Welcome to my blog! I'm so glad you stopped by. I happen to be one of those people who lives to eat, and the only thing I love more than eating is hanging out with my family and friends. Grab a cup of coffee and sit down to my daily devotion. I can't wait to tell you what's on my mind today....

Monday, February 28, 2011

Fish on Fridays

I've always liked seafood.  I will gladly eat a beautifully prepared piece of fish over almost anything.  When I was a child, schools served fish every Friday because of the Catholic mandate, so Friday was my favorite day to eat school lunch.  I almost always got three or four fish filets instead of the normal one because many of my friends didn't like it at all.  But even before my school days, we lived near the Gulf Coast of Alabama.  Fried shrimp was a staple.  My mother's gumbo was a regular soup in our home.  Many of our church friends there had boats or beach homes, so we were kept in plentiful supply of the fish and shrimp that we loved to eat. 

Knowing that seafood has been a part of my entire life, I think it's so odd that my parents had their first fish filet that was not fried when I was in high school.  In the deep South, people just fried anything that came out of the ocean.  Period.  And now that I am an adult and the mistress of my own kitchen, I have never fried seafood...ever.  Oh, we've had a nice crunchy fish filet that came frozen, but that was only to make the kids happy.  I usually prefer some sort of dill sauce or teriyaki or blackened preparation.  I love anything spicy with cilantro.  I like to try all kinds of ways to eat the fresh fish that we can get on the coast, but my parents still prefer theirs fried.  It's just a matter of taste. 

We have a very dear pastor friend who likes to say, "There is more than one way to skin a cat."  I must confess that this saying tickles me a bit.  I always want to pipe up and shout, "Name two!"  But I keep my cool and sit quietly in the pew.  But there is truth in this.  There will always be more than one way to do something.  We usually prepare things based on our tastes, but sometimes we are guided in our preparations based on the ingredients available in a given moment.  How many times have you looked in your pantry and realized that you lacked an ingredient that was necessary for what you had in your mind and needed to alter the menu a bit?  It happens often with me.  I find that I am constantly changing perspective on the menu.

I find that the Bible is like that in my life.  Today, I may read a verse one way only to read it completely different next week.  I'll explain.  Psalm 37:4 says, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart."  It seems fairly straightforward.  If I am finding my joy in God, He sometimes will bless me with things that I want.  However, like the missing ingredients in my pantry, I sometimes find that my life isn't turning out to be exactly what I had wanted.  My own desires remain in my head and never materialize.  How, then, am I to make sense of a verse like this?  The Lord has shown me that perspective is gained when we read the Word in the very present tense through His interpretation over our lives.  The Word is alive to us today--not just written to be a beautiful transcript thousands of years ago.  I have looked at that verse again and am coming to read it more like this:  If I find my delight in the Lord, He will guide me in the forming of my desires.  In other words, He gives me the desires  (the things that I should be longing for) that will best benefit me, and because I delight in Him, I will rejoice in these desires and follow God's plan for me whole-heartedly!  I really like to look at the Scriptures in this way.  Today, I may see this interpretation.  Tomorrow, I may see another.  I should remain open to what God wants to say to me in each moment. 

I can't always plan a good menu.  I have often thought I would make a particular dish centered around having a singular ingredient only to find that it isn't in the pantry.  I just rearrange my thoughts and let the pantry help me make my new choice.  Maybe I want my fish grilled.  Maybe my mother wants hers fried.  The Word of God is alive and active for each of us, meeting our individual needs in the moment.  I'm really glad.  God's concern for us is so great that He wants good things for us as His individual children with our individual tastes. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Service Without Grumbling

Over the weekend, we got together with another couple and went out to dinner.  The location was cute.  The space was a bit odd, but they had done the best with it that they could have.  The food was very good.  It wasn't the best steak I've ever eaten, but it was very good.  The time spent with our friends was fun.  We caught up on years gone by and made big plans for the future.  Everything was wonderful....almost.  Both of the ladies who came to our table were rude.  At first, I thought it was just my opinion, but my friend mentioned something to me, as well.  Then the husbands got in on it.  It was unanimous.  The service was lacking.  Rude people don't necessarily make my food taste bad, but they definitely sour the entire experience. 

Our family has lived in six different locations in the past three years.  We've spent as little as three months in one home and as much as a year in another.  With all of this moving about, we've managed to visit quite a few churches.  The conversations that we have leaving the parking lots are always interesting.  We discuss things like, did you like the worship?  Did you enjoy the sermon?  Kids, did you like the classes?  But one of the most telling things that we have observed is this:  Did anyone speak to you?  If we have been to a service and not a soul spoke to us, we usually don't want to go back...even if the worship was phenomenal.  However, when someone turns and talks to us during the greeting portion of the service, or when someone sees us in the hallway and starts a conversation, we automatically like the church even if the styles of worship or sermon were less than compelling.  So, my verdict is that the human element of any type of establishment is largely important.

If we were to have guests in our home and I didn't say hello, I didn't clean up in advance, I didn't prepare some sort of refreshment or make an effort to see to their comfort, I would be far from the mark of hospitality.  Hospitality is an often overlooked spiritual gift, but it is a vital part of our relationship with others inside the Body of Christ.  It is the job of God Himself to draw everyone to Himself, but we are the ones responsible for making others feel welcome in their encounters with Him.  We set the tone in our homes, businesses, classrooms and churches.  We are the ones who provide the atmosphere that can either lead people into God's presence...or away. 

1 Peter 4:9-10 says "offter hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms."  It's quite simple, really.  We just need to be nice and think of the needs of others.  There is a warmth that comes from kindness.  All the people in town can visit our church, but if we do not make them feel welcomed, they probably won't come back.  We can invite people into our homes and feed them every night, but if we don't engage them in conversation and make them feel at home in our space, then they won't feel like our interest in them was sincere. 

As I mentioned earlier, the meal we ate with our friends was very good, but it could have been a fabulous experience if only the ladies who served us had smiled and answered our questions with warmth.  As children of God, we can't forget to welcome others into the presence of God.  It can mean the difference between a good experience and a God experience for them. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Time off IS good behavior

Last night, I was on the phone with my younger sister.  We were both talking about how busy we are these days when we made the discovery that we had the same plans for the evening meal:  frozen pizza!  I think this is so funny because I can count on one hand the number of times my children have had a frozen pizza in our home.  (And I really think the number is three or less.)  The fact that both of us had the same idea on the same day tickled me!  It's so unlike us.

As it turned out, my kids and I each had one piece.  We stopped right there.  It just wasn't what we were hoping it would be.  They were super happy, though, because they were able to enjoy yet another forbidden food: soda!  They've had soda in our home even less than they've had frozen pizza!  About twice a year I just want something fizzy, so last night was the night for all things taboo.

Sometimes I'm just too tired to put too much effort into meal planning and preparation.  Having just gotten over a cold, I just lack the wherewithall to get much done.  The Lord is OK with our exhaustion.  He knew that we would be living busy lives, running ourselves ragged.  Did you ever wonder why there is a commandment that tells us to "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy"? Of course, we are to take time to meditate on the Lord and nothing else, but I believe that it goes much deeper than that.  We are human.  We are made of finite stuff.  God Himself knows that we will get weary.  It's very important that we take the appropriate amount of time to restore not only our spiritual input but also our physical strength. 

Without times of spiritual and physical refreshing, we become dull and ineffective.  You know how it feels to be going through the day after being up with a sick child all night?  It's hard to concentrate or get much done.  We begin to operate at a much lower percentage.  Rather than going around making careless mistakes or being less than average, God has it in His plan that we take the time to rest our weary souls.  Included in this is a time away from the labor of our every day.

When I was a child, everything was closed on Sundays.  Store and school holidays lasted longer.  People took more time to be off.  Now it seems that we all feel so indispensable that we just keep going...Sundays...holidays....  Last year I was so disappointed to see that even the schools are in session on Good Friday now.  When will it end?

Because my parents are pastors, our home was pretty busy both Sunday morning and Sunday evening, but they took all afternoon to nap, read the paper and relax.  I come by it honestly.  I almost refuse to lift a finger on Sunday.  It's not that I'm pious or scared to break the rule, I just love having the day off!  All of the rest of the time in my life is devoted to cooking, cleaning, homeschooling...being on.  But I'm all for Sunday rest.  I'm all for vacation.  I'm all for sabbatical.  I think that times of refreshing in our lives are near and dear to the heart of God.  He thought it was important enough to include it in His "top ten" list!

So, if from time to time the kids have to eat a frozen pizza, what does it matter?  Today I feel more rested.  I was able to accomplish more.  God's plan was a good plan.

Enjoy a break without the guilt.  You need it.

Making a Mountain out of a Salad Bowl

When we lived in China, our family had so much fun going out to restaurants and trying new foods.  But there is a certain comfort in going to a well-known American establishment, as well.  In Beijing, you can find McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Subway, Western Sizzlin, Dunkin Donuts, KFC and many more.  The menu items tend to lean more towards the Asian market, but there are some things that are familiar.  So...when we spotted a Chinese Kentucky Fried Chicken, we just had to go in!  We were greeted by some familiar smells and others that weren't so familiar.

One of the things that caught our eye was that there was quite an amazing salad bar.  For only about $.35 we could order a one time trip to the salad bar.  This did not have to be added on to another order...one could simply order the one bowl salad, eat it and leave.  The bowls weren't very big, but neither was the price, so I didn't even think twice about it. Until.....  There was a lady sitting next to us who got the bowl and traipsed off to the salad bar.  I, too, went there.  I was just beginning to fill up my bowl with spinach when I caught her actions out of the corner of my eye.  She was creating some sort of masterpiece.  She was layering pineapples and cucumbers around the bowl and building it up higher and higher.  Every now and then, she would fill the center to the current rim level and then keep building it higher.  I got so tickled watching her get the most out of her $.35 that when she got done, I asked if I could get a picture.  She proudly pushed her bowl forward, and I got this priceless shot:
She had gotten waaaaay more than $.35 worth of fruit and veggies!  She didn't even have to order a drink.  She and her girlfriend sat there eating off of this creation until it was all gone.  The menu didn't stipulate "no sharing" so as many as wanted could have eaten this way.  From then on, we began to watch as others were doing similar things.  The Chinese had figured out a way to get as much as possible from one little thing.  They are clever that way.

For decades now, we've heard the stories of how the Chinese can take one singular Bible out in the country and whole villages will come to Christ.  We've heard how they will take precious pages from the Word of God and hand copy them down, even committing them to memory.  They will take these bits and pass them around so that everyone can learn more.  It is the common thought these days that China has enough Bibles.  Years ago, we remember stories of faithful men and women who would smuggle the Bibles into the mainland and then all at once it seems that those efforts were ceased.  Reports came out that there were enough.

I have to question this information, though.  The same groups will report to us that an average of 25,000 people a day are coming to Christ in the nation of China.  That's an amazing figure.  If this is true, and it must be since the government themselves acknowledge these reports, then what are they doing once they believe?  Do they not still need a Bible?  Do they not need pastors and leaders who are trained to lead the Body of Christ? 

There is still a great need in the vast nation of China, one that we should be faithful to help fill.  If you think of what one woman can do with a salad bowl, just imagine if we gave her words of life?  Just imagine what one person could do with a Bible!  How many lives could be reached?  How many souls could be fed?  I must have 6 or 8 Bibles on shelves in my house that rarely get touched.  I seem to use the same one over and over.  But there are whole villages that don't even have one Bible to share.  The demand is increasing, but the supply is still lacking.

As a people group who have so much, we need to begin thinking of ways to help the rest of the world to succeed in Christ.  We have resources that other countries can't even begin to match.  We are not the holiest of nations, but we surely are one of the greatest supplied nations on the planet.  If the Church can step up and begin to meet the needs of the Body worldwide, we can accomplish the Great Commission in no time at all.  I am ready to be with my Lord and Savior, but we cannot go until much more has been done. 

Pray and see if God would have you get involved in feeding the masses of China.  Do your research and see where you should step in.  Until you know where you should focus your efforts, at the very least, be faithful in prayer!  Pray that God would supply resources and godly leadership in China, and pray that the Chinese church would be reinforced with Bibles so that they can feed the hungry.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Well, Shut my mouth!

The children and I were just remembering one of our favorite restaurants in all of Beijing.  There is a wonderful little park, Ritan Park, not too far from the homes of many embassy dignitaries.  The park is situated in the center of the city block, surrounded by businesses on the perimeter.  To enter, one must go through circular doors which open into the beautiful courtyard-like park.  This restaurant that we love is one of the surrounding businesses.  It has been in operation for more than 200 years, I'm told.  The building used to be the home of someone very famous and wealthy, so it is what you would imagine a Chinese mansion to be...carved doorways and windows, lacquered and painted beams and ceilings, rounded archway entrances, courtyards and koi ponds.  It is a beautiful place, and the food is outstanding.  It is very expensive by Chinese standards, but because the embassies are nearby, the cost is fitting for the setting.  (It is only about as expensive as an American family restaurant, but that is outrageous in China.)

I first went there with a South African friend of mine.  She had found the restaurant when someone else took her there.  Word of mouth was the only advertising needed to sustain this business.  My friend showed me a few dishes that she and her family enjoyed, and I was dumbfounded as the food began almost immediately to appear at our table.  In typical Chinese fashion, we dove right in.  She was right.  The food was exquisite.  As I reached my chopsticks out for a bit of a chicken dish that had just been brought to us, she warned me, "Don't eat the peppercorns."  I tried to avoid the round bits scattered throughout my food, but eventually, one of them made it past my lips.  The result is kind of hard to describe, and the only thing I can compare it to is when I was three and some neighborhood kids gave me an unripe persimmon to eat.  But this was magnified!  Not only were the peppercorns (and we're only assuming that's what they are) bitter and spicy, they also seemed to wring out all moisture from the mouth.  Additionally, my tongue and lips became quite numb.  I could no longer feel or taste my food.  It was weird....but the minute I gained control of my mouth again, I dove back in...it was that good. 

The meal was astounding...crispy fried green beans, this amazing chicken dish, walnut shrimp, sauteed young pea greens, honeyed sweet potatoes... We went back time and again.  Every time, at least one of us would manage to get one of the peppercorns in our mouth.  You'd think we would learn our lesson and proceed with caution, but we just kept making the same mistakes.  If you eat enough of this dish, you're bound to get in a peppercorn or two.

Proverbs 10:19 tells us that "when words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise."  Isn't this the truth?  The more talk we do, the more relaxed we become, and the more relaxed we become, the more we let down our guard and speak foolishly.  Sometimes we say things only to spice up an otherwise dull conversation.  But is there a need for that?  I understand the need to talk.  But I also understand the wisdom behind considering each word before it's spoken.  When I think of all the trouble that my tongue has managed to get me into, it's shameful!  I never leave my house intending to dig myself into holes, but it happens frequently enough...I say something that should be left unsaid...I fuss at my husband or children over things that are trivial...I let a thing escape before God's timing has ordained it... My tongue is my least favorite thing about me.  I am working on this constantly with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Truly, I wish that there were some sort of "peppercorn effect"...that my lips would become numb the moment before I'm about to say something harmful.  But it just isn't so.  A very wise professor told us once that it is God's part in responsibility to give us the wisdom that we need; it is our part to walk out the discipline of it.  God will never silence my mouth.  That is my own job.  I am the one who should be disciplined enough to know when to speak and when to be quiet.  Being disciplined is simply a matter of being discipled.  If I rely solely on my own discretion, I will never get it right.  When I put my words under the counsel of the Holy Spirit, then I am much more likely to get things right. 

If we are yielding our lives to the workings of the grace of God, He will provide the wisdom that is needed to keep us from sin.  It is not an instant thing.  Discipleship takes time.  In fact, it takes a lifetime.  These days, I make fewer and fewer mistakes when I'm in conversation.  These days, I'm much more likely to submit my thoughts to the Lord before they become actual words that escape my lips.  I'm not perfect, and I could use a peppercorn or two from time to time, but I am getting better! 

I would really love to be in Ritan Park today.  I would love to go to our favorite Chinese restaurant and enjoy a feast.  It just won't be happening, though.  But...I do have an idea for supper!...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Square Watermelons

I am fascinated by things that make my life easier in the kitchen.  We all have our favorite gadgets and utensils.  I could spend hours walking through gourmet supermarkets and cooking stores.  Some of the things that really get my attention are those fancy waffle irons that rotate, blenders that are crazy sharp, pannini grills.  Every trip to the mall has to have a stop in Williams and Sonoma - it's even better when they are cooking food and passing out samples!  But the problem with getting all these kitchen doo-daa's is that there's never anywhere to store them!  You know what I mean.  There is only so much counter space in any given kitchen.

Years ago when Wayne and I were in Japan, I was expecting things to be pricey.  I knew that our cost of living would be ridiculous, but I don't think I was expecting to see it so great as in our grocery bill.  There were times when we paid $7 for a single apple.  Even the pots and pans were priced so high that I was very limited in what I could buy.  I couldn't afford a decent pot.  I paid $30 for the thin, small aluminum pot that I had and made the very best of it.  That's just as well, because the kitchen was so tiny that I could barely turn around.  I wouldn't have been able to store much else.  Yes, storage was a major issue.

During the time that we were there, we saw all kinds of things that were created not only for their convenience in usage but also for their convenience in storage.  The Japanese are so clever and never miss an opportunity to make things efficient.  But the one thing that gave us the biggest kick was the square watermelon.  Almost everyone loved watermelons, because their watermelons are super sweet and seedless.  The only problem? Storage.  Some very ingenious soul decided to grow them in such containers that would make them perfect for a fridge shelf.  I'm not joking.  When they first came out, the price was somewhere near $100 (It's now closer to $20).  You should probably look these up yourself.  They are actually quite cute.  Who would have thought that you could take something so ordinary, so organic, and make it fit life so much better?  But it did cost.

Some people think that they don't really have time for God.  They feel like His presence in their lives is inconvenient, that He doesn't really fit.  I have even known Christians who were too busy with their days to make room on the shelves of their hearts for Christ, and while I would question their sincerity, only God can judge their hearts.  What they don't realize, though, is that Jesus Christ is not an inconvenience.  We don't have to try to shove Him in the middle of what we do and make Him fit.  No, He rearranges our lives in a more beautiful and functional way.  He seems to be able to take the messes of what we have done and streamline us with great efficiency.  In fact, the Word of God is key in this. Hebrews 4:12 says that God's Word is alive and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword.  When we allow God's presence to be real to us and we begin to feast on the Bible, the powerful words of God, His Word brings life and motion to our chaos and begins to weed out the things that are unnecessary and cluttering.  The Word reshapes our thoughts, intentions and outcomes and make the moments of our lives fit together more beautifully.  The result is spiritual efficiency.

What a wonderful thing!  It is amazing to be all at once sweet, colorful and efficient, lacking in disorder and chaos.  God's way are just higher than ours!  On my own, I can barely fit in.  On my own, I am bitter and boring.  But when I involve God in my life on a regular basis everything just gets better.  Even my schedule seems freer when I make time to be with the Lord.  People just don't realize that His involvement in us makes us so much better.  They think that the cost of His presence will be too great a sacrifice.  What is the sacrifice in receiving a better life freely?

I wouldn't dare liken the power of Christ in my life to a square watermelon; rather, I liken my own self to this strangely created fruit.  That the Father can take me - something so ordinary, so organic - and make me fit into His plan with such efficiency is sweet.  I think that being crafted to God's purpose is the greatest thing that's ever happened to me!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Clean the Fridge!

There is something disgusting in my refrigerator.  From the outside, it looks so pleasant.  There are magnets holding photos of our lovely children, our parents, great friends.  The refrigerator is clean and shining.  Even the kitchen is uncharacteristically clean today.  But I've been out of town all weekend, and I've come home now only to open the door and find that something is rotten in the state of "Kenmore".  I haven't found it, yet.  I haven't even tried.  I just keep opening the very clean refrigerator door this morning and quickly grabbing the thing I need and slamming it shut very fast so that I don't have to deal with whatever it may be.  I don't like unpleasantness at all, and I am one who could probably keep living this way for a few days until the stench breaks through the magnetic seal of the doors and invades my very house.  Crazy, right?

Why not deal with the problem now?  Why let it keep magnifying and taking over everything?  Why not get the offending item out of the fridge before it begins to contaminate other items like butter and cottage cheese that are sensitive and receptive to the bad smell of the rotten thing?  Therefore, the moment I get up from the computer, I intend to take everything out and go ahead and do the thorough cleaning that this moment warrants. 

Jesus Himself preached a very powerful message along this line.  He was speaking to the religious hypocrites of the day and said, "You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee!  First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.  ....you are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matthew 23:25-28) 

It is all too easy to put up a good front, to appear that all is going well.  We've seen it all too often.  The people whose lives look so perfect are the ones who shock us with news of corruption in their hearts.  We expect the dirtier folks around us to be filled with unrighteousness, but not the shiny, clean ones, right?  This is where my challenge of the day lies.  Are you hiding something inside your heart that is ugly, a little smelly and quite possibly rotten?  Are there things that you can't discuss with people around you for fear that it may make you look bad?  It's time to do some housecleaning. 

Just like that one thing in my fridge that has gone bad, if there is the slightest stinch of on-going sin in my life, I can't think that it will not contaminate the other areas of my heart.  The fragrance of sin has the ability to permeate everything.  It can quickly bring ruin to an entire life if left to decay.  We may think that we can isolate a sin and keep it separate from everything else, but it just isn't so.  I've seen over and over how the cloud of disobedience fogs the entire spirit and causes loss of power, purpose, vision, etc. 

Check your "fridge".  See if anything is found there that needs to be removed and discarded.  Allow the Spirit of God to point out to you any area that is bringing decay to your spirit.  Don't let anything go unchecked.  This is for the glory of God and for your benefit.  Just like my family will thank me once I've cleaned our actual refrigerator, the people around you will notice the sweet fragrance of the Spirit of the Lord that completely removes the stench of a stubborn heart.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sweeter than Jam!

I married a man who loves his jam!  He stops at every roadside market that promises homemade jams and jellies.  He lives for local flavor and uses his smart phone as a food tracking device, finding the best of the local cooks and restaurants.  So....when someone gave Wayne two jars of homemade jam today, he was in his own personal heaven!

We were dinner guests in the home of a young family.  This lady is a wonderful cook.  I knew it immediately when I walked in and was greeted by the delightful smells coming from the kitchen.  She had a colorful display of crudites, dips and hummus, a beautiful salad and a fragrant ravioli soup.  Heaven, indeed!  As we were leaving, she brought out the piece de resistance!  Peach jam and blueberry-peach jam!  Oh, my!  The colors were extravagant!  And her husband raved about the flavors.  My only problem?  We are in a hotel room and don't have any bread, buns or crumpets!  What's a girl to do?

So, here I am thinking about jam.  We didn't make jam too often growing up, but we did it every now and then.  Do you know what I remember?  Underipe fruit doesn't make good jam.  Just ripe fruit makes good jam. But fruit that is overripe and just about to turn rotten makes the absolute best jam of all!  This is a good lesson.  In my life, I have seen people that I would categorize as nearly rotten!  You know the ones.  Those who gather spiritual flies, as it were.  The ones that we think are almost too far gone for us to bother with.  Those are the ones that we are more inclined to let fall by the way...to rot and be forgotten.  But the truth is that these are the people who need Jesus the most.  When they find Him, they are so grateful.  They know the rotten state they've been in, and they appreciate the work of grace in their lives.  The result is, oh, so sweet!

Romans 5:8 tells us that "God demonstrates His love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  You know, God Himself knows our rottenness!  He's fully aware of the foul state of our sinful lives, yet, He determined to come in the form of Jesus to purchase our pardon.  He didn't come for the perfect, unscarred fruit.  He came for those of us who are bruised and rotten.  He came for me.  He came for you.  He came specifically to turn our decaying lives into the sweet product of His wondrous love!

I cannot wait to get back home to my own kitchen!  I am eager to try this new jam.  I'm actually considering hiding it from Wayne before he just gets a spoon out and starts eating it!  Meanwhile, I'm just so very happy to be reminded of the pleasant flavor that the Lord is able to extract from my own nearly rotten life!


I've spent a wonderful weekend at a missions conference in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  We have had the pleasure of quite a few great meals together, and I've been impressed with the catering company that has fed 1000s of people from Thursday night through Saturday lunch.  They have put out some pretty fancy meals with creative presentation.  I can hardly get four plates on the table for any given meal, so I applaud anyone that can do anything near 1000 for one meal alone!

During this conference, I've also had the pleasure of meeting a precious woman of God named Sue Byrd who heads a ministry called Operation Inasmuch.  This ministry serves hot breakfast to the homeless people of Fayetteville every morning.  The sweet thing about it is that they don't do this in typical "soup kitchen" style.  They serve these people in restaurant style.  They seat them at round tables and bring the food to them, offering them choices of certain items.  They love on these people and call them by name.  It is a phenomenal work of God's love.  The name for Operation Inasmuch came from Matthew 25:40 where Jesus is talking about reaching out to people in need...feeding the hungry...clothing the naked...visiting those imprisoned.  He says, "Inasmuch as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it unto me." The people who volunteer for this ministry take this very literally and pour out their lives in service to others whose needs are greater.

I had the wonderful opportunity in my childhood to witness something very similar.  My parents planted an incredible church in Alabama.  The church had a few solid families who were firm in their faith and ready to share the love of God.  My parents saw the town's municipal parking lot and the motley crew that hung out there every weekend.  Drugs were bought and sold; people were bought and sold.  Things were rough there.  Any given weekend night, you could find my father there, loving people and telling them the Good News that Jesus had a better plan for their lives.  My mother would have been there, too, but she needed to be home with us since we were too young to be around much of what was happening. An amazing thing began to transpire.  The people that hung out there started to see that my Dad and those who went with him were serious.  They saw that these people would love and accept them as they were...that they wouldn't judge them or look down on them because of their brokenness.  Transformation began to occur, and it happened at a fairly rapid pace.  The love of God was overwhelming and sufficient to cover every one of their sins.

Our church exploded.  We had standing room only crowds.  The people who came grew at such speed, with great leaps and bounds, and they brought their friends.  It was a church plant like no other.  And it not only changed their lives but ours as well.  We were brought up on forgiveness and love.  We were taught that every single person on the planet is just as important as the next.  We were fed the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ, and we found it to be very satisfying!

There is something about God's love that knows no division of class, sect, religion, race, nationality...however you want to say it.  There is an equality in the Kingdom of God that is beautiful when applied.  Yes, the poor and broken may be the least in the sense that they don't have as much, but the people who surround us with such need are equally as important to God's heart as we are.   We have not all been called to start ministries that feed the masses, but we have all been called to do what we can for the people around us.  Food, while important, is only an entry point.  We should do all we can to prepare our hearts and serve the truth of the Gospel.

Feeding the masses with fancy food is an amazing and admirable feat. I applaud all who can accomplish something as difficult and taxing as a catering business!  But feeding the masses with the Bread of Life is life-giving and life-altering.  I pray that you will have the opportunity to share God with the people around you and see lives transformed.  "Inasmuch as you do it unto the least of these..."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Losing Flavor

Even as I write, I'm sitting in a hotel room fighting a nasty little bronchial infection.  This is not my brightest moment.  Sickness is no friend of mine.  In fact, I have only rarely been acquainted with its presence, and I'm surely not going to start welcoming this yucky intruder today.

Most people, when they are sick, seem to lose their appetites.  Not me.  I'm probably the only person on the planet who can have the flu for ten whole days and come out on the other side a full five pounds heavier.  There is nothing that will keep me from enjoying a meal - even if I can't taste it.  I can tell by the texture and heat that it is probably good, so I just keep eating.

When I was in middle school, a friend's father was a builder.  He was roofing a home when he lost his balance and fell from the top of the house.  Fortunately, it was a single story home.  Unfortunately, he landed on his head.  He spent a day or two in the hospital with concussion and a few other complications, but he was able to walk out when his stay was over.  The only lasting affect was that he completely lost his sense of taste.  Completely.  I couldn't imagine the nightmare of a life without flavors!  The comical thing about it was that even though he couldn't taste his food, he continued to salt and pepper every dish.  He even used hot sauce and vinegar sauce on certain dishes that had been habit.  He acted as though he could taste everything.  If a person didn't know the truth, they would assume that this man loved his food as much as the next guy. 

I recently heard a really great sermon that took a different spin on one of the miracles of the Bible.  The passage is from 2 Kings 6:1-7 "Now the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “Behold now, the place before you where we are living is too limited for us.  Please let us go to the Jordan, and each of us take from there a beam, and let us make a place there for ourselves where we may live.” So he said, “Go.”  Then one said, “Please be willing to go with your servants.” And he answered, “I shall go.”  So he went with them; and when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees.  But as one was felling a beam, the axe head fell into the water; and he cried out and said, “Alas, my master! For it was borrowed.”  Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” And when he showed him the place, he cut off a stick, and threw it in there, and made the iron float.  And he said, “Take it up for yourself.” So he put out his hand and took it." This is quite interesting.  It almost seems unnecessary to mention because it looks so trivial to our modern-day thinking.  There were a few reasons, though, that the young prophet was distressed. 1) the ax was borrowed and 2) this was before the modern industrial revolution, and the kind of metal used was difficult to come by, making the ax head very valuable.

The point of the message was very interesting.  This man was doing good work.  He was working alongside other men of God.  They were building a place where they could live, study and worship.  It was a good plan, a godly plan, even.  But as the young man was busy working, the ax head fell off.  Sometimes, we get so busy with every day life.  We even get busy with the work of the Kingdom of God, yet, in the middle of our good and godly labor, we can lose purpose and effectiveness.  Elisha, the man of God, came over and said to the younger man,  "Where did it fall?"  This was the point of the message.  If we find that we are just going through motions, lacking passion, fervor and purpose, we need to question ourselves, "Where did I lose my zeal?  Where did I drop my purpose?"  It is important that we move with purpose and conviction in what we do.  It is important that our lives are not just busy but also fruitful.  The young prophet could have continued to swing the ax handle and look the part of a worker, but he recognized that not much would come of it.  He immediately asked for help to get back on track so that his input would not be in vain.

If you find yourself in a season that lacks the flavor of the passion of God, turn around and determine where you dropped it.  Did you allow yourself to become critical of your brothers and sisters in Christ?  Did you harbor unforgiveness in your heart?  Did you open a door to promiscuity or pornography?  Did you begin to allow the definite lines between right and wrong to become blurry in your desire to gain a want?  The reasons for our falling away are numerous and varied, but the solution is singular:  You must go to the place where you dropped purity and passion for Christ, and you must pick it up again.  We may be able to fool others around us.  They may think that we are following God with our whole heart and tasting of His goodness in every aspect of our lives, but only we can know the bland taste in our mouths if we are just going through the motions without the full flavor of God. 

I can't taste a thing today.  This saddens me greatly, but I probably won't stop eating.  I'm just not that girl. I will keep at it until I can taste everything again! So, pass the salt and pour the gravy!  I'm going to eat my way out of this cold!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Damaged Goods

I'm a frugal shopper, and  I will drive the extra mile to get the bargain!  If I pass a scratch and dent section in a store, I'm more than likely going to stop and see if anything fits my immediate need.  Yard sales and thrift stores don't scare me, either.  I'm not ashamed to make good use of a previously owned item.  Our local supermarket always has a couple of shopping carts off to the end of the check-out section with closeout items and damaged packaging.  It's the damaged packaging that has my attention now. 

I can't really seem to understand why a dented can of peas is less valuable than a non-dented can of peas.  In some of the countries where we've lived, any can of peas whatsoever would be welcome, much more one with a dent!  We Americans want everything to look pristine and in perfect order, or it seems to become useless.  Not me, though.  I have a profound understanding of dented cans of peas....inside that can, there are peas.  Same peas as the pretty cans.  Which is why you'll probably find me buying the scratch and dent ones, right? 

After my Grandmother's funeral, many of my family members went back to her tiny cinder block house and sat around telling funny stories about Grandmama.  One that really stuck in my head was told by my cousin.  My Grandmother made a delicious layered yellow cake with homemade chocolate frosting.  It was a basic cake, but it was so delicious and moist.  My cousin was at her house one day, trying to learn how Grandmama made that cake so good.  They mixed the ingredients just so....they baked the layers exactly...and then they turned the pans to release the cakes.  My cousin tells how one of the layers stuck a bit in the pan.  Grandmama began to fret and fret that the cake was ruined.  She worried herself over that layer being imperfect and set about gently and tediously scraping the stuck bit out of the pan with her tongue situated at the corner of her mouth like she would do when concentrating.  She fitted it back onto the spot so beautifully that my cousin says you couldn't even tell what had happened.  And then...my Grandmother took the handle end of a wooden spoon and began ruthlessly to poke holes in each layer.  She then poured the ganache-like frosting all over the cake so that the holes would fill with the chocolately goodness.  And she was done.  That was the secret to the cake being so moist.  We all just laughed and laughed that she would have worried so much over such a tiny imperfection when all along she intended to beat the living daylights out of the cake!

Which brings me back to the dented can of peas.  Is it really all that important?  In our lives, we are all bound to make mistakes - some of gargantuan proportion, some not so much.  But the point is that each of us is damaged goods to one extent or another.  I know that I will never be perfect.  I will never be good enough to earn salvation on my own.  That's OK, though, because I don't have to be without imperfection.  My salvation doesn't even depend on me.  It is all a gift to me.  The perfect life of Jesus- His death and resurrection- this is enough to cover the damage I've done. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast." None of us can say that we are perfect.  None of us can boast of lives without dents!  Each of us can receive salvation, though, through Jesus Christ!  What a wonderful thought!  People may know what we've done.  They may witness the scars of our imperfect lives, but the Lord can take us and perfect what is on the inside to be used for His glory.  It is such a blessing to know that I can take on the righteousness of Christ just by receiving.  He rights every wrong.

So...you'll probably find me in the scratch and dent section of the supermarket tomorrow.  I'll be the one sympathetically buying the dented cans.  I don't mind, though!  I know what's on the inside!

NASA Calling...

I used to think that I had to do all things well.  I'm over it now, but it did haunt me for quite some time.  I never wanted to admit that something was beyond my capacity of understanding or ability.  And getting to a place where I could readily admit a weakness was no easy thing.  This is called maturity.  Maturity takes some time, doesn't it?

My children are now in the phase of life where they know everything and can do it all without instruction.  I recently heard a comedian talking about how he was waiting for the call from NASA saying, "Mr. So-and-so, we've done all we can...now we need your son.  He's the only one who knows everything."  I have one of those NASA-stumping youths in my life, and I gave an understanding chuckle when I heard the man talking.

Wayne and I have been to quite a few well-known restaurants in our marriage.  We've been seated near the kitchens of many of them, and I watch in amazement at the process of cooking.  It's a very rare thing when only one person has his or her hands on a particular dish.  I'm no expert, but from my vantage, it seems like there are those who chop, those who stir, those who plate and those who oversee everything that goes on in a professional kitchen.  One plate is the work of many hands. In fact, many areas of our lives reflect this same idea.  If our homes are to be in smooth working order, it is the result of everyone working together, each doing his or her unique job.  This is the nature of a workplace.  Not everyone answers the phone. Not everyone makes the pitch. Not everyone makes the product.  But everyone working together brings about a finished work that is desirable. 

Ephesians 4:11-13 reminds us that the Body of Christ operates in this same fashion.  We are not meant to stand alone.  In fact, we were created with different gifts and talents so that we can function together to obtain unity and wholeness. "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." This sounds awfully difficult, but it is basically saying that no one person has to do or be everything.  We aren't even expected to walk our faith alone.  We are meant to be in fellowship with other believers so that we can encourage each other and keep pointing each other in the right paths.

Maturity allows us the opportunity to let go of the reins and invite other people in to give instruction and aid.  Maturity says, "I need you."  When we realize that we do not have to be perfect in every area of our lives or our faith, there is much joy in doing our portion well.  In this way, no one person gets the credit for a job well done.  It is shared by everyone.  And we can relax.

It is important to find a church home that you love.  Realize that no singular church will ever be perfect, but once you find a place that you can call home, roll up your sleeves and offer your help in whatever area you can do well.  You will be much more fulfilled in your life if you are part of such a body.  The joy and blessings will undoubtedly spill over into the rest of your life. 

And until you get that call from NASA, just understand that there may be one or two things that you don't know.  ...but someone else does...

Menu Suggestion of the day: My NASA-stumping youth just now suggested that I put in frozen go-gurt!  We love to buy the tubes of yogurt and then put them in the freezer.  Someone else has done all the work, and we just pull them out after a while and enjoy something akin to ice cream....only it's yogurt with live and active cultures!  After they are frozen, we microwave for about 10 seconds to get them to a creamy frozen state.  Kids love it (and so does this mom!).

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Nooks and Crannies

We had waffles for breakfast this morning!  Usually, I won't eat something like that when I first wake up, but topped with fresh strawberries and Greek yogurt, they really hit the spot!  In our home, our kids just eat frozen whole grain waffles, but when they get to Wayne's Dad's house, he makes waffles that make me speechless.  It takes a full day to prepare the dough for his waffles.  It involves yeast, exact-temperature water, scads of butter...I don't know what all, but they are probably what the angels in Heaven eat regularly.  The reason I can't make them at home is that 1)you have to have a waffle iron that's at least 30 years old, 2)anything at all that takes that much time to prepare really should be done by someone else (and all the moms out there said, "Amen!").  These are so good yet so involved that he usually makes them in large batches and then freezes them in smaller portions for later. 

What makes the waffles even better - if such a thing is possible - is that before we eat them, we put even more butter on top of them and round them out with a steady stream of high quality syrup (and a side of bacon...don't forget that). This is where my compulsive tendencies really come out.  Every bite has to be equal in goodness.  I make sure that each and every square of the waffle gets its fair share of buttery topping.  It's important to me that every bite is perfect.

You know, God is looking for that same desire in our lives.  It is His will that we desire His righteousness in every single nook and cranny of our lives.  We should withhold nothing when we surrender ourselves over to the plan of God.  We should open up all the corners of our heart and invite Him in to saturate our beings with His presence.  If we are doing this, then His righteousness can permeate our lives in a way that is beautiful and evident to others around us. 

The Psalmist said,“I will run in the way of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart. Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end. Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; indeed I shall observe it with my whole heart. Make me walk in the path of Your commandments, for I delight in it.” (Psalm 119:32-35) Following the Word of God in its instruction and correction is the way that we learn righteousness from the start.  But righteousness isn't just about following rules.  It is something that comes from our heart.  We don't obey rules because we are type A and must follow rules, but there is a delight that forms in our hearts when our wills are surrendered to God.  We begin to walk in righteousness because we love Him.  Our actions reflect our relationship with God the Father, and then our lives take on the sweetness of the saturating presence of God.  Just like my waffle, every square of our being can be filled with the goodness of our Lord.

Now that is delicious!

Menu suggestion:  Try our way of eating waffles!  Get whole grain ones, prepare as instructed and top with fresh fruit and Greek yogurt instead of butter and syrup.  It's so good without the guilt!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Chocolate for the Soul

Today is Valentine's Day!  Oh, how excited I am to be staring at a box of chocolates even as I type!  I do love a bit of sweetness in my days.  Wayne and I have been rewarding ourselves with boxes of chocolates for years now, and as the years add up, so do the pounds!  But chocolate just makes us feel so happy!

My favorite kinds of chocolates usually involve caramel and/or nuts.  I love Godiva's "Open Oyster".  I also like the Guylian Seashell Chocolates.  The entire box of Mrs. See's Nuts and Chews can disappear in mere moments if found in my hands.  And when those dime store boxes find their way into our home, the little squares of caramel are the first to go!  If there's no dessert on the table, one or two bites of chocolate will always do the trick. It's simply amazing how one little bite of something so heavenly changes the entire moment.

Proverbs 12:25 points us in the direction of the soul's chocolate..."An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up."  My husband is the ultimate chocoholic!  He would eat his weight in chocolate if I let him!  He'll even get up and dance around a room if a bite is particularly good.  But in all his desire for cocoa goodness, he would much rather have a kind word.  In fact, all the members of my household are so very happy when they hear that they are doing well...that I am proud of something they've said or done.  My children light up like Christmas trees if I say that I like something about them.  Even if a child is storming past me, all I need to say is "I love you," and the storm subsides.  Isn't it wonderful that these kindnesses are so sweet and satisfying?

It's easy to offer "chocolate" to the souls nearby.  We don't always need to point out the negative in every situation.  But to point out the positive is uplifting to everyone involved.  People usually know when they fail.  It's obvious.  But we're so geared to see our personal failures that we often lose sight of the qualities about ourselves that make us wonderful.  To compliment our family and friends is to open a box of chocolates and to offer them the first choice.  How sweet it is!

While you are out picking up that box of Valentine's Day candy, write down a list of things you love about your husband, wife, child, friend.  Let them know the wonderful little things that endear them to you.  Tell them how very proud you are of who they are. 

Oh, and Happy Valentine's day!

Eat Good Fruit

Words come towards us from many sources in our lives.  When we are little, we are soothed by the words of our mothers and fathers.  As we grow, we want to be around the voices of other little children in play.  When we are teens, we surround ourselves with friends, music and entertainment.  As we get older, we look for companions and then heart-linked friends.  Words bind us together and keep us one in purpose, but words can also be destructive.

I'm in shock at some of the words I have heard exchanged even between family members.  When I was eleven, I was at a friend's house and heard her father come in and use a curse word in conversation to us.  I stared in disbelief!  I had never in my life heard an adult cross the line and use such a word in the presence of a child.  This friend's older brother spoke back in equal fashion.  I was doubly shocked!  They weren't arguing, it was just normal conversation.  I would never have dreamed that a child would speak like that in the presence of a father!  Now today when I'm in the grocery store, the words that I hear between teens is unbelievable.  If I would have ever dared to drop such words in conversation, I would have at least whispered! 

We simply forget the power of words and throw them around like they mean absolutely nothing.  Proverbs 18:21 tells us that "the tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit."  I love a good bowl of fruit, but the fruit should be ripe, sweet and firmly textured.  When a fruit has gone bad, I want nothing at all to do with it.  Everything about rotten fruit is repulsive from texture, to smell, to taste, to the flies that are attracted--even the look of it turns my stomach.  And then there is fruit that is inedible simply because it is not yet ripe.  The timing of a word is as important as the construction of it.  Since the fruit of our words is most often evident within the home, we should consider the impact therein.  I will say things around my husband that no one else on the planet will ever hear me say.  He knows the exact way I feel about people and situations.  But this also means that our children are privy to this information, as well.  They see and hear me when I speak.  I can speak words that give them sustenance and life, or I can speak words that bring decay and flies into our home.  Life or death.

In our friendships, I can sit around and talk without much thought or I can engage my friends in conversation that has meaning and value.  It is my opinion that we need to give much attention to the words that we use.  Ephesians 4:29 states it clearly: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen."  As I mature in the Lord, I find myself regretting my tongue more than ever.  Speech is a gift, but when used in an unwise fashion, it brings grief.  I have spent hours re-evaluating my words to make sure that I have not been unwise or unkind.  I shouldn't get bogged down in past conversations; rather, I should take more care in the conversations to come.

I pray that my words will bring life to those who hear.  I ask for the Lord's help in the fruit of my conversations.  I do all that I can to serve sweet fruit to my family, instead of rotten, fly-ridden mess.  As your week progresses, take note of the words that escape your mouth.  If you are uttering words of life, to God be the glory!  But if you find that the words you use leave a bitter or rotten taste on your tongue, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you in conversation, and be a little slower to say what comes to mind. 

Eat good fruit.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Eat, Pray, Love that Quiche!

When Wayne and I first were married, we moved immediately to Japan after the honeymoon.  We had an amazing introduction to marriage.  We had to solve our problems all on our own because there were no friends or family with whom to sort things out!  Additionally, like all new brides, I suddenly had to think of food - three times a day! This was made even harder by the fact that we lived in a country that did not even slightly share our ideas of "home cooking."  We could get our hands on all the whole tiny fish we ever wanted, but I had no clue about cleaning them....and why would I want to? They were tiny!  We could get our hands on all the rice we could imagine, but in the U.S. we eat rice once a week or so--not every single meal!  We had very few choices for cereal or sandwich bread.  And why bother?  There were no sandwich meats, and the one brand of "peanut butter" was basically a waxy, oily substance resembling Gojo (the grease cutter for mechanics). The cuts of meat that we were used to were nowhere to be seen.  Everything in our lives was different!

I remember my mother sending me things like file' powder for gumbo, recipes for homemade pie crust so I could make quiche, taco seasoning to make what our family called "fiesta" (a bed of rice with all the usual taco toppings).  She came to my aid to help me figure out what to make in a foreign land.  This was before everyone had email, so all of this was done by phone and snail mail.  Wayne and I went to the local farmer's market every Saturday and bought our vegetables and fruits straight from the hands that grew them.  The wonderful discovery in that was that the U.S. had such hybrid veggies that flavor is lost.  When we bought the Japanese versions, they were shorter and smaller, but their flavors were intense and sweet.  We made many food discoveries in that first year together than I have made in all the years combined, I think. 

When I got bold enough, we began to invite people into our home for meals.  We looked forward to guests every week.  There were a couple of bachelors who had a standing night.  We reached out to the little couple who owned a liquor and import store across from the train station (the only place to buy M & M's in the beginning).  We reached out to our dentist and his wife.  We invited teachers and the other singular missionary couple over.  I'm sure that the food was borderline atrocious, but they came and ate, and we had good times together. 

On one particular instance, I had spent the entire afternoon making a beautiful pie crust.  I put so much love into that crust!  I was very proud.  The crust became part of a wonderful seafood quiche, and I added some soup and salad.  Our guests were scheduled to arrive very soon.  I had cleaned the tiny kitchen until it sparkled.  When the quiche was done, it was gorgeous!  No chef could have done a better job!  I reached into the tabletop oven (the size of a toaster) to get the quiche, and once I had it in grip, my wrist lightly rested on the inside of the oven.  To my horror, I dropped the entire pie - face down - onto the newly mopped floor.  The guests would be there in 10 minutes.  I had timed everything perfectly!  There wasn't time to make it over.  I started to cry, and I called Wayne into the kitchen.  I said, "You have to pray for my quiche." "What?" was his reply.  "Pray for my quiche!  It will be ruined if you don't pray!"  He said, "I have never prayed for food before."  "Well, now's the time to start!" I wailed.  I had him help me as I slid my largest spatula under the quiche delicately, and we turned it over.  It was still beautiful!  One little piece of crust had come off, but we put everything back in its original spot and prayed over it again that it would be germ free!  (Yes, I was that shameless.)

Isn't that funny?  Over the beginning season of our marriage, Wayne came to pray over much of my food!  Almost every time people were coming over, I would have him pray that the results would work. We didn't have the money to have back up options on hand, and we were trying to make lasting impacts on the people around us -- in good ways, that is. 

Later, when we were back in the States, we had guests over for dinner to our apartment.  Wayne began to tell them the stories of our Japanese guests and how I made him pray for the food throughout the cooking process each and every time.  "I have never prayed for food so much in my entire life!" he said.  "I didn't even know you could do that!" 

I'm sure that the Lord was amused.  I'm not altogether certain that He's overly concerned with my cooking, but the prayers were a source of comfort to me, and my food turned out just fine every time.  In fact, I should probably credit each of my cooking successes to the Holy Spirit!  I am still secretly praying over food every time I cook it!

When our first child was born, I prayed over him.  Every time the child came within arms reach, I breathed a prayer.  Every time I changed a diaper, I went to battle for his eternal soul.  When I clean the house - rarely, I know - I am praying for everything that goes on in each room.  When I drive down the street, I am praying for the people next to me at the stoplights.  I am asking God to close businesses that are obviously evil.  I am asking Him to bless others who have more honorable intentions.  In fact, the older I get, the more there is to pray for!  I would have thought that my days of interceding over little things was done, and in one sense, the trivial is much more trivial to me, but my days of intercession are in full throttle! 

I don't do many things well, but I am sure of this, I can pray for you.  I am not ashamed to drop everything in the middle of the mall and pray for someone who asks.  My mother always quoted a scripture to us when we were young.  Ecclesiastes 9:10, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might."  I have to laughingly point out that she quoted this scripture to encourage us to pick up the house, but there is much truth in it.  The powerful Welsh intercessor Rees Howells said that he would never pray for an answer that he himself was not willing to commit to.  He prayed earnestly until he had answers.  He was willing to be part of every solution with his abilities, finances and prayers.  I find myself more and more drawn into the kind of prayer that requires more from me.  I am less and less worried about dropped quiche. 

Our prayer lives are valuable.  We should recognize the power of prayer and begin to put it to good use.  It is the bulk of our powerful spiritual arsenal.  We have been given authority in heavenly realms.  We should use our authority and begin to speak the Will of God over every situation that presents itself and do so with all our might.  I'm not talking so much about your cooking.  I'm talking about things that carry more eternal importance.  Begin to pray over the people who touch your life.  Begin to pray over situations that cause much stress and grief.  Begin to open your eyes, to see the needs and then to tackle the circumstances with the force of prayer. 

When all is done, if you drop your pie, pray for that, too!  Personal experience tells me God cares.

Super easy quiche:  I am in a land now that offers frozen pie crusts!  Hallelujah!  Get a pie crust and put in it some of your favorite sauteed or roasted veggies and bits of meat.  Top that with a handful of cheese, if you like. Make a simple mix of 4 eggs, 2 cups of milk, a teaspoon of prepared mustard and whatever seasoning you like. Be interesting with it. Bake this at 350 until it's done (it will be close to an hour, but keep your eyes on it after 45 mins.).  Super easy! You can do this days in advance and just take out a slice and heat before eating.  It's my solution to a hot breakfast for Wayne.  I just don't wake up to the stove well, and this way we're both happy!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Chocolate Covered Chicken Feet

When I was eight or nine, there was an honest to goodness chef in our church.  I was duly impressed by this.  She not only had bold ideas about food but a bold personality to go with it!  This particular year, she decided that it would be fun during one of our church gatherings to have the men participate in a bake-off, and the women would be the judges.  In most churches, it was exactly the opposite, but this lady believed in equal rights for everyone, and this was the year that the women would get a break!  The one stipulation was that the baked good had to be entirely from scratch.  She repeated that rule over and over until it was lodged in everyone's brain.

My father was the Pastor, and in a sermon not too many weeks before, he had told the story about growing up on a farm, the next to the last child of poor farmers.  There were many children in his family, and they often had other "foster" children with them, as well.  At any given time, there may be 7 or so kids around the table. His older siblings were already grown and married by the time he was born, but the home table stayed filled.  In fact, the preacher always made his way to their home most Sunday afternoons.  Daddy told how there wasn't much food, but they made do.  The Pastor and his dad would get first choice from the plate of fried chicken, and then they would go down the line by age.  When it came to Daddy, he would often get stuck with the chicken feet.  He didn't complain.  He learned to get everything out of those scrawny feet imaginable.

Some of the people in the church were just horrified that their beloved Pastor had to eat chicken feet.  They just couldn't wrap their brains around that.  (Having lived in China and seen them packaged in the snack aisle, I firmly believe that people not only eat chicken feet but enjoy  them, as well, but these Americans had never heard of such.) People had talked about that sermon for weeks, probably forgetting the real message but definitely remembering the chicken feet!

On the night of the bake-off, the table was covered with many cakes, pies, cookies, bars, etc.  One dish remained under tin foil as the lady chef and her team of judges made their way down the table with their forks.  When they got to the dish, they peeled back the wrapper to find....chocolate covered chicken feet!  My mother had gone out and asked the butcher for the chicken feet, boiled them,  and she and Daddy had dipped them in chocolate!  Then she tied little bows around them and painted their toenails red!  It was hilarious to every person in the room but the chef!  She was so flustered that she, a woman of many words, was speechless!  Daddy really had a moist, delicious Kentucky Wonder spice cake off to the side, but he just had to put those chicken feet on the table!  After all, she had insisted that the goods be from scratch!

Proverbs 17:22 says, "A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." People had been feeling so bad for my father.  They just assumed that his childhood had been terrible since he had to eat chicken feet.  The truth is that every story I have ever heard about him as a boy is downright funny...knee-slappingly so!  He doesn't have a bad memory about his youth at all!  Certainly not in regard to eating chicken feet or working in the fields or having one outfit and one pair of shoes.  He doesn't even think he missed out when Christmas rolled around and he and all the other children in the house got one red rubber ball to share.  Perspective is the key.  We can look at meager circumstances and begrudge our lives.  We can begin to be bitter and crushed and waste precious time, wishing for things we don't have.  The only thing we are doing is drying up the bones of our souls.  Instead, we should awaken each day with joy in our hearts.  After all, "the joy of the Lord is our strength!" (Nehemiah 8:10)

Claim the joy that revives and strengthens you!  Scratch your way out of your pit of despair! Your circumstances will undoubtedly get better. ... It's not like you have to eat chicken feet or anything!

My absolute favorite chocolate barI just cannot live without Lindt Excellence Chili Dark Chocolate Bar. I usually keep one in the house somewhere. Just one little square is all I need to warm my mouth and keep me happy! You can get them in common stores like Target.  If you have never tried it, at least do so once.  You may hate it, and if you do, please give me the leftovers! But...you just might be hooked!

Gravy, Grace and Love

When I married and moved to North Carolina, I was introduced to an entirely new food...Moravian Chicken Pie.  To that point, I had only know Chicken Pot Pie.  You know that one, right?  It has chicken, basic soup veggies, chicken gravy and a pastry topping.  The Moravian Pie is different in that it is a pie pastry filled to the brim with cooked chicken (usually the white meat), bathed in very simple thickened chicken stock, seasoned with only salt and pepper and topped with another pastry.  Sounds very simple doesn't it? But it is one of the best "comfort foods" around!  .....I just have to stop here and thank the Moravians.  Thank you.

Every November or so, Moravian churches in the area have church bazaars, and one of the most sought after items is the pre-assembled, frozen chicken pie.  It's a wonderful meal to come home to! You simply pop the frozen pie in the oven and side it with a beautiful salad. My girlfriend and I, realizing that it couldn't be rocket science, determined to make our own. The first year, we made fourteen pies.  We bought enormous amounts of chicken and determined to make as many as the chicken afforded.  Fourteen was the golden number. The one problem was that it lacked seasoning a bit.  That was fine.  Each person could control the amount of salt and pepper once they had a slice on their plate.

Year two came around, and we did it again...only this time, we added too much salt.  Maybe it was something akin to rocket science, after all!  We even attempted to make the pies in smaller batches so we could get it right.  So....that year, we had to make a nearly flavorless gravy to pour over the top.  It worked in the sense that the pies were rendered edible.  The only problem?  We had fifteen or so pies to contend with...all too salty.  Mind you, this is not an inexpensive task when done in such a quantity!  We couldn't just throw them out and start over, so we determined to eat the pies through the year, making that yucky gravy to cut the salt.  It was our consequence for altering the recipe!

You know, people make that sort of mistake in their lives all the time.  They make decisions in mere seconds that have lasting effects for years.  Unfortunately, there are no rewind buttons on life.  I wish there were.  I know precious people who have done foolish things, only to live regretting those life-altering moments.  I met a lady in South Africa who was talking to the people in her car, and she let her attention wander for just a moment. In that tiny instant, she struck and killed a little girl walking on the side of the road.  The lady's life is changed.  I know a girl who drove a car for a guy while he ran into a "friends" house.  The guy was actually robbing a home.  The girl's life was strongly impacted.  I know a couple where one of them, in a moment of intense temptation, gave in to adulterous thoughts and actions.  The lives of an entire family were forever changed. 

But there is good news.  There is a "gravy" that covers the powerful flavor of our sinful lives.  1 Peter 4:8 tells us to "love deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." This kind of love is the love that comes only from the heart of God.  We don't have sin-covering love in our own hearts without the grace that God offers.  But when we know Jesus and walk in the will of the Father, we have the ability to cover and be covered.  It's a blessed thought, isn't it?

Another way to illustrate it is this:  When we were growing up deep in the South, we saw many yards that were filled with crazy things....old cars, rusted buckets, rotten hoses, trash beyond belief...yes, even toilet seats, bathtubs...you name it!  People kept anything in their yards rather than trot it on down to the dump!  The yards were an eyesore. (You've seen these places yourself, no doubt?)  One year, when I was about 10, we had the first snow I had ever laid eyes on.  We children were so excited!  We played outside until the last bit of sludge was gone.  But one of the vivid memories of that snow was when we drove around and looked at our city through snow-covered glasses. Those yards that were previously so unkempt were beautiful!  It was as if Heaven had taken that mess and turned it into sparkling, wintry ice sculptures!  It was spectacular!

God's love does exactly that.  He can take the destructive choices that we make and the mess of our lives and cover them with His love in such a way that we are beautiful!  He doesn't just mask our ugliness; instead, He uses those fateful moments in our lives and creates wonderful landmarks of His grace.  These are monuments that can be used to point people towards Him, if we will let Him work through us.  We can use the mistakes of our lives to show others the unimaginable glory of His Divine Grace.

Oh, what a Savior!  I am grateful now for every "ice sculpture" in my life, and I will use every one of them to point others to the throne of God's grace.  As for salty chicken pies?  My friend and I decided to stand in line at the Moravian bazaar the following November.  It's so much nicer to have someone else cook for us, anyway!

Favorite Chicken Pie Restaurant:  If you live anywhere in the vicinity of a Moravian church, stand in line at the bazaar and buy four or five pies...you'll enjoy them.  If you live anywhere near Wilson, NC, you need to drop in at the Sugar Plum Shoppe and pick up a couple to take home.  While you're in there, get a fudgy nut bar and a dream bar, too!  Oh, joy! 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

"Mommy, can I cook?"

"Mommy, can I cook something?"  These are the words that I hear on a regular basis.  Our daughter is wanting to be involved in the kitchen every chance she gets.  Even our son gets in on the activity.  They are becoming pros at all things breakfast, which is fine with me since I'm not all too fond of waking up to cook.  I prefer to put on my chef's hat later in the day. 

In the beginning, when these questions first escaped their mouths, I hesitated.  I was a bit afraid of the messes they would make.  We've all either experienced such childish messes or seen them on TV.  Any time a little one is allowed to "cook", there will be cleanup.  But...little by little...I've let them make their way into the kitchen, creating their own masterpieces to go along with the mess.  Their zeal is endearing, and they learn things so quickly.  I would rather they find out now about all the little tricks of cooking than get out on their own one day and be utterly helpless in the kitchen.  (I've seen this in some young ladies I've watched getting married!)

There are so many other areas in life where our children need to begin to step in and take part.  Our family is geared toward ministry, so we are eager to introduce our children to a life of Kingdom service.  Every chance I get, I invite the children to join us in prayer for others.  I encourage them to befriend the children who need a little extra attention.  In the beginning, their prayers may not be eloquent.  They may not really know what to say or how to express the feelings in their hearts, but I push them to try.  Even a sentence nervously breathed in prayer is a powerful thing.  I'm certain that when a little one speaks to the Father, He sits on the edge of His seat and listens closely. 

Matthew 19:14 says, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Children are our responsibility.  We are to teach them and encourage maturity in their lives.  We can teach them to lead lives of prayer and service to the Lord.  We can teach them to hear the voice of God from an early age.  They are not hindered by thoughts of what others may think of them.  They are blank canvases on which we can lovingly paint the heart of the Father.  If we are not training their little hearts, you can rest assured that someone is.  It could be TV, games, other kids, other adults they admire. 

Invite your children into maturity.  Encourage them to work alongside you.  Let them learn from you.

Today's suggestion: Cook your supper with your kids.  Give them each a job. The benefits are so great!  First, they will feel proud that you've entrusted them with such responsibility. Next, they will be much more likely to eat what is put before them if they themselves had a hand in it!  (Note:  Spaghetti and salad is an easy starting point!)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Caught up in a Whirlwind

It's really fun to go to a restaurant where the kitchen is open for the guests to see.  I love to see the flurry of activity, the leaping of flames and the people running to and fro as plate after plate is presented for the tables.  I get the feeling that I, too, am part of the activity! 

For those of you with toddlers, there's another way to express this...do you know how you feel at the end of the day? Exhausted? Ready for a bedtime story and a nap? Even though you didn't run around all day, catching bugs and pretending to be superman, you, too, are worn out.

Good things occur in whirlwinds of activity.  Many of the movements of God that I've seen happening are similar to these scenarios.  People are busy, spirits are high and much is happening.  I have yet to see a major work of the Lord go unnoticed.  In fact, when I watch the news these days, it is more and more clear that this is one of the potentially finest hours of the Body of Christ.  So much is going on daily.  There are more earthquakes, storms and political uprisings.  Flurries of movement surround us.  This is the perfect opportunity for us to step forward with the power of the Gospel. 

We need to get behind the move of the Holy Spirit of God over the earth.  We need to pray faithfully for the people caught in the many situations that we see on the news.  Let's ask the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers in these hours.  Instead of just watching from a distance, the entire Church has this great opportunity to be involved in what God is wanting to do throughout the earth in these last days.

Like I said, I love to watch what's going on in a great kitchen, but more than that, I like to be involved in the process.  When someone tastes a good meal and says, "Mmmm," it's so rewarding to know that I had a hand in it.

Today's suggestionPrepare a meal for your family from start to finish.  Don't open a single can or box of anything.  Find fresh ingredients and enjoy the rewards of knowing that it is entirely your creation!

Monday, February 7, 2011

She Sells Sushi by the Seashore

Having lived in Japan, sushi is a food that is very familiar to me.  I've eaten just about every form of sushi you can imagine.  There is nigirisushi, which is the kind that comes to mind when you picture sushi....a little mound of rice topped with various seafood, egg, etc.   There are other types of sushi, too, though.  I like temakisushi.  This is kind of like "buffet style."  There are a variety of ingredients laid out, and each person can pick up their own sheet of nori, or seaweed, and concoct their own creation.  (I like this one because I can use a leaf of butter lettuce instead of seaweed, if I like, and no one will be offended.)  Rolled sushi, in general, is makisushi.  This category holds all of the famous California rolls, etc.  Another form of sushi is inari-sushi.  This is where the rice and other treats are stuffed into a pouch of thin tofu, a kind of skin that encases the sushi.  Fukusasushi is the same concept only the sushi is wrapped in egg crepe.  And finally, there is chirashisushi, which is where the rice is served in a large bowl topped with seafood, egg, pickles, ginger, etc.  It's cousin, oshisushi, is the same thing served in a rectangular box. 

I'm amazed at the popularity of sushi here in the United States.  Even though this is a feature on so many menus, people still don't quite know what sushi is.  They mistake this to mean that there is raw fish involved.  Not necessarily so.  The word sushi is used to denote the presence of vinegared rice.  Long before refrigeration, the people of Japan developed a way to preserve fish so that they could eat fish protein farther inland or at a later date.  They used a fermentation process for the rice and used that fermented rice to wrap around the fileted fish.  They could eat this much later.  Originally, the thought was to discard the rice and eat the protein, but they began to enjoy the entire bundle as a food source.  From that, early forms of fast food sold by the street side or in theaters evolved.  They began to diversify the presentation, and this resulted in the various forms of sushi.  If it doesn't have vinegared rice, it is not sushi.

When it comes to food, we confuse a lot of things.  There are so many technical terms in the food industry.  I couldn't begin to understand them all.  For the most part, it does not create too many problems.  We eat what we like. Our great problems begin when we misunderstand people or intentions.  There are those who get bogged down in misinterpreted theology.  And there are those who impose their misinterpretations on others. 

Have you ever been misinterpreted?  I have.  Since I was young, moments have crept in where people may not have liked me initially based on their interpretation of who I was when they saw me in a singular moment. I've been guilty of quickly forming opinions of others, as well.  It is dangerous to settle our minds to a conclusion when we don't have the appropriate information, isn't it?

Proverbs 3:5 tells us to, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own insight or understanding." I'm learning to withhold judgment as I go.  I'm learning to seek the mind of God in circumstances.  If I rely on my own mind and its assessment of people and moments, then I'm terribly wrong.  Only God knows the full explanation.  Only He can see everything and correctly interpret the people and the moments in our lives.  I may still have a tendency here and there to jump to conclusions, but God gently corrects me and brings me back to His purposes.  I am grateful because I know that my own thoughts are far inferior to His.  And when I read the Bible, I always ask the Lord to reveal His truth to me so that I don't get away from His intent in my life. 

Misunderstanding is the enemy's way of bringing pain and confusion to the relationships that the Lord would have us foster.  Don't be led astray by your own misinterpretations.  Allow God to whisper in your ear to tell you the meaning behind each moment. 

And be confused no more!  Sushi = vinegared rice! If someone serves you raw fish alone, you are not eating sushi; you are eating sashimi.  Believe it or not, I prefer sashimi to sushi almost always....but that's another story.

Sushi suggestions:  If you are afraid of sushi, start easy.  Try a fun roll like a spicy tuna roll or spicy shrimp roll.  Unless you are in a very Japanese restaurant and the shrimp is listed as "ama-ebi", it will be cooked.  If your sushi joint offers "aburi" style sushi, you MUST order it!  Aburi-sushi is where they take the traditional mounded sushi and then blow-torch the top.  It instantly cooks the fish, and the flavor finds its way into the rice.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Food, Football and Fellowship!

There are three things that always go together: men, football and food!  It's almost been conditioned in them, hasn't it?  If game is on, the men in my life want to munch on something.  Super Bowl Sunday is a celebration of all things men.  I know that a lot of ladies get into it just as much, but around here, it's a man thing.  The aspects of Super Bowl Sunday that I truly enjoy are the food and fellowship that go along with the game. 

Last year, we spent the evening at a friend's house who has a theater down on the first floor.  The guys were thrilled to be able to kick back in reclining leather theater seating, eating the feast that we gals had produced for them, all in the lap of luxury.  We had things on the table that very rarely surface--things like hot wing dig, chili cheese dip, dozens of actual hot wings, loaded nachos, loaded potato skins....  The list goes on, but every item tends to be a heart-stopper when it comes to the game of football.  We go all out and throw caution to the wind!

Women tend to get together to hang out more frequently than men.  We have our ladies nights out, we go for coffee, we meet for lunch.  Men don't do that as much.  I wonder why.  Eating together is always fun, but it's the fellowship that means so much, and that fellowship truly is easier for women.  We can get to the heart of a matter in the first five minutes that we're together.  From what I understand, my husband and the guys can hang out all night and only enter the real stuff on the way home. 

Last year, our family and three others were involved in an intense time of prayer for each other.  In these beautiful months of support, the ladies went to one room to pray, and the men went to another.  In the end, we would get together to eat and laugh about the things in life.  But it was the times of prayer that built us up and held us all together during very difficult seasons.  We ladies could have done that at any time, and we frequently had, anyway, but this was the first time that these men had been able to get together like this on a regular basis, praying for each other.  Sure, we could have all stayed in the same room and prayed, but we wanted the guys to be comfortable with being vulnerable in prayer.  The scheduling of it was challenging, but it was altogether fulfilling.  And, as expected, the men went from glory to glory as it were in the fellowship of one another and the Lord.

Philippians 2:1-2 says, "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose."  This is the purpose of our fellowship.  We get so busy with our everyday lives that we don't schedule this time to be with others in the Body of Christ.  We should make every effort to be available to each other with our fellowship. 

Enjoy your Super Bowl!  Eat your crazy food!  But make time to get together otherwise, as well.  You will benefit greatly when you invite the Holy Spirit into your time with your friends.  So much ministry and growth occur when we lift each other up and commit to be faithful in prayer for our friends. 

Super Bowl Appetizer suggestion: Hot Wing Dip:  1 pkg. cream cheese, 1/2 c. crumbled bleu cheese (can substitute shredded mozzarella), 1/2 c. bleu cheese dressing (can substitute Ranch), 2-3 c. chopped chicken, 1/2 c. hot wing sauce.  Mix all the ingredients together (you may want to blend cr. cheese with went ingredients before adding chicken).  Put in a dish about the size of a pie plate.  Bake at 350 for about 20 mins.  Serve with crispy veggies and chips for dipping.  Yum!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Feed the World!

Today, Wayne and I wandered over to Cafe du Monde for a beignet and a cup of chicory coffee.  New Orleans at its finest.  When we got there, a gentleman was sitting outside the entrance on a metal folding chair, playing his trumpet and singing This Little Light of Mine. Wayne and I were quick to join in, and he went through several verses before he began to chuckle and invite us to join the band. (Wayne had done his absolute best impression of a jazz singer.)

The gentleman, Hack Bartholomew, and we began to talk about the atmosphere of New Orleans.  He told us that for the past 25-30 years, he has been positioned outside the door of Cafe du Monde, singing songs that lifted the name of Jesus over the French Quarter.  We talked for a while, even prayed for a bit, and then we witnessed him lead a passerby to the Lord in his easy-going style.  When we prayed for his health and his ministry, sweet tears rolled down his cheeks, and he hugged us and told us that the Lord had told him to "make his living by giving."  He has faithfully given of his talents and his time right there in that spot ever since he heard the mandate.

We went inside and ordered the obligatory beignets.  They are much like doughnuts, only they are puffed up rectangles of fried dough smothered in entirely too much powdered sugar.  I love them, of course!  We watched the people through the windows who were busy at work making more and more of these carnival-like goodies.  The more they made, the faster people bought them up.  And like regular doughnuts, the squares of dough begin as little bits but puff up into much larger masses during the cooking process.  I immediately thought of Mr. Bartholomew. 

Mr. Bartholomew has spend so much time sewing his precious seeds of the Word of God.  He told us that every day at least one person prays with him to receive Christ.  But he is certain that when he gets to Heaven and begins to play his trumpet that there will be a mighty parade - New Orleans worthy - of people following him who have gone away with the seed sewn in their hearts only to end up with the mighty trees of faith planted in their lives.   He is letting the dough rise in their hearts.  It is up to God to turn them into the finished products.

Cafe du Monde means "Cafe of the World."  It is no accident that this sweet evangelist is planted right outside the door.  People from every nation find their way to that spot.  He has been there to sing, pray and preach to so many of them.  He is confident that the Lord is using him to proclaim a wonderful message to every people group. They buy his CDs as souvenirs - which, by the way, are not only Biblical but quite good.  Then these people take them back to their own homes. 

We have no idea how much our own actions could mean to so many.  Most of us will not receive "the call" to go out to every nation, but all of us will come in contact with the nations that reside here in our own communities.  We have opportunities to sew precious seed into every heart with a kind word, a prayer, a Bible.  Our possibilities are endless.  As I watched Mr. Bartholomew, his efforts were minimal, but the effect was tremendous.  Let's be faithful to feed the world!

Today's challenge: Make a point to speak to the foreigners within our borders.  Be sure to share the love of Jesus with them every chance you get.  Our country has been a great place of escape and hope for so many, but we would be remiss to give to them only from our source of materialism.  Let's give them the greatest gift of all - Jesus!