Friday, January 27, 2017

Faith and Gratitude

(I already wrote a long post about this, but here I intend to write a shorter one.)

Faith and Gratitude are my words for 2017.  I am excited about these words.  They don't frighten me.  They point me victoriously to Christ.

Faith comes first.  Our spirits are dead within us until God grants us faith.  Faith is the ability to perceive God, to believe in God, and to love God.  We cannot muster up faith on our own; it is the gracious gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).  Unfathomably, God reaches down to us while we are dead in sin--while our spirits are literally dead in sin--and shines a life-giving light into our souls, enabling us to perceive, believe and respond to Him with love and thanksgiving.

Yes, thanksgiving--Gratitude--is the result of faith.
When, by faith, we perceive that God exists,
When, by faith, we believe that He sent His Son to purchase our deliverance from sin--
paying with His very own life-blood,
When, by faith, we joyfully accept His offer of forgiveness, fellowship and eternal life,
then we find our hearts full of gratitude.

Gratitude is more than being thankful for salvation--
it is about rejoicing in the very essence of who God is, 
giving thanks for all of His attributes and His mighty acts.
Faith is more than the moment of conversion--
it is an unwavering confidence in our sovereign God 
and all of His great promises.

Faith is being planted in the Holy Spirit, as though I am a tree and the Holy Spirit is the fertile soil along the riverbank where I am planted, into which my roots dig deep for stability and nourishment so that I will grow up tall and strong, bearing fruit to feed people and medicinal leaves to heal them.  Having faith, abiding in Christ, walking by the Spirit--these are all different ways of saying the same thing.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord,
continue to live in Him,
rooted and built up in Him,
strengthened in the faith as you were taught 
and overflowing with thankfulness.
~Colossians 2:6-7 (NIV)

We receive Him, open our hearts to Him.  We make ourselves vulnerable to Him so He can change us.  This, too, is faith: knowing and trusting that my Lord is the only one with whom I can be completely vulnerable, and still be completely safe and secure.

Faith results in gratitude and joy.

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy
and I will give thanks to Him in song.
~Psalm 28:7 (NIV)

Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!
Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, 
by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving
present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
~Philippians 4:4-7 (NIV)

I must point out that we are to rejoice always, but the rejoicing is in the Lord.  We don't rejoice in the plane crash, the addiction, the rape, the abortion, the war, the cancer or the hurricane.  We rejoice in the Lord.  We rejoice that our hope is in Him, not in any part of this poor old broken world.  This is where the gratitude originates: we are thankful for the hope He gives us, enduring hope in His unfailing love.

When we are grateful for the hope He gives us, an amazing thing happens:
We start to be able to thank Him for what He will do in the future.
We start being grateful in advance.
This is the kind of faith I strive for:
To be grateful because my confidence is in Him,
and He is good,
Lord of all.

He is for us.  He is on our side.  He never leaves us nor forsakes us.  He never forgets, never sleeps, never misses anything, never makes a mistake.  He fights for us, and He always wins.  When we live with this kind of confidence in the Lord, we walk in the victory of faith.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dear Lord Jesus,

Thank you for who you are and for your Divine nature, even though I will not fully comprehend until the day I meet you in glory.  

Thank you that you are completely faithful.  Thank you for all the wonderful promises you have fulfilled in the past, and thank you that I can trust you to continue to be faithful for all eternity.  

Thank you for the cross, where you demonstrated that you are good, kind, compassionate and full of mercy and grace.  Therefore, I can put aside my fears and trust your work in my life and the lives of those around me.  Thank you that you are working and will continue to work until your perfect purposes are all accomplished.  Thank you that you never fail.

In the triumphant name of Jesus, who died and rose again, I pray in confidence:  Your will be done!  Show me your glory at work in the world.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Redeeming a past pain

In the quietness of my empty nest, sometimes I get to remembering, especially when something cues a memory in me.

In the ripeness of my present age, I am feeling more brave about tackling things I'd shelved for many years.  There is a time for everything, the Bible says.  By the grace of God, I did not bring up certain issues earlier, when I was clearly unable to handle them in a balanced way.

Now might be the time.

I've written about giving and receiving criticism before.  Rereading what I wrote, I still stand by it.

Recently, a friend brought up the topic of speaking the truth in love.  Many people responded to him with abhorrence for the idea.  This makes me sad, because the truth is beautiful and praiseworthy, and the truth should be spoken and received.  Yet, more often than not, it seems that truth is spoken ineptly, and received badly.

Incidentally, I am quite convinced that this is the work of Satan, the great deceiver, whose primary purpose and main strategy is to keep people from the truth.  How better to do that than to make them hate both truth and truth bearers?  I've written about that, too.

But back to the topic of speaking the truth.

I can understand why people recoil.  I myself have had some traumatic experiences on the receiving end of "truth speaking."  I will tell you about one.

We were attending a church, actively involved.  My own duties included teaching Sunday school, working in VBS, volunteering with the youth group, leading ladies' Bible studies and singing in choir.  Shawn had his own long list.  We were in our thirties, with four busy, school-aged children.  In the midst of it all, Shawn was invited to be a deacon.  This particular church ordained deacons, and Shawn's deacon ordination was scheduled during a Sunday evening service.

The Sunday morning before Shawn was ordained, a woman from the church pulled me aside at the end of the worship service and steered me into an empty Sunday school room.  "I need to talk to you," she said.  She sat me down in a chair and began. "I've never been able to like you.  You really offend me, and I am struggling with the thought that your husband is going to be a deacon." She proceeded to list an onslaught of complaints about things I had said and done that she found offensive, and malicious attitudes she attributed to me.  She went on and on for a long time.  I was stunned and silent, trying to listen and make sense of what I was hearing.  She told me that I was selfish, ungenerous and inhospitable, and that with all the resources I had, it was shameful that I didn't share my home with those less fortunate than myself.  Astonishingly, she finished by telling me that she had gone over this with another woman in the church, and that the other woman hadn't seen things the way she did, "So," she finished, "since I trust her judgement, you must not be quite as bad of a person as I think you are, and I need to give you another chance.  I am sure that once your husband is a deacon, you will rise to the occasion and become more friendly and hospitable, and have people over to your home for meals."

When things like this happen to me, my initial reaction is, mercifully, numbness and shock.  I told her I was sorry for having offended her, and floated home in a daze.  It was only after I had replayed the conversation in my mind a number of times, that I began to cry.  In trying to process it, I talked to my husband, and one trusted friend.  I sobbed.  I wept.  I was deeply hurt.

Now, interestingly, the part of her criticism that I remember most clearly was the part that was at least partially true: I was not very open with my home.  This was a shortcoming that I regretted and wished I could overcome.  Lots of excuses existed--mostly things related to being busy, overwhelmed and naturally shy.  But it was true that we very rarely had anyone over (and sadly, people very rarely invited us over to their homes in return).  She reprimanded me for a host of other things, too, but most of them were either based on misunderstanding or misinterpretation.  Although I had some desire to set the record straight and defend myself, my husband assured me that it was best to let bad enough alone and resist engaging again.

So I limped on.  Lonely and forlorn, I wished more than ever that I had friends, a loving group of people who would congregate in my home for good food and warm conversation.  However, after that confrontation, I felt less confident, less secure, less able than ever to make the first move towards being friendly and hospitable.  I was traumatized.  I was crushed.  If I had been so offensive to her without realizing it, how many others had I unwittingly offended?  How many others harbored a hidden annoyance at seeing my face walk into church?

I do not write about this in order to condemn that woman.  No doubt she was absolutely convinced that she was acting in love, speaking the truth in love.  No doubt she thought she was doing me a kind favor by pointing out the error of my ways so that I could get busy and make the appropriate corrections.  No doubt she believed that not only I, but the entire church would benefit from the effects of her words to me that day.  I truly don't believe she had any idea that she could have hurt me the way she did.

I write about this because I think it is important to examine how we respond to the things that happen to us, sometimes really hurtful things that are done in the name of Jesus.

1.  We need to go to Jesus with our hurts and ask Him to help us.

2.  We need Jesus to help us sift what has been said, and separate the true from the false.  We need to ask Him to help us forget the false, and not get hung up on it.

3.  We need to ask Jesus to help us forgive the person who hurt us.  It is okay to be patient with ourselves in the forgiveness process.  The forgiveness comes as the pain fades, and the pain fades as the memory fades, and when the memory comes back, we may need to choose to forgive yet again, and again.  Jesus will be faithful to help us every step of the way.

4.  We need to remember that Jesus allows every single thing that happens to us in our lives.  He not only allows things to happen, He has good plans for how He is going to use each thing to teach us and shape us for His glory and for our best benefit.  We need to trust Him.

5.  When there is painful truth that needs to be applied, we need to apply it, as best we can.  Whatever we do, we need to work with the Holy Spirit to be formed by grace and to learn whatever He has to teach us.

In my situation, I cannot honestly say that I became more hospitable as a result of the truth that was spoken to me that day, although I desired to, and even tried to.  I recognized that this was a true and fair criticism of me, and I wished like crazy that I could overcome it.  I even prayed for help with it.  But, honestly, if anything, I had even fewer people over to my home after that.  It was as though I'd been crippled, paralyzed.

I believe that God allowed this paralysis to happen for a reason, too.  I think perhaps He was working to teach me more about speaking the truth in love than about being a hospitable deacon's wife.  If undergoing this experience spared me from similarly going out and causing great pain to someone, then I am deeply grateful for it.  I am sure that it made me more aware of how much damage critical words can cause.  Although I realize that I have often failed to use my own words as kindly as I ought, I hope that this experience has made me kinder than I would have been without it.

Beyond that, being paralyzed by criticism demonstrated to me that verbally assaulting people rarely helps them grow in a better direction.  Even when people can see and agree that a critic is right about something, if they are crushed and smarting under a violent barrage of rebukes, they may find themselves disabled from making the recommended corrections.  This woman told me that I was selfish, unsharing and inhospitable with my home.  What if instead she had said, "You have such a pretty house and a nice, big dining room table.  I'll bet people would just love to be invited over for a meal with you.  You could host some really great fellowships in your home.  Have you ever thought about doing something like that?"

This is what I need to take away.  When I want to help people discover and use their spiritual gifts, I need to be an encourager, free with honest compliments and positive predictions.  "I am sure that once your husband is a deacon, you will rise to the occasion and become more friendly and hospitable, and have people over to your home for meals," is not a positive prediction.  "I am excited to see how the Lord will grow you as a deacon's wife!  You have such lovely resources that you can use in ministry to many people," is a positive prediction.

We need to learn from criticism, and we also need to learn from the experience of being criticized --how we can most effectively help people grow when we speak the truth in love.

I'm still learning, but I'm trying!  May Jesus bless and help us all.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A prayer for the lost

Dear Lord Jesus,

Thank you that you are the Source of all life and light and goodness.  Thank you for your beautiful creation, and thank you for creating us in your image.  Thank you most of all that you never give up on us, and that you have a perfect plan that you will bring to pass.  Hallelujah!  No power can stop you!  Thank you for your mercy, your grace and your unfailing love.

I thank you and I praise you that you have already decisively won the battle against our enemies, the powers of darkness.  You've already won!  You sacrificed your precious life to pay for the sins of the world, and then you rose again, triumphant.  It is finished.  The victory is already in the book.  Death could not keep you down.  You came to give us life and joy to the full, and you have already done everything necessary to accomplish this.

You came to seek and save the lost.  You came to gather the scattered sheep.  You came to give sight to the blind, to make the deaf hear and the lame walk.  You came to set the captives free.  You came to deliver us from evil.

Yet, evil still lurks in our world, and the deceiver is powerful and adept at deceiving us.  He wants us to remain ignorant of your mighty victory, and when we learn about it, he wants us to disbelieve, to misunderstand, and to forget.  Dear Lord Jesus, we need your truth.

Lord Jesus, I pray for the power of your Holy Spirit to flood this world with the illuminating light of Truth.  You are the way, the truth and the life.  You are the only way to eternal life with God.  Help us to see the beauty of what this means.  Illuminate your beauty for us.  Show us your goodness, your love, your joy, your perfect peace.  Help us to see, understand, believe and rejoice.

You know, dear Lord, that the enemy wants us to believe that what is good is bad, and what is bad is good.  The enemy wants us to pursue darkness, thinking it will lead to joy, although he knows full well it is a trap.  The enemy wants us to think that his chains of sin will bring us freedom, and that your perfect freedom is a prison.  Oh, dear, sweet, almighty God please enlighten our hearts and minds so we can see the truth and pursue the good.

You, Lord, are the only one who can enlighten our minds and replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh.  You are the only one who can write your laws on our hearts and move us to desire righteousness.  You are the only one who can expose the lies of the devil and offer the power of truth in their place.  You are our only hope, but that hope holds like a solid anchor because you are perfectly faithful, perfectly able, perfectly willing to help us.  In fact, you long to gather us under your wings and comfort us.  Thank you, Jesus.

We all need you, Lord.  But for those who don't even know that they need you, who are deceived into believing that they don't want you, who are set against you, I pray your mercy and enlightenment, your teaching and patience.  I pray a miracle of faith planted into inhospitable hearts, faith that will grow and flourish and actually change the nature of the ground wherein it is planted.  Lord Jesus, only you can do these things, but nothing is impossible for you.  Everything is possible with God.

You are the God of miracles.  I pray that you will pour out miracles of glory.  Show us your glory, Lord Jesus, in the hearts you resuscitate.  May we see your glory and give praise to your holy name.

Show us where we can cooperate in your kingdom work, Lord Jesus, but may all the glory go to you.  Help us plant seeds, and then delight us when you make the seeds grow.

Show us your glory and delight us.


Monday, January 9, 2017

A simple guide to feeding your gluten free friends

I think lots of people panic when they learn that one of their friends is gluten free, and thereafter, they hesitate to invite this poor person to their home.

Gluten free people need friends, too!  A gluten free diet isn't really that hard to accommodate.  You don't have to go out and buy all kinds of weird, expensive gluten free products!

Most gluten free people don't expect to be able to eat all that much when they are away from home.  We are thankful for anything that we can eat!

Here is a list of common snacks you can offer to your gluten free friends:

  • Chips and salsa (regular corn tortilla chips -- not "whole grain"!)
  • Popcorn
  • Raw veggies and hummus
  • Fruit and cheese
  • Nuts

Pretty normal, right?

For meals, GF people can eat almost any grilled or roasted meat, as long as it doesn't have gluten in a sauce or seasoning.  You can avoid this by using your own spices rather than a spice packet, and by reading the ingredients on sauces (many are naturally GF!).  Simply roasting meat with salt, pepper, garlic and herbs guarantees that it will not contain gluten.

A simple rule of thumb is to avoid prepared items that come in cans, boxes or packets.  Instead, purchase foods fresh from the meat and produce sections of the store.

Potatoes are safe, as long as you don't combine them with, for instance, a canned, condensed soup.  But baked, roasted, boiled or mashed, potatoes are a staple for GF diets.

If you thicken your gravy with cornstarch instead of flour, your GF friends will be able to use that, too, and they will be so thankful!  Just use half as much cornstarch as you would flour.

Rice is also safe and appreciated by people on GF diets. Use plain white or brown rice (not a boxed mix), and season it with your own herbs and spices to keep it clean.

Tossed salads are terrific, as long as you leave off the croutons and check the labels on the dressings.  Often, many salad dressings are GF, except blue cheese dressings.

Vegetables are usually safe, too, unless they are breaded and fried, or doused in a creamy sauce thickened with flour.  Steamed and roasted vegetables are staples for a person on a GF diet.

Mayonnaise is almost always GF (and contrary to popular belief, it is also dairy free!), so that's a good thing to know!  A potato salad with boiled potatoes, hard boiled eggs, mayo and mustard is delicious and much appreciated by GF eaters who often can't find comfort foods to enjoy.  Many other salads are also safe, including most cole slaws (especially homemade), fruit salad, bean salads, etc.  Bulgar wheat salads (tabouli) are not okay, but if you are cooking from scratch, you can substitute brown rice for the bulgar wheat for a tasty, affordable alternative.

GF does not necessarily mean dairy free, so unless your friend tells you that dairy is off limits too, go ahead and serve cheese, yogurt and butter.

Eggs are GF, too!  As long as you keep them away from bread and flour or flour-based baking mixes, go ahead and cook up an omelette with vegetables, breakfast meats, and cheese for a nice, normal, hearty start to the day.

For dessert, you can provide your GF friends with fruit, chocolates (without any cookie type additives), most ice creams, glazed nuts and fancy coffee drinks.

Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye, so wheat, barley and rye must be avoided.  This means nothing with wheat, barley or rye flour as an ingredient, no beef-barley soups, no marinades that include whiskey, beer or any other alcohol distilled from wheat, barley or rye grains.

Additionally, your GF friends cannot eat:

  • crackers
  • noodles or pasta 
  • bread
  • rolls
  • buns
  • bagels
  • pita
  • pizza crust
  • muffins
  • pastries
  • cookies
  • cake/cupcakes
  • pie

All the items on the above list can be purchased in GF forms, from stores that carry GF products, for a price.  Or you can find many delicious GF recipes online by doing simple searches.  If you would like to purchase or prepare any special, GF foods for a GF friend to eat at your home, it is an extremely kind and considerate thing to do, but it is not necessary.  If you just provide corn tortilla chips, potato chips, potatoes and/or rice as sides to vegetables and meat, your GF friends will be all set.

Hang out with gluten free people and offer safe foods confidently!  You will make their day!

Friday, January 6, 2017

2017 Words and Verse

Faith -- Thankfulness -- Colossians 2:6-7

I never picked a word-for-the-year or a verse-for-the-year before January of 2015.  This new tradition must be another example of how difficult times shape us, how trials improve us.

In 2015, I picked the word Peace and, for my verse, I picked John 14:27 --"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.   Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."

At some point during 2015, it seems to me that I transitioned to the word Hope, and Romans 15:13 -- "May the God of hope fill you will all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (NIV)

I'm not sure if I accurately remember the timing of it, but I did a Bible study on Romans over the summer of 2015, and I think my interest in Romans 15:13 sprang from that.  I spent a considerable amount of time pondering the connections between hope, peace, joy and the Holy Spirit.  The Lord nurtured me.

At the beginning of 2016, I had more hope than I had had in 2015 (or 2014).  Although I cannot find specific records about what was happening in my heart, in January 2016, in a prayer journal, I wrote down my words for 2016:

Unfailing love

I was ready for restoration.  More than that, I had hope that restoration would come, hope in the infinite mercy of God and the power of His unfailing love.  I was beginning to grasp what the term, "unfailing love" means.  His love will not fail to accomplish His purposes.  Unfailing love.  Yes.

The main idea I clung to was, as you may deduce from the repetition, restoration.  "Behold, I am making all things new," the Lord proclaims.  "He restoreth my soul," writes the Psalmist; Psalm 23:3 became another one of my favorite verses.  Ezekiel 36:26 has been a longtime favorite: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh."

I could hope for restoration because of the goodness of God, the mercy of God, and the unfailing love of God.

Romans 15:13 remained my verse, the one that comforted me most when I needed a filling of the Spirit, along with the infusion of peace and joy that He always brings.

Throughout 2016, I became more and more cognizant of the goodness of God.  I've struggled with this idea because of trials, because bad things happen to good people, because God doesn't often do what I want.  God never follows my directions.  If it ever appears that God is following my directions, it is only because, in that particular instance, I did something or asked for something according to His will.  More often than not, though, my requests are associated with my comfort.  I desire what I think will make me comfortable or happy, immediately.  God doesn't see things the same way.  God doesn't necessarily associate comfort with goodness or righteousness, although they are not mutually exclusive, and (in fact) God's good and right ways do lead to ultimate comfort and joy in His perfect timing.

In 2016, God helped me gain an understanding that His goodness is demonstrated perfectly at the cross of Christ.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  We were dead in our sins, but God, because of His great love and because He is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ.  Whenever I am tempted to doubt the goodness of God, I can look to the cross, where I see Christ willingly lay down His life to be crucified on my behalf.  The perfect one, the Lamb without a single blemish, died in my place while I was shackled in sin, blinded to my plight, unapologetic and proud, completely ungrateful and uncomprehending.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, and thus we gain opportunity join Him in paradise for eternity.  Why would He even want us?  But He does, because He is loving, and He is good.

Furthermore, I began to see the goodness of God all around.  I began to understand goodness in ways I had never before understood it.  Everything good comes from God, every single good and perfect gift (James 1:17).  I wrote about this idea once or twice, alluded to it.  But it's huge, a huge important concept that we often totally miss:

God graciously rains goodness down all around us, although we do not deserve it.  All the beauty of the earth, nature and creation comes directly from God.  All love and kindness come from Him as well, whether or not the people who act in love and kindness know Him or hallow His name.  The same is true of healing and growth, the germination of a seed, the birth of a baby.  Beauty and life flow from God, and He has left these things in our fallen creation, remnants of divinity, so that we can see them, and through them find Him, their Source.  Atheist farmers and doctors ply their trades without knowledge of the One who empowers all their success, and yet He is there, working good through all things for the benefit of His children and the magnification of His glory.  Every good gift comes down from the Father of heavenly lights

We think it is normal and natural that we should eat delicious food, buy beautiful clothing, and live in warm, comfortable houses, sleeping in soft beds and entertaining ourselves with state-of-the-art electronics. We do not realize that these are mercies, graces, and undeserved.  Either we forget, or else we never knew, that apart from God we have no good thing.  In the absence of His presence there is only death, destruction, pain and anguish.  Misery is the normal state of being for a fallen planet, a planet full of souls who have chosen to spurn their Maker. But in His unfathomable mercy, the Lord gives us abundant grace, innumerable undeserved blessings, as He zealously works to woo mortal humans into an eternal relationship with Him.

Because Satan is the great deceiver, one of his most common tactics is to trick people into believing that they deserve all the good things, that they somehow own a right to blessings, and that God is totally out of line if He ever removes any of His divine intervention, allowing the natural results of sin to run their course.  Satan whispers that suffering is cruel and unusual, and how could God do something like that, nevermind the fact that the only reason suffering exists at all is because he, he himself, the devil, purposefully introduced sin into God's perfect, beautiful world.

Satan, who first deceived Eve by telling her that God was withholding great benefits from her when He prohibited one type of fruit, continues to deceive, whispering and crooning lies about how God causes suffering, when really, the devil himself actively (and intentionally!) increases suffering every time he successfully tricks someone into rebelling against God, God who embodies goodness, life and beauty.  "You have the right," Satan susurrates, "to do whatever you like and have only good consequences.  No matter what choices you make, you can expect, demand, require a nice result.  You are entitled to that."

An entitlement mentality is a dangerous and ugly thing, but so easy for us to be tricked into adopting.

The goodness of the Lord is all around us every day, from the rising of the sun to each breath we draw and each sip of water we swallow.  Of course it climaxes in the death and resurrection of Christ, but His goodness reverberates around us in a multitude of new mercies each morning.  When we become aware of this, sensitive to it, we can better rejoice and give thanks for the goodness of the Lord.

This is why one of my words for 2017 is Thanksgiving.  I am learning the relationship between hope and joy and thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving, a grateful heart, is the only appropriate response to God's goodness, and critical to the health of my spirit.

My other word for 2017 is Faith.  I hope to write more about this soon, as I have continued far too long today.  For now I want to leave you with just two more things:

(1)  Here's a thought I had -- True faith is being so confident in God's character that you can feel and express thanks to Him before you see and understand what He is doing.  In other words, true faith is being thankful to God in advance.

(2)  My verse for 2017:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, 
continue to live in Him, 
rooted and built up in Him, 
strengthened in the faith as you were taught, 
and overflowing with thankfulness.
Colossians 2:6-7 (NIV)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Hello 2017

Ha ha.  It's been forever.

It's funny that silence is the result of an overwhelming amount of activity, but I suppose it is logical.

So much.

I doubt that I will ever catch up on what was happening while I wasn't writing.

12/22 -- My birthday.  A play in Chicago (Gershwin musical, "Crazy for You"), while in town to pick Shannon up from O'Hare.  Had scallops and creme brulee for a fabulous birthday dinner.  Used "points" from Shawn's travel to stay at a Hilton so we didn't have to drive home in the middle of the night.

12/23 -- Lamb dinner with Shannon and Jonathan.  This was the only really good dinner I prepared through the holidays, and I'm glad I somehow happened to do it early enough to enjoy it.

I also made a chicken soup over Christmas.  It had jalepeno peppers in it and turned out to be ferociously hot.  A good cure for a cold, except nobody had a cold.

12/24 -- Christmas Eve.  We attended a Christmas Eve service at 4:30, and picked up Jonathan after he was done working.

12/25 -- Christmas Day.  It was Sunday this year, so we started out with crustless quiche, followed by church.  Then there was a rash of opening gifts and skyping early with Laura and Matthew, later with David and Ashton. We also spent a good part of the day finalizing the seating arrangements for the rehearsal dinner and making place cards.  Shannon prepared my second delicious creme brulee of the season, naturally gluten-free and delightful.  We did some packing because --

12/26 -- We drove to Atlanta for David's wedding.

12/27 -- After sleeping in (although it seemed a brief lie-in), we went to see David and Ashton at her parents' home where we all spent a lovely afternoon and evening together and enjoyed some Christmas soup.

12/28 -- Big day with the bridesmaids' luncheon, the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner.  Everything went very well, and it was a lovely day, albeit a tiring one.  The rehearsal dinner was in a lovely, intimate section of a restaurant, dark but illuminated with twinkly white Christmas lights.  My favorite part of the meal was the appetizers, which were unexpectedly solid and included generously portioned beef and chicken skewers.  My favorite part of the evening was when people shared stories about David and Ashton.  I thought I'd be relieved and relaxed after the dinner was over, since that was the part I'd been responsible for.  I was exhausted that night, but laid in bed until almost 5 a.m., unable to fall asleep. Excitement is far more potent than caffeine.

Everybody at the bridesmaids' luncheon: (in order) me, Shannon, Laura, three of Ashton's college friends (Alexa, Monique and Hannah), Ashton, her older flower girl (daughter of her cousin Alea), her mother, her two maternal cousins (Erinne-Fay and Eve) and Casey (all three of these girls went to Ashton's high school with her), Ashton's cousin Alea (mother of the older flower girl) and her other cousin Arielle with her little girl, the younger flower girl, Ashton's grandmother, and Aunt Lori, Alea and Arielle's mother and wife of Uncle Sidney, Ashton's father's brother, who officiated.

 a dilapidated flower arrangement from the rehearsal dinner,
a few days later, after the hydrangeas had wilted

12/29 --huge day.  Huge, huge day.  It started with hair and make-up which began at 8 a.m.  Somehow, Jon's pants for his wedding suit turned up missing (he was the Best Man).  Matthew heroically saved the day, locating and purchasing a pair of pants that both matched and fit.  We gathered at the beautiful home of some friends of Ashton.  There was a massive kitchen island all bedecked with trays of delicious food from Chik-Fil-A.  Photographers and videographers showed up, and a make-up artist did my face so I hardly recognized myself.  Ashton donned her bridal attire, and I would say she was transformed into a beautiful bride, except she is so beautiful to begin with, I did not perceive much difference, although her dress and veil were gorgeous.  The guys hid in the fantastic man-cave basement, playing pool and straightening their ties, while Ashton descended the upper staircase to the delight of her bridesmaids and amidst a pyrotechnic display of camera flashes.
my three beauties

It was a fairly chilly day, around 50 with a stiff wind, so although the sun shone bravely, a damper was put on outdoor pictures.  This we discovered as the groom's family, when we were escorted out to a field for early family portraits and nearly blown away.  But no harm, the bride was saved from wind damage, and the few limited outdoor photos they were able to take of her boasted an elegantly streaming veil.

The ceremony was beautiful, in a windowed chapel bursting with light, to the dulcet tones of a string quartet playing standard classical pieces, "Great is Thy Faithfulness," the Delibes Flower Duet, and for the bride's entrance, the Largo from Vivaldi's "Winter".

Everything was red and white and bright and beautiful, with roses, violins, windows, sunshine and tears.  Afterwards, we went to the reception and ate delicious food beneath crystal chandaliers, while a live band performed many of the jazz pieces David had played throughout his saxophone career. Jonathan made a best man speech that didn't leave many dry eyes among us.  The sun set, and the evening progressed until Ashton slipped away and changed into a second long, white lace dress and joined David to walk away to their car through an avenue of sparklers waved by us, the wedding guests, while we cheered and the photographer snapped the final shots of a glorious day.

(professional pictures yet to come)

12/30 -- Shawn took Shannon to the airport and she flew back to Boston.  Paul and Alison joined us at the home we had rented, and we spent the day together, grocery shopping, taking a walk at a park, and sharing a crockpot dinner.

12/31 -- Our last day with Laura and Matthew.  Shawn took us all out to see the new Star Wars movie, "Rogue One," before they had to leave for the airport.

1/1/2017 (!) -- Shawn and Jonathan and I went to the Atlanta Aquarium where we saw a sea lion show, a dolphin show, and many amazing sea creatures, including gigantic whale sharks, humorous beluga whales, penguins, and a shy octopus.

1/2 -- We drove home.  That was yesterday.

Today I am not going to go anywhere.

But I did better recording all this than I expected.