Saturday, March 30, 2013

Good Friday {reprise}


Earlier today, as I was perusing posts from last year, I came across this post from Good Friday 2012. I had forgotten about that post, but as I read it through, I decided (for myself) that this is one of my best posts. Maybe you can relate to how I felt that day.

*****
We had had a bad week.

Well, I can’t speak for him, but I had had a bad week, and it culminated, as it usually does, in us taking it all out on each other.

The busyness. The frustrations. The obstacles. The fears.

They all came crashing to a head, and I broke under the weight of it.

I’m not pleased nor proud that this is my pattern, but it is. The pattern of the everyday. The pattern of the worn out, the weary. The pattern of the sinner.

I stumbled, feeling every frayed edge of the day, into the Good Friday service, not feeling it, not wanting it, and not expecting it. It was supposed to be a time of reflection.

Oh, I had reflected alright. Reflected on hurt. Reflected on anger. Reflected on injustice.

Reflected on me rather than Him.

So I stumbled from the car—did that door close a little too hard?—and up the stairs—Why, hello! How was your day?—and straight into Him.

Only He was wearing a dress. And had thinning hair. And was sitting in a wheelchair. And was reaching out to me with a shaking hand, eyes locked on mine.

He mumbled something I couldn’t understand, and His husband was standing behind the chair, eyes pleading too, begging.

I grabbed His hand, trying to be kind.

“Will you help us, please?” His husband asked, gently. “My wife really needs to use the bathroom.”

The worn and weary became fear and I-can’t-do-this-but-what-choice-do-I-have?

Let me tell you something about me. When I sin, I sin big; you just can’t see it. Oh, it’s there, festering, stumbling, growing underneath a smile and a hug and a kindness that seems real.

And so I did what any person would do in a church. I said, “Sure. I’ll help you. Just tell me what to do.” But inside I was praying, “Why me?!

This is a fear, a huge fear of mine: Sick people. Weak people. People who need other people. And Jesus, seeing my weakened, sinful state, after a week of outright ugly, knew this.

Still, He asked. Of course, He asked.
“And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:40
Help Me? When it’s convenient.

Serve Me? When I have time.

Die for Me? Wait, You’re supposed to do that.

When I joined my family in the darkened church, unready to worship, I was wrecked.

The huge, wooden cross, draped in black, crown of thorns perched on top, mocked me from the front. The words to every song humiliated me.

He was not the One needing my help--I was the one needing His. His help, His service, His death. In my selfish state, I could not see Him until He asked me to do the one thing I did not think I could do. 

Sick, weak, needy. That is the state of my heart every moment of every day. I should be in a hospital, I need healing so badly.

Yet in His merciful, graceful, lovingkindness He showed me that even at my worst—my sickened, weakened, needy state—He could still use me, helpless. In fact, only in that state can He truly use me.

“But God showed His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8


Upside down grace, that’s what He showed me last Friday.

Good Friday.



Look up . . .





. . . and see.

"When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, 'This man truly was the Son of God!'" Mark 15:39


Friday, March 22, 2013

Five Minute Friday: Remember


Hello there! It has been ages since I took part in Lisa-Jo's "Five Minute Friday" party, but that's about all the time I had today. Five minutes. Besides, I've been wanting to play along again--for some reason I think some of my bests posts are written in five minutes.

Is that so wrong?

Anyway, thanks, Lisa-Jo, for hosting this fun party every week. And thanks for the prompt. It was fun!

Five Minute Friday

Remember.

How could I forget? The first time I laid eyes on you, your age mystified me. As I traversed your fields, alleyways, byways, I had a sense of being there before. Of belonging. Of home.

And I wondered if you had remembered. Had you remembered the reason you were still standing? Had you remembered the ancient wars? Had you remembered the vision and the dedication of your great poets?

Did you remember?


It was He who gave you the land of my heart. He who clothed you with greens and purples and blues. He who ran His finger over your hills and called them good. He who blessed you with rain and wind and clouds so that beauty would be your name.

Remember the days of sunshine and warmth. Remember the carefree hours of new friendships and old words. Remember the blessing of love’s first blush, red and fragrant.

Remember the old and the new.

Look up. And remember.



***
Linking up with Lisa-Jo at The Gypsy Mama today.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Conversation I Never Thought I’d Have with my Kids


In about 45 minutes I need to pick up my daughter from school, and I will need to have a conversation that I never, ever dreamed I would have to have with her.

Because today, a beloved teacher from her school was arrested for having sex with one of his students. I won’t go into the scant details I’ve heard so far, just suffice it to say it’s horrific.

And especially horrific because both of my older girls had this teacher, loved him, and my youngest was hoping to have him next year.

It hits home.

What I want to know, what I have been praying to God this afternoon, is how on earth do I talk to them about this? Because, for the life of me, I don’t know.

Ironically, I’ve been thinking all day about a blog post I read and responded to yesterday. My friend, Jo-Lynne, has been struggling with how to protect her children, especially her 13-year-old son, in this crazy world we live in.

I get that. I understand that struggle.

What really hit me as I read her post and some of the comments from people who said that they have intentionally placed their children in a “bubble,” is that no matter how hard we try, we do NOT live in a bubble. We live in a very broken, very fallen world.

That sure became evident to our community today.

It’s interesting to me that I have truly been chewing on this for the past 24 hours, because much of what I wrote in Jo-Lynne’s comments is what I need to remind myself of here, now that I’m in this situation of having to have the ugly talk with my kids.

First, I need to remember that our world is very fallen indeed. Anybody watching “The Bible” on The History Channel can see that parents have been worried about protecting their children from outside influences for centuries. It's nothing new. But it’s also an unfortunate reality that the world we live in is trying its very best to corrupt, not only our children, but US.

And sometimes we fall prey.

Second, I need to remember who I am. I need to remember that I am fallen, too, just like this world, just like that teacher, just like, well, me. I am fallen. I am sinful. I am not above reproach.

The phrase, “there but by the grace of God go I” rings very clearly today. The fact is, I could be that teacher. I AM that teacher, because when God sees my sin, it makes him just as disgusted as that teacher’s actions are to me.

Sin is sin, and mine is no “better” than anyone else’s. If I think otherwise, I am only fooling myself and setting myself up to be a hypocrite.

Third, I need to remember who God is. He’s God, and that’s enough. He has loved me enough to provide a way of salvation, and in return, he wants me to stop living like the rest of the world and be holy.

But here’s the thing: I’m not holy. No matter how hard I try, I won’t ever meet the standard that God has set for me. In His eyes I’m just as bad as that teacher.

But Jesus.

Thanks be to God that because I have Jesus, God no longer sees my sin. He sees me as holy. It really is an amazing thing to think about.

So how does this help me talk to my kids about that teacher?

1. It reminds all of us that we are people who have received grace—totally, completely unmerited grace. And because of that we should not speak ill, we should not gossip, we should not judge what we do not know.

2. It makes me want to cling tighter to the God who sees all, who knows all, and who forgives all and to encourage my girls to do the same.

3. It causes me to pray for this whole messy situation, for the gross, fallen world we live in, and for the tender hearts of my children who are affected by this as well.

4.  And, sadly, this situation forces me to talk to them about being careful about who they are around and who they trust. To be honest, that was not on my list of things to do today.

This is a desperately sad situation for everyone involved, including my very own children. As I said, this hits home. I’m angry about it all--the effects are so far-reaching--and yet, I’m so sad for our community, for the victim, for the teacher's wife and family, and even for him.

It’s an ugly, messy world we live in, and all kinds of bad stuff happens in it. Stuff I would rather not have to think about or talk to my kids about. But the fact remains that this world, without Jesus, is desperately needy. There is no disguising the fact, no sheltering my kids from it, no bubble big enough to hide away in.

All I can do is praise God that He sent His Son to redeem it. As Easter approaches, this seems especially important.

And that’s a conversation I want to have with my kids.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Fabulous Friday Food: Pan Fried Onion Dip

Have I ever mentioned that I grew up with family all around me? My grandparents lived about a half a mile down the road, and my aunt, uncle, and cousins lived another half mile past them.

Some of my happiest childhood memories are of family gatherings--birthdays, holidays, welcome home parties, even the Super Bowl. All were spent with the love of family wrapped around me like a warm blanket.

What I remember most is the food. Lots of it, always good. Fried chicken, jello salads, baked beans, and homemade rhubarb or strawberry pie and ice cream.

Just for starters.

I think these family gatherings primed me to be the food-lover that I am today.

This sounds crazy, being the good-food lover that I am, but I always got super-excited when Grandma served chips and dip. We'd be gathered around the television, watching football, and Grandma would bring out the snacks. Back then it was a bag of Ruffles and a carton of store bought onion dip, but even as a kid I loved me some chips and dip.

I'm still a dipper today. Pretty much with any food, if I can dip it, I will. Sandwiches into au jus. Cookies into ice cream. Bananas into peanut butter.

But especially chips into dip. There's just something comforting about it.

So you can imagine my delight when I saw Ina Garten make her Pan Fried Onion Dip many years ago. I just had to try it, like right NOW! And I'm so glad I did because this has become one of my favorite snack foods.

SO much better than the onion dip in a carton that you buy in the grocery store!

Really, there's no comparison.

I've made Ina's recipe too many times to count over the years, so I've been able to tweak it according to my own tastes and preferences. What you have here is my own, slightly altered version of Ina's original recipe.

You'll need onions (duh!), butter, olive oil, salt, pepper, cayenne, cream cheese, mayo, and sour cream.

Sound decadent enough for ya?

Slice up about three or four sweet onions. Vidalia season is almost here, so grab a big bag and get slicing!


Place them in a pan with about 4 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I like to use a cast iron skillet for this because I think you can control the temperature of the pan a little better than with stainless.

Probably just me.

Sprinkle them with just a dash or two of cayenne pepper and a little salt and pepper.


Now here's where your patience really pays off. Keep the heat of the pan at about medium to medium-low. You don't want to FRY your onions, you want to CARAMELIZE them. And caramelizing takes time.

As in, about 40 minutes.

Here is what my onions looked like after about 20 minutes:


But be patient, child. They might look like they're almost done, but they're not.

Here's what they looked like after 40 minutes:


Isn't that better?

Allowing your onions to fully caramelize helps develop the rich, sweet flavor that the onions have hidden in them. And your dip will be just that much better for it.

Remove the onions from the pan and drain them on a couple of pieces of paper towel on a plate. Ina's recipe leaves out that step, and I've found it helpful to get rid of some of the excess grease.

Next, take an 8-ounce package of cream cheese that you have left out on the counter for quite some time, preferrably overnight (it really, really has to be at room temperature, unless you like little lumps of cream cheese floating throughout your onion dip) and beat the heck out of it.


Make sure your cream cheese is really light and fluffy before you add the rest.

Next, add about 1/2 cup of mayonnaise and 1 cup of sour cream, also best if at room temperature, but not entirely necessary.


Beat that together with the cream cheese until everything is well-incorporated.

Next, add the onions that have been drained and cooled and beat just until mixed together.

Place in a pretty bowl (!) and refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving with the best potato chips you can find (preferrably not Ruffles).


Now, invite some friends over to watch the Blackhawks cream whomever they happen to be playing (ha!) and enjoy!

To get a printable version of this recipe, click here.

***
Did you know you can get all of my 42 (so far!) recipes as printables? Just click on the "Recipes" tab above and have a look around. These are all of the recipes that I have featured here on the blog, and every one has been tested and tried by my family. Many times over.

***
Like what you see here? I'd love it if you'd follow me via RSS feed or email. Just head over there ---> to sign up!

***
Linking this post to Richella's Grace at Home party. So glad you stopped by!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Perspective


February stretches long and gray around here. March does, too.

If I’m not careful, I can be sucked right into its vortex, down, down, down into a web of “why-do-I-live-here’s” and “if-only’s.”

I find myself irritable and too often looking ahead instead of sitting right here, right now. Making excuses for my behavior instead of looking for ways to improve my attitude.

I know a woman who has, for many years, allowed the weather to control her. She plots her escape, daily. 

She is the most miserable person I know.

How do I not become that? How do I not see days of gray unending and not become a bitter, miserable person? How do I find joy in the gray out my window?



Yesterday, Ann Voskamp wrote this: Everyone gets to decide how happy they want to be. Because everyone gets to decide how grateful they are willing to be.
We get to decide our happiness. God has given us the tools—everything we need is right there in front of us. It’s up to us to choose happiness, joy, gratitude or bitterness, complaint, misery.

I choose happiness.

Because this day, this gray, dreary, cold, rainy day has been given to me to use well. Today I choose to write, to have lunch with friends, to sit with my daughter in a quiet room without distractions.

And on this gray, dreary, cold, rainy day, I visit with a dear friend who is housebound for twelve weeks. Twelve weeks! No weight on her foot. At all.

Do you ever go stir-crazy? I ask.

She smiles her sweet, cheerful smile and says, No. I have plenty to do here. I just figure this is what God has for me right now, in this season.

Does she ever look at the clouds? Maybe, but she chooses otherwise.

She chooses joy.

Ann also says that after choosing happiness, we get to decide how willing we are to be grateful. Still counting, that Ann.

So today, I choose to be grateful.

For my work.

For a quiet office.

For friendships that span decades.

For perspective.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mama Fail?

I wasn't the best mom to infants.

Oh, I loved my babies. I loved their tiny, tiny fingernails and the rolls of chubby baby on their legs. I loved their thick, brown hair and the smell of the tops of their heads after bath time. I loved the way their eyes lit up when their daddy walked into the room and the smile of recognition when our eyes met in that deep, knowing way.

My babies were, and still are, my very great love.

But I was not patient. I was not gracious. I was not always kind.

I was selfish, impatient, and, yes, even mean at times.

I shudder to think about those early years as a mom--how the deep, deep chasm between my imagined life and my reality seemed never to be able to come together. How I never really felt like myself, comfortable in my own skin. How, for some inexplicable reason, I felt I should be doing this differently, better, and that I should be enjoying myself more.

***

I don't know why I thought about this today, except that babies have been on my mind lately. At least four women I know have had babies in the past three weeks, including my sister.

*Hi Gracie! Consider this your first blog shout out!*

(I'd really like to know what's in the water. Goodness! All the goodness lately!)

I wonder sometimes, being the person I am now, having been somewhat sanctified through the fires of motherhood, how would I be with an infant today? I'd like to think that I'd be more patient, more understanding, less selfish.

But let's face it, I'm me, and patience isn't really my strong suit.

Over the years, however, I hope that because of my experiences with my own children, I have become a different person, better, and, yes, even a little bit more holy.

Maybe?

I know I'm having more fun.

***

If I've taught my daughters anything, I hope I've taught them how to laugh. Our world is so serious, so big and self-important, that it's a gift, a rare thing, to be able to laugh, especially at ourselves.

And that is why I just had to chuckle over the Facebook wars going on between two of my girls today.

Here's what Julia shared with her big sister today: "Love you seester! (And I love your face :)"


And here's what Kate promptly replied: "payback"


(And, yes, that is the shape of an "L" on her forehead. Can you name the song?)

I've probably breached a thousand unwritten Facebook rules by sharing their posts, but I love that my girls can laugh with one another. Their shenanigans today reminded me that I have not completely failed.

Yet.


Saturday, March 2, 2013

Good Reads

I realized recently that I've been hoarding blog posts lately. Keeping them to myself. Reading, savoring, delighting in them, but not sharing.

And these need to be shared.

So, grab a cup of tea, curl up by a fire, and enjoy some of my favorite posts from recent weeks.

14 wonderful words with no English equivalent :: The Week. Yes! As someone who loves words and can't stand when I can't pronounce them, this one was tricky, but I loved it.

25 reasons we're taking our kids around the world :: Entre Family Travels. I'm fascinated by this family. They are taking their four YOUNG kids around the world in a year. I'm following their progress (they just started in January), and it's so fun to travel vicariously with them.

17 Parenting Lessons from Downton Abbey :: Huffington Post. Because I just couldn't resist.

5 Things Every Daughter Needs to Hear from Her Dad :: Daniel Darling. *tears*

A Weak Mother is a Good Mother :: Desiring God blog. Oh why couldn't I have read this when my girls were younger?

A Letter to My Children :: Clover Lane. Yep. This pretty much covers it. Beautifully.

Raising a Pure Son in a Sex-Crazed World :: We Are THAT Family. Awesome, awesome post for moms of boys.

The Good News: This is Only the Beginning :: Christy Purifoy. This is a new blog to me, but one I have already fallen in love with. In this post, I got such a new perspective when she writes: "But here is the Good News: it is finished. Revelation is simply the Cross from the point of view of heaven." Yes! Love that.

And finally, True Beauty :: Privet and Holly. My friend, Suzanne. Always so full of wisdom, that one. I think I need to read this every day for a month.

There. That should keep you going for a while. I realized as I wrote this list that there is an abundance of parenting posts. Sorry if that's not your thing--it's kind of where I'm sitting right now.

Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Aslan's Country

One year ago today, my friend, Laura, lost her daughter to cancer. Shortly after Anna's death, I wrote this piece, which I thought I'd share with you again today. 

The death of a loved one, particularly a child, is never easy. I'm sure Anna's family would appreciate your prayers today.

* * * * *


At the end of the movie The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the little mouse, Reepicheep has a decision to make. Will he stay with the children he loves in Narnia or will he follow Aslan to his country?

It doesn’t take long for Reepicheep to make his decision, if there was even one to be made at all. He boldly goes where no mouse has gone before, leaping into the wall of water that will surely lead him to that great place.

C.S. Lewis’s narrative puts it a little differently, but the sentiment is still the same:
     “And suddenly there came a breeze from the east, tossing the top of the wave into foamy shapes and ruffling the smooth water all round them. It lasted only a second or so but what it brought them in that second none of those three children will ever forget. It brought both a smell and a sound, a musical sound. Edmund and Eustace would never talk about it afterwards. Lucy could only say, ‘It would break your heart.’ ‘Why,’ said I, ‘was it so sad?’ ‘Sad!! No,’ said Lucy.
     “No one in that boat doubted that they were seeing beyond the End of the World into Aslan’s country.
     “At the moment, with a crunch, the boat ran aground. The water was too shallow now for it. ‘This,’ said Reepicheep, ‘is where I go on alone.’
      “They did not even try to stop him, for everything now felt as if it had been fated or had happened before. They helped him to lower his little coracle. Then he took off his sword (‘I shall need it no more,’ he said) and flung it far away across the lilied sea. Where it fell it stood upright with the hilt above the surface. Then he bade them goodbye, trying to be sad for their sakes; but he was quivering with happiness.”
            The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis

The movie version shows Reepicheep whooping it up, kicking up his heels as he runs straight for the water. He glances back, briefly, at the children standing on the shore, before becoming completely engulfed.

And Reepicheep enters Aslan’s country.

I remember seeing that scene for the first time, unable to control the flood of emotion that came over me, tears pouring down my face. For I knew that Reepicheep had made the better choice. He was following Aslan, receiving his reward.

And yet, the children stayed behind because they knew their time had not yet come. Aslan had other work for them to do. They would follow another time, but not yet.

Would they miss their friend? Oh yes. Their hearts would break for the emptiness they would feel at times. But did they know that Reepicheep was exactly where he needed to be? Indeed, for as the text tells us, “They did not even try to stop him.”

* * * * *

I have written about Anna a few times in the past. Some of you have followed her story of courage, determination, joy, and pain. Many of you have prayed for Anna’s complete healing.

Well, Anna has been healed. Completely. She is now free of pain, completely restored, and walking the shores of Aslan’s country.

Her dad has written about her journey so eloquently, so beautifully, that I could not add anything of value to their story. You can read about it here.

What I can add is my own story of how Anna has touched my life.

Ten years ago I was numbed by the news that my friend’s daughter had cancer. Cancer! Of all things. Nobody expected this diagnosis of a healthy, vibrant, 17-year-old girl.

Over the course of ten years I have watched, prayed, cried, and learned so much from this faithful family.

I have learned that sharing our experiences is much better than keeping them private. Through Anna’s blog, her parents have given so much of themselves to others, taught us how to pray and to care for their family, and showed us some of the incredible results of Anna’s ministry. Surely there are aspects of their story that are private, meant just for them, but they have shared much of Anna’s journey so that we might learn, grow, and be comforted by it. That has been a gift.

I have learned that determination trumps defeat. I will never know how many times over ten years Anna’s parents probably felt defeated, and yet their daughter’s determination to find the next treatment, the next cure, the next glimmer of hope has kept them going. Even when she knew that her fight would end as it did last week, Anna continued to seek experimental treatments so that other children might benefit from her experience.

I have learned that God is completely sovereign, even in death. So many little details came together to make Anna’s final moments God moments. I will never forget how He tenderly made sure that Anna’s oncologist was at their house even as she took her final breath, giving her parents exactly the strength and support they needed at just the right time. Even this is an encouragement to me that God is in the smallest of details.

I have learned that, if we let them, our trials can turn to triumph. From the moment she was diagnosed, Anna knew that this was God’s working in her life, and she was determined to share her faith with the world. Only God (and Anna now!) knows the thousands of lives that have been changed because of her willingness to let this illness be used for His glory.

Oh, it is so hard to let our loved ones go, and Anna’s parents are surely grieving right now as are her siblings, relatives, friends, and even those who did not know her at all. But our grief remains shallow compared to the depth of God’s love for us, and for Anna, with whom He is surely walking alongside today.



To Anna: A life well lived.