Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Meaning Behind the Carols

Nick Batzig, a pastor and blogger, recently posted a compilation of sermons by Ligon Duncan and Derek Thomas, pastors of First Presbyterian church in Jackson, Mississippi, on his Feeding on Christ blog. Here is an excerpt from his post and below is the web address, which will direct you to the sermon links. They will certainly transform the way you listen to and sing these familiar tunes. Want to know what "rest" and "merry" meant in the original context? Listen, learn and then worship the infant-King who brought true "Joy to the World!"

"One of the burdens of a minister’s heart is to bring his people to a place of thinking about the theology of what they are singing, and to sing them with a mind and heart, filled with grace, to the Lord. In 2004, Derek Thomas and Ligon Duncan gave several lectures on various, well-known Christmas hymns, at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS. These lectures are quite unique, in that they give the cultural, historical and theological backgrounds of both the hymn, hymn writer and composer of the tune to which the lyrics were set. These should be required in seminary for men preparing for the ministry."


Friday, December 17, 2010

Book Recs for the Little Ones

If you're in the hunt for some good Christian books for your little ones, or to give as gifts to others, here are some that we love:

*The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones
*Fool Moon Rising by Kristi and T. Lively Fluharty
*The Prince and the Poison Cup by R.C. Sproul
*The King Without a Shadow by R.C. Sproul
*The Lightlings by R.C. Sproul
*God's Wisdom for Little Boys by Jim and Elizabeth George
*God's Wisdom for Little Girls by Elizabeth George
*My ABC Bible Verses by Susan Hunt
*Big Truths for Little Kids by Susan Hunt
*Sammy and His Shepherd by Susan Hunt
*Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
*Long Story Short: Ten Minute Devotions to Draw Your Family to God by Marty Machowski

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Five Minutes and a Laundry Basket

I have several disaster zones in my house. Do you? I'm looking around my desk at stacks of miscellaneous papers as I type, then over my shoulder to see the huge pile of laundry in the corner of our bedroom. I know that toys are scattered around the corners of our home and everywhere in between and that there is an ever-growing accumulation of items on the bookcase in our kitchen in need of being taken down to the basement. These "disaster areas" wouldn't be called such if I'd just deal with them, but there are so many that sometimes it's too overwhelming to know where to start!

I've decided to do something about them, but I know I need to start small. So here's my plan: I'm going to take just five minutes to conquer one (just one) of these disaster zones. We're all busy, but we can all spare five minutes. I've convinced that if I determine to do this, I'll reap an abundant reward. I'll spare myself the headache and frustration that a "zone" can cause each time I pass by without dealing with it.

If you're accepting the challenge and part of that challenge includes gathering items from around the house (e.g. toys!), try using a laundry basket. This will increase your efficiency in cleaning up and may even keep you under the five-minute mark, which is our goal!

Here are some suggestions, if your "zones" aren't obvious (who are you and how do you do it?):

1. Tackle a bathroom - bathrooms are relatively small and a real good cleaning can easily be done in five minutes.
2. Go through mail - throw out junk mail and then sort mail into piles of immediate and not-so-immediate attention.
3. Desk - purchase (totally worth it) two paper sorters or files to keep track of things that need to be filed, bills that need to be paid, etc.
4. Refrigerator - clean out refrigerator or freezer

Kathryn Dunlap

The following is an e-mail that was sent out to family and friends by my dear friend, Amy, and her husband. I wanted to share their story (with their permission) because their experience has reaffirmed to me the hope, joy and peace that believers can experience in the midst of tragedy. It has also encouraged me to so steep my daily life in the means of grace - reading Scripture, prayer, communing with other believers, etc. - that when trials come, I'll be upheld by the truths that I already know.

The Dunlap family have conducted themselves with tremendous grace and trust through the loss of their daughter, Kathryn, and while their trust in the Lord has inspired me to an extent far greater than they will ever know, their example does not surprise me. Their pain and suffering are very real, but they maintain hope in the promises of God that "all things work for good" (Rom. 8:28) and they can confidently say of their Lord, "Because you are my help, I can sing in the shadow of your wing" Psalm 63:7.

I know most of you have heard our story from various people by now, but I wanted to fill in some of the details and give you some of my perspective on the whole thing. Let me start by saying that the Lord is good! Though He allows us to go through very hard things, He does it so gently and shows us His grace along the way (thank you, Gail Schoellkopf, for that reminder).

I found out at 15 weeks that we had a twin pregnancy, where one twin developed into a perfectly healthy baby and one developed into a molar pregnancy. This “mole” is essentially a mass of abnormal placental tissue. Molar pregnancies are fairly common, but the chance of a young couple having one with a coexisting twin is literally one in one million. The doctor who did the sonogram (Dr. Rinehart) sent me home and warned me that it could cause major hemorrhage or high blood pressure brought on by preeclampsia. At this point, there was still a chance that the growth of the mole could slow down and preeclampsia could not set in, allowing us to make it to the healthy baby’s viability.

Within the next week, my ankles grew to the size they might have looked had I been 9 months pregnant, so I started monitoring my blood pressure. When it got up to 152/102 last Saturday night, the doctor on call sent me to the emergency room. I drove myself with a toothbrush and a pair of pajamas thinking I would maybe stay one night and everything would be fine. Blood work the next morning revealed that my liver function was abnormal and my body was not keeping up with my blood loss. I saw two doctors on call who both recommended that I terminate the pregnancy on Monday because there was no way I could get better and would continue to get more sick.

Craig and I just could not do this. We valued our baby’s life and could not think of ending it based on the assumption that the mole would keep growing and I would get more sick. We believed the Lord could still perform a miracle and reverse what seemed to be happening. On Monday morning, we finally got to see my doctor (Dr. Ann Lutich). We learned that she was Catholic and very pro-life and valued our baby’s life as much as we did. She sent us for an amniocentesisand sonogram (where we found out that we had a perfectly healthy little girl) and thought we should wait a little longer to see how things unfolded. I cannot tell you what relief the Lord brought to us in showing that we could trust my doctor because her beliefs were in line with ours. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday my blood work looked better! We thought things were turning around and began preparing to get comfy in the hospital for at least 7 weeks until she could survive if we delivered.

After reviewing my blood work Thursday morning, my doctor came in to say that things had dramatically changed. Those three extra days when things seemed to be getting better gave Craig and me some time to feel a real peace, even joy, in trusting what the Lord would do. We felt ready for the news when it came Thursday morning. It was now clear that severe preeclampsia had set in and we were putting my life at risk (my death, of course, would mean that our baby would not survive either). My liver function was even more elevated and I was having pains that could have indicated I was on my way to liver rupture. My hormone levels had increased so much that my doctor knew the mole was growing very rapidly. We found out later that my kidneys were starting to be affected and there was fluid on my lungs. I still the chance of hemorrhage, seizure, or stroke. She said that we were not going to terminate the pregnancy, but we had to do a C-Section to remove the mole that was taking over my body. We knew that a baby had never survived this type of surgery before but also knew that the Lord could do anything!

I have to say that I was very scared as I headed in for surgery that morning. There was a great chance of hemorrhage and hysterectomy and Craig and I have always dreamed of a big family. The surgery went very well in that they were able to completely remove the mole and not do a hysterectomy but our little girl did not survive. I had trouble breathing after the surgery, so they put me back on the ventilator and kept me in ICU until Friday evening.

On Friday afternoon, we got to spend some time seeing and holding our daughter, Kathryn Diane Dunlap. She was only 7 inches and 4 ounces but looked so fully and perfectly formed. Our pastor was there to pray during this wonderful time. I thought that 20 weeks was the mark when you got to see, name, and bury your child and I plead with the Lord to let me make it to that point. Though I was only 17 weeks and 3 days, we got to do all of this. The hospital even gave us a box with the blanket she was wrapped in, her wristband, footprints, and a picture of her. She is named after Kathryn Livesay Bruce, whom the Lord used to draw me into a relationship with Him in my college Bible Study. Diane is my mom’s name, Kady’s middle name, and the name of Craig’s aunt who passed away and whose diamonds I wear in my wedding rings. We have every reason to believe that Kathryn went to be with the Lord on Thursday and that we will see her again in glory (Psalm 139:13-16, Luke 1:44, 2 Samuel 12:23, 1 Corinthians 7:14).

I am home from the hospital but my blood pressure has still not come down so I’ve been trying to take it as easy as possible. This is just fine with me as I try to recover from a C-Section! Everyone with a molar pregnancy has a long road ahead of them, as there is a 50% chance of cancer. We are waiting for the biopsy and will monitor my hormone levels very closely to decide if we need to do a low dose of oral chemotherapy. We cannot try to get pregnant again for at least a year.

This has been a long sad week for our family, but we have felt inexplicable joy and peace as well. God revealed His presence to us clearly along the way. We are so thankful for the visits, calls, texts, and emails. Each one has taken a little of our burden and made our load lighter. Thank you for the physical ways you have served us and will serve us over the next few weeks- food, time with the boys, and work around our house. We were not completely settled from our move just three weeks ago, so all that everyone did to help us get settled and decorate for Christmas made me really look forward to returning home. This could have been a very sad time, as it made things feel so final. Craig and I are glad to talk about what happened so please do not hesitate to bring it up. We are also fine with you forwarding this to others who have asked about us.

Thank you again,


Monday, December 13, 2010

Chicken! Chicken! Chicken!

If you're growing weary of the same old chicken recipes, try these extremely easy and tasty dishes!

1 lb. skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1 c. mayo
1 (8 oz.) package shredded cheddar cheese
1 (4 oz.) can diced green chile peppers

Boil chicken breasts until cooked through.
Cool and shred with hands into small pieces.
Mix cream cheese, mayo, cheddar, and peppers in a large bowl.
And chicken and mix well.
Transfer chicken mixture into medium baking dish.
Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until edges are brown.
Serve with Frito scoops or tortilla chips.

1 1/2 c. plain yogurt
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 t. onion salt
1 t. paprika
1 t. celery salt
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
1 (16 oz.) package herb stuffing mix
tad of melted butter

Combine yogurt and next 5 ingredients. Marinate chicken breasts in yogurt mixture overnight or at least 4 hours. Remove chicken and coat with herb stuffing mix. Place in shallow baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. While hot, pour melted butter evenly over each breast (not too much or it gets too greasy).

From Food for Thought - Junior League of Birmingham cookbook

Heaping portion of spinach
Extra virgin olive oil
Lemon pepper, to taste
Handful of Rotisserie chicken
Feta cheese, to taste
Handful of walnuts, toasted
Craisins, to taste

Saute large amount of spinach in extra virgin olive oil until leaves are fully wilted, add lemon pepper to taste. Combine spinach, warm Rotisserie chicken, feta, walnuts and craisins. It's that simple. Enjoy!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Susannah Spurgeon: Free Grace and Dying Love

Many of you have probably heard of C.H. Spurgeon, the powerful 19th-century English preacher. While he is probably best known for his illustrative sermons, little is known about his wife. Susannah Spurgeon was an extraordinary woman, with a sweet affection for Christ and confidence in His perfect purposes in the midst of severe suffering. A chronic illness left her confined to the home for much of her adult life, but instead of sulking her way into uselessness, she continued pursuing an endeavor that she began before becoming so ill - the Book Fund. Through her efforts, the Fund supported numerous pastors, missionaries and theological students with theological literature to enhance their knowledge of their God and Savior. For some, these hand-outs were the only resources they had besides the Bible in order to grow in their teaching and preaching. Needless to say, her disability in no way hindered her from fulfilling the role to which the Lord had called her in the extension of His Kingdom.

Free Grace and Dying Love is a wonderful book that includes twenty-four devotions written by Susannah followed by a biography by Charles Ray. The former carries a heavy emphasis on seeing his loving and sovereign face behind the black clouds of suffering that will encourage you to meditate on the kindness, goodness, and greatness of God. These writings could only come from the pen of one who had suffered much, yet who loved and trusted more. The biography section will inspire you to set your sights above and seek first His kingdom regardless of your circumstances.

Here is an excerpt from her devotion entitled The Mourners' Comforter:

"The Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces" (Isa. 25:8).

"Come, all you sorrowful, mourning souls and see what a fair pearl of promise your God has brought to light for you, out of the very depths of the sea of your affliction. Here is an assurance so inexpressibly tender, a fact so blessed and joyful, that you can hardly regret the weeping which is to enlist such divine sympathy and consolation." (p. 28)

If you're interested only in the biography, I found the entire thing on-line (see below)!


Thursday, December 9, 2010

31 Days of Prayer for Your Husband

I just read about a brilliant idea that is guaranteed to bless your marriage! It's a document that contains 31 daily prayers for your husband, including 2 or 3 Biblical verses from which each prayer is derived. Check out the blog site below. If you become a follower of the Better Life Bags blog and leave your e-mail address in the comment box, or if you become a fan of the blog on Facebook, she'll e-mail you the document. She even shows you how to make your own prayer flip book if you prefer a more aesthetic presentation.


The Bible promises that prayer is effective (James 5:16). It's a wonderful expression of love for your spouse, and continual prayer will serve to remind you of the necessity of God's grace in your marriage. So whether you follow the pattern mentioned above, or another, make praying for your beloved a habitual practice.

Holiday Event Schedules (and Theirs!)

Only two weeks and two days until Christmas! Time is flying and as preparations are gearing up for holiday festivities and celebrations, parents should be gearing up to make some preparations of their own. Amid all the hustle and bustle of the season, the little one's needs can sometimes get lost in the swirl. Begin voicing suggestions now to give all involved plenty of time to adjust as needed to make this a merry Christmas for all!

1. Think about the timing of the meal(s), gift opening, gathering, etc.. Go ahead and decide what times are best to schedule "the biggies." You might want to request an early lunch or dinner for your big Christmas day meal to keep in sync with the kid's normal routine. If you think that both you and they would enjoy eating separately, plan around nap times, or pick up a new video to provide quiet entertainment while the adults feast. As for gift opening, try to coordinate with the extended family so the kids can be rested at that time and at their peek.

2. Pray for patience and understanding. If all of the events surrounding this Christmas go off without a hitch, in terms of the children, then you are one of the lucky few! Otherwise, prepare for the inevitable - kids will get overtired, overstimulated and one or more fits will be thrown. If your schedules are filled to the brim with people and activity, this will likely affect them, and, unfortunately, the affect may very well be negative. Be patient with them and give them some quiet reprieve when needed. This may even mean that you have to miss out on some events for their sakes. If this is the case, switch off with your spouse or find a babysitter if you think the kids might be better off missing an event than miserably enduring it.

3. Go with the flow. While mothers (at least I can speak for myself) love to be in control, we can't control everything, particularly when many others are involved, as they usually are this time of year. There will be times when you'll be much better off rolling with the masses, than fighting against them. Prepare for this ahead of time and relax in the moment. You'll enjoy the celebration far more, as will those around you.

4. Plan for quiet time. Make sure that you pencil in some alone time for your immediate family - enjoy going through an advent calendar, reading the gospel accounts of Jesus' birth, watching a Christmas movie or playing at home, or in a room separate from the chaos if you're not in your own home. Don't let the season fly by without allowing for time to let all of the joys of remembering that "the Messiah, the Lord" (Luke 2:11) assumed human flesh all those years ago so that we might have life on this earth and life everlasting!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Homemade Mac and Cheese and Falafel Pita

My friend gave me this recipe recently when I was looking for an alternative to boxed Mac 'n Cheese.

1/2 box macaroni noodles, cooked
1 package shredded cheese
1 T. butter
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 t. salt
1 t. dry mustard

Mix in bowl. Cook for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Here's a healthy and delicious Middle Eastern meal that can cover lunch, dinner or, if you really like it, both!

1/4 cup minced red onion
1 T. Dijon mustard
1 t. ground cumin
1/2 t. paprika
1/4 t. freshly ground black pepper
1/8 t. salt
1 (15 1/2-oz.) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1 (1-oz.) slice whole wheat bread, torn into pieces
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1 1/2 T. olive oil
2 (6-inch) whole wheat pitas, split
1 cup arugula
1/2 Cucumber-Yogurt Dressing*

*Cucumber-Yogurt Dressing:
1 cup plain fat-free yogurt
1/2 cup diced seedless cucumber
1/ cup minced red onion
1 t. fresh lemon juice
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and chill.

For falafel: combine first 10 ingredients in a food processor, pulse 6 times or until well blended (mixture will be wet).

Heat olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Spoon about 1/3 cup chickpea mixture per patty into pan; cook 4 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

Line each pita half with 1/4 cup arugula, add 1 patty to each pita half, and spoon 2 tablespoons Cucumber-Yogurt Dressing into each half pita.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 1 filled pita half)

Recipe compliments of myrecipes.com.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Digging vs. Plowing

Nothing has been more beneficial to me as a mother than regularly reading Scripture. There have been seasons where I have been able to read chunks of Scripture each day and others when I can only seem to fit in a chapter, or even a verse. It has often discouraged me when I can't carve out more time for "chunk reading." While prioritizing our time in the Word is needed for our growth and sanctification, the amount of Scripture that we read each day is not nearly as essential. In addition to having seasons where you set goals to get through a certain amount of the Bible, there is great benefit to reading, and really meditating on, small portions at a time.

Thinking of this reminded me of what a tour guide on a trip to Israel several years ago exhorted us to do while reading the Word - "dig, dig, dig." He warned us against treating the Word of God like a novel that we fly through in order to reach the end of each chapter, potentially missing important details on the pages in between. Essentially, he wanted us to be more intentional about setting aside times to focus more on quality than quantity. He challenged us to read a verse, or a phrase, over and over again. To pray through it, think on it, memorize it, and meditate on it throughout the day.

We sometimes hear the phrase "hang on to his every word." If we believe that the Bible is the very written Word of God, then we should most certainly be hanging on God's every word, because, "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).

If you want to give the "digging" method a go, here's a great verse to start with:

"You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound." Psalm 4:7

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Flying with Kids

Many of us will be traveling with our kids this holiday season. You may be a seasoned traveller, or this may be your first venture into the air with your little one(s). Either way, here are some tips that will hopefully limit the turbulence, both in the airport and 35,000 feet above!

1. Stay calm. Our kids are always watching us and reading our demeanors. If we're stressed and hyper, chances are they'll be wound up too.

2. Pack lightly. You certainly don't want to forget any essentials, but you only want to pack what's necessary. If you're meeting someone at your final destination, see if they can pick up diapers, wipes, etc. to lighten your load. You can always pay them back once you arrive. Also, this might be a season when you need to make some sacrifices in terms of clothing for yourself. Plan on re-wearing outfits or get creative and mix and match to feel like you're wearing something new. And do laundry when you can.

3. On-line check-in. This is probably obvious to most of you, but make sure you do anything you can at home to make the time at the airport go as smoothly as possible.

4. Backpack it. Trade your cute baby bag in for a backpack. You won't be worried about things falling out or about the bag sliding off your arm. This also might keep you balanced if you end up carrying a little one through the airport. Another plus is that most backpacks have multiple shortage spaces so you can easily keep up with items that you'll need throughout your trip. Prioritize what you're carrying and place the most important items (i.e. snacks) in easy to reach locations.

*I try to leave my pocketbook at home - one less thing to carry. Make sure you have pants with pockets and stick your license/passport, money and ticket in there. Everything else can go in the backpack.

5. Stroller with a pocket underneath. A stroller can be useful for carrying babies or bags. Storage underneath the stroller can come in handy, too.

6. CHECK BAGS and car seats* (wrapped in clear plastic). "Check bags" is in caps, because if you're anything like me, you can't bear to pay the extra fee to check a bag. When you're traveling with kids, however, the $25 might be well worth it. If you are checking, make it easy on yourself and use the curbside check-in. My theory is to drop off as much weight as possible as quickly as you can. You will have to check the car seats inside, and it's usually a good idea to ask them to wrap it in a clear plastic bag to keep the germs at bay.

*Keep a car seat with you if your child isn't too big and would be better off contained on the plane.

7. Make sure you get a boarding pass for your lap child. This hasn't always been a rule, but they now require each person, ticketed or not, to have a boarding pass in order to get through security.

*Ask the person at the gate if there are any extra seats available. They will often bend over backwards to keep families together and happy and snagging an extra seat for more room or to seat a "lap child" in could make for a far more comfortable flight!

8. Slip-on shoes. Choose your shoes wisely. Wearing slip-on shoes will enable you to easily take them off and put them back on when going through security.

9. $5 for 2 hours of happiness. I try to bring all of the food we'll need from home. This saves you money and time and is ideal. However, if you run out of food, or if your child complains of thirst right before you board, a snack or drink is worth every penny. Consider it an investment with a return of a whine-free flight (or greater chances of one anyway).

10. DVD player or other forms of entertainment. You want to be prepared to entertain, but you don't want to be burdened by the extra weight. Choose four toys or so that typically keep your child's attention for an extended period. Hit the Dollar Store for little distractions or now may be the time to splurge on a small toy they've been eyeing.

11. Light blanket. Plane temps can be unpredictable so bring a light blanket along to cuddle up with in case it gets chilly.

12. Food. Food. Food. Food is likely the most important item you'll need. They're much happier when they're not hungry, so come well stocked for your entire journey. Don't forget a plastic bag and napkins or wipes to help with clean up.