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

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Heart Surgery

This weekend I submitted myself to a heart examination. No, I didn’t check into a hospital or sit in a doctor’s office. Physically my heart is pumping blood like crazy. Spiritually, however, deadly problems lurk in the deep recesses where no one can see but God himself.
Annually a group of women travel to a distant monastery. Yes, I said monastery as in silence and solitude. We contemplate in stark rooms adorned with a crucifix. Our assignment is to unplug from all the distractions of technology: cell phones, computer, television, and read, rest and re-assess our hearts. While we have a little bit of an agenda including some group time, the majority is spent in the silence of our rooms or a walk outdoors or attending vespers or mass.
Moving from clamor and conversation to solitude and silence is difficult. At first, the quiet bothers me. It distracts my concentration. I can’t focus. My mind wanders down rabbit trails. It flits and flutters about like a butterfly, not resting on any particular subject for more than a second.  I look at the clock repeatedly. I have two hours before dinner, which speeds by quick as a wink when I’m at home taxiing kids to and from events, running errands in between and needing to create some sort of concoction to feed the family. But here? Two hours is eternity. I hardly know what to do with it. Do I read? Do I write? Do I take a walk in the unseasonably warm weather? I settle on slumber. Never do I take the opportunity to sleep during the middle of the afternoon, but I give myself permission today. My heart hurts, I’m tired and I want to shut out the world.
When I awake, my heart is still filled with ugly. The events of this past week have drained and dragged me down. My heart is consumed with anger, worry, fear, feelings of failure, insecurity, sadness, hopelessness. The roller coaster of life jarred me again, and I should know better. I know the Truth. However, my emotions blared much louder, drowning out the truth of God’s word, who He is and what He can do. So, I discover myself again in this place where God needs to root out my heart sickness. I read through Psalm 51:10-13,
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew
A steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
Or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
And grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways…”
My devotion reads that only God can “create” or “bara” my heart, and how I need him to perform that surgery in me. I’ve been vomiting caustic emotion everywhere this week, and yet, I’m still sick. I’ve sunk into depression like the psalmist in Psalm 42:5:
“Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence.”
How do I climb out of this funk, let go of the junk contaminating my heart and let God heal me? What’s happening in my heart shows in my actions and words; it affects my family and my friends. Proverbs 4:23 states, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring (everything flows from it) of life.” So, I’ve let my guard down and let the muck and mire in. I’ve wallowed in the mud with the pigs like the prodigal son. The stench, like Pigpen in Charlie Brown, announces my arrival before I enter a room. Do I really desire this to be my modus operandi? An event triggers certain emotions and the pool of my heart begins filling up with anger, aggravation and anxiety. Every.single.time?
As I spent a day and a half processing and praying, a tiny bit of peace perched slightly above my heart, like a tentative bird at a feeder.  It sat hesitant, unsure, because other emotions still had squatter’s rights. Kelly Minter, in her book The Fitting Room says, “Peace has to be fought for, especially when hurt feeling and wrongs are barring its way.”  Isn’t that the truth? Frankly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to trade in my worry for peace. Somehow, worry caused me to believe I could control the situation. In the end, I cupped worry, fear, failure, anger and the rest of the gang in my hands and held it up to God.
“God, I can’t do this anymore. I need to give this to you.
Be my Peace.
Help me let go of worry that robs me of truly resting in You.
No matter what storms rage, allow me to experience Your peace—
Your peace that passes all understanding guarding my heart
And my mind in You.”
Yes, His peace will guard my heart and my mind, protecting me from the lies of an enemy who tells me I deserve to harbor bitterness and anger, to saturate myself with feelings of failure, to fill up with fear. When I immerse myself in Him and His truth about me, I expose the Light to my heart allowing God to perform spiritual heart surgery. Again, Kelly Minter writes, ”My truest peace has to do with God’s presence and what He says is true about me, not so much with everything holding together just so. It has little to do with my external circumstances and everything to do with the voice and nearness of God. I can have peace amidst tumult if only I have him.”
What emotions have been filling up your heart?
With what circumstances do you need to entrust Him?
Ask for His peace. Cling to Him.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Friday Feast

I typically plan my week’s meals around whatever meat is on sale. Thus, every time packages of boneless chicken breast are $1.97 a pound, I stock up. This insures that meat is always in my freezer, and I won’t have to buy it at top dollar. The only time we have beef or pork is when I purchase it at a discount. The same goes for other items, such as cheese, lunch meat, ice cream, etc. Stocking up when items are on sale and combining with coupons means I don’t need to buy ingredients in desperation.
I love this particular recipe, but I only make it when I can buy the items more cheaply. This is an easy but fabulous dish to take to potlucks or other outings. You may need to make more than one batch, however, if you have a big group—it’s THAT yummy!

Ham and Cheese Rolls

1 pkg Hawaiian Rolls
1/2 # shaved ham
6 slices Swiss Cheese (I use Provolone)

Sauce:   1 t. dry onion
                ¾ t. dry mustard
                ¾ t. poppy seeds (optional)
                ½ t. Worcestershire Sauce
                ½ stick margarine, melted
*Heat until well mixed.

Cut rolls apart. Layer with ham and cheese. Replace top half of rolls. Pull apart to let sauce drip down in between rolls. Pour sauce over top. Bake covered with foil (7x11 pan) at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Being Holy

A few weeks ago, a group of women were examining the topic of “holiness” in our study, The Fitting Room, by Kelly Minter. This word drums up all sorts of images in our minds. Some picture monks or nuns in their holy habits, the Amish who have separated themselves from the rest of society, some super spiritual saint, or perhaps a legalistic upbringing. This word doesn’t fill us with the warm fuzzies like “love”, “joy”, or “peace”. In fact in our discussion, one woman commented, “I struggle with a word that means “set apart”. It’s like I think I’m better than everyone else.”  And yet, God tells us to be holy as he is holy (1 Peter 1:16). What exactly does God mean by that, and how can we possibly achieve it?
Unpacking this word is like unloading a moving van filled with trinkets and treasures collected for years. I’m not sure if any person can comprehensively grasp the concept of holiness. However, within the framework of the verses our class is dissecting in this particular study, I’m posing a few thoughts.
Colossians 3:12 states, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
The first words Paul writes before he tells us what clothes to wear are that we are chosen, holy and dearly loved. God calls us holy before we have done anything good. How is that possible? I know what I am capable of—crabby attitudes, corrupted actions and careless words. How does God call me holy when I’ve done nothing to deserve that designation?  It’s only because of Jesus’ sacrifice for my sins on the cross that I am viewed holy. Trusting my own goodness to please God is like a student relying on his charismatic personality to pass a test. It’s not good enough and never will be. According to Isaiah 64:6, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
Kelly Minter says, “Without this imputed righteousness (God thinking of Christ’s righteousness as belonging to us), we are back to the concept of trying to clothe ourselves with clothes we don’t actually own. Righteousness isn’t something you can borrow either, just for the thrifty dressers out there.” How freeing to realize that God calls me holy not because I deserve it but because His son paid the price for me. The world teaches us the opposite—if we prove ourselves through hard work, we can be someone special. God says you are already special because of my son, therefore clothe yourselves with what you already possess. Unfortunately, we oftentimes attempt to achieve holiness by mustering up enough willpower to exhibit these virtues rather than realizing that we are incapable of justifying ourselves. We must rest upon Jesus’ finished work on the cross.
Holiness concerns our heart not behavior modification. Parents desire their children to listen and obey because they desire to obey, not because they are forced. I recall as a young girl my mom making me apologize to my sister or brother. “Say you’re sorry, Annette,” she’d say.
“Sorry,” I’d mumble.
“Sorry for what?”
“Sorry for hitting you,” I’d eke out to the offended.

Truly heartfelt, right?! How many of us apologized in our youth to our sister or brother because our moms threatened to ground us for a month, take away phone privileges or friend play time? And, how many of us as parents do the very same thing? Say you’re sorry, give the toy back, hug your sister, kiss and make up… God longs for us to exhibit His attributes because our hearts are transformed.  Behavior change doesn’t last unless there is heart change. Kelly Minter emphatically says, “…how I yearn to live altogether differently, not simply because I’ve learned how to manage my behavior but because God has changed me from the inside. And because I desperately desire to draw others to Jesus by a life that is distinctly bright and whole, because He has made it so.”
Our holiness, then, should draw others to Jesus not cause us to be uppity or snobbish. True holiness is not setting ourselves against or above others as my friend was concerned about. D.L. Moody stated, “A holy life will produce the deepest impression. Lighthouses blow no horns; they only shine.” We should be winsome women, attracting others to us like bees to pollen. Instead of judging, condemning and criticizing unbelievers who, incidentally, cannot be held accountable to live godly lives, we should live and love in such a way that they are drawn to the Savior.
As we are holy and wear clothes that reflect who we are in Christ, may those around us find love and grace.  May we be the kind of women who walk alongside those who are desperate, depressed and downtrodden. And, may we never portray ourselves as snooty or snobby or stuck up, but rather saved by His grace, made holy only because of Jesus.
Go light your world!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Friday Feast

Heredity plays a huge factor in determining physical appearance and personality. Our parents generously give us certain traits whether or not we want them. Nice of them to do that. And, they sometimes overlook one child and give wonderful gifts to another in the family. Nice of them to do that. For example, my sister received artistic gifts from my dad; I did not. In fact, I have zero craft abilities, thank you very much. On the other hand, my father neglected to give my brother any of his 6’3” height. There went the basketball career my brother thought he’d have. My mother gave me the ability (not the desire, alas) to cook; it skipped my sister. Thank goodness her husband cooks, so they don’t starve. But, what about those abilities, those gifts with which we are blessed that come from out of the blue? Like couponing!
For as long as I can remember, I’ve cut, sorted and saved with coupons. I don’t recall my mother ever saving coupons. I’m an anomaly.  Lately, however, I’ve taken couponing to a new level.  While I wouldn’t call myself extreme, I am an official binder carrying coupon machine. I purchase 4 papers each Sunday. I not only cut coupons, but I also download and print them.  Then, I organize them into currency sleeves divided into separate tabs, such as “food”, “medicine”, “personal care”, “laundry and cleaning”, “makeup”. I sort the food coupons to correspond with the aisles at Kroger, my favorite grocery store. When they rearranged the entire store a few months ago, I nearly had a heart attack. Suddenly I found myself flipping binder pages back and forth like Willow Smith in her popular song. It was a chaotic mess for weeks.
Thankfully, fresh meat doesn’t travel around the store; otherwise I would have participated in a chicken scavenger hunt. These fabulous chicken enchiladas are too delicious to miss. A friend made this recently, and my children raved about it. You can make it as mild or spicy as you like depending on the tastes of those in your family.
Chicken Enchiladas
8-10 tortillas
3-4 cooked chicken breasts
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of chicken soup
Chopped jalapeños to taste (or mild green chilies)
½ c. sour cream
1 c. chicken broth
2 c. cheddar cheese (I use cheddar-jack or Mexican)

Mix sour cream, soups, jalapeños, and chicken broth. (Consistency should be spreadable but not runny.) In each tortilla, put shredded chicken and ¼ to ½ c. soup mixture. Roll. Place tortillas side by side in 9x13 greased pan. Cover with remaining soup mixture. Sprinkle cheese on top. Bake 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until heated through.  (Side note: I heat tortillas up for about 20 seconds in the microwave so they are easier to roll.)


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pinching Myself

I remember the first time I set eyes upon my future husband and told my sister-in-law, “All right, set it up.” Admittedly, his good looks were quite appealing. She then talked to his sister-in-law who conversed with said hunky guy who agreed to meet. A chance? I think not. I prefer to believe God orchestrated and opened doors for the two of us to experience the beauty of redeemed love. After all, it had to be God because the picture I sent of me over the internet didn’t exactly portray me as a ravishing beauty. It was the only one I could scrounge up at the time, however.  
We agreed to meet after church the next week. My two kids in tow, all of us (my brother’s family too) found a place to eat and get acquainted. I figured if this guy survived watching my son, Nick, drip catsup all over his mouth, fingers and shirt, he may be a keeper. The next week dragged by slower than congress takes to pass a bill, and by the end of it, I reasoned he wouldn’t call—certain the little buggers had scared him off. Oh well, I thought. Not meant to be.
Hindsight is 20/20 they say. I’ve since discovered that this hunk of mine is as spontaneous and unpredictable as a squirrel darting across the street. Thinking this relationship had started and stopped like a 100 meter dash, I gave up hope. Then—he called to meet for dinner—that night. He had trekked the hour and a half south to his mom’s house assuming I had no plans. No forewarning. No forethought. No midweek phone call. Did I mention that I have kids? Single men without kids can be spontaneous; single moms with kids don’t have the luxury! They plan, prepare and phone babysitters—a week ahead of time. Desperate not to let this opportunity escape, I scrambled and sucked my sister into taking the munchkins. Spontaneity worked this time, but in my opinion, this happy-go-lucky dude had a lot to learn.
Thus began a budding, beautiful relationship between a free-spirited hunk and methodic planner with two children. Fast forward almost a year later and this shoot-from-the-hip businessman arranged an unforgettable night. Several couples planned a dinner out in Seattle culminating with an Amy Grant Christmas concert. My impulsive man would take the ferry over from Bainbridge Island to the restaurant and meet the rest of us. While waiting, my phone rings and he tells me he’s stuck on the other side of the Puget Sound. A bomb threat of all things. He will meet me at the concert. I’m concerned and anxious and feeling desperately awkward eating single at this couples’ night. Time slows to a turtle’s pace. I’m trying to enjoy the company but finding it difficult to concentrate. Where will we meet? What if the stalled ferry prevents him from getting across the water? Worries fill my mind like helium in a balloon.
We walk up to the doors of the event center at the same time, worries a needless waste of time.  We hug, ecstatic to be together. I relax—finally. All is right with my world. Amy Grant’s performance is phenomenal, and my man who narrowly escaped the ferry bomb, sits next to me. During intermission, we pop out of our seats to stretch our legs. Snatched from the jaws of death, Tony leads me to the outer corridor.  It happens. My impetuous, impulsive, impromptu mister pops the question every girl longs to hear. A question that requires thought, intention and sheer guts.
“Annette, will you marry me?”
I pinch myself. It’s real. Tony stands before me, anxiously awaiting my answer. I joke, “I’ll pray about it.”
Mr. Life of the Party remains silent to Miss Perfectionist’s flippant remark, so I quickly blurt out, “Yes, yes, I’ll marry you!”
Eleven and 11/12 years later, I’m still pinching myself!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Feast

Approximately 24 years I ago, I created a cooking disaster of such epic proportions it is forever seared in my memory. And, it’s pretty much prevented me from buying and preparing a whole chicken.
Let me set the stage for you, and inform you right up front that I blame my mom for this episode. She had baked a scrumptious chicken that literally melted in your mouth a few weeks before. Mom said cooking a chicken was as easy as making Pillsbury biscuits—pop them out and pop them in the oven. No problem. I reminisced about that chicken and thought why not? I’ll give it a shot.
I cooked that chicken to death. Pulled it out of the oven a million times, and parts of it weren’t done. It never fell apart, tender little pieces falling off the bone. The meat gripped tightly to the bone as if hanging on for dear life. Finally, it appeared done enough, and I tired of waiting.
 Sitting at the dinner table, we sawed pieces off until the innards slithered onto the plate. Turning ugly Shrek-like shades with stomachs churning, we immediately lost our appetites. Dinner over, I phoned Mom to ask her about this strange phenomenon. She howled while I held the phone away from my ear. I’m sure the people in the next apartment heard her chortling. After the shrieking stopped, I wondered why she neglected to give me such important information about the chicken. And, why in the world wouldn’t the chicken killers take care of this mess before they arrived at my dinner table?
My whole chicken baking days sufficiently in the toilet, I stick to boneless, skinless chicken breast recipes. It’s a safer bet, and I don’t have to worry about unwanted body parts sliding out. One of my all time favorite crockpot chicken recipes is so easy, my 11 year old couldn’t mess it up! With five minutes preparation time, this recipe works well for busy families.

Slow Cooker Chicken Stroganoff

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cubed
1/8 c. margarine
1 package dry Italian-style salad dressing mix
1 package cream cheese
1 can cream of chicken soup

Put chicken, margarine and dressing mix in slow cooker; mix together and cook on low for 5 to 6 hours. Add cream cheese and soup; mix together and cook on high for another ½ hour or until heated through and warm. Serve over hot, cooked egg noodles.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Girl With a Voice

Eleven years ago today, baby Madisen burst into the world like a captain commanding attention from his troops. Not content to serenely slip onto God’s green earth in a normal fashion, she sent nurses and doctors scrambling to prepare for an emergency C-section on her behalf. She’s marched to the beat of dramatic flare and adventuresome spirit ever since.

I suppose it’s only fitting that in 2001, her birth year, the name Madisen with its various spellings sat at the top of the charts, right where our own Maddie reigns. Just like Daryl Hannah’s movie name from “Splash” we pulled her name directly off a Bainbridge Island street sign. Her name derives from English origin and means “Son of Matthew” even though she’s the “Daughter of Tony.” We appropriately nickname her “Mad Dog”, “Mad Girl” or just plain “Mad” for the years of fit-throwing in Target, Kroger, friends’ houses, restaurants and church. It’s obvious the pinch of Irish O’Connor blood trickling through her veins overpowers the 1/8 teaspoon of calm, cool English blood.  
With two siblings quite a bit older than she, Maddie matured more quickly in the ways of the world than her friends. In many respects, this maturity paired with her magnetic, outgoing personality serves her well. On the one hand, she speaks before she thinks, forgets to filter her words and tender her tone. Yet, she courageously rescues those being bullied and speaks up on behalf of those too timid to fight for themselves. Maddie pontificates her point of view without fear and will argue a topic to death.
One day at school, Maddie fought with another boy about the Big Bang Theory versus creation. Her voice rose as she related the story to me. “Mom, he kept saying “big bang” to me under his breath over and over again. He made me so mad!”
I assured her that he was achieving his intended effect on her—making her mad. “He’s just trying to get your goat. Ignore him, and he’ll stop.” My advice was like telling a cat to stop chasing mice.
In first grade, Maddie kicked another little boy because he wouldn’t stop following her. Second grade she punched a boy in the face on the bus because he pestered her one too many times. Third grade, when an older girl bullied her on the bus, Maddie be-bopped down the bus steps straight into the principal’s office to report the incident. When I asked her if she was scared, she stated, “No, mom, that girl was crying in Mr. Richardson’s office.”
Maddie is not afraid to voice her opinion yet fearful regarding performances of any kind. A girl who loves to be the center of attention, make people laugh and tell jokes, she loathes being the lone person on stage performing. Piano recitals unnerve her; gymnastics meets make her anxious; singing in front of an audience petrifies her. Maddie desires to control the situation—how, when, where she draws attention. When she’s forced to perform, she doesn’t feel in control.
Still, she is a social butterfly to the nth degree. When school begins each fall, Maddie detoxes for a minimum of three weeks from the summer season of fun, friends and furlough. Forgetting that summer is over, she views school as an extension of her social season—until the teacher clamps down on her chatting. For a girl who epitomizes the word “fun”, school is utter drudgery. For approximately 7 hours, she must listen, learn and lock her lips. Difficult to do for a girl who’s wiggled like a worm since her birth weight, 6 pounds, 13 ounces.  For this reason, recess remains her favorite time of day when she is released from desk and task to fun and freedom.
Expressive, exuberant and energetic characterizes this bundle of joy. Spreading happiness wherever she goes, Maddie gabs with old and young alike. She doesn’t know a stranger, communicating with maturity well beyond most teens. Her greatest struggle, self-control, surfaces often in her daily life—in speech and behavior. Still, she loves God deeply and desperately desires to please Him. I see this love in her journal writing, her questions and conversations.
I pray that she becomes a strong young woman of faith, not ashamed of the gospel, proud of the girl God created her to be—a girl with a loud voice and a principled point of view.  

Friday, February 3, 2012

Friday Feast

The first meal I cooked for my parents is forever etched in my memory like words on a locket. A novice at cooking in my younger years, I probably should have begun with something simple like Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup; however, I chose beef stew. Gathering all the ingredients, I chop, cut and cook. The recipe calls for a clove of garlic. For the first time ever, I purchase garlic. Fast forward a few hours later when we are seated around the table preparing to sip our stew. Mom lifts her spoon out of the bowl and looks stunned at the contents.
“Ummm, how much garlic did you put in this stew?” she asks.
“A clove. That’s what the recipe asked for,” I respond.
“But you put the whole thing in!”
“Well, that’s what it asked for,” I repeat, not grasping her meaning.
She proceeds to explain the difference between a clove and cloves of garlic and that one should actually peel the outer layer off a clove, chop or mince it and then add it to the recipe. Well, excuse me. How was I to know the finer details of handling garlic? I missed Cooking 101 because my nose was planted in school books not recipe books. Besides, I don’t recall my mother using garlic at all, ever. Maybe she did, but I occupied myself with boys and books, not necessarily in that order.
Fortunately, I’ve learned a bit about garlic and love to use a lot of it, properly! White Chili recipes are as plentiful as sand on a beach, but our family loves this one particularly. Because the slow cooker makes meal preparing easy, I use it as often as possible. It certainly eliminates the hurry and scurry of trying to prepare a meal in between nightly activities and sports. Just a little effort in the morning and 6 hours later, a tasty dish is ready to eat!
White Chili
2 T. butter
2 lbs. boneless chicken, chopped
2 medium onions
1 large can chicken broth
8 oz. chopped green chilies
3 c. shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 48-oz. jar Great Northern beans
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 t. cumin
1 t. oregano or Italian Spice mix
¼ t. ground cloves
¼ t. cayenne (optional)

Sauté chicken, onion, spices and garlic in butter until chicken is done. Combine all ingredients, except cheese. Simmer on low 6-8 hours; a crock pot will work well. Stir in cheese to melt just before serving.