Friday, December 30, 2005

Meet Samuel Woman

Yesterday Portia and Babs were out for the afternoon visiting friends who were also home for the holidays and I stayed home waiting for a service call. So I thought it was a good time to get some work done on the devotions I promised to write for the RevGalBlogPals next book, Ordinary Time.

Yikes! I realized that I had written 1 1/2 devotions and had 6 1/2 to go--and they are due by January 30 which is when I'll be busy trying to get off to the annual Presby conference for Educators. In mid-January we'll be launching a new midweek discipleship program at church that grew out of our Alpha and Bible in 90 Days classes. So I realized that I'd better get going and finish these.

Like our Advent book, A Light Blazes in the Darkness (see sidebar), the devotions are based on the lectionary readings for each day. The days I volunteered for were based on a random selection of dates that were significant to me (family birthdays) and trying for a balance between Old and New Testament readings. Methodically, I decided to work on them in order of date.

That meant that I spent most of yesterday working on two lengthy passages from Samuel. Unlike the Advent readings which had a different one for each day, I had one scripture linked with two days, so I had to figure out how to divide the scripture which was a tricky task.

Samuel is one of the history books, which is fine with me because as a history major I'm more comfortable with these books than some of the others--like the wisdom and prophecy books. Still, four devotions based on Samuel is quite the immersion experience. It was fun discovering some contemporary allusions in these stories. For example, I saw God whapping the prophet Nathan upside the head for being King David's "yes man" and Samuel conducting a modern day political "beauty contest" with the sons of Jesse. Hope I'm not too far off base. I'm going to let them rest while I work on the other four.

For now, just call me Samuel Woman!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Ciao, Y'all!

You Are Italian Food

Comforting yet overwhelming.
People love you, but sometimes you're just too much.

Time for another What kind of (fill in the blank) internet quiz!

It's been a light blogging week as I enjoy time with Portia and Babs, home for the holidays. I do dearly love to cook and eat Italian food, so this one seems more accurate than most. Do your results on this quiz match your food preferences?

Tip of the chef's toque hat to rev-ed.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Christmas Eve Alert: Angel Flashing

Our extended family and friends filled two long pews at Tall Steeple Presby Church in the Woods on Christmas Eve. We got there early enough to secure seats right in front of the chancel area where the Christmas pagent would take place.

The sanctuary was soon bursting with nearly a thousand families--excited children, toddlers and babies dressed up in their Christmas finery. Everything began right on time. We were anticipating the entrance of our angels--my oldest niece and her three girls aged 8, 5 and 3. First Mary and Joseph entered while we sang appropriate Christmas carols. Then the eight year old entered first and stood stage left. The congregation rose to sing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." The rest of the hardy angel band made their appearance robed in white with wings and silver glittery halos.

We were less than one-quarter of the way into the service. As the service proceeded, the 3 year old became more and more comfortable on the "stage". She started skipping around and grinning at the audience. Her mother tried futilely to grab her without breaking her angelic character. Oldest sister had the "I don't know who she is" look on her face and refused to glance in that direction.

The littleist angel spied the whole family in the pews and started waving. We looked down at our shoes so as not to encourage her further. Then she pulled her angel's robe over her head and flashed the congregation just before Mom grabbed her.

"Well, at least she had her panties on," said one family member as we chortled about it afterwards.

We'll be telling that story on her for many years to come.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Christmas Eve 2005

This Christmas Eve Day I wish I could send each of you the beautiful day we are having here. The skies are a crisp, clear blue. There's a light breeze ruffling the bright red leaves of the Bradford pear trees that stand just behind our house. With temperatures in the mid-60's today and predicted lows in the mid-40's tonight we won't have a repeat of last year's once-in-a-lifetime snowfall, but we'll be able to trade the bright sunny day for a star-lit night and a comfortable gathering of family and friends around a lively fireplace.

Presents are wrapped and under the tree or packed in shopping bags for the trip to relatives and friends in a couple of hours. We're scheduled to make two worship services: one at Presby Tall Steeple Church in the Woods to see our oldest neice and her family in the Christmas pagent. I'm told we'll be dodging the live donkey and camel as we settle in to catch them in their roles of Wise Man and Angels. (Typecasting???)

Then its off to exchange presents with El Jefe's side of the family, followed by a late evening supper and present exchange with our neighbors. Then we'll make the candlelight service at our own Suburban Presby Church on the Plain. Tomorrow morning we're skipping the Sunday service on the theory that we attended church already that day as the candlelight service ends after midnight. Santa's presents will be opened to the strains of Messiah, followed by brunch and afternoon visiting with family and friends.

Our baking is done, the house ready for Christmas Day. Merry Christmas, Y'all !

Friday, December 23, 2005

Christmas Music Friday Five

On this eve of Christmas Eve Songbird offers a Christmas Music Friday Five Meme for the RevGalBlogPals and friends. So, Maestro, without further ado....

1. If you had to choose CDs as a soundtrack for the Christmas season, what would they be?

Messiah by George Frederick Handel--the entire oratorio, not just the Christmas portion.

2. How do you feel about singing all the verses of "The First Noel?" (Six in our hymnal, but apparently there are nine.)

Our Presbyterian hymnal uses the "Nowell" spelling. I say sing them all! Especially the last verse:

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord,
That hath made heaven and earth of nought
And with His blood our life hath bought.
Nowell, Nowell, Nowell, Nowell
Born is the King of Israel

"O, Come All Ye Faithful" has a lot of verses, too. Which is your favorite?

Apparently we Presbies got short-changed compared to the version in Songbird's UCC hymnal. There are only 3 verses in the "blue" hymnal. I like the first verse best in English AND in Latin:

Adeste, fideles, laeti triumphantes;
Venite, venite in Bethlehem.
Natum videte Regem angelorum.
Venite adoremus, venite adoremus, venite adoremus, Dominum

I remember singing Adeste Fideles in Latin in my Presbyterian church on Christmas Eve in San Antonio in Latin. I have no idea why we did that! Must've had a Latinist for a pastor or music director.

4. What music do you play while opening presents?

Messiah, Messiah, and then some more Messiah. My father always played Messiah non-stop from Christmas Eve to the end of Christmas Day and I follow that custom. Needless to say I have the ENTIRE thing memorized which comes in handy when I'm singing it with a church choir.

5. Which carols do you consider to be Christmas Eve essentials?

O Come All Ye Faithful, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, O Little Town of Bethlehem, and Once in Royal David's City.

Bonus Question:

6. What, if any, is your favorite secular Christmas song?

Deck the Halls With Boughs of Holly
'Tis the season to be jolly
Tra-la etc
Don we now our gay apparel
Tra-la etc
Troll the ancient Yuletide carol
Tra-la etc

My maiden name was Hall. When I was growing up we adopted this as our theme song and sang Deck the "Hall's" as we put up our Christmas tree and decorations.

How would you answer these questions? I hope you get to sing all your favorite carols in church tomorrow and Sunday.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

My Favorite Advent

A year ago I knew that I was experiencing my favorite Advent/Christmas season in many years. Unlike El Jefe, I am not a particularly nostalgic person. I tend to focus on the here and now and the future more than remembering the past. But this year I find myself re-living last year's highlights and smiling about them.

It began with a long-anticipated trip to Sewanee, where Babs was a senior, to attend their famous Lessons and Carols service in All-Saints Chapel. People come from all across the Southeast to be at this event. Buses from churches in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia make the pilgrimage every year. The great pipe organ and the Chapel were refurbished during the previous two years so we waited to attend until everything was completed. And we were NOT disappointed.

The university choir was magnificent, All Saints was beautifully decorated with evergreens and poinsettas, the pipe organ was glorious and the readings heart-felt. A large spotlight was positioned outside the building just behind the giant rose window above the altar so that it glowed like the Star of Bethleham when the lights were dimmed for the candlelit recessional. I left filled with a joy and anticipation that stayed with me for weeks.

Advent/Christmas last year was the least stressful season I can remember in many, many years. I discovered online shopping and avoided the disastrous and frustrating construction detours around the Houston Galleria area.

Then an unexpected surprise-- on Christmas Eve snow began to fall on Sugar Land (the Houston suburb where we live). As we left our house to join some neighbors for dinner at a local restaurant, big, fat white snowflakes drifted down. And actually stuck! It wasn't very cold, really, just barely under freezing. The last time I saw snow here was more than 10 years ago and then it melted as soon as it hit the ground. As we looked out the windows of the restaurant the snow flurries seemed magnified by the light reflected from the overhead street lights.

The snow lay on the ground,
The stars shone bright.
When Christ our Lord was born
On Christmas night.

In the history of recorded weather in Texas, there had never been a white Christmas in our area. I've spent every Christmas of my life in either San Antonio or the Houston area, so it was a first for me, too. Flurries were still falling as we left the midnight candlelight service at church and drove home. It was perfect! The roads remained warm enough to prevent any icing problems. the snowfall was like a light dusting of powdered sugar on all the buildings and cars.

How my late mother, a native of Chicago, would have loved to see snow on Christmas Eve. To her it wasn't Christmas without a fire in the fireplace. The problem was that many years we had to crank up the air conditioning to offset the heat it created when the temperatures in San Antonio were in the eighties.

The next morning it was warming just enough to start melting the snow. Kids all over the neighborhoods were scraping snow off cars and lawns to make snowballs and slushy-looking snowmen. We went over my sister-in-law's home for Christmas Day brunch and present exchanges.

By Boxing Day, there was no trace of snow left. We drove over to San Antonio for dinner with my brothers and sister. This was a mini-reunion of that side of the family and a blessing because it represented a rapproachment after a significant family rift. El Jefe, Portia, Babs and I stayed at the Menger Hotel that night and visited the Alamo across the street before driving home the next day.

Babs and I looked for a traditional Lessons and Carols service in the Houston area at the beginning of Advent. You won't find one like the one in Sewanee (and you sure won't find one like that in one of our Presbyterian churches) but we hoped to find something close. We didn't. And I was disappointed because it seemed to me that beginning Advent with that experience truly heralded the season.

But now I realize that it wasn't just that service. It was a combination of many blessings that came together last year and was made memorable by the sparkling snow flakes that fell from Heaven on Christmas Eve.

Many Christmas cards from friends that we have received contain pictures of that once-in-a-lifetime snow on the palm trees, swimming pools and beaches of south Texas. I'm not the only one reliving that special Christmas Eve.

What was your favorite Advent?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Grace's Virtual Christmas Cookie Exchange

Babs was in a baking mood this afternoon, so she made our favorite Christmas cookie, pictured to the left.

My sainted mother-in-law made this every year at Christmas time when El Jefe was growing up. They're called Turtle Cookies. I decided that they are appropriate for Christmas because the pecans that form the head and feet of the turtle are arranged like a Celtic Trinity (well, maybe that's a stretch).

Around the RGBP webring and on other blogs I've seen Christmas cookie recipes being posted, so I decided to host a "virtual Christmas cookie exchange" here.

If you have a recipe for your favorite Christmas cookie to share post it on your blog (with a picture if you can) and then leave a comment on this post so we can find it and print it out. If you don't have a blog and would like to share then just leave the recipe in your comment.

Here's the recipe for the Turtle Cookies--

Sift together:
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
Set aside.

Blend together:
1/2 cup softened butter
1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
Add 1 egg and 1 egg yolk (reserve the egg white for later use)
Then add 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/8 tsp maple flavoring

Add the dry ingredients you sifted to the wet mixture and mix well.

Arrange the split pecan halves rounded side up in groups of 3 to resemble the head and feet of the turtle.

Mold dough into a small ball, dip bottom of the ball into reserved egg white and press onto the nuts.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Do not overbake--these are cake-like.
Cool cookies.

Prepare chocolate frosting by melting 2 squares of unsweetened chocolate, 1/2 cup milk, and 1 tbs butter in the top of a double boiler over boiling water. Stir until smooth. Remove from heat and add 1 cup sifted powdered sugar. Blend until smooth and glossy.

Frost each "turtle" generously. Makes about 18 cookies.

Chronic of Narnia Rap

Oh, yes, it's true--see the "music" video here. Tip of the do-rag to John at Locusts and Honey.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Return of a Son of the Church

It was a surprise to see him coming across the sanctuary to give me a big bear-hug. Tall, dark and handsome, Charles looked wonderful. Now a senior in college in a neighboring state, he hasn't visited home much since going away to school and has frustrated many of us with his inconsistent contact with the folks back home.

Not that we don't understand why. We do.

Whenever I see him I think of his late father, my friend Jonah. Jonah and his wife immigrated from Nigeria. She was a nurse and he was a medical researcher. They both worked in Houston's Medical Center. Charles was the middle of three sons.

When Charles was in middle school Jonah was dying of brain cancer. In the last two months of his life his wife Rose was killed by a drunk driver as she drove home from her night shift at the hospital. Then El Jefe and I became involved in helping Jonah make legal arrangements for the guardianship of the three boys who would soon be orphans.

After Jonah's death, Charles and his brothers went to live with Dr. O, a member of our congregation and friend of Jonah's. Because all of the boys were American citizens and had never lived in Nigeria, Jonah wanted them to stay rather than travel to his native country to be brought up by relatives they barely knew. The almost simultaneous deaths of Jonah and Rose created a legal snarl that rivaled the most complicated law school exam questions I had ever seen. But El Jefe got his firm to work and everything was arranged. Jonah and his wife had been very prudent with their finances and left more than enough money to support and educate the boys.

Now Dr. O was a single father at the time to four children of his own. His ex-wife suffered from mental health problems and left the area to live with her sister. With seven children to parent, Dr. O moved into a larger home and many church members rallied around to help. The boys made the adjustment--but it was hard for everyone.

Several years passed and Charles was a senior in high school and one of the stars of his basketball team. A group of us attended as many of his games as we could to help support him. When we greeted him after the game, calling him "Charles" his friends would look quizzical. "That's my church name", he explained to them. Like many Nigerians, Charles also had an Igbo name and that was the name by which he was known at school.

That spring Charles' older brother, a freshman in college, was killed by a drunk driver one Saturday night. Just about 3 months later his youngest brother dropped dead while on a mission trip in Fort Worth with our senior high youth group. An autopsy revealed that he had a congenital defect in the vessels going to his heart that could not have been repaired. The doctors said that it was probably the result of his mother's having contracted measles in the first trimester of her pregnancy with him.

So Charles buried both his brothers before going away to school. I accompanied him to probate court with an attorney from El Jefe's firm that summer as the judge signed the order consolidating his brother's trusts into one trust for his benefit. El Jefe and another church member who is an investment advisor sat down with him to explain his financial situation and to caution him to be discreet about it--at his age it would be easy for him to be taken advantage of. Charles followed their advice. He was very uncomfortable with this money because it represented the loss of his entire family.

Then he left for college, as planned. He had hoped to play basketball for his school, but that didn't happen. He didn't return phone calls from Dr. O and his foster brothers and sisters or the other church members who tried to keep up with him. When there were breaks from school he found ways to avoid coming home, or else stayed very briefly. He confided to a few friends that it was just too painful to return to the house where his brothers used to live with him. In his new enviornment, his story wasn't known to anyone he didn't choose to tell. He had the freedom to be himself without the burden of his tragic personal history.

"How long are you staying, Charles? " I asked him yesterday. " He said he would be here until the 28th, when he planned to go skiing with some friends. "I'll see you in church Christmas Eve," he assured me.

Jonah and Rose would be so proud of the young man he has become. He'll be graduating from college this year and plans a career in business. He's had more adversity in his life than most of us will ever have and he has suffered much for it. The fact that he chose to come home for Christmas, stay awhile, and re-connect with his foster family and church family shows that he is doing pretty well. God bless you, Charles. And Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Sermon from the Comic Page

This cartoon is true on so many levels.

Jeffey can relate to the Baby Jesus -- who seems just a little bit younger than he is--but finds it more difficult to pray to God who he imagines as a distant authority figure.

The baby Jesus is a more comforting figure to adults, too. Praying to God, Yahweh, the Creator of the Universe (and by the way, of you) is --well--an awesome idea. Too awesome for most of us to grasp.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Friday Five Holiday Party Edition

It's now a tradition--Songbird's Friday Five meme. And who am I to break tradition during the Holiday season? So....

1.Have you ever gotten a really good kiss under the mistletoe?
Nope. Maybe that's because Texans don't really use mistletoe much. I've never seen real mistletoe--just the plastic type.

2. Do you know anyone who makes real eggnog, not the stuff from the carton?

3. What's your favorite Christmas party album/CD ever?
I like one of the Mormon tabernacle choir Christmas Carol collections.

4. Does your office/workplace have a party? Do the people there ever behave the way in movies behave at office parfties, which is to say, badly?

A church staff party is a pretty tame affair. However, let me tell you the TRUE story of the most notorious Christmas party affair of all time that happened during an office party at El Jefe's law firm in the 1980's.

Everyone was gathered in the large lobby of one of the downtown bank buildings for cocktails and snacks when suddenly bits of the ceiling began raining down on the assembled party-goers. Looking up, they saw a leg and a bare bottom poking through the ceiling! The bottom began wiggling and thrashing around when another bottom and leg came through. The bottoms were stuck! A janitor was dispatched to release them from this embarrassing position.

The owners of the bottoms turned out to be one of the young lawyers and one of the secretaries who, having partaken of too much Christmas cheer, repaired upstairs to a janitorial closet upstairs for a little holiday frolic. In their alcoholic-induced haze they failed to notice that everything on that floor was being remodeled and ignored the "caution" tape that was intended to keep people off the floor in that area.

This incident was widely reported in the Houston press and kept the city amused for days. The managing partner of the firm, however, was NOT amused and the parties involved soon found work elsewhere.

5. If you have to bring something to a party, what is it likely to be? Do people like it?

My "take-along" dish this year is an appetizer: Cheesy Shrimp on Grits Toast. And yes--everyone LOVES it. Since I know you are going to ask anyway, here's the recipe (courtesy of my sister-in-law and Paula Deen of the Food Channel):

Cheesy Shrimp on Grits Toast

3 (14 oz) cans chicken broth
1 1/3 cups quick-cooking grits
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt
1 8 oz pkg. softened cream cheese
1 Tbl half and half
1/2 cup grated Italian cheese, blend
1/2 lb cooked, peeled and deveined shrimp, chopped

Bring both to a boil in large saucepan. Stir in grits and return to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes or until grits are thickened, stirring occasionally. Stir in cheese and salt. Remove from heat.

Spoon grits into a greased 9X 13 baking pan. Cover and chill at least 2 hours or until firm. Unmold grits onto a large cutting board. Cut out 1 1/2 inch circles using a cookie cutter.

Brush a large jellyroll pan with melted butter. Place grits rounds on the pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Turn grits and bake 15 more minutes. Set aside. NOTE: Up to this point the recipe can be prepared ahead. If preparing early, cover and refrigerate grits rounds until you are ready to top with shrimp mixture.

In a large bowl, combine cream cheese and half-and-half, stirring until combined. Stir in cheese, parsley and shrimp.

Top each grits round evenly with shrimp mixture

Broil 5 minutes or until lightly browned and heated through.


Thursday, December 15, 2005

It Doesn't take a Rocket Scientist

This morning I decided to update the CE bulletin board outside my office with displays announcing our new midweek program that grew out of the midweek Bible in 90 Days classes that just concluded. To keep myself amused while pulling staples out of the cork, I hooked myself up to my ipod and cycled between my three Christmas mixes.

Me and my ipod seem to amuse the rest of the staff, because I always get comments about it. Today our business manager asked me who put the music on it for me. What? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to download music onto an ipod, or create playlists, or "burn" cd's from the music you downloaded.

I'm just guessing that we're not ready to plan podcasts from the church any time soon!

I'm Prancer?

You Are Prancer

You are the perfect reindeer, with perfect hooves and perfect flying form.

Why You're Naughty: Because you're Santa's pet, and you won't let anyone show you up.

Why You're Nice: You have the softest fur and the swe
Linketest carrot breath.
Which of Santa's Reindeer Are You?

Tip of Santa's cap to Gord for this one. Don't think I like the result--Prancer sounds annoying! For years I have put "from Vixen", "from Donner", "from Dasher" etc on Christmas presents for the family so I couldn't resis this quiz. Prancer??? Let me know which reindeer you are. I hope someone else is also Prancer.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Grace's First Annual Christmas Gift Suggestions

You procrastinators out there are probably just starting to think about choosing gifts for the loved ones on your list or finding items to suggest to that special someone who likes to know in advance what you want. In the spirit of love, peace, and helpfulness I have been surfing the internet looking for unique items so you won't have to.

Herewith, Grace's First Annual Christmas Gift Suggestions:

1. Phone Excuse Machine. You're in your office on Friday trying to complete the sermon you must deliver on Sunday. Suddenly the phone rings and it's a congregant on the line who never uses 2 words if 20 can be found. What to do? Whip out this handy pocket gadget and press a button. Presto! A baby is crying! The doorbell rings! The car crashes! Sorry--gotta go. Now you or your clergy friends will have the perfect excuse for getting off the phone with minimal waste of time and no hard feelings.

2. Redneck Haiku: Doublewide Edition by Mary K. Witte. There are lots of poetry writers and poetry lovers in the RevGalBlogPals webring. Here's the perfect gift. Sample verses:

Betty Lou surprised
to learn you can get pregnant
in church parking lot.

Turkey fryer bought
from cable shopping channel
burns down trailer park.

3. Balloon Rides. Who wouldn't like to ride in a beautiful balloon? Figuring out what it costs is the real challenge here. Well, you know what they say: if you have to ask, you can't afford it.

4. Peter Petrie Egg Separator. Awed by the skillful chefs on the Cooking Channel who separate eggs for meringues with their bare hands? Or just grossed out? Here's the gadget for your friends who are Martha wanna-bees.

5. Jesus Talking Action Figure. Jesus can give you five different pithy sayings! If you're looking for a gift for your favorite Jewish friend for Hannukah, then check out the Moses Talking Action Figure. As you'll see, Moses looks just like Charleton Heston, but is "authentic".

Sidebar remark: Why are the toypresidents people making the Jesus and Moses figures? Interesting fact-- both the first edition of the Ronald Reagan and the Bill Clinton dolls are sold out. Create your own joke.

And finally....

6. The Bullie Bag. A collectible handbag for those who are rodeo-bound. Caution: this is not for your PETA-loving friends! The bag is made from what is removed when a bull becomes a steer...if you get my drift.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Comments on Bible in 90 Days

Participants in our Bible in 90 Days groups filled out "exit" surveys at their last group meetings last week. Now that I have had a chance to look over them, I'd like to share the results and some of the comments with those of you who have been interested in how the project worked out.

We received about 60 completed surveys. Everyone who finished the course didn't fill out a survey, but my estimate is that roughly 65 people out of the 122 initial registrants read the entire Bible. Those who didn't finish still read more of the Bible than they ever had before, though.

Most of those who committed to the program had read "a little" of the Old Testament and " about half" of the New Testament before joining one of these classes. There were a couple of people reporting that they had not read any of the Bible and several who had read all of it once or more in the past. Most people said that the reading was "challenging, but manageable." Of course by the time these surveys were distributed, almost everyone who found it too difficult had already dropped out of their groups.

Some have wondered about the value of a class that emphasizes reading the entire Bible in such a short time rather than taking more time and studying it in depth. Several folks addressed this concern in their comments:

" In the past I have also questioned the value of reading cover to cover. I found this course to be a very positive experience. It helped me to read unfamiliar parts of the Bible and to understand more clearly the themes."

"It gives the entire picture, and at this pace, there is more of a flow to the books."

"What surprised me was that even through the tough parts of the OT my appetite for all of scripture was re-awakened."

"The story in the Bible has been revealed to me in a way not possible by reading bits and pieces as in traditional study...With this foundation, I am better prepared to grow in faith."

Comments about the overall value of the course and the experience were overwhelmingly positive. Here are just a few that I selected to share with you.

"Life-changing--I feel I really began to know God and Jesus and the history even though I went to church my whole life. This made all the difference. Great accomplishment for me with 3 kids under 5 and very worth the time and energy it took!"

"It has been--in all respects--a remarkable blessing in my life. The opportunity to read through God's Word in an intentional (and rapid) manner as a part of a community of believers has been a great gift...This is a wonderful ministry!"

"I can only say, despite the periodic frustration (not 12 pages AGAIN!!), the concern about "what did that really mean?", the alarm that went off at 3:35 am so that I could get up and read and still get to work...most days I none-the-less looked forward to my reading. I would not have missed this experience for anything. The continuity that reading the Bible cover-to-cover gave me was so rewarding. In the past I read the Bible in short passages, and as a result my understanding and knowledge was disconnected...and my disconnect was much greater than I would ever have guessed. I feel so much closer to God than I did before this experience..."

Overwhelmingly those who answered the surveys said that they would recommend the course to others. I heartily join in that endorsement. I participated in Bible in 90 Days and led two of the groups this fall. I gained as much (or more!) as anyone from the experience and pray that this habit of daily Bible reading that so many in our congregation formed will lead to increased participation and interest in study of the Bible in the coming months and years.

As I told El Jefe last night, this has been the most significant program that I ever brought to the church, or probably ever will bring to it. You can't read the Bible seriously without being changed. A congregation that adopts the habit of daily Bible reading will be changed.

If you want more information about Bible in 90 Days, there are two websites you can check. One is the publisher's website and the other is the website of the non-profit organization that has been organized to promote the curriculum and assist churches who are using it.

Keys to the Magnet Swap

Aren't these magnets clever? They were sent to me by ax174, a lovely woman in Toronto, Canada, who was my partner in the recent swap orchestrated by Mindy. She is very talented at crafts--I would never have thought of this! I love them.

They are the computer keyboard keys for the letters "Q", "G", "O", D", "+", and a couple of other symbols. I used the cross magnet that I already had in the arrangement for the photo because I thought it looked nice.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Bible in 90 Days Celebration

We had a great celebration of the Bible in 90 Days project today during Sunday School. About 60 folks who participated in different groups attended. The cake above was the centerpiece of our refreshments--it was half chocolate and half white cake with raspberry filling inside. Didn't the cake decorator do a great job copying the BIND logo?

After thanking everyone, sharing comments and responses to the experience from particpants and our pastors I passed out the following lyrics that I composed for the occasion--our new "theme song" was a big hit!

Bible in 90 Days Theme Song

~ Tune of Hark the Herald Angels Sing~

We finished it, but we can't lie.
Leviticus was awfully dry.
Chronicles was full of blood,
The prophets were as clear as mud.
Psalms and Proverbs kept us reading,
As God's Word we should be heeding
Through the Gospels, Acts and Paul.
Revelation scared us all!
Hark, the Herald Angels sing--
We finished reading the WHOLE THING!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Lakewood Open Christmas Day

Credit Where Credit Is Due Department: The Houston Chronicle reported today that Lakewood Church ("The Oasis of Love") will observe their regular Sunday schedule of worship services on Christmas Day, despite the example of many other mega-churches in our area and across the country who are cancelling Sunday services all together.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Big Uneasy--West

The local newspaper has been running a very lengthy series about Katrina evacuees in Houston. Apparently more than twice as many natives of New Orleans are now living in the Houston area than in the New Orleans area. Most of the families described in the reports have permanent housing and jobs here and their children are settling into schools. A majority say they are going to remain in Houston permanently, often citing improved economic and educational opportunities as the deciding factor.

Fighting between "New Orleans" kids and "Houston" kids in some of the public schools has been a problem. Earlier this week about 25 teens were arrested after a brawl at a high school, highlighting the tensions between the two groups. One school counselor noted that these fights are occuring in schools in low income areas. "Our kids are also needy and resent seeing the donations and attention given to the hurricane evacuees," he said in a television interview.

Although we have a significant number of New Orleans kids in the suburban public schools, these children come from families with more financial means and so are not singled out for assistance. We haven't seen tensions between the kids escalate in these schools in the same way.

My neice just returned from maternity leave to her third grade classroom in a public school. There are several "Katrina kids" in her classroom who weren't attending at the beginning of the school year when she was still teaching. When she asked her friends at the school before she returned how things were going with all the additional New Orleans students they told her "we're not going to tell you, or you won't come back."

So far she is managing well, because she anticipated behavior problems related to the stress of their experiences. But she is appalled by their low level of academic achievement. They lag far behind the rest of the class, and this is NOT a high performing suburban school district she teaches in. It has plenty of low income families and a significant gang and drug problem. If you apply that factor to a teenage group then you can see how much additional stress and frustration these kids feel.

Another hurricane related news item: remember Wilma? That's the last big hurricane that whacked Florida in October. It wiped out the grapefruit crop there, opening up the east coast market for Texas grapefruit growers who have a bumper crop this year.

And then the hurricane research team at Colorado State University announced that they are predicting 17 named storms for 2006--more than they have ever predicted for a season. But there were 26 named storms this year! There's a happy thought as we move to the New Year.

Lord, send the hurricanes far away from the Gulf Coast. Send them harmlessly into the Atlantic where they will spin themselves silly and expire. Amen.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Indigo Children and Itchy Eared Parents

So your child is unruly, resists authority, and has little patience? The kid acts like royalty and shows no sense of guilt for bad or mean behavior?

If so, rejoice! Your child isn't a spoiled brat after all! No, No. You have a very SPECIAL child. An "Indigo child". One with an "indigo-colored aura" and unique traits like those described above. One that is extremely precocious with a strong desire to live instinctively. Lucky you!

There's even a website here that will explain it all for you. Psychics, channelers and synthesiasics can't be wrong, can they?

How many times do we have to be reminded-- "They will turn aside their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths." 2 Timothy 4:4.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Baby Jesus Wars

It never fails. Once the nativity set at church is put out, the Baby Jesus War is on. You know what I mean. The struggle between those who believe that Baby Jesus must NOT be put into the scene until Christmas Day vs. those who believe that the scene is incomplete without him.

A few years ago someone tried to settle the dispute by using a set where the Baby Jesus is firmly affixed to the manager, all in one piece. Now we Calvinists should know not to underestimate the capacity of man (and woman) kind to continue a feud, but there is always hope. And so on it goes...the Baby Jesus is hidden by one faction in the drawer of the table on which the creche sits. Then He's liberated by the pro-Baby Jesus group. Back and forth, back and forth. At last on Christmas Eve the No-Baby Jesus faction gives it up and He gets to stay in the scene through Epiphany. At last, sweet unity among the bretheren and sisteren! Until next Advent.

When I was growing up we had a nice Italian-Renaissance style nativity set. It had a stable with real pieces of hay glued on it. The angel perched perilously on top of the pitched roof of the stable. My parents always set it out on my dad's black baby grand piano. Then the games began.

This wasn't just a Baby Jesus war--it was a war of all against all. There were four children in the family. Each one had a firmly fixed idea of how that scene should be arranged. As the oldest, I was always "neatening up" the work of my younger sister and brothers. Since I considered myself the "artistic" one, I strove for unity and symmetry of the figures.

My brothers would take the angel off the top of the stable (where I put her) and have her standing BEHIND the shepherds, off to the side. My sister would put the angel by Mary and Joseph INSIDE the stable. Since they were clearly WRONG, it was my duty to rearrange these figures several times a day. As the oldest I got to stay up a bit later, so I got the last word...until morning when the struggle began anew.

Looking back, I realize that there were a couple of agreed upon positions for the figures--Mary, Joseph, the Baby Jesus and the manger usually remained inside the stable. But everything else was disputed. Isn't that like some of the disputes today between and among our churches? Christians have some consensus about a few basic things--but then engage in constantly questioning the importance (or arrangement) of everything else. We're much more interested in disputing what we disagree about (where's that Angel? Hide the Baby Jesus!) than on celebrating what we believe in common (Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and the Manger belong inside the stable).

The Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles as well as the history of the church tell as that this is nothing new. If history is predictive of the future, we'll enthusiastically continue our Baby Jesus wars in some form or another until He comes again. Now...where's the Baby Jesus today?

Monday, December 05, 2005

I'm a Christmas Tree...

What a marvelous person! You are the splendid
Christmas tree! You are a spirited person who
almost always in a great mood. Your smiles and
laughter are some things that people usually
look forward to in you. You are someone who is
full of energy and ready for a good time. Most
likely you are a social butterfly. All of these
characteristics make you a beautiful person
inside and out. People just really enjoy to be
around you. Merry Christmas =)

What Christmas Figure Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla<

Thanks to Gord for the tip. This is an incredibly flattering description. Shoot, now I'll have to try to live up to it. I have to admit that I do resemble a Christmas tree physically: very tall with hips!

If you take the quiz, leave me a comment and let me know what your result was.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Holiday for Everyone and No One

Will Smama posted a rant today about (among other things) the stupidity of calling a Christmas tree a Holiday tree. Great post!

In that spirit, I offer this link to the Official Chrismahanukwanzakah site for a preview of a world where political correctness and commercialism trump the meaning of any holiday. Don't miss the Hindu Santa. (Warning: not for the politically correct).

Thanks to my friend Diana for the tip.

Friday, December 02, 2005

RevGals Friday Christmas Decorating Meme

It's time once again to join in the RevGals Friday Five Meme, courtesy of the uber-creative Songbird.

1. Do you display a nativity scene, and if so, where?

Actually, I collect nativity scenes.Here are photos of two of them: a crystal set and a set that was made from old oil drums in Mexico. Both were Christmas presents from my neices. The crystal one is on the mantel in the den, the one made from oil drums is on the table in the hallway, a white bisque set is on top of the piano in the living room, and I still have one in a bag that I haven't placed yet. And the pewter one seems to have been "liberated" by one of my daughters to her apartment in Austin. Oh... Babs!

2. Do you put a skirt under the Christmas tree? If so what does it look like?

Yes. It's a quilted skirt of course! Actually, it is not round, but a regular wedding-ring pattern rectangular quilt that is done in red, green and white fabric.

3. Do you hang lights on the house or put them in your windows?

No. I have two large wire angels that are covered in small white lights. We put one on either side of our front porch. Each has big wings and a trumpet! See photo at left.

4. White lights or colored lights on the tree? Big bulbs or the small pretty ones?

Tut, tut, Songbird, that's what we lawyers call "leading the witness"! Ok. Our tree has small white lights, but we add a string of red poinsetta lights and a couple of strings of colored bubble lights.

5. Do you have a tree topper? What sort? Who puts it up?

Yes, it's an angel in the shape of a star that I needlepointed years ago, B.B. (before bifocals). Of course El Jefe must place the angel--he's the only one tall enough to reach the top of the tree.

P.S. The picture of the angel was taken last year when we had our first ever snowfall on a Christmas Eve in south Texas!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Grace's Apprentice

Here's my neice with her first quilt. A couple of months ago she said she wanted to learn to make a quilt. Her mother isn't a quilter, so I offered to teach her. Portia and Babs have never been interested in learning, but I do realize it's a lot easier to take instruction from an aunt than from Mom sometimes (maybe a lot of the time!).

Every Sunday afternoon for several weeks we spent a few hours on the project. First she picked out her fabrics and I created a design that would be easy for a beginner. I cut the blocks for her, because mistakes in cutting would make sewing much harder.

I taught her to use the sewing machine. She pieced the top and then I showed her how to pin baste it to the backing and batting. She turned 8 while we were doing this, and we found that she didn't quite have the exterity to close all the pins, so I did that.

Then I drew lines for her to follow and she quilted it on the machine. I took it home and put on the binding, which can be tricky even for experienced quilters.

Her two younger sisters were our constant companions--they kept asking if I would let them sew "when I'm 7." Of course! But first we'll have to go to the fabric store...