Wednesday, November 27, 2013

New Give-Away Contest

Fall 2013 Give-Away Contest

I’m tickled pink about the new Too Blessed to be Stressed Perpetual Calendar.

By the way, “perpetual” means the 365 full color pages are dated but have no year, so it can sit on your
kitchen counter forever. Or until Junior sloshes spaghetti sauce all over it.

Too Blessed to be Stressed Calendar

 And to make sure you’re as tickled as I am, I’m giving away a full DOZEN perpetual calendars!

All you have to do is shoot me an electronic photo of you decom-stressing in your favorite chillin’ zone (exotic location, back yard, couch with Fido, etc.) and I’ll choose the 12 most unique and creative photos as the winners, PLUS the top three will be posted on my blog. Make sure you’re subscribed so you don’t miss anything!

Send your photo to me at this e-dress or via my website by the deadline on December 5th and if you're a winner, you’ll receive your calendars in time for Christmas as my gift to you in celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Grace That's Truly Amazing

It was no use. The $100 bill was gone.

My daughter Cricket searched her pockets for the third time just to be sure. Then she ransacked the tote bag she'd been carrying around the expansive neighborhood garage sale yet again, panic evident on her pinched, bloodless face and wild eyes.

"Oh, no. Oh, nooo! It can't be gone! It was in my pocket, I'm sure of it. I only put my hand in there once, and that was about twenty minutes ago." Cricket and I, garage sale junkie buddies for most of her 28 years, had headed out before dawn to an annual treasure-filled, 200-home combined community garage sale in an upscale neighborhood.

Sale-ing went way back with us. I had fond memories of a wispy-haired blond toddler accompanying me on my Saturday morning garage sale hunting expeditions long before she'd grown up, married, and had a toddler of her own.

But things were not going so well in the present. Adult Cricket had been miffed when I picked her up that morning (my car had more fill-to-the-brim cargo space for our loot than hers so I drove) because her husband had been paid in $100 bills on a moonlighting job the night before, rather than the small bills she had been planning to take garage sale-ing bright and early.We knew from experience that sellers rarely accepted large bill at an event like this, for it would deplete all their change.

Sure enough, nobody during the first hour of our shopping expedition would touch the hunky bill, so she'd folded it and stored it in the place she thought would be safest - her jeans pocket. And now we were halfway home and wallowing in deep misery.

"It won't do any good to go back," I said, trying to be realistic but feeling just terrible for her. "If it fell out of your pocket, it wouldn't be on the ground very long. Somebody will be having a very good day today. Maybe they really needed it."

"They couldn't have needed it worse than me." Cricket's eyes welled up and her hands started shaking. "I can't believe I lost it," she said just above a whisper. "That was pretty much all we had to spend for the baby's Christmas."

So with nothing else to be done about it, we prayed. Gee. Wouldn't you think we'd have thought of that first?

We'd barely begun pouring our grief out to Papa and begging for His mercy and grace when Cricket, in desperation, thrust her hand once again into that same empty pocket she'd already tried repeatedly. Only this time it wasn't empty. This time her hand came out clutching a wrinkled green portrait of Ben Franklin.

"Oh, my goodness! God put it back in my pocket!" Cricket cried, just before we burst into laughter and rocked the car in gleeful celebration.

Ben once was lost but now is found. Just like you. Just like me. That's grace.


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Never Underestimate the Power of Prayer

A lovely grace-full church we visited in Mykonos, Greece
Do you ever get tired of those marvelous grace notes Papa God plops in our laps just to prove He's got our backs?

I hope not, because I'm going to share another zinger. And yet another in next week's post.

This one is not my own, actually, but was shared with me by my writer friend Karen.

Karen and I had become friends at a national conference for writer/speakers. As I exited the hotel the morning after the conference ended, I passed Karen in the lobby on her hands and knees dissecting her luggage. There were little piles of clothes, make-up bags, boxes, and books all over the floor.

"What's up, Karen?" I asked, pausing in route to catch my waiting taxi. "Is something wrong?"

"Oh, I'm going batty trying to find my Kindle before my ride gets here," Karen admitted. "I just know I packed it in here but I can't seem to find it. It's got to be here somewhere. I just can't live without that thing."

Unable to loiter and commiserate any longer, I told her I'd be sure to lift her situation up in prayer and proceeded to do so as my driver sped me away to the airport."

The following day, I e-mailed Karen and asked if her Kindle search had been successful. Here was her answer:

"I searched and searched both suitcases four different times before the shuttle got there to pick us up. Never did find it. So while our driver stored our luggage in the bus, I explained my dilemma to the two other ladies from the conference catching the same shuttle. Without a moment's hesitation, one of the ladies launched into a heartfelt verbal prayer for the Lord to bring the prodigal Kindle back home.

"As soon as I got to the airport, while I was standing in line at the ticket counter, I unzipped the same compartment in my carry-on bag that I'd already searched over and over. I'll be dipped if the Kindle didn't pop right up like a jack-in-the-box."

To wrap it all up, Karen finished with a wallop. "Never underestimate the power of prayer."

To that I say, AMEN, sister!  And I'll be dipped.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Amazing Ephesus

Our visit to the ancient biblical city of Ephesus 
This September, Spouse and I enjoyed a wonderful 35th wedding anniversary Mediterranean cruise which took us to five European countries in 15 days.

I'll be blogging more stories about our adventures (and posting some incredible pictures) later but I just had to share with you one of the most spiritually moving parts of our trip.

Our trip to Ephesus.

Our view toward the coast en route by bus to Ephesus
Ephesus (location of one of the first ever Christian churches Paul wrote to in 1 and 2 Ephesians) is no longer an operational city and getting to it entailed riding a bus nearly an hour through the rural valleys and hills of modern day Turkey from our ship's port in Kusadasi. In biblical days, Ephesus was on the coast, but today, due to significant geological changes because of natural disasters, it's nearly 5 miles inland.

At some point (I'm not sure of the year), landslides from severe earthquakes buried the entire sprawling metropolis under tons of rock, dirt, and debris from the surrounding mountains. Archaeologists have only recently begun digging it out, and gigantic chunks of regal pillars, beautiful statues, ornate temples, stone trade centers, an enormous amphitheater, and private homes litter the ground like enormous jigsaw puzzles waiting to be pieced together.

Carved symbol on certain house entrances
As we toured the ruins of the once thriving and highly populated city, I noticed several recurrent symbols carved into the doorposts of certain buildings, or crudely scratched onto entrance stepping stones. One, the fish symbol, or ichthus, which was a clandestine symbol of early Christians to avoid punishment and ridicule by the Artemus (Diana)-worshiping society of Ephesus, I recognized immediately. But the other, something that resembled a wagon wheel with spokes, stumped me completely.

I questioned our tour guide about the meaning of the crude emblem that seemed to be turning up in strange places all over the city, but she smiled mysteriously and said, "Just wait. You'll see."

After we walked and walked around the dry, dusty streets and visited ancient toilets and bakeries and massive pagan temples, I asked her again about the circular symbol we kept running across tucked here and there, usually discreetly, in various odd locations around the city.
Road leading to Amphitheater at Ephesus

Our guide, in heavily accented English, began telling us of the persecution and ridicule endured by the first Christians of Ephesus in AD 60-70, after Paul's visit on his 2nd missionary journey (Acts 18:18-19). The leaders and artisans associated with the great temple of Artemus located there were not at all happy with the enthusiastic newfound Christians poisoning their bustling idol business, which also deepened the schism between traditional Jews and Gentile converts to Christianity.

Temple of Artemus
As she spoke, our guide began drawing in the loose sand at her feet with a long stick. It actually gave me chill bumps because it reminded me of the story of the adulterous woman about to be stoned by the furious mob when Jesus began drawing in the sand before at the temple in Jerusalem uttering the crowd-dissipating challenge, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" (John 8).  

Our guide first drew the fish (ichthus) symbol, filling in the center with the Greek letters I, X, O, Y, E (sorry - that's as close as I can come to the Greek alphabet with this keyboard), which roughly translated, means Jesus Christ God's Son Savior. Then she pointed to each letter separately, beginning with the I, and drew it with her stick in the sand, superimposing them one on top of the other. When she was finished, to my amazement, there was the exact wagon wheel symbol we had been seeing. It, too, was a secretive symbol of Christianity that was used to identify Jesus-followers without blowing their cover.

These Greek letters (center) superimposed upon each other create the top symbol

Incidentally, on his third missionary journey, Paul stayed in Ephesus, the commercial, political, and religious center of what was then Asia Minor for about three years, and then left Timothy in charge of the church for a time before the apostle John later made Ephesus his headquarters.

Tradition has it that John brought Mary, the mother of Jesus, back to Ephesus with him to take care of her until her death. We were able to visit the small house, now tended by nuns, set back in the wooded hills where she was supposed to have lived (below left). I'll try to squeeze another picture or two of Ephesus in here before this post overflows.
Mary's small stone cottage in the hills outside Ephesus
Deb on the original stone road at the Ephesus gate

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Bear Necessities

Look who stopped by for dinner!
What a shocker!

I glanced through the picture window of our remote Smoky Mountain cabin, and there was a large black, furry face staring back at me. A bear face to be exact.

He was perched on the railing of our deck with his long tongue protruding, trying to corner a few sunflower seeds from our bird feeder. He was so startled when he saw us, I was afraid he'd either chomp on his own tongue, or fall overboard.

He probably marched up the stairs to get there, but for a quick exit, he leaped from the railing to a nearby tree, his sharp claws extended and strong muscles rippling beneath his fur coat, and shimmied down to the ground while we ran around like crazies screaming and trying to snap photos.

We'd heard there were occasionally bears spotted in our region, and a mountaineer down the slope that hosted bee hives had reported a honey-invader a few years ago, but we had never actually seen one in the 20 years we'd been spending vacation time there.

My 28-year-old daughter was in the shower, but managed to pick out through all the commotion in the living room the word "Bear!" So she grabbed her towel and camera, and with hair dripping down her face, shot out the door in the 45 degree late afternoon chasing the fleeing bear wearing only a towel.

That's when we discovered that the birdseed was merely dessert. By the looks of the nasty food debris strewn around the front yard, dinner had been our three full garbage bags that were sitting in the garage awaiting transportation to the dump. That'll teach me to keep the garage door closed when there are ripe trash bags inside.

But the funniest thing of all came later the next day when Spouse went to make himself a fruit smoothie. The jumbo jar of protein powder supplement that had been sitting beside the door leading from the den into the garage because it was too big to stay in the kitchen ... was missing.


On a hunch, Spouse went on a hunting expedition and found the jar smashed on a log in the woods at the foot of our property. Apparently Joe Black Bear had hauled it away, although we can't for the life of us figure out how. The jar was too big to fit in his snout, so he must've carried it with his front paws, walking on his hind legs. Wouldn't that have been a sight to see! And eyeball-to-eyeball we would have been all right if one of us had opened the door at just the right moment.

Now we just have to keep our eyes peeled for Joe carrying a blender into the blackberry patch.