Monday, December 30, 2013

When The Best Is Yet To Come

On this last Monday of the year 2013, I'm typing in my favorite comfy yoga pants that have never done yoga, my tattered white sweatshirt, and scruffy old slippers that are worn to my exact foot shape, drinking  the last of my lukewarm coffee.

The real me isn't glamorous.

The snow village that spans the kitchen on every cabinet soffit, blinks and whirls in the calm after the storm of activity. I'm tired-content-happy. There were sweet moments of complete satisfaction, yet most days were a pushing past what is easy or fun, in living out the real of life.

Real life isn't always pretty.

So here is a glimpse of the real me these last so-very-many-crazy days.

There were twenty five days of the book, The Greatest Gift to help keep the real meaning of Christmas in the front of my brain.

There was the radio station that talked about how to keep a sparkly box under the tree for Jesus. The idea was to look for things that would bless others in His name.

There was weak trembling hope in all the crazy commercialism and hurrying here and rushing over there, that in the deep places of the soul, quiet and peace could reign and that this year, could be different than all the other years before.

There was the man who needed gas in his car.

There was the fight with my husband.

There was the reading chronologically through the New Testament for the first time ever.

There was the free eight foot Christmas tree that my friend Karen was getting rid of, that is h-u-g-e and gorgeous, but had no instructions and we laughed at ourselves as we drug it home and figured it all out.

There was the worse Christmas party ever thrown in the history of Christmas parties. Ever. By yours-truly. Not even kidding. But the guests were the most gracious and the time was salve to the soul.

There was the day JQ would be gone, then maybe he would be home, and then he was gone and then he was sent back at the last minute to be with the family.

There were the steaks cooked too long, side-dishes that were never assembled, and not even one cookie made in this kitchen. Not even one.

There was the unplanned doctors appointment.

There was the blog post published that had a ridiculously huge, ginormous typo.

There was the countless grasping, pushing, mean people at the one store and the cashier that was crying.

There was the homeless man warming himself at the mall, that we took shopping.

There was the report of the person who was slandering and cutting my heart with their words.

There was the older lady I don't know, that needed a ride, twice, when it wasn't really convenient. It was a good God-interruption in my small world.

There were gifts forgotten to hand out.

There was the two hours of coffee with the perfect foam and beautiful face time with a friend that was the greatest gift of the day.

There was the night I dropped into bed at 8:30 p.m. and did not budge until 6:30 a.m.

There is the guy who walks in single digit temperatures to a job cleaning up after animals who had nowhere to go for Christmas.

There were Christmas cards not sent.

There were the gifts.

Gifts that blessed my soul. Gifts that couldn't be wrapped in paper.

Indeed this month I've been relearning how to daily unwrap the Greatest Gift, in the everyday, as the waves of life swell and ebb.

It has been embracing the things that were intended to tear us apart, so they can set us apart.

And when my friend gave me these framed words, I knew they were perfect for the days we are living and the days that lie ahead.

There was no credit given on the print and on the internet there is some discussion of their origin. They are most widely accredited to Mother Teresa. Despite various opinions of who wrote them, it is largely accepted that they were written on the wall of her home for children in Calcutta. They are now hanging in the center of my home. Thank you dear friend Wendy.

I mostly want this dreamy Norman Rockwell kind of Christmas season and holiday, with the family picture complete with soft bokeh lighting all around, amazing food, music playing, giggles and laughter and the embraced acceptance of loved ones.

But Jesus who is The Greatest Gift, is not the sum of these things and can not be restrained to my ideas of what this season consists of.

In her book, The Greatest GiftAnn Voskamp quotes Stuart Briscoe:

The spirit of Christmas needs to be superseded
 by the Spirit of Christ.

The spirit of Christmas is annual;
the Spirit of Christ is eternal.

The spirit of Christmas is sentimental;
the Spirit is Christ is supernatural.

The spirit of Christmas is a human product;
the Spirit of Christ is a divine person.

That makes all the difference in the world.

The problem I often run into is this man-made-idea of Christmas, versus the Christ of Christmas. And since the heavens can't contain the glory of God, earth can't restrain Him to certain days or seasons either.

Christ is the message of Christmas.

Not just one day, but every day.

This whole last year my one word was "All."

It is fitting that I end this year with the reminder that Christmas isn't a season, it is the Person of Christ who was before all things and holds all things together.

In. ALL. things.

Not some.

Not most.


May we each unwrap the gift of Him every day.

And sweet friends, the best of what this world has to offer, leaves us wanting more... if we don't know the One who holds it all together.

As we enter the first days of the new year, I am reminded that in Christ, the reality is,  the best is yet to come.

Happy 2014!

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Monday, December 23, 2013

No Performance Necessary

Everything was going slightly awry at a Christmas program featuring preschoolers.

The little darlings had filed into the gymnasium packed with adoring parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.

The old wood stage echoed as little boys stomped their feet in delight, to accentuate the noise their squeaky best shoes could make and sweet little girls stared downward at shinny patent leather shoes and each one took their place.

Our mini-man led his class onto the stage as all the little people took their places for introductions. He was trying to be bold and big, but you could tell his bravery was waning as he nonchalantly stretched over to touch the frame of the stage.

His merry little red sweater blended in with the towering red curtain, but looked great with his head of white-blond hair. The teacher coaxed the squirming line of three and four-year-olds toward center-stage to solve the problem.

After a few rousing songs complete with fun actions, (which some children even remembered) other children filed in to sing as a group and our little man found himself  four rows high, perched on the top riser, on the far left side.

From that vantage point he scoured the audience for those he knew loved him.

And we were there.

JQ and I were not the least bit afraid to make fools of ourselves, waving our encouragement from the audience. His Grandpa Irv, Grandma NaNae and Great Grandpa were there joining in the happy glory that only children can awaken in hearts.

He stood proud, like a little soldier with his freshly spiked hair and baby blues.

The girl beside him was so sweet and swayed nervously, almost losing her balance, flashing an occasional shy smile, but never singing. The little dude with the red zig-zag bow tie was too cool for this much school.

Proud parents with high hopes and plans for their wee ones, lined the walls and center isle of the auditorium, jockeying for a better position to capture their tots with hand-held technology. Some waved high the latest, greatest phones and others had foot-long lens, that looked like they could capture every wisp of out-of-place hair.

Grandparents waved with abandon every time their adored offspring remotely looked their way. And when a child would connect with someone in the audience that they knew loved them, they waved wild and often blurted out greetings, forgetting their lines or hand motions or the fact they teetered on a narrow step.

Mothers and fathers impatiently hushed bored siblings who fussed over the uncomfortable folding chairs, babies cried because they can and general chaos abounded.

The acoustics were bad, children on stage sang when they remembered, off-key or with squeaky bursts and waves. 

The whole affair was mostly a wiggly, wailing, waving, stage-struck mess.

But for those of us who loved them, it was pure unrestrained joy.

Not because the performance was noteworthy, but because of who they were and who they belonged to.

I don’t even remember what songs they sang, but I remembered the blue-eyed boy running into his daddy arms after the performance, with complete abandon.

It didn't matter if they made their stars twinkle to the tempo, wore their frilly skirts over their heads or stood motionless through every moment of illustrious stardom.

They were loved and adore children.

That’s how the Father see us.

We are His beloved children.

Every single messed-up one of us.

He longs for us to hold out our clenched hands so He can cup us, in His.

The hands that spun the world into being, are the very hands that wrote of His love for us in Jeremiah 29:11.

Those verses talk of the thoughts that God the Father, thinks toward us.

God, thinks thoughts toward you. Not that person who you believe has it all together.

That person doesn't exist.

Every single one of us who don’t sing on tune, trip while everyone is watching, or say the wrong things.

He adores us.

All the noise and messy going, doing and being is sifted through the filter of His perfect symphony of redeeming grace.

He is ever stretching to see us, cheering us on, waiting, watching, and longing to embrace us.

He is for you.  

His plans are to bless you.

He is captured by our image and we were made in the very image of Him.

The message of Christmas is that we are a mess and needed a God that isn't afraid to embrace the untidiness of us all.

Jesus is really Real.

He is not some feel-good, abstract, ominous, vague god of our imaginations making.

He is the brilliance that invades all dark places, omnipresent God who spoke the world into being.  He knows the number of hairs on your head right now and has thoughts and plans for you.

He is the humble Son of God who stepped down from His Throne, to lay down His glory for a short time, to defeat the power and sin and death forever.

Those children!

We came to snatch a glimpse of their beautiful, bright-eyed faces, slicked back hair and bestest-ever Christmas outfits and walked away with tender, humorous moments and memories.

And my heart was reminded that the Father loves you and me like that.

No performance necessary.

He adores you.

Nothing we do can hinder His love for us or change the plans He has to bless us.

His Name is called Emmanuel

God with us.

Merry Christmas!

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Monday, December 16, 2013

The Art Of Chocolate Pie

It's no secret that I come from a long line of people who love food.

I would go one step further and say we come from a long line of pie-eating-people.

And that would mean that there are some pie-making artists in my linage.

This time of year, when the focus is so often on gatherings and the food that will be featured, I'm thinking about and deeply thankful for, my heritage of pie eating and the artistry which is part of that!

My maternal grandmother made pies every Sunday and then the family ate left over pie for breakfast on Monday.

Now there is a life I want to emulate! People who eat dessert for breakfast!

Grandma had eight children, so there are varying opinions and memories, but it is generally accepted that every week, she would make a lemon pie, a fruit pie from whatever was available, banana or coconut cream and a sour cream raisin. I personally remember a butterscotch pie, which is a favorite of mine.

Each flaky pastry was made from her own mix of handcrafted ingredients, every filling boiled on top of the stove in a heavy cast iron pan until bubbly thick, stacked high with bronze tipped meringue.

I should have taken lessons from her or at least asked for the recipes, but I didn't.

Can I just suggest to you, if there is something you remember loving that your grandma, mom, aunt, neighbor, or casual acquaintance makes, that you love.... run now and ask for the recipe!

My dad's mother crafted some pies as well and she liked her crust quite brown. Honestly she liked everything well-done, crispy, even to the point of overdone. I always wondered if it was because of days gone by when women had to cook with a wood-burning stove that had no real temperature control and when "normal" was burnt. She came from family that liked to create things like minced meat pies and date cakes topped with freshly whipped cream.

My own mom was an artist and had a deep appreciation for the time honored crafting of pie. On any given Sunday you could drop in and find perfect flaky goodness cupping some sweet filling on the counter. My dad prefers the caramelized happiness of pecan pie or the ruby-red tartness of cherry pie loaded with melting vanilla ice cream. Mom preferred lemon. She always said that her food was so tasty, because it was made with love.

I think that's part of the process of art. What you create has to be done with love.

I believe she concocted these sugary, fluted creations as a form of emotional therapy on days when her heart was missing her own mother.

The real pie maker in the family is my one and only sister, Rae Jeanne.

She makes the most decedent coconut cream and banana cream pie ever. I've tried my hand at the crafting of them before, but quite honestly it's not worth a day of my life to attain the marginal success I experience.

Her creamy creations are picture perfect every. single. time.

Truly she is an artist of pie making.

I most often do an acceptable job on pecan and pumpkin pies. For years I labored to make apple pie for my husband, under the delusion that it was his favorite. He finally admitted (fifteen years into our marriage) that he, "really preferred cherry pie."

There is always something new to learn about the people closest to you isn't there?

Where I live there is a business called Village Pie Maker who has perfected the perfect two crust pie and uses fresh fruit to make a rainbow of flavors. They can be purchased for $10 a piece. If I were to ever take the easy route and just buy a Village Pie Maker pie,  I pop it out of the tin pan it arrives in, place it in one of my own beautiful pie plates and bake it.

Well now you know.

You can look like a pie maker, but not really do all the work.

That brings me to another part of being a lover of pie.

I love pie plates.

All kinds.

New, vintage, deep dish, regular ol' Pyrex, unique shapes and of course the small adorable pie plates.

My Aunt Jackie gave me some small pie tin pans before she lost her battle with cancer. They are the perfect size to deliver to a friend that wouldn't want more than a few pieces.

I've found beautiful pie plates at second hand stores and  garage sales that have hardly been used. Recently I found this adorable small glass one with a fluted edge that is too cute!

My favorite pie to make, to take to an event and to eat, is my version of Jeanne's chocolate pie. As with all good recipes, over time I have altered it some. Most often I like to use deep dish pie pans and have enough filling left over to make a few small pies to give away.

So I asked my sister if I could share the recipe with you and she agreed that it was fine.

Whooo Hoooo!

I've never seen another pie like this at any event I've been at. It is unique, since it uses frozen whipped topping with powered sugar and cocoa added to top off  all the chocolate goodness.

If you prefer, a meringue topping could be used instead.

Don't be afraid to hone your own mad-pie-making-skills, with this easy recipe.

I do like to make my own pie crust.

You don't have to.

For me, part of the artistry of pie is in the crafting of the crust.

There are a bazillion great pie crust recipes on the web, even gluten free! Pie crust recipes that call for shortening do work well, but I prefer to use all butter and high quality flour. I think the key is soft but not melted butter, cut into the flour and salt and very cold water worked in a few tablespoons at a time. If the recipe calls for 7 tablespoons of water I usually add 8. It seems better to have the dough a little more wet than dry as you roll it out on a floured surface.

Once I have the crust in the pan I like to brush the edges lightly with milk or egg white then sprinkle with sugar granules. This adds texture and helps it brown lightly.

The result is a labor of chocolate-pie-art love.

My sister absolutely still makes the very best pies ever, but now you can try your hand at the art of chocolate pie too.

Merry Christmas and happy baking!

Linking up here!

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Monday, December 9, 2013

When You Want God-Wonder In December

The temperatures dipped even lower as the sun gained momentum that frigid morning. I shuffled around the house, half hugging myself as if that would warm up my passionless heart.

Walking past the window I caught a glimpse of it.

The glistening.

My hand left a frosted outline as I pressed into the window to soak in what I saw. Like countless tiny stars, popping off the frosty snow-blanket that lay thick over my world.

Forgetting all sound thinking, I grabbed my camera and ran outside into the thin air of winter, with its harsh north wind sweeping down, making it hard just to gasp a deep breath.

And there I stood, twisting my body in strange angles, shaking with excitement, shuttering from the cold, trying to capture that frame that would remind me of the gift of wonder.

The camera is a limited, yet wonderful tool. On that bitter cold day with bad news blaring from every side, it helped me lay hold of some God-wonder.

I had been praying for some wonder to cling to, in the world filled with un-wondorous news and events.

I think that is why He brought to mind, one of my earliest child memories, of frigid December nights, not so unlike the ones we've been living. My parents would dare to bundle and stack their four farm kids, in the back seat of a Chrysler. It was in the early 60’s, small town America, where there was one beautiful, three story white home, perched in the center of town that had an extravagant holiday display.

You had to drive down “B” Street, past Fremont Dairy and turn north by the row of empty green houses. There streams of cars lined up to take their turns to see the animated holiday characters placed in the front of this enchanting home.

As you neared the frosty exhibit, windows were manually rolled down on the passenger side. Winter air blasted our faces, as we all fought for position to get a closer look. It was magical to watch elves pop out from behind doors, climb ladders, and swing hammers that tapped on toys. A miniature ferris-wheel loaded with small stuffed animals swaying as it turned, and the Mr. and Mrs. Clause stood life-sized, waving from side to side. 

It was quite the charming display and precious early memory. Some folks say that lovely, well-to-do family just kind of fell apart later on.

Can I just dare to say that we need more than beautiful twinkling lights and nice yard decorations to capture the wonder of  Christmas?

This season has so many emotions for most of us. We miss loved ones who we can't be near. We deeply desire to make things special for those we love and those we come in contact with and we stretch our energies and resources to accomplish it. 

Miles may multiply longing in people’s hearts, but these days of December and empty grasping at all the world has to offer, multiply longing in people’s souls.


You can quote me on that friends.

The verse that I shared today, might seem an odd fit for the Christmas season, but the story of the Christ Child is a crazy story isn't it? How Christ arrived on the unlikely scene of Bethlehem and was laid in a manger, by a young unmarried woman, in a stable with the musty breath of animals around him. 

And not everyone wants to hear how that Baby-boy was destined to learn to walk from a rough-hewn manger to the rugged cross. 

The whole thing fills me with wonder.

Isaiah is probably my favorite book in the Bible.

These verses from Isaiah speak of the God who spun the universe into being.

Who has measured the water of the sea
with the palm of his hand
or measured the sky with the length of his hand?
Who has held the dust of the earth
in a bushel basket
or weighed the mountains
on a scale and the hills on a balance?

I hope you will read those words as they put into perspective, how God cups this earth we know as home.

This total of 25,326 miles around of spinning mass, -He holds it in the palm of His hands, yet, He grips us close to His heart. 

The Bible says too, that the heavens can not contain Him

It doesn't concern me at all, those who doubt the truth and the reality of God and all His wonder and His plan to redeem man.

He isn't sitting on His throne in the expanse of heaven holding His breath, hoping that man will prove He is real. 

He desires though, that we embrace the reality of Him.

It is this knowing Jesus and His real-ness that makes a grown woman run outside skipping and leaping through snow, in sockless slippers and thin clothing, to capture the beauty of heavy frost, frigid cold and a late blooming rose.

He is happy to take my breath away, when I ask Him to astound me with His wonder.

That same God who lets me glimpse His glory, I think is pleased when I’m willing to make a fool of myself, to behold and try to capture a tiny speck of His glorious beauty, to share with anyone who will sit still!

I believe it pleases Him when we are captivated by His handiwork and struck by His love. 

Can I just invite you to join me in praying for God to capture our hearts with surprises of His amazing goodness and beauty. 


I've been looking and grasping for what causes child-like wonder in these cold December days. 

I want so much, that together we can press our faces against the glass, to peer in and see the truth of His beauty and Presence in our lives.

Embrace the Wonder and Truth of this season. 

Cling to the Gift that December holds for us all.

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Monday, December 2, 2013

When Mercy Can Build A House


So maybe it was when, I was over-full with thanksgiving food. The first day, the second and then the third.

Or maybe it was while we were shopping at my husband’s favorite store with four of our grandchildren and at least hundreds of other people who were searching. Searching for things to give as gifts. Crowds of people we don't know. People pushing and rushing. People wanting something special.

Yes it was more evident that day.

It was before that really.

I've been looking for it for years. Looking for how to live Christmas different this year.

Because the truth is, the most real thing about me friends, is Jesus.

On every given day, in my flesh, I am fragile and failing.
My energy, resources and imagination come up short.

But God.

It always comes back to that.

It always comes back to Him.

I get e-mails, phone calls and messages almost daily from people who have problems bigger that they are. The news is heavy and heartbreaking. And this is all that I know..... that in my darkest hour, God has been present with me, and made Himself known. So where else can I point people who are searching?

There is no other place I know of, than Jesus for the answers.

And now this season of Christmas is upon us.

The season when the real Gift arrived on the scene wrapped in flesh, to begin His journey of love from the cradle to the cross.

So I've been wondering how can I live Christmas different this year.

How can people who love to give gifts, give something that will last longer than the paper wrapping being torn from a box?

I really want to wrap up my heart and give it away to the world.

I want to do something that will out-live me. 

And I wonder... isn't that how you feel too?

So today, I’m teaming up with something and Someone that is much bigger than me. 

Kristen Welch who blogs at We Are That Family is the founder of Mercy House in Kenya.

Would you take a few minutes and watch the video here and see what God is up to at their web site, Mercy House Kenya.

These women have horrific stories and God has bent down to offer them Hope.

This is the final phase and it is to build a house.

A house that can house more babies and their young mommy's. A home where they are safe, where they can learn skills and experience the love of Christ and a hope for the future. 

It is perfect isn't it? That we can give hope, just like Christ offers us Hope in this advent season.

He is the Giver and the Gift.

And we have an opportunity to join Him where He is working.

Will you join me? 

I'm joining other bloggers today to clasp hands and hearts together, to be the hope that others are looking for. You can be part of it too friends. 

Lets be part of a Christmas that is bigger than us.

How can you join this?

1. Go to We Are That Family and hear the heart and vision behind Mercy House.

2. Read today's, (in),  How To Get The Greatest Gift This Christmas.

3. Pray for the Lord to lead you in how to give, pray, and encourage those who are vulnerable. Widows, orphans, and those that have been taken advantage of.

4. Follow the link below if you want to be part of  building a second Mercy House.

 Mercy House

Teaming up today with Ann Voskamp and a virtual cloud of witnesses who want this Christmas to be about something more. 

You are invited friends. You are invited.

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© Rhonda Quaney