beautiful e-mail from that same friend.  She thanked me for being honest with her about how I felt, instead of just saying, “Fine, how are you?” She said God used that to teach her to be more transparent with others.  Truly, I had been struggling; but, I was in church that day!  So, in a sense I was available, and God mercifully used me through my weakness. 

6. Trust God
We may fear that we don’t have anything to offer other women, but we do!  How do I know?  We have God’s Word to share … and our own unique God given abilities and experiences.  As my pastor’s mother recently told me, “God chooses people to bring into our path, because He has prepared us to meet their need.” 

A couple years ago I talked with our youth pastor and told him that I had a growing burden for teenage girls.  I knew it was from God, because for years I had been afraid of teenagers.  So, for what was God preparing me?  Hosting teenage foreign exchange students!  Last year my family hosted a daughter from the Philippines for ten months, and this year a daughter from Ghana graces our home.  Talk about learning to trust God!  God taught and is teaching me about mentoring while I spend time teaching the girls to cook, about American culture, piano lessons, the Bible, and more … lessons they will take back to their countries and teach others.  God promises to supply for what He calls us to do. Whatever you do, please don’t sit around and think you have nothing to offer someone else; that is a lie straight from the Devil.  God may not call you to host a student, but He does have something important for you to do.

7. Keep the Focus On God
This is not about showing off my talent to quilt, jog, or bake.  And we need to clarify when we are giving our own opinion as opposed to God’s written word.  On the other side, be careful not to idolize women.  Yes, they can be an example, but only God deserves our worship and obedience.  Carefully weigh what your mentor suggests, prayerfully comparing it with the Bible.

8. Make Time
Do you believe that Satan can use our busyness for his glory?  I do.  We need to make room in our schedules to spend with other women of all ages.  As a single woman you may have more control over your schedule.  For those who are married, we need to talk to our husband and arrange a time when he can care for the children so we can go out.  The entire family will benefit!

9. Bring Tissues
The growing process is sometimes painful.  One pastor’s wife taught me to keep a tissue folded in my Bible for those tearful moments that arise for us or for those we counsel.  You may even need to bring bandaids!  God describes Biblical friendship and mentoring in this way – “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend” (Proverbs 27:17).  We aren’t getting together to be a “mutual admiration society” (Thoreau, 1851).

10. Be An Example
People are watching us.  And age doesn’t automatically bring wisdom: I often learn from the younger women in my life.  Married women can learn a lot from single women – and visa versa. Even if you don’t have time right now to get together with someone to teach them, you are teaching every day by your example.

11. Respect God’s Work In Her Life
I love it that Elizabeth was not jealous of her younger cousin.  True, she would not bear the Messiah, but she rejoiced with Mary for her opportunity.  We also should be seeking to lift up women of all ages, honoring them where God has placed them.  We waste precious time and energy if we compare our situations or gifts with others.  God gives each of us unique gifts.  By not accepting this truth, we disrespect our Creator and disobey His plan (2 Corinthians 10:12).

12. Be Patient
God’s timing is often different than mine.  A few times I have talked with my pastor’s wife about women I am concerned about in our church family.  She patiently says, “Sara, give God time to work.”  It has been exciting to see God work in lives, including mine, growing us more into His image over time!

Mentoring isn’t always a regimented meet-once-a-week thing.  More often it is brief conversations that season our lives with grace, and the infrequent gatherings which water the flowers of our souls, helping us to grow toward God.  As Jesus didn’t heal everyone who was sick, neither can we help every woman we meet.  God can give us wisdom to know what He wants us to pursue. 

With a new year just around the corner, let’s make room in our lives for mentoring and being mentored.  It is a God-ordained essential element of our growth.  And speaking of “God’s love with skin on” …

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.”  Philippians 2:5-7

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”  John 1:14
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We Still Believe In Jesus



Looking at our under-the-tree nativity set and remembering why we celebrate Christmas

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” II Corinthians 9:15
Here we are in the middle of December, and all around us are reminders of what we are supposed to be doing … “Only eleven shopping days until Christmas!”  I haven’t seen one sign that proclaims, “Only eleven days until we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ our Savior!  What are you giving Him this year?”
Besides the wonderful account of the historical Saint Nicholas, we’ve heard bits and pieces of the lackluster history of Christmas.  In many ways it remains a pagan holiday.  At times I strain to hear above the roar around me …
“Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’ … And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!'”
Luke 2:10-14
I have some dear friends who choose not to acknowledge the holiday of Christmas one iota.  Others go way overboard the other direction, spending tons of money and going into debt.  How do we keep a balance, honoring God in how we live out Christmas?  
Last week, when my boys and I were in the check-out line at a store, a man dressed as Santa came over and started “Ho-ho-ho-ing” and asking my boys, “Have you been good this year?  Do you know what’s coming in two weeks?”  Normally I would’ve just smiled and kept busy, but the jolly man bedecked in red and white kept going on and on … “What do you want for Christmas?”  My boys looked confused, so I explained to “Santa” and the checker that, “My boys don’t know about Santa.”  I tried to say it as sweetly as possible. “Santa” went on to other customers, while our checker looked at me like I was evil incarnate. 
That was the first time we had been approached by a friendly man dressed as Santa Claus.  I should have expected it, but it took me by surprise.  Our boys are ages five and three, and this subject has not come up before this year. Making a mental note that it was time to have a talk about Santa, I smiled at the man and told him that we choose instead to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Praying that I was not bringing harm to Jesus’ name, I was friendly and thanked him when we left.  It was not exactly the way I had expected to live out the verse about being ready always to give an answer to every man who asks about the hope within me (I Peter 3:15).  Next time I will be better prepared.
Today Santa is rarely portrayed as the original St. Nicholas, a kind man who loved God and people, giving unconditionally.  Thankfully, we live in a free country where we can celebrate as we choose.  At our house we rejoice at the coming of God’s perfect gift, Jesus.  And part of the way we celebrate is by giving gifts to family and friends.
 
In talking with my friends, I’ve found that I’m not the only one who has been made to feel small and evil directly due to a conversation including the words “Santa” and “Christmas.”  One friend sweetly suggested that in my situation I had won a sort of a battle.  She is thankful that I said something, because many people think that the account of Jesus is just a fairy tale that no one believes anymore.  Many of us still believe in Jesus!  He is alive and strong, and His message of hope is as true today as it was two thousand years ago.
My friend Dawn has given me some practical advice.  Here is what works for her family, and I think it is wonderful:
1. Always tell your children the truth. Stay true to God’s Word and the meaning of Christmas. Emphasize Jesus everyday.


2. However, you cannot ignore “Santa” … unless you keep your kids under a rock, they are going to see a guy dressed in a red suit, hear other kids talking about Santa, or get asked by a friendly adult “what did Santa bring you for Christmas?” Tell them the legend of St. Nick and how the idea of Santa got started. Talk about what a costume is. Talk about “cartoon characters” and playing pretend.


3. Teach your kids how to respond to others regarding Santa. (I learned this lesson the hard way.) I nearly got tarred and feathered by other pre-school parents because my son had taken it upon himself to tell his classmates the truth (I was told that I had ruined their child’s Christmas and stolen their innocence. Ouch!) 

 
So, we talked about how other families are “playing the Santa game.” I told my kids that other families play a game and talk about Santa like he is real. And that my kids should not ruin the game.  Instead, when asked about Santa, they need to say “Santa is fun, but I like to celebrate Jesus’ birthday the most!” This response has worked beautifully. It’s a chance to speak up for Christ, but not damage our chance to testify for Him again later.

If you find yourself in a circumstance, planned or unplanned, where you can tell about why you celebrate Christmas, consider it a bonus.  And remember, the One who truly knows whether you’ve been naughty or nice loves you no matter what, and He would consider your love His best birthday gift.

Christmas Yummies


‘Tis the season for Christmas treats!  What are your favorites?  I’d love to deliver a plate of yummies to your door!  But, since I can’t get to all of your homes, I will share some of the recipes of goodies our family enjoys year after year. 

Let’s start with the cheese balls.  Ooo!  Love cheese balls!  One is savory and one is sweet …

Chocolate Chip Cheese Ball – makes about 2 cups
8-oz package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup pecans or walnuts, finely chopped
Graham cracker sticks

Blend cream cheese, butter and vanilla in a mixing bowl until fluffy.  Gradually add sugars; beat just until combined.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours.  Place on a large piece of plastic wrap; shape into a ball.  Refrigerate for at least one additional hour.  At serving time, roll ball in chopped nuts.  Serve with graham cracker sticks for dipping. 

Savory Cheese Ball
I also like to shape this to form a Christmas tree on a platter.  It’s so pretty decorated with tiny tomatoes as ornaments and a cheese star on top (use cookie cutter or knife to form star out of sliced cheese).

2  8-oz. packages of cream cheese, softened
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 pkg. dried beef, chopped (or lunch meat)
1 tsp. seasoned salt

Mix cream cheese, 1/2 pkg. of beef, onion, salt, and Worcestershire sauce.  Mix well and shape into a ball.  Put in refrigerator for 15 minutes.  Roll ball in rest of beef.  Serve with crackers.

Next, the bars and cookies!

Butterscotch Cookies (from my Great Great Aunt Ida)
2 cups light brown sugar
1 cup butter and lard (half of each…or just use butter)
2 eggs
2 cups flour with 1 tsp. soda and 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup nut meats

Mix altogether and put on moulding board (cutting board or counter).  Work in enough flour for cookie dough.  Mould in loaf (3″ wide and 1 1/2″ high) and put in refrigerator for several hours or overnight. Cut in thin slices and sprinkle with colored sugar.  Bake at 350 for 6-8 minutes.

Caramel Bars
This recipe came from my dear friend Donna Bond.  Using this scrumptious treat I became a finalist at a baking contest in Ames, Iowa when I was in junior high.

Mix together: 1 box yellow cake mix
2 cups oatmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar

Add and mix: 3/4 cup cooking oil and 1 egg

Spread 1/2 of this mixture in greased 9 x 13 pan.  Pour 3/4 cup caramel ice cream topping over dough (or melted caramels).  Try to keep topping about 1/2″ from the edge of cookie dough.  Crumble remaining dough over sauce.  Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.  Cool.  Cut into bars.

Cherry Chip Cornflake Cookies (pictured above) – 5 dozen
2 1/4 cups sifted flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup soft butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. almond extract
3/4 cup corn flakes, crumbled
1 pkg. cherry chips (6 oz.)

Measure unpacked flour and mix with salt.  Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Mix in egg yolk and almond extract.  Add flour and mix until smooth.  Stir in cornflakes and cherry chips.  Roll into 1″ balls, placing on ungreased cookie sheets.  Press with a fork lengthwise and crosswise, and sprinkle lightly with granulated sugar.  Bake at 375 for 12-14 minutes.  Remove from sheet while still warm.

Gumdrop Cookies (pictured above)
1 cup softened butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten lightly
2 cups oatmeal
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup cut gumdrops
1 cup coconut (optional)

Preheat oven to 400. Cream butter and sugars, add eggs and blend well. Add dry ingredients and mix until smooth.  Add coconut, oatmeal, gumdrops and vanilla last. Drop on cookie sheet.  Bake at 400 for 10 minutes.

Munchkins (pictured above)
Our Filipino daughter Amira taught us how to make these – YUM!  Bake a batch of brownies.  After cooling add some milk and roll into balls.  Then roll in shredded coconut.  You can also put a piece of candy or marshmallow in the center.

Spritz Cookies (pictured above)
Christmas isn’t just Christmas without traditional Swedish spritz! 

1 cup softened butter (real)
1 egg
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. almond extract
a pinch of salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. vanilla
a pinch of cream of tartar

Mix butter and sugar until creamy.  Add flour (unsifted) and baking powder to butter and sugar (a bit more flour may be needed).  Mix all ingredients together with hands to make a soft, not crumbly dough.  Preheat oven to 350.  Form cookies with cookie press.  Bake approximately 10 minutes.  Watch carefully to they don’t become brown. We like to make white camels with gold or silver ball eyes, green Christmas trees with gold balls at the tops and colored balls for decorations, and white or green wreaths by using star form and making a long “snake” of dough – trimming it to 3″ pieces and making a circle – 2 red hots at the top for holly and green sugar sprinkles. You can also make poinsettias or candy canes.

Whew!  With all this sweetness going around, we need something salty to balance it out …

Ranch Oyster Crackers – 3 cups
1 cup olive oil (or oil of preference)
1 tsp. dill weed
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 pkg. Ranch salad dressing mix
2  12-oz. pkgs. oyster crackers

Mix everything but the crackers.  Pour mixture over the crackers.  Mix well and let set for at least 1 hour before serving.

And the caramel corn (that isn’t really corn – so nothing getting into your teeth)!

Old Dutch Caramel Corn
1 8-oz. bag of Old Dutch Puff Corn Curls
Caramel Sauce: 1/2 lb. butter (real) (2 sticks) … 1 cup brown sugar … 1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp. baking soda

Place corn curls in large roasting pan (can use disposable).  In 2 quart saucepan cook sauce ingredients (except soda) 2 minutes.  Add 1 tsp. soda to mix.  This will cause foaming – 2 quart pan necessary!  Pour caramel mix over corn curls and stir till mixed.  250 for 45 minutes.  Stir at least every 10-15 minutes.  Prepare counter/table with waxed paper on top of newspaper.  Pour cooked corn on waxed paper and separate piece by piece while still warm.  Beware: this is addictive!

And we can’t have Christmas without candy (well, we can, but you know what I mean)!  First of all, my Mom’s fabulous fudge …

Fantasy Fudge – 3 lbs.
3 cups sugar
2/3 cup (5 1/3-oz. can) evaporated milk
1 cup milk chocolate chips
3/4 cup to 1 cup black walnuts, chopped
3/4 cup butter
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 7-oz. jar marshmallow creme
1 tsp. vanilla

Combine sugar, butter and milk in heavy 2-3 quart saucepan.  Bring to a full boil, stirring constantly.  Continue boiling 5 minutes over medium heat (to 234 degrees); remove from heat to prevent scorching.  Stir in chocolate chips till melted (gradual).  Add marshmallow creme, nuts and vanilla; beat till well blended.  Pour in greased 9 x 13 pan.  Cool. Cut.

Peppermint Patties – about 4 dozen
1 pkg. (8-oz.) creme cheese, softened
9 cups confectioners sugar
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 tsp. peppermint extract
3/4 cup milk chocolate chips
3 Tbsp. shortening

In a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese and extract until smooth.  Gradually add sugar, beating well.  Shape into 1″ balls. Place on waxed paper lined baking sheets.  Flatten into patties.  Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.  In a microwave (or in double boiler) melt chocolate and shortening; stir until smooth.  Cool slightly.  Dip patties in melted chocolate; place on waxed paper until firm.  Store in cool place.

And for a smashing finale, my friend Jane’s decadent bread …

Double Chocolate Bread – 6 mini loaves or 2 regular loaves
When my neighbor and friend Jane brought this over as a Christmas surprise, I shamelessly kept most of it for myself, only sharing the bare minimum with my dear husband and children!

1 box chocolate (or yellow) cake mix (moist devil’s food recommended)
2 boxes instant chocolate pudding
4 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups water
12 oz. bag chocolate chips (milk or semi-sweet or combination)
Chopped pecans (optional)

Mix together cake mix, pudding, eggs, oil, vanilla, and water until smooth.  Stir in chocolate chips.  Pour about 1/2 full into greased and floured (cocoa or carob powder) pans (big or small).  Bake 50 minutes – 1 hour at 350.  Let cool.  Remove from pans and wrap in plastic wrap or place in airtight container as this helps it remain moist. 

Happy baking and memory making!