Saturday, December 29, 2018

Happy New Year-What's the Plan?

Proverbs 16:1-3
To humans belong the plans of the heart,
    but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue.
All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
    but motives are weighed by the Lord.
Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
    and he will establish your plans.

For me, 2019 arrives with changes. I'll continue to rehab my brand new knee as I head back to work, after an extended medical leave. With no arthritic pain in my knees, I can begin to take walks again and enjoy the outdoors. Retirement is around the corner. I'll be making plans for what I want to do next. I plan to keep writing and pen more fiction. Two things I enjoy, crocheting and embroidering, will keep my hands busy. As my grandson said when I told him I would be retiring, "You'll get to spend more time with family." Yes, Tim and I will take some trips and enjoy our family. All these changes are good. But I know the plans I make may not be the ones the Lord has in mind.

Proverbs 16 reminds me to check in with God before I make too many plans and definitely before I plunge in feet first. The Lord knows what's best for me. He knows my future and understands my needs. But how do I know what God wants me to do? I read his word, the guide for my daily life. I listen to his people. He provides wisdom through others. I pray! Then I wait for the nudge. God instilled the Holy Spirit in me when I accepted Jesus as my Savior. That beautiful, wonderful Spirit guides me, comforts me, and shows me the direction I need to go. I'm thankful I have one who loves me so much that He wants to lead me into the new year and show me the way.
John 14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
What are your plans for the new year?

Monday, December 24, 2018

Merry Christmas

May God bless you with 
peace, joy, hope and 
love this holiday season!

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Christmas Blessings: Love

John 3:16 
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The winter solstice, observed years before Christmas was a holiday, celebrated the end of the harvest and the beginning of the dark season of winter. The people of the time worshiped the sun. When the sun shined less hours in the winter, folks wanted to do something to brighten the darkness. In many countries they set a log on fire and kept it burning for at least three days. This log became the Yule log, their way to bring light to the dark. Even those who didn't believe in Jesus sought after light in the darkness.

By AD 350, we know that Christians chose to celebrate Jesus birth near the same time as the winter solstice. Why would they do this instead of in the spring when Jesus was most likely born? They knew that Jesus light of love needed to come into the cold, dark season. While the pagans ate and drank together and worshiped the sun, believers chose to worship the son of God—Jesus—and shine his light. What better way to celebrate the Prince of Peace, than by recognizing him as the light who shines in darkness, the love who came to change the world.
I'm thankful that the Romans in AD 354 chose to celebrate Jesus birth. He came to earth to bring the light of love. A love that will last through eternity.
Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Arahaba tratry ny Noely

Madagascar, an island off the east coast of Africa celebrates a Jesus centered Christmas. Even though the temperature is warm, they decorate with snow (that doesn't melt) and holly. Santa Claus is known as Dadabe Noely. But he's not the center of celebration.

Instead, families gather at church at 5pm on Christmas Eve for services that last until midnight. Children and adults sing carols and act out the nativity story. They return to church on Christmas Day and share in sweets. Families give small gifts to one another and greet everyone with " Arahaba tratry ny Noely," Merry Christmas.

I love that they center their celebration on Jesus. What a beautiful Christmas they share.

Cooper, James. “The History of Christmas Cards .” Why Christmas?, 2018,

Jesus Came to Us

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

What do I Love About Christmas?

These are a few (maybe a lot) of my favorite things:
  1. A Charlie Brown Christmas (I've watched it every year since it came on television)
  2. Nativity Scenes (Indoor and outdoor)
  3. Looking at Christmas Lights with my hubby (revisiting the ones we've seen from year to year and discovering new ones)
  4. Hallmark Christmas Movies (Yep-I'm that girl)
  5. Making cookies with my daughters, grands, and mom! (We make a huge mess, but who cares)
  6. Peppermint and Chocolate (in my coffee, peppermint patties, anyway it comes)
  7. Our Christmas tree (the wonderful memories in each ornament)
  8. Decorations that reflect the beauty of the season (anything winter)
  9. Making Christmas Ornaments (always a joy)
  10. My grandchildren's Christmas plays (I love these!)
  11. Giving gifts (Always fun, sometimes a challenge)
  12. Gathering with loved ones (family and friends)
  13. The music (I have at least two stations ready to listen to in the car)
  14. Reading the story of Jesus' birth out loud, before we open gifts (A highlight for me)
  15. Celebrating the birth of Jesus who came to save the world! ("That's what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.")

What do you enjoy about Christmas?

Monday, December 17, 2018

Fiction Review: We Hope for Better Things by Erin Bartels

When Detroit Free Press reporter Elizabeth Balsam meets James Rich, his strange request--that she look up a relative she didn't know she had in order to deliver an old camera and a box of photos--seems like it isn't worth her time. But when she loses her job after a botched investigation, she suddenly finds herself with nothing but time.

At her great-aunt's 150-year-old farmhouse north of Detroit, Elizabeth uncovers a series of mysterious items, locked doors, and hidden graves. As she searches for answers to the riddles around her, the remarkable stories of two women who lived in this very house emerge as testaments to love, resilience, and courage in the face of war, racism, and misunderstanding. And as Elizabeth soon discovers, the past is never as past as we might like to think.

Debut novelist Erin Bartels takes readers on an emotional journey through time--from the volatile streets of 1960s Detroit to the Michigan's Underground Railroad during the Civil War--to uncover the past, confront the seeds of hatred, and discover where love goes to hide.

My Review:
The title, We Hope for Better Things, says so much about this story. Elizabeth Balsam, the main character, takes readers on a journey through struggles, love, hate, and loss. I admit there were parts of this book I found difficult to read because the depravity of mankind is exposed, yet I wanted to keep reading as Elizabeth dug through her family's history with hope and determination to find truth. This is an important book and should be read for a better understanding of our history; in hopes that we'll be a better people. I remember my brother, in National Guards, had to go to Cincinnati for riots in the sixties. It was a scary time. Erin Bartels remarkable writing brings to light times of trouble with a degree of hope. This would be a great winter read. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Christmas Blessings: Hope

Luke 2:17-18
When they [shepherds] had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,  and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 

Psalm 71:14
As for me, I will always have hope;
 I will praise you more and more.

I watch a lot of Christmas movies, mostly Hallmark. This particular year, as I'm recovering from knee replacement surgery, they've been great company. In almost every one of them, someone mentions the "magic of Christmas." True love develops, hearts are healed, mysteries solved due to this holiday spirit. Whether set in a small town or big city, the characters depend on the enchantment of the season to carry them through.

While that's sweet and entertaining, 
the magic of Christmas isn't magic at all.

After the shepherds laid eyes on baby Jesus, magic didn't pour over them. Initially fear filled their hearts. But then, the men who traveled to Bethlehem from the sheep fields witnessed God's hope for mankind. With beautiful, amazing hope they told everyone they met about the King born in the stable of Bethlehem. These men understood that God's promise of redemption arrived on earth. And they were excited! Because they found hope.

I'll admit that at Christmas positivity fills the air. People seem nicer, more thoughtful, more attentive. They smile more and practice kindness. For this I'm thankful. I know people say it's the season that brings out the good in people. But, I believe hope is the reason. The hope in Jesus fills the air. The excitement over this little baby, who would grow into a man and save us from the depravity of the world, arrived here. To save us!

That's hope, friends! Hope in Jesus.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Christmas Traditions Around the World: Italy's Presepe Napoletano

This year in my "Forever Friends" college circle we exchanged ornaments. My dear friend, Thora Jo chose a gorgeous wooden and gold star shape with a nativity in the center for me. I love it; because it's beautiful, because a dear friend chose it for me, and because Jesus is the focus. 

Way back in the 1220s, St. Francis of Assisi traveled to Bethlehem to visit the cave where it is believed Jesus was born. Back home, he was inspired to create his own nativity scene in a cave. Using a crib and candles, he put together a site for people to visit and worship. Setting up a crib for baby Jesus caught on and spread through Italy and other parts of Europe.

Naples, Italy is well known for crib making or Presepe Napoletano. In Naples, cribs are traditionally set out on December 8. On December 24, baby Jesus is placed in the crib.

I love the nativity sets and ornaments we display each year. I inherited Grammy's Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus and have a miniature set with Bethlehem in the background.

St. Francis started a beautiful tradition that reminds us why we celebrate Christmas!   

Cooper, James. “The History of Christmas Cards .” Why Christmas?, 2018,
Green, Jonathan. Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Christmas. Skyhorse Publishing, 2017.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

What do Bells have to do with It?

A few years ago, I had the privilege to listen to a bell choir. The group of students chimed out some beautiful Christmas carols.

Bells have long been associated with Christmas. From jingle bells on Santa's reindeer to Juju's teacher in It's a Wonderful Life proclaiming, "Every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings." 

Long before the jingling bells, St. Paulinus of Campania in Italy requested a bell-tower be built with a large bronze bell used to call his congregation to worship. On Christmas he chimed the bell four times, in celebration of Christ's birth.

Casting Crowns sings one of my favorite Christmas songs, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. The song calls for peace on earth, much like the angels who sang to the shepherds.

Kerensa, Paul. Hark!: the Biography of Christmas. Lion, 2017.

Fiction Book Review: Who I Am with You (A Legacy of Faith Novel) by Robin Lee Hatcher

Book Description:
For these two broken hearts, the first step toward love will be a huge leap of faith. 
Jessica Mason isn’t looking for love when she meets Ridley Chesterfield. Instead she is still reeling from the tragic, unexpected loss of her husband and daughter—and awaiting the arrival of her unborn child. Harboring the secret of her husband’s betrayal, her pain is deeper than anyone knows.

Ridley Chesterfield is hiding out in Hope Springs, Idaho, avoiding a political scandal and the barrage of false media headlines that have tarnished his good name. The last thing Ridley wants is a relationship—but when fate leads Ridley to form a friendship with his reclusive and pregnant neighbor, he wonders if this small-town hideout might be more of a long-term destination. 

When Jessica begins to read her great-grandfather’s Bible, she finds a connection with a man she never knew. Somehow the verses he marked and the words he wrote in the margins open her heart to healing. And as Ridley and Jessica help each other forgive the people who have wronged them, they must decide if the past will define them or if they will choose to love again. 

Who I Am With You weaves together a modern-day romance with Jessica’s great-grandfather’s story from the 1930s, reminding us that some truths can cross generations and that faith has the power to transform families forever.

My Review:
I loved this book.
Who I Am With You is one of those books I didn't want to end. I fell in love with the characters and want to know the rest of the story. Robin Lee Hatcher writes her characters with depth and insight. I enjoyed both Jessica's story and that of her grandfather. And I loved how the two connected through an old Bible. What a legacy! The town of Hope Springs sounds like some place I'd like to visit with its quaint downtown and surrounding mountains. The book as a whole is enjoyable and thought provoking with a beautiful spiritual thread woven throughout. This is the first in a series. I'm excited for the second one to be published. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Christmas Blessings: Joy

Luke 2:6-7
While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

Nine years ago on December 22, my daughter, Sara, labored for hours. In the hospital they kept a monitor on her as the labor pains ebbed and flowed. I sat close by and prayed this little one would arrive soon. And he did eventually come. She gave birth to Elijah Duncan, a beautiful baby boy. Joy overflowed from my heart when I held that sweet bundle.

Sara and James made their way to a hospital for Eli's birth. Joseph and Mary traveled from Nazareth to the far away town of Bethlehem. No hospital, not even a room to stay in. Instead they rested in a cave used to shelter animals. And there, Mary gave birth to the Prince of Peace. The manger used as a feeding trough for the animals turned into a bed for the new born king. I've experienced childbirth, and I can tell you I wouldn't want to give birth in a cave for animals. But God made a way for Mary and Jesus to be safe and sound even among the sheep and cows.

I can imagine the joy in Mary's heart when she swaddled that sweet baby and held him tight. I wonder if she sang a lullaby to him before she placed him in the manger to rest. Jesus birth is a beautiful gift of redemption; the beginning of the joy the world can have if we trust in him. 
He truly is the reason for the season.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Christmas Traditions Around the World: Norway's Julekurver

For years, I've enjoyed making a fun paper craft. Until recently, I didn't know that the tradition of making woven paper baskets came from Norway. 

Close to Christmas, people in Norway cut and weave paper or straw heart shaped baskets. They sometimes attach a handle and then fill the basket with sweets. The hearts decorate their trees and homes. There's rumor that Hans Christian Anderson may have started this tradition.

This is an entertaining craft to do with the whole family.
If you'd like to try your hand at heart baskets, follow these instructions.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Who Put the First Selfie on a Christmas Card?

We can thank Sir Henry Cole of England for the tradition of sending and receiving Christmas cards. In 1843, he commissioned John Calcott Horsley to create an image Henry could send to his friends and family. The card featured a family celebrating the holiday, as well as, folks helping the poor. With the writing of A Christmas Carol, a new light shined on helping those in need.

My great-grandma's Christmas Cards on display.
Eventually Americans adopted the practice of sending cards to friends and family to celebrate the season. In 1875, Louis Prang mass produced affordable cards for everyone to share in. Then in 1915, the Hall brothers created Hallmark cards. And you know the rest of that story.
Guess who had the first "selfie" Christmas card? Ohio's own Annie Oakley. She toured Scotland around the holidays and had her photo printed on the cards she sent back to friends in America.
I'm fortunate to have a few of my great-grandma's Christmas cards framed for display. I enjoy sending and receiving cards. I hope you do too!

Cooper, James. “The History of Christmas Cards .” Why Christmas?, 2018,
Green, Jonathan. Christmas Miscellany: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Christmas. Skyhorse Publishing, 2017.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Christmas Blessings: Peace

Luke 2:13-14
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

As Eli and Ella Cate put my Fisher Price Nativity set together, I watched with great joy. They placed Mary and Joseph in the stable and gently laid baby Jesus in between them. Ella Cate found all the palm trees and lined them up, while Eli herded the sheep to the shepherds. As they were playing, my daughter, Sara, asked Eli if he would sing a song he'd learned for his great-grandfather's funeral. As he tinkered with the manger scene, his strong, young voice filled the room. "Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me." Wow, what a blessing to hear this almost nine-year old sing one of my favorite songs.
At Jesus birth the angels rejoiced with a song of peace. They glorified God and poured the favor of peace over the shepherds.
The Christmas season can get hectic. Too much to do, places to go. So many families are knee deep in sports and activities, while others are lonely, even sad. The holidays can be a difficult time for so many reasons. But it can also be a time filled with peace. Just knowing that Jesus birth changed the world and our options in life brings me calm and comfort. If it weren't for that sweet baby in the manger growing to be a man who gave his all for me, my life would be utter chaos. Instead I have peace in my heart, knowing my life is in God's hands.
I pray God's peace pours over you as you prepare to celebrate Jesus birth. May his arms be a place of rest and his feet a place of worship.