‘Twas the Saturday before Thanksgiving

…and all through the house, all the creatures went shopping, except for this mouse.

So I sat and I listened to sounds of quiet cheer, and thanked God again for joy soon here.

I’m supposed to be cleaning, but before I begin–I wanted to write this thankful note for both kith and kin.

Those near and those far, I never forget–each face, through my memory, some I have never met.

I stop for a moment and bend my knee, giving thanks for they’ve given so abundantly to me.

A smile, a kind word or prayer and a gift–letting the dross of my much-ness be all a-sift.

I thank God and intercede for all left unsaid…and remember those feelings which hold weighty tread.

Then I pause and give thanks for my enemies, too–a tool in God’s hand, shaping the much and the few

of my faults and my pride and the things that must go, so I walk boldly by faith and see wisdom grow.

The years laid down carried many such tools, to resent such pressure is the making of fools.

I grasp now in my heart thankfulness for all, the easy and hard, the big and the small.

For I know to my marrow such unmerited grace. And I look ’round overwhelmed, by the hope of Christ’s face.

To you, my brother, and you, my sister–the stranger, the miser, the resentful mister…

Be blessed this Thanksgiving and forget not a one–give thanks to the Father in the light of the Son.

With joyful love from our home to yours!

Happy Thanksgiving

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Do You Really Want to Know?

Is this conversation familiar to you?

“Hi!  How are you doing?”

“Fine, how are you?”

“Oh, I’m okay.”

“Good talking with you, have a good day.”

“Yeah, you too.”

How about this one? Seem familiar?

“I just heard what happened! I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Thank you, no, we are fine.”

“Well, if you can think of anything, please don’t hesitate to call me.”

Have you ever been one of the participants in such conversations? Do you feel like you have at least offered your help or showed some concern with either conversation?

I have, almost daily.

Part of my job is answering a customer service phone line. It’s unbelievable how many times the conversations start with, “Hi, how are you today?”  I can get pretty frustrated, because they don’t really want to know.  They don’t want to know that my ankles hurt so badly I can barely walk on them in the mornings, or that I didn’t sleep last night so I’m falling asleep at the keyboard now, or that my son just called and he really doesn’t want to go to school today and I have to somehow convince a 17 year old over the phone that he does in fact have to go to school, or that I have about 10 bills due that I have to figure out how to pay, or ……  I think you get the picture.

It’s programmed into us to ask insincere questions and respond with insincere answers.  It’s a canned response that we give without a second thought when we greet people.

But I wonder…what if we really asked because we really wanted to know how someone was doing or what we could really do for someone during a time of need?

I just had a friend ask me how I was doing. While I responded with a canned response, I also went on from there and had a moment of a real conversation with her. Her husband had recently had surgery, her father had recently passed away, her family was hurting in ways that I knew about, and she was about to become a grandmother. I could have chosen any number of things to show genuine concern because I am genuinely concerned about her. Even after she walked off I thought of her circumstances and prayed.

That’s what genuine concern does. It reaches out, it takes part, it lifts up, it encourages, it stands in the gap, it takes a moment and gives space for someone else’s tears. Genuine concern asks you a second time, while making eye contact, “How are you really doing?”

I was recently at an event that was emotional for me, but I tried to keep those emotions pressed down. I made it through the event just fine, but afterwards, as the place was clearing out, one of the workers asked me how I was doing. She knew the event was stressful for me. She knew that I had to revisit memories of recently lost loved ones.

I gave the canned response and continued to prepare to exit the building as quickly as possible. But I was stopped by this sweet lady taking my hands.

She stilled my busyness, touching me, forcing me to make eye contact and then she asked again, “How are you really?”

The tears came then because truthfully, I wasn’t okay.

In that moment, I found healing. Suddenly about 7 women surrounded me, all touching me somehow, all crying with me, all understanding completely without words the pain I was in. There was community in the truth.  There was a sisterhood that connected us, because none of us are as “fine” as we say.

It only lasted for a few moments, but I was forever changed. No longer can I give the canned response and no longer can I ask the question unless I really want to take time to find out how someone is.

Like the beggar outside the Temple…

Now Peter and John were going up together to the temple complex at the hour of prayer at three in the afternoon.  And a man who was lame from birth was carried there and placed every day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so he could beg from those entering the temple complex. When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple complex, he asked for help. Peter, along with John, looked at him intently and said, “Look at us.” So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them. But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” Then, taking him by the right hand he raised him up, and at once his feet and ankles became strong. So he jumped up, stood, and started to walk, and he entered the temple complex with them —walking, leaping, and praising God.

Acts. 3:1-8 HCSB

The beggar wasn’t expecting anything other than what he had always been given…. little attention and little time. But Peter and John stopped, made eye contact, gave space to someone else’s need, and changed a life.

What if, instead of asking what we can do to help someone, we just show up with dinner one night? We knock on the door of a friend going through a rough time and offered to watch the kids while she takes a bath, do the dishes and put on a load of laundry? What if, instead of passing people by, we actually stopped and chatted with them, listening more than speaking? What if, we truly made space for other people in our schedule?

What if we just simply made eye contact and asked with a sincere heart,

“How are you really?”

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The Care and Feeding of High Maintenance Friends

A few weeks ago, I got a phone message from an acquaintance with a question about real estate. Fair enough, I am a real estate agent, after all. However, I was not in a location where I had access to a computer or the internet. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back to her with an answer to her question until the next day. Also, I really wasn’t able to return her call right away to tell her, which I would normally do out of courtesy for anyone who left me a message with a question that would require me some time to get back to them.

However, this nagging voice in the back of my mind kept telling me, “You’d better call her back sooner than later. You know she’ll get her feelings hurt if you don’t call her. She’ll think you’re mad at her and then she’ll get mad at you and think that you’ve been avoiding her.”

The entire situation frustrated me and got me thinking, “Why can’t this person ever extend grace and just give people the benefit of the doubt? Why does she take things so personally? Does she really want me calling her because I’m afraid she’ll be hurt and get mad if I wait until tomorrow? Wouldn’t she rather me call because I WANT to, not because I feel like I HAVE to? Why is she so sensitive and high maintenance?

I’m sure we all can think of someone we know who is over-sensitive. We walk on egg shells around them because we never know when something we say innocently is going to cause a problem. They seem to have a vortex of drama constantly swirling around them and if we’re not careful, we get sucked in before we know it. Perhaps she is a friend or relative.

Or perhaps that person is the one we see when we look in the mirror. Ouch!

I believe there are several reasons a person might be high maintenance. One might be insecurity or low self-esteem. They need to get their validation from others, so when a phone call is returned “too late” or someone pokes a little fun, they internalize it and feel rejection, rather than consider the other possibilities of why a phone call may not be returned right away or laugh at something that might really be funny, not hurtful.

Another possibility is self-centeredness. Perhaps they feel that the world really should revolve around them. When they say jump, the rest of us better respond with how high? They don’t take into consideration the fact that someone else might be having a bad day, or previous plans that kept them from jumping at that moment.

Closely tied with self-centeredness may be control issues. They like to control their world and when others don’t cooperate with their plan, someone is going to pay.

I have to admit, when I was younger, I was much more sensitive than I am now.  My poor husband can vouch for that! The main thing that helped me “get over myself” was God’s Word and what He had to say about what He thinks of me.

So what do we do when we find ourselves feeling slighted, hurt, and insecure more often than we’d care to?

John Maxwell says, “When we are 20, we worry all the time what people think of us; when we are 40, we don’t care what people think of us; and when we are 60, we realize that people don’t really think of us that much anyway.”

I think he hit the nail on the head. We need to stop worrying what other people think of us and focus on the only One who can and should define us – Jesus.

So what does Jesus think about us?

He loves us. “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge” Eph. 3:17b-19a

Nothing can make Him love us less. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.  Romans 8:38-40

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

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved”. Romans 10:9-10

I could go on and on about all Jesus has done for us and how much He loves us. I challenge you to search out verses on your own and study and ask God to impress on your heart how much you are loved.

When we begin to grasp the love of Christ for us and realize that He is enough, what other people think of us suddenly becomes much less important. Yes, people can and will still hurt our feelings, but it’s easier to just let the petty things go when we understand that the Creator of the universe is madly in love with us.

So what do we do with the high maintenance people in our lives?

Again, the answer is love.

Proverbs 19:22 says, “What a person desires is unfailing love.”

Not too long after I received the phone call from my acquaintance, I got the opportunity to spend some time with her. It was the first time in a long time that I got to catch up with her and find out about what’s going on in her life. I got to encourage her and understand her better and I felt convicted for my initial frustration at my perceptions of her demands on me. Once I got the chance to “love on her” a bit, I realized that even though she still had “high maintenance” tendencies, she wasn’t trying to control me. What she really wanted was to know that she was loved.

Which is all any of us really wants.

While we can’t be all things to all people, we can be “Jesus with skin on” to those around us, showing His love and pointing others to the One whose love makes all the difference.

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Fall Fare

With our new fall A Martha Heart design, I thought it was a good day to share some favorite recipes that the Smith family enjoys every year. I hope you enjoy them, too! Of course, we always make Chex mix and homemade hot cocoa mix. If you’d like those recipes, too, let me know. As I was typing these, I found that they are mostly from Arkansans. God Bless Arkansans! Also, I know the fall design is a bit early, but I am ready for FALL, aren’t you?

Easy Apple Dumplings (from Marilyn Parks)
2 large apples
2 packages of Crescent rolls from the dairy case
2 sticks of margarine or butter
12 oz. 7up, Sprite or Mountain Dew
1 1/2 c. (cups) sugar
1/2 tsp (teaspoon) cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
dash of salt
Peel and core apples. Cut each into 8 pieces. Roll each apple piece in a crescent roll starting at the large end. Place in a deep 9X13″ pan. Melt butter (or margarine), add sugar, cinnamon, salt and vanilla. Pour over rolls. Pour 7up (or other drink) over rolls. Bake 45-55 minutes at 350 degrees until brown on top.

Popcorn Balls (from MaryAnn Smith)
1 T (tablespoon) butter
1 c. sugar
1 c. sorghum molasses
1/2 t. salt
4 quarts of popped corn
1 t. mapline flavoring
Melt butter in sauce pan, add sugar, molasses and salt. Cook stirring frequently to hard ball stage (260 degrees F). Pour over corn and stir thoroughly. Butter hands and immediately shape into golf-ball sized balls. Makes 12-14 popcorn balls.

Creamy Tacos (from Jean Pilcher)
This is wonderful for a large group or party!
2 lbs. ground beef (I like ground chuck or sirloin)
1 can rotel
1 lb brick chili (hard to find in some areas…it’s usually in the cold section by the sausage)
1 lb velveeta
1/2 pint whipping cream
salt and pepper
Spoon over Doritos.
*SO not good for you, but wonderful!!!!

Cabbage Casserole (really needs a new name…any takers?)
1 lg head cabbage cut into small pieces
1 lb. hamburger
1 lb. Jimmy Dean or Owen’s sausage
1 lg green bell pepper, chopped in small pieces
1 large onion, diced
1 can Rotel
1 cup cooked rice
1 c. water
1/2 c. green onions
salt and pepper to taste
Cook both meats in skillet and drain (I cook them separately). Mix all ingredients and put in a large, covered stock pan. Do not peek! Cook for 30 minutes on med-high. Let stand 30 minutes to one hour. Stir and serve. Tastes really good, so try it!

Pumpkin Cookies (by Mrs. A. Chounard)
1 c. sugar
1 c. margarine
1 c. canned pumpkin
1 T. vanilla
1 egg
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
Drop by round teaspoons and bake on a greased cookie sheet at 350 for 11-15 minutes
1/2 c brown sugar
1/4 c. milk
3 T butter
Cook two minutes over low heat and stir in 2 1/2-3 c. powdered sugar and 2 tsp. vanilla.

Special Potato Soup (by Holly Sellers)
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 med onion, diced
2 T margarine, melted
6 med potatoes, cubed
2 carrots, sliced
3 c. water
5 chicken bouillon cubes
3/4 tsp. seasoned salt
1/2 t. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. rosemary, crushed
dash of garlic powder
dash of pepper
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 c. milk
Saute celery and onion in margarine in a large stock pot until tender, add next 9 ingredients. Cover and simmer about 20 minutes or until the veggies are tender. Remove from heat and mask vegetables with potato masher. Add milk and cheese. Cook on low stirring constantly, until cheese is melted. Yield 10 Cups. Share with a friend!!

Chris’ Favorite Soup aka Shirley’s January 10, 1995 Soup (by Shirley Ezelle)
1 lb sausage links
1 large red onion
1 large green or red bell pepper (I use red.)
2 T olive oil
Slice sausage about 1/4 inch wide and saute all in the olive oil until the onions are translucent and the links are slightly brown.
4 cans stewed tomatoes
1 can diced Rotel
2 cans red beans, drained
2 cans northern beans, drained (Luck’s is not a good brand to use-from Shirley)
2 T mixed Italian seasoning (I use Presti’s Spicy Spaghetti seasoning from Sam’s-from Shirley, too))
1/3 tsp. garlic powder
1/3 tsp. white pepper
salt to taste
Stir, cover and simmer on lowest heat until hot and bubbly.

Serves 8-10 hearty appetites. Enjoy it!

She concludes with: “Please note that I generally do not write down recipes or use them, but I’m trying. This is the best attempt I can make. I usually cook by flavor or taste. This is a great soup for a party because it satisfies both meat eaters and vegetable lovers. This recipe is given to you with love; enjoy it the same way, and share it with anyone you like. God Bless You! Shirley”  Now I find that I miss Shirley so much, but I think of her every time I make this and pray for her. She is a dear heart, can you tell?

Now for a challenge: share a traditional FALL recipe of your own either here or on your blog. Let us know that you did, and I will gladly pray for you each time I make your recipe. That’s just what I do!

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German Pancakes

This is from our dear friends Trace and Christine. We like to serve this on Sunday nights with sausage, scrambled eggs and juice. Yummy, cost-effective and fast!

1 stick butter
1 c. flour
1 c. milk
4 eggs
2 T. sugar
1/8 t. salt
5 T. favorite jelly or jam
1/4 c. powdered sugar

Melt butter in oven at 425 degrees in a large iron skillet (I use my Pampered Chef deep dish stone)–swish butter around to cover bottom. Be careful not to burn butter.

Mix flour, milk eggs, sugar and salt thoroughly. Pour into melted butter in pan and swish around a bit, so that mix is completely covering bottom.

Bake at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes. Fun to watch with kids–turn on oven light and watch the hills and valleys form.

Take from oven and cool for 5 minutes. Move to large plate and spread jelly around top. Roll into a jelly-like roll. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top. Slice into servings and enjoy!

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Letter to Teenaged Me

Photo by Rowdy Kittens on Flickr

I am a complete sap for tear jerker country music songs. One of my current favourites is Brad Paisley’s “Letter to Me”, where he writes a letter to himself at seventeen, with all the things he wishes he could have known back then.

Thinking back on my 17-year-old days, I’ve come up with several things that could have helped me along the way, too. Here they are:

I know your biggest fear right now is being alone. You’ve been without a boyfriend for two years now and I know you feel desperate. You’re not going to believe what I’m about to say, but it’s actually better to be alone at this stage of your life, because you can concentrate on who you want to be without a guy getting in the middle of it. So take this time to read, to work, to make friendships, talk to interesting people, and figure out what you like. You don’t need a guy to do that. Looking back, that hiatus was one of the best times of growth for you. So don’t cry. Your day will come.

But I don’t mean to be so callous. I know you feel lonely right now, and worry that your friends don’t understand you. Most of them don’t! But one day you’ll be in a position to find friends that are more like you. You’ll be able to choose your university, choose your workplace, choose your church. You’ll find great people there, I promise. Right now you’re stuck in a school you can’t get out of. That’s okay. It won’t last forever. Just try to be a blessing to those with you now and make the best of it.

And when you do get to university and you do make great friends, keep in touch. Don’t let distance and busyness come between you. You’re going to miss them later on, and wish you’d written more letters.

You’ve got seasons tickets to the ballet right now, and you love all the restaurants in Toronto. Careful that you don’t become a snob. In about a decade you’re going to realize how awful the city really is, and you’re going to run as fast as you can to a small town. So get ready now! Learn to play cards. Learn to like barbecue. And learn to drive! Not every place has a subway, you know.

You’ve already been overseas once on a mission trip, but more are coming. Make the most of them. Take tons of pictures of kids’ faces. And don’t turn away because the poverty makes you uncomfortable. Look at it. Breathe it. Remember that most of the world lives like that, and you’re getting the chance to see it. Sear it into your memory, so that you never let your life become about money.

Sometimes family relationships get awkward and we don’t know what to say, so we don’t say anything. Open your mouth, especially to your uncle. You’ll find out why later. And your mother understands you more than you think she does. Give her a break. She’s done a great job raising you, so try to look at things from her point of view. One day you’re going to be great friends!

You know those kids with Down Syndrome at the camp you counsel at? Don’t ignore them. I know they make you feel awkward, but you’re looking in the face of your future son. Love them and have fun with them, and it will be easier for you when you hear the news in a few years.

You’re going to cry more tears over the next ten years than you will imagine. But one day, you will see how those tears were used to build you into a strong person. So at your lowest points, believe that God isn’t going to leave you.

You’re going to fall in love in a few years with a man you will think is perfect. Take a step back. Does he let you be yourself? Does he ask you about you? Relationships can’t be based on hero worship. Run away fast. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache.

And by the way, while you’re running away from your boyfriend, take another look at your best friend. Sometimes best friends really do make the best husbands!

Sheila is the author of four books, including the upcoming “The Good Girl’s Guide to Sex” with Zondervan. She blogs everyday at To Love, Honor and Vacuum.

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Winter Reflections

As the evenings come early and the crisp air flows all around, we realize, winter is upon us. While I enjoy each season as it comes as goes, winter is by far one of my favorites. Favorite because as I walk bundled up, in a flurry of falling snowflakes, I see no leaves, no flowers, no green.  I pause for a moment remembering the spring before of the glorious red, yellows and blues. Trees full of leaves and the sweet melody of birds. Now, as I look around and see shimmering white I am reminded that the flower and trees are hibernating getting ready to again blaze with beauty once the first thaw of Spring begins. But, in order to do this, they need time to prepare and time to be still.

We too need times in our lives to stop, be still and reflect and winter presents us that opportunity. Winter gives us the chance to bundle up in the warmth of our homes and the hearts of friends and loved ones. Winter reminds us that just as leaves fall from trees, we too can shed the pain of our past so we’ll have new growth in the future. While winter’s cold may seem long and deep, we know with all certainty it will end soon.

As we enter the season of Winter I encourage each of you to let the past go and to forgive one another. Spend some time this season reflecting on all the blessings you have. Decide how you want to bloom and grow, make a plan, and put it into action. Winter is a wonderful time of year to enjoy the crisp air and short days realizing that no matter what we are going through it is only for a season and Spring is coming soon.

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Heart Prompt #24

Keep a running list of the people who God brings to your mind (or causes you to think about). You can do this for a day, three days, a week……however long you would like to do it. Every time you add a new person to the list, pray for them as well as for the person above them on your list.

“Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Timothy 1:17 NIV

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Killer Queso

This is hands-down our favorite queso, ever. It is very much a myriad of wonderful flavors coming together in your mouth.  Killer Queso is great addition to your tail-gating or gatherings with friends!

1 can cream of chicken soup
¾ c. evaporated milk
1 – 7 oz. can diced green chilies
2 T. minced jalapeños
1 – 4 oz. jar chopped pimientos, drained
1 t. ground cumin
1 – 1 oz. pkg. ranch dip mix
1 can Ro*tel tomatoes
1 lb. Velveeta, cut into cubes
¼ c. minced fresh cilantro
Minced fresh cilantro for garnish
Tortilla Chips for dipping

Combine soup, evaporated milk, green chilies, jalapenos, pimiento, cumin, dip mix, and Ro*tel in a medium saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently. When bubbly, add cheese and cilantro, and stir until cheese melts and mixture is combined. Be sure to keep the heat low, and stir constantly after adding the cheese to prevent scorching. Serve warm with tortilla, reheating as needed.

From Molly Fowler, The Dining Diva, in Menus for Entertaining

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