MORE THAN A COOKBOOK OF RECIPES  By Lori A Alicea

It was once quoted:

Most of us will be remembered, in work and in life, for just a few words or deeds that made a difference to others. The way we choose to say good-by is likely to be one of the ways we are remembered.
Frances Hesselbein

How true this was for my grandmother.

Who knew a large, table size crystal plate of homemade holiday cookies served on Christmas Eve each year of my childhood would be the memory I treasured most of my grandmother.

A small deed gaining no fame or recognition on the evening news; nor article in a Good Housekeeping magazine either.

But congregating around a basement table draped with a holiday scene of felt and sequins each December 24th, were her grandchildren ruining their dinner appetites gobbling their grandmother’s famous peanut butter balls, fudge and an assortment of decorated cookies; all full of homemade love.

Carrying this memory with me my whole life kept this little girl inside smiling around a table of cookies; so much so that all I wanted when my grandmother passed away was her cookbook of holiday recipes, her crystal plate and felt tablecloth of sequins.

Grandma’s memory was kept alive through the years when I’d set out her crystal cookie plate and fill it full of confections I remembered and loved as a child.

Recently, her cookbook found its way back into my cupboard after re-discovering this treasure while emptying a storage-unit full of boxes.

Never opening my grandmother’s heirloom after all these years until today, did I realize her valuable gift was more than a cookbook of recipes but also a time capsule of family mementos she saved.

Wedding invitations of my sister’s and mine from year 1978 and 1980.Belinda's wedding invite

Lori Wedding invite to Mike

A Christmas poem I authored and sent in the year 2004, only to be converted to my grandmother’s Christmas card list on the back. So many names I smiled to see on my grandmother’s circle of influence, though sad to remember a few good-byes since her Christmas list was written.2004 xmas poem

Bertie 2004 xmas list

A wedding anniversary card from my grandfather to his sweetheart, signing it ever so sweetly,

From Little Old Me,
DanGrandpa Houle anniversary card front

Grandpa Houle anniversary card inside

But what caught my attention most were a few prayers written by my grandmother, hidden between the pages of her cookbook of recipes.

Randomly written on the backs of other pages as was her Christmas list, my grandmother poured out her heart before God, unknowingly blessing her adult granddaughter decades later.

I never knew Grandma Bertie in this private and intimate way, so to unearth the overflow of my grandmother’s heart framed in two small prayers are the few words I’ll also remember and cherish her by as Frances Hesselbein once quoted:

Most of us will be remembered, in work and in life, for just a few words or deeds that made a difference to others. The way we choose to say good-by is likely to be one of the ways we are remembered.
Frances Hesselbein

Prayer By My Grandmother
Alberta (Bertie) Houle

Heavenly Father, as we begin each day, let our thoughts turn to you and ask your help in guiding us in everything we do and trust that you will see we receive what we need daily.

Give us courage to face life’s trials and let us keep in mind, “Your will”, not “mine” be done, and help us understand you know what’s best for us.
Amen

Grandma Bertie prayer 1

Another Prayer By My Grandmother
Alberta (Bertie) Houle

Heavenly Father, we thank thee for all the love that has been given us.

For the love of family and friends and above all for your own love poured out upon us every moment of our lives.

Forgive our unworthiness.
Forgive the many times we have disappointed those who love us.

Teach us your own consistency in love, your humility, selflessness, and generosity in everything we do.

In your name we pray.
AmenGrandma Bertie prayer 2

My grandmother took with her to heaven the reasons she memorialized these prayers instead of secretly lifting them to God’s ears only.

But finding my grandmother’s hidden words between the pages of a cookbook and sealed with a kiss for a granddaughter decades after they were written is one priceless gift.

For some reason I was supposed to discover them today when all I aspired to do was hold a grandmother’s cookbook of my childhood memories.

God is full of surprises when you least expect, when you’re not even looking.

Today, was one of those days.

OUR CUP RUNNETH OVER By Lori A Alicea

Can you hear it?

Close your eyes and quietly listen for the pitter-patter of tiny rain drops dancing in the puddles with one another.

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Imagine a small child abandoned in the kisses of a delicate spring shower against her face.

rain girl running in field

Can you hear it?

Bask in the soothing song of a gentle waterfall which flows into a peaceful stream below.

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Rain drops dancing in puddles.
A small child kissed from the spring shower against her face.
The music of a waterfall cascading over the river banks into the stream below.

With eyes still closed, imagine your cup full of God’s blessings, cascading over the rim into the puddles and quiet stream of your cup’s saucer.

It is written…

…my cup overflows with blessings.
Psalms 23:5 (NLT)

Our life is a cup.
Oh, that our eyes see the overflow of our cups as God’s abundance, His “more than enough” for us, heaven’s wealth in our life.

Looking back in the rear-view mirror of the past 365 days, it’d be easy to believe we’ve been drinking from the bitter cup throughout this year of 2021.

Navigating the “firsts” of our maiden year without mother would have been a cup full for our family these last twelve months.

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But then the calm cascade over the rim of our cup caught us gasping for breath when the peaceful stream became a rip-current of ten more good-byes.

A Final Call for our military brother Joe.

One final lap for our Indy 500 enthusiast brother Mark.

Another brother Ruben.

goodby ruben

Two Papa’s.

Three cousins.

Two friends.

Yes, so many good-byes;
So many home-going celebrations;
So many tears;

Yet, a cup of rejoicing as all our loved ones took their seat around the Father’s Banqueting Table in heaven.

Sometimes we need to trace God’s hand to understand his heart.

God is a good Father, even when our eyes are blinded to his ways.

Regardless of so many good-byes, God was ever present in the joys of all our hellos in each new day.

Life presses forward with or without our consent. The sun continues to shine amid a cloudy day. You must be intentional to witness God’s hand upon our days, the mini miracles of a cup overflowing.

2021 has been a cup of mini miracles in the Alicea family.

Papa and I have enjoyed our ten grandchildren embrace their gifting and special places in our lives.

We’ve smiled and thanked God for sons who watered their daughter’s hearts at a Daddy Daughter Dance.

We’ve rejoiced over our oldest granddaughter’s Sweet Sixteen, taking her first steps into womanhood.

A husband and wife thanked God for another glorious year of marriage celebrated at their honeymoon cottage.

We are forever grateful for our furry family.

We give God all the glory for the wonderful parents our children have become.

This father is overwhelmed by his daughter who has blossomed into her own.

papa david audra xmas 2021

We’ve cherished the quality time spent with our grandchildren; especially when it meant travelling to Hawaii to hug them.

With eyes still closed, our cup is full of God’s blessings, cascading over the rim into the puddles and quiet stream of our cup’s saucer.

Yes it is written…

…my cup overflows with blessings.
Psalms 23:5 (NLT)

We see our cup running over even though a husband and wife spent the 2021 Christmas and New Year’s holidays alone, from each other and from family.  Although, we were never truly alone.
As another name for Jesus is Immanuel,
God with us.

Christmas was never about us, but about a baby born in a manger, a Savior who would one day grow up and bear the cross for our salvation; a Christmas gift of eternity if we’d receive Him.
manger scene

For this alone,
Our Cup Runneth Over!

OH COME…By Lori A Alicea

With two weeks remaining until Christmas Day, I find myself in the throes of the season’s busyness, checking off lists and making new lists with moments to spare when Christmas morning arrives.

The grandchildren have wish lists of their own.thanksgiving writing santa

Our house is decorated with twinkling lights in every corner to capture a grandchild’s fantasy.IMG_E9218

Homemade sugar cookies are ready for them in the freezer to bake; my mother ‘n laws recipe which doesn’t disappoint their visit.

I can’t seem to find the time to write those Christmas poems I love to send each year instead of cards. But I am giving you access to one of my Christmas stories for your delight.

Countdown To A Christmas Miracle By Lori A. Alicea

My husband wants to bless our neighbors with a loaf of fresh baked bread and a jar of newly canned strawberry jelly, which has found its place on the list.

Christmas crafts await their turn, with a loud alarm sounding to get busy.

Mounds of gifts have yet to be wrapped, although for the small price of a home cooked dinner, my sister and daughter have scheduled a day to take this undesired task from my hands.IMG_9988

Yes, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.

The little girl in me refuses to grow up during this magical season.

I drive on purpose through the town’s crowded streets, slowly taking in the festival of lights on every corner.

Every now and then though when the chaos of the holiday rests for a moment of silence, I hear the Lord in the background beckoning me with the words of an old familiar hymn,

Oh Come….

Having my undivided attention, God whispers again to this child at Christmas,

Oh Come…

To a place two thousand years ago, where shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night, are visited by an angel, with good news to tell them.

8There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.

9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.

11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Luke 2:8-12 (NIV)

The shepherds said to one another,

Oh Come….

To see what the Lord has told them about.

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

To honor the Christ child, born lying in a manger.

Oh Come…let us adore him, Christ the Lord.

16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
Luke 2:15-16
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I’m guilty every year of being too busy at Christmas.

Yet, God wants to tear up our lists and start a new one with just two small words,

Oh Come…

To witness a child born in a lowly stable, as there wasn’t any room for them at the Inn.

A child born with nothing, but would grow up to give us everything in eternal life, when He gave up his life in exchange for ours on the cross.

Forgive me Lord for my overcrowded lists during the month of December.

Forgive me Lord for my inability to hear those two small words which are drowned out during the hustle and bustle of the holiday,

Oh Come…

To stop and adore you, the true reason for the season.

Lord, you are worthy of our praise.

You deserve the hymn of our heart…

Oh Come…Let us adore him, Christ the Lord.IMG_9991

THE LONG WAY HOME By Lori A Alicea

It’s just something we love to do.

Our adult daughter laughs and says it borderlines “lame”.

Our grandchildren whine if they happen to be tagging along.

Maybe the slow lane of the back roads isn’t for those in a hurry.

But taking the long way home is a mini-date however far the drive, when you’re filling the love tank of the one sitting next to you with your gallons of quality time.

photography of leaves on ground
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Some may call it the cheap seats, but the best seats in the house get a private tour of God’s country most eyes will never go out of their way to see.

You must be willing to escape reception and disconnect from the busy grid of life. Willing to lose your way along the winding paths where most GPS’ are unable to find the dropped breadcrumbs of your location. Willing to drown out the voices of your to-do-list, and enjoy the simple pleasures together of the long way home.

The calendar has recently ushered in the first week of November and the fashion show of leaves and their brilliant wardrobe color changes down the runway of fall is almost drawing its curtains to a close.

But an encore performance is reserved for season ticket holders willing to slow down or even stop for fall’s final show.

red leaf trees near the road
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

With December just a month away, you can almost smell the pine trees of Christmas with the wind gently blowing from your rolled down window and the heat cranked up on high.

pine trees in the forest
Photo by Olga Shenderova on Pexels.com

Taking the long way home this time of year, it’s never too early to bring out of hiding those holiday CD’s we’ve been secretly playing anyway since the summer heat of July.

Yes, we are those people who praise God around the Thanksgiving table for his baskets full of blessings, but celebrate also with a Christmas tree perfectly placed in the living room corner, trimmed and beautifully lit as a night sky of twinkling stars.

green christmas tree with string lights
Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

Still holding hands and allowing the overflow of our hearts water a conversation for two along the miles of the long way home, it’s no surprise we’re still married and in love after all these years.

The long way home gives you time to reacquaint yourselves with one another, as life changes from day to day like the four seasons do, and one must dress appropriately for the weather escorted in.

Are we there yet?”

Usually not, when the compass of our travels is a constant turn to the east or west down roads where the scenery isn’t familiar and stirs your curiosity for any hidden log cabins to discover.

brown cabin in the woods on daytime
Photo by Eneida Nieves on Pexels.com

Then is the map you follow for those log cabins you long to see for the umpteenth time, stopping at the edge of their driveway and dreaming together over a few sips of our coffee, adding a childlike gift to our Christmas list once again this year.

selective focus photography of ceramic mug near candy cane
Photo by lilartsy on Pexels.com

cabin near trees
Photo by Marcus Murphy on Pexels.com

The best seats in the house can be purchased for the price of a few gallons of gas and uninterrupted moments of time except to enjoy and take in the view of nature’s carefree children chasing each other around the trees and deep into the woods of their private playground.

brown deer surrounded with snow covered trees
Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

Money can’t buy me love.”

But quality time together taking the long way home will always fashion two hearts for love.

Love is never about the what, the where, the when, the why, and the how.

True love is about “the who” you’re with; that special someone seated next to you alongside the long way home.

close up photography of red rose
Photo by Jess Bailey Designs on Pexels.com

Discovering this, you’ll realize the counterfeits of romance pales in comparison.

GOD WITH US  By Lori A Alicea

Two thousand years ago a prophecy fulfills in a humble stable at Christmas:

The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son,
And they will call him Immanuel.
(“God with us”)
Matthew 1:23 NIV

An angel proclaimed this birth announcement of good news and great joy to shepherds tending their flocks nearby:

“Today in the town of David
A Savior has been born to you;
He is Christ the Lord.
This will be a sign to you:
You will find a baby wrapped in
Cloths and lying in a manger.”
Luke 2:11-12 NIV

Just as the angel said, these shepherds found the Christ child sleeping on a bed of straw with his parents Mary and Joseph in wonder and awe beside.

The shepherd and all who heard of this miraculous birth were in amazement.

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Luke 2:19 NIV

Mary gave birth to her son named Immanuel, “God with us.”

I’m wondering in the still and quiet moments of December do we find these gifts that Mary treasured. Do we ponder the joy from the simple song of a mother’s heart,
“God with us.”

A baby who was born
To die for us;
To save us;
To live in our hearts and yes;
Be with us.

In the busy throws of shopping, celebrating and preoccupation with the holidays, is the “great joy of our Savior’s birth” being treasured and pondered? Are we in amazement as the shepherds were and spreading this good news?

This Christ child born at Christmas is the same to us yesterday, today and forever, He is always with us. (Hebrews 13:8 NIV)

Looking back at the most unpredictable year of 2020, a year that caught the world off guard and stripped so much, I’m questioning in the nakedness of the year leading to December, were we reminded of the treasures hidden in our hearts? Were we comforted in the pondering, “God is with us.”

Queuing up the video of my own life these past twelve months, inquiries into the emptiness and loss question did I open and hold onto the gift of “God is with us?”

Did I embrace these gifts that God was enough when church doors closed and saints they gathered online?

church 2

church at homeDid I allow you God to be enough during those painful weeks of lock down which didn’t allow us lonely grandparents to embrace our grandchildren?

screen Alicea

screen CumbeeDid we sense you “with us” and did we bloom when the reality of our next “address” caught our expectations off guard?
new house USE FULL VIEW

new house USE ANGEL

Did we sense you enough when children’s smiles were hidden beneath these coverings?
mask school - Ayva first day of kindergartenmaskLord, I had a difficult time watching our beloved mother celebrate her 80th birthday from her bedroom window. Did I sense you “with us then?”
party window - momparty guests - moms familyLord, our family had more of a difficult time saying good-by from the cold window panes peering into our mother and grandmother’s room, unable to express our love when heaven’s angels came for her.

goodby a goodby david and lori looking a mom in window

goodby cova saying goodbygoodby grandkids saying goodby from windowOur final good-by remains a chapter unable to articulate, but yes God,
you were with us.
Yet, still a painful “letting go” for three generations beyond our mother’s life.

funeral a goodby ayva looking at grandma (2)funeral a goodby neese jake david looking at casketI sensed you enough God, though still wanting my mother to fill her empty chair this first Thanksgiving without her.

empty chair TABLE Mom Picture Sweater

I admit I’m asking for a cup of contentment during a smaller Christmas gathering this year; the first time in my life that extra tables won’t be set up to accommodate our family guests.
“God be with us.”

Christmas TABLE Holiday XMAS 2018 alicea xmas kids 14

I’m asking for an ocean full of contentment God to mask the loneliness without our Hawaiian grand-babies these last ten months.

Hawaii aloha 1

Lord, do we need a special pair of glasses to see that you are enough?
Do we need to bring into clarity your presence in spite of what our natural eyes can or cannot see?

Glasses Ayva glasses 1

Forgive us God when we didn’t see you “enough” or “with us” in 2020.

Regardless of empty arms, empty hearts or empty anything, God you will always be enough.

All that’s needed in the still and quiet moments of December is for us to find those gifts that Mary treasured. To ponder and celebrate the simple song of a mother’s heart, “God with us.”

A baby who was born
To die for us;
To save us;
To live in our hearts and yes;
Be with us.
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Merry Christmas and Peace Be to Everyone!

A TEN YEAR BELATED SURPRISE AT CHRISTMAS  By Lori A Alicea

Surprises are hidden in boxes of every size.
Surprises are one’s heart on display for the affections of another.

Surprises might be planned or impromptu.
Surprises are wrapped and tied with a bow in the unexpected.

Surprises are a kiss from God to say “I’m thinking of you.”
Surprises take the breath away of one fully unaware.

Surprises might appear late though arriving on time decades later delivered as a soldier’s love letter to his bride during the war.

True surprises are marked in time, never to be forgotten.

Turning back the pages of my life, I can only recall a few complete surprises that waited for me on the other side of the door; surprises I truly had no idea were planned.

Not liking to be the center of attention, this is probably a good thing.

But God delights in giving to us through others.
It is in our receiving where God and those He partners with is honored back.

With eyes always noticing the details, it’s difficult to catch me off guard. Although, one winter morning thirty-one years ago and eight months pregnant, a dear friend did just that with an unexpected celebration waiting for me and my baby girl as I entered the workspace. I couldn’t have been more surprised.

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I love the reveal of the “not knowing”; our post-it-note from God to expect the unexpected.

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God loves us immensely through others. I have never forgotten this endearing surprise.

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Surprises are often late, years in the making for some.

This particular surprise came ten years after the fact, a surprise some would question its unusual timing.

It was Christmas the year of 2004 when we as a family gathered for the holidays.

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These pictures frozen in time from ten years ago warm my heart as our parents and grandparents were still with us. To have them seated at our Christmas table again would be the best gift ever.

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IMG_5468Nothing was out of place this particular Christmas except that our Texas family came and our son was home from college.

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We honored our Lord and Savior’s birth in song as we always did in years prior.

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One detail blatantly off though that Christmas was David wearing a suit in my mother’s apartment, a small place known to be unusually hot with a large family gathering together.  He never wore a suit before at our holiday events.

But celebrating our ten year anniversary two months prior that year of 2004 and still crazy in love with one another as we still are today, I really didn’t question it much.

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Yes, surprises are often late in their arrival, even ten years after your wedding day.

You see, ten years prior I received a telephone call from my Pastor while working, asking the question if I wanted to marry a handsome man named David seated in his office during our conversation.

I screamed on my end of the telephone, “Please tell David I said yes!!!”

Interestingly, being clouded by love, David failed to bend a knee and ask me himself; a gesture of honor every girl dreams about, even the second time down the isle.

Taken back by a Christmas surprise and ten years after the fact, David redeemed a holy moment and asked me on one knee to marry him in his own words.

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I never saw this coming.
If I did, I would have worn something better than those “bad mom jeans.”

That Christmas of 2004 was a year to remember.
My husband blessed me with a gift I have hidden and treasured in my heart since.

It’s never too late for a surprise.
You can never go wrong with the unexpected.

Life needs to be full of giving and receiving.
May our arms be full of surprises, planned and impromptu.

Might we take the breath of those unaware often.
May we remember to expect things from God in the unexpected.

May the kisses of God be expressed in our surprises,
whether timely or belated years after the fact.

Countdown To A Christmas Miracle By Lori A. Alicea

It’s the day after Thanksgiving in the year of 2000, and the holiday spirit couldn’t be any more exciting. The stores are bursting with shoppers and the smell of Christmas is in the air. Bell ringers are everywhere and Santa is taking orders from all the good little boys and girls. Holiday music is playing on the radio, and everyone seems to agree that Christmas truly is the most wonderful time of the year.

Looking through the fantasy eyes of a child at Christmas is so amazing. They still believe the unbelievable. They hold out hope for the impossible. They just know that somehow when Christmas morning arrives, all their dreams will come true. Of course when they wake up to their presents under the tree, they scream because they know that Santa didn’t forget them.

vintage-christmas-cards-for-family-and-kids

How priceless to have a childlike faith at Christmas. Why does growing up cause us to lose the faith of a child? If only we as big kids could still believe the unbelievable. If only our hearts could hold out hope for the impossible. God has never forgotten us. He showed up on that first Christmas morning with His Son lying in a manger. And with every magnificent sun rising in the morning, God displays his unending faithfulness to show up. But why do we still doubt the Faithful one?

This particular Christmas I was having the most marvelous holiday season. For the first time in fifteen years, I wasn’t working and now enjoying my new professional title, “stay at home” mom. If dreams really do come true, I was living the dream of a lifetime. My wonderful life felt richly full, like a well springing up, spilling over and over. I couldn’t contain my happiness.
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Though Christmas for me was tremendously ecstatic, I couldn’t ignore the sad faces of the others in the family. Minus my income this year, Christmas would arrive without us being able to afford presents for the children. What mother couldn’t feel sad about that? For just a moment I wallowed in guilt, wondering if I made a mistake about my job. But I decided that choosing my family was the best choice and that God would have to take over during this holiday season.

As a child I remember watching the Charlie Brown Christmas show. While all his friends thought that Christmas had to be great lights and fancy ornaments, Charlie knew the true meaning of this holiday. That a baby boy was born in a humble stable; that three wise men traveled far following a bright star leading to this child lying in a manger. How this little boy was born with nothing, but would soon grow up to give everything. This is what Christmas meant to Charlie. This is what Christmas should mean to us all.

I decided that baby Jesus in the manger would be all that mattered this Christmas. I would count my blessings and name them one by one. I would begin to celebrate the joy of my family. And I would allow God to give us back our childlike faith by believing in the impossible. Whatever happened this year, Christmas was going to be the best ever.
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Though nobody was in the mood, I prodded that Christmas should continue and we should do all that we could to make this season special. So, with holiday music playing, hot chocolate simmering, it was time to trim the Christmas tree. Though we didn’t have money for a fresh tree, we did have a small artificial one to place in the bay window. I brought out all the ornaments that the children made during their early years of school. I loved looking at these works of art when my children’s hands were small. We hung lights around the window and lights around the tree. We decorated this miniature spruce with love as if it was real and when we plugged in this magical display, it looked as magnificent as a store front in Chicago on Michigan Avenue.

The advent calendar says it is now four weeks until Christmas. It seems strange not to be participating in all the holiday stress of planning and shopping. I really didn’t know what to do with myself during this time. But I do know the birth of Jesus was constantly on my mind. As Christian radio stations played Christmas music around the clock, a celebration of true Christmas resonated in my heart.

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One morning, my husband David and I were having coffee, talking about Christmas. He said he was so sad that he didn’t have any gift to give me this year. But a smile beamed from my face as I shared that he gave me the best gift ever, he gave me back my home. I meant this if I ever meant anything. Of course then we talked about gifts for the children. What would we do for them? I remember the Lord entering our conversation at that moment as he said, “Ask of me”. At that moment David and I looked above our dinner table as a plaque hung there for our reminder, “With God, all things are possible”. We stared at each other, got excited and begun to have the most childlike conversation. If we could give anything to the children, what would it be? Dreaming big, I declared I wanted to give the gift of memories this year. For my girls, I would give the gift of hope in the form of a hope chest. For my son, I would give the gift of promise with a diamond ring. And if God had any money left, I wanted to sew a quilt for each of my kids.

I always wanted my daughters to have a cedar-lined hope chest with the upholstery seat to pack away special things for their future. I thought it would bond my girls and me as we shopped for dishes and silverware, planning for their marriage someday. This chest would represent hope for a husband, dreams for a woman and a heritage passed from a mother to her daughter.

Our son was turning seventeen two months after Christmas. I wanted him to wear a gift of promise for this pivotal birthday. For the past year, our son had been on dating review, proving to us that he would honor and respect the girl he wanted to date. I tried to explain that this girl was somebody’s daughter and more importantly, God’s daughter. If he didn’t honor her during dating, a mother and two fathers would be hurt. Not to mention that he could emotionally wound this girl for life. But come his seventeenth birthday, if actions established trust, our son was free to date with our blessing. So, for this Christmas, I wanted to present our son with a diamond ring, representing his promise to God to honor him during his dating years until marriage.

After that morning of “ask and receive” revelation, David and I waited with bated breath to see what God would do. Sitting with our hands folded as Christmas inched closer, tested a husband and wife’s faith tremendously, but God has never failed in the past. Why start believing otherwise now. The advent calendar says it is just three weeks until December 24th.

Going to the mailbox has always been exciting to me. You just never know what surprise might be waiting. That Christmas, so many holiday cards of thoughtfulness arrived. If presents didn’t decorate the bottom of the tree, we at least had glittered cards to ring in the Christmas cheer into our home.

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I remember one particular afternoon, unusual excitement built as I made that walk up the hill to the mailbox. What did the mailman bring to us today? As I pulled down the door from the bright red mailbox, I reached my hand to grab what was inside. As I began to walk back down the hill, I sifted through the mail. Bills and junk make its way to the pile as usual, but oh, something different, a card from the Ladies Ministry at my church. Those ladies are so sweet to think of me. I couldn’t wait to open the letter, so I just ripped it apart like a little kid. Inside I found inspiring words of peace and good will. But as I finished reading the card, my eyes soon watered while my shaky hands held the faithfulness of God, a check for $150.00.

What three powerful words to live by, “God never forgets”. When the road gets rough with no place to go, when the night is so dark you wonder if you’ll ever find your way, when life becomes a puzzle that you just can’t put back together, remember, God never forgets. That Christmas afternoon, God’s promises became alive in my heart. God showed he cared enough to be there for me even in the small things.

I held that seed offering in my hand and marveled at God’s provision. While $150 in the natural surely wouldn’t cover the cost of two hope chests and a diamond ring. But I thought if Jesus could feed the multitude of five thousand with one small lunch and still have twelve baskets left over, what do I need to worry about? Who had time to worry anyway, the Christmas clock was ticking and power shopping was calling my name.

With two weeks left until Christmas, I had to move quickly. First on the list was finding two Lane hope chests lined with cedar wood, topped with an upholstery seat. I looked everywhere. I scanned the newspapers, checked out antique and resale shops, looked at naked furniture and even searched through bargain basement stores. But finding a hope chest within my price range became a futile effort.

With the hope chest search halted for the moment, I decided to shop for my son’s diamond ring. Like before, I searched the newspapers, visited resale shops and all the local jewelry stores. But as with the hope chests, I couldn’t find a diamond ring affordable.

At this moment, I had to admit that despair began to overwhelm me. I remember praying to the Lord while coming home from my last effort of shopping, “What am I to do?” I know the Lord didn’t put all of this on my heart for nothing, but it is now one week until Christmas and I still didn’t have two hope chests and a diamond ring.

While stopped at the light, waiting to make a final turn to my house, I’m thinking about the diamond ring I wanted to find for my son. While starring at the oncoming traffic, I couldn’t believe my ears when God began to speak as clear and audible as if he was sitting next to me in the flesh. God answers the question in my mind, “Where is this ring?” He said to me in His kind and gentle voice, “Don’t you remember? You always wanted to give the wedding band from the hand of your son’s father (my first husband), to him whenever he started dating”. With these words, tears overtook my eyes, because the voice of God just spoke. He shows up just like He always said he would. God never forgets.

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Since I had packed away this wedding ring many years ago, I had forgotten what it looked like. Finding the box was even more of a challenge, as I had moved three times since, but once the treasure hunt was over, I was excited to see this hidden surprise. When I slowly opened the box, sparkling on its velvet lining was a beautiful ring encircled in small diamonds. Who could have ever imagined such a priceless gift? Only God could have ever imagined. Immediately I took this ring to the jewelers to have it sized and cleaned and then wrapped for Christmas Eve. One gift down and two remained. The advent calendar says it is now four days until December 24.

By this time the tension is mounting, but my kitchen plaque still reminded me that “With God, all things are possible”. Miracles are always a moment away, even four days before Christmas. I was sitting back at the table where my husband and I made our original Christmas requests. In my heart I knew God was sending me a miracle, and that miracle came when the telephone unexpectedly rang. On the other end was a woman from my care group. She said she overheard me talking about my gifts of memories. She said that in her house was an old hope chest that wasn’t being used anymore. With a little bit of sanding and staining, it could look good as new she said. So, with this she wondered if I would be interested. Just as with the diamond ring, God overwhelmed me once again. If God pours His blessings from the sky, flood season was in high gear. In response to this generous woman, I said I would be honored to receive this gift.

As my husband and I were driving over to pick up the hope chest, my husband reminded me that we needed two hope chests instead of one. By this time my faith had swelled, ready to burst that doubt just could not enter in my mind. So I slowly looked over at my husband and simply said, “God doesn’t forget”.

I was so excited to arrive at this generous woman’s house to see the gift that God wanted one of my daughters to have. When we got there she first offered me some tea to share with her. As I am sitting at her table, I noticed many baskets hanging from her kitchen ceiling. At that moment I was reminded of the twelve baskets left over from the multitudes meal, all starting from a little boy’s lunch. Then I thought of the seed offering given to me in the afternoon mail; how it was yielding more than one mind could conceive.

After drinking tea with this friend of mine, she took me to the room where the hope chest sat. Just as she said, it needed the touch of a loving hand. But if love rested in the eye of the beholder, surely, I could see the love God wanted to give through this chest. After seeing my gift, I gave my friend a hug, coming from a truly grateful heart. Words couldn’t express my joy.

Just when I think it’s time to pack the chest and leave, my friend stops me and takes me to one more room in her house. Just as God says he is our God of the unexpected, I was not expected to see what I was about to see. Way in the corner of this room, underneath the many boxes that lie above it, sits another gift of my request, hope chest number two. But this time I felt I needed to go to heaven and give God a hug in person. How could one person take in all of this generous love from the Father? But that is how loved our Father wants us to feel all the time.

With four days until Christmas, two hope chests need to be sanded and 3 nosy kids at home, how could my husband be able to refinish this furniture without anyone suspecting. Of course God steps in once again as my sister calls to ask if the kids could spend the next 3 days with her as she has been missing them. What a mighty God we serve. He even organizes the babysitting.
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With the kids taken care of at my sisters, my husband and I rush to the store to buy sandpaper, stain, upholstery fabric and lots of coffee. Surely the next few days will be all nighters. After we pay for the needed items for the hope chests, I realize one final miracle has occurred. God had money left over to purchase material for the quilts I wanted to sew for the children.

With Christmas approaching in just hours, our house sounds like Santa’s elves working at the North Pole. The sander is blasting in the garage, the sewing machine is zooming in the kitchen and the cat is wondering what in the world is going on. If David and I ever bonded in our marriage, it was during this holiday season when Christmas was on God. How could love ever be more evident?

Christmas Eve has finally arrived and what joy is to be. I look at these Lane hope chests and can touch the love of the father’s hands that refinished them. I hold the quilts that will wrap around my children’s arms on a cold morning and can touch the love of the mother’s hands that made them. I hold the diamond ring that my son will wear and can feel the love of the father’s hands that once wore it. Christmas Eve has finally arrived and I can feel the love of my Father who went out of His way to show His unending love for me.

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HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS  By Lori A Alicea

The Alicea house is officially decorated for Christmas.

Every corner of every room has been kissed by Christmas, and the warmth and love of our hearts for friends and family is on display, welcoming everyone into our new home for the holidays.

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I can’t wait to pour that first cup of coffee served with homemade cookies baked from my mother and mother ‘n laws recipes, while seated around the table with those we have cherished throughout the years.

KTEA SET

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I must confess though, the grand-kids have scarfed every last cookie I keep for them in the freezer, so I’d best get baking again before that unexpected caroler or shopper shows up during our Alicea Holiday Open House.

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Yes, our sweet elves get to enjoy a decorated tree set up just for them to enjoy in their room when they visit. Although I secretly enjoy these ornaments more as the mother they were crafted for from the hands of my children when they were small.

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And yes, our grandchildren’s stockings have all been hung with their excitement in mind, knowing their socks will be filled and full by Christmas morning.

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But make no mistake, the little girl in me is overcome with excitement from the festivities of lights, music, decorations and all the wonderful things she is blessed to do for her family.

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This little Christmas girl finds joy in the smallest of details.

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While peering through the windows of each other’s homes during the holidays can stir the same delight as a child flipping through the pages of a Sears and Roebuck Christmas catalog, the December merriment’s of 2020 though for most have been diluted in the cups of our holiday cheer.

Holiday travel to our loved ones has been curtailed or cancelled.

Traditions we have come to look forward to have been removed from December calendars.

Family gatherings will be smaller around the holiday table.

Loved ones have gone on to be with Jesus this year.

Isolation from family, especially during the holidays, stirs up deep loneliness.

The list goes on and on.

But even in our aloneness, God is always awake to hear our prayers.

He never leaves us alone.

Never will never I leave you; never will I forsake you. Hebrews 13:5 NIV

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Thankfully, we can gather in his presence to pray, to call on His name and be still and know that He is God, in all situations; especially the lonely ones.

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I’m always encouraged remembering that first holiday home of our Lord Jesus, a humble beginning in a barn, a bed of straw for our Savior, a birth met in the loneliness of the night, yet a glorious “missed opportunity “ for those who looked for the Christ Child in the grand, a royal place instead.

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Lord, keep me from “missed opportunities” of witnessing your hand in my life and those that I love during this holiday season.

Lord, for those who walk through the doors of our home during days of December, may they feel at home because you are at home here also.

Lord, take me back to humble beginnings, to remind me that even if you are our only gift this Christmas, if you are the only one seated at the dinner table with us, our hearts are full because you are more than enough today and every day, especially during our home for the holiday.

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THE EMPTY CHAIR By Lori A Alicea

Honoring those families,
those loved ones not taking their seat at the holiday table this year.
We celebrate you, we miss you, we honor you this season of change,
The Empty Chair.

We welcome in the holidays,
Festivities begin.
November to December end,
These days are penciled in.

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The list of things to do is long,
With many meals prepare.
And tables set to celebrate,
Those seated in each chair.

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The holidays, they dare to change,
In subtle ways appear.
When looking back the portrait of,
The family then last year.

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Emotions indescribable,
Without you seated there.
Your smile and sweater worn remains,
Our mother’s empty chair.

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So many tables set for us,
Remember all you do.
Our mom who gave us memories,
In turn, we gave to you.

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When gather for a family meal,
Remember what we share.
And treasure those we’re seated by,
Who occupy each chair.

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Because the portrait might just change,
From what we’ve always known.
The table set this holiday,
Could find one all alone.

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Forgive us if we tend to stare,
Our mother’s empty chair.

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And see her with a deck of cards,

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Or love her grand-kids there.

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Another table has been set,
Another home reside.
Though missing you this holiday,
With Christ you sit beside.

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Mere words or thoughts could dare convince,
Her absence us prepare.
How much we miss our mother’s chair,
And see her sitting there.

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OUR ANGEL TREE Angel  By Lori A Alicea

Thanksgiving is still a week away yet Christmas made its debut appearance weeks ago unveiling its new holiday line on store shelves of businesses everywhere.

Strands of Christmas lights, wreathes and decorations of all kinds usher an early season’s greeting to the small town we live near, where many in the community have given themselves permission to break rank with the holiday calendar order and take part in these “tree trimming” festivities inside their own homes.

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For this “kid at heart” who secretly embraces a Christmas spirit year ‘round and can be caught red-handed playing holiday music in July, the kickoff of December albeit before Thanksgiving, delights the little Christmas girl in me who refuses to ever grow up.

As magical and undeniable that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year to many, there are others facing great challenges, hardships, and pain where Christmas can’t leave soon enough; many of their stories depicted as angels on Angel Trees everywhere, presenting an opportunity to bless mere strangers disguised as a chosen angel.

Christmas decoration wooden angel on a Christmas tree. Close-up.
Christmas decoration wooden angel on a Christmas tree. Close-up.

In the hustle and bustle of shopping on strapped wallets for most, it’s easy to walk by and pretend we didn’t notice the Christmas needs of strangers hanging as angel ornaments on an Angel Tree strategically placed in store entrances to inspire a heart-felt connection of generosity. I confess to be that passerby of numerous Angel Trees over the years.

But this particular December, an Angel Tree stands in the corner of our family living room decorated with only one angel to select from. Our Angel Tree angel keeps us up at night in our thoughts and prayers. I dare not be a passerby this year.

Our angel’s Christmas list is short, one item to be precise; a list requiring a miracle from the hand of God; a Christmas miracle we can still believe in as all things are possible with Him.

Our Angel Tree angel isn’t asking for much.

Our brother just wants

To Live.

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Like a bad dream we wished we could wake up from this terrible nightmare; no doubt our brother wishes the same.

Every next breath for my brother is a dear gift yet an agonizing struggle for him as well.

Our brother’s health crisis is beyond our understanding as growing up, we’ve only known and loved our “big brother” as one watching over us five sisters with eagle eyes, protecting us with strong arms and yes, even scamming us from time to time over chores and allowances as brothers do.

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Nothing ever changed in our relationship with our brother moving into adulthood.

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Whenever the family faced a challenge, albeit financial, health or an emotional kind with our parents or one of us, Our Angel Tree angel could always be seen walking through the door with answers.

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Regardless that a thousand miles and months between his visits stood in the way of a mother embracing her son, a mother never took for granted an Angel Tree angel’s love whenever he came into town.

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Our Angel Tree angel was honored in the final act of his military father, who bequeathed a son back the gift a father’s country bestowed upon him for his military service.

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Our Angel Tree angel has been more than an angel to two little girls who grew up in the arms of their uncle; a man who loved them more as the children he never fathered, and gave them everything a daddy’s heart could pour out into their lives.

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This Angel Tree angel was more than a bright light in our sister’s eyes during their final year this side of heaven, as they struggled with their own Angel Tree angel request

To Live.

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A “big brother” driving a thousand miles to pick up our sister for one last homecoming with us, then taking her fishing before dropping her off on the journey back, remained a sister’s dearest memory of her Angel Tree angel.

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Our baby sister never felt more loved and safe when she was rescued and brought into the home of her Angel Tree angel where her daughters and siblings never left her side until heaven came for its newest angel that day.

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Our Angel Tree angel has loved only one woman since their holy day of matrimony decades ago.

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Still to this day, you never see one without the other.

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When the minister declared on their wedding day that “these two have become one”, Our Angel Tree angel’s wife remains in this battle with him, fighting and helping her angel

To Live.

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Our Angel Tree angel’s wife fights in hope, fights with God’s Word, fights to help him breath with all the love she has for her Angel Tree angel; to help him Live as he has requested.

Christmas decoration wooden angel on a Christmas tree. Close-up.
Christmas decoration wooden angel on a Christmas tree. Close-up.

These thousand miles between us are bridged by a sibling’s love for their Angel Tree angel only a close knit family can understand.

We pray that Jesus will be the best gift, the only gift you’ll need this Christmas morning.

We pray that one shake of a holiday snow globe brings back irreplaceable memories of Christmas mornings we shared together as children, never forgetting you’ll always be
Our Angel Tree angel,

with us now wanting to be the same for you.

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