"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me." Psalm 51:10

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Whatever It Takes

Lately, I’ve been pondering the words “whatever it takes.” One time in my life I prayed this small but powerful phrase out of sheer desperation. Apparently, God heard me because my world turned completely upside down. He answered my prayer, just not in the way I desired. So, I am petrified to pray those three simple words, yet I consider them because I know God will perform a work that cannot be accomplished otherwise.
Here’s the deal. When I prayed those words over 15 years ago, I anticipated the process of “whatever it takes.” God would change the heart of the person I was praying for by taking him through a transforming encounter. Whatever it takes for the other guy. Not me. Surely not me. After all, I’m not the problem. Good church girls who are God-honoring, giving and growing don’t need the “whatever it takes” field trip because we follow the yellow brick road, like Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz.” However, just like Dorothy, we face a few obstacles along the way that prevent us from skipping down the path straight to the wizard.
For two years, I took the trip when I expressly prayed that God mold, melt and make him into a Godly man. Unfortunately, the person for whom I prayed self-destructed. God used my prayer to change me instead. Not quite what I expected. Yet, in the process, I did whatever it took to cling to God. And, He used this simple prayer to perform whatever it took for me fix my eyes solely on Him. He grabbed my attention and holds it even now.
So, I’m thinking about praying this phrase but scared at the same time. I hesitate to throw these words out, to utter them out loud. God will answer, and what if He wants to change me instead? Surely, I’m not the one who needs another field trip.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Friday Feast

I’m no Paula Dean or Rachael Ray in the kitchen. In fact, when I married, I didn’t even know how to cook. Mom taught me a few things, but homework ruled my life and kept me from the kitchen. Kraft macaroni and cheese and browning hamburger were my specialties. But, my true love involved baking chocolate chip cookies or anything else with sugar. A few faux pas in my early married years and 20 something years later, I’ve learned a bit about cooking. However, I still like to keep it simple. Share a recipe with me that contains more than 10 ingredients, and I’ll not take a second glance. For this reason, I steer clear of gourmet cooking magazines which like to use strange ingredients I’ll only use once then find 6 months later growing a nice shade of green in my refrigerator. Recipes that use massive quantities of Cream of “Something” soup or spaghetti noodles or chicken thrive in this cook’s hands. My problem is I open the pantry door and stare at boxes and cans hoping the kitchen muses will bless me with inspiration, ideas and illumination.
These days, the majority of the battle with cooking is meal planning. If I can conquer that itty bitty thing, cooking is a piece of cake. In honor of this ongoing struggle, Friday posts will be devoted to quick yet tasty recipes. In our family, we call these “keepers,” a word coined by my husband to gently let me know if the meal should stick around.  Let’s face it, cooking can be deeply personal, and nothing is worse than the customers complaining about the menu:
“Oooooo, what’s this? Have you made this before? Do I like it? How many bites do I have to eat?”
Chefs put time and effort into preparing something they hope consumers will enjoy. And, moms don’t want to hear their beautiful babies (or bellyaching big boys) bawling about the beans, bread or broccoli or they’re liable to send those buggers to bed to wait for breakfast the next morning.
I ripped this recipe out of a Kroger mailer. Everyone raved about it except Maddie, who thumbed her nose at the dish never having tasted it. Apparently, she’s allergic to the color green!   

Balsamic Roasted Green Beans

2 lbs. green beans, trimmed
1 red bell pepper, cut into ½-inch wide strips
1 small red onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
2 T. balsamic vinegar
2 t. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place beans, bell pepper, onion, garlic, balsamic vinegar and olive oil on a sheet pan. Toss to coat vegetables with oil mixture. Roast for about 20 minutes or until vegetables reach desired tenderness. Season vegetables with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Refrigerate any leftovers. Serves 8.

Enjoy and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Red Robe

The bowels of the basement are full of boxes containing a plethora of memories past—pictures, yearbooks, rejected home d├ęcor, old cassette tapes and vinyl records. Really? I still have the Music Box Dancer record? Where would I rustle up the ancient relic called a record player in the age of CD’s and Ipods? And why am I still hanging onto my AP History study cards? Just in case someone needs them…? Since boxes threaten a coup, I’ve decided to purge or recycle unnecessary items and reorganize. That’s when I stumbled upon the picture of mom wearing the red robe.
I’d post the picture, but it doesn’t show Mom’s best fashion sense. And, I want to live a few more years. The red robe evokes memories of late nights and boyfriends. It was a staple as much as bologna sandwiches at lunch. Mom crashed on the couch at night waiting for me to return from dates in that zipped up redness. Eyes half shut, feigning interest, she listened to me recount minute details of the evening. Finally, mom clothed in red robe, exhausted from my rambling, mumbled she needed to sleep and plodded to her bedroom. My sister says that delineating the exact number of times I used my napkin threw mom over the edge, but I seriously doubt that. When my sister’s turn came to encounter mom sprawled in red robeness after her own date nights, she learned from my mistakes. Verbalizing her evening to mom meant answering yes or no to a few quick questions and slipping off to bed. Mom, expecting an hour long conversation, spent a little less time in her robe when “keep it short and sweet” sis came in at curfew. Dumfounded initially by the stark contrast between the two of us, I’m fairly certain she relished the short and sweet just a tad more. I’m not the least bit offended if she does.
Umpteen years have passed since the red robe days. The names have changed, and I wouldn’t don a red robe for cash, but the circumstances are similar. While Tony sleeps, I wait for the teenagers, and I understand it now. I’m tired and just want to sleep, but someone needs to be the sofa-crasher with or without red robe. And, I too, have one of each—teen, that is. My first born is just like me, regaler of details, expert of the play by play until eyes glaze over. He needs to set the stage from the very beginning and relate all occurrences so it makes sense. I get that. I’m like that. My daughter, like my sister, recounts what is required of her. No more, no less. “Just the facts, ma’am” could be her motto.  She offers responses when asked and never volunteers extra information.
Recently, I dozed on the couch waiting for “don’t mess with the details” daughter to arrive home from a night out. Awakened from my comatose-like state with the garage door opening, I greeted her with a sleepy yawn.
“How was your evening?”
“How was the movie?”
“Ok, well glad you had a good night. We’ll chat tomorrow. I’ve got to get to bed!”
Happy to comply, daughter Alix heads to bed. Padding to my room for some shut-eye, I realize that the only time ditching the details is acceptable is when it interferes with sleep!  I am my mother, after all.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Break the Rules?

I’m a die-hard rule-follower who married a man who doesn’t read instruction manuals let alone follow rules religiously. Sometimes a little bitty conflict erupts due to this discrepancy between us.
A few years ago, Tony and I stayed the night in a small town in Indiana. Construction workers were remodeling an old hotel in French Lick, and Tony wanted to see the progress. As we drove down the street, we encountered one of those “danger, do not enter” signs. Tony ignored it and kept driving.
“Wait! We can’t drive down here. Didn’t you see that sign?” I asked.
“Sure, but it’s ok. No one’s going to stop us!”
“Yeah, but we are breaking the rules. We aren’t supposed to drive beyond the sign! Turn around!” I’m panicking, looking around for the swarm of police that are surely waiting around the bend to arrest us.
“It’s fine, Annette. Nothing’s going to happen.” Tony keeps driving towards the palatial hotel ahead.
“Turn around, Tony. We are NOT supposed to be here!” I’m waiting for someone to pounce on us like a cat on a mouse. A gargantuan hotel rises before us, but I can’t appreciate it; I’m too concerned about the trouble we are about to face.
“Wow! Look at that hotel. It’s amazing, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, sure. Can we get out of here before someone finds us?”
My risk-taking, adventurous, non-rule follower turns around with a sigh and drives away, my panic ruining the experience. It turns out that we weren’t arrested nor were we mauled by the construction mafia. No one even seemed to care that we took a drive down a do not enter lane. Just this uptight, bossy firstborn!

I struggle with this extreme bent in other ways as well. Frequently, I carry this over to my relationship with God in the form of a checklist. Read my Bible—check. Pray—check. Journal—check. The problem with this is two-fold. If I miss reading Scripture one day, I heap guilt on myself. On the other hand, when I consistently read, journal and pray, I puff with pride. Crossing the Bible off my checklist, following the “rules,” becomes the goal instead of growing in my relationship. When I trade in the rules for a relationship, I’m released from duty and drudgery to love and freedom.  God desires me to experience all that He has for me out of love not law, desire not duty, passion not pressure.
In my little adventure with Tony, I missed enjoying the beauty of the old, restored hotel because I was too focused on the rules. And while rules are absolutely vital to smooth running households, schools, communities and governments, maybe it’s okay to—every once in awhile—enjoy the moment. Love, not my list, should draw me to my Creator.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Gratitude List

It all began November 6, 2011. Maddie’s Sunday School teacher challenged the class to keep a gratitude journal for one week. If they wrote every day and brought it to church on Sunday, they would receive a special prize. Maddie latched onto the word “prize” like a Black Friday shopper on an early morning deal. Each night, she faithfully listed 20 items. The reason she picked twenty is easy—20 lines on the page means 20 items for which to thank God.
Her first day, she wrote:
1.       Parents/family
2.       Clothes
3.       Toothbrush and toothpaste
4.       Food and clean water
5.       House/shelter
6.       Pencil to write with right now
7.       Paper to write on right now
8.       Hot tub on my deck
9.       Paintings and pictures
10.   School, even if I don’t like it
11.   Homework, even if I don’t like it
12.   Light
13.   God to lead the way through my life
14.   Books
15.   Coupons
16.   Clocks
17.   Timers
18.   Glasses
19.   Contacts
20.   Chairs
At the end of the week, Maddie recorded 140 items (many duplicates). She brought her journal to class and chose her bag of bubble gum prize.
Since November, with no extra incentive, Maddie diligently scribbles in her gratitude journal nightly. She’s amassed 1200 things she’s thankful for from the entire alphabet to love at first sight, from everyone’s birthday to muscles, from big eyes to smelly nail polish, from fingers to pillows. Maddie covers the gamut of her life from the mundane to the meaningful. She takes her journal to sleepovers so she won’t miss a day of writing. And, if for some reason a day slips by, she doubles up the next. It’s become as much of a habit as brushing her teeth.
This attitude of thankfulness developing inside her, this ritual of writing down her thanks, causes her to dwell on the goodness of the Creator. Each day she searches her mind for those things, those people, those events for which she can give gratitude to the Giver. This daily writing awakens her mind to all the good gifts God has given her and even some she finds distasteful, like school and homework. Still, she offers thanks. She leads by example, and for that I am grateful!
"Give thanks for the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever." (Psalm 106:1)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What’s the Word?

The mantra chanted repeatedly in circles around this time of year is familiar to most of us. “Did you make any New Year’s Resolutions?” spills out of mouths like the greeting, “Merry Christmas.” People’s responses range from scorn because of past failures to excitement for what might be achieved.  I’ve failed miserably when making goals. One year I planned to eliminate sweets from my diet. In the midst of eating a piece of cake, I realized I forgot about my goal. The rest was history including that resolution. Since then, I’ve learned tips about making goals more specific and measurable. Perhaps I would’ve succeeded if my resolve were to cut sweets to three times a week instead of never eating them again. I grasped the real lesson:
never again make a resolution involving chocolate.
I enjoy creating goals for the New Year, focusing my energy with God’s help in various areas, such as family, spiritual, physical, ministry and leadership. In recent years, however, I’ve also prayed about a “word” that will characterize my year. Around November, I ponder what word God might speak to me. Many times, this word will crop up as I’m reading my Bible or another book. I may sense that He’s teaching me a trait through a family issue. I always hope it’s not patience because I really don’t want to take those field trip experiences.
A journal writer sporadically since a teen, I love looking back at what I’ve written. In my diary days, I wrote inspiring notes about boys I liked and ugly words about my sister: “She thinks she’s pretty, but she’s not.” It’s good for a chuckle but not much else. As an adult, I’ve vented and vomited words on the page. I’ve prayed and praised the God to whom I owe everything. And, I’ve remembered and recounted the events of each year. So, as I roll back the time to 2010 when my word was “flourish,” I read that it was filled with tough times, and I wrote, “I’m not sure that (flourish) really occurred in my estimation.” It felt much more like failure to me.
Last year, my word was “God’s Goodness.” Okay, that’s two words, but who’s counting?  The year began with “my brain is encased in a thick fog this morning after a migraine that felt like it was going to blow its innards like Mt. St. Helens. My left ear throbs as if someone were poking me with sharp needles.” Off to a great start so far. I began to wonder about my chosen “words” when I spent the first two week s of January 2011 in bed several days with various sicknesses…migraines, dizziness, ear pain and vomiting.  Intersperse about a million snow days when the kids were hanging around, and that’s a little too much goodness for me!

God’s Goodness

Yet, what God taught me with those two words over the course of the year was that His goodness had nothing to do with my circumstances.  In one journal entry, I wrote, “The year can only go up from here, right?! Right?! My words, “God’s goodness,” for 2011 sound almost humorous. Still I know that just because my circumstances have been bleak doesn’t mean He isn’t good. It’s all in the perspective, right?” Like a roller coaster, the year was up then down, yet I experienced His goodness in all of it. Our circumstances may not be outwardly good, but God can use them for our eternal good. What I found is that God’s goodness permeated each event in my life last year. It’s a lesson I will not forget.
So, what does this year hold? What word am I hanging on to? Drum roll, please….This year, I believe it’s “grace.” Grace for me when I blow it, and grace for me to offer others. Beyond that, I’m waiting to see how the year unfolds and what God will show me!  Now, it’s your turn.
What “word” will God give you?