Monday, December 27, 2010

Cure for Holiday Loneliness

As I waited in a cashier's line just before Christmas, I overheard a poignant revelation of loneliness.
The cashier asked a customer, "Are you ready for Christmas?"

"I don't celebrate Christmas," was the reply.  "My husband died; my mother died, and my daughter died, so I don't celebrate."

I pitied the cashier who was trying to be cheerful, but we both pitied the lonely woman.

Something about the holidays amplifies loneliness.
from: Midlife Country
What about you? Does the week between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day seem an eternity, because  someone is missing in your life? Do you feel isolated in a new neighborhood?  Are you lonely, because you can't communicate with someone important in your life?  Whatever the cause, unwelcome solitude leaves us sad and empty.  Furthermore, loneliness affects both genders, all age groups, and knows no geographic boundaries.

However, the Christmas story holds hope for those who are alone.  Tucked at the end of the nativity narrative are three verses in Luke chapter two about a widow who learned to live by herself but with joy.  In less than a hundred words, Luke, the physician, historian, and author, elevates this widow as a role-model for any lonely soul.
Aren't de Gelder (1645-1727)
This long-standing friendship between the Almighty and the prophetess gives us an alternative to loneliness. Certainly, Anna was alone. Widows customarily were sheltered by relatives, but she lived in the temple.

As a widow for so long, Anna could have pitied herself in the present and lived in the past. Instead, she turned her loneliness into happy solitude serving the Lord. How did she serve?  Luke calls Anna a prophetess, someone who spoke God's Word back to the people. I am sure because Scripture tells us that she served the Lord day night, that she also spent a lot of time repeating His promises back to Him!  Obviously, Anna had taken to heart the truth of Psalm one:  "Happy is the man (or woman) who meditates day and night on the Law of the Lord."

What was she praying for?  She was praying for deliverance for her people; she was asking the Lord to send his promised Messiah.

After six decades of praying, she was in the right place at exactly the right time to encounter Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child when they came for Mary's ritual purification forty days after giving birth.  In answer to her prayers, Anna was on hand to witness the presentation of Mary's son at the temple.
The prophetess must have been overjoyed when old Simeon--also righteous and devout--took the baby in his arms and prayed, "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation...a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)

Hearing these words, the faithful widow recognized the six-week-old baby as "the Consolation of Israel, the Messiah."

However, the account does not end there.  Immediately, Luke tells us, Anna told those who were looking for redemption of Jerusalem about the child.  The prophetess must have been part of a group of faithful who read the Scrolls and watched for Messiah's coming.

Rembrandt's Anna the Prophetess
Undoubtedly, these soul-mates provided this widow, without family, a community.  In spite of isolating life-circumstances, Anna was doubly comforted by God and fellow believers.

What gems of help are in this story for us.  We do not have to entertain ourselves with TV, music, and movies to avoid emptiness and isolation.  Nor do not have to fill our waking hours with frenetic activity to avoid loneliness.  The prophetess chose a soul-satisfying alternative--prayer. We can do the same.

Christ, our Consoler and Deliverer, left us this invitation, "I stand at the door and knock, if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me" (Revelation 3:21).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Keep Christmas Eve Simple, but Sacred

Here is a festive, but simple Christmas eve supper.  I always try to keep the menu green and red.  Maybe you can take a couple of these ideas to add to your customary fare. I simplify the menu to keep the emphasis on the reason for the season, a celebration of Christ's coming birth!

First course, virgin strawberry Bacardi.  This is simple to make.  Get the strawberry Barcardi in the frozen food section, usually next to the frozen oj and lemonade. I blend it using less water than called for on the can, but adding a couple of cups of ice cubes to the blender. In your glass ware, carefully pour in the slushy mixture, add frozen whole strawberries and a slice of lemon for garnish.

Second course, broccoli soup.  I have used this recipe for years, and it is never-fail. You can make it ahead and simply warm it in the crock pot a couple of hours before you eat.

Fresh Broccoli Soup

2- 1 pound lunches of fresh broccoli
2 cups water
a can chicken broth
a teaspoon dried whole marjoram
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 large carrots, scraped and sliced
1 medium onion, quartered
1/2 skim milk

Cut broccoli in one nice pieces, removing leaves and touch lower stalks.  Combine everything except milk in  a dutch oven cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, until veggies are tender.

Remove 2 cups of the flowerets from soup mixture with slotted spoon; set aside.  Spoon half soup mixture into blender, process until smooth.  Repeat with rest of soup.  (You can chill all of the soup until an hour or so before serving.)

Put soup mixture and milk and reserved broccoli flowerets into crock pot.  Warm until thoroughly heated.

Makes about 6 cups of soup.

Third course, hot chicken salad cooked in individual red ramekins, peas with pearl onion, and spinach salad dotted with pomegranate seeds and fresh mushroom slices, and dinner rolls.  

You can make this a day ahead to eliminate the last minute rush.

Hot Chicken Salad

4 cups cold cubed chicken
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon slat
2 cups chopped celery
4 hardboiled eggs
3/4 cups cream of chicken soup
1 teaspoon minced onion
2 pomentoes chopped
1 and 1/2 cup crushed potato chips
1 cup grated cheese
2/3 cup toasted slivered almonds
Combine all ingredients except cheese, chips, and almonds in ramekins.  Top with cheese, chips, then almonds.  Refrigerate overnight.  Bake 400 decrees for 20 minutes.

Serve with spinach salad. (Wash spinach, then toss with pomegranate seeds, fresh mushroom slices, and toss with Raspberry vinaigrette dressing.)

The fourth course is peppermint pie.  Purchase an Oreo cookie crust and peppermint ice cream.  Thaw the ice cream and place in pie crust.  Freeze.  After slicing, top with mint sprigs and maraschino cherry.

After our Christmas Eve supper, we open some gifts, and attend a ten p.m. candlelight Service of Lessons and Carols.

If you aren't familiar with the Service of Lessons and Carols, it began in Cornwall, England on Christmas Eve in 1880.  The a medieval liturgy began with the lessons on the fall of man. Subsequent lessons illustrated the story of redemption, from the Old and New Testaments, each supplemented with carols about Christ's coming. 

By 1918, the service had jelled into nine lessons and carols arranged by the newly appointed dean of the King's College in Cambridge, Eric Milner-White. 

The dean's order of Scripture readings has remained constant, but the carols can vary from year to year. As he explained, "The main theme is the development of the loving purposes of God...seen through the windows and words of the Bible."

Traditionally, the service begins with "Once in David's Royal City" with readings given by participants starting with the youngest and culminating with the most revered member of the community.  The Scriptures for the lessons are as follows:

Lesson 1:  Genesis 3:8-15, 17-19
Lesson 2:  Genesis 22:15-18
Lesson 3:  Isaiah 9:2, 6, 6
Lesson 4:  Isaiah 11:1-3a, 4a, 6-9
Lesson 5:  Luke 1:26-35, 38
Lesson 6:  Luke 2: 3-7
Lesson 7:  Luke 2:8-16
Lesson 8:  Matt 2:1-12
Lesson 9:  John 1:1-14

In 1928, the service began to be broadcast on the BBC, a custom which continues to the present.

Happily, the tradition spread to America, with the first carols service in this country performed at Appleton Chapel in Harvard Yard in December 1909.  

Today, the Service of Lessons and Carols is performed during the advent season all over the world.

If your church doesn't have such a service, inaugurate one in your family.  Begin with the youngest reading member of the family and proceed to the patriarch who can read the final lesson.  To keep everyone's attention, intersperse carols.

I pray that you and yours have a joy-full celebration of the Savior's birth.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent by Candlelight

A reader of my blog, Sheri Deloach, agreed to be a guest blogger on my site this week.  Below you will find her photos and descriptions of the women's Christmas tea hosted every year at her church in Waco, Texas:  

"I wish that every woman could be a participant in an Advent by Candlelight! This is the fifth year that our church has had this event, and it continues to be a highlight for our women along with other women from different churches."  

"Several months prior to the event, the prayer team prayed faithfully that this event would go well and glorify Christ."  

From Sheri's descriptions, those prayers were answered.  Below is a sample table decorated for the tea.  

"A friend and I were hosts for the one of the tables," Sheri said,  "After deciding on the theme, ‘ The Nativity’, and the basic colors of cobalt blue, white, and silver, things fell into place " 
"We provided dessert for our guests and the church served coffee and wassail. Our guests were seated and we served them from beginning to end. It is nice to be served and even nicer to be the server!"

"The program was awesome, given by a woman from San Antonio who portrayed Mary, mother of Jesus. She was dressed in white, with a scarf around her head, barefoot as she walked into the auditorium to strains of ‘Mary did you know?’"

Virgin in Prayer by Sassoferrato, 1640-50
"The dramatist started by telling how an angel appeared to her and told her that she was chosen to be the mother of Jesus, the Messiah! Mary made the story come to life. She accepted that it was God’s plan for her to be the mother of Jesus. The drama included Jesus’ life from childhood to manhood. The actress revealed, Mary’s emotions as a mother.  With the ending of his life on the cross, we felt her raw emotions." 

"Thankfully, we know that Jesus arose from tomb, transformed with a new body. He lives on high with his father, God in Heaven. As true believers we will be with Jesus one day!"  What a cause for celebration! 

With Christmas only a week away, you may want to wait until next year to plan an advent tea, or you could start now and plan an Advent by Candlelight for Epiphany. This holiday, sometimes called  Twelfth Night, is celebrated on January 6th to commemorate the Messiah's revelation to the Gentile Magi.   
Adoration of the Magi by Fra Angelico & Filippo Lippo
To simplify your planning, Sheri included the instructions below for planning such an event. 
Hostess Information

Our church's tables fit ____ (you fill in the number).  Please call (insert name of your organizer) with your list of names by (date) ___, and ALSO when you add or subtract  a guest at your table.  Don’t feel obligated to fill your table.  We have some ladies that have signed up and need a place to sit. Postcards will be provided to mail to your guests to remind them of the event. 
  • We will supply white table cloths and clear plastic plates for serving your desserts once they are sliced or cut. 
  • You can add runners, placemats, etc.
  • You provide Christ-centered table decorations; no secular pieces, please.  
  • Candles are a must!
  • You will also need to bring:
    • Dessert plates (plastic plates will be placed on top of your dessert plates)
    • Coffee cups
    • Water pitcher
    • Silverware
    • Napkins
    • Utensil to serve dessert 
    • a large serving tray
  • Please also bring enough dessert to serve your table. 
  1. Plan to have your table decorated and set by 6 pm. The room will be open by 10:30 am, if you want to decorate early.                                                                
  2. When you arrive for the evening:
  • Place your dessert on the “dessert table” against the wall.  
  • Prepare your dessert on individual dessert plates that are provided and leave them on your serving tray on the dessert table.  .  
  • Put ice in cups.  The guests will have two opportunities to get their own coffee at the coffee stations: 1) at the beginning during “visitation of tables” and 2) while you are serving the dessert. 
  • Greeters will be available the night of the event to show guests to your table. 
  • Schedule:
    • 10:30 a.m.– 2:00 p.m.    Doors will be open to decorate tables.
    • 4:30 – 5:45 p.m.              Doors will open again to decorate tables.
    • 5:45 – 6:15 p.m.               Prepare desserts and leave on dessert tables
    • 6:30 – 6:50 p.m.             Visitation of tables.  Encourage ladies to get drinks.
    • 6:50 – 7:05 p.m.              Invocation 
    • 7:05 – 7:35 p.m.               Program
    • 7:35 – 7:55 p.m.               Dessert and more coffee
    • 7:55 – 8:30 p.m.              Benediction and Fellowship
Sheri, thank you so much for sharing all this practical and inspirational information.  Hopefully this will encourage others to organize an advent tea at their church! 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Taking on Martha Stewart

Move over, Martha; the Piepgrass women want to go head-to-head with your "Living" team in decorating for Christmas.
The day after Thanksgiving, my two daughters got into a craft-mode, so we went to the one strip mall in Lancaster that is home to both Michaels and AC Moore.  (Only in a community where the population values thriftiness, simplicity, and self-reliance could two craft stores thrive in the same mall!)  Fitting right in with the locals, we joined the matrons-of-home-making.

Anna decided to replicate the wreathes her sister had made.

She purchased three straw, eight inch wreathes,
some cotton batting,  sheets of moss,

and some 3-inch wide wired satan ribbon.
On an old blanket, Anna laid out the supplies, plus scissors and hot glue gun.  First, she wrapped the straw wreaths in strips of cotton batting, gluing as she wrapped.  This gave the rather thin wreathes some heft.  Next, she cut two or three inch wide strips of the moss and wrapped and glued it to cover the cotton.  Finally, she attached the wreaths with ribbon, leaving a long tail on the bottom wreath.

This wreath joined Anna's other unique decorations, such as gold ornaments in glass cube and white porcelain snowflake-pierced candle pillars.

In the same room, delicate white porcelain blossoms sit on a twig-based side table complete with hanging gold filigree ornaments.

Oversized silver Christmas bells jingle from the door, and jumbo ornaments fill an industrial wooden crate.
Finally, hydrangeas uniquely are juxtaposed to berries.  And in the windows, freeze-dried boxwood mini-topiaries add unexpected Christmas green.

In her home, Rachel created a number of low-budget, easy-to-make, yet visually-powerful crafts.  Take a look at the pyramid of stacked thick candy canes and the peppermint covered Styrofoam ball she made for her dining room.

A huge tree full of ornaments can be very expensive.  So, Rachel purchased a couple of bags of silver and gold potpourri, glued some together, and hung them with half-inch wide ribbon.  It's the ribbon that gives this tree punch!

In fact, Rachel used ribbon throughout her home to make it festive.  Here is her entrance-way bookcase decked with different widths of ribbon.

She even tied ribbons around the necks of her silver pheasants on her table.

And a last winning idea was tying her packages with Christmas balls.

My girls inspired me!  After they left, I made my own pilgrimage to the craft stores for supplies.  I decided to make one large, square wreathe, because a door knocker sits in the center of my door. So,
I purchased a 12 x 12 inch shadow box and had my husband remove the back panel, leaving me a bottomless box.

Then I purchased about forty packages of small red balls--some shiny, some mat--the kind which are twisted together like grapes. (They were on a very good sale, reduced well below the lowest price marked!)

To affix the clusters to the shadow box, I drilled holes in the top and the sides of the frame about two inches apart.  Then, I sprayed the frame red.

Next, I poked the cluster of stems into the holes on the top of the shadow box frame--filling every hole except two on the corners for my bow.  

Then I moved to the outside of the frame.  Here I left every other hole empty.  Then I moved to the inside of the frame and filled the remaining holes with clusters. Finally, I attached my bow using the two empty corner holes.

I also made a companion decoration for our inset doorway. Using the wire basket which had graced my patio table in the summer and was filled with gourds and pumpkins in the fall, I purchased about thirty heavy, white porcelain, tree ornaments which were on sale at Michaels for a dollar each.  I sprayed them with foam snow, topping the basket with bow.  Now it looks like we have enough snow balls for a real battle.

One last money saving tip...I took the plant I had used for Thanksgiving. 

 It still looked fresh, so rather than toss it, I bought some spray paint from a florist and transformed the orange blossoms to red!

All three of us had a jolly time coming up with some new Christmas decorations.  Christ's birthday is certainly worth celebrating!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Giving Thanks When You Don't Feel Thankful

You make a table-scape to get in the mood.  You plan your menus for the weekend, but you don't feel thankful.  Did you ever have a Thanksgiving like that?  Maybe you are facing a debilitating illness.  Maybe you are out of a job.  Maybe you have lost a loved one.  Maybe your family is disintegrating.  Maybe God has not answered your prayer yet.  Bottom don't feel thankful.

The only cure for a numb, ungrateful heart is to give thanks anyway. As it says in I Thessalonians 5:18, "In everything give thanks." Even if your situation is overwhelming, there are blessings to be counted.  Even if your heart aches, even if you wonder about tomorrow, look for and be appreciative of God's goodnesses.

No matter how bleak life seems, you can still find God's mercy. Recently, I have been studying Job. If anyone deserved to be ungrateful, it was Job.  He lost his possessions and all ten of his children.  Then he lost his health.  Still he worshiped the Lord.
Job, painted by Leon Bonnat, 1880
As the account unfolds, we see Job is human. He genuinely grapples with his suffering.  He doesn't understand God's ways.  He has daily sacrificed and confessed every sin on his conscience.  So, he asks, "Why are you allowing me to suffer,  Lord?"

With him we ask, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" We all wrestle with this age-old philosophical dilemma, and it is magnified in this righteous man's case.  But, look more closely at the story and count some of Job's blessings with me.

First, Job could praise God because, although he had sowed wild oats in his youth (Job 13:26), the Lord had graciously corrected his path.  Consequently, when calamity struck, Job's default-mode was to turn away from evil and toward God.  Automatically, he found his way down the well-worn path to worship...even in grief.  What a comforting habit!

Second, the Lord graciously placed Job in an eastern culture which expressed grief overtly, thus providing a healthy release-valve for mourning.

Third, God kindly sent three friends who sat with Job in silence; those days of companionship in fresh grief were a blessing.
The Patient Job by Gerard Seghers located in the National Gallery in Prague
The fourth mercy at first seems to be a cruelty, until it is analyzed more closely.  After the week of silence, Job's friends (wanting to help their friend) encouraged him to confess any hidden wrong to relieve his suffering. How hurtful was that? Yet, Job held to his clear conscience, contending that although some pain is a result of evil, that is not always the cause. For thirty-eight chapters, Job and his friends argue. This prolonged debate was a mercy to Job in many ways:  it allowed Job to verbally process his grief, purging any misplaced guilt. It gave him time to heal, and it forced him to focus more on what he knew to be true of God, than on how he felt.  

God's fifth mercy to Job was sending a younger man who, rather than judge the sufferer, listened and encouraged the older man to view suffering, not as punishment, but as a teaching tool.  "The Lord actually delivers in suffering, speaks in affliction, and woos from distress." This new perspective prepared Job to hear God.

At the apex of Job's account, the Lord extends the sixth and grandest mercy.  Understanding how frail the suffering man is, rather than answer Job's accusations, he takes Job on a vicarious journey.  Before National Geographic filmed Earth, Job was allowed by God to see evidences of His creative power and superiority.

In response, Job says, "My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.  Therefore,....I repent in dust and ashes" (Job. 42:5, 6).
by Alex Frozen

Finally, in an abundantly gracious denouement, God pours out his seventh and final mercy:  He accepts Job's prayer of repentance, vindicates him before his friends, renews his relationship with his brothers, sisters, and acquaintances, doubles his livestock, gives him ten more children, and crowns him with a long, full life.

But, how does this help you this Thanksgiving, if you aren't feeling grateful?

The New Testament book of James, applies Job's account encouraging us.  As you prepare for the holiday, if you feel even slightly like Job with troubles that supersede your blessings, remember the patient Old Testament character. "You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about.  The Lord is full of compassion and mercy" (James 5:10-11).

Let us take heart, look more closely at our own situation, then take a lesson from Job and the pilgrims (who "made seven times more graves than huts....nevertheless, set aside a day of thanksgiving"  H. U. Westermayer).

and number the Lord's bountiful mercies.

Actually, we each have the same choice Job had:  "Curse God and die, or praise God and live!"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Seaside Excursion

Over the weekend, the ladies of Gracious Interiors Ministry met to collaborate on our talks and workshops.

As soon as we landed at the spankin' new airport serving Panama City, Destin, and Seaside, the clues of our location greeted us--balmy weather and...

an unusually long row of wheelchairs for such a small airport!  Yes, we were in Florida!

We stayed in Lakeside, one of the Sandestin communities.  On our walks we were charmed by the white picket fences and Caribbean-colored cottages, from apricot...

to lemon...

to a hint of plum.

Each was unique and had old-fashioned appeal.  Our quarters, compliments of one lady's niece, were a lime-colored cottage and guest house. 

The interior was cozy and comfortable.

The Sandestin/Lakeside communities includes a golf resort, lakes, and bike paths.  Manicured vegetation--oleander, hibiscus, and coconut palms flourish in the year-around sun.  No wonder snow birds fly south!

Besides working two full days on our women's weekend plans, the three couples watched football, ate out, and did a little sight seeing.

We ladies even managed to squeeze in a little shopping.  Our favorite shop was Pizitz Home & Cottage. Robert and Daryl Davis, shop owners and developers of Seaside, have compiled an amazing collection of linen upholstered pieces and ceramic wall sculptures,

 industrially-inspired tables,

 and clean-lined glass lamps.
If you are looking for table-scape inspiration the Davis' shop used ceramic cylinders and

and pottery bowls.
For more home interior inspiration check out their website:

Or for inspiration for your soul's interior think about having the three of us put together a women's weekend for your church or club.  We have titled our weekend:  Cross Training Across Generations.  For more information, you can contact Gracious Interiors Ministry by leaving a comment on this blog.