Tag Archives: Christmas

A Charlie Brown Christmas

On December 9, 1965, A Charlie Brown Christmas was aired for the first time. I do not remember whether or not we watched that year as a family, but my hunch is that we probably did. I remember watching every year, along with How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

While I have a love of almost all things Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas has always  had a special place in my heart. The music, the ice skating, Snoopy’s decorations and the sad little tree make me smile every year. And every time I watch it, I wait for Linus to share the Christmas story from Luke, the second chapter.

Several years ago, my associate Rev. Christopher Eshelman pointed out that as Linus shared that story, something amazing happened. When Linus recited the lines, “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not,'” Linus drops his blanket. Linus, who is mocked by his sister Lucy for his clinging to his blanket, drops it when he proclaims the angels message.

Now, I am not sure how Christopher found this insight, but it was long before the many blogs I have seen about that moment since then. The point is, that in this simple children’s cartoon program there are some amazing moments, not the least of which is Linus’ ability to drop his security blanket.

I suspect all of us have a bit of these characters in us: Lucy’s superiority and snobbiness; Pig-Pen’s ability to attract dirt;  Charlie Brown’s feeling of being a loser and always on the outside and of course, Linus’ insecurity and need for a blanket. We may not live out these characteristics every day, but I suspect they show up at different moments in our lives and often when we least expect them.

“Fear not!” the angel proclaims. Linus proclaims it to Charlie Brown in the confusion as to why Christmas is important and what it means. Everyone of those characters needs the promise and the hope of “Fear not!”

Fear not Lucy, you don’t need to be better than any one to be loved. You are loved and you don’t need to put anyone down in order to receive that love. Fear not Pig-Pen! Yes life is sometimes messy and downright dirty, but you are loved and you don’t have to clean up your act to be loved.

Fear not Charlie Brown! You don’t have to figure everything out to be loved, your don’t have to be perfect or have it all together. You are loved. Fear not Linus! Yes the world is scary place sometimes, and it is okay to need blanket now and then. You are loved!

Fear not! Behold I bring tidings of great joy! Christmas is the good news of God among us. God comes into our messy, anxious, uncertain lives and says “you are loved!” We do not need to fear, God is not overwhelmed by our bumbling, crazy ways of trying to feel better. Instead, in Jesus, God puts on this fragile human body, and reaches out with grace and hope and proclaims, “you are loved. you are accepted. Fear not!”

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Friday after Thanksgiving

For many, today is Black Friday, a day to shop and see how many bargains or deals they can get for Christmas or just for themselves. Its history goes back to President Roosevelt and his setting of the Thanksgiving holiday. President Roosevelt wanted to help merchants sell more products for Christmas and boost the economy.

The truth is, I have never been into Black Friday shopping. When I was younger and my kids were younger, I never had the money to do the Black Friday blitz. I know the whole point of the Black Friday is to save money, but the things that are usually the best deals are always expensive: game systems, televisions, computers. The other things are often what ever is the hottest toys and again, often pricey.

My sister and I would occasionally go out on Friday morning, not early, usually mid-morning and would people watch. We might purchase a roll of wrapping paper or something equally mundane, but the sales had no allure for us.

Now, Black Friday sales started at least two weeks ago if not three weeks ago. The ads have popped up on my computer and my e-mail inbox is full of “deals.” I still do not go out and shop, nor do I do online shopping.

Instead, the day after Thanksgiving, my husband and I take down all the Thanksgiving decorations and begin the process to of decorating for Christmas.

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One of the perks of staying home is leftovers! There is nothing better!

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Today was no different. We have brought up all the boxes. “We,” by “we” I mean Andrew brought up all the boxes (I am not sure how many, but Andrew counted 45 Thanksgiving and Christmas!)

We have several trees (okay maybe more than 20), plus garlands, and two sets of Christmas dishes.

So, we are preparing for the season of Advent, a time of waiting with hope and faith for the coming of Christ. For me, that means putting away all the fall decorations and beginning to decorate for Christmas. Lights will be everywhere, inside and out, to ward off the shorter days and the longer nights. This process will take several days, but so worth it!

Advent begins Sunday, but I am already preparing. I am ready to begin this new year looking once again for the hope, peace, joy and love promised in Emmanuel, God with us.

 

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Feast of Epiphany

Christmas if officially over. Yesterday was the twelfth day of Christmas which means today is Epiphany. We celebrate the visitation of the magi or wise men from the East. I have several nativity sets and not all of them have the magi, but many do. Traditionally they wouldn’t appear in the nativity until today, but I always put them in early because I am afraid I would forget other wise.

Often, Epiphany, January 6, does not actually fall on Sunday. We celebrate Epiphany the first Sunday in January regardless of when the actual day falls in the week. It is a joy to actually be able to celebrate on the actual day. The story of Jesus’ birth from Matthew is quite different from Luke. Instead of angels we have a star and instead of shepherds we have travelers, outsiders, foreigners from the East seeking the Christ Child.

Matthew allows us a peek into a more violent world than Luke’s. Herod and his vengeful leadership is an intregal part of the story. After today, the stars come down, the nativity put up for another and all the trees and garlands and lights are turned off. I am always a little bit sad when that happens. I will miss the lights particularly. I also know that we are called to be the light and to share that light with others. Epiphany is the sharing of that light with everyone.

In worship, we reclaimed an old tradition to announce the high holy days of the Christian year in worship. Seeking Christ means to be intentional about committing to worship and each other as Christians. You can find the whole worship service here.

As Christmas ends and Epiphany begins, I am reminded of Howard Thurman’s poem, When the Song of Angels is Stilled:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.

May it be so in all of our lives.

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Year of Gratitude, December: Week 3

DECEMBER

Just a few days from Christmas we continue with week 3 of our Year of Gratitude. Week one I invited us to write thank you notes to those who talents had blessed us and to share our talents with others. Week two we were thankful for the gift of time.

It was a real joy for me to write some thank you notes to people who had given the gift of time. Honoring their commitment and savoring the gift was a blessing to me. Giving of my time was another way to celebrate the joy and love and yes peace of the season. Giving time not out of obligation, but out of a sense of love and faith was joyous!

This week the challenge is to write a thank you note focusing on treasure. The first definition of treasure from Merriam-Webster focuses on money and wealth. It is the second definition that speaks of something or someone of great value. That can be, but isn’t necessarily based on monetary value.

Jesus once said, “that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) Perhaps it begs the question, but what do you treasure? What do I treasure? What do I find most precious in my life? What do you find most precious in your life? What do we treasure above all else?

This week the challenge is to write a thank you note that honors what we treasure most. That thank you note might honor a relationship we might have, it might be to an organization that we are so grateful to be able to assist through our time and our donations. Honor what you treasure most with a thank note and through the gift of you: your time, your presence or a donation.

May what we treasure help us focus our faith this week as we celebrate the birth of Emmanuel, God-with-us.

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Year of Gratitude: December, Week 2

DECEMBER                                                                                                                                          We are now less than two weeks from Christmas day. For many of us, the crush of things to do, places to go and parties and events to attend seem relentless. Where does one find the time to give thanks? Like Straight No Chaser’s song, The  Christmas Can- Can, it can feel like a mad dash to get to the end of the season. Other than a quick thank you through a text or e-mail or phone sending a thank you note may feel like one more thing to do in an already ridiculously full calendar.

Yes, indeed, I am going to challenge you to write a thank you note this week. Our focus, will be on the gift of time. This one thing, seems to be the hardest to grasp with our culture overwhelming us with things to do. And there are so many wonderful places to go, performances to attend, special worship services and events in which to participate. Time is precious and a gift in and of itself.

So this weeks challenge is to write one thank note to someone who has given  you the gift of time. Maybe they went to coffee or lunch with you, or called you or stopped by and their presence and time spent with you was a special gift. I believe I often overlook the simpliest things because I get too busy, too focused; a simple hug, a “how are you, really?” and the time it takes is a gift beyone measure.

Write one thank note, at least for time shared and given. Then sometime this week offer a gift of time to someone else. Some one you love,  someone who you haven’t talked to for a while, or perhaps, just bring a cup of coffee to their desk and see how they are doing. This week, we give thanks for the gift of time.

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On the Twelfth Day of Christmas

I am always amazed at how quickly the the twelve days of Christmas fly by. I am not unaware that many people don’t care. Or that the twelve days are used as a countdown to December 25 with sales and promotions all trying to get people to buy more for that first day of Christmas.

In the stores, on the radio and television stations and internet sites, not many care about Christmas after the 25th of December. Oh, there are sales galore, but Valentine’s hearts and flowers are already seen and the next push for sales. Christmas becomes not so much a season as an exercise in surviving too many parties, too many crowds, too much food and drink and often too much money spent on things that do not matter and are easily broken and forgotten

As a pastor, the time leading up to December 25 is filled with year end meetings, extra worship planning, a few more services and events for the church. There are more parties and open houses than I could ever hope to attend and this year, in the midst of Advent, Andrew and I had the joy of celebrating the marriage of one of our children in California. The Advent season itself was shorter, just three weeks, with the fourth Sunday of Advent also being Christmas eve.

All of that is a way of explaining why the twelve days of Christmas are precious to me. I try to savor them, each day. In years past, FAR past, the twelve days were filled with the parties and visits and meals and general “gaiety” we now celebrate prior to December 25. Advent at that time was a period for fasting and penitence and reflection on the incarnation, of God’s gift in Christ. The twelfth day of Christmas is the transition into Epiphany on January 6 (the visitation of the magi, the wise men and a season of celebrating that God is manifest to humanity, ALL of humanity.)

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For those who love trivia, many Orthodox churches celebrate Christmas day on January 7 because aligns with the old Julian calendar and in a dozen or so countries that is a day off and a holiday. I won’t go into detail as it has to do with the switch in calendars from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar.

So the Feast of the Epiphany in the Western is tomorrow on January 6. Epiphany, as a holiday is to celebrate the manifestation of the Christ to the Gentiles (or to all people and all nations). As a word, it means a revelation or an insight. In the midst of the twelve days what has been revealed to me? What insight have gained from the celebration of Christmas?

A friend of mine posted this picture on Facebook to honor the visitation of the Magi. It is from the Catacombs in Rome, specifically of Priscilla.

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This was probably done in the 2nd century. From the earliest days, this event, of magi, wise ones, star gazers from the east was an important event to remember. Christianity has in its beginnings an understanding that Emmanuel, God-with-us is not an exclusive event or for just a few. Christ came for all, that all might experience the love and grace of God.

So on this twelfth day of Christmas, I am seeking insight and wisdom on how God’s love can be made real and true in my life and spirit. I am looking for God’s presence in the word and like Mary, I am pondering all of these things in my heart. Merry Christmas and may Epiphany bring us all new insight and a revelation of God in our midst.

 

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A day of ordinary in the New Year

I write this on the 9th day of Christmas and and the second day of 2017. The last of the company left mid-afternoon yesterday. I miss them, the ones that left mid-week and the ones just yesterday. There never seems to be enough time to do everything and say everything. The moments are so fleeting and yet so appreciated. 

I, as usual, took few pictures. I mean to, I really do, but in the midst of playing and walking and laughing and just being together, I forget. I did some important ones, four generations with Andrew’s mom who is 96 and one never knows when there will be another chance to have family around her for a picture. I took a few pictures of food, as is my habit, maybe because it doesn’t move quickly. 

The house is incredibly quiet. I miss the laughter, the conversation and even the shouts when small fights would break out in the midst of playing children. I don’t mind the quiet actually, it helps me re-image in my minds eye the last week-drinking coffee, eating meals, playing games, Pokémon walk, a trip to the zoo, our boxing day open house filled with friends old and new, watching movies, opening gifts and toasting to a new year.

So on this second day of the new year, I am doing ordinary things. Washing bedding from 8 beds and I am not half done. Washing towels, from lots of showers and baths, folding laundry, putting away dishes and tidying up. If truth be told I am not much of a housekeeper, I would much rather do other things. Today, it feels right to just slowly put the house back in order. None of the decorations are coming down yet as it is only the ninth day of Christmas and I refuse to rush the end of the season. I am, however, not putting the Christmas pillows back on the beds as they will soon need to be packed up.

On this ordinary day, doing ordinary everyday things (as noted in this Carried Newcomer song), I am pondering what this year will mean. I look back at last year and am so astounded and perplexed and amazed at what the year brought. I moved into a new church appointment, I was shocked by the bitterness and hatred that unfolded in the political process and I was blessed by so many things. Truly 2016 was a year of ups and downs, but really in many ways pretty ordinary. Every year of my life has been filled with joy and sorrow, love and laughter, tears and grief, times of anxiety and times of hope. 

I guess as the days of Christmas wind down I must admit that each year I long that somehow this Christmas will truly change the world and move it from darkness to light, from oppression to justice, from hate to love, from bigotry to equality. I know that it is probably naive and silly, but I long for a time when there are more stories of hope and love and justice and peace than there are of hatred and violence and terrorist attacks and war. In the midst of ordinary moments these longings are pondered in the midst of folding laundry, making beds and cleaning up the debris. 

William Auden in his poem For the Time Being, speaks to some of that longing. A pdf copy of part of the poem is found at this website http://www.cynthiadavisauthor.com/Auden,%20Oratorio.pdf. A couple of the lines state, “Once again, as in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed to do more than entertain it as an agreeable Possibility…to those who have seen the Child, however dimly, however incredulously, the Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all…Remembering the stable where once in our lives Everything became a You and nothing became an It.”

I re-read this poem each year, praying that the Time Being will change, and someday everyone will be a YOU and no one will be an IT. When the world returns to ordinary, I can choose to remember, I can choose to do more than entertain the Possibility that the world can be different, I can choose to be part of an ordinary everyday way of living that will change the world, just as God chose to change the world through a tiny infant, born to pretty ordinary everyday people.

So, in the words of the poet, “In the meantime There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair, Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance.” Laundry to washed, folded and put away, beds to made, dishes to wash and a few dinners and meals to cook for Andrew before my vacation is over. A few days left to celebrate the birth of Emmanuel, God-with-us, before the season of Epiphany and “ordinary time” return to the church calendar.

I will use my ordinary, everyday life to give witness to God’s love and grace in this time and space and place. I only have ordinary everyday minutes in which to love, to serve, to hope and offer hope and to live out my faith in the God who graces our lives in the ordinary, the birth of a child, an ordinary family and out of those things, come hope, faith and a vision of a new day and age of peace, justice and righteousness. So…in the time beings I re-affirm the words of Howard Thurman on this ordinary 2nd day of 2017 and 9th day of Christmas:

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Christmas Merry or Not

“Have yourself a merry little Christmas,” the song goes. Every artist including Kermit the Frog sings this Christmas standard. The song itself, is reflective, a bit melancholy and challenging. Regardless, the song states, “have yourself a merry little Christmas, now.”

Now those who know me, know I tend to go overboard at Christmas. My house has 23 decorated Christmas trees, yes that number is correct. I don’t count the little miniature trees that are not decorated, although my husband would include them in counting the trees. I have lighted Christmas garland everywhere and outside lights that my twin sister states are “Griswold-like.”

I love Christmas cookie and candy making. I watch a plethora of Christmas movies and have more Christmas CD’s than I want to admit. Yes, I still play CD’s, in fact I have the old time @Firestone and @Goodyear Christmas LP’s which also get played. I don’t begin these activities before Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is its own holiday and deserves respect and honor.

The day AFTER Thanksgiving, the decorations begin and the plans are made. This year, for the first time in many years my children are home and the grandboys are here. Such a blessing in so many ways. There has been laughter and a bit of yelling over a game or two, some cooking and baking and eating and watching movies. My heart is happy.

Having said that, there are still those moments, when I acknowledge the ones that are not here. My facebook feed has an option to look back “on this day” and the last few days have been filled with memories, many of which go back long enough to include my mother.

Now my mom loved Christmas, but not in an over the top way. She hated baking, particularly cookies. She preferred recipes that were easy and didn’t take a whole lot of time. She was into convenience. She liked family around, but often preferred to observe rather than to participate. She did LOVE Christmas music though. The house would be filled LOUDLY with old Christmas albums playing non stop during the holidays.

For some reason, the past few days keep reminding me of her. The last Christmas we spent together this pictures was taken.

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It’s one of my favorite pictures of my mom and my sister and I. Yesterday I pulled out a cookbook she gave me. This particular cookbook was one of those “church” cookbooks, from her congregation.

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Not new, obviously but included the “pumpkin bar” recipe she made every holiday and “puppy chow” which grandboys love. I made the pumpkin bar recipe this evening and of course it reminded me of her.

I am not a person who wallows in sadness or grief. I am finding myself, noting the moments, and being grateful for both the joy and the sadness. I do not want to be one of those persons who gives up holidays because someone has died during that time period. As a pastor with so many funerals after 33 years, I would never ever celebrate a holiday again. I want to grieve and to celebrate.

Life goes on, and that is as it should be. When I prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, that birth took place in the midst of tragedies, in the midst of fear and grief and also in the midst of joy and celebrations. Each loss changes things, but grief ought not to have the final word. Love and laughter are life giving.

I ran across this amazing piece of music. It acknowledges the grief and the uneasiness of those who have lost loved ones. “Different Kind of Christmas” by Mark Schultz will speak to those with most recent losses but also those who are recreating holiday experiences.

In my life, it seems every year is a “different” kind of Christmas. Not necessarily bad, but always different. The world, the community, the family changes and each year for me I am challenged to embrace the beauty of Christmas, God made real in “Emmanuel” God-with-us.

So, on this day before Christmas Eve, I wish you a Merry Christmas. May your holiday be filled with love, with laughter, with friends and family far and near. May you experience Emmanuel, the presence of God with you.

 

 

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American Girl, Red Cups and Ridiculous Controversy

Much ado about nothing has been exploding across my social media about red cups and Christmas. I promised myself I would ignore such a silly controversy and the made up “war on Christmas.” I have my own rant on that, and it has nothing do with saying “Merry Christmas” and EVERYTHING to do with selling cheap garbage in August, with tinny Christmas music playing while enslaving children in other countries to make cheap trinkets for us to stuff our stockings and overspend our budgets to celebrate Jesus.

The same time the red cup silliness hit my newsfeed, another story about the “cultural wars” slipped in and has been largely overlooked.

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American Girl publishes a magazine and highlighted a young African American girl and her family and the charity her dads have created for children in foster care. This girl was adopted with her brother and then this couple adopted two more children also brothers. The author of the American Girl article was interested in the charity Comfort Cases and investigated. The article was a result of that investigation.

I understand that there is more than one opinion about gay marriage. However the constant use of the term “war” is grating on my nerves. The charity that Rob Scheer has started has helped over 7000 foster children. The Washington Post, among other news outlets have written about this controversy. The article “American Family Faces Harsh Criticism” shares the story of the article and the nature of the push to boycott American Girl.

The criticism is that American Girl should have use a different girl and a different story. Seems to me that focusing on Amaya and her dad’s charity helps point out how many children need a family, need to be loved and cared for. Two men, who love each other, have adopted four such children and work to provide backpacks for those who don’t have a family. I don’t know anything more Christian than that. Which part of Jesus’ sayings “let the children come to me” and to not cause harm to little ones is confusing? Jesus blessed children and used the image of children to talk about the kingdom of God.

I have spent a couple of days wondering what is wrong with folk. The red cup brouhaha was a video made by someone who obviously has issues. A red cup, is a red cup and has nothing to do with the celebration of Christmas. I, personally, don’t look to Starbucks to share with me my religious understanding of Christmas. Last time I checked, reindeers, snowflakes and snow men are NOT Christian symbols. In fact red for Christmas isn’t a Christian color: purple or blue is the color of Advent and the color of the twelve days of Christmas is white and gold.

Why do we focus on the color of a cup or on a wonderful family that is making a difference in lives of children with no families as a problem? If Christians, myself included, want to celebrate the birth of Jesus, there are a variety of ways that has nothing to do with the words “merry” the color “red” or an overpriced doll that would truly be a witness to God’s grace in the world.

So I am going to choose to spend less time on those who would create a false controversy and more time on those working to transform the world with love and grace and justice. Bringing food for United Methodist Open Door Ministries, helping Inter-Faith ministries with Operation Holiday ad the Overflow Shelter for the homeless is an action that is closer to bringing Christ’s reign on earth than worrying about the color of cup. Celebrating a family who brings those without a family into a home is a deeper commitment to Christ than a boycott of a magazine or a store.

Instead of posting silliness on social media about things that don’t matter, like red cups or whether someone says “Merry Christmas”, post something positive that will make a real difference in the lives of children, the lives of homeless, the refugee, the lost and those who are lonely. I think we can transform the world one person at a time if we look to those who need love and grace and offer the best of who we are in response.

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A Day in the Life, Part 3: Interfaith Friends

I am often amazed at what a gift it is to be a pastor, but the last three weeks, I have been reminded more deeply how blessed I really am. Today, was the Sunday before Thanksgiving. If I was more liturgical and the church I served was more liturgical it would have been “Christ the King” Sunday. The last Sunday of Christian year is a day that points to Christ as Ruler of all and as the one who one day will, in the words of the Hallelujah Chorus in Handel’s Messiah, “will reign forever and ever.”

Instead, as I have in last couple of decades, this has been “Thanksgiving Sunday.” There are so many traditional Thanksgiving hymns and songs and while the culture rushes on toward Christmas, Thanksgiving gives me and the church a chance to breathe, to pause and to do what we are called to do as a faithful people “to give thanks with a grateful heart.” Scripture is filled with admonitions to give thanks, to remember that blessings are gifts and that the love we share, the food we eat, the roofs over our heads, everything is a gift from God.

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Unlike many of our American holidays Thanksgiving is universal. One does not need to be Christian or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist to have thankfulness. Anyone in any place can be thankful. Now the America’s tradition of Thanksgiving is rooted in a faith that understands a Supreme Being, but having a feast where one says “Thank you” doesn’t require faith of any kind.

Today, was a full day in the life of the church. Special music, a pick up for homemade pies made for by our youth as a fundraiser, and a very special dinner following worship. A group from the Student Association for Interfaith Dialog from Wichita State University came to bring us a “pre-Thanksgiving” dinner. Most of the students and faculty and families are from Turkey, so they brought a feast to our church to share with us.

Ms. Esra Barut shared with us about the Association and there were families at each table so we could share food and share fellowship. Adam and I had been in touch through other activities including their annual dinner. The food was amazing and it was such a joy to eat and laugh and share with new friends.

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I have not pictures of the food before it was devoured, but I have a few pictures after we had eaten.

The beef pastries and beef and rice was so good!

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The wheat salad was like nothing I had eaten before. They take wheat, soak it all night, then drain it and begin to pour boiling water on the wheat until it tender. Add homemade yogurt, vegetables fresh dish, a little mayo and some pickles….well it was amazing.

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And of course what would a Turkish meal be without homemade Baklava?

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There was other food, spinach pastries, cake, a potato salad, tossed salad and our friends were concerned that they hadn’t brought a main dish!!!! Here is what my plates looked like:

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Wichita is not a big enough city to have a Turkish community center to teach cooking classes. So it was decided that next spring we should gather and learn to cook “real” Turkish food. We will also host an interfaith dialog this spring.

Being thankful is not an “American” trait or a “Christian” trait, it is a gift that crosses all cultural, ethnic and religious lines. I am so thankful for the friendship extended this day from Adam, Asra their families and all who came to share food and fellowship with us. Their generosity and truthfully fabulous food was a gift without price. I am deeply grateful to have celebrated God’s goodness this day with West Heights and with new friends who remind me I am graced to serve.

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