Thursday, June 28, 2012

Making the Gospel Paramount

Last Sunday one of our pastors gave a fantastic sermon on Paul's suffering in prison (Philippians 1:12-18). He asked whether we knew the difference between the words "paramount" and "tantamount."

I had to think about that for a second. I knew both of those words--had probably used them in a sentence before--but I wasn't sure I really knew the subtle difference between the two.

Thankfully, he enlightened us.

Paramount means the top, the pinnacle--over and above everything else.

Tantamount means that one thing is on equal footing with another.

Then came the challenge. "Do you make the gospel paramount to everything else in your life? Or is the gospel just on par with everything else?"


I wondered, do I really think about advancing the gospel as much as I think about other things? (Like what's for dinner?) Do I really do everything I do in order to advance the gospel? (Like teaching my students or being a mom to my daughters?) Or do I, sometimes, just think about "God stuff" every once in a while, making it equal to or on par with the rest of my life?

I had to admit that I might be in that "tantamount" camp more often than I'd like.

Paul's thinking was that no matter what hardship he suffered, no matter what his circumstances were, it all served a gospel purpose. This is Paul who was writing from prison, folks. Our suffering should be looked at as an opportunity rather than a hinderance. "For to live is Christ," right?

Sunday's sermon really came at a good time for me because I'm heading out on a missions trip today. Sure, I'm going to an amazing place--Italy!--and that's probably what I've focused on a little more than the purpose of our trip. I'll admit, my focus has, at times, been wrong. Thankfully, I was reminded on Sunday that the reason we're going to Italy is because of the gospel and only because of the gospel.

Do you know that only about 1% of Italians consider themselves evangelical Christians? That's a really, really small number of people. Don't get me wrong--a lot of Italians go to church and consider themselves religious, but a very small number have ever heard or understood that Jesus loves them and that He gave His life for them. Many don't want to hear that their "religion" isn't enough to save them--that only a relationship with Jesus will make a difference in their lives.

We're going for them. Because Italians need Jesus, too.

Today I will get on a plane with three other leaders and thirteen high school students from my church. We will certainly laugh, eat lots of gelato, and make new friends. It's going to be a great trip. But I'm not naive enough to think it's going to be all about the gelato.

Our trip is also going to be about serving others when it's 100 degrees outside. It's going to be about overcoming language barriers. It's going to be about getting our kids to focus on the Italian kids and getting the Italian kids to focus on Jesus, maybe even for the first time. It's going to be about doing things we might not be 100% thrilled to be doing, but doing it all for the sake of the gospel.

Because the gospel is paramount.

"What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice." Philippians 1:18
[I hope to check in here a couple of times over the next couple of weeks, if even to post a picture or two, but if I don't, don't worry. I'll be suffering for serving the Lord in Italy, and I'll tell you all about it when I get back.]


Friday, June 22, 2012

Fabulous Friday Food - Mom's Grilled Flank Steak

I've said it often, and it's really true: most of what I've learned about cooking I learned from my mom.

I grew up with an amazing mom who did lots of things well, but she especially knew how to cook. Even when there wasn't a lot of money to buy expensive cuts of meat, she still made every meal special. Being together as a family, spending time laughing around the dinner table, was a priority of hers, and she made sure we all wanted to be there.

I remember when my mom got this recipe (I think it came from my Aunt Ruth) and tried it at home for the first time. We were blown away by the tenderness of the meat (even though you kind of have to help it along a little bit) and the juiciness and the FLAVOR. And since that first time, this recipe became a family staple.

I've been serving this steak to my own family forever, and they all love it. I'm guessing that this is such a tried-and-true favorite that in years to come my own daughters will be serving it to their families too.

If you've ever wondered what to do with a flank steak, wonder no more. Here's your go-to recipe!

First, just in case you're wondering what a flank steak actually looks like, it's that strange, flat piece of meat that you see at the butcher shop or in the grocery store and wonder, "What on earth do I do with THAT?"

I'll tell you what you do with it: you buy one (or, in my case, two). And you make this recipe. Because it's SO GOOD!

So, once you've bought your flank steak, take a really sharp fork and poke holes all over it on both sides.

Now, put it in a Ziplok bag. (This isn't too hard yet, is it?) (I could slow down.)

Next, make the marinade. You need sugar, salt, meat tenderizer (Adolph's), honey, soy sauce, and vinegar (I like either red wine vinegar or balsamic). Six simple ingredients that you probably already have in your pantry.

Combine all of these together in a bowl, making sure to whisk them together well so the honey and sugar don't get left behind.

Oh, and if you're making two steaks, double the marinade.

Pour the marinade over the meat . . .

. . . and let it soak in the goodness for a few hours in the fridge. You can even leave this overnight--it can only get better.

Are you with me so far? Not too taxing on the brain, is it?

Now for the grilling part. Get your grill good and hot. Oh, and you might want to get a timer for this one because in all the years I have been making this, I've learned that the timing is extremely important.

Six minutes per side. 

Not five.

Not seven.


Isn't that beautiful?!

Now, after twelve minutes EXACTLY (six per side--I'm a math genius), take the meat inside, cover it with foil, and let it rest for another 10 minutes.

Now you can slice it. And honestly? the slicing is the hardest part of this entire recipe because you have to figure out what "against the grain" means.

See those lines in the meat in the picture above? (Not the grill marks, but the lines of the meat.) You don't want to cut along those lines, you want to cut perpendicular to those lines. (I sure hope I used that word right.)

Like this:

That way your meat will be tender and juicy and won't fall apart on you. Cut the meat into strips about 1/4 inch thick.

See how pink it is on the inside? You definitely want that. Please, for all that is good and right and true in this world, do NOT overcook this meat. (Six minutes per side, remember?) Because if you do, you will have wasted a ton of money on a piece of shoe leather. The pink is what you want. Trust me.

Now, I would have shown you a picture of the delicious meal we enjoyed with this meat a couple of weeks ago when my college friend, Colette, and her daughter were here. I think we had some roasted potatoes and asparagus--all cooked on the grill--but we were too hungry and I was too excited, so I forgot to take a picture of the final product.


Suffice it to say that the steak was delicious. There might have even been a little bit left over for sandwiches the next day. Yum!

Looking for something different to throw on the grill this weekend? Try this flank steak. You can thank me later.

For a printable recipe, click here.



Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Life Lessons from a Ball Park Vendor

“Happy Father’s Day, bud. I see you brought your three daughters with you today!”

His thick Chicago accent made me smile right away, but his flattery won me over.

It was a perfect Father’s Day storm: beautiful evening, everyone home (minus the one who’s away for the summer), and free tickets (5th row!) to the Cubs game. So we rode that storm right into the city, bought our hot dogs, and headed to our seats.

“How many daughters do you have?” He sounded a little bit sorry when my husband told him three. And no sons.

“Aw, man, I have one—she’s eight—and she’s bustin’ my chops already. I don’t know how you do it, man.”

My husband smiled. The knowing smile of a DODO (Dad of Daughters Only) who’s almost on the other side of things. The smile of a dad who was just about to sit for a couple of hours with his almost-grown girls and enjoy a game.

We laughed about how quickly girls grow up these days; I warned him that the roller coaster was just about to begin. We bought our drinks and started to walk away.

“Well, bud, you enjoy the game now! Here, let me help you with those lids. There you go! Have fun now.”

B slipped him a small tip—dads of daughters gotta take care of each other, you know.

“Thanks, man. Thanks a lot! I really appreciate it.”

We headed to our seats, but something about that vendor stayed with me throughout the game. I kept thinking about his cheerful greeting, his kindness, the way he took time to talk to us about his daughter and to compliment B on his. The guy was clearly enjoying his night and made it his mission to make sure everyone else enjoyed theirs too.

Then I realized something. It was Father’s Day. He had kids—he had told us that much. But rather than complain about how all these dads at the ballpark were getting to spend time with their kids while he had to work, he just smiled and made sure that everyone around him was having fun.

Here was a guy who spread goodwill. Here was a guy who spread joy. Here was a guy who looked out for the interests of others. And as a result, our experience at the game was that much more fun.

I learned something from that vendor that I hope I won’t soon forget: it’s not that hard to make other people’s lives a little easier. All you have to do is take your eyes off of yourself and spread a little kindness. Wherever you happen to be.

If a ball park vendor can do it, so can I.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Good Reads

There's just so much good reading out there that I have to share the love.

My Very Favorite Summer Desserts :: Pioneer Woman. Because who doesn't like a good summer dessert?

Minnie's Chocolate Pie from The Help :: My Heart's Desire. Speaking of great desserts, Julia made this last week and I gotta say, we looked just like Hillie as we ate the pie straight from the dish. Oh my word, this is so GOOD!

The Big Fat Chicago Post :: Enjoying the Small Things. Kelle Hampton perfectly captures what I so love about this city. If you've never been here, you'll be booking a flight after reading this one.

On Motherhood, Joy, and the Gospel :: Lisa Writes. Yes. THIS is why we do what we do.

My Ear: A Path of Perseverance :: Lysa TerKeurst. I have such respect for Lysa for many reasons (ask me sometime; I'll tell you), but here's one more.

Father On :: We are THAT Family. How to encourage your guy to keep being a great dad.

And speaking of great dads . . .

I was raised by one, and I'm so thankful.

Today I live with one, and I'm so thankful.

Happy Father's Day to two of the best dads I know. You have blessed me so much.


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

For the Love of England - Part 3

Falling in love is a funny thing; one minute you think one thing is the ABSOLUTE BEST about the person (or in my case, the place) you love, and the next minute you notice something else that is even better. And thus it goes. Love building, growing. For me, back in the summer of 1984, falling in love with England happened immediately and gradually--both at the same time.

I immediately loved the sidewalks. Large flagstones set into concrete. Fancy. Proper. Not just plain, nondescript concrete like you have here. No, these are intentionally pretty sidewalks.

I immediately loved the architecture. History just there for the taking. Everywhere.

I immediately loved the accessibility to art and theatre and music. All of England appreciates the arts.

But much of my love affair with England happened gradually on that first trip as we drove from location to location, town to town, the landscape unfolding before me.

Oh my, the landscape.

I had grown up in the flatlands--the Midwestern plains of Illinois where all you can see for miles is row after row after row of cornstalks waving in the breeze, only broken up by the occasional farmhouse. To see lush greenery and softly rolling hillsides bordered by ancient stone fences (Who put those stones there anyway? What were their lives like?) was inspiring to say the least, life-changing to say the most.

The landscape of England is brilliantly varied, and I've had the privilege of seeing much of it--from the stark, white cliffs of Dover to the jagged fells of the Lake District. All of it beautiful, whether in full sunlight or underneath grey clouds. God has definitely kissed the green fields of England.

I recall one day, on that first trip of mine, as we were riding in our coach (English word for bus) through a particularly gorgeous part of the country. I stared out the window--green hills dotted with small stone cottages and fields of sheep--overcome by the beauty.

I knew deep within me that I would be back someday--I HAD to be back someday--with someone I loved. I got up out of my seat and walked to the front of the bus to talk to the driver. "Where are we right now?" I asked. He said something quickly that I did not understand.

(Note: I have since realized something about the English language. Even though we technically speak the same language as those in the U.K., there is a bit of a delay in understanding exactly what some people--particularly those from the North--are saying. It's like there's a two or three second delay between their speaking and my comprehending. This is especially true in Scotland where, for me, the delay is more like six minutes.)

So I didn't quite get what the driver had said. I asked him to repeat it. He again mumbled something that I took to mean "Darbuhshr."

I went back to my seat and checked my map but couldn't find a single place in England that even remotely looked like "Darbuhshr." There was a county called "Derbyshire" which, in my Midwestern twang comes out sounding pretty much like it's spelled: "Derby Shire." (I later found out that what I would call "Derby Shire" is actually pronounced sort of like "Darbuhshr." But without the hard "r" sound.)

Whatever. I just knew that somehow, some way, I would have to make my way back to that part of the country. A rolling, green-hilled county somewhere in the middle of England. The most beautiful place that I had ever seen in my 20 years of life, and for that matter, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen to this day.

Fast forward 26 years. I finally made it back to Derbyshire.

And I got to share it with someone I love.

Tell me, where is a place you would share with someone you love if you could?


Monday, June 11, 2012

Status Report - June

Hello! Yes, it’s been a while. Life has gotten in the way of blogging, as it should be. And since I appear to have lost every molecule of creativity lately, I’m borrowing this “Status Report” format from my long-time blogging friend, Lisa. I’ve always liked how she does this, and I’m hoping that maybe by just writing I can kick-start my blog again. Hang in there with me, will you?

* * * * *

Sitting . . . on my back porch enjoying early morning sounds of squawking squirrels and singing birds.

Loving . . . the summertime weather and lack of humidity we’ve had lately. Perfection!

Drinking . . . coffee. Strong and black. Much-needed.

Recovering . . . from a late-night wedding last night of the daughter of some friends in our small group. Laughter and dancing and so much fun!

Thinking . . . about the week ahead. Lots to do, as always, but not as much as in the past few weeks. Thankful for the respite this morning.

Remembering . . . the wonderfully blessed times we’ve had over the past two weeks: two graduations, one huge party, ten house guests (at various times), countless meals.

Reminiscing . . . with my college friend, Colette, who stayed with me last week, about our trip to England together in 1984. Her daughter is staying here for two weeks before she takes off on the same trip. So excited for her!

Preparing . . . for my trip to Italy at the end of the month. I’ll have more on that soon.

Missing . . . Kate. She’s taking classes and counseling at a camp this summer. Gone for almost a month already, and I need a hug.

Dreading . . . Wednesday. Wisdom teeth extraction. Yes, that’s right, I’ve finally been forced to have them removed. People can’t believe that someone my age (read: “this old”) would a) still have all of their wisdom teeth and b) have to have them removed. Prayers appreciated.

So there you go. A mini-update that gives you just a sense of what I’ve been doing these past couple of weeks. I’m hoping that this week will allow me the space to write a little more. Stay tuned . . .

How about you? What have YOU been up to?


Friday, June 1, 2012

Fabulous Friday Food {guest post} - Julia's Soft Pretzels

Today I want to welcome a very special guest blogger--my daughter, Julia. Julia is a fantastic baker. She started playing around in the kitchen a few years ago, and now, at the age of 14, Julia can do pretty much anything she sets her mind to. Which brings us to her recipe for today.

The first time Julia made these soft pretzels was, as she says below, on Superbowl Sunday this year. I had been on a retreat all weekend and walked in the door exhausted. As soon as I stepped inside our house I smelled yeast dough. I couldn't believe it! My daughter had experimented with yeast, and I wasn't even around to help her with it.

To the surprise and delight of everyone in this house, Julia's pretzels were amazing. Chewy on the outside; soft and delicious on the inside. I'm not kidding when I say that these are so delicious. Why not have your own kid try them today? ;)

Everyone, meet Julia.

I love to bake. There’s something that’s very satisfying when some soft dough turns into bread, or when smooth batter turns into cake. It’s amazing! It’s science at its best. So, this year for Superbowl Sunday, I decided to bake up a classic snack food: soft pretzels. I used Alton Brown’s recipe, but tweaked it just a tiny bit. The result was delicious, beautiful soft pretzels that are so easy, a fourteen-year-old can do it! My family loves them so much, I have made them twice since. I’m sure you’ll love them too!

First you want to make the dough. Start by combining 1 ½ cups of warm water, one tablespoon of sugar, two teaspoons of kosher salt, and one package of active dry yeast in the bowl of a standing mixer.

                  Let it sit for about five minutes, or until it begins to foam.

                  Next, add 4 ½ cups of bread flour (you can use all-purpose flour, but bread flour makes it softer) and four tablespoons of melted butter to the mixture. Combine it with a bread hook for about five minutes. You have your dough!

                  Now cover the dough and allow it to rise for one to two hours, or until it has doubled in size. This step is difficult for me because I am not a very patient girl!

After it has risen, preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper and either spray with Pam (the easy way) or brush with vegetable oil (the right way). I use Pam. Now put about ten cups of water into a large saucepan. Add 2/3 of a cup of baking soda and bring to a rolling boil. Yes, 2/3 of a cup. I know that’s a crazy amount of baking soda, but that’s what makes these pretzels taste like pretzels, not just bread. The water should look like this:

                  While this is happening, separate your dough into little balls, depending on how many pretzels you want. Roll them out into a rope, and make them into a pretzel shape! Now put the pretzels in one by one into the water for about thirty seconds.

                  This seems to take forever, so I took a stool over to my stovetop!

(Isn't she just the cutest thing?!)

                  After all of them have been boiled, brush them with a simple egg wash, just one egg yolk plus one tablespoon of water. Cover them all with a pastry brush. This gives them that golden brown color. Sprinkle with kosher salt, and they’re ready to bake!

They bake for about twelve to fourteen minutes. When they come out, they look like this:

                  These pretzels are a delicious snack perfect for parties and more. They are easy to make and so tasty! I highly recommend them. 

So there you have it: Julia's (via Alton Brown) soft pretzels. I call that Pretzel Perfection. Enjoy!