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

Friday, March 30, 2012

Feast on Friday

If there is such a thing, I would be labeled a bake-a-holic—especially at Christmas. Just after Thanksgiving each year, I revisit my previous year’s baking list and make adjustments. I begin with about 10-15 types of cookies or candy. My trusty tried and true favorites never leave the list, but cookies or candies that don’t measure up, get voted off and are replaced by recipes I’ve collected throughout the year. I bake and freeze during December and then parcel goodies out to friends and family, saving an assortment to take to holiday parties and our own festivities.
I have baking lists dating back to 2006, which may seem a little crazy except that it allows me to remember what I’ve made in the past and perhaps revive a recipe from the grave if I so desire. The following recipe is a fabulous one for homemade peanut butter cups. While I’m a firm opponent of peanut butter in general, when it’s paired with chocolate it becomes quite dreamy.

Peanut Butter Cups by Rachael Ray

8 oz. milk chocolate, chopped
4 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ c. natural peanut butter
½ c. honey
(Hint: Use baking liners to form a chocolate shell. Swirl or paint the liquefied chocolate up the walls. Once it sets, fill the shell, then top with more melted chocolate to seal the candy.)

1.      Place 12 – 2 ½ inch baking liners on a baking sheet. Melt the chocolate. Reserve a pot of hot water to keep the chocolate liquid, as necessary. (Since I don’t have a double boiler, I follow the directions on the package to microwave.)
2.      Place about 2 teaspoons of the melted chocolate in a baking cup, swirling to coat about halfway up the side of the cup. Repeat with the remaining cups. Refrigerate until set.
3.      Using an electric mixer, beat the butter until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the peanut butter and honey. Transfer the mixture to a resealable plastic bag and snip off one corner.
4.      Fill the chocolate cups about ¾ full with the peanut butter mixture, smoothing the surface. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
5.     Top each peanut butter cup with melted chocolate to enclose, smoothing the surface. Refrigerate until hardened. To serve, remove the candies from the baking liners. (Keep stored in refrigerator.)

While this is an easy recipe to follow, it is a tad time-consuming because of all the refrigeration in between steps. You won’t be sorry if you take the time!!


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Longing for Spring

“Spring has sprung, the grass has riz’; see where all the pretty flowers iz”
I’m not quite sure where this quote originates, but my husband claims his father spouted this catchy phrase each year. And, though we barely had a winter in this place where snow days usually stack up like bills in the mailbox, I still look longingly for spring. In early March signs began blaring its return, daffodils waving in the early morning sun, trees bursting with blossoms, and the bluebird whacking its beak against my window pane attempting to destroy the bird in his reflection. Poor guy! He pings and pounds because he’s protecting the birdhouse for the female to lay her eggs. He must have a massive migraine.
Spring emerges with new life and brings hope to the world. Nature announces its arrival. Birds sing, dead-like weeping willow sticks flesh green, and evergreens spray fresh scent. My senses, dulled by the brown and gray of winter, awaken to bright splashes of yellow, green, purple and pink.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” (Proverbs 13:12)
In a purely seasonal sense, I’ve been sick all winter, longing for the renewal of life that comes with spring. Each year, I watch what looks dead sprout green and bloom color. The tangible signs of spring spark a sensation in my soul that someday my eternal longings will be fulfilled. 

Though I enjoy the earthly blessings God has given me—marriage, children, friendships, ministry—desires deep down lay dormant, waiting for what only heaven can offer.

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.”
(1 Corinthians 15:9)

In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”  As a child, I remember anticipating exciting events—vacations, play dates, grandma’s visits—and then it was over all too soon. The buildup to the event was often times more thrilling than the actual occasion. When the trip concluded, my friend returned home and grandma travelled back to California, I felt letdown. For all these experiences promised to be, my expectations weren’t met—my longings for more unquenched.  

Because “God has set eternity in the hearts of men” (Eccl. 3:11), no earthly encounter will fulfill us. God designed it that way—that we long for Him, fill up with Him, hope in Him. Even chocolate, albeit extremely satisfying, is simply a substitute!  I love C.S. Lewis’ words regarding our longings realized.

“Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it {longings}, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.”

So, while I revel in earthly blessings, like the beauty of spring, lunch with precious friends, time with my family, I realize that God has created me for more. My mind can’t begin to grasp anything more beautiful than blooming tulips, cascading waterfalls and snow-capped mountains. What God has planned in the life beyond is just a shadow of all that I experience here. And frankly, some of these occurences, like sickness, pain and death, I can live without! Yet, even all the goodness here can’t trump what God has in store there.

Until that time when God meets all of our longings, we wait for spring. Life may look bleak, but as sure as the sun rises every day, just below the soil, new green is getting ready to push up out of the ground. It’s patiently waiting for the right time. We keep hoping as we scan for that first shoot of green forcing its way to the light. The flower gains strength under the sun’s warmth as do we. Let us bask in the light of the Son.

“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Blonde With Beauty and Brains

She looked just like an American Indian baby with spiky jet black hair. If I hadn’t just watched her come out of the birth canal, I might have doubted she was mine. Yet, as the years have progressed, 18 of them today to be exact, she has proven to be exactly my child. With inherited “blond” genetics from her mother and a genuine sweetness straight from her great-grandmother, Alexandra Jae’s traits corroborate her membership in this family.
As a baby, Alix oozed perfection. She slept through the night at five weeks, snoozed until mid-morning and hardly ever squalled—probably because she found her thumb when she was weeks old. Alix radiated contentment with each stage of life. Satisfied with crawling and being carried until 15 months old, she wasn’t in a hurry to walk or run anywhere. She’d rather nurse than drink formula from a bottle and transferred straight to a cup when she was a year old.
Despite her angelic infancy, Alix could be as stubborn as a mule. She refused baby food, thumbed her nose at the bottle and rejected walking until she chose to! If she set her mind on something, no amount of persuasion, prodding or poking could get her to budge. When Alix was five, Tony attempted to help her put tights on for church. She collapsed onto the floor, crying, absolutely refusing assistance. She would do it herself! As a toddler and young elementary student, Alix snubbed strangers, relying on her big brother, Nick, to carry the conversation.
Stranger: “Hi, what’s your name?”
Alix sticks her thumb in her mouth and looks up at Nick.
Nick: “Her name is Alix.”
Stranger: “How old are you?”
Alix voraciously sucks, still gazing at Nick.
Nick: “She’s 4.”
Alix warmed up to people like a slow cooker. Nick spoke for her, like Aaron for Moses. Quiet natured, Alix is still challenged to find her voice. She slinks into a room and is content to listen rather than speak. With others around who monopolize the conversation, Alix becomes as invisible as Casper the Ghost. Still, when she opens her mouth, she can be as loud as a magpie. With a voice that can carry across the Atlantic, Alix would get shushed often as a child. Her Uncle Steve used to fondly say, “Indoor blood-curdling scream, Alix”—until his child’s voice proved to carry across two oceans. When Alix’ giggles, the whole world hears. Her belly laugh is an ocean wave catching you by surprise, carrying your body with the force of its power.
More self-disciplined than a squirrel gathering nuts for the winter, Alix learned to read completely on her own. Honestly, I can take no credit. While Nick demanded my attention, Alix settled in her room, reading books to her imaginary classroom. Her goal was to read as fast and furiously as possible—comprehension optional. This is the climate in which she developed her own language, “Alix-ese,” conversation in which she speaks so quickly, no one understands her. When Alix learned to write her letters and numbers, she scripted carefully. Anything not inscribed to her satisfaction was immediately erased and re-written. Completing school projects two or three weeks ahead of time were typical feats for her. She was inwardly motivated to achieve this unless I told her she needed to work on her project. Then, her stubbornness would kick in! Alix executed on her terms.
Blonde in beauty and brains, she occasionally reveals her naivety. Years ago, I was driving a bunch of her friends home from her 10th birthday party. I was about to miss the turn, quickly slammed on the brakes and swung onto the street. All commented about my swift abilities.
When I said, “Well, I used to be a race car driver,” all of Alix’ friends oohed and ahhed.
Then, Alix asked, “Really? You used to be a race car driver?”

I cracked up, “No, I’m just joking!”
When we were planning for Nick’s graduation party, we mentioned needing to pick up some 6-foot tables from a friend. She responded, “6-foot tables? How will we see over them?!” Alix has given us more opportunities to laugh than the throng of people present for the changing of the guard. Yet, she’s a good sport, and secretly, I believe she enjoys her knack at being “blonde.”
The meaning of Alix’ name, “Helper of Mankind,” is more foretelling than any of us could have realized at birth. For, she is truly a helper in every sense of the word. She exudes an attitude of helpfulness and agreeableness, performing duties without complaint. She loves to listen to friends who are struggling and will only offer advice if they desire it. Not an overly emotional person, Alix sheds tears infrequently—when she’s in trouble or her friends are suffering. Because of her compassion for others, she plans to become a nurse—a true “Helper of Mankind.”
This sweet little girl is all grown up and ready to spread her wings. At eighteen, she exhibits so many qualities I admire: loyalty, perseverance, self-discipline, quiet spirit, contentment and peacefulness. I am so blessed that God chose me to be her mother, and I pray that she experience all the wonderful plans God has for her.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Called to Bless

No action may be as difficult as forgiving someone for pain inflicted. Whether the hurt comes from my own bad decisions or is the result of another’s poor decisions, forgiveness is challenging. The concept of “granting pardon for” or “ceasing to feel resentment against” or “cancelling the indebtedness of” rubs against my human nature. I’d rather the dirty, rotten scoundrel who twist the knife in my heart receive his or her just desserts—like a one way ticket to Siberia. Yet, God calls me to live counter to the culture and instead, return blessing for cursing, good for evil. Easy to spout; impossible to practice.
About 14 years ago, a woman broke my trust and caused devastating destruction in my life. Her actions caused the first domino to collapse in the subsequent trail of many. Though not entirely her fault, she inflicted wounds that pierced my heart like shards of glass. One day she simply showed up at my office wanting to talk. Stomach churning, I followed her out the door. We sat in her car while she explained—as if her words could in any fathomable way put a balm on the betrayal. Not a chance. Still, I knew the words I needed to speak, the words Jesus used when he faced his betrayers.
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
She didn’t ask for forgiveness that I recall, but I offered it. I gave it away because forgiveness is “for-giving.” The words ruminating in my head for weeks prior were, “But if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14) The Greek root word of “forgive” is “charis,” meaning “grace.” Because God graced me, I am commanded to extend that same grace to those who wrong me—even if they don’t ask to be forgiven.
Kelly Minter, author of The Fitting Room states, “Forgiveness is looking in the face of what our offenders have done, recognizing their wound for all that it is, and then choosing to forgive. Still. It has nothing to do with denying the wrong of those who hurt us but has everything to do with changing our hearts toward them:  No more offering up every ounce of our unoccupied thinking space for dreaming about their demise.” Bummer. I guess that one way ticket to Siberia is out of the question.
Forgiveness is not a feeling; it’s a choice. If I waited for warm, fuzzy feelings to accompany forgiveness, I’d still have a pile of grudges as high as the stack of clothes on my daughter’s bedroom floor. The action precedes the feeling. In all actuality, the feeling to forgive may never appear.
Forgiveness is a process. Just when I think I have forgiveness licked, some new event re-opens old wounds forcing me to re-examine my heart. And just for the record, the old adage, “Time heals all wounds” is grossly untrue. I’ve encountered plenty of people who have allowed bitterness to fester and grow like poison ivy. As they rehearse and regurgitate all the wrongs committed against them, they spew their toxin, infecting those around them with their poisonous words. Rather than recognizing the gigantic log in their eyes, they’ve pinpointed the microscopic speck in their offender’s eyes. The reality is God heals us, not time, but in time, He will heal us if we allow Him access to our hearts. For, the more our hearts soak in His lavish grace, the more we realize how desperately lost we are without it. Being stingy with grace causes a ripple effect as we realize unforgiveness costs our peace. “For if we haven’t received God’s forgiveness, we are weighed down by guilt and fear, and if we haven’t extended it, we are assaulted with anger and the agonizing need to get even.” (Kelly Minter)   
Forgiveness is not forgetting, but it is letting the offender off of my hook and letting God take care of it. “Forgiveness is about placing the wrongs against us, not back in the hands of our enemies, but in the hands of God…Forgiveness means laying down our sword of vengeance. Even praying God’s blessing upon the person who hurt us can be one of the most powerful balms to our souls.” (Kelly Minter)
Jesus said, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:28)
The word “bless” literally means “to speak well of.” So, let me get this straight. I am supposed to speak well of those who wish evil against me? But I don’t want God to bless them! Not today anyway. Occasionally, when I’m in a particularly magnanimous mood, I can pray this way. When I feel generous and a bit good-natured, I send blessings. However, as I read this passage, it hits me square between the eyes. Jesus doesn’t say, “When you feel charitable, bless those who mistreat you.”  Like the Nike slogan, He says, “Just Do It!”
If the first part of the verse isn’t challenging enough, I’m supposed to pray for those who insult me, treat me abusively, use me despitefully, revile me, accuse me falsely and threaten me. That’s a command way above my pay grade. In my human frailty, I can’t possibly achieve this. And honestly, I don’t even want to! Still, I know that as a follower of Jesus, I can’t pick and choose which of His words to obey. So, I pray for the want to—to want to. I realize my example is One who committed no sin, yet was betrayed, abused and broken. I offended Him and still He died for me. How can I opt out of blessing those who curse me, when I myself have cursed Him in my words and actions?
As I rely on His help to accomplish this great task, of returning blessing for cursing, praying for abusing, God promises that I will inherit a blessing.
“Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:9)
The act of blessing yields blessing, and who doesn’t desire that? The act of blessing not only changes me but opens up my heart to desire good for my enemy. At least, that’s what I’m hoping for because frankly, I’m not quite there yet.
Care to step into that realm of blessing for cursing together? If so, do this exercise with me:
“Father, I forgive _________________ for ________________. I pray that you bless ____________’s life. Help me to genuinely desire good things for _____________ and to “do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” (Romans 12:13) May I choose to extend grace even when that is not what I receive in return. Change my heart, O God and help me to see _______________ through your lens.”