Friday, December 29, 2006

Saddam is dead

A little over an hour ago Saddam was hanged for crimes against humanity. This is one of those moments in history that we'll not forget.

It's a pity it overshadows the rememberances of former President Gerald Ford, who made his own history being the only man to serve as vice president and president without being elected to either office. His state funeral is tomorrow. It will be interesting to compare and contrast it with the services held for Ronald Reagan.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

An Australian Miracle

As I have probably mentioned, I'm a moderator for a prayer group that has members all over the world. We've been together for just over four years now, and during that time there have been about 10,500 prayer requests made and/or answered. It's pretty remarkable to see what God can do in those times when things seem most bleak.

Recent examples include this note I received today from a member in Australia. I don't know if many of us in the U.S. have been following the devastating fires there, but please read this and see if you don't get a few goosebumps on top of goosebumps:

From the family in Australia:

"Today it is snowing and putting out the wildfires. Usually it's very hot there ... it is summer ... usually in the 110 degrees."

This family lives in the Australian bush country where the fires are so bad. Their son had totaled their car last week. Somehow they were able to get a bank loan for a new car over the phone and the bank drove the new car out to them so they could evacuate.

Here's the last part of their note:

"All is well with us, no smoke, clear blue skies and freezing cold winds off the snow - yes snow, it's snowing on the mt peaks above us, it's snowing on the bushfires and the firefighters, it's rained and it's freezing cold and Christmas morning bought the extinguishing of many of the fires - no better gift could be hoped for :-) ..... just so tickled pink that it's cold here, such a joyous treat, a cold Christmas, oh boy it's usually over 100 degrees!"

Here's a link to a news story about this snow storm. Can you possibly read it without giving thanks?

Bushfire Black Turns White

SNOW, and plenty of it, has doused the alpine bushfires in Victoria's east, transforming the blackened landscape into a brilliant white.

Christmas revellers - enjoying a sweltering 34C - took to Perth's popular beaches, and holidaymakers in Queensland intent on getting sand between their toes were not disappointed by the muggy 32C.

Melburnians, on the other hand, shrouded by smoke for the past fortnight, had their coldest-ever Christmas Day and were pelted with hail and chilled by arctic winds.

Just days after fearing deadly fires would destroy their mountain, residents atop Mt Buller, northeast of Melbourne, were hurling snowballs at each other and shaking their heads in amazement.

Likewise, in parts of Tasmania, and Thredbo, in the NSW snow territory, snowmen were the order of the day.

As much as 30mm of snow fell at Mt Baw Baw overnight.

"I've never seen snowfall before in my life, so I thought it would be worth it on Christmas Day just to go up there and have a look," 25-year-old Peter Tuffley said, gripping girlfriend Andrea Innes in the thick snow. "I loved it, it was great."

There is more on the way for Thredbo and Perisher in NSW.

Adelaide shivered through its coldest Christmas Day in 13 years. And Hobart hasn't had a Christmas quite as cold in more than two decades.

(Click the link for the full story!)

Another ongoing prayer request has been from the sister of a young man named Kendall.

Kendall's story begins at midnight on June 30, 2006, when he began having severe chest pain and shortness of breath. It wasn't long before he and his wife Andi knew further attention was necessary and headed to the ER. The next morning he was admitted to the hospital for a CT which later revealed a large mass in his right chest.

Just about daily since then, Kendall's sister posted an evening update and prayer request for Kendall, telling our group about how his day had gone and what his prognosis is.

I feel a little at ends tonight because this is the time when she usually posted, and I usually hurried to read the request and send it on out to the group. There has been no post for the past three nights.

Here's why, from her Saturday post:

Dear prayer warriors and family in Christ,

Kendall was home in time for lunch today. :-)

Now that Kendall is home I probably will not send out an update unless there is
a specific new prayer request. ...

I just can not thank you enough for your faithful prayers. Have a very Merry

Jeremiah 29:11 'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans
to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'

2 Corinthians 9:15 'Thank God for his Son—a gift too wonderful for words!'

All I can add to that is a big ol' AMEN!

Treasured gifts

I had an ornament exchange with some friends on a message board. Here are the ones I received from a pal in Iowa:
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No girl can have too many shoes or purses. I would so wear those shoes if they came in a 6 1/2!

Here's another purse:

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And a little penguin pal. "I'm ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille!" "Is this my good side?"

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And from another pal in Glenpool came this cutie:
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But the two really meaningful gifts are these:

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The angel is from my associate minister and coffee buddy. Saturday I had mentioned that my mom's dog had eaten the ornaments that had meant the most to me, including an angel that I had gotten when I was 4 from a neighbor man who had a greenhouse/nursery in his home. This angel had been on her family tree for many years. It was such a thoughtful sharing!

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The little Christmas tree has a little secret. Open it up and you see the surprise -- a tiny little nativity! It was handmade in Belize and my friend got it when she was there on a mission trip with her son, helping to build a church.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

My own tiny Christmas miracle

Sometimes it is hard to confess just how tight our finances are. It's a matter of pride for us not to let on that we're worried about where the next gallon of gasoline may be coming from, or whether we've got enough bread and milk to make it to payday.

In order for me to tell you about my Christmas miracle, though, I have to confess it, to lay it right out there in plain sight. Financially, it's a tight time for me. This whole year has been a pinch, no kidding.

I'm self employed, so I have no benefits that come from working for a company. Sure there's no doubt there are other ways I could make money. I admit right here also that I'd like to think I could still earn a living in my profession after a 30-year career. (Lord, yes, it also hurts to confess that 30-year thing...)

Anyway, my income has been less than minimum wage, to be perfectly honest. And from that I have to pay all of my business expenses, including equipment costs and all that blah-blah. Every penny that I earn is important and valuable.

This year I've had a summer full of expenses for my car as well as a big chunk of money spent to attend the funeral of an aunt, my dad's last surviving sibling. Those two particular things put me behind the 8-ball. And last month one of my editors forgot to pay me. Yeah, that was a real treat.

But the paycheck I get this coming week is supposed to include that pay, along with some extra bits and bobs I picked up last month. It will be a pretty nice check, if everything was handled right along the way.

Ah, but see, that check doesn't come until Saturday the 30th. And I'm flat broke. I've held on to $7 in one-dollar bills for the past two weeks to make sure I had money for my Saturday morning coffee meeting with a good friend and minister. A friend blessed me with a gift certificate that same week. I felt so blessed all inside and out for that simple, wonderful gift.

Last week I was doing some cleaning and stumbled across a little packet of folded up money. I figured it might be a couple of bills, but when I unfolded it, it was $5. OH my! I knew I could cut back to a small coffee and put the change in with my other $7 I was still pinching, and have enough for a coffee and a couple of gallons of gasoline. But then I saw a small cocoa was less, and it was a better substitute for my usual white chocolate mocha. I didn't miss my usual at all! (In fact I may switch to cocoa!)

I could give you more examples of those small moments where I've stretched a buck or found some loose change in a pocket, but the point is I've been blessed to have ENOUGH.

I wasn't so sure about Christmas eve and Christmas day, though.

It was important to me to celebrate my holiday alone this year. I NEED this holiday alone. It's hard to confess that too. We're made as social creatures and it's just peculiar to want to be alone at Christmas. But I have my reasons, many of them.

I've been stretching the food budget all month, cooking at home and making things that will stretch for several day. Who can seriously say that grabbing something at a drive-through is better than having a pot roast with onions, carrots and potatoes? Or cooking a turkey breast or a ham? All of these things are great reheated or used in sandwiches and they make several meals. My crock pot and my oven are my friends!

Even so. My last pot roast is past its prime at this point (or Past the Point of No Return, I'd say), and the ham bone is ready to go in the bean pot. Tasty, but not festive enough for Christmas celebration, even if I am going solo. The cupboard isn't quite bare, but there's mostly small cans of veggies in there -- great side dishes, but we need a centerpiece.

Somehow, I still have $3 or $4 from that $7 that's been lasting all month. I knew that wasn't going to cut it, so I was delighted when I remembered I still had ONE PIGGY BANK I hadn't yet tapped. It was a giant Hershey bar piggy bank that was so full it wouldn't hold anything else.
I knew the Hershey bar would be stuffed with pennies, but I thought there might be enough other change in there to cover the cost of some ground beef and a bag of potatoes. I started shaking out my riches. The first handsful were all pennies. I moved down to the floor, where my cardboard cutting board from sewing last night was still unfolded. Makes a great counting surface.

I kept shaking and shaking. A few quarters -- wonderful! Tons of nickels and dimes. Things look good again! Ah, but something's cloggin the opening.

One dollar bill. Then another. Then ... $7. All in one-dollar bills.

I shook until there was no more rattling. Then I checked inside with my finger just one more time and felt another bill in there. Hmmmm... maybe I can get some real chocolate?

I pulled the bill out and started crying. It was $20. Oh my gosh. I started crying harder. Not because this meant a GREAT feast, but because of the many times in my life when I've been blessed by a $20 bill when I was in real need.

There was the time I was walking at the mall, penniless, and looked down to see a $20 on the floor in front of me, with absolutely not another person anywhere close to it. I did what I thought was the right thing and turned it in to a clerk at the closest store, figuring someone would need that enough to come back trying to find it. Yeah, the clerk thought I was a fool for sure.

Funny thing ... that same hour, I went home and walked my dog in the little park across from my apartment. Just the two of us among the trees as she did her business. And there, against the trunk of the tree in front of me, was a $20 bill.

I kid you not.

I started laughing, looked at the sky and said "Thanks, God. I get it. And I thank you."

That's exactly how I felt again today when the last thing in the Hershey bank was a $20.

I folded up those extra $7, by the way, and put them in the spot where I keep my coffee money. I'll make it through, for sure, until that check comes.

So then what? I jumped up, put that $20 in my pocket with the dribs of the month's money, and hopped over to the grocery store before it closed for Christmas eve. I got a 5-lb. bag of potatoes, some bananas and a couple of oranges -- one for tonight and one for tomorrow. Then I headed back to pick up some ground beef. And stopped in my tracks, when I saw the butcher moving around turkeys that had just been marked down. I had a $9 package of ground beef in my hand that I put back, and instead got an 11-pound turkey for $7.25. Yes indeed. A feast will be had here tomorrow.

I picked up a package of frozen yeast rolls, a $3 pizza for tonight, a half gallon of skim milk and a bottle of Diet Coke (on sale for 88 cents).

Guess what my total was? OK, I'll tell you. $20.84. I guess God made me pay for that Diet Coke myself. LOL!

Every time I have one of these events in my life, I remember the hymn "His Eye Is on the Sparrow." Let not your heart be troubled.

More than my petty budgeting issues, let's take tonight to remember the even greater gift given to us.

Luke 2:10-11:

The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.

May peace and joy be yours this day.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Wow, you want more?

Hi there everyone, and welcome to Rave! Glad to have another local reader!

When I started to write today's update, I took advantage of the opportunity to switch over to Blogger Beta. I think they've gotten enough of the bugs worked out to make it worthwhile now to go ahead. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that things work correctly.

Well, no, the hairspray and makeup stuff didn't really kill me, but it has been a pretty busy week or so since I last posted. That's usually a very good thing because it means more income, but more importantly it means I'm getting to meet new people. And most of the people I meet are incredibly interesting in some form or fashion. It's always a pleasure to be able to tell their stories about their lives and what they are doing.

And of course the holidays are upon us. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. My handbell choir will be playing for the morning service -- we've cut back to just one morning service for tomorrow only because we'll have three evening services with communion.

I've got a project in the works this afternoon. The granddaughter of my friend (associate minister at my church) is getting a baby dollie for Christmas. And I happened to have some fleece at the house, so I am going to make a no-sew blankie for the little girl, with one for the dollie to match, plus a matching pillow so they can all take their naps together. The fleece happens to match a prayer blanket I made for the little girl's great-grandmother last month. (see photo below)

I wish you all a very happy Christmas eve and Christmas day! May the joy of Christ's birth be in your heart! That's the best story any of us could ever tell.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

What a night

I've been painted up and duded up tonight -- there's even HAIR SPRAY in my graying locks.

The fancy dress is back in the closet until there's another "occasion" and it's time to scrub off the extra makeup before my face cracks.

Yes folks, it was all for a Christmas Banquet -- a formal occasion for a professional association, which I was invited to attend when an editor/friend couldn't go.

There's a big ol' part of me that hates this stuff, being the unhitched person I am. I go to these things alone, which is in itself intimidating enough. And though I know many people in this particular industry, I'm still the odd person out, which can be mighty uncomfortable.

It probably was not as bad as I feared earlier. I had on my good-smellum and some shiny object hanging around my neck, to go with the ozone-depleting spray that lacquered my hair, so no one stared agog at me like I was some freak. I shared a table with six people, none of whom were actually members of this industry. They were "associate members" of the association, meaning they are in related fields and were invited to create even tighter business connections for the new year.

Dinner was great, I have to say. Prime rib AND lobster, with asparagus and doctored up potatoes and a great little chocolate mousse with berries. My companions and I were seated at the "undone" table. Silverware had been tossed on the table, sort of in place settings, but sloppily, and without napkins, centerpiece, glasses or drink pitchers. Yeah, the crew got distracted before they finished up our table, and I had to ask four times for someone to bring us napkins. But hey, we pretty much wound up with what we needed and we all enjoyed our meal and our conversations.

There were plenty of awards and installation of officers. That's where the people I know were -- at the numbered tables in the center front of the room. The new president of this group had his family and employees there, and they took up well over half of all the seats in the room. It was great fun watching them celebrate his installation.

I made my departure when the dancing portion of the program started. It was a good time to say goodnight to my table companions.

I'll feel better when the makeup comes off and I can brush the glue out of my hair. Getting fancy is nice, once in a while, but getting normal is even better.

Monday, December 04, 2006

What could be better?

My usual Sunday evening habit involves watching English comedies on OETA (PBS). I usually set aside "me" time to watch "Keeping up Appearances," "As Time Goes By" and "The Vicar of Dibley."

Well, imagine my delight when at the end of "Vicar" (the Christmas pageant episode, BTW, good to the bone!) OETA goes straight into "Great Performances: A Tribute to James Taylor."

Swoooooon! I was taken right back to 1973 when his music first warmed up my heart. How could it not when you hear Carole King singing "You've Got a Friend" as Taylor sat in the audience. My heart was beating faster, hoping against hope that he would leap up on the stage and sing with her.

And then, a voice cracked with emotion picks up "Winter, spring, summer or fall..." as Taylor walks onstage (from the back. Like the rest of us James is past the leaping on stage part of life.)

Now he's singing "Shed a Little Light" -- a song written to honor the birthday of Martin Luther King. Beautiful. Beautiful.

His final song for the night: "How Sweet It Is (to be loved by you). Taylor's brother, Livingston, his two youngest boys and wife joined the party onstage.

Tonight I celebrate the serendipity of stumbling across this program at the exact moment my spirit needed it. What a great way to bid goodnight to this weekend. And my memory flies back to that time in 1973 when several of my friends and I sat around on a Friday night at the Wesley foundation listening to a James Taylor album playing on the stereo, in candlelight. It got very quiet that night when "You've Got a Friend" played, until the chorus.

Through the dark, through the years...

you just call out my name, and you know wherever I am I'll come running to see you again.