Friday, December 25, 2009

White Oklahoma Christmas


It is a white Christmas in Oklahoma. The "Unknown Precipitation" turned into snow. Honestly, I could have done without snow and ice during a time when families like to travel and get together, but at least it is pretty! This is what all the kids want! I have a habit of humming/singing songs from who knows where without even knowing it, so even I have broken out into song with, "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas... just like the ones I used to know!" And yes, when I lived in Massachusetts, we did get more snow, but a white Christmas here is not like a white Christmas up north. New Englanders know how to handle snowstorms, so the roads are much safer up there in a snowstorm than here in Oklahoma under similar circumstances. One good thing about snowy roads is that they look white and pretty. It is gorgeous!

Note: The white photo to the right is of my street.
The photo at the top is of a neighbor's Christmas display.

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

'Twas the Night Before Christmas!

It is the last night of Advent. We wait to light the center Christ candle until tomorrow. It symbolizes the coming of Jesus. He came once as a baby, and He will come again as our King.
Christmas is a good time to remember family -- both those present and those loved ones separated from us by either distance or death. In this picture, you can see the pictures of both of my grandmothers. My dad's mother (in the top left) is waiting for us in Heaven. My mom's mother (in the bottom right) wished me a "Merry Christmas" on the phone this morning. I have many fond Christmas memories with her.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Eve Musings

My town is experiencing "Unknown Precipitation" today on Christmas Eve. It appears white on the streets, but it looks like rain in the air, and it sounds like... something frozen. That is not good.


Nicely, the house is warm and comfortable inside. My Mom is making her traditional Swedish Tea Ring at the moment, and my Dad has finished planning the Christmas Eve Service for church. We are planning a simpler menu for tomorrow than usual to keep this year relaxed and Christ-centered.


I am looking forward to Advent tonight. My family members have taken turns researching the history of familiar Christmas songs to share with the rest of the family. My sister started with I saw Three Ships. My mom followed up with Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem. David chose What Child is This? for last night's lesson. It is my turn tonight to present the history of Silent Night.

Also during Advent, my family is learning the seven "I am" statements of Christ from the book of John. My Dad has presented the first three so far. Jesus said, (1) I am the Bread of Life, (2) I am the Light of the World, and (3) I am the Door of the Sheep. The rest may carry over into the 12 days of Christmas!

This is a Christmas ornament I made this year.

Christmas is a wonderful time, but I am reminded that it is not an easy time for everyone. It can be especially difficult for those who have lost loved ones during the Christmas season -- either this year or during some Christmas past. Members of my own extended family are going through this struggle right now. The good news is that Jesus came to fulfill Isaiah 61 and "comfort all who mourn."

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.
Isaiah 61:1-3

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Looking Back and Giving Thanks

2005 deepened my understanding of trusting God.

2006 was most difficult -- but full of spiritual growth.

2007 helped me find out who I am as an individual.

2008 was full of transition and surprises as I started a new chapter in my life.

2009 has been a roller coaster of joy, hard work, and anticipation of things to come.


Looking back on the last five years, I see that some of the most challenging times were some of my best times too. I live a blessed and joyful life, but there were moments in the past five years that were difficult beyond description. My walk with the Lord was deepened through experiences I would not have chosen for myself. My challenges were not extraordinary by any means, but they were unique to my struggles and specially molded to my situations and needs.

God knows what is best for me; He is molding me into the woman of faith he intended me to be. As Isaiah said:

But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
(Isaiah 64:8)


I have felt broken, molded, reworked, and baked, but I am so glad He cares enough about me to be my Father and my Potter.

In this Christmas season, we remember God's creative power. He made a way for us to be justly forgiven of our sins by the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. God became flesh and dwelt among us! He came humbly as a baby to live a human life; He felt our joys and our pains and lived a perfect life so He could be the sacrifice for us who have been so imperfect. Glory be to God Most High who loved us before we loved Him!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Imagined Smarts

As a child storyteller, I told fanciful tall tales about large homes, massive grounds, tunnels that could circumnavigate the globe, and brilliant children.

Occasionally, they had parents.

If they did have parents, their mom and dad were sure to be good parents. If my story children did not have parents, they would be sad and mournful while happily living successful lives with some dismissive uncle. They thrived wherever they were put, and, regardless of formal or informal education, good teachers or bad teachers, my characters were smarter than smart.

Alicia, Rose, Alex, John, Alice…they all studied very hard or very well or for a very long time – and they loved it. Whether they lived in boarding schools or were homeschooled, my children were always at the top of their classes. It was so easy to say that Alicia (or whoever else was my current star) studied diligently all day.

If I needed her to have fun, I just made her wake up the next day with the grand idea to have friends over to play in her mansion or walk in the beautiful gardens she had spent tireless hours working in (with the help of a few gardeners). You never lived to hear tell of sweat, dirty hands, or failed crops. You never heard her puzzle over a difficult math equation. I planned her work in a moment, and it was over in a sentence – a paragraph at most. Alicia was ready for some new adventure.

It was easy for my story children to work faster and harder than anyone you ever met.

Now, years after I have outgrown the fanciful tales I used to entertain myself, brother, and sister, I find myself needing to study harder than ever before on a long list of subjects that take more than my imagination. I can’t say, “Elizabeth went to her school room and studied diligently all afternoon.” and call that enough. I have to Study and be Quiet (yes, pun intended).

Studying is hard work. It is harder than a story, but it is much better. I am a real person spending real time making real sacrifices and needing real help, so I can achieve a goal I feel called to achieve. So, what am I waiting for? Back to the books!

Saturday, December 05, 2009

In the Kitchen: Irish Soda Bread

.
Irish Soda Bread

4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup corn oil
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1 cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon milk

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Lightly grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, buttermilk, and oil together. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the buttermilk mixture. Add the caraway seeds and raisins. Stir until a soft dough has formed.

Shape the dough into a large ball on a lightly floured board [I just do it in the bowl for less mess] (flour your hands if necessary for easier handling). With a sharp knife, make a cross on the top. Place on the prepared pan. Brush the top with the milk. Bake in the center of the oven until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes.

[from The Irish Heritage Cookbook by Margaret M. Johnson]
Everyone seems to cross the cross differently on their soda bread. Just search Google Images for Irish Soda Bread, and you will see what I mean. My family likes deep cuts -- almost cutting it completely through. However, if you do it this way, have your foil ready. It will be done on the peaks much earlier than in the valleys which will still be doughy. I start covering it about half way through the baking time -- even using two pieces of foil to allow a separation and allow direct heat on the center. Don't leave the caraway seeds out; they are really what make this recipe special.

Explanation...

An Explanation on the Length and Purpose of my Zechariah and Elizabeth Advent Series.

Six posts in six days (now seven): that has got to be a personal record for Study.Quiet. Why did I post so many? Why were they so long to the point that normal people can't read them?

Frankly, it was fun. I enjoyed writing them. But my reasons for these posts go deeper than simple enjoyment. It is a series I have been meaning to write since this blog first began back in 2006. It wasn't the right time then. If I had given it even more time, the posts might have been better -- and shorter. But Zechariah and Elizabeth's story was on my mind Sunday night, and I felt the itch to write.

It speaks to issues going on in my own life right now. Patience, trust, looking to God for His timing, resting on Him when I fail and am inadequate. Like Zechariah, I ask doubting questions. I tend to over think things. Like Elizabeth, I desire things and struggle with the wait. I want to be like the best qualities in Elizabeth and Zechariah, and they turned to the Almighty God for their answers.

So, that is my heart. I wrote this series for me. I needed to stop and think. If the posts seemed to ramble or get long, it is because I needed to think a few things through and write them down.

Actually, in my most ambitious moments, I planned to do a series each for Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. Realistically, I don't have the time this year. Besides, my heart was with Elizabeth and Zechariah this season anyway. I take my Humanities exam on the 18th of this month, and I need to study more. I might post a thing or two over the next few weeks, but I will try to keep them short.

Blessings to everyone! Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 04, 2009

Advent 1.6 -- Zechariah and Elizabeth: Prophetic Joy

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:5-24, 39-80

Background: Elizabeth gives birth to a healthy baby boy, and Zechariah could not be more excited. He opens his mouth to congratulate his wife, but nothing comes out. He is still mute.

"Why?" he might inwardly scream. The angel had said, "And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.”

"The baby is here! Why can't I speak?" the priest may wonder.

My thoughts: Zechariah has had a challenging nine months. First, an angel appears and promises a son, but, because of Zechariah's doubt, takes away his voice. For months now Zechariah has been communicating solely by signs and writing. Zechariah can hardly wait for his son to be born. He wants to hold his baby in his arms and... he wants to speak to him!

So, the baby is born, but Zechariah cannot speak. I can imagine Zechariah standing by his resting wife and newborn, his hand clasped in Elizabeth's -- silently crying -- overwhelmed by joy and regret. Can God be trusted?

Zechariah, though confused, knows the answer. Yes, God can be trusted. It is he who was untrustworthy, but God is and always will be faithful.

Fast forward eight days. All the family and friends have come to rejoice with Zechariah and Elizabeth in the circumcision of the baby. The little boy must be given a name, and everyone wants to help with that. The crowd picks "Zechariah." Naming the boy after his father would be fitting -- to keep his name alive. There are no other children, the parents are elderly, and, indeed, Zechariah may not live much longer -- look how he is failing already. He cannot speak!

But Elizabeth will have nothing to do with it. She says, “No; he shall be called John.”

"John? But there is no one in the family by that name." They insist, "He must have a family name!" Ignoring Elizabeth now, they turn to the father and, using signs, ask him what the boy should be called. Surely, he -- poor man -- will see their side of things!

Zechariah, perhaps standing back in the corner as his baby is passed from one relative to another, motions for his writing tablet. He knows the baby's name. It was given to him by God. He writes "His name is John." in big bold letters. He shows it to the crowded room. Emotion overtakes him as he realizes that God is both merciful and great. Out of the abundance of his gratitude and obedience, he blesses God -- out loud. The message from God, spoken by the angel Gabriel, is fulfilled. Zechariah's tongue is loosed, and so is everyone else's; the story is spread all throughout the hill country of Judea! They ask in their hearts “What then will this child be?”

They account goes on to say:

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace."
Zechariah understands the bigger picture. He is trusting God to move through the lives of his family in whatever way He chooses. It doesn't need to make sense --age, youth, marital status -- all of it is meaningless when it comes to God's ability to use us for His glory.

No matter what stage we are in our lives, if we make ourselves available to God, He can and will use us for His purposes. Zechariah has had months to contemplate the wondrous works of God. None of it made sense to his logical mind at first, but now, he is able to put his doubt away and understand it with his heart. He is able to trust God. Full of the Holy Spirit, Zechariah becomes God's mouthpiece to speak blessings over his son and prophesy about John's role in preparing others for the soon coming Messiah.

Zechariah was a righteous man before all of this happened, but now, his faith has been tried, grounded, and built up. He has the joy of a son and the purpose to help John become a faithful prophet of God. Zechariah's sacrifice and experience, his joy and his sorrow, his relationship with his wife Elizabeth and her cousin Mary... it has prepared him for this role. He and Elizabeth will prepare their son John to prepare the world for the advent of the Savior.

What a mighty God we serve!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Advent 1.5 -- Zechariah and Elizabeth: Shelter in the Storm

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:5-24, 39-80

Background: Zechariah and Elizabeth are expecting a baby. Elizabeth exclaims, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” This is one joyful household! They are happy that their "bundle of joy," is on his way, but they both know this is no ordinary pregnancy.

My mom says that when she first found out she was pregnant with her firstborn, my sister Susanna, she imagined the cute, cuddly baby she would hold peacefully in her arms. It was not until the next day that she remembered one of the other aspects of child rearing: diapers. She began to encourage herself that her baby would grow up someday, but wait... her baby would grow up! Was she really ready for parenting?

My thoughts: Zechariah and Elizabeth are going to have a lot more to deal with than diapers. Their son John will be, "a prophet of the Most High." There had to be a lot of questions in these elderly -- but new -- parents' minds.

Then, just a few months into Elizabeth's pregnancy, a visitor arrives at their door -- Elizabeth's maiden cousin Mary -- and what a surprise of joy she will bring!

The Bible account tells us:

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

This is probably not the way Mary expected to be greeted. Elizabeth knew her secret, but she wasn't shocked. Rather, she was rejoicing and calling her blessed! This is testimony to Elizabeth's strong relationship with the Lord. The Holy Spirit was able to use Elizabeth to affirm Mary in her greatest moment of need.

Elizabeth was a port in the storm for Mary, an unmarried girl who found herself pregnant. Mary didn't have a great excuse either. Instead, she has an unbelievable story about still being a virgin, an angelic visit, and that her unborn child is the son of the Most High God. Yet, Elizabeth believed. She didn't even need the explanation; she (and baby John within her) recognized Mary as the mother of her Lord! Remarkable.

Elizabeth is the kind of woman I want to be. She was led by the Holy Spirit, she was a place of security and comfort within her family, she was an encourager, and, most of all, she had faith in God. She wasn't afraid to shelter a girl with a strange, scandalous tale. She felt honored to be chosen by Mary as a safe mentor to go to. Elizabeth was able to express genuine joy!

But what about Zechariah? He has been punished by God and made mute. Will he rise above it all and believe Mary? Can he have joy despite his questions? …more on that later.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Advent 1.4 -- Zechariah and Elizabeth: Prepared For Purpose

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:5-24, 39-80

Background: God's timing is impeccable. He handpicked the family that would give John the training and nurturing needed for a lifetime of service. The baby Elizabeth carried was not to grow up and become a man of leisure. He wasn't even going to spend his life in normal hard work with the comforts of a home and family. No, his life was given a unique purpose before he was even born. Young John was trained to be a man of service, to love and follow the Lord above everything. He would not have the chance to marry or have a family of his own. He would anger important people and ultimately die for his bold words and actions. His purpose was seemingly simple but dangerously radical. He was, "To make ready for the Lord a people prepared."

My thoughts: How did John grow up to be a loud spokesman for God? What made him into a bold man who would relentlessly speak God's message of repentance to King Herod and anyone else who would listen?

He was prepared for this purpose by God Himself. God gave John parents who knew how to sacrifice and serve. Zechariah and Elizabeth knew how to put God's plans above their own desires. They spent years practicing faithful service without apparent rewards. Zechariah and Elizabeth were the perfect parents for John.

John had something else too. It is a Someone that I have too -- Jesus Christ. John would grow up to prepare the way for this Jesus and say,

“I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:16-17)
And later,

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ (John 1:29-30)

This last exclamation is a clear acknowledgment of the divinity of Jesus Christ. John says of Jesus, "He was before me." He says this even though John was physically several months older than Jesus. He even started his public ministry earlier! Yet John understood the supreme importance of Jesus Christ and put his faith in him long before Jesus had a following or performed any miracles. John was full of the Holy Spirit from before his birth, and he recognized the Savior. Recognition wasn't enough, however. John would die for his convictions.

In this Advent season we look back and remember the first coming of Christ and look forward to His second coming. Like John, we too are prepared for a purpose. Just as John prepared the way for Jesus' ministry here on earth, we all must be preparing the way for His second coming. He is coming soon! That is something to rejoice about! ...but more on that later.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Advent 1.3 -- Zechariah and Elizabeth: Trust and Timing

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:5-24, 39-80

Background: Zechariah was resigned to the idea of being childless, but it had to hurt. He might have struggled with wanting to be enough for Elizabeth's happiness -- even without the blessing of children. Out of love for his wife he might not have mentioned his desire for children as much as he used to. Perhaps his yearning for children was voiced only in a habitual, silent prayer to God that he and his wife be blessed. Despite giving up hope long ago, he may have held on to his prayer simply out of habit or because dropping it meant admitting forever that he would never have the long desired son or daughter. Maybe he just couldn't admit that his dream would never be realized. Whatever the struggle, however, Zechariah had moved on with his life. He had a job to do. After all, he was a priest of the Most High God.

My thoughts: Zechariah was working for the Lord by burning incense in the temple. This was his moment to serve God and pray inside the temple. Remember that this was not like the modern Christian church where anyone and everyone has open access to the sanctuary. This was a great honor -- probably a once in a lifetime opportunity.

It was at this special moment in Zechariah's life that God moved. Luke 1 tells us that:

"There appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”

Imagine! God is giving Zechariah and Elizabeth their heart's desire. He is giving them a son! And instead of just allowing them to discover the miracle of Elizabeth's pregnancy on their own, He sends an angelic messenger to tell Zechariah in person and give him detailed instructions about what the child should be named and how he should be raised!

How did Zechariah respond?

Sadly, Zechariah had given up all hope of a child to the point that when a fear-inspiring angel stood before him in the temple of the Lord, looked him squarely in the face, and audibly told him, "Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son." Zechariah could not believe it. He asked for proof. Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

Before we are too hard on Zechariah, think about how you would respond if the same thing happened to you. How would I react if I had wanted something so badly that I had spent years praying for it even after all hope was gone? When was the last time I gave up hope with the epitaph, "I guess the Lord's ways are not our ways." Though often true, could it be too quickly spoken? Is it possible that we are dismissing God -- underestimating either His power or willingness to help us?

In this case, Zechariah was not without evidence that something special was happening in his life. An angel is standing there, and it is an awesome sight! What more proof did he need? But the doubt was there. He didn't want to be disappointed again. Perhaps he wanted to be absolutely sure before bringing back a flicker of hope to Elizabeth. To tell her some fantastical story and it not be true... it would be a crushing blow. It all comes down to one sad truth; Zechariah doubted God.

The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

This demonstrates that "blameless" does not mean perfect. And as always, there are consequences when we sin. Zechariah was given proof, but it wasn't the kind he was hoping for. He was denied the ability to speak until his son was born. Oh, the conversations he must have wanted with his wife as they rejoiced together when it became apparent that Elizabeth was indeed pregnant. His exclamations of delight were stifled when they first felt baby John kick or move in the womb. How he must have wished for some outlet for his joy -- to tell his wife in detail about the angelic visit or apologize for his lack of faith...

God's promises are sure. He doesn't act on a whim or give and take away randomly. I know this, but it helps to be reminded. I don't need to question God or ask for a surer sign. He is the Almighty God. He has a plan for my life bigger than the one I could think up myself. It just takes trust. And if God is anything, He is definitely trustworthy.

Zechariah and Elizabeth learned that God is awesome beyond anything they had imagined, and they also learned that God's timing was different than their own. We can learn the same things.

They had Someone that is worthy of both worship and trust, and so do we... but more on that later.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent 1.2 -- Zechariah and Elizabeth: Desires and Disappointment

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:5-24, 39-80

Background: Zechariah and Elizabeth lived righteous lives for God. Zechariah was a priest, and Elizabeth too was a Levite, a descendant of Aaron. I can imagine Elizabeth faithfully serving her father and mother as a youngster before growing up to marry Zechariah and help him in his life of service. What was Elizabeth and Zechariah's reward for years of faithfully following the Lord?

For a time -- decades even -- it wasn't apparent that God saw their service and blessed them for it. Children were recognized as blessings from God, and Elizabeth and Zechariah yearned for children of their own. Yet, Elizabeth was barren, and they had none. Where was God's blessing?

My thoughts: It is so easy to make plans based on our desires and lifelong dreams. Yes, it is alright to dream and plan, but when it comes down to it, we must desire God's best for our lives even when that best doesn't match the plans we made for ourselves.

Elizabeth and Zechariah wanted a baby. They wanted the joys of parenthood and the privilege of raising a child in the ways of the Lord. Probably, they expected children to come soon after their marriage. The aging husband and wife must have held on to hope long after their friends shook their heads in pity. They might have withstood gossip and speculation about them -- that they had a terrible secret and were not as righteous as they looked. Otherwise, why would God withhold His blessing?

They prayed for children -- for years. It might have become a habit that was gradually pushed to the back of their minds as time passed and everyday life continued on without the arrival of the long awaited baby.

What happens when our plans aren't fulfilled the way we would wish? Do we become angry? Do we pass blame? We don't know how much Zechariah and Elizabeth struggled with their thwarted plans, but we do know one thing: "They were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord." In other words, they kept serving; they kept obeying God. They didn't become bitter and retreat from worship. Elizabeth became a mentor and refuge within her family -- evidenced later by her relationship with her cousin Mary. Zechariah continued on as a priest.

So, that is the answer. We must pray and ask God to make His plans our plans. We ask that He give us the strength to obey regardless of whether we have been "rewarded" or not. God's blessings are given -- not deserved -- and joy is found in being content regardless of our circumstances.

This is hard for me to understand. There are things I want -- desires that mean a great deal to me. Could I give them up if He asked me to? Is God first in my life? It is my desire that my answer always be "yes" to those two questions. Then, once I have prayed and asked God for direction, I must obey Him. I must live blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.

Sometimes, our desires may truly be God given and be His best for us, but our timing differs from His. Elizabeth and Zechariah were in for a big surprise when they found out God hadn't said "no" to children; He had just said "not now." ...but more on that later.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent 1.1 -- Zechariah and Elizabeth: Righteous Before God

Scripture Reading: Luke 1:5-24, 39-80

Background: The story of Zechariah and Elizabeth is one of my favorites. I return to it several times a year -- but especially at Christmas time. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I am named for the Biblical Elizabeth. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that Elizabeth is famous for one thing -- being a mother -- and I too want to be a mother someday. Whatever the case, this true account of events leading up to the birth of John the baptizer -- and ultimately the birth of Jesus Christ -- continues to challenge and inspire me.

My thoughts: Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous before God. The Bible says that they walked blamelessly in the commandments and statutes of the Lord. My first thought is this: I want my life to match this description. I want to follow God in such a way that when I grow into my old age, people can look back at my life and see the consistency of a life lived wholly for God. So how can I be more like the woman I was named for? How can I be a modern day Elizabeth?

I must know the commandments and statutes of the Lord. I must follow them. It is that simple. It isn't easy, but it is simple. I can't be righteous on my own; I must rely on God's forgiveness -- the forgiveness granted through the life, death, and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. He makes me blameless in God's sight. But I have to want it. Zechariah and Elizabeth spent their lives in the service of God. They gave their lives over to Him. I too must desire that righteous life and serve God with everything in me. I want my life to glorify God.

Now, we don't live a righteous life for some perceived list of rewards. A blameless life may not always look the way we think it should look. ...but more on that later.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Give Thanks!


"Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!"

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

My Dad asked me, "What would happen if we went around the table saying what we are thankful for, and someone said 'I am thankful for Thanksgiving!' What would we do then?"

Today, I am thankful that Thanksgiving didn't burn! Okay, so some of it did burn, but just a little! (and not the part we served!)

To the right: an appetizer of Autumn Carrot-Apple Soup with a Spanish Lingonberry Apple Sparking Juice

I was responsible for organizing the meal this year, so it was definitely an adventure. It was fun too! How could I help but enjoy it when I had such great help? My brother spent hours in the kitchen yesterday making chicken stock, cranberry sauce, and pecan pies, Dad took countless trips to the store for different things, Susanna made a delicious Waldorf salad and stayed up late making pies, my Dad was my faithful helper today as I cooked, my Mom set a gorgeous table and cleaned the house... I feel blessed beyond measure. Even though I didn't sleep too much last night (I was up till 1:00 with the soup), today was worth all the work. My aunt, uncle, and grandfather came for dinner, and it was wonderful to have them with us. We don't see my aunt and uncle very often.

So yes, I am thankful for my family today. I am also abundantly thankful for my friend Zachary who is a gift beyond measure. I miss him today and can't wait to see him soon!

Today's menu included:

Carrot Soup
Waldorf Salad (Susanna)
Roast Turkey
Cornbread Dressing
Gravy
Glazed Sweet Potatoes
Garlic Roasted Green Beans with Shallots and Hazelnuts
Cranberry Sauce (David)
Pumpkin Dinner Rolls
Pecan Pies (David)

And no, I didn't cook in the chef's whites. They are my dad's, and he wanted a "chef" picture of me. He certainly has a sense of humor!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Blessings of Fall and a Special Friend

One autumn day that has remained vivid in my memory all these years was in mid-October 1997 while my family was living in Massachusetts. It was the day of my sister's birthday party. Her birthdays were always full of autumn themed games, decorations, and prizes. On this day, the cake was soon eaten and most of the guests gone, but for me, the highlight of the day was still to come.

My mom decided to take us on a walk. We stepped out our door and into an autumn wonderland! Few things can beat autumn in New England. Mom told me I could be the leader, so I led my mom, sister, brother, and a friend on a long stroll through the falling leaves of brilliant oranges, reds, and yellows. Trees lined the roadways and sent down a continual shower of brilliant color. I enjoyed the crunch of drying leaves under my feet. There were piles of them everywhere! The air was filled with the distinct smell of fall. The sounds, smells, colors, and crisp air filled my senses. Autumn is delightful. I am convinced our Creator enjoys putting on a show for us even as we prepare for the coldest part of the year!

Kicking the leaves held a unique fascination for me, and I loved raking my yard. A unique memory involves the day before the party. Apparently, we didn't have a rake -- it being either lost or broken. I desperately wanted to rake, so I went with a neighbor friend to the house across the street to borrow one. The neighbor gladly lent us her rake, and the two of us went back over to my house to work on the back yard. We were extremely impressed with the neighbor's generosity; we talked on and on about how nice she was. It got to the point where we talked ourselves into thinking we owed her something in return. We promptly deserted the only partially finished yard and ran back across the street to the neighbor's. She must have been so surprised when she answered our knock to hear that we wanted to rake her yard -- instead of our own -- as a "thank you" for the borrowed rake!

I didn't know it then, but that was actually our last autumn in New England. I live in Oklahoma now, and while autumn is still my favorite time of year, it doesn't always come with the same excitement I remember in Massachusetts. Some years are better than others, but yellow tends to be the main leaf color here instead of my favorite oranges and reds. However, this year is special!

Autumn has come with all its brilliance! I don't know if my amazement is due to an unusually colorful season or something else entirely. It could be that I am enjoying more time outside this season than I usually do.

You see, I have been taking long autumn walks again. This time it is with my very special friend Zachary. With him, I am enjoying the delights of the season: the brisk Oklahoma wind, the orange, red, yellow, and multi-colored treetops, and the crunch of leaves under my feet. I can point out the trees or leaf showers that make me smile so brightly or stop with him to admire a row of alternating colors. I do a lot of smiling... at Zachary mostly. He has helped me form many more unforgettable memories in every season of this last year. This is a happy autumn, and I look forward to every moment I have with him!

Monday, October 12, 2009

My Help for a 45 Minute Essay

This post is part of a journal update I wrote this last Friday on October 9, 2009. School is really only a small part of my life right now -- and certainly not the most important part -- so I apologize my blog has either been silent or about school lately. But oh well, everything in its time!

It is not uncommon for me to reach the end of my day, plop down on my bed with a combination of relief and exhaustion, and wonder how it is possible that I did the things I did that day. I think, “Was that just this morning? I can’t imagine testing on those subjects, and I wrote a 45 minute essay – this morning?”

Yet, each day passes and, bit by bit, my goals are accomplished. My school list grows shorter when I have a day like this; I took my English Composition with Essay CLEP this morning. Amazing. I don’t know if I passed or not – that knowledge won’t come until almost the end of the month – but I do feel good about it.

It is at a moment like this – when I don’t know how I did it – that I know I didn’t do it on my own. It was the Lord working through me that helped me all the way. He helped me today by making me alert, keeping me calm, refreshing my memory, giving me ideas, and helping me stay on task. When I wrote my 45 minute essay, I did not feel rushed, and I certainly didn’t panic. I know my Heavenly Father helped me through it. Now, I just want to know my score!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Math

I am happy! My College Mathematics CLEP was this morning, and I passed! It is over; math is done! Math is not one of my better subjects, but I praise the Lord that He got me through it! Yeah! I am gong to quilt to my heart's content for one day! My books for Technical Writing won't come in until Monday, so I can read whatever I want until then. Where is my Johanna Spyri book...?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Poison Ivy

As a child, poison ivy was out to get me. I was sure of it. Just the thought of uncontrollable itching, greenish white berries, or the dreaded clusters of three shiny green leaves was enough to terrify me. It was my worst fear -- more scary than spiders, a dark room, death, dogs... or clowns.

I tried to be the tough girl, so my fear stayed a big secret for a long time. I wanted to be stronger, faster, and braver than everyone else. No big sister, big sister's friend, or neighborhood boy was going to have anything on me. My pride went deep, and it caused me to do things I might not have done otherwise. I climbed trees (only one boy could go higher), touched a lot of garter snakes (my sister wouldn't go near them), and rode my bike faster and further.

If I was afraid of something, I didn't want anyone to know. Poison ivy was like that for me. My fear was so great that even the mention of the plant caused me to tremble. This next story shows that staying out of the woods didn't help me much either.

I was excited to start my new 4th grade school books. One book was my Nature Reader put out by Christian Liberty Press. I enjoyed reading books with Mom and eagerly pulled out the small red volume -- until I saw the beginning chapter. Our first lesson was on poison ivy!

Suddenly, I didn't want to read anymore. I stalled, pleaded, and begged. Despite my best efforts, my dutiful, homeschooling mother finally got her way. I can vividly recall sitting on the couch with her while overcome by secret terrors. Poor Mom, she had no clue why I was so reluctant to do my school. I held the book gingerly as though the poison would seep through the pages and cause my hands to itch just from reading about the plant. I had to read the words poison ivy -- out loud --and more than once. Could I make it? My skin crawled at the thought.

Somehow, I got through the four short pages, but I was so hot and nervous I couldn't comprehend what I was reading. To make the itching sensation worse, there were questions at the end. I had to discuss poison ivy? The first question was, "How will you know poison ivy when you see it?"

I couldn't answer the question. My mind was too full of fear to remember anything in the chapter, and I couldn't force myself to voluntarily say poison ivy. Mom made me go back and find the answers from the chapter, so I had to read most of it all over again. The root of my fear can be summed up by some of the descriptions in the book.

"Poison ivy grows in thickets along the edge of the woods or roads. It usually grows like a shrub, from one to two feet in height. Sometimes it grows like a vine, clinging to a fence-post or to the trunk of a tree by means of little rootlets."

You mean it doesn't look the same everywhere? How will I recognize it?

"In early fall the leaves turn red and yellow, and are so beautiful that people may stop to pick them, not knowing that they are poisonous."

Oh no! I like to collect fall leaves!

"Wherever the leaves, stems, or berries touch a person's skin, tiny pimples form and become very sore. They itch badly, and, if the skin is irritated, the poison spreads."

Worse and worse. It spreads? I am itching already!

"Some persons suffer from the plant, even if they do not touch it."

How can I stay away from it then? It will get me anyway! It will sneak up and grab me! What about when I am at my friend's house? I think she has poison ivy in her back yard, but where? How far away do I need to be? It will catch me if I even get close!

"There are several remedies for ivy poisoning. A simple one is to apply a lotion of one part of fluid extract of grindelia in ten parts of water. This will stop the itching and soothe the pain. Sugar of lead is another remedy but this must be used very carefully to avoid lead poisoning, which would be worse than the ivy poisoning."

Grindelia? That is no help. I have no idea what that is, but I don't think we have any. And sugar of lead? How is that different from pencil lead? Poison ivy must make you miserable if people risk lead poisoning over it.

So it went. The Nature Reader played with my fears and made them even worse. On the other hand, it gave me much needed information about the plant I wanted to avoid at all costs. Later, safe from people's notice, I got my school book out and read the chapter again. I wanted to be prepared. Know your enemy!

I have never had poison ivy for real -- for which I am grateful -- but I wonder, how exaggerated were my fears? How bad is it? Does anyone have a poison ivy story? I have many more -- for someone who has never had a physical reaction to the plant!

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Reality

I wrote this post more than a year ago on July 22, 2008. I was going through a lot of emotional uncertainty at the time, and I stayed up late one night to write the following. Somehow, I never posted it. Perhaps it was too personal. Whatever the reason, I found it this week while looking through my blog archives and it encouraged me. Here goes...

Slumps and Rises. Contentment and bliss. Things change so quickly sometimes, and my emotional state can go from up in the clouds to quite a bit below them. I don’t think I am ever without joy. I have Jesus and He is more than enough. My family loves me and provides a closely knit circle of friends, and I know that no matter what, God has a great plan for my life.

I have never known overwhelming despair or sadness. I only have moments when I know all is not well in the world. This usually has to do with members of my extended family that are unbelievers (I want all of my loved ones to know the Lord and be with me in heaven someday) or when I consider my country and the messed up politics and amorality of my nation. Then there are the big questions about what comes next in my own life. It is hard not knowing how everything will work out.

My own little bubble of a life is mostly smooth sailing. Don’t get me wrong; I have troubles and trails. My character needs to conform to the fruit of the Spirit, and situations in my life perplex and confuse me at times. Discouragement threatens, but does not destroy, my joy. The weight of decisions and responsibly make me wish I had a clear road ahead of me where I can see everything in my future… I also wish I had the patience to deal with the reality of a foggy road full of sharp turns.

Ultimately, I know I have the best Guide around. When I look at the big picture of my life, I know I am truly blessed.

God loves every one of His children, and that love wraps around me like a big handmade quilt. The Bible tells me that He is my Provider, Father, and Friend. He is also my Master and Lord, and this gives my life purpose. He is my Purpose. When I have a bad day, a hope falters, or plans are thrown out and reworked, I know that Jesus is right beside me as the Holy Spirit guides me past my disappointment or exhaustion (mental, emotional, or otherwise) into a bright future that is beautifully orchestrated for my good.

For I know the plans I have for you,
declares the Lord,
plans for welfare and not for evil,
to give you a future and a hope.

(Jeremiah 29:11)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Trip Log -- Day 14

Day 14 had one purpose: to get home. We drove across Arkansas and into my home state of Oklahoma. The terrain gradually became more familiar -- more homelike. I was glad to see Oklahoma was still green. The temperatures had been above 100 degrees for much of the time we were gone, but it was not bad when we returned.

Home! Dad had been counting down the hours, and it was so good to see him again. Reunited at last!

None of us took any pictures that last day. We didn't need or want any. Between my brother, mom, and me, the Moore family has thousands of images from this one vacation alone. Enough is enough!

Our schedules were almost back to normal the next day. Suitcases were emptied and put away. Clothes were washed and hung up. I went back to work at the library. I spent time with my friend. My math book was uncovered and prepared for my Tuesday call with my CollegePlus! coach.

Vacations are nice, but I am glad to be home.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Trip Log -- Day 13

We had a head start on Saturday morning when we woke up in Morristown, Tennessee -- 58 miles closer to home than we had planned. This worked out perfectly. Our main goal at this point in the trip was to get home, but we were more than willing to plan a few extra stops if we had the time.
We had the time, and I had a certain destination in mind -- Andrew Jackson's Hermitage in Nashville, TN. We were going through Nashville anyway, and it was our opportunity to visit another president's home. I visited the homes of the first six presidents -- could I add the seventh to my list?

1. We visited George Washington's home in 2008 -- near my aunt's home.
2. John Adams' home was a homeschool field trip when I lived in MA.
3. We visited Thomas Jefferson's home on the way home last year.
4. James Madison's home was the day before.
5. We toured James Monroe's home after Monticello last year.
6. John Quincy Adams' home -- same trip as the 2nd.

Well, we got to go. I had no mental picture in mind when we went to The Hermitage. Unlike some of the other presidents, I have no great admiration for Andrew Jackson. I do approve of some of his policies. He is the only president to pay off the national debt and he opposed the national bank. On the other hand, he is responsible for the removal of the Indians and the Trail of Tears. Also, he wanted to do away with the electoral college. He is a difficult man to like (from my limited historical perspective). He married his wife before her previous marriage was ended, and (unlike the Virginia presidents) was a harsh slave owner.

Touring his home and grounds was a unique opportunity to get to know the president better. The home is in wonderful condition. The carpets, wallpaper, furnishings, books, paintings, etc. are original. In many ways, it was as though the Jackson family was away for the day, and we were given the privilege to see inside. The portable audio tour was a big hit with me, so we spent a couple hours wandering the grounds with earphones on our heads.

We drove several more hours that afternoon and evening. Our goal was to spend the night in Memphis and have a good meal. My dad told us over the phone that Memphis is known for its barbecue, so we used our GPS to help us find a restaurant. But how were we to find a good place? The GPS doesn't know good BBQ from bad BBQ!

We randomly picked one from the list. The directions landed us in a neighborhood we weren't comfortable with and next to a "place of entertainment" we were definitely not comfortable with, so we decided to leave and randomly pick a new place.

I know you can't choose a restaurant by its name, but that is all we had to go on. Some said "So-and-So's Delicious BBQ" or "Someone Else's Best BBQ" or Third Place's Memphis' Favorite BBQ." We decided not to try a restaurant that had to tell us they were the best. We wanted the actual best. So, we randomly chose Neely's Bar-B-Que.

The decision had been made, and we were on our way when Susanna realized that there is this family on the Food Network named the Neelys, and aren't they from Memphis? Don't they do BBQ? I didn't have a clue. I knew who she was talking about, but I don't watch their show, and I didn't have a clue where they were from.

We arrived. It looked like a normal BBQ place -- which means it doesn't look like too much on the outside. We went inside. We could hardly believe it when we saw the posters inside for the show Down Home with the Neelys. Their baby pictures were in the lobby, and the dining room was full of photos of the Neelys with other Food Network stars.

The food was good too. It is sweeter than our favorite BBQ places in Oklahoma, but it was delicious. My only regret is that I wasn't hungrier. I shared a plate with my mom, and it looked like we barely touched it! I had some of the leftovers for breakfast, so at least I was able to spread mine out over two days.

Our hotel was over the Arkansas border in West Memphis. It was our cheapest night of the trip, and there was good reason for the "great deal," but we were happy knowing we would see Dad the next day and have our own beds to sleep in.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Trip Log -- Day 12

We woke up on Friday, July 17, full of anticipation. The hotel was the nicest of all the hotels we stayed in, and we were about to visit the home of James Madison -- our 4th President and Father of the Constitution. We arrived early and in time for the first showing of a short film about the Madison family and home. After the movie, we were off to see the house!

Montpelier has changed ownership many times since Dolley Madison was forced to sell the home after the death of her husband. Much to my surprise, the restoration of the home dates to this century. After much research and labor, the home is architecturally the same as when James and his wife Dolley lived there, but the inside is still a work in progress. I enjoyed experiencing history through the tour guide, grounds, audio tours, and cemetery. It was even a drizzling wet morning while we viewed the Madison family graves -- we could just imagine we were in a "typical movie funeral." Here are a few pictures... James Madison's home was not the only thing I was excited about. It was the fact that I was about to go on a dream-come-true genealogy trip to the Orange County Courthouse in Orange, Orange, Virginia. If I had to choose ONE place in the United States to go on a genealogy excursion, it would be to Orange, Virginia. I practically stumbled onto it! With my family's blessing, I made my plans the night before using my genealogy computer program and family websites.

My ancestor, Benjamin Head, owned land in Orange county, Virginia in the 1700's and was probably in the local militia during the Revolutionary War. His son and daughter-in-law (more of my ancestors) were married in Orange County. I have decades of family history wrapped up in Orange county, and blessedly, much of the research was spelled out in an easy to replicate list prepared by a distant relative who doesn't even know I exist! I made a hasty list Thursday night of the eight or so records that were my top priority and hoped to get at least a few of them.

We drove the short drive back to Orange to visit the courthouse after we were done at Montpelier. Mom and David decided to stay in the car, but Susanna came in with me to help.

I love genealogy, and my job involves helping others do their genealogy, but I have never been inside a courthouse to locate genealogy records. My family doesn't have ancestral roots in Oklahoma, and we don't travel much. Can you feel how excited I was to be in ORANGE, VIRGINIA? I must be excited, because I don't write in capital letters!

We went inside the courthouse. I had my camera and list in hand, a bundle of excited/nervous energy, and my supportive sister to keep me calm and help out. We went to the clerk's office. She was out, but someone else from her office let us into the Archives. I could spend pages describing the room and my experience -- the books, tables, lighting, staff, other researchers... I will spare you the details.

It was almost too easy to find my #1 record, the marriage record for John Head and Nancy Sanford (married November 26, 1787). But how was I to get a copy? My first thought was to photocopy the record, and it didn't occur to me until the original was in my hand (behind a protective layer of archival-something-or-other) that photocopies may not be allowed.

I asked for help. A staff member told me my suspicions were correct: no photocopying. I asked about photography. She hesitated and said they don't usually allow that. I felt a sinking feeling inside me. Could it be that I would see the record, hold the record, and have nothing to take away with me? I asked about microfilm. Yes, it was on microfilm, but the machine was broken. "When will it be fixed?" I asked.

"It won't be." she answered. "It is not in our budget."

What to do? I asked again about photography. She had been way too vague for me to consider that a lost cause. I assured her that I would not use the flash. Sure enough, she answered that while they don't normally like photography, she would let me use my camera.

Yes! I began photographing the marriage records. When that was done I went in search of the inventory of Benjamin Head's belongings written in 1803 at the time of his death. It was found quickly and conquered (photographed). Next on my list were Benjamin Head's land records. I couldn't get them all, but I photographed several of them. Susanna's help was indispensable, and we found more records than I had hoped to locate in a short afternoon.

As it turned out, there was a misunderstanding about the number of photos I could take, so I was asked to stop before my list was finished. I feel blessed I got any at all. It was my understanding that I could take as many pictures as I needed (without the flash of course). It was the county clerk's understanding (once she came back from lunch) that I had permission for the one marriage record and nothing more. Oh well, they let me take my camera with all the pictures, and we left town (stopping for pizza on the way out).

What a day! We drove a good distance and spent the night in Tennessee. I will not include all the photographed records here, but here is a couple.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Trip Log -- Day 11

I have been home for almost a month now. We had a great time on our vacation. It was a blessing in so many ways -- to reconnect with family, share in the joy of a wedding, sight see, take genealogy excursions... Wow. A trip like that doesn't happen all the time.

Real life hit hard when I got back. School, work, and other responsibilities have all demanded my attention. There are many friends I have not reconnected with yet, and I still feel like I am catching up and getting back into the flow of things. I will be writing a few posts in the near future about my current events (Lord willing), but in the mean time, I want to finish this series about my trip.

So, without any more introduction, Day 11 of my family trip: Williamsburg Part 2...It has always been my desire to explore a hedge maze or labyrinth. I don't even remember when I learned of them, but they have fascinated me for years. I have been in an Oklahoma corn maze once, but a lush, green, English style maze? Never. Imagine my excitement when I learned Williamsburg has one! Finally, my chance to be in a maze! Here I am in the maze having a marvelous time! A dream come true!We had the Key to the Palace pass which allowed two days in Williamsburg and gave us entry to the governor's palace. The grandeur was amazing -- at least for its surroundings. I took many more desk photos as well as pictures of the musical instruments in the ball room. They have an organ, pianoforte, and a harpsichord. I bought the CD, Keys of the Palace performed by Michael Monaco, so I can hear what the palace instruments sound like.

My feet were thoroughly worn out when we walked [stumbled, limped, faltered] to the car. We were so happy! We had visited Williamsburg! And spent two days there! I was blessed beyond belief. Our day was not complete, however, and we enjoyed the approximately 125 mile drive to Orange, Virginia that night. Our goal was to visit James Madison's Montpelier in the morning.

I am not completely up on my Virginia geography. Our trip (and the time leading up to it) was busy, so I did as much research for the trip as was absolutely necessary. Extra stuff? Impossible. We were being spontaneous hotel planners too, so all I knew was that we needed a hotel near Montpelier. I knew the town of Orange was in the same county (Orange county), but I didn't know Orange was the closest thing to the Madison's hometown. Why is this important? Read my next post.