Hal Borland, from his lovely book Sundial of the Seasons

(Image from the lovely blog Dear Lillie)

Sundial of the Seasons is a nature / natural science book I often utilized in the home education of my four children. It is out of print, but is worth tracking down for middle school nature studies. I always found Borland's writings to be factual, yet beautiful and comforting....and most importantly for educational purposes, his words encouraged wonder.

An excerpt, entitled, "The Winter Stars - December 28"

"The Great Bear is now down on the horizon at evening, come down, the legends say, to wash his paws in the deep December lakes before they are all iced in. And the Little Bear hangs by his tail from the North Star. Cassiopeia, the queen, sits high in the sky, and off toward the west, Cygnus, the swan, is in flight toward another hemisphere, the eternal migrant. The Big Dog and the Little Dog, off to the east, watch Orion, the Hunter, as he faces Taurus and the Zenith. Almost overhead are the Pleiades, those seven shy sisters who are best seen from the corner of the eye.

These are star nights, with the moon late rising, in its last quarter today, and with Winter-Brilliant skies. Walk the countryside these evenings and the whole universe accompanies you, for the earth is all open now to the starlight, leaf fall complete. The stars lean so close that if one stood tiptoe on the highest hill, he might grasp at least one star in his tingling fingers.

It is illusion, of course, but the December stars seem twice as brilliant as those of June, for the sky is doubly clear, the mist chilled out of it, and the dust of summer settled at last. An illusion, but a pleasant one on a brittle night; the sun seems so far away that the stars should come closer. We should be able to glimpse eternity through those spark holes in the blanket of the long night. And perhaps we do. Where else is such order, such eternal pattern, as in those stars that light the winter sky?"

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Faithful Friends Who Are Dear To Us...Gather Near To Us Once More...

We sincerely pray...

....that you and yours experience the value of faithful friends...

...and a loving, grace-filled family....

....as you celebrate Life in Christ, this weekend, and on into next week....

Thank you, from my heart, for the even more new art and business community friends I have met both online, and in person in 2012, and those new friends who we hope and plan to meet sometime in 2013. As our own children have grown up and become our true friends, we are struck by the wealth one has, in the form of a few faithful friends.

We love and greatly esteem our parents....and those young ones...and those middle age and aged ones, in addition to our faithful children and their spouses....we who have stuck and stayed, have built an artful, soulful, faithful continuity....in fact, a strong spiritual community...we did it, through good and bad times.

Merry Christmas to our faithful friends. Can't wait to go before The Lord with you in the morning..."dancing with our Father God in fields of grace..."

Hope You Are...

...enjoying this time of the year as much as we are.

In the Grip of His Amazing Grace,

Sheila Atchley

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T'was a "Hobbit In 3-D" Sort of Evening...

I gotta tell ya...it rocks to be young and in love. We had so much fun this evening.

Grace and Peace,
Sheila Atchley

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5 Ways To Celebrate the Simplicity of This Simple Season

(The Preacher, our Monkey-grandson, and me...riding the choo choo at the mall...)

Years back,  the holidays used to bug me. And they still can, if I don't remain vigilant to look past the trappings and into the heart of God.  The crude commercialization. The old Christmas carols, ruined by pretty-boy bands. The extra work combined with the shortened energy levels that come with less daylight. Yet - at the same time, I have always found ways to love Christmas.  Each late-November, I begin to reach down deep inside - where the presence of God dwells -  and I figure out how it is that I, Sheila Atchley, celebrate the Reason for the Season.

So.  I'm not a "bah-humbug" in any sense of the word.  Even though the song "Santa Baby" still gives me a fit of tourette syndrome.  I twitch.  I exclaim.   

In spite of it all, the last several years I've not encountered the slightest negativity inside. After a great deal of amazed pondering, I offer you a few thoughts - humble, not at all earth-shaking, and maybe not even blog-worthy, but nevertheless...I've discovered what, for me, puts the joy in this simple season. 

1. Celebrate your way

In years past, I had begun allowing others to dictate the season to me (and much of my time all year 'round, in fact), in the sense that if they invited me over, I felt obligated to accept for various reasons - to help them through a time of transition, to cheer them up, to just have fun, to assist in this or that, to prevent them from having to be alone. This translated into me always "going", and cutting way, way back on what I love - which is nesting.  Having people in my home, spending time with my family. Over the months and even years I had allowed others to dictate my time, I didn't realize how deeply it was suffocating me. Out of love, out of an honorable motive, I was allowing myself to be squeezed and molded into someone else's agenda. So, these last several years,  I have spent the Christmas season exactly how I want to spend it...doing what I love, for heaven's sake! Filling my home with people and things and activities I love. No apologies. I've had a stern talk with myself. I said, "Self, never again will you take what makes your own heart sing, and put it on a shelf in a misguided effort to help someone else's heart sing. They must find their own song, and they must learn to sing it."

2. Get outside

"....and heaven and nature sing..." remember the old carol? Creation - nature -  is God's means of soothing the human heart. Don't let the cold weather prevent you from getting outside, filling your bird feeders, taking a walk, surveying your winter landscape....just breathing in the chill air, appreciating the change in season. Embrace it.

3. Make something

Pick just one or three projects you've always wanted to try (but never had time, because you were too busy being somewhere else all the time) and block out an afternoon or two and just do it. Arts and crafts are vastly underrated for their therapeutic benefits.  Each and every year, I make a real-green wreath, all sorts of evergreen arrangements, cookies;  this year, I am making hand painted ornaments, blocks for my grandbabies, holiday aprons, sugar scrubs for my girlfriends, and  I plan to clove some oranges for a scented arrangement...and I am going to take glittered snowflakes, and hang them from bare branches in a large cachepot, as a winter arrangement I'll keep in my house until March 1st.

4. Read what inspires you. Self explanatory.

5. Selah. (in Hebrew, it means "pause and deeply consider"). 

Selah over what God is saying to your heart this season. Mull over the good news of grace. Ponder "peace on earth, and goodwill to men". Your God is in a good mood, friends, His anger was completely spent at the cross. Christ took the penalty and punishment for you, and for your children. This is crazy-good news. Reason to rejoice. Those swaddling clothes wrapped the baby Christ, He submitted to them, and then those graveclothes were removed once and for all in the tomb, as the Risen Christ came out of it victorious...for you.

Trust me, this gets dangerous when you begin to take the truth of it and apply it personally. Everyone is comfortable with the doctrine of grace, so long as it stays on the pages of the Bible...where it can't mess with their actual beliefs.  Where it can't challenge their self sufficiency.

But Christ is all about incarnation. Those who preach the gospel must be incarnational about the truth of it. Let it invade.

These thoughts have totally transformed my experience of Advent for about four years now. Oh, my soul waits for Him, and in His word I do hope!

Middle Age - A Time of Grace and Glory

So many I've known, in years past, reached the age 45 or 50 and then had some version of a mid-life crises. Always, always some effort to re-create themselves...always some sense of entitlement that made them up and leave jobs, churches, friendships, and sometimes even a marriage - thinking they had "earned" the right to do whatever they wanted to do.

I feel their pain. I miss the woman they used to be. Who they were was lovely and who they were becoming could have been even more amazing. If they had just had the courage to become who they were, not become someone they wish they were. If they had just found the courage to stick and stay until the storm passed and all was beautiful again.

Mid-life could have been such a time of harvest and fruitfulness for these ones. They began so well. It has never failed to grieve me when I see yet another dear one either silently implode....or become a caricature of themselves, in their attempt to become someone entirely different from who they have always been.

Trying new and different things is wonderful...but it is wonderful all the time. New experiences and attempting new things should be a way of life at every age, in every season.

But who a woman is, and what God requires of her, in terms of her gifts and the call of God on her life, is something God never repents of. God never takes it back....never retracts who He wired you to be. No woman, I don't care who she is, can re-make herself. Yet so many women, at precisely the point of middle age, suddenly want to trade in who they were made to be, in order to become who they were not made to be. (Men, too...)

Middle age IS a time of becoming...becoming more, and more wisely artistic, if you are artistic. More, and more wisely passionate, if you always have believed strongly. More, and more wisely a teacher, if you've taught others off and on all your life. More, and more wisely a leader, if others have tended to follow you. More and more wisely merciful, if mercy is your gift.

Not a new version of you....a more, and more beautiful, and more wise you. More and better and wiser and sweeter and more compassionate.

Middle age should be a time of quietly laying aside our own way, our own ideas, and of finding out who we truly are, beneath all the trappings of life.

To sit still, and allow this becoming to emerge....however slowly...takes courage.

It is far easier to succumb to discontentment and get the cheek implants, or the Corvette, or the McMansion, or the flock of guineas and Nubian goats...or leave your husband, your career, your church, yourself...just leave it all behind. Anything to relieve the feeling of panic or anger, anything to avoid the sameness of boredom, anything to keep from having to humble yourself and adjust. Anything but face the sadness of a hope long deferred.

Be patient, beautiful middle age friend. Don't find yourself wishing you could exchange your beautiful gifts for someone else's....don't make a rash decision. And...never leave anything offended....not a friendship or a church or even a party. Find the courage to take joy, and then cultivate creative continuity. Find the courage to hold your ground, and become more of the woman you were originally designed to be.

Written for you with love...

Sheila Atchley

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Bits of Beauty

...just bits of beauty I've discovered...these images aren't mine, and I didn't pin them to Pinterest, so I do not remember sources....but can I share the sweetness with you?

Oh, that shade of green! So beautiful, I can't even stand it.

I desperately want to find time to make my grand babies stockings like this, only with their names embroidered at the top. And I wouldn't want to stencil "Noel" on them. I'd just leave them plain.

HOWEVER...this year I will not have the time. I will be helping my daughter Sarah and her artist-husband. With something. Something big.

That is my "I-know-something-you-don't-know" face. No, they aren't pregnant again. But I will be busy with something. Real, real busy.

Those embroidered burlap stockings will have to wait till next year.

I am really feeling this wrapping style.

And this. But without the silk flowers...bleh. Love the newspaper bags, the black ribbon, and I'd add a sprig of greenery, like the picture before.

Grace and Peace,

Sheila Atchley

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(for the record, a "legalist" is any person whose functional belief system consists of thinking they are justified...made righteous to any degree whatsoever...or even just "more blessed"...by keeping the law, whether that law be the "written in stone" version or the 600+ Jewish ceremonial and civil add-ons)

In checking my analytics tonight, I'm seeing that my copious writings on grace-theology are getting scores of views.

One person found my blog by Googling:

"legalists are unhappy"

Truer words were never Googled.

Sheila Atchley

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