Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Pushing the Reset Button

The other night I did something I've been needing to do for a while. Got out my Leslie Sansone "Walk Away the Pounds" DVD. I prefer walking over most any type of exercise. But I do best when I'm walking around a track or path. A park in decent weather works quite well. Even the mall will do in a pinch. But walking to a DVD? I'm still not completely sold on it. Nevertheless, when it's too cold to walk outside or too late to go to the mall or track or park - well, if a DVD will get me moving, I'm all there. Especially when the space heaters are on in the gameroom. Did I mention I hate to be cold?

It occurred to me that the 15 oz. cans of fruit cocktail I was using as weights were probably not real effective. But swinging 26 oz. jars of spaghetti sauce just seems wrong.

Mike even joined me for a bit, although I'm pretty sure it was more for laughs than exercise. Let's just say my husband was not one of the male cheerleaders in high school! Oops, watch out for that ceiling fan, buddy! Okay, I think he lasted about a quarter mile.

In all seriousness though, as I huffed and puffed, I wondered why it's taken me this long to get moving. Yes, I hate to be cold. But even worse, I hate the feeling of stiffness that sets in during the winter months. I hate the melancholy feeling that lurks when the days are short and the nights long. For several weeks now I've been saying I just need to get moving. So what holds me back? Now that I did it tonight though, I'm sure I'll get back to doing it 3-4 times a week.

Sometimes growth and progress are not about doing something new, but rather pushing the reset button on the basics, either to get back on track or build on what we know. Reading through the Gospels, I'm reminded that this seemed to be Jesus' approach to growth - focusing on the basics and showing people how that looked.

I thought about this as I finalized my Prayer for 2008. It seems many of the things on my list reappear year after year. Whether it be prayer, managing our finances or taking care of our bodies, it always seems to come back to the same things - the basics. So this year, my goal is to embrace pushing the reset button, as many times as it takes to stay with what I know.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Art of Crockpot Cooking

Last Sunday, I made French Onion soup in the crockpot, thinking I'd have it for Monday dinner as well, along with some sandwiches. Not. I did not know it was my husband's favorite soup meal. It was gone by Sunday night. So I made more today. And know better than to hope there'll be much left for tomorrow. But hey - that's okay. When you hit on a favorite, it's rewarding enough to see it disappear.

I've been trying to master the art of crockpot cooking. Easier said than done when I leave by 7:30 am and neither of us is rarely home before 6:00 pm. So . . .

  • I bought a new crockpot, the kind with the removable crock (after 18 years with my old one, I figured I could splurge on a new one!)
  • And because the models with the built-in timer are entirely too big for the two of us, I bought a $10 appliance timer from the hardware store, the kind you can use to turn your lights on when you're away from home. I set it to start around 9:00 am and shut off around 5:30 pm.
  • I also started browning and cutting up ingredients the night before and putting them in the crockpot in the fridge overnight. I set the cold crock into the heating unit in the morning and add any liquid ingredients at that time.
Obviously recipes with the longest cooking times, and without rice, noodles or cream bases work the best. I'm constantly on the lookout for good recipes to try. We both seem to prefer soups and stews right now so if you have some suggestions, I'm open!

Oh, and here's the French Onion soup recipe. I prefer to top the soup with croutons and cheese shavings, as opposed to toasting French bread and topping it with messy slabs of mozzarella. Less complicated and messy - does anyone really enjoy eating soup with cheese hanging out of their mouth? Does the lack of French bread make this un-French onion soup? I think not!

6 large onions (I've been using 3 large Vidalia or Mayan onions, much better flavor)
1 stick butter
6 cans beef broth
2-3 bay leaves
2-3 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Croutons (use the best you can find, I like the Rothsberry Farms brand best)
Fontinella cheese, shaved (can also use Parmesan or other hard cheeses)

Saute onions in butter until tender and sweet. (I've been doing this step on Saturday night and putting it together on Sunday morning). Add onions, broth, bay leaves and Worcestershire sauce to crockpot and cook on low for 5-7 hours. Serve with croutons topped with cheese shavings. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Thoughts on Church

This past Sunday I got up early and headed to my parents' church to surprise them with some cookies and snag a hug or two. Then I headed to my own church, which starts later. On my way, it was pretty obvious the only people on the road on that frigid Sunday morning were church goers. I mean, where else would the elderly couple driving well below the speed limit in a Grand Marquis be headed? I passed by several churches where parking lots were slowly filling. I ran into my friend at Starbuck's on her way to church. And then I finally arrived at my church. Whew!

A few thoughts were swirling around in my brain as I planted myself in my usual row:

  1. I'm home! Happy to be with people I am coming to know and love. And how great it is that God places each of us in just the right church family in each season of our lives. (I'm coming to recognize that our lives truly are lived in seasons.)
  2. We have nothing to fear just because not everyone worships like we do (amongst those of us who call God our Father and trust Christ as Savior). I think God is more accepting of diversity in and among the body of Christ than we are. We know we're supposed to accept each other within the local body - the local church. But why do we have a hard time accepting and embracing other local churches in the body of Christ at large?
  3. A while ago I read a great post about competition vs. collaboration among churches. For some reason, scenes from the animated movie, An American Tale, keep popping into my mind. Remember all the little mouse families, huddled together in their mouse holes in fear of the big cats? Only when they emerged from hiding and banded together were they able to make a difference. What if we all recognized our place in the body of Christ and envisioned what we could accomplish in our communities together? What would happen if our local communities saw the people of God pitching in and being the hands and feet of God where the needs are greatest?
  4. As followers of Christ, God is continually growing us into the people he needs us to be. Wouldn't the same hold true for churches . . . isn't transformational change a given? But I think we have to dismantle, or maybe allow God to dismantle, some of the boxes we put around our church experience in order to truly allow God to work.
Church. It's a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Coming Home

Sometimes life can be pretty distracting, pulling us in many directions. Sometimes days like that string themselves together like a barrage of artillery fire. When I feel like that, I tend to respond in one of two ways. Sometimes I purposely distract myself even further, burying my head in a book or chilling out in front of the TV. Before I know it, the night is over and I’m headed for bed, blocking out the events of the day and kind of hiding from the next day.

But sometimes I remember to take a deep breath, to just sit and think through the day (or days). And then I’m in a place where I can invite God to speak to me. Not to see how I measure up or where I've failed, but rather to recognize his presence and work in my life. To just kind of curl up in his lap of love and acceptance. And that’s when I feel like I’m finally home.

Sometimes the old saying, “home is where the heart is” rings truer than we realize. If God speaks to us through our hearts and we’re not taking time to be aware of what’s going in our hearts, well . . . where are we? How well do we know our truest selves? And how often are we willing to take a look into our hearts and see where we really are? How are we feeling? Where are we needing to make changes or what changes are we needing to accept? What is God wanting to teach us?

We may not be off squandering our inheritance but sometimes we fail to live in awareness of it. I stray whenever I lose touch with who I am, when I get away from my God-intended purpose, when I lose sight of what God is doing in my life. Coming home, I’m learning, is not just for prodigal offspring. Over and over again, God invites us to come home – to listen to our hearts, to his Spirit as he speaks into our lives.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Perfect Gift

I spent some time yesterday afternoon searching for a birthday gift for my mother-in-law. Over the years, doing so has become much easier, but it brought back memories of the early days of my marriage. Oh, the torment I put myself through those first few years every time an inlaw birthday rolled around! All of the sudden, I found myself irrevocably connected to perfect strangers. And for me, the way to bridge that gap was through giving the perfect gift.

Gift-giving has always been that for me – a way to bridge gaps and span chasms - especially in my college days, when bits of time with loved ones was interspersed with long periods of homesickness. I consoled myself on holidays away from home by preparing care packages to send home.

Several years ago I finally realized there was no such thing as the perfect gift. Gifts would always be flawed. Either the gift itself would be flawed, of inferior quality or some hidden defect, or the giving would be flawed. It might be a duplicate, or not fit or match right or perhaps it was one of those gifts that would end up on the Goodwill pile someday. What a relief it was when I came to understand I didn’t have to give the perfect gift.

In contrast, how beautiful is the gift God has given us in his Son Jesus Christ! A truly perfect gift – no faults or hidden defects. And the giving was perfect as well – in the fullness of time, all sufficient and yet more than we could ever ask or think. It bridged the greatest chasm of all times, bringing us into eternal relationship with God. Not a once in a lifetime thing we put on the shelf after the newness wears off, but a gift that invites us to partake daily in the life God has given us.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Word of the Week: Invitation

Invite: To ask for the presence or participation of, to welcome; encourage

I'm just loving this word lately for some reason. It's one of those beautiful, multi-faceted words. An invitation says "the door is open, come on in. You're welcome here." Of course, I think of God's invitation to me, his constant invitation to walk more fully in the life he offers and to somehow participate in his work. He doesn't strong arm me or coerce me. His voice of love gently beckons, and the invitation is mine to accept or reject. Yet as often as I neglect or reject his invitation, he never tires of extending his arms towards me.

I also have been thinking of this word in terms of human relationships. How many people in my life have extended an invitation to me over the years? How have I felt welcomed, loved and accepted by others? Oh, too many times to enumerate, but in recent days and months I've become increasingly grateful for those welcoming arms along the way.

And finally, do I offer an invitation to others? Does my life invite others into the life God has for them? And can I invite and welcome others into my life? Blogging has definitely been a segue into this learning to be more open, but it's something I know God wants me to do in real-time as well. And it all circles back to the beginning, an invitation from God to take another step.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

God Will Make a Way

I've always been fascinated by highway construction. Now, don't get me wrong, I find it completely annoying when I'm stuck in the resulting traffic. But I don't mind riding through construction zones during off-peak hours. I find it amazing when mountains of earth are moved and roads seem to appear out of nowhere. One day there's no way to get from here to there - a common occurrence in the city of Pittsburgh. A few months later - surprise! There's a new stretch of highway beckoning us, all because some brilliant civil engineer saw a way where there appeared to be none.

About 15 years ago, I took a bunch of girls to a cheer leading camp. Besides the usual rah-rah-rahs, practical jokes and death-defying stunts, we learned some wonderful worship songs and experienced a great sense of bonding. On the way home, our van kept dying. Our prayer was that we'd get out of the no-zone, that lonely stretch of south 79, and into the city of Washington so we could at least access a phone and get some help. The girls burst out in this song by Don Moen, which kind of became our personal prayer for that year:

God will make a way
Where there seems to be no way
He works in ways we cannot see
He will make a way for me

He will be my guide
Hold me closely to His side
With love and strength
For each new day
He will make a way

By a roadway in the wilderness
He'll lead me
And rivers in the desert will I see
Heaven and earth will fade
But His Word will still remain
He will do something new today

Isn't that just so true? Time and again, we can't see the way through but in the midst of the confusion and chaos of our wilderness times, God makes a way.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-19

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Taste and See

Recently while waiting to pick up some Chinese take-out, I gave into hunger and grabbed one of those mysterious foil-wrapped candies on the counter. Gag- I wish they would have remained a mystery! It was like biting into hard plastic - no taste whatsoever. Just to be sure, I grabbed another. This one was nougat-like, but still devoid of any flavor.

It was the first time I ever remember tasting something and yet tasting absolutely nothing. And it made me oh, so glad that when God tells us to "taste and see" that he is good, he comes through, true to his promise. I was reminded of this during an early morning walk today. I was thinking about a different song, also having to do with God's love, but these lyrics by Chris Tomlin kept pushing to the forefront of my mind:

Praise You, God of earth and sky
How beautiful is Your unfailing love
Unfailing love
And You never change, God, You remain
The Holy One and my unfailing love
Unfailing love
(From the song Unfailing Love, on the album Arriving)

Of course, God is good and his love unfailing, whether I realize it or not. Yet he invites me to step out, to taste and experience that goodness for myself. And when I do, I find without fail that he is indeed good. He doesn't disappoint.

Ps. 34:8 Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed are those who take refuge in him.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ask. Seek. Knock.

This year I'm working through a book called Oxygen in the mornings. It's not your typical devotional book. Rather than provide a daily scripture reading, author Keri Wyatt Kent invites you to spend an entire week (28 in all) in a different Gospel passage. And rather than leave you with a list of questions, she challenges you to reflect on the passage in several different ways. Each week wraps up with a few of her own thoughts to help you reflect.

Initially, I was a little hesitant to abandon my regular reading plan (a little OCD kicking in) but after spending some time meditating on this week's passage (Matt 7:1-12) on my way to work and at night, I think I like this. I feel more freedom to “dwell in” those words, to chew them over and fully enjoy the flavor they impart.

These familiar verses were especially challenging to me at the start of this new year: "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; those who seek find; and to those who knock, the door will be opened." (Matt 7:7-8)

Ask. Seek. Knock. Each requires a step of faith. We don’t know what the response will be when we ask. We have no idea what we'll find when we start seeking in earnest. We don’t know what will be on the other side of the door when we muster up the courage to knock.

What will I ask this year? Of God? Myself? Of others?

What am I seeking?

What doors of opportunity will I knock upon?

Monday, January 07, 2008

The Ebb and Flow of Relationships

Most mornings I've been starting my day just sitting quietly for a few minutes with this prayer from the book, Celtic Daily Prayer. Recently my eye has been drawn to the essay above it by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, from her book Gift from the Sea. I've been thinking a lot about these lines:

We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanence, on duration, on continuity;

especially as they relate to relationships. I tend to want my relationships today to be what they were yesterday. In a way, I'm like a child on the beach, inconsolable when the tide comes in and washes away my sand castle. So this idea that relationships ebb and flow is actually freeing for me. While every relationship warrants effort on my part, I need to respect the nature of relationships in and of themselves. They will come and they will go. And, I am learning, they will come again. That may mean a renewed relationship with a friend that had gone sour or where the two of you have drifted. Or it may mean new relationships. Or possibly, tried and true relationships will take on a new dimension, going to a deeper level.

I'm fortunate to have a sister who is also my dearest friend. And yet over the years, our relationship has experienced this sense of ebb and flow, due mostly to the changing seasons of our lives. While time and proximity are not the only criteria for relationships, both factors have certainly contributed. I think this year we've walked through some deep learning experiences together (mostly via phone and email). She's made some space in her life to tend to her needs as a woman, which as a caring big sister gives me great joy, but as a friend, gives me even greater joy as we've connected in some truly life-giving ways.

The essay by Lindbergh concludes:

The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what it was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now.

As adults, we realize the ebbing tide will return again and are content to look forward to another day of sandcastle building. Are we willing to acknowledge this ebb and flow in our relationships?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Making Goals and Dreaming Dreams

This is quite a process for me! I didn't realize it but last year I didn't finalize this until the end of January. But a little incident this morning revealed to me how important it is to get things down on paper!

Ever since about September of 2006, we've hesitated to use our shower due to needing tile repair in the tub. Do you know how annoying it is to wash your hair hanging over the tub? And while I like an occasional bath, I miss my hot showers. This morning I was starting to list in my journal different areas for change and opportunity in the coming year and, on the home front, this of course made the list. And then I promptly said, "what the heck!" and jumped in and enjoyed a nice hot shower! And then got the local Pennysaver out and called a contractor for an estimate. I tell you, writing things down works wonders!

Another thing I'm planning to do differently this year is share some of these goals with different people.. For starters, I plan to share some with my husband. I figure he would like to know where the money's going this year! (No, I'm kidding. We always make those kind of decisions together.) But what I fail to do is share my personal goals with him. For instance, if I have a goal of writing 15 minutes a day (outside of blogging, email, journaling etc.) then it makes sense he know why I'm sequestering myself in the game room each morning. Even though we don't necessarily share all the same goals and dreams, it makes sense to know where the other person is headed. (Where his goals are concerned, it's pretty easy - he's still taking classes towards his Masters, and yet a little probing into some of his dreams is probably in order.)

So that's where I'm at in this process. If you've already shared along these lines, I'd love to hear about your goals or resolutions or whatever you call them.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Word of the Year: Life-giving

Someone I am blessed to call friend recently posted about this word, specifically about things that are life-giving to her. And then it appeared in my reading of Madeleine L'Engle Glimpses of Grace, again in Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott as well as several other things I'm reading. I can't get this word out of my head. It's as if God is saying "are you paying attention yet?"

Isn't that really what it's all about? Life. Eternal life. Abundant life. Now. People. Relationships. God. For so long I think I fell under the misconception that eternal life begins when life on this earth ends. I am learning there's so much more to life in Christ.

Another sweet blogger, Becky, and I have dialogued over several "Word of the Week" posts I've done and she related how each year she prays about a word for the year, something God would have her consider and learn and live. I'm thinking this word "life-giving" might be that word for me. What if that were the filter through which I ran my thoughts and my words? The things I do and and the things I read? The way I spend my time and my resources? How I relate to others? In each situation, am I choosing life?

And just as both inhaling and exhaling are necessary for breathing, so I realize this life-giving thing goes both ways. It's not just about what gives life to me. It's about things I can do - choices I make everyday - that enable me to give life to others in return.

I'm still working my way through some goals and dreams for the coming year, but for now my prayer is for this word to infuse and transform the way I do and see things in 2008.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Goodbye 2007, Hello 2008

Hard to believe another year has rolled on by, and I find myself staring at a brand new year as I would a blank canvas. Wondering what the picture will look like. Amazed and awed at the awareness of God continuing to work in my life, to fashion me into the image of his Son. Knowing that I literally bring nothing to the work except my own availability.

Last year, in lieu of a pile of resolutions, I opted to make some commitments to growth in just four areas, adopted from Luke 2:52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. Before I move ahead with thoughts about the coming year, it's time to look back, as I've done often this past year, in review:

Wisdom (Mental) My goal last year was to figure out some direction with regards to my degree. While my Bachelor's degree is respectable enough, unfortunately it being from an unaccredited college, it's nothing I can really build upon towards a Master's degree or move towards certification of some kind in the educational field without starting from scratch. And at 43, do I really want to start from scratch? Nah, not really. Slowly but surely, I think I've come to a point of acceptance about this and it's helping me be open to direction in other areas of potential. A continual area of prayer and discernment!

Stature (Physical) Desiring to maintain an active lifestyle and realizing that I only get one body in this life (duh!), I think I made some strides last year in this area. I hooked up with a friend who is an avid bike rider (not to mention hiker, cross-country ski buff and all-around outdoors nut) and hope to continue enjoying this kind of activity in the coming year.

Favor with God (Spiritual) I think I really started to "get" some things about my relationship with God last year. This is one area where starting from scratch was not a bad thing. Among other things, the concept of grace became very real and exciting to me. I'm realizing that, while I need to continue growing and living into God's love, God's love for me is already complete and perfect. There's nothing I can do to warrant any more of his love. God's love has become an awesome wellspring of life in which I desire to more fully abide.

Favor with Man (Relational) At some point in 2006, God began showing me that he did not intend for me to walk this journey alone. Humanly speaking, that'd be my preference. Alone and private is so much more predictable and controllable - or so I thought. Last year he brought some wonderful friends into my life who've helped me to realize that indeed, two are better than one. I've seen the seeds of community and connection begin to take root in my heart. And for that, I am deeply grateful. And I'm abundantly thankful for this place in blogland where I'm able and learning to be increasingly open, for friends to share in the journey!

Tomorrow - New Year's Resolutions 2008 Word for the Year!