Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ashes to ashes

yes . . .I know this is an odd photo below (but isn't it cool??).  I took the photo of myself in the dark car on the way home (no, I was not driving . . .I was stopped at a stop sign!! . . .and this has nothing to do with this very important post . . .but my hair still looks pretty good - even after an 11 1/2 hour work day!!)

Sorry . . .on to the important stuff.   Yesterday was Ash Wednesday. The Ash Wednesday worship service is one of my favorite services of the year.  No, I don't think the service is depressing.  No, I'm not offended because I'm told by a minister that I am a sinner.  It is almost refreshing. Yes, I am a sinner.  Everyone in the room is a sinner AND GOD STILL LOVES US . . . .HE STILL LOVES ME.  Oh, goodness.  Grace just washes over me even when thinking about it.

At Trinity UMC in Homewood, AL, we always have a large crowd at our Ash Wednesday evening service - probably about 700.  (there was a come and go service from 7-8 a.m. and about 100 people attended that service).  At the evening service, one of the preachers (Nathan this year) preaches a sermon and then we have communion and the imposition of ashes.  I was blessed to once again help serve communion . . .one of my favorite "perks" of serving on a church staff.  I was serving the bread last night . . .the body of Christ broken for each one of us.  As I served, I tried to call as many names as possible (serving in the membership office for 10 years helps!) . . . Lisa, the body of Christ broken for you . . .Paige, the body of Christ broken for you . . .  Sue, the body of Christ broken for you . . . Scott, the body of Christ broken for you . . .and I always try to make eye contact with the person on the other side of the altar rail.  Sometimes it is as if an electric current passes from the person serving to the one being served.  I had a minister friend tell me one time that is "the Jesus in me recognizing the Jesus in you."  I think he was right.

When Drew placed the ashes on my forehead last night, I actually felt the ashes trickle down onto my face. . . onto my cheeks . . . and I truly felt that "from dust I came and from dust I will return."  I truly felt "marked" by Christ - called - covered in grace - humbled - forgiven . . . . all because of that marvelous grace. 

Now we are in that season called Lent - a time of introspection . . .a time of giving up stuff of the world and taking on more of Christ. We have 40 days (plus Sundays) until Easter . . .I need to wallow and roll around a little . . .I need to moan . . .I need to cry . . .I need to grieve . . .I need to ask for forgiveness again and again and again because I keep sinning over and over and over again . . .but all the while, every single day . . .I know that Easter is coming. I know that God wins. I know that grace is available. . . God's awesome amazing grace. Yes, I love Ash Wednesday. I am thankful that God loves me.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Give me Jesus

In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise
In the morning, when I rise

Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
Just give me Jesus.

When I am alone,
When I am alone,
When I am alone,
Give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
Just give me Jesus.

When I come to die,
When I come to die,
When I come to die,
Give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
Just give me Jesus.

Give me Jesus.
Give me Jesus,
Give me Jesus.
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
You can have all this world,
Just give me Jesus.

listen to Jeremy Camp
this one is good, too - live so you can hear people talking, etc.

I told our Sunday School class a couple of weeks ago that I was dry as a bone spiritually.  I was looking forward to working Alabama Emmaus Walk 425 this weekend with lots of friends.  Because I teach and facilitate, I tend to push myself . . .giving all I have . . .until I am depleted.  At that point, I usually need a big dose of God . . .I get some along . . .try to spend time with him every day . . .I try to pray continually . ..and live close to HIM but sometimes . . . sometimes I think I step away.  I think it is when I am tired. 

Anyway, back to the story at hand.  I planned to be immersed in the Holy Spirit for 72 straight hours this weekend - away from phones and TV's and computers.  I planned to be there for all 41 pilgrims (those attending the weekend) but I also know from past experiences that God ALWAYS meets me where I am on an Emmaus Walk.

So this week, my plans were not HIS plans.  Nancy died on Tuesday and her visitation was scheduled for Friday night and her service was scheduled for Saturday.  I had to make a very hard phone call to Teresa, the Lay Director for the walk.  I knew without a shadow of doubt that I HAD TO BE HOME for the services.  Not only was Nancy my friend . . .but she was family . . . close family.  As Mark said -- he and Nance (that is what he called her) were more like siblings than first cousins. 

The visitation was on Friday night.  It was to begin at six p.m. and we got there about a quarter til six . . .there was already a line.  We went around the line to the parlor and found our place where Nathan (Nancy's husband) wanted us to stand.  We smiled and hugged people and more people came and more people came.  We were so worried about Nancy's girls.  Yes, they are now grown young women . . .and they are so poised . . .and they smiled . . . and cried . . .Almost all of the family was able to attend.  Our nephews were not able to come from Delaware and two of Nancy's nephews from out of state were unable to attend.  One other cousin's young adult children were unable to attend . . .but everyone else was there . . .and there are a lot of us.  Yes, I say "US" even though biologically "they" would be Mark's family.  After 30 years, they are my family, too. 

For most of Friday and Friday night, I felt numb.  Plain and simple.

The strangest thing happened on Saturday, though.  We are blessed (and I mean that) to attend a church where most things are done with excellence and more importantly, for the glory of God.  We processed in - all six or seven long pews of us (there really are a lot of us).  The orchestra played - I'm sure it was beautiful.  I couldn't make eye contact with anyone for fear of losing it.  I did glance up . . .and even the balcony was full.  Our children's minister talked about Nancy and her years of service . . .one of the Nursing School people talked about Nancy's career and THEN TWO OF HER daughters spoke.  OH MY GOODNESS.  They did an awesome job.  Nancy cared about everyone.  She always wanted to know about us. . .even that visit right at the end where Mark and I were able to go - she wanted to hear all about the family.  The point is  . . . all of that part of the service was good - beautiful and fitting.

BUT THEN IT HAPPENED.  The sanctuary choir sang (both Nancy and Nathan were in the sanctuary choir . . .as a matter of fact, Nancy sang in two performances of the Messiah on December 1.  How could that be???).  Anyway, God has spoken often to me through music.  Our choir director, Scott, always wants the music to be for the glory of God.  Remember back at the first of this long and rambling post . . .I was dry as a bone spiritually . . .I was looking forward to working an Emmaus walk so that I could refuel?  God did something amazing - as he often does.  The choir started to sing "Give Me Jesus."  I could feel the whisper - here I AM, Lisa.  I AM here.  Drink it in.  I wept.  Mark wept.  My brother-in-law, Bob, wept.  I doubt there were many dry eyes in that sanctuary.  The voices of those choir members swirled through the sanctuary on the breath of the Holy Spirit.  Our senior minister, Andy spoke then . . .and he spoke words of life and hope and love and grief and he spoke words of GOD!

But God wasn't finished.  No, he wasn't finished.  I AM was still in the building.  We have this incredible new prayer garden/columbarium that I have shared with you before (because I helped!!).  I knew the way through the building to come into the back of the garden and so we were designated to get Aunt Mary (Nancy's momma) into her wheelchair (she is 90 and beautiful) and down the elevator and through the building and out into the prayer garden/columbarium.  We hustled . . .I think George did a few wheelies (nancy would have laughed!!).  The rest of the family was already there waiting on us.  We stopped at the edge of the family . . .and I took a deep breath and looked up . . . and around (I'm starting to cry again as I type this) . . .and oh my goodness . . .there were people in the breezeway and along the fence and in the windows of the church - WE WERE SURROUNDED BY A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES.  Hebrews 12:1 -- Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

At THAT VERY MOMENT, a soft breeze blew through the columbarium . . .and I said to God (not out loud), "Thank you, God, you sent your Holy Spirit."

Now I am full . . .I am sad . . .I am heartbroken . . .but I am full because give me Jesus - any day - any way . . .Give me Jesus.  Oh Nancy - I am going to miss you sooooo much.  I just can't even fathom how much . . .but you are with Jesus.  You ran your race with perseverance.  Give me Jesus.  Give me Jesus.  Give me Jesus.  You can have all this world.  Just give me Jesus.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Thought processes

(disclaimer - this post may make ZERO sense to anyone but me . . .but I am processing)
I slept late this morning - UNTIL 7:00 a.m.!!!  I woke up (that is a good thing) and the sun is shining and the sky is blue.  There is food in my pantry and there are diet pepsis in my refrigerator.  I've just received a promotion at work.  We just had our hardwood floors redone in the kitchen and they are lovely.  Mark's sister, Susie and our brother-in-love, Bob are flying into town today.  I have some crafty type things I would like to work on today.  I have a gift card to spend at Talbots.  I have an Iphone that needs repair (but I have one!).  I am surrounded (not at this moment - I'm alone at the kitchen table) . . .but I am indeed surrounded by family and friends who love me.  There is an Emmaus Walk (Rise and Shine Walk 425) going on at Camp Sumatanga and I am privileged to pray for those team members (whom I love very much!) and the pilgrims.  I have antibiotics and steroids to fight this nasty "asthma/allergy" attack.

I could have worded each of those statements in a different way . . . and they would have been filled with negativity.  This week, due to sickness and death and stress and sadness and disappointment, EACH of those things could have been stated in a negative way (except for maybe the gift card at Talbots . . .the only negative is that I have to go to the Summit to spend it - aww shucks! -- just as an FYI, I am thrilled to see Susie and Bob BUT they are coming for Nancy's memorial service . . . .)

Jesus said, "I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of."  He didn't say, "Hey Lisa - bad stuff is going to happen so you can wallow in it" (is that how you even spell wallow?  in my house when I was a kid, it would have been "waller" -- you know - "just waller in it").

Life is hard.  God is good.  Bad stuff happens.  God is bigger.  I'm going to miss my friend and cousin.  She is dancing with Jesus.  I've got to learn a whole new job.  God is with me - always - and gave me a sharp mind and he also gave me the ability to apologize and say, "I screwed up on that project." I'm not at Camp Sumatanga this weekend with Teresa and Kam and Nathan and my other friends BUT GOD IS THERE . . .and GOD IS HERE!!! 

Just read this a few moments ago  -- Isaiah 55 (the message) . . . .and I'll end with this because God is good - all the time.  Go out in Joy.  Yes, Lord.

So you’ll go out in joy,
    you’ll be led into a whole and complete life.
The mountains and hills will lead the parade,
    bursting with song.
All the trees of the forest will join the procession,
    exuberant with applause.
No more thistles, but giant sequoias,
    no more thornbushes, but stately pines

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Grace and Mercy


It is 2:41 a.m. and I am awake – possibly because I’m on steroids for a ferocious cough . . . possibly because I drank too much caffeine today . . . possibly because I’m grieving the loss of my sweet friend/cousin Nancy who died earlier today.  Whatever the reason, as I was coming back to bed, God whispered, “write it down, Lisa.  Write it down.”  So I’m propped up in bed on a bunch of pillows (which is probably good for the cough) with the laptop on my knees . . .typing. . . and listening to myself wheeze.

I know that Nancy is with Jesus.  I have no doubt of that fact.  Nancy lived a good life.  She was kind.  She was good.  She knew Jesus.  She taught Vacation Bible School.  She taught a young adult Sunday school class.  She was a wonderful mother to three beautiful daughters.  She was a faithful wife.  Nancy was my friend and Mark’s cousin . . . more like a sibling . . . .and oh my goodness, she may be with Jesus but we are still here on earth and we are going to miss her so very much.

My “writing fingers” have been silent for about two months.  I couldn’t sit down and type about mundane things when a life and death battle was going on.  I wanted to write about our family playing croquet on Christmas day . . . and I may write that post yet . . .but I wanted to pour out my heart about this and was not at liberty to do so yet. . . so my fingers were silent.

According to the scripture (and according to Andy Stanley), God promises us grace and mercy to endure every situation . . .to get us through every tough thing.  He doesn’t promise to physically heal everyone.  He doesn’t promise to answer all our prayers the way we want him to do but he does promise grace and mercy.  Mark has been praying every night for grace and mercy for Nancy since we found out that she was approaching the end of her earthly time.  God did indeed give her grace and mercy.  He gave her so much more than we could have imagined.

Nancy went home from the hospital for a couple of weeks . . .because she wanted to walk out the door of her home for the last time . . .grace and mercy.  Friends and family were invited to come one (or two – if a couple) at a time to visit with her.  We were spaced out so that she didn’t tire too much but we were all granted a few precious moments with our very special Nancy.  She talked with everyone . . . grace and mercy.  When Mark and I went, Mark pulled a chair from the adjoining room . . .right up next to Nancy . . . and held her hand the whole time.  Grace and Mercy.  We laughed and talked and reminisced about a lifetime of shared activities for Mark and Nancy and of course, Mark made her laugh.  Grace and mercy.  Mark didn’t cry.  Grace and mercy.  I cried all the way home.  Grace and mercy.

Five days later, I went back to see Nancy to deliver a photo book I had ordered.  The pictures were from her surprise birthday party thrown by her Sunday school class back during the fall.  I am sooo thankful that Suzan had the wisdom to orchestrate that lovely party.  Grace and mercy.  Nancy sat and looked at the pictures but I could tell that she was tiring.  I could tell that she was slowing down from just five days before.  Nancy smiled often during our visit . . .and drank a cherry icee . . .grace and mercy.

Nancy moved to palliative care at UAB on Valentine’s night.  That was just a few short days ago.  She walked out of her house for the last time.  Mark’s momma went and sat with Aunt Mary (Nancy’s 90 year old mama) yesterday and today (actually, it is already a new day . . .so I should say on Monday and Tuesday afternoon).  She was privy to some of Nancy’s last stories . . . and Nancy lived with God’s grace and mercy right up until she met Jesus.  She even orchestrated her family’s Sunday dinner -  from her hospital bed – and they all gathered for one last Sunday dinner.  Makes me not want to miss a single Sunday lunch at Mark’s momma’s house from now on.  They might be numbered.

Nancy lived her life with grace and mercy. . .not just at the end of her life . . .but all of her life.  God is good.  All the time, God is good.  Even when we earthly beings are sad and grieving, God is good.  God wins.  He is victorious over life AND DEATH.

The next few days will be difficult.  We are a part of a large family and we are all grieving.  Nathan and the girls and her sisters and her brother and her mother . . . are all grieving.  But already, I feel God’s whisper . . .not quite audible in the middle of the night . . .but the whisper is still there . . . .grace and mercy.  Grace and mercy for all of us.  Grace and mercy.  Thanks be to God. 

Thank you God for sharing Nancy with me for 32 years.  Thank you God that Nancy introduced me to her cousin, Mark.  Thank you God for her friendship.  Thank you God for her smile.  Thank you God for grace and mercy.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Doesn't your family play Croquet on Christmas Day?

Hot dog!  My title even rhymes!!!  Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas.  We began gathering at my mother-in-law's house in the afternoon on Christmas Eve.  All of our "kids" are grown (or almost grown) and I loved that they played games together.  They were playing some card game at this point.

We all enjoyed our annual "eating of pizza on Christmas Eve" and then followed the pizza eating by attending Christmas Eve service at our church.  I love this service.  It begins at 7:00 p.m. and as you can see . . .the sanctuary is filled with people.  The youth choir (Cross and Flame Youth choir) sings at this service and we also had two soloists . . .one by a girl in the ninth grade . . .Colby . . .and she did an amazing job.  My all time favorite EVERY SINGLE year is O Holy Night sung by Scott Brooks.  Let me just tell you . . . .when he is singing, it feels like the Holy Spirit is "whushing" (I know that isn't a word but it describes what I want to say!!) through the sanctuary.  He is not a professionally trained singer . . .he is a church member whom God has gifted with an amazing voice.  He doesn't even read music. . . .but oh my goodness, can he ever sing!!!  Holy Communion (Lord's supper) is served.  Many years, I have been gifted with the awesome task of helping to serve but this year, I had a large boo boo on my foot.  (another post for another day)  As I knelt at the altar rail, our senior pastor, Andy, whispered "hop along" to me!!  I love attending a church where our senior pastor knows me and knows about my silly foot (yes, I am on staff BUT I think he would know it even if I wasn't).

At the very end of the service, we sing Silent Night.  When we reach the last verse, the organ and orchestra ceases . . . and everyone sings softly and we raise our candles to the New born King!  It is so incredibly powerful.  Just typing these words give me goosebumps!!!

photo courtesy of Scott Schablow, Trinity UMC member


Laura stayed with us on Christmas Eve. . . .and Santa came!! More on Christmas later . . .and I'll tell you about Croquet on Christmas Day!!!!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Happy happy!!

This post is picture overload - YOU ARE WARNED!! All three of our "children" have birthdays in November so we get to do a lot of celebrating and we get to eat a lot of cake!! Our first celebration was for our wonderful daughter-in-law, Lauren.  We had everyone over for dinner and cake.

Lauren was hiding behind her pile of gifts!!

She was opening Glenn's gifts to her . . .and he had used her tissue paper party decorations as the tissue paper in her bags.  Pretty creative, if you ask me!!!

I swear, I think Lauren had an "Elliott" kind of birthday.  She got a pair of camouflage overalls.  Doesn't that sound just like a gift that we would be buying for Mark or George or Glenn????

She also got a pair of Hunter Boots . . .and Mark had not seen them before I wrapped them.  When she opened them, he ran down to the basement and brought up his Burly Boots!!  He and Lauren match.  Mark informed us that his only cost only about $40 (they are $69.99 now!! - could his be old?).  He also told her that she needed someone around when she wears them because you can't get them off by yourself!!! 

Lauren and I share a love of German Chocolate Cake . . .so for the second year in a row, I made a homemade German Chocolate cake by Mark's momma's recipe.  It is so very good.  The filling between the layers is a to die for mixture of coconut and other yumminess.  The icing is a smooth and delicious chocolate.  This is the only kind of chocolate cake and chocolate icing that I really like . . .as a matter of fact, I have a tendency to eat the filling and the icing and give Mark my cake!! 

I thought the cake was really pretty!!

But of course, that was not the end of our celebrating!!  We celebrate all birthdays at Grandmother's house on Sunday . . .every birthday is on Sunday!!!

We had not one . . .not two . . .but three birthday cakes.  Mark's momma made German Chocolate cake for Lauren (one was at the first of the month and the other was toward the end!!), pound cake with divinity icing for Glenn . . .and I bought a caramel cake for Laura.  I was supposed to make a funfetti cake (which Mark's momma refuses to make because it is not homemade) but I pooped out.  We had our regular Tuesday night group and then on Thursday night, we had our supper club at our house and by the weekend, I just couldn't make another cake.  Laura loves caramel so I hope she enjoyed it!!
Here is a stack of presents - aren't presents fun???

I made them light each cake - one at a time - so I could photograph the birthday boy or girl.  They thought I was nuts - so . . .what's new???

girls get 16 candles - sweet 16 and boys get 21 . . .that is the way mark's mom always does it :-)

Another year older . . .another year wiser . . .I sure do love all three of them!!  They are special young adults!!!

Just had to throw this picture in . . .we've all been trained by the expert to cut a cake . . .if you ever need a lesson, just let me know - hee hee!


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Satisfying, Sumptuous, Savory Saturdays

Satisfying, Sumptuous, Savory Saturdays

Guess what we are cooking today (actually, I made this on Wednesday)???  Cranberry Apple Casserole by Cel Bailey - this recipe is also available in our Trinity UMC cookbook - Temptations!  I think this recipe is both satisfying and a little sumptuous!!  The recipe that I'm going to give you is for ONE RECIPE!  I will tell you what I did to it at the end.

3 cups chopped, unpeeled apples (I used Granny Smith)
2 cups raw cranberries
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups quick oats
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup real butter

Preheat oven to 350.  Mix apples, cranberries and sugar.  Place in a 2 quart baking dish.  Mix oats, flour, brown sugar, pecans and butter together; spread over the top of the apple mixture.  Bake for one hour.

Well . . .you see . . .our family doesn't make many dishes in a 2 quart casserole.  That is not usually big enough.  You would think we would all be overweight - not just me!!  So, we always double this because it is a holiday favorite - both Thanksgiving and Christmas!!

So I doubled all the ingredients - 6 cups apples, 4 cups cranberries, 3 cups sugar (goodness gracious! - it needs it though).  So far . . .so good.

Isn't it pretty??  Those were some of the most gorgeous cranberries I have ever purchased!!

I used my cranberries straight from the freezer.  You can buy them when fresh in the grocery store and then just chunk that bag right in the freezer and use them as needed.  That is why the sugar looks kind of clumpy - the cranberries were cold!!

This is where the problem occurred.  I told Mark last week that I HAVE to purchase some new reading glasses.  I've been wearing 100's, 125's, and a pair or two of 150's for years.  All of a sudden, I can't read everything.  Dadgum - getting old is not for sissies!!  So when I read the recipe, I thought it said 1/2 cup flour (rather than 1/3 cup) so I had already mixed in a cup of flour rather than 2/3 (cause I was doubling, remember?).  There was nothing I could do except start over OR . . ..WAIT FOR IT . . .I HAD A BRILLIANT IDEA.  I would just triple the topping.  Everyone loves the topping.  It is like a giant oatmeal cookie on top of cranberries and apples.  So that is just what I did.  I tripled all the topping ingredients -- the oats, the flour, the brown sugar, the pecans and the butter (well - actually - I didn't triple the butter.  I just couldn't imagine three sticks of butter in anything . . .so I only doubled the butter (that is still TWO STICKS OF REAL BUTTER - LAND 'O LAKES SALTED BUTTER IS MY FAVORITE) . . .I may have added just a tad more - if you are ever tripling it, you can decide -- you have to be able to spread it.) . . .I just typed parenthetical information inside parenthetical information - there is probably some other punctuation I should use . . .or there is probably some hard and fast rule that says NEVER DO THAT . . .but heck - my blog, right? hee hee!  I always use way too many "dot, dot, dots . . ." and way too many parenthesis - I think I even talk that way!!

I baked it for an hour but because there was so much of it, I actually put it back in and let it back a little longer.  Then we reheated it on Thanksgiving day.  This casserole is what was cooking when Mr. Stanley Steemer (see last post) was here.

Cranberry Apple Casserole is wonderful - it is so versatile - you can serve it for breakfast on Christmas morning or for Sunday lunch - I think it would be great with pork tenderloin . . .maybe I'll make it for Tuesday night???.  It is especially great on Thanksgiving.  My sister-in-law, Alice, usually makes this dish but they went out of town for Thanksgiving.  We love it so much that someone else (that would be me!) has to make it when she isn't here.  (we sure did miss them but they were where they needed to be!!)
I'm not having a lot of success with folks linking up to share recipes . . .but I'm going to keep on.  When I went to that conference (She Speaks) this summer, they said, "don't give up."  so . . . link up and share a recipe with us!!  What dish does your family love so much that you cannot have thanksgiving without it?  Or you can just share any recipe!!