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Winter Berries at Sunset

Winter Berries at Sunset

I’m taking a cue from Anne at Modern Mrs. Darcy and Katie at Cakes, Tea and Dreams and asking the question, “What’s saving my life right now?” I love this discipline of focusing on the positive things, as little as they may seem.

This verse comes to mind:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Philippians 4:8)

This one, too:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

Here are some of the things that I am thankful for, or, that are saving my life, this winter:

  • Lighting candles. I bought a couple of brass candlesticks in November and lit tapers every time I had friends over during the holidays and burned through several candles. I light them when I’m home alone, too. The glow from just two candles can fill an evening with comfort and warmth.
Candles are meant to be lit.

Candles are meant to be lit.

  • Hosting family and friends. In December, I hosted a Christmas party for my small group, a Lessons and Carols service, dinner and movie nights, Christmas Eve with my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and six-year-old niece. In January, I hosted a pizza and game night, spent an afternoon watching movies with my niece, and hosted my small group. I love having people over and I love making memories in my little house.
Late night pie

Late night pie

Morning at home

Morning at home

  • Lavender Body Butter. Minnesota winters are dry, resulting in extremely dry skin. My hands  I bought a jar of this body butter at a roadside stand on the Old Mission Peninsula while on vacation in Traverse City, Michigan two summers ago and it was well worth it. I’m sensitive to harsh chemicals and fragrances, and lotions tend to make my skin drier. This body butter is fabulous. On my desk at work, I keep a bar of hard lotion that my mom made from many of the same ingredients.
  • Hot Chocolate. I love coffee and tea, both. But this winter I rediscovered my childhood love: hot chocolate. I gave Smitten Kitchen’s Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix to my coworkers last Christmas, and made some for myself as well. I have savored many marshmallow-topped mugs this winter.
Cuppa Hot Chocolate

Cuppa Hot Chocolate

  • 5ft inf. I don’t know how or when I discovered this website and Instagram feed, but I’m sure glad I did. The cheerful and creative arrangements of flowers and objects are like Vitamin D for my soul.
  • Sunsets. A couple weeks ago, I noticed that the sun set after I got off work. That is a hopeful sign indeed. The darkest days are past and spring isn’t far off. While winter is lovely, I savor the little signs of warmer and brighter days ahead.
The sun sets after 5 pm!

The sun sets after 5 pm!

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My small group started 2013 off by delving into Luke’s Gospel.

Last night, we read and discussed Luke 1:39-80. Right before this passage, we read about Gabriel visiting Mary with the news that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and she will conceive the Son of God. Mary’s response? “Behold, I am the servant (literally, slave) of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.”

The next thing we see in Luke’s narrative is Mary traveling to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who was barren, but is now in her sixth month month of pregnancy. This would have been a long journey. We wondered if it was hard for Mary, perhaps as young as 12 or 13,  to convince her parents to let her travel, presumably alone, to visit her older cousin. At this point, it’s likely that no one knew that Mary was pregnant.

The baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy at Mary’s greeting, she’s filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaims, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth would not have known that Mary was pregnant. Last night, someone wondered whether Mary herself knew until this blessing. (Something I never thought of!)

Mary responds with her famous Magnificat, a song of praise to the Lord. (We also pondered whether she actually sang it. Maybe? ;)) Her song is bursting with allusions to the Old Testament. In his book on Luke, Michael Card says, “With wisdom far beyond her years, she sings with gratitude that the Lord has looked with favor upon her, his slave.” This was the first thing out of her mouth when greeting perhaps the first person who knew about her pregnancy, not words of worry over what people would think about her or how she would raise the child as a single mother. (We all know that an angel will also appear to Joseph, but she wouldn’t have known that at the time.) I believe that this shows Mary’s heart, and is also a work of the Holy Spirit in her life.

Mary’s response has me asking myself not only how I would have responded, but how I will respond to the call of God in my own life. Sure, the things that He’s calling me to might not seem so grand, and even may seem a little dull at times, but will I be obedient? Mary was available to the call of God in her life, even though it involved great risk.

In the study guide we’re using, N. T. Wright asks, “In what ways, even small ones, can you be involved in this work that God desires in his world? How do you see God’s larger purposes in the world intersecting with your own life, your individual hopes, dreams and fears?” Those are great questions to mull over.

On a related note, it might be more than a month past Christmas, but because of this study, I’ve been listening to Jason Gray’s Christmas Stories album, which is a new favorite. I love his song for Mary:

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