Monday, December 5, 2016

The True Meaning of Christmas

"I hate the holidays!"

Every year I muttered this under my breath a hundred times. That period from Thanksgiving week through New Year's Day used to be filled with stress. Cooking, baking, card sending, present buying, wrapping, decorating, parties, family visits... It felt like there weren't enough hours in the day to do all the things that just HAD to be done in order for everyone in the family to have a perfect Christmas.

Oh, I went to church, too. In fact, choir practice, pageant practice for the kids, and the special holiday events at the church just added to my busy schedule. I couldn't even enjoy Christmas Eve worship because I was too busy helping, running the multimedia for both services. Instead of a candle, I had the light of a computer monitor for singing "Silent Night" -- and don't forget to change the verses!

And then one late November day a few years ago, I had a meltdown. "I'm through!" I shrieked. "I'm not doing this anymore."

That year I didn't get out my three boxes of Santa figures and two boxes of angels and one box of snowmen and a partridge in a pear tree. I didn't fight the crowds at the mall. I sat in my pajamas and ordered a few gifts from the Internet, and then donated the rest of my gift money to charities in honor of my family.

When I finished my work each day, I sat and read the real Christmas story. Out of an actual Bible. The story of a young girl visited by an angel, and a man who took her for his wife in spite of the child she carried. The story of the birth of a baby. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God. ... What came into being through the Word was life, and the life was the light for all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light. ... And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory....

During December of that meltdown year I eventually got my Christmas tree up, and my cards sent. But ever since then my Christmas tree is covered with angels, the choirs of angels that sang and proclaimed to the shepherds, "Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people."

Now I know the joy of Christmas through my family and my church family, Sunday morning praise and prayer, and Christmas Eve candlelight. I didn't find the true meaning of Christmas. It found me. All I had to do was open my heart and let it in.

Are you looking for more than the bastion of commercialism this year? Why not join me at St. Paul's on Sunday morning at 9:30? Or on Christmas Eve at 5 or 7 p.m.? Or on Christmas morning at 11?

Open your heart and let the true meaning of Christmas find you.

Denise H.

Bible verses quoted above in italics are from the Common English Bible (CEB), John 1:1, 1:3-5, 1:14-15; and Luke 2:10.

Click here to go to St. Paul's website.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Montezuma's Revenge?

Last month Betsy and I went up to visit my sister in the Fingerlakes city of Canandaigua, NY. Deb took us to several wineries and a brewery, fun! And we also took a drive through the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, a marshy area at the northern end of Cayuga Lake. I've often passed by it on the Thruway, but have never had the time to stop.

It was fabulous, and two lifers for me!

Montezuma's revenge was, I didn't take my big fancy camera on the trip. So two of the pictures below were taken by my sister with her Nikon, good camera but no giant telephoto like I have. The other two were taken by me using a pocket camera.

But still, lifer birds! Awesome!

American Coots! Only the second time I've ever seen them though I know they're seen around South Jersey sometimes. 

Lifer #1. Common Gallinule, formerly known as Common Moorhen. There were quite a large number of them at Montezuma. They looked drab from a distance, but zooming in you can see how beautiful they are.

Double-crested Cormorant, quite common around our shore area, but a nice close view in a typical pose, drying its wings after diving for dinner.

Lifer #2, Pied-billed Grebe. Really cute little guy!
So there you have it, Montezuma!

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Heinz 57

Back in July the girls and I went over to the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in South Philly. This is a really fascinating swampy area adjacent to the Philadelphia International Airport.

The girls took their dogs and I took my big camera. This is what I saw, ID'd as best I can:

Betsy with Porter and Molly with Mya

Bullfrog, I think

Turtles, no idea what kind


Creepy snake

Barn swallow going to the nest

Barn swallow in the nest

Barn swallows in a tree

Great egret, just hanging around

Great egret, taking off

Juvenile yellow-crowned night heron, lifer for me

Awesome yellow eye on the juvie yellow-crowned night heron

Tree swallow

Getting ready to leave and the bullfrog is still there

Female wood duck and duckings, another lifer

Another female wood duck and ducklings

It was an awesome day in the city!

Friday, July 8, 2016

More Delaware Bay Birds

Here are the other good birds I saw on our drive around the Delaware Bay in May.

Female Red-Winged Blackbird with nesting materials
Osprey--We saw lots of them!
Barn Swallow--Here's lookin' at you!
Barn Swallow couple
Eastern Kingbird, only 2nd time I've seen one.
Another view of the Eastern Kingbird
Short-billed Dowitcher on the left, two Ruddy Turnstones on the right
Good view of a Ruddy Turnstone.
Ruddy Turnstone in the center, with Dunlin in the foreground and background, and a couple of little peeps, probably Semipalmated Sandpipers.
Purple Martin, juvenile
Finally, Bald Eagles! We saw five of them in various places along the bay

We had a really incredible day on the bay!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016


On our trip to the Delaware Bay, I took lots of pictures of the big bunches of birds at Fortescue. When I got home and enlarged the photos on my computer, I was surprised to see some of the migratory birds were banded, in particular, some Red Knots. And in a couple cases, you could even read the numbers!

Here's the overall picture of the group of migratory birds. If you click on each picture you will seen the enlarged view.
When you zoom in, here's what you see!
I did a little research online and found where I could report the band number, or "flag" as this type of band is called. It's the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center Bird Banding Laboratory, part of the U.S. Geological Survey. So I reported.

I was really excited to find that the orange flag means the bird was banded in Argentina! And then I got this email:

Dear Denise,
Thanks so much for your valuable red knot sighting! this bird was banded as an adult at Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina,on  8/Dec/2009  with the metal band 9822-04914 and the last sighting we have in Argentina was on 13 April 2015 at San Antonio Oeste, Rio Negro.
Happy to know is heading to the Arctic!
Patricia M. González
-South American Shorebird Coordinator
International Conservation Fund of Canada & Coord. Programa Humedales

Banded in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. What a thrill!

Amazing how far these birds migrate. Here's the migration map, with the Delaware Bay an important stop on the northward journey for the abundance of Horseshoe Crab eggs.

The second Red Knot I reported had a green flag:

Turns out this sweet bird is a Rufa Red Knot, listed as "threatened" by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife service. It was banded in Delaware in 2015, and I received a lovely certificate of appreciation for reporting it.

I reported a third banded Red Knot, but couldn't read any numbers. I'm not sure if it was flagged and I just didn't have the right angle, or if it was a different type of band. But the orange tells me this one was also banded in Argentina.

So that's my exciting story about the banded birds we saw on the Delaware Bay.

Awesome, right?

Saturday, May 28, 2016

"Not now, dear, I have a headache."

We took a ride down to the Delaware Bay area this past week, and we saw tons of birds! It's migration time, and also horseshoe crab egg-laying time, so the shore birds gather by the thousands.

I was set up with my tripod and saw two Laughing Gulls going at it. So of course I had to document it. I took several bursts of shots to catch the "action," about 50 photos in all. Here are the best.

"Not now, dear, I have a headache."

"C'mon, baby, it'll only take a minute."

"Dear, stop the screaming, please. You're attracting attention!"

"Was it good for you, too?"

Feathered friend fun.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Lent Photo-a-Day Challenge, Last Two Weeks

I originally posted my Lent photos here each week, but I kept getting behinder and behinder. And then I stopped...

So here are the rest of them, preserved where I can find them again. As I've said before, posting the photos each day of Lent ended up being a real blessing to me. Just searching for scriptures for each day's word and finding or taking a photo gave me something spiritual to think about. I'm very glad I saw the #rethinkchurch challenge.

Watch for me to do this again next year.

3/12/16: LISTEN...
Come, children, listen to me. Let me teach you how to honor the Lord... Psalm 34:11

3/13/16: CELEBRATE...
Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread. Luke 24:35
Today in church we celebrated a love feast. Several members shared their personal experiences of Jesus, just as the two disciples on the road to Emmaus shared theirs. It was an outstanding worship experience for all of us.

3/14/16: PATH...
Make your ways known to me, Lord; teach me your paths. Psalm 25:4

3/15/16: REMEMBER... My great grandparents, who I never knew.
As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. Psalm 103:15-18

3/16/16: PEOPLE...
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned. Isaiah 9:2
Bright light through St. Paul's stained glass windows illuminates our people as they listen to Pastor Eric's message.

3/17/16: RESTORE...
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul... Psalm 23:1-3 King James Version
Looking forward to St. Paul's summertime "Worship on the River" services to restore my soul.

3/18/16: BELOVED...
Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Mark 9:7 NRSV

3/19/16: HAVE...
St. Paul wrote: I know the experience of being in need and of having more than enough; I have learned the secret to being content in any and every circumstance, whether full or hungry or whether having plenty or being poor. Philippians 4:12
I'm grateful to HAVE everything I need. How about you?

3/20/16: CELEBRATE...
St. Paul's celebrated Palm Sunday with a song from our children, plus a parade of palms.

3/21/16: THANKS...
Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

3/22/16: STEADFAST...
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Proverbs 4:26

3/23/16: REJECTED...
The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. Psalm 118:22-24 NIV

3/24/16: NEED...
If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? James 2:16
Thanks to Leigh & Barbara Klinger and all our other food pantry volunteers, and thanks to Wawa for donating their previous day's sandwiches, pretzels, etc. St. Paul's volunteers pick up at Wawa every day and pass out food once a week. Barbara told me they gave out bags to 91 people yesterday! 

3/25/16: PATH...
Jesus said, “Go in through the narrow gate. The gate that leads to destruction is broad and the road wide, so many people enter through it. But the gate that leads to life is narrow and the road difficult, so few people find it." Matthew 7:13-14

3/26/16: ENTER...
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. Psalm 100:4 NIV
Thanks to Myrna Bethke for taking this picture of our congregation showing thanks and praise to the Lord.

3/27/16: CELEBRATE...
HALLELUJAH: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Rev 19:6; The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. Rev 11:15; King of kings, and Lord of lords. Rev 19:16; HALLELUJAH!
Kudos to our amazing choir director, Tiffany Daly! Never thought we could do it, but you proved us wrong!