Advent - Days of Waiting

(...I blush and apologize ahead of time for the length of this is mostly pictures.)

No longer having small children, eager to open tiny doors on calendars or make paper chains counting the days till Christmas, I am observing Advent quietly, in my own heart this year.

"The Handel's Messiah Family Advent Reader"...a tool to be used in the art of the mindful Christmas season. I've owned this for years, and always enjoy it. Each day of Advent contains a sumptuous piece of classic art (Rembrandt, Roubillac, and more), a devotion, interesting facts about Handel and the Messiah, and one track from an included CD of the whole of Handel's Messiah - I simply savor...really part of his magnificent oratorio each day.
As I sit tonight, engaging evening prayer, I meditate on what it must have been like to long and wait for thousands of years for a promise from God. I know what it is like to long and wait for a few of God's promises to me. I think it was not much different for the Hebrews. It was personal. Sure, it was national, it was civil, it was a longing for a King...but it was also a personal longing for freedom from every hint of captivity. A longing for validation...and yes, vindication. Each Israelite wondered, "Will I see the fulfillment in my lifetime?"
It was a mournful wait, for millenia.
Oh come, oh come, Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel... how utterly fitting, the minor key of that profound carol.
Well, night has long since fallen here in east Tennessee - my fireplace is burning, and I'm bursting with the urge to sit and quietly talk of cabbages and kings with you. I have so much to share - blessedly, I can share it with pictures, which everyone knows are worth a thousand words. It has been an unbelieeeevably full week, last week. Come. Sit. There is literally an empty easy chair beside me.

Jonathan's parents, Tom and Amy Howe, who we had over for lunch. I love them already.

...followed by a trip to David's Bridal later in the week, to get the dress. The. Stunning. Vintage looking. Breathtaking. Dress. Once you see this little bride on her day, you will never be the same. (Can't show the dress, of course, but here is Sarah, ordering her...underpinnings. Ahem.)

Hannah, taking a moment to pose for me while she helps daddy put up the tree. The cardboard boxes are our nativity scene. I put up our artificial tree about two days before Thanksgiving, then we decorate it whenever we can get all the grown kids together, which happened to finally be yesterday. Sorry to gush about my girl, but doesn't she look like a model??

Youngest son, helping me put together my very first "front porch tree". Yes, my friends, I am also squeezing in a tree on my front porch this year. Let's just all get over it right now. I'm also making my own live, fresh green wreath with all the Harvest women this weekend...we're going to decorate the church sanctuary, and then head over to the Bower Farm to make hand made wreaths with greenery from the farm. My porch is already decked to the gills, and yes...I'm the spirit of tasteful abundance...squeezing in this tree, and another wreath. Soon.

Kevin Cunningham, missionary to Columbia, ministering in Harvest Church yesterday. Tim and I so, so enjoyed fellowshipping with this gentle, Godly, sincere man - who has planted about seven churches in Columbia. He's the real deal - so is his wife. Harvest Church seems to collect prophets, evangelists, missionaries...and pastors...who are down to earth and accessible and real.

And his gorgeous wife Christine, whom you'd never imagine has grandchildren! We shed instant tears upon hugging one another yesterday, and shared honestly from our hearts together about recent events in our respective lives.>

All the newly-marrieds, and about-to-be-marrieds in the family...together for the trimming of the tree last night.

Sarah, putting one of her ornaments on that tiny tree...(no room for a tree as large as this mother's heart!)

Josiah, putting one of his ornaments on the tree...the glass-blown cricket. Ask him why.

Tim, fixing my jeans...with a tool. Tim the Tool Man. It was a funny interlude...a happy thing...there was an emblem riveted to the pocket of these jeans, and I despise wearing emblems. He said he could fix it...and he did. Emblem gone. My hero.

Later on, we all sat back, enjoyed the completed tree, sipped hot drinks, and watch the Grinch. (See the nativity scene on the mantle?)

And tonight...voila! The result of a trip to the spa - a gift from a girlfriend. Pedicures so rock.

Here I Go Again!

the cute couple, compiling their guest list today

I offer you murmured apologies as I once again launch into a four month season of wedding preparation. Sarah and Jonathan have set the date...March! Yeah...this March.

There are already some delicious secrets that have me feeling delightfully anticipatory, and I shan't reveal those. I did run across something that touched my heart, though, and I want to share it with you. I adapted it for myself... I, for the last time, ever in my life, fulfill the role of Mother of the Bride.

It is my heart's desire that I look back at all the pictures, ten years from today, and think ~

Look at how relaxed I was. Fully present in the moment.
Basking in it. Soaking it in. Friends and family all there.

My shoes and dress were comfortable enough for dancing.

My beauty radiated out of me; it was not applied to me.

I got to spend quality time with my friends and family.

I was myself, not a show. In fact, I was my fullest expression of self.

I do not remember whether the invitations were letterpress

or whether the flowers at the ceremony were expensive.

The wedding favors or the fanciness of the reception did not make memories.

The sincerity did. The connection did. The time together did.

It did not matter whether every last detail conformed to the signature colors.

Instead of saying, “That family must have spent a lot of money,”
the guests said, “That family must have a lot of love.”

~adapted from a wedding blog post by Sarah E. Cotner

Of Front Porches and Christmas

I have spent a blissful afternoon today decorating my front porch for Christmas. The only "rule" I made for myself was that nothing could be bought ~ it all had to come from my garden, combine with what was already there, and be finished off from my small stash of bows and berries I always use for the holidays.

Clippers in hand, I went to work, chopping greenery from our Leland cypress trees, and many many stems from my sweet olive bush. The fragrance of the small white flowers on that sweet olive, combined with the fresh scent of evergreen now fills the air on my front porch. Here are the happy results of an afternoon's quiet work ~

Front door

Tim found and then painted that rock for me, twenty years ago.

I someday want steps right where that double rocker is sitting...

added greenery and large, red ornaments to the pansies already in the planters

Swag, hung on the column

The whole porch

The planters, from the obvious perspective - standing over them.

This is my favorite. My strawberry jar was repurposed beautifully!

Come to my back porch, now, where I want to show you the....ornamental cabbage

the old wagon, with pansies and cabbage (needs more pansies, but I digress...)

the firepit, from behind (sunflower seed bird feeder in foreground)

the firepit - twinkle lights on the little trees!

the sun was setting as I finished up...

And now we've come full circle again to the front porch. Come sit and have some hot tea with me. God has been good to us, no?

From my front porch to your heart, here is my Thanksgiving "card" to all of you~

Bringing In the Sheaves - Harvesting More Thoughts of Gentle Gratitude...

Come...sit with me for a bit. There's a fire in my fireplace tonight, soft Christmas music playing on the Bose, and fresh coffee in the coffeepot. I have the house to myself for a little while, my heart is tender and tranquil, and I'm feeling so thankful.

It is Tuesday - and in the month of November, my Tuesdays have been for bringing in sheaves and sheaves of thankfulness.

(side note - seems like a contradiction, in light of the post I just made an hour ago. But it isn't. I've been planning a final "Bringing in the Sheaves" post for two days. I composed the piece on "What is a Cult" in total peace, in about thirty minutes. Written in complete objectivity, with a goal to inform. And don't you love the juxtaposition of the words, "piece" and "peace"? Or am I a hopeless word-nerd?)

I am grateful for...

young men who go to jared's jewelers, believing money is no object for this kind of once-in-a-lifetime purchase...

daughters who smile and their eyes disappear, comfort food, diet coke, that my nfl team is undefeated.

the music of strauss, allison krauss, nickel creek, and josiah atchley - who will soon write masterpieces.

a baby who turns one year old today, epsom salts, long walks, ten minute hair color, cotton sheets, tim's broad shoulders, the grace of God.

friends from indianapolis, aunt and uncle's two log cabins in deer lodge sister's lake house...the fact that i have one on a cul-de-sac.

old cars that still run, online christmas shopping, the way he calls me "beautiful".

morning and evening prayer, saints of old, the season of advent, seeing my youngest son on the worship team for the first time this past sunday - my own little drummer boy.

decorating the outdoor firepit for christmas, ginger snap cookies, my 600 watt kitchenaid mixer, my ugly old toothless stinky dog, my neighbor's cute new shitzu named otis, my 3 pound puppy aptly named rambo, my pots of paper whites blooming on the kitchen windowsill...

...planning and executing yet one more daughter's wedding.

...that all my children will be gathering near this weekend, for getting to drive "over the river and through the woods" to a picturesque setting for Thanksgiving, for not having to cook the whole meal, for pepperidge stuffing in the bag, whole cranberries, muse and inspiration.

seeing my man catch the eye of other women - i know he is that cute, especially in a baseball cap.

tim in a beard, tim in a suit, tim in a black sweater, tim in his matchbox jeep, tim in anything or nothing at all...

just tim.

the grace message, the whole gospel, good and righteous acts of the saints, and the fact that i actually had a concert pianist in my home for lunch this past week, a beautiful young asian college student - i'd have given anything to have recorded her playing classical music on our piano.

potato soup, oak leaves, my scottish heritage, the privilege of holding a tiny bird in the palm of my hand every single day, petting him and getting kisses from him - this bird shows me that he adores me. imagine it... such a childhood dream come true!

resale shops, those roasted chickens under the heat lamps at the grocery, asparagus, white concealer for the under-eye area, a spa gift card that is calling my name...

being with my parents, my sister, all my children, with two new sons, and church family this christmastime...

the fact that every single relationship i enjoy and hold dear has been hard-won...we have seen our times of tears and we have been offended, but we have loved jesus more than our right to be right.

a harvest moon, the november sky at night, the privilege of editing a friend's book, the way my home looks at night when you stand outside - windows aglow, sounds of waterfall.

i am grateful for my favoritest holiday, Thanksgiving.

Have a blessed, blessed Thanksgiving dear friends! Until next year, when I'll be bringing in yet more sheaves - indeed, worthy of my own blog tradition. Thank you for the enthusiastic response!

What Is a Cult?

If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.

I am feeling extra blessed. I've discovered today that some former church members (two of the dozen or so in our sixteen year history who left disgruntled) have said that we are a cult.

I have no clue what the rationale is behind this sad, uneducated accusation, but it is as old as the New Testament church. This seems to be the card that offended or bitter people tend to play, as a means of self justification.


All it means is we're blessed as a church, and Christ is glorified through the preaching of the gospel. Christ is blasphemed on their part. How is He blasphemed? James chapter 3~

But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.

The name of Christ is blasphemed (Greek: to speak evil of, to reproach) when a man who calls himself a brother (or a woman who calls herself a sister), turns and brings this level of reproach against sincere and Godly men and women, who are in Christ, quite literally part of His body.

This level of slanderous and evil speaking goes far beyond mere criticism.

No matter how sharp the disagreement I've had with many a church leader in twenty years, some unknown, some famous, I have stopped short of calling their church a cult, though one I have known comes perilously close - partly because I know what a "cult" is. Partly because I fear the Lord too much to cause that kind of division and schism in the body...and I frankly long for the name of Christ to be glorified.

This brings about a teaching moment - you know me. Take lemons and....make lemonade. Or something.

I have several reference materials I could cite and use to describe what a "cult" actually is, but out of curiousity I decided to simply google it. Yeah. I decided to use the research tool that is at the fingertips of almost everyone, including the people who have made this ridiculous accusation. I decided to use the very first resource that Google turned up.

It radically proves how uneducated the accusation is! Anyone with a thinking mind could just google the term "cult" and in ten minutes find out that most Bible believing, established churches don't fall under the definition. Here is what I came up with, in less than two minutes (, article entitled "Cults 101, a Checklist of Cult Characteristics" by Janja Lalich, Ph.D. and Michael D. Langone, Ph.D.) :

The group displays excessively zealous and unquestioning commitment to its leader and (whether he is alive or dead) regards his belief system, ideology, and practices as the Truth, as law.
Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

Mind-altering practices (such as meditation, chanting, speaking in tongues, denunciation sessions, and debilitating work routines) are used in excess and serve to suppress doubts about the group and its leader(s).

The leadership dictates, sometimes in great detail, how members should think, act, and feel (for example, members must get permission to date, change jobs, marry—or leaders prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, whether or not to have children, how to discipline children, and so forth).
‪ The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s) and members (for example, the leader is considered the Messiah, a special being, an avatar—or the group and/or the leader is on a special mission to save humanity).

‪ The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which may cause conflict with the wider society.

The leader is not accountable to any authorities (unlike, for example, teachers, military commanders or ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream religious denominations).

The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify whatever means it deems necessary. This may result in members' participating in behaviors or activities they would have considered reprehensible or unethical before joining the group (for example, lying to family or friends, or collecting money for bogus charities).
The leadership induces feelings of shame and/or guilt in order to influence and/or control members. Often, this is done through peer pressure and subtle forms of persuasion.

Subservience to the leader or group requires members to cut ties with family and friends, and radically alter the personal goals and activities they had before joining the group.
‪ The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

The group is preoccupied with making money.

Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities.

‪ Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

‪ The most loyal members (the “true believers”) feel there can be no life outside the context of the group. They believe there is no other way to be, and often fear reprisals to themselves or others if they leave (or even consider leaving) the group.

Obviously, one can see how any church who follows Biblical practices could be mistaken as a cult - the early church was. Church leaders are respected. Strong churches gather zealously around their/our core beliefs - the doctrinal essentials. Some may speak in tongues. Some worship very extravagantly and expressively. Some do not. Some beautiful, effective churches might even be rather preoccupied with bringing in new members. If it is through salvation, the very thought makes me giddy with joy!

Churches collect money. Churches sometimes have to invoke what is known as "church discipline" (an intensely Scriptural practice, if done by consensus and very, very carefully, in a spirit of grace). Wise churches will discourage church hopping, and encourage a basic level of committment. A valid church may even make its leaders accountable to conduct themselves by a higher standard, should there be a disagreement. But these characteristics should never be misconstrued as cultish. Accusations like that are uneducated at best, dishonest and cruel at worst.

If you are in a church that expects you to take part in every single activity of the church (something Tim and I openly refuse to do) and enforces "debilitating work routines in excess" you might be in a legalistic church, or you might be in a cult. I hesitate to use even that as an indicator, because the truth is a new church plant takes a startling amount of work, and it can even feel sometimes like it takes a "debilitating" amount of work to set up, break down, and get a transient (without its own building) church plant off the ground.

Particularly if you are in a church that tries to tell you in detail what you can do or not do, what to wear, and how to spend your time, who to marry or where to work - run.

If you are part of a church, and you discover clearly unethical practices, immorality in the leadership, etc. - run.

If you argue with, or question what the pastor teaches, just once or twice, and you are asked to step down from your position of leadership, or are otherwise taken to task - run. (If you debate with the pastor for six or more months, and he hangs in there with you, having discussion after discussion after discussion...hug the man, and tell him wild horses wouldn't drag you out from under his patient leadership!)

If you find yourself ostracized or censured for having friends outside your church - run. (Most of our church members have as many friends, if not more, outside our church than in it. We're not a large church!)

Just an FYI:

Just because a church is small, does not make it a cult.

Just because a church rallies around its leadership, does not make it a cult.

Just because a church does not condone or pacify divisive behavior, does not make it a cult.

Just because a church believes in the gift of tongues, does not make it a cult.

Just because a group of people pull together for a common goal, does not make it a cult. (Please look up the definition of "unity".)

Just because you left a church, does not make it a cult.

You might be touching the apple of His eye...

Big, Big, BIG Announcement...

Today, November 21st, 2009, my beautiful daughter Sarah became engaged to Jonathan Howe. He took her out on a date, and proposed in the most romantic way. He purchased a stunning ring for her, getting every detail right, artist that he is. Impeccable taste in women and jewelry.

Hannah and Justin came over, and we all eagerly awaited Sarah and Jonathan's arrival back home, and they were glad and gracious to share the moments with us. I joyfully share them with you~

Um, I sort of wrote the words. I did my best.

Presents from Hannah, all tied up in ribbons...

Our family's chalkboard wall - keeper of many happy moments!

They're HOME!

Proud, proud daddy. Emotional moment. Jonathan is a man of God - that is what matters intensely to him.

THE ring. Wish you could see the gallery...simple, elegant, yet unusual and beautiful.

Giddy couple...

Hannah, beginning the season of engagement for her sister with a hand written, hilarious, dramatic rendition of her own...

Listening and snuggling...

Dad absolutely must now have "the apple talk". Jonathan was laughing so hard he couldn't speak.

Telling her Mima and Granddaddy the big news...

Sisters friends forever, too.

Arranging the massive amount of flowers Jonathan got for her today...

And tonight, I discover (with delight, I add) that tomorrow I will be hosting lunch for about 14 people - Jonathan's family, our family. And so it begins! Whew. Two weddings in one year. I don't know when exactly they will get married, the date has not been set, but yeah...these daughters of mine are my double portion - I've had to do everything in two's for the last twenty-two years, and my heart is beyond glad.

If you are near and dear enough to come along for the ride, please fasten your seatbelts, and keep your hands and arms inside at all times.

Precious friends, the words of a poem come to mind:
"Grow old along with me
The best is yet to be
The last of life for which the first was made
Our times are in his hand
Who saith, 'A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!'”

So here we go. Are you ready? I'm so glad you are here with us! This is going to be great!

Grace+Good Friends=Good Times

The doctor (l) and pastor (r)

Inside the Tennessee Theatre

Ceiling detail

More detail overhead...

The orchestra, preparing for gorgeous renditions of Haydn, Mendelssohn, Wagner and Strauss

Happy birthday, dear Cheryl!

Big grins, handsome faces...

Grace+Good Friends=Good Times (me n' Cheryl...isn't she the cutest??)