Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Holy Week

Don't worry! I haven't fallen off the face of the earth again. We're just having a quiet, contemplative Holy Week here. May you all have a blessed week and a happy Easter!

"Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." - John 13:1

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Midweek Links: Materialism and Greed

My pastor recently spoke of the many subtle ways love of things, or materialism, can creep into our lives. For instance, we may pride ourselves on the fact that we're not always chasing after newer things, but we may be hung up on living in the "right" neighborhood or we may seek to lord our lack of trendy toys over our neighbors. Either way, we're focusing on the material of this world and not on God. I've been thinking about that a lot over the past couple of weeks, and in my travels online, I've also found some articles that made me think.

I read this blog piece last month, but I immediately thought of it when I heard my pastor's sermon. There really are a lot of thoughts and assumptions that can go into our discount shopping, and some of the comments on this piece made me think,too. For instance, are we shopping the clearance rack because we're trying to be good stewards of what God has given us or do we do it for "good Christian girl" bragging rights? I've encountered both from others and I've probably gone in with both attitudes, too.

Ligonier Ministries is a wonderful source, and on this topic, they have proven helpful yet again. In this short article, we learn more not only about how easily we can get our priorities out of whack, but also what the heart of a good steward looks like.

I came across this article from Vanity Fair magazine via a friend's Facebook page. The article discusses the super-rich of London and how they came to buy into the city in the way that they have. It's actually an unsettling(though very interesting) read when one really starts to think about it. Essentially, the author points out that we have a small, very wealthy group of people who buy property in London because of its status as a tax haven, but then they leave the properties deserted much of the time. I got the distinct impression of a group of people driven primarily by their desire to accumulate and protect more material treasure than they could possibly need.

And since it's #WriteTheWord Wednesday, here is what I've been finding as I search the Bible for wisdom:

I realize that my handwriting looks like something from a codebreaking game, but those are passages from Matthew 6 and Matthew 16 that I have written out during my morning Bible reading. So, Matthew was a tax collector and he wrote down a lot of what Jesus had to say about the material world versus life in Him. Funny how God works, eh?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Do You Have Leftovers? Make Soup!

Do you end up with pesky little odds and ends of leftovers? You know the sort I mean - too much to throw away but too little to make a substantive dish? It happens to me all the time. When I look in my cabinets and see little odds and ends of stuff, I like to make soup.

The varieties are endless - I just mix in whatever vegetables are hitting their "Use me now!" date, perhaps some dried beans, rice or pasta and some kind of stock. This time around I had some chicken gravy in the fridge as well as a tiny (1/4 cup) leftover portion of beef gravy, so I threw those in and they gave the soup a richer than usual flavor. More proof that leftovers don't have to be boring!

To give you ideas, here's what I did with the leftovers I found this past weekend:

Olive Oil(light)
1 onion, diced
1 or 2 celery ribs, diced
handful of shiitake mushrooms, diced (any kind of mushrooms will work)
2 bay leaves
3-4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
3 1/2 cups gravy (I mixed chicken and a small amount of beef)
1 cup cooked lentils or small beans
1 cup cooked wild rice (or brown rice or white rice, or even pasta)
1 cup canned, diced tomatoes
fresh parsley or grated parmesan

1. Heat the olive oil in a stock pot and saute onion for about 3-4 minutes on medium heat. Add other vegetables and the bay leaves, and saute, stirring often, for another 4-5 minutes.

2. Add the stock and bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered for 10 minutes.

3. Stir in gravy, lentils, rice and tomatoes. Simmer over low heat until heated through, at least 10 minutes. Serve hot and garnish with parsley or parmesan, as you like.

Get creative! And if you come up with a particularly good combo, let me know!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Resting in Him

Lately I've been cherishing Christ's promise that all of the weary and heavy-laden who come unto Him shall find rest for their souls. I have been desperately in need of rest and peace, you see. As I've written here before, I had a miscarriage back in June that shook me to the core. Going years of believing I would never have a child, to thinking it just might be possible, to losing it and wondering why was a cycle that left me shaken and weary. I've been stressed before, I've been sad before, but never so bone-deep with weariness as this.

This rest, this being able to be at peace is no easy process. My human self rebelled at first. I saw it as my pain and my loss. This was my child taken from me too early. I didn't want to acknowledge what I knew about this child being God's gift or that He did indeed have a purpose and a hand in my life. But there was this still small voice and it got to me through the storming in my heart...

And you know what? As I sought God and just let myself wander through His word, seeking, or let myself come before Him in prayer, longing, I did find rest. I found hope and peace, and the reminder that even as the storms of this life come my way, God has plans for me. We don't get a free pass on suffering in this life, but neither do we go it alone. He let me remember, and deep in my heart and soul, I can rest.

This is a piece written in five minutes with no editing as part of Five Minute Fridays. Want to try writing free for five minutes? Join in here!

Five Minute Friday

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Titus 2 for Bloggers

As I've gotten back into blogging, I have to admit that I've been thinking of all kinds of things - and wishing I had a a great blog mentor or several. I imagine I'm probably not the first blogger to ever think this. I occupy a small little corner of internet, but I love to write and most of all, to share ideas with people, and stepping out online seems to raise all kinds of questions that I wouldn't have thought of beforehand.

One thing I've struggled with, quite frankly, is trying to figure out how much to share online. Obviously, I wouldn't post my home address and all my contact info online for anyone to see. And I try to be mindful about sharing stories that aren't entirely my own unless I have the permission of the other person involved. However, I don't want to go too far in the opposite direction and let nothing of myself show through in my writing. I've seen many different approaches online, but I'm still trying to figure out which would work best, and I could certainly use guidance with that.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Midweek Links: Prayer for the Persecuted

My husband's parents served as missionaries to a Muslim population in a closed country, so the persecuted churches around the world are a subject very close to my heart and we pray for them as a family. We may not all be called to go minister in countries where Christians are in danger, but I believe very strongly in supporting and praying for those who face persecution for their faith. It's an issue that does not get much coverage in the secular, mainstream media so I think that many Christians do not even realize what is happening to their brothers and sisters in faith. However, a number of stories have come to light recently that are informative.

Just today, I saw an editorial discussing the arrests of Ethiopian Christians who worshipped in a home church in Saudi Arabia. The strongly Islamic regime that rules Saudi Arabia is well-known, but as the writer points out, the persistent abuse of Christian guest workers in that country receives far less coverage. Sadly, in its dealings with this country, the United States (and most other Western countries for that matter) fail to raise the issue of human rights abuse.

Elsewhere in the Muslim world, hopeful news has come from Iran in the form of news of increased conversions from Islam to Christianity. As much as I am thankful to hear that, my heart aches for those who face arrest and violent reprisals for following Christ. Churches in Iran must meet in secret and Christians face harsh persecution, yet they continue to come to Christ - how can we not be moved to prayer for them?

Persecution is not limited to the Middle East. Many know Burma/Myanmar is currently ruled by a repressive military regime. However, far fewer know the story of the Christian minorities living there who face persecution and church burnings by government forces. Thanks to a presentation at a church meeting I was able to learn about the work of groups such as Farthest Corners in this region, and I continue to keep these groups in my prayers.

And then there's Africa. So much goes on there, I could do posts just on that region of the world alone. One of my dear college friends is married to a missionary whose work has taken their ever-growing family all over Africa, from the Congo to Kenya to Sudan. I know that they and the people they serve frequently encounter danger as a result of their beliefs. Christians in Kenya have faced rising persecution from Muslim groups, and Christians in Sudan have faced a Muslim campaign to wipe out the faith. I am thankful for organizations such as Persecution Project, World Vision and others that work with persecuted Christians and also work to shine a light on the abuses some Christians face.

How do you pray for Christians facing persecution? How do you teach your children about it? Do you have any stories of the persecuted church to share?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Different Sort of Bean Salad

Growing up in the South, my idea of bean salad usually consisted of the three-bean variety with a sweet n' tangy apple cider vinegar-spiked dressing. Then one day I encountered the yumminess that is Stella's in Richmond. Eating there is something of a rare treat for me, but when I do, they have a bean salad that I just love. I've never been able to figure out exactly how it's made, but this is my closest approximation. And in early March, when the farmers' market isn't in full swing yet, this dish definitely hits the spot. Just add a loaf of bread, some extra-virgin olive oil to dip it in, and you've got a light but satisfying Mediterranean style meal.

 Mediterranean-Style Bean Salad

Green beans, cut into 2 inch pieces - I use about 1/4 or 1/3 pound to feed 3-4 people; the recipe is infinitely expandable, though

frozen lima beans(thawed) - about 1/3 pound

Half of a can of chickpeas (15 oz. can)

2 ribs celery, chopped fine

1/3 red onion, cut in half and sliced paper-thin

sea salt and black pepper to taste

1 lemon

1/3 cup (or more, if you like) freshly chopped herbs - parsley, mint, maybe even a little dill (use what tastes good to you!)

 2 T. extra-virgin olive oil

1. Put about 1 1/2 inches of water in a saucepan and heat to boiling over medium heat. Add steamer basket and steam lima beans,covered, for about 7-8 minutes.
2. Add green beans to the steamer basket with the limas, cover pan again, and steam for another 4-5 minutes.
3. Remove steamer basket, but leave saucepan and water boiling on stove. Turn heat up to high and boil, uncovered, until water reduced to about 1 Tablespoon.
 4. Rinse beans in cold water and place in salad bowl.
5. Add chickpeas, celery, and onion to beans in salad bowl. Stir to combine, add salt and pepper and toss salad again.
6. Squeeze lemon into salad. Stir in herbs, oil and the reduced steaming liquid. Blend together, cover bowl and refrigerate for 2 hours to overnight.
7. Crumble feta cheese across the top when serving, and enjoy!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Where is Home?

I've never entirely liked that Robert Frost quotation, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." The grimness of the duty implied in that sentence always leaves me cold. It's a begrudging sort of charity implied there. For me, home is the place where, when you have to go there, they want to welcome you in.

Home has warmth to me, it has welcome. I'm truly an introvert and yet I still want my own home to be warm and welcoming to others. I don't ever want anyone to feel brought into my house out of duty alone.  I have been promised home as an example of warmth and love, and how can I not try to share that warmth and love with others even if my ways are human and flawed?

Goodness knows, our Father in Heaven does not take us into His home out of cold duty alone. We are told in John that God so loved the world, He gave His only son for us.  We are told in Luke's parable of the lost sheep how God will go after our lost selves and in Galatians 4, Paul writes of how God saved us so that He could adopt us as His children.  And going back to John, how can we forget Christ in Chapter 14 telling of His father's house with many mansions and of the place He goes to prepare for us there.  None of what God gives us comes from duty. He is almighty and all that He showers on us is given out of love for His children.

And when I think on that example of home, I remember. As heartbreakingly beautiful as this place can be, this is not my home. There is more than what my human eyes see on Earth and home with God stretches into eternity. Seen like that, the word "home" feels a little less commonplace, doesn't it?


This piece was written in five minutes (and goodness, I hope I got my citations right since I did them from memory! Correct me gently in the comments if I'm wrong.) for Five Minute Friday. 

Five Minute Friday

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Chicken Soup Un-Recipe

As far as I'm concerned, chicken soup is one of those dishes that can exist in infinite variation. Some give it an Asian twist, with rice noodles, fresh cilantro and sriracha sauce. Others stick to the traditional version, flavoring the broth with salt, pepper, perhaps a few herbs and some carrots. When I'm craving comfort, I often turn to chicken soup and I find it's also the perfect dish for experiment with whatever I have in my pantry and refrigerator. So, what do I do to get to this?
1. I start with chicken (obviously.) I'm fortunate enough to have a good butcher shop nearby that offers local and organic meat, so I will often buy chicken from them. Depending on the size of your family, you can get a little or a lot. There's just two of us at home, so a small package of chicken thighs works nicely. A quick note: dark meat will give your soup more flavor than white.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Midweek Links: They Comfort Me

 As you know from my last post, I've been healing from a miscarriage, an experience that probably scars my heart more than my body at this point. It brought about a lot of soul-searching, prayer and some very difficult days.  And in the midst of it all, there were things I read, that comforted me a lot.

My friend Jessalyn over at Desiring Virtue knows this place of hurt and healing, and her story moved me the first time I read it,and inspires me now.  Her reflections on prayer in the wake of having gone through miscarriage also gave me great comfort and reassurance in my own prayer life.

And if you search through other Christian websites, many other wonderful women have walked this path before and I have found a number of helpful testimonies and devotionals.  This post from At the Well was a good resource as well.

I mentioned before that I found it helpful to read and meditate upon Scripture. Psalms especially spoke to my soul, and in addition to reading my Bible, I appreciated some of the art I found here.  A word of caution - there can be some unsavory things on Tumblr at times, so explore with discernment.

And there was music. My brother sent me this song because he thought the lyrics would speak to me even if it wasn't my usual style of music. And it did - in some ways this one was a psalm of comfort in modern language - a cry to God of anguish and a hymn of thanksgiving for His faithfulness, both of which I feel keenly.

And what about you?  What have you found comforting in times of loss?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Emerging from the Dark

 I know I've been offline for a bit.  I suppose it's fair to say that I had one of those times of turning inward, where I just did not have the words to blog.  I needed simply to rest, to be and to seek God's will in ways that I just couldn't while blogging.

It's been quite a summer/fall/winter here. I had what I thought was a much worse than usual allergy season and then I started feeling just as sick as could be. I could barely drag myself out of bed in the mornings(and I'm usually a very high energy person!), drifted in a fog through the day, and kept getting dizzy and/or sick to my stomach.

Finally I broke down and went to the doctor. And after having been told for 8 years that I would not have children of my own, the incredible had happened.  I was pregnant - and immediately my mind was filled with visions of miracles.  I wasn't sure when I wanted to go public about it, but caution told me to at least get through that first trimester - and then, when I was not quite 12 weeks along, I miscarried.

I still don't even know enough words to really describe all that dark time. I couldn't make sense of why any of this would happen. Why would I by some miracle conceive and then lose this so-wanted child? Was it my fault somehow that this happened? Was there some lesson God was trying to teach me that I just couldn't understand?  At first there really wasn't much I could understand, though I developed an all new appreciation for those portions of Psalms wherein the psalmist cries out to God from the most anguished corners of the heart. I could cry those words aloud, too, because they had taken on new meaning, just as the words of comfort that so often accompany these passages went deeper into my heart than ever before as well.

I sat down to write so many times, but the will to craft words just would not come to me. I needed comfort and I needed God, even though much of the time I could only sit in His presence weeping. I know that I had friends praying for me even if I wasn't the most communicative, and to this day, I treasure that because I know I needed(and still need) their love and prayers.  There's nothing that really prepares one for this rollercoaster of hope and disappointment and grief, and it's the sort of agony I couldn't wish on anyone.

And I developed an all-new appreciation for my husband. He's not the most emotionally demonstrative person, but he was the one who prayed with me and for me, and grieved with me over this child of ours that we only got to see in a single ultrasound. I've never felt so close to him as when we walked through those dark days of mourning for a dream and a life that we'd only just begun rejoicing for.

Finally, I've reached a point where I feel like I'm really back and fully present in my life again. I still have some dark, sad days but I have my words and music again.  I'm homemaking and working from home once more, and with renewed purpose that makes me feel more focused than before. I don't even pretend to know all the whys of what happened and I often think I won't truly understand it all this side of heaven.

But sometimes I think God gives me glimmers - like the one I heard this Sunday as our pastor preached from Ecclesiastes, reminding us that God has a time for everything.  He mentioned specifically that in Christian circles, we are often exhorted to do many things in service to God, but he reminded us that God has His own timing and that there will be times when we may speak and do much outwardly in service of God but there are also times when God calls us to be silent. I needed to hear that because this time of mourning and growth has been one of those times of listening and meditating. 

It has been difficult and dark, and I expect I will talk about part of it in more detail as I blog again(there's just too much that goes through my head for me to put it all in one post), but there has been good in the darkness. More importantly, there was God. I may have been offline but I was never truly alone.