Monday, December 31, 2012

The Last Moments

Outside the temperatures have dipped low. In the shimmer of sunshine you can see tiny ice crystals in the air like some kind of fairy dust and to inhale this crystallized air is piercing to my lungs.

Inside the house we are quietly clinging to the fleeting moments on the clock of 2012 and this season that brought Joy to the world. The time of year my husband loves most.

Perhaps because I've been sick with fever for days, the decorations are still up and not going anywhere soon. 

Much of the Christmas village pieces that sit high on top of the cupboards were given to us as gifts over the years. Our oldest grandchildren know and love each piece of the enchanting little imaginary village with it's twinkling lights, ice skating pond and possibly their favorite, the ski lift with its constant motion of going up and back and up again.

The aisles at the store are stocked already with next holiday's candy. But for another day the sights, sounds and soft lighting of this holiday are my best and feeble attempt to slow. time. down.

I want to be thankful.

To breath deep.

To soak in some grace.

To be love-struck.

All because of Jesus.

A few photos that might capture 2012.


Happy final moments of 2012

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Living Love

I slipped in the door without knocking because they were expecting me. Since everyone else had arrived the meal had began. The living room was bursting with warm yellow tones and flaxen rays of sun were streaming through the glass of the large west window. 

For some reason I just stood there to soak it all in. Her home was decorated with holiday details. Laughter drifted softly from the dining room carried along with the smell of fresh baked dinner rolls. The clatter of passing bowls full of steaming food and chink of silverware against plates accented the children's squeals and grandpas voice complimenting the cook on how good things tasted.

And then more laughter. 

This is what makes my heart full. This home filled with acceptance.  Unguarded conversation. The sharing of a meal. The gift of laughter. People gathered in love.

Pastor John has been teaching these last four weeks on the advent.

Advent ...the coming of Christ.

Each week has featured gifts that Jesus brought with Him.  Gifts like hope, wisdom and joy. This final Sunday the focus was on His gift of love.

The kind of love that the Bible talks about.

The kind of love that we all long for, yet few really know how to live.

In 1 Corinthians it speaks clearly of what this looks like. And the verses are so familiar that I run over them too fast most times. But these words describes what it really looks like to love God as we love others.

Love builds others up and isn't easily annoyed. This real love doesn't see ourselves as more important than others. It doesn't envy what people have or keep a running list of how they have failed. It isn't easily offended.

The Jesus-kind-of-love, puts up with, believes in, hopes for and endures all things the very end.

Love that is a choice not a feeling. The kind of love that is displayed if we really believe that God. is. who. He. says. He. is. 

The kind of love most of us have been denied at some point and the reminder of that usually comes creeping forward from the shadows. Especially this time of year. 

Sunday they turned the lights out. We sat in the darkness to just soak it all in.

The darkness that exists in the world if we don't live this kind of love.

Then Pastor John lit one candle. And two men kindled a flame from that flickering wick. Each of those flames were offered to another. From the back it spread forward and out of the darkness there came this warm glow that engulfed the dark. Each person cupped there own flame and it felt like a hot glowing body who didn't hide their light but held it high. 

That's what the love Jesus brought to earth ..looks like.

We who believe. We have this responsibility to begin like a small fluttering flame to respond differently to those who hurt us.   Misunderstand us. Leave us out. Speak untrue things about us.

Then we press into Jesus.

Because He is enough.

He is for us not against us.

He knows how it feels because he lived it too. 

And still He lived love.  


The gift wrapped in swaddling clothes. Once born he was placed in a rough wood manger.

Even as he lay in the stable there was the whisper of how he would someday learn to walk ...all the way to the wooden cross of Calvary.

Because of love. 

This Christmas.

May everything fade but the flame that we hold out to others. Hope in the form of Jesus who is our Savior and our example of how to live love.   

Merry Christmas. 

I love you deeply. 

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Monday, December 17, 2012

Make Known The Message

There was one Anna.

One Anna in the whole Bible, with a hand-full of words that let us peer into a life well-lived.

She is tucked into the pages that Luke the doctor wrote.

Since my walk with Jesus began, I have wondered about her because we have a few things in common.

Anna had been married only a few years and then lost her husband young.

This Anna that never left the temple and how she prayed and fasted all the time. I've thought how strange it was that she could live like this for over eight decades.

I imagine her with light in her face from the time spent with the Lord. Slight in stature. Surely she didn't lug around twenty extra pounds with all that fasting and prayer. I also imagine that she wasn't just "busy." But that she did the things her spirit eyes saw to do.

I've ran my fingers over the words that told of how long she was married and how long she was a widow trying to feel the depth of her pain and desolation that brought her to the end of herself and altered the path she walked with God.

Because at a young age I too stood and watched a husbands body be lowered into the ground. With him I buried deep the love, the dreams and all that was secure. My heart can still tremble at the memory of how nighttime fell with dread of darkness so thick. Like a steep tunnel that spiraled downward with no light at the end. Anxiety would grip my throat with a choke-hold because fear drove the pain like a stake into a shattered heart. Pain for me and pain for my children and all that they would never know that they too had lost.

Was it the same for Anna as it was for me? The living through the crisis. The surviving crazy grief. The dying to all that was lost. Or was it worse? And at what point did she cling to the pillar of the temple refusing to let go of God, while dressed in black, after love had died?

Early this year I read her story again. This time I saw things in Anna that changed how I've chosen to live this year of 2012. The woman who had lost everything and yet lived like she had it all.

At least all that was important.

You see Anna didn't talk about how to live a life that honored God.

She just lived it.

And she lived it completely surrendered.

She lived it completely available.

Re-reading her story made me want to be more available to serve the Lord. I could start with how I approach Sundays. To not run in the door at the last minute or run out as the last song plays. What would happen if  I were to come early? Really early. And then linger long afterwards. What if I were not rushing to the next thing or restaurant?

And what if I prayed more?  Maybe not night and day.

Just more.

It says that Anna was a Prophetess.

I love that. Certainly it has to mess with someones theology.

But it is written in black and white and ink on paper, all matter-of-fact, that a woman from the lost tribe of Asher was a Prophetess.

So she used the gifts given her to serve. I determined to use my gifts to serve more. I could do that.

Yes every day serve Him. But on Sunday when people gather at the building needing to be built up I could be there to encourage and comfort and pray and love more.

So this has been a year of living more like the example of this one Anna.

Just being available.

It has been a tender shift in thinking that has given me new eyes to see the needs of others.

It occurred to me that Anna's story is really a Christmas story.

She lived her life with eyes of faith, believing that God was going to send a Savior for his people.  And the time came when she was able to see with her eyes and touch with her hands what she had believed by faith all those years in her heart.

She actually got to meet the baby Jesus.

Isn't it just like God that the father of Anna is named by name? And his name Phanuel means "the face of God"? 

But before Anna ever laid eyes on Jesus she had recognized Him with her heart. 

She had let the dark and broken places in her life be lived out as a changed life. She was a woman who experienced profound loss. In fact in her Jewish culture given no inheritance at all.  Yet she was mentioned by name in the Bible, was counted valuable and left a legacy of Jesus.

Ultimately Anna lived her life to make known the message of God.

That's what I want my life to look like too.

Photo Credit

This week in the pure craziness of the season I just don't want to miss seeing Jesus.

My prayer is that you won't miss seeing Him either.

If you haven't read her story.....

* Just an extra side note. If you do the math, Anna was over a hundred years old when she met Jesus. I wonder if she got to go home to heaven before He did.

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Monday, December 10, 2012

How Will They Know

In September we began.

It was Janie and Jeri Rae that wanted to do it.

For Christmas they wanted to do something, instead of doing nothing, in this place that houses people with mental and behavioral disorders.

We were given their first names only and sizes.  The list of thirty some men and a hand full of women divided between a group of fifteen ladies.
It seemed easy enough.

Gifts for faceless people began to accumulate. Some wrapped in boxes and some in gift sacks. It wasn't like we knew their favorite color or what kind of things they liked to do. So basic gifts were found or purchased.

The lighting was dim as we entered the building to make our delivery. The smells in the building were different and the whole place seemed worn-out and out-dated. 

The residence were gathered in a common eating area. Except for the few who just were not able to muster the strength to be in a room full of people. Some stared off into space, one rocked back and forth, some cast their eyes down, and three had their sweatshirt hoods pulled up over their heads. It was solemn and uncomfortable as we began. 

The woman who was the administrator asked each person to take a turn and state their first name. This was quite a challenge for some. In the end of doing this,  one of the men declared, “We all did it! We all remembered our names!”

As the gifts were being distributed, I scanned the room watching their faces. Most with emotionless stares and blank expressions. The sheer forgotteness of these people tore into my soul to the point I had to step out of the room to regain my composure.

All I could think is, “ can these people really know that Jesus loves them?"

Perhaps it was just my heart cracking as it pumped with compassion and maybe the atmosphere in the room really did began to change. Every sack was a hand full of love offered with dignity and respect. They shuffled papers and looked at every item. And then hand painted ornaments were given to each with their name. 

As we watched them open gifts, the administrator told me that she had a heart for them. She herself was raised by a mother who suffered with mental illness and now her daughter too since the accident which effected the frontal lobe of her brain.

She spoke of how each resident had their own story and I was comforted a little in how she seemed to mother them gently. 

She coaxed the men and women to speak if they wanted to share with the group. A new resident stood and said that this was the first Christmas gift he and been given in twenty five years. Another man apologized for making other residents upset and explained that he just wanted to get along with everyone. A women took a turn and said when she arrived a few years ago there was only a meal served for them on Christmas. No gifts.

One by one some were brave and stood to share words and hearts in an opportunity to be heard. 

And I peered into their faces trying to catch a glimpse of their souls. I wondered about the story inside the things I could see on the outside.

Were they loved when they were born? Did anyone rock them when they cried as a baby. Was it drugs or alcohol or physical abuse? Were their parent like them bound up with brokenness? Was there an accident that changed their life and altered their ability to be 'functional' in society as we know it? And really, I'm not even sure what that means.

I thought of my own life. All the comforts I enjoy and people I love and who love me back. It was everything I could do not to fall in a heap on the floor and sob right there. Because I send money over seas yet ignore these people right in the middle of town where I drive by most days? 

There was one who was the size of a man but had actions like a child. He only had one good eye, but his eye was gentle and clear blue with long lashes and he looked to the woman who loved them for assurance that he was doing things right. And the older man in a wheelchair with a flag flying on the back. I asked him if he was a veteran and he told me yes and where he served and how long he went away.

One man had his flute and wanted to play for us. And the small group of women wanted their picture taken. When I showed them how good it was, one said how she had a fat head and another stated how bad she looked. But I told them I thought they were all beautiful and then one cried. 

The question is burning along with the tears in my eyes can they really know that Jesus loves them?

They filled thier plates with sweet treats that Jeri Rae had prepared. And the music was playing a song about Jesus and His birth and some danced and a few laughed. A few dared to hug and linger while others slipped quietly away to their rooms. 

A wheelchair bound man with swollen bare feet returned from his room with light in his face and a bag of chocolate to share. The Veteran rolled up in his chair with woven gifts that his hands had made and bursting with pride that he was able to offer us each one gift. Then one man gave a watercolor painting to Janie to thank her for all the gifts.

We had given out of our surplus and out of things tossed, but they gave us the best they had to offer. 

After this I'm driving home in the dark and I think about how Jesus lived while he walked on earth. How he hung out in places with the crazy and the shunned.

Jesus didn't shy away from those who cast their eyes away or who were looked down on in the society of his day.

In fact He tossed out the rules of the culture and man-made church rules as he bent over... to lift up... those who were crushed with impossible religious demands.

I love that about Jesus. That he lived the example to love with action and not just words.

I want to be more like that.

Painting by Jeffery

In the final days of the season frenzy of only so many shopping days until Christmas and as I drive in my nice car, into my nice neighborhood, to sit in my nice house, there is something about what happened to my heart and I just refuse to go on as if it was nothing. 

It was supposed to be easy. To do a kind thing and give a few gifts. To do a little of something instead of doing nothing. How is it my heart is full of the gifts received from them?

There is the American dream and there is the God dream. Still there is One True Gift. It is His birthday that the fuss is all about.

And the question really is
   - -how will people know that Jesus loves them?

Thank you Janie and Jeri Rae for dreaming it
and all the ladies in Wednesday Night Bible Study
who joined in to make it a reality.
Love you all. ♥ 

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Monday, December 3, 2012

A Real Gift

My Grandma was a small woman who had a big heart and loved to cook. I can see her even now, fussing over a pot of food on the stove.  

One of her favorite pans was a  large cast iron roaster. And one of her favorite things to make was apple butter. She would fill the pan to the rim with finely chopped apples and spices. For days she stirred and tasted and added ingredients to achieve her signature spicy concoction.

I do not know that there was ever an actual recipe.

About twenty years ago I ran across a recipe that I liked and over time have made some changes to make it my own. 

Of course my dad says "there will never be apple butter like grandmas." And he is certainly right.

However. I dare to suggest that this is as close as I will ever come. 

And I'm sharing the recipe with you just in case you have some people you would like to give a special  homemade gift to. 

It's easy.

It's Y-U-M-M-Y!

It begins with a #10 can of applesauce which you can usually find for under $5.

If there is a secret  ....I think the pan in the oven for four hours is it.

I use a large roaster, but I suppose a large crock pot would work. 

If making six pints of apple butter seems like too much, you can half the recipe by using 3 one pound jars of applesauce from the store instead of the one large # 10 can. You can also double this recipe to have more gifts. 

I personally like to use Braggs Real Apple Cider. If I have apples that need used up I have added them into the mix. They cook down and look the same as the applesauce.

This is great thing to put in the oven on a cold day. Your home will smell amazing. 

I do stir it a few times over the four hours. It cooks down to about half of what you begin with. As it cooks, it thickens and turns a beautiful deep brown.

Glass jars are nice but you can store apple butter in whatever kind of container you'd like. I place them in the refrigerator though my grandma never did. =]

My gift to you ♥

Even the tag....

This Christmas Season
may we give good gifts
and remember
the True Gift.


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© Rhonda Quaney