Choosing Joy

She had given up all hope of ever needing to make a blanket for her own baby, it had always been for a friend’s newborn. Just a few more months and she would be holding the son promised to Zachariah, her husband. The angel had appeared to him one day in the temple as he was doing his priestly duties. At first Elisabeth had almost been afraid to believe what the angel had said, yet she fervently hoped it was true.

For years she had suffered the disgrace of barrenness, which to the Jews, was always considered an indication of God’s disfavor. Despite her disappointment of not having any little one to hold in her arms, she and Zachariah had continued to faithfully serve God. Over the years, Elisabeth had learned to find her joy in her Lord, not in her circumstances.  It would have been easy to be bitter or discouraged, instead she had chosen to joyfully serve God.

Smiling again, she carefully stitching the blanket, her musings were interrupted when her cousin, Mary, greeted her as she come into the house. At the same time the baby in her womb seemed to leap for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice.

Instantly Elisabeth stood up and blessed Mary, the mother of her Lord, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”

Mary stayed with Elisabeth for three months. Elisabeth was one in whom Mary could confide.  Yes, her cousin did understand Mary’s fears. Day by day as they worked together Elisabeth shared her life of joyful service to God. Elisabeth’s long life of trusting God was reassuring to Mary. Elisabeth’s confidence and joy were infused into Mary’s much younger heart.

Elisabeth had learned that her joy was not dependent on circumstances, children, position or wealth but in serving God alone.

What is your response when life isn’t what you had dreamed it would be?  Have you become bitter and angry?  Or have you learned to love and trust God, to obey and serve Him with joy?  Are you able to find joy in Christ alone? Joy is often a choice, it does not always come naturally.

As we study His Word and live in obedience to it, we will understand His character more deeply and find joy in Him.  Then our joy will be contagious to those around us, encouraging them in their not so desirable circumstance or time of trial.

Have you experienced a disappointment and struggling to find joy and peace?  I encourage you to allow “… the God of hope fill you with all joy…”

If you have learned to choose joy, is there someone you can encourage like Elizabeth did Mary, who is struggling in her faith or facing a difficult time in her life?

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him.” Romans 15:13.

© Cynthia Wedge 2017 (Cynthia has a wonderful tea shop in Grand Rapids [englishcottagetea.com ]and is also a fellow member of our Blue Water Writers Group. Cynthia writes devotionals to share with her customers at Christmas time and has graciously agreed to share a couple with me because I enjoy them so much! Thank you, Cynthia!)

A Man of Obedience

Working in his father’s carpenter shop in Nazareth, the same thoughts filled Joseph’s mind today as they had for the last three months.  Why did Mary, his future bride, leave so abruptly without letting him know?  All he knew about her disappearance was what friends and customers had said while in the shop.  When was she coming back home?  Oh how he longed to see her.

Even before their parents had made the arrangement for their marriage, Joseph had noticed Mary’s love for God, her quiet, sweet ways.  She would smile shyly when they had met occasionally.

Deep in thought, he only half listened to people as they came into the shop.  Wait. What was this he was hearing?  Did someone say “Mary”?  His Mary?  Had she finally returned?  Frozen, he listened intently?  No, it couldn’t be, not his Mary, she was not the kind to be unfaithful to their marriage agreement.  Pregnant?  NO!

Mary had been home a week.  The rumors were true.  Joseph was beside himself with grief.  No, he could not bear to think of having Mary stoned as the law allowed. He decided to quietly break the engagement.

Heartbroken, Joseph laid down to get some sleep.  Waking from a deep sleep, he sat bolt upright.  The angel had seemed so real, as if he was right in the room with him. The angel said he was to take Mary as his wife, for the baby in her womb, conceived by the Holy Spirit, was the promised Messiah and was to be called “Jesus”.  So, Mary had not been unfaithful to him.  No matter what other people may think of her or him, he knew the truth.  He would obey God and take Mary to be his wife.

On the night Mary gave birth, shepherds had come to see “the Savior, which is Christ, the Lord”.  Today, wise men from the east had visited them, worshipped the baby and given them gifts.  Sleep came quickly to Joseph this night as he lay down next to his sweet wife. Then, just as quickly, Joseph awoke. Another dream.  This time the angel said to take Mary and the baby and flee to Egypt to save the baby from the sword of Herod.  Joseph woke Mary and they quickly escaped under cover of night.

Twice more Joseph was visited by the angel in a dream.  Each time he obeyed.  It hadn’t been easy moving to a strange country so far from all that was familiar.  They rejoiced when the angel had told him they could go back to Judah.  As they traveled back home, Joseph thought of all that had happened since he had first become engaged to Mary.  It was not at all what he had envisioned as a young man.

Finally, they had reached Judah. It wasn’t far now to Bethlehem.  One more dream. This time the angel instructed Joseph to go to Nazareth, not Bethlehem.  Jesus would be safer farther from Herod.

While life had taken many different turns as God had directed him, Joseph had never questioned what the angel told him.  He had not hesitated to obey no matter how strange it may have seemed or what hardship it had caused him.  He simply trusted God and obeyed.

This same immediate obedience is what God desires from each one of us.  God sent an angel to Joseph, but today we have God’s written commands.  Sometimes people say they want to know God’s will, but they aren’t obeying the plain commands in the His Word.  God expects us to obey what He has already made available to each of us.  As we do He can lead us in specific ways.  Notice God did not tell Joseph to go to Nazareth when he was told to leave Egypt, it was as he obeyed that God told Joseph a detail left out before.

Is there a command of God you have been resisting?

“When Joseph woke from sleep,
he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him”
  Matthew 1:24.

© Cynthia Wedge 2017  (Thank you, Cynthia! I love the way you bring the characters to life and help us understand them as “real” people just like we are.)

Truffles: “Buckeyes” (aka Peanut Butter Balls)

Next to fudge (which I wrote about three years ago, and the recipe can be found here: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2015/08/19/yoopers-trolls-and-fudgies-and-a-recipe-for-amazing-fudge/), the most popular Christmas candies around our home are “Buckeyes,” which are basically peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate. If you love peanut butter and chocolate . . . you’ll love these! “Buckeyes” are so named because they look like horse chestnuts (which have been nicknamed “buckeyes”),  but that’s where the similarity ends, because the real buckeyes are poisonous to humans and most animals!    However, our homemade buckeyes are 100% edible and 200% scrumptious!

Homemade Buckeye Candies
(makes 48 candies, which serves about one person . . . just kidding!)

#1. Filling: In a large mixing bowl, combine:
15 oz. jar of peanut butter
1/2 cup (4 oz) softened butter
4 oz cream cheese
6 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix everything until smooth. ( You can use a mixer or mix by hand; I mix by hand because the dough is very heavy and there’s a lot of it, so the powdered sugar tends to fly everywhere, and it takes a big mixer to be able to handle it.)

#2. Refrigerate covered (to keep it from drying out) until well chilled and pretty firm (an hour) or until you’re ready to dip the candies. (Keeping the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight is fine, and the dough can be kept in the refrigerator for days—or even frozen, although that’s not ideal.)

#3. Roll the dough into 1″ balls and place on a cookie sheet. (The cookie sheet doesn’t have to be lined with waxed paper, but it does have to be lined before you dip the chocolates, because the warm chocolates need to be set on waxed paper.)

#4. Chocolate coating: Combine in a microwavable mixing bowl
10 oz. chocolate chips melted in microwave with
2 tablespoons shortening (or coconut oil)
Microwave for 40 seconds. Take it out and stir, then place it in the microwave again for another 20 seconds and stir until it’s completely melted and smooth. Take your time. It’s critical that you don’t microwave the chips any more than you have to, so if you really need more time, only go an extra 5-10 seconds.#5. Once the chocolate and shortening have melted, dip the buckeyes one at a time by inserting a toothpick into the top center of one of the balls. Swirl it in the chocolate, leaving the very top without chocolate. Set the buckeye on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper, and gently pull out the toothpick, using a fork if needed to dislodge it. You can use the same toothpick for each buckeye. If your family can resist eating them on the spot, store them in a cool place until they are completely cold. Once they are cold, they can be stored (carefully) in a container. I place them right next to each other, but I put a sheet of waxed paper between each layer so that they can be stacked into 3 or so layers. Enjoy!!

 

Buckeyes. 01.19.17.jpegAnd she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus:
for he shall save his people from their sins
” (Matthew 1:21).

Reflections on Christmas Trees by Grace Truman

Have you got your Christmas tree up yet? Traditionally, we set up a tree on the weekend after Thanksgiving and take it down when we ring in the new year. Decorating a tree is one of my favorite things about the holidays, because every ornament has a story. We have bulbs that belonged to both sets of our parents, clumsily painted ornaments made as gifts from our children during Sunday school days and as home-school projects, and gifts from friends. Our latest additions include a hand-blown glass ornament from Venice (sent by our kids who were stationed in Italy for three years) and two beaded hearts given to us over Thanksgiving by one of our grand daughters. Every Christmas tree tells a story, don’t you think?

I have a sweet friend in my writers’ group who wrote her reflections on Christmas trees, and I liked them so well that I asked permission to share them:

“DISCLAIMER: What follows are my personal preferences.  I am not implying that ‘my way’ is right and others’ preferences are wrong.  We are each free to make our own choices—hopefully in accordance with the principles of Scripture.                                                       Choose Real

“Growing up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, I was blessed to be surrounded by nature and blessed to have a father who loved both the Creator and His creation.  Following in my dad’s footsteps, I grew to love the outdoors as much as he did and spent as much time as possible outside. We didn’t have much money, but we did have five acres of property.  Huge white spruce trees grew on our land, along with numerous young trees. Every year, when Christmas drew near, we would walk around and find the best six or seven foot spruce for our Christmas tree.  This created my preference for a real tree. My husband shares this preference.

“Choosing real carries over to the rest of my life.  I love unpainted wood and things made from nature. I don’t like artificial sweeteners or flavorings, silk flowers, or anything plastic.  I choose not to dye my hair or wear makeup, although a friend says that if the barn needs painting, we should paint it.                                                  Choose Homemade

“At one of my bridal showers, my best friend gave me six Christmas tree ornaments that she made.  They still go on the tree every year. After my husband and I were married, money was tight, so I made a treetop star out of cardboard and tinfoil for our first Christmas together.  That, too, still goes on the tree every year. Through the years, we have received more handmade decorations from friends and family. There are beautiful cross stitched ornaments made over thirty years ago.  There are ornaments made by my late sister and a friend who now has dementia. There are knitted, crocheted, tatted, and penny rug decorations. The ornaments our son made in elementary school are on the tree, along with the popcorn string our family strung when he was little.  We, as a family, also made tree decorations from cinnamon and applesauce and salt dough. When I hang each ornament on the tree, I think about the person who made it. We do concede to store bought lights, though.

“Our preference for handmade shows during the whole year.  We decorate with Native American baskets, quilts, and original art.  I cook from “scratch,” using organic ingredients as much as possible.

“My husband sometimes describes people as “store bought” or “homemade.”  By that, he distinguishes between those who seem to focus on possessions and looking good, and those who care more about being genuine and loving others than their looks.

“There is a handmade magnet on my refrigerator that says, ‘Happiness is homegrown.’  I think true happiness comes from love for God and the people in our lives. One way to show that love is by the work of our hands.”

—Grace Truman

I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works;
I muse on the work of thy hands”
  (Psalm 143:5).

All I Want for Christmas is…What??

Ever since Donald Gardner was wishing for “two front teeth” when he composed “All I Want for Christmas”  back in 1944, the idea of thinking about what we personally want for Christmas has been a popular part of  America’s Christmas culture.  When our children were young we used to have a music ministry, and I think the broadest smiles we ever got from an audience occurred when our youngest—who was indeed missing his two front teeth that Christmas—sang the song as a solo.                                             What do you want for Christmas?
If you could reduce all your hopes and dreams to one big wish, what would it be?  I noticed that over the past thirty-two years, the name “All I Want for Christmas” has generated more Christmas movies than any other single topic. In 1982, a Happy Days episode told the story of a little girl who wished for her mother to make up with the girl’s estranged grandmother.  In the 1991 movie by the same name, a brother and sister’s ardent wish (and plot) was to get their divorced parents back together. In the  2007 version, a little boy enters a national “All I want for Christmas” video contest in the hopes of finding a new husband for his widowed mother. (We watched this one, and it’s really cute! In fact, if you’re looking for a sweet, romantic comedy this December, I think this one is a family-friendly winner!)In the 2013 version,  All I want for Christmas is a playful tale about a lovely young lady who meets Santa’s helper, “St. Nick.” You might be able to guess what she wishes for…  The 2014 All I Want for Christmas features a  young boy who wishes for a different set of parents…and learns that money isn’t everything!           This year’s edition (2017) is about a little girl who wants a pet dog. All this to say, although people may sing about wanting two front teeth for Christmas, the enduring theme over the years concerning what people really want revolves around relationships, restoration, reconciliation…about loving and being loved. After all, isn’t that what all of us want all the time? But, isn’t Christmas supposed to be about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ? Shouldn’t we be giving birthday gifts to him? What do you suppose Jesus wants? The Bible teaches us that Jesus wants the same thing all of us want: Love, reconciliation, and unity. He wants us to love God and be loved by him! God began by loving us. He sent his son Jesus to earth to live a perfect life and die in our place so that we can be forgiven for our sins, be reconciled to God, receive eternal life, and have a wonderful love relationship with him. This Christmas, can you give Jesus the gift he’s longing for? He wants you! He wants you to believe in Him, to love him, and to trust Him always. In the last prayer recorded before his death, Jesus expressed his heart’s desire: I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23, ESV).  If you want to give Jesus a gift this Christmas, how about giving him the gift of your love and devotion? By the way, have you heard that God also has a gift for you? If you feel estranged from God, please know that he’s offering you a chance to reconcile: For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). If you haven’t received his gift yet, it is my prayer that this Christmas you will!


A Humble Servant

Have you ever thought about how Mary would have felt as a young woman, hearing for the first time from an angel that she was going to become the mother of the Messiah? My friend, Cynthia Wedge, reflected on this:

Read: Luke 1:26-38
“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Luke 1:38

Humming as she worked, Mary smiled, dreaming of her future wedding; a day filled with great anticipation and excitement. She had already celebrated with some of her friends on their special day; soon it would be her turn. Even her daily, mundane duties seemed almost pleasant as she worked.

Mary started with surprise at the sound of a voice. She had thought she was alone. “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you.” In awe and yet fearful, “Could this really be an angel?” she wondered.

“Don’t be afraid for you have found favor with God.” The angel went on to tell her that she would give birth to a son whom would be named Jesus, that He would be great and “would rule over the house of Jacob forever.”

Hardly able to believe her ears, Mary asked, “How can this be since I am a virgin?” “It will be by the Holy Spirit. For nothing is impossible with God.”

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be as you have said.” Was her humble reply.

As silently as he had come, the angel left.

Alone, her mind swirling, Mary hardly dared to move. Had she imagined this? Had she really been visited by an angel? Was she really the one chosen to bear the long-awaited Messiah, the King of the world?

Little did Mary know how this brief encounter with an angel would change her life for the rest of her life. First there was the shame of being pregnant before marriage, then the hardships of traveling to Egypt, a new, unfamiliar country, leaving family and friends she loved, later the pain she would suffer as she watched her son, the man Jesus, being ridiculed, mocked, beaten and finally crucified.

Mary called herself a “servant.” A servant in this sense is one who voluntarily serves another. We are not forced to be a servant of God, but choose, out of love, to be available for His service. To do whatever it may be that He calls us to do or be for His glory.

While it was an honor for Mary to be chosen as the mother of the Messiah, it was not without its heartaches and hardships. There is no record that she ever complained; rather she submitted to each new turn in her life as a servant of the Lord God, choosing to serve God in whatever way He asked of her. Being a servant is not always easy, but when we have the assurance that God loves us and is always with us, we can learn to choose to respond as His humble servant.

Have you ever found your world turned upside down in just a brief, unexpected moment? When this happens, is your response like Mary’s, “I am your servant, Not my will, but yours be done”?

Do you sense God asking you to do something, even a little thing that you are resisting? Will you right now tell God you are His servant, willing to do whatever He asks of you?

Copyright© 2017, by Cynthia Wedge

Chocolate-covered Sea Salt Pecan Toffee (If You Love See’s…)

My oldest brother has been spoiling our family with a big box of See’s chocolates as a Christmas gift for the past 25-30 years, which is a super highlight of the seasons’ taste treats! In fact, I practically have to hide the box and wait until all Christmas comers have arrived before doling out the delectable chocolates. About seven years ago, our son Jonathan and his wife moved to Spokane, Washington, which is one of the locations where they actually make See’s chocolates, and you can go to the shop and pick out your favorite flavors. After many taste tests, Alan and I both decided that their California brittle crunch was our top choice, and so I started trying to figure out how to reproduce them at home.  I’ve come up with my own recipe, which isn’t exact (I think they use almonds, and I’ve used pecans roasted with sea salt…and mine aren’t as crunchy), but they definitely melt in your mouth and disappear from the platters fast!

Chocolate-covered Sea Salt Pecan Toffee
(makes about 5 dozen pieces of candy)

In a large cooking pot add:
1/2 cup water
2 cups granulated white sugar
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 pound butterBring to a boil, stirring often to keep the candy from sticking. Make sure all the sugar has dissolved.  While the toffee is cooking, heavily butter a large cookie sheet and place it on a wooden cutting board. Also take this time to grind up 12 ounces of pecans into very small pieces. (This in not quite ground fine enough, but do not turn it into a totally consistent powder).  Lower the heat to a simmer and continue cooking until the “medium soft-ball” stage (about 300°F), where a drop of syrup placed in cold water forms a chewy ball. (If you take your fingers and gather the syrup out of the cold water [see below], it should form one medium soft ball.) *Note: I use a metal spatula to stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure nothing sticks or burns. This will probably take about 10-15 minutes. Once the syrup has reached the medium-ball stage,turn the heat down to low and add the 12 oz. chopped, roasted, salted pecans. (Those nuts on the right are a better consistency than those on the left.)                                  Stir them until they’re completely mixed in.  Add 1 teaspoon baking soda, stirring gently until it’s thoroughly mixed. Let the mixture start to rise… then remove it from the heat and pour it directly onto the buttered cookie sheet.  The next part is a little tricky. Let the pan cool until it can be cut, but not until it’s completely cool. This takes about 25 minutes.  When the toffee can be cut without immediately losing its shape, cut it into small pieces. (I do 9 lengthwise slices by 7 wide, but do them however you want!)  Microwave  24 oz. chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a bowl for 2 minutes.                                               Remove from the microwave                                               and stir until smooth.  Take a toothpick and make a tiny dot where each cut begins and ends around the entire perimeter of the pan,                                             then spread the chocolate                                              evenly over the entire pan.  Let it cool about 10 minutes, and then run your knife gently along the same tracks. The chocolate won’t be hard yet, but that’s okay. It still prepares the way for even pieces when it’s completely cooled. Depending on where you cool your candy, it may take an hour or two before the chocolate is completely cool without being so hard that it breaks into  uneven pieces. At that point, take a knife and cut along the same lines one last time. If you’ve done it right, when you remove the candies, they should come out in neat pieces. (However, bigger pieces of nuts can make things a bit uneven, as you see above.) it’s not an exact replica of See’s candies (which are entirely enveloped in chocolate, BTW), but it’s close enough to make us smile and saves mega bucks over trying to buy See’s!  I hope you and your loved ones enjoy them. They do make great Christmas gifts and are popular at Christmas parties or the office.We will rejoice in thy salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners: the Lord fulfill all thy petitions” (Psalm 20:5).