Sunny Pathway

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thoughts on the Bethlehem Innkeeper

If the innkeeper of Bethlehem had had any inkling of Joseph’s and Mary’s identity that first Christmas, he would have cleared his entire establishment to make room for them.

He didn’t. And in spite of all the sermons about how the poor fellow missed out on the occasion of his visitation, he was probably meant to do what he did. Perhaps—like Pharaoh—he was chosen for his hardened heart. God’s plan was served by the man’s lack of understanding.

The innkeeper couldn’t understand without a revelation. And he wasn’t looking for the Christ-child at the moment. He was just too busy.

I’m not especially busy with Christmas preparations this year. Everything seems remarkably simple because we’re having no overnight visitors and no younger children—our North Dakota grandchildren are all teenagers. But, although some of the excitement is lower-key, the joy remains. I’m so looking forward to Christmas Day with two of our children and their families.

Just the same, I’m busy. With writing projects. Writing projects that I hope are centered on God. In the middle of this, I need revelation to truly celebrate the birth of God's Son. Reality is, even if we’ve walked with God for years, we need more and more revelation. Unless our hearts are open to receive Him, we’ll miss our visitation.

When it comes to revelation, one size doesn’t fit all. Each one of us is unique, and we all need a personal touch. I found Scripture that offered great blessing for me. You might want to try it on to see how it fits you.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation . . . God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. (Col. 1:15,19,20a NLB)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Working at Organization on Two Fronts

I've been working on compiling the "Thoughts for Inspiration" blog material. Not a Christmas-type activity and a huge job, almost overwhelming because there is so much material is it's so diverse. But there's been a wonderful perk. I'm reading Scripture after Scripture, and I'm filled with joy over God's goodness and provision. So it is preparing me for Christmas.

On the side, I've also read from Psalm 119 recently, spreading it out over days because I've been reading a lot of Scripture while working on my project and because the psalm is long.

The psalm is also repetitious, like life, but I've discovered it re-creates the longing to follow God's Word. Not until the final verse is there admission of sin: "I have wandered away like a sheep; come and find me, for I have not forgotten your commands." (Ps. 119:176 NLB)

In an entirely different vein, when I posted recipes from our condo potluck last fall, I didn't include my crock pot stuffing recipe. There were seemingly enough recipes at that time, so I saved it for Christmas. Now I've almost forgotten it and most of you probably have your Christmas plans in place. I'll include it anyway, perhaps for next year? Sorry I'm not more organized.

We'll have just our North Dakota offspring and their families with us on Christmas Day this year. Compared to the last two years, that won't seem like a lot of people and there won't be little children, but we'll have a good time.

I've found in recent years that I like to prepare ahead. My daughter and daughter-in-law help with the cleanup and somehow it all works even if my physical energy is limited.

The featured centerpiece: turkey on the grill which is Ken's department. I don't even get involved in the slicing.

In the oven I'll bake a cheesy potato casserole, green bean casserole, and sweet potatoes (one of the recipes posted from the potluck). No last minute hassle here.

Because the top shelf of the oven is filled, I make stuffing in a crock pot. It's incredibly rich, but oh-so-good. Recipe below.

From the refrigerator, seven layer salad and a fruit salad (both made the day before).

Then there'll lefsa (we are of Norwegian descent, you know), flat bread if my daughter brings it, a vegetable relish tray with dip, and I'll try to remember pickles and olives.

I'm not sure about deserts at this point. If I feel like it I'll make pies that morning. If not, the girls will surely bring some baked goodies and I'll add the frosted pretzels I bought ready-made plus ice cream. (I do have my limits.)

For evening, left-overs plus sweet soup, tea rings, herring, and cheese slices. I suppose I'll be too full to enjoy that, but in many ways, that's my favorite type of meal.

Crock Pop Dressing - I found this recipe on another site a couple of years ago and have used it ever since. Nothing was said about copyrights, so here you are:

1 cup butter or margarine, melted
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups chopped celery
1/4 cup fresh parsley (can substitute dried)
2 cups canned mushrooms, drained (can use fresh)
2 eggs beaten
13 cups cubes of dry bread
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sage
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. marjoram
2 and 1/2 to 3 and 1/2 cups chicken broth or enough to moisten well

Melt butter or margarine in large fry pan and saute onion and celery until soft. Mix with remaining ingredients, tossing well. Pack in large crock pot. Cover. Cook on high for 45 minutes, then turn to low and continue cooking for 6 - 8 hours.

I try to remember to dry my bread, but not too much. It makes the cubing easier if the bread is neither hard nor soft. I cube my bread the day before, makes the early-morning assembly a snap.

We like dense breads. I made corn bread and used it for over half the recipe. I also add quite a bit of a fairly-heavy brown bread, and I ended up with a slice or two of white bread (which was rather dense as well).

I stuck with 3 and 1/2 cups broth but added a small amount of water. It should be soupy. The moisture will absorb into the bread.

I think the crock pot I use for this is 3 and 1/2 quarts, but I'm not sure and the box is long gone.

I keep thinking I'll try adding raisins or cranberries, but I only make this for special occasions and then am afraid to experiment for fear of ruining it.

Monday, December 15, 2008

View from our Deck on a Sunny Winter Day

I love snow days. Days when the world around you shuts down, when you're comfy in a warm home with day-to-day pressures removed. We have so much to be grateful for. Puts things in perspective when thinking about families losing their homes.

I posted a picture from our deck window yesterday. The wind blew stronger later on, but posting another picture of blowing snow seemed a bit silly. Here's the way our world looks today.

With wind patterns the way they are, snow falling in front of our garage ends up elsewhere. Nice, except that we have to drive through hard drifts to get out of our condo area anyway. The north side or front of the building is snowed in, as is our street. The picture below is of the street behind us which is cleared privately by the residents. Funny, because although it's clear, no ordinary car could traverse the avenue it leads to and that must be traveled to get out of the neighborhood.

Why is it such a big deal, anyway? Perhaps because on snow days I excuse myself from responsibility. Why do I do that? It was a perfectly good day, an opportunity to catch up. May major accomplishment was watching the 1949 version of Little Women with June Alyson, Janet Leigh, Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret O'Brien, and Peter Lawford. We taped the TCM rendition on Friday night, after watching the 1933 version with Katharine Hepburn. (Also a wonderful movie, but without as much emotional attachment on my part.)

I don't know how old I was when my parents initially took me to see the movie. They weren't into movies. The only movie I remember prior to it was Bambi, and my major memory from that event was the large dark room with people coughing.

But seeing Little Women that first time was glorious. I'd read the book and when we left the theatre, like everyone else, I emphatically declared the book was soooo much better. And yet, the images of the four young girls and their friend Laurie were the images I carried of the characters during later re-eadings of the classic. I even adjusted Elizabeth Taylor's age to fit Amy's true age.

After engagings in something so affirming, I hate to admit I then spent several hours playing computer games. Something I rarely do anymore. They're a waste of time! And yet, satisfying. Today I'm invigorated, ready to go.

Of course, if I really want to go someplace (to the post office to mail presents!) I'll have to wait until our avenue is plowed out.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

View from our Deck Window during a North Dakota Blizzard

View from our deck window. Ken just took this picture. He wanted to record what we can't see. We'll have to take a picture on a bright sunny day to record the difference.

Saving My Baby's Dolls

As promised by the weather-woman last night, a blizzard rages outside this morning. I doubt if we’ll make it to church. But I'm snug in our condo and decided it would be a good time to blog.

This is the season when parents of little girls look for the perfect doll to set under the Christmas tree. Perhaps this poem will touch a chord.

Saving My Baby’s Dolls

We cleaned closets before she left. Oh, she cried,
do you remember when I gave her freckles?”
And there they were—blue dots created
with the help of a ball-point pen, scattered
across the cheeks—fifteen on the right,
eleven on the left. She smiled a loving smile.
I still think she’s cuter with freckles.

Here’s Mrs. Mouse. See the knot I tied
in her tail. I could never get it out.
Then, You don’t have to save the dolls.
And later, I think Debbie gave me Mrs. Mouse.

Someday your little girls would love to see
their mother’s dolls.

No they wouldn’t. But I want to keep
my rabbit bank—the one Dad bought
in Philadelphia. Look where the fur
is rubbed off the cheek. It looks painful.

One by one, all but the bank found a place
in the discard pile.

And I remembered dolls with cracked skin
in my mother’s attic. I was twenty when
I threw them away. I decided they had no value—
and my little girl never asked to see the dolls
her mother played with when she was little.

My mother had saved my dolls,
and I wanted to save hers.

I rediscovered this poem a couple of months ago when looking for something to send to a poetry contest—I needed a piece to keep my goal of submitting at least one item to either a contest or a publication every month. It was just a rough idea, so I cleaned it up a bit, and then decided I didn't want to work with it further.

The images aren’t strong enough—but the only thing I could add without going beyond the reality of my memory would be Mrs. Mouse’s red jacket, and I didn't want to go beyond the memory.

The conflict isn’t strong enough, either. Adding to that would become complicated if I wanted to remain true to circumstances. I had discarded my dolls when I helped my parents move—I was 18. Less than a year later my mom died in an accident. Several years later I helped my dad’s new wife go through the attic of her new home and we found my dolls. Mom had somehow salvaged them. I threw them away a second time.

So many years later, when our daughter discarded her dolls, she was leaving to teach ESL in Indonesia. Her dad and I knew we’d probably sell our house before she came home. When she decided to throw them, I remembered my mom’s seemingly foolish nostalgia—so I didn't secretly stash them someplace to save them—and regretted it later. I hadn’t understood that Mom kept the dolls for herself—for her memories—not for me.

It just seems that adding or subtracting to make this a more effective poem would subvert it’s personal value. I already lost the dolls, and I don’t want to lose the memory.

I’m quite sure my little girl—now grown up with a little girl ofher own—doesn't mourn the loss of her dolls. She does, however, keep the rabbit bank on her desk. When we visited her lately, our granddaughter showed it to me and pointed to the cheek without fur. It looks painful, she stated soberly. My reaction might have disappointed her. I smiled. Memories are a precious commodity.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Could I Explain Revelation?

Someone asked me to further explain the revelation concept I refer to so often in my blogs.

First, it isn’t knowledge acquired through our mind or emotions.

Mental knowledge is received through the senses and by all the things we’re taught at home, in school, via books or television, etc. When we reason, we use our mental knowledge to come to conclusions—and that also fits into mental knowledge.

We know things emotionally, too—what makes us laugh, and whatever fills our emotional needs. The person without emotional responses and knowledge is a sad person, indeed. Sometimes emotional needs influence our thought process. We call that type of thinking rationalization rather than reasoning, and it isn’t quite reliable.

While revelation knowledge might seem outside the norm, it’s more common than people think. There are things we intuitively know without being taught. Our constitution says some truths are self-evident. That’s a type of revelation. For example, people are born with a sense of justice. Even small children have a sense of being fair. One can reason about the benefits of being fair, but in the end fair is revelatory knowledge. One person said we know in the knower. I laughed when I heard that, but the phrase—the ability to know in the knower has stuck with me nevertheless.

Sometimes revelations are truths we initially learned with our minds—and then God revealed them to our knower and they become part of our makeup. I think I wrote in a blog once about how God revealed that He made me the way He wanted me—and that I was perfect in His eyes. Now, prior to that day I would have agreed with the God doesn’t create junk axiom and been willing to theoretically apply it to myself. But when I received it as revelation I knew it in my knower and it’s brought great peace. Since then I’ve doubted it mentally a few times, but when I reflect I know that I know God loves me as I am. It’s part of my makeup.

When we received these types of revelation, they’re usually basic doctrine. No one can argue with them because they are consistent with Scripture. However, people might be offended or put off by a bold statement.

Sometimes revelations give deeper understanding of God’s Word. Reading in the Psalms the other day I came across, Pray for peace in Jerusalem. (Ps. 122:6a) Praying for peace in Jerusalem is often interpreted as praying for the nation of Israel and I have no problem with that. But when I read these verses I suddenly remembered that God’s people of the Old Testament are representative of God’s people—His Church—today. We’re instructed to pray for peace in Jerusalem literally—the physical Jerusalem—and we’re also instructed to pray for the spiritual Jerusalem—the Body of Christ. In other words, we are to pray for peace between Christians. And for peace between Christians and the rest of society. I was pondering divisive circumstances that morning, and felt God gave me insight through the verse.

And then there are revelations that seem to come out of nowhere. They’re the hard ones. Like the time I felt God told me I should stay in Indonesia after our daughter’s wedding. She and her new husband went on their honeymoon, Ken returned to the US for his job, and I was alone in a strange country. No one was happy but everything worked out as I followed God's leading.

And there was the time I felt God told me to publish Avenues. I was so shocked that I told Him I’d give it two years. When I began I had no idea what I was doing, but every time I came to an impasse, He somehow showed me how to deal with it. From the time I started working on it until the day I closed the books, the time span was two years, give or take a couple of weeks. I’ve wondered a few times what would have happened if I hadn’t limited myself in the beginning.

On those two occasions I was absolutely sure God spoke. Not that I heard a voice or that it was confirmed by any other source. I just knew in my knower. Without question.

Most of the time, however, revelation comes as a prompt, an impression. Sometimes I run them past others—usually Ken. Sometimes I reject them, decide it was my ego or some other inner voice. Sometimes I step out, follow them as gentle leadings to see where they take me.

I feel Paul referred to this sort of knowing when he wrote, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil:2:12b,13 ESV) Paul wasn’t with the Philippians at the time, so they couldn’t ask him for direction. They had to hear from God for themselves, and if their revelation was fuzzy they would have to test it and determine His voice. In fear and trembling.

Perhaps these blogs are my best current example of a response to this type of inner knowing or revelation. I think my spirit, i.e., my knower, received direction and I’m testing what I believe is His leading. I’ve learned over the years that He doesn’t always speak loudly; He usually comes as a quiet inner voice. I’m trying to listen and respond.

Could I be wrong? Yes. That’s where fear and trembling comes in.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Our New Car

We purchased a car yesterday. A gently-used (less than 14,000 miles) 2008 Taurus, originally purchased as a rental vehicle in April.

At his core, Ken is frugal. The cars of our past were mostly economy models, at the low end of the spectrum. (We’ve had three Escorts. The third, currently our second car, boasts 236,000 miles and runs like a charm! The car we replaced was a Windstar—nothing fancy.)

I’ve had no problem with economy cars until recent years when comfort became an issue for medical reasons. Seats that don’t fit and support my lower back cause pain.

So this time we took a different approach. Let me tell you, the process was exhausting because we didn’t know exactly what we wanted and North Dakota weather didn't cooperate. It was cold out there. The car we finally bought wasn’t available when we began looking, however. Had we pushed—bought before we went on our two most recent trips—we’d have paid more for something we might not have liked as much.

Of course, buying a car in today’s economy is scary—and we’re even considering an extended warranty. This has to be an act of faith in light of the precarious nature of the automobile industry.

But we need a dependable car, and I’m glad we’ve finally made the decision so we can deal with other aspects of living.

Here’s a neat end-result I didn’t think of ahead of time. By considering my needs, Ken is blessed with things he’s wanted—a little more power, dual climate control, heated seats, readout of the exterior temperature, top-of-the line stereo system, etc. In fact, it will take time before we figure out all the features. When we finally parked it in the garage, Ken looked at me and said, You picked out a nice car. That was scary, too. I feel the burden, the responsibility. But I’m handling it, and I can tell he’s tickled.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Scary Scenario

Blogging is about the blogger, because bloggers write what they know and, what they know—or at least think they know—is themselves. I am the ever-present subject material. In fact, by definition a blog is an online journal.

I’d read the definition before I started blogging, but it didn’t compute. My approach was weekly personal essays.

As many of you know, I started not one but two blogs, each with a different emphasis. Writing two essays a week was do-able—as long as they remained my focus. When I began adding other activities, however, the load became heavy. I've a new writing objective and am having trouble getting to it. We’ve had a few wonderful trips—even an incredible visit when we met family in Ethiopia. To complicate matters further, we've had car problems. And Christmas is fast approaching.

While visiting our youngest daughter last week I thought about blogging. I thought about my readers, the number has dropped slightly. And I thought about the fact that I've been struggling with full-scale weekly essays. I shoved the concerns away because family is more compelling, but I did think about it coming home Friday evening.

Ouch. On Saturday morning I woke up thinking I should close Sunny Pathway. Hard, because unlike Red, Red Berries which has very few readers, Pathway has developed a limited following. Nevertheless, I knew I couldn't abandon Berries. Even though I’m struggling as I push my way through, I feel strongly impressed to finish writing on spiritual armor.

I told Ken, washed clothes, ran errands (including picking up new glasses), shopped for groceries, made decisions on Christmas decorations for our deck—all the stuff of daily life—and went to bed early.

At 2:30 I woke up with Sunny Pathway on my mind. Confused, I made my way to my computer and began looking at the blogs I usually read but hadn’t, because we’d been gone much of the last two weeks. Then I looked at some I visit less often. Then I read the Bible, prayed, and went back to bed.

Yesterday, Sunday morning, I woke up with the impression that I should continue, not with essays but with something closer to a journal.

This is a scary scenario. When I journal for myself, I'm prone to sloppy writing. Things like unclear pronoun references. Maybe I'll learn to correct myself as I go. Wouldn't that be nice.

But I prepared myself by changing the visual format. I want something lighter, easier to read. The other template made for an attractive blog, but the print was dense and the brown along the sides seemed heavy. In the process I deleted the picture and am unsure about including it again.

Writing in a journal format means I won’t try to maintain a schedule—even though blogging experts say fulfilling expectations with regular postings is essential for building readership. Perhaps there will be periods when I’ll write daily—followed by periods when I’ll write weekly or less frequently. As I said, this is all scary.

Consider yourself warned. Because I feel I'm led to continue, I'm trusting I'll have something to say of value. I hope I'll have something to say of value. Postings will probably be short. In addition to my ideas, I plan to include gleanings from my daily devotions. That should broaden my subject matter beyond myself a bit. But self is always present. We’ll see how it goes.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Enjoy the Season

I use a stat counter to monitor the number of people who read my blogs. During the past two weeks my readership has dwindled. Have my posts been too long? Too introspective? Do I need to make changes?

Well, yesterday I realized I’ve stopped reading the blogs I normally check, too. ‘Tis the season to be busy.

And we’ve been busy. Last week Ken and I took a four-hour road trip to visit our oldest daughter and family. A very good Thanksgiving holiday, indeed. Fun to be with them and we even accomplished some dreaded Christmas shopping. We came home Friday.

Today Ken and I are flying to visit our youngest daughter and family who live in Las Vegas. We haven’t seen them for just over a year and they won’t be home for Christmas. Ken found an inexpensive flight designed to entice gamblers and we’re taking advantage of it—although I doubt we’ll see the inside of a casino. Again, we’ll be home Friday. ‘Tis the season to be busy.

I could blog about this wonderful family of ours. When they were growing up in our home, at different times I was certain I'd ruined each one. Now I’m thrilled to realize they’ve all turned out beautifully. Actually, it sounds like bragging, but they’ve lived to flourish. If you knew me—us—you would know this is God’s grace.

The truth is, only God, people—and sometimes country—are actually important. And when it comes to people, family are at the top of the list. I've always known this but didn't always know it consciously, and I didn't live it consistently. I'm so glad God is larger than my failures.

That’s my statement this week. It needs no explication. Enjoy people, especially your family. And enjoy the season.