Thursday, February 28, 2013

Unaccepted Apologies = Unhappiness {Lent Day #16}

She emailed me in her grief and asked if I'd pray.  She had said things not intended for certain ears, but those ears eventually heard and they were hurt.  So hurt and angry that they refused to forgive.  My friend tried several ways of reaching out and admitting her fault and expressing sorrow for what she'd said, but her efforts were refused, balked at even.  An olive branch of a package was even sent, and my friend is hoping it will soften a heart and restore a friendship, but she was feeling hopeless about the outcome when she wrote.

My friend is not happy.  She is deeply grieved over what she has done and doubly grieved by the unaccepted apology.

It made me think of this:

How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!
How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!
Psalm 32:1-2

Exclamation points! Happy!  That's what "blessed" means.  That's the English translation of the Hebrew word "esher."  I thought I had learned that somewhere before, and I thank Blue Letter Bible for confirming it today.

HAPPY is the person who has been forgiven!  SAD is the person whose sins are held against them {or whose sins are never mentioned...but that truth comes later in the Psalm}.  That's just how our hearts work, because His law is written on them. Thankfully Christ has made provision for the unhappy state of our hearts by offering forgiveness at the Cross ~ especially when people do not.

Lord, I'm sorry today for...

my negative attitude
my grabbing at control
my thinking I can control things better than You
my lack of trust
my refusal to think on Truth
my excessive focus on self
my reluctance to serve
my working against my husband rather than for and with him at times
my sometimes cold heart toward Your church and Your people
my squelching of Your Spirit
my unwillingness to do the hard work of forgiveness {when You give it so abundantly...}
my always wanting more
my lack of compassion and grace
my lack of gratitude
my worry, my pride, my judgments
my withholding of relationship
my questioning of Your love and Your good plan
my resisting the call to motherhood and homeschooling
my gossip, slander, disdain...

Thank you for not leaving me in the unhappy state of guilt and sadness that these things lead to.  Your grace and forgiveness make provision for a free and happy heart.  I've taken that truth for granted, and I'm sorry.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Amputation, huh? {Lent Day #15}

I'm not sure how Martin Luther did it, confessing his sins daily and sometimes for hours on end.  I read recently that he just about drove his Father Confessor insane with his "excessive" confessions. He was accused of  trying to avoid work and studies by staying in the confessional, but that wasn't the case.  He was only and sincerely in earnest regarding the practice of confession.

Unfortunately, I can not always relate to the devotion of my brother Martin. Some days it just seems difficult to enter into a time of confession before God.  Is this really necessary?  Have I really sinned since yesterday this time?  Was it really that bad?

Actually, those aren't very good questions to be asking, but those are the ones that were coming to mind today.  So, I turned my dilemma and reluctance into a prayer...

Why can't I see my sin more clearly, Lord?

Why am I not feeling an appreciation or deep need for Your Cross today?

How do I follow through with the command to confess, when I'm numb to my need?

What should I do on days like this, Lord?

And what He seemed to be saying in response was..."Have faith.  Take Me at My Word."

And what His Word says in regard to sin and my ability to stand before Him without the Cross of Christ is... a lot!  But these were the verses that came to mind:

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned...
Romans 5:12

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
I Corinthians 15:22

And then that phrase "made alive" reminded me of a book by John Piper that I started reading a while ago called Finally Alive.  In it, he gives a helpful illustration...

"Most people do not know what is really wrong with them.  One way to help them make a true and terrible and hopeful diagnosis is to show them the kid of remedy God has provided, namely, the new birth.  If you have a sore on your ankle and after the doctor does his test, he comes in and says, 'I have hard news: We have to take your leg off just below the knee,' then that remedy tells you more about the sore than any erudite medical words. So it is with the remedy 'You must be born again.' " {p. 20}
My dad didn't need to have his leg amputated, thankfully.  But he has required two knee replacements!

 So today, by faith, I choose to remember that I was dead in my sins before His death made me alive.  By faith I am sobered that the remedy for my condition required His brutal death.  Even though acknowledging this may be a stretch for me today, I choose {by faith} to call to mind that my sin was not just a tiny sore, but an infectious disease requiring radical amputation and regeneration.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Only God Can Do This Stuff {Lent Day #14}

Yesterday Robert urged me to sit awhile and reflect on the Lord's goodness to me over the weekend.  "Otherwise your heart will grow hard," he said.

He told me that he does it every Monday ~ reflect on all that the Lord did on a Sunday.  All of the conversations, the responses, the encouraging words, the coming coffee dates to discuss how the message has impacted someone, the lit up eyes and faces, the obvious worship that was going on, the afternoon meetings ~ all of it.

"Don't just keep plowing through your week.  Take some time to take it all in and thank Him," he strongly exhorted.

I planned to do it.  I looked forward to it greatly in my exhaustion.  But it didn't happen.  The day was taken by unforeseen events and then it was over. And there may or may not have been some tears and some indulging in M&M's over this...

But today is another day, and my confession today will be that ONLY GOD could have orchestrated the way things played out over the weekend.  I confess that He alone is sovereign and good.

It was time for me to get up and give the last of four talks at a weekend women's retreat.  Surely they are so tired of hearing me speak, Lord, I had thought as I prayed for the time.  I know that I am tired of hearing me speak!

One of the retreat coordinators came to me and told me that a woman would be giving her testimony right before I gave the final talk.  This was an unexpected turn and SHE was unexpected candidate.  Surely she's not going to give THAT testimony, my mind began to race. It's so vulnerable and risky for her to do that here, I thought.  She's probably just going to pick another way the Lord has worked in her life through another situation and not THIS one.

And then my mind swirled with what I was about to approach the podium and say.  The fourth talk in a weekend series about how to cooperate with the Lord in the "turns" and seasons of sanctification.  We'd already covered the "turns" of normal, faithful living, of crisis, fear, and desperation, and of blessing and answered prayer.  Now we were going to look at a "turn" of restoration and remembrance..."In seasons of restoration and remembrance, we should be eager to give authentic testimony of God's goodness and redemption in our lives."

I'm sure it will be a great testimony, but certainly she won't be THAT authentic today. Not here.

And then she walked to the microphone and behind the music stand and she gave THAT testimony.  The one that has caused the most heartache and pain, loss of friends, persecution, and almost her marriage.  She admitted her own fault and her failure to relate to the Lord "vertically" rather than "horizontally." She feigned no piety. She was broken before us, and yet healed and strengthened, her Lord.

Stunned by her courage and vulnerability, I was in tears.  She had no idea what I was about to speak about.  No one did. It was orchestrated by none but the Lord. When she finished I thought maybe I should just walk to the mic and say "Amen."  What else needed to be said?

When I got to the podium I could see that the whole crowd was in tears. I prayed through my tears before I spoke, and thanked her for so bravely illustrating what I was about to teach.

Only God knew and it was a beautiful surprise to ALL of us.

Come, and hear, all who fear God, and I will tell you of what He has done for my soul.
Psalm 66: 16

I will speak your testimonies before kings and shall not be ashamed.
Psalm 119: 46

It was a turn of events from the Lord, that He might establish His Word.
I Kings 12:15

I've sat and I've reflected and I've written it all down.  Only He is God.  Only He is good.  And every "turn" is intended to "establish His Word."

Monday, February 25, 2013

Morose Mood = M&M's {Lent Day #13}

I really wish I could come up with something better, more mature, and deeply spiritual to post for my daily Lenten confession endeavor, but this is all I've got today.  It's not your typical Lenten practice.  In fact it's actually the opposite of the fasting and self examination traditionally observed, but it's what I resorted to today ~ eating a third of a bag of leftover Valentine M & M's purchased for Latin drill rewards for my Challenge 1 students.  I'm  hoping they will soothe my sullenness. It was like I was eating popcorn and not candy, and I really even prefer popcorn to candy, but not today.

Lord, I confess I am weak. I want to be loved and served and considered.  I want friendship and fellowship. I don't want to identify with You in the laying down of my life.  I would rather love my life than hate it.  I don't want to take up my Cross.  I don't want to deny myself {hence the M&M's}. I don't know how to pray or to listen or focus on Your Word today, and I've even tried to do those things.  I'm selfish and I'm sad...and I'm sorry.  You are so good and worthy of any sacrifice, but today I'm steamrolled and weary and wanting only what I want.  Thank you for your love and forgiveness in spite of this.  May I delight in each part of knowing and walking with you.  Thank you for the Cross and the coming celebration of your death and resurrection.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Resisting Gifts & Retreat Rejoicing {Lent Day #12}

"My dear," she said after a time, "have you a perfectly distinct, settled view of what Christ is to the human soul?"

"I do not know.  I understand, of course, more or less perfectly that my salvation depends on Him alone; it is His gift."

"But do you see with equal clearness that your sanctification must be as fully His gift as your salvation is?"

"No, I said, after a little thought. "I have had a feeling that He has done His part and now I must do mine."

"My dear," she said with much tenderness and feeling, "then the first thing you have to do is learn Christ."

"But how?"

"On your knees, my child, on your knees!"

~Stepping Heavenward by Elizabeth Prentiss

{So...I know that Lent isn't traditionally practiced on Sundays, but that's okay....}

Lord, forgive me for thinking that "now I must do my part" and then getting worn out in my efforts, not to mention prideful.  I cannot achieve sanctification, just as I could not achieve salvation, but I confess that I've thought and acted as if I could. Forgive me for resisting your gifts and for striving so much ~  as if working for them would make me worthy.

"Therefore, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and the perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."
Hebrews 12: 1-2

The weekend was so wonderful, and as usual, I came away feeling as if the greatest gifts and blessings were given TO me rather than coming from me.  Maybe I can share more about that soon.  I'm really overwhelmed by specific ways the Lord revealed Himself through the women at the retreat and through the order of events and the scriptures and how He wove it all together to reveal His power and grace.  Wow. Just wow.  

{And I love how He wove Hebrews and one of my favorite passages from Stepping Heavenward today.  Just grace upon grace...}

Joyful tonight....and sleepy.  Good night.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Wonderful Weariness {Lent Day #11}

"Hardship after hardship is with me..." is what Job said in the aftermath of losing just about everything he had from his property, to this servants, to his livestock, to his health, and to his very own sons and daughters.  Now, that's true hardship.  And it was one after the other after the other.  What else could he have said?

I have never even been close to that kind of hardship, but there are some folks around me and dear to me who are very close to that sort of hardship right now. My so-called "hardships" of a life in constant motion are nothing in comparison, and still "I'm worn" as the song says, "life just won't let up." 

But Lord, I confess that my expectations are way off and so are my desires.  You've given me so much. You've filled every part of my life with abundance and blessing and joy and health, but it's never enough, and my complaints come far too easy.  Forgive my grumbling and complaints.  Forgive the attitude that my life should be...ought to be...any day will be....easier, better.  It's unrealistic and ungrateful. And my life is so good.  I know that's your grace.

Today, I am at a women's retreat ~ as the guest speaker ~ for four main sessions. I'm speaking on the "turns" of life {see 1 Kings 12:15} and the sanctification process.  I'm exhorting women to not only face their "turns," but embrace them as directly from the Lord and for the distinct purpose of making them more like Him, giving them hope and joy in Him, though the turns often feel like hardships.  This is a humbling privilege.

And though I'm feeling worn as I write, feeling it "before the day even begins," from the pace of a rich and full life, I'm trusting the Lord to strengthen me to embrace life's "turns" and be used by Him in the process.  Pray for me today of you think of it ~ and for all of the women in attendance to be built up in their faith.

Yes, I'm worn, but it's the wonderful kind of worn.

P.S.  Thanks, sis, for telling me about this song and for wanting rest for me.  Praying for you to embrace the turns that are coming, so that you can then look back and see His beautiful plan for you.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Gluten Free Friday ~ Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Bars {Lent Day #10}

The confession I need to make today is that I told my sister I would send her this recipe a few days ago, and I didn't do it.  Sorry, Melinda!  But here it is, and hopefully still in time for your craving or occasion.  We had this on Christmas morning when my Texas and California family was here visiting.  We actually make it quite a bit around here.  It's great for breakfast and perfect for snacks.  I'm pretty sure it originated with my friend, Aimee, and has now become a staple in the homes of all of my friends.  Mine is tweaked a bit to accommodate the lack of gluten = more eggs and oil ~ and even xanthan gum if you've got it!

I don't have a very good picture, but here's one of the bars in the re-usable wraps and bags we've been making around here!

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Bars

2 cups GF flour mix
4 cups GF oats {regular or quick both work fine}
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup ground flax meal
1 1/4 cup canola oil
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup milk
1 12 oz. pkg. chocolate chips
1 tsp xanthan gum {this is really optional, but when I have it, I use it}

Blend sugar into oil.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Sift dry ingredients together; add to batter along with milk.  Stir in chocolate chips and spread into a greased jelly-roll pan, cookie sheet, or 9x13 baking dish.

I'm leaving this evening to speak at a women's retreat at a nearby conference center for women from churches in the surrounding areas.  I would be so happy if you prayed for me and for the women who will attend!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wounding Words {Lent Day #9}

The sad thing is that I didn't think I was capable of this.  Speaking words that wound.  Growing up, I was on the receiving end of a lot of wounding words, harsh, sarcastic tones, raised voices, and unbridled criticism.  It was painful then, and the the memories can still produce grief.  I would never do that to anyone I loved, I thought. But here are some things I find myself having to say frequently and sadly, reluctantly...

"I'm sorry I got angry when we were talking about..." {insert either important or silly, non-crucial issue}

"I'm sorry I raised my voice. Mom's are not supposed to do that."

"I know it hurt you when I said..."

"I'm sorry I talked about that person {that you are required to submit to, reach out to, minister to...} in a negative way..."

Or it's sometimes like this...

"I'm sorry I did not talk to you about...{any difficult situation}...I should have done that."

Or it could be that I just don't speak at all, withholding words of blessing, encouragement, praise, affection, friendly questions, and prayer with and for others.  Why do I do that?  Because with my spoken and unspoken words I cling for power and praise, respect for myself and the control of others.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. 
Ephesians 4: 29

When I read that this morning, it made me think of two others:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.
Proverbs 18:21

{and I like how it's "worded" in the Message: Words kill, words give life; they're either poison or fruit ~ you choose.}


There is one who speaks rashly, like the thrusts of the sword {ouch!}, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Proverbs 12: 18

There are HUNDREDS more verses than that regarding words and the tongue.  During my college days, I was challenged to the task of looking up and writing out all of the verses in the Bible that mention the tongue or words.  Whoa.  It's frightening, really.  A near impossible standard that I'm wrestling with even this week.

Lord, I confess my hurtful words and tone, my un-helpful, non-grace-giving words ~ words that are in order to build myself up and put another down.  Forgive me and my lack of control in speaking.  You often strengthen me to forsake hurtful words and even to speak words of truth and grace, but still I regularly choose against your exhortation to either remain silent or to speak encouragement to others. These are things that required your death on my behalf.  Thank you for forgiveness as well as transformation.  Give me a tongue that speaks selfless healing as well as praise to others and to you.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Imperfect Patterns {Lent Day #8}

 "Something has gone terribly wrong.  And everyone knows it."  is how the chapter on the Fall opens in the book Doctrine by Driscoll and Breshears. The last few days around here have proven it over and over, and I'm not talking about the frustrations inherent in every sewing project, but they are a good illustration!  Just look at what happened to Mary's bobbin over and over during our Saturday girls' sewing day until we diagnosed the problem:
On Monday we learned that the young brother of a church member is fighting for his life due to sudden complications from pneumonia.  He had just not been feeling well for a few days, and now this.  Yesterday we learned that friends had lost their oldest son, a senior at UMass, to possible suicide.  This is the second friend of mine to lose a son to suicide in the last year. Last week we sent Valentine flowers to a young woman whose husband has chosen to divorce her even though she doesn't want him to. Kayla came down with a fever and aches again last night after a full day at Classical Conversations ~ her 4th round of fever, aches, flu, etc since the summer. And today a friend and I shared Starbucks coffee and stories of the battles and disappointments that go hand in hand with parenting, and our often sinful reactions of anger and harsh words.  Yes, everyone knows that things are not as they should be.  There are reminders everywhere.
While we pinned and cut and pinned and cut some more, I kept reminding the girls how important precision is each step of the way. The pajama pattern we were using is actually quite forgiving, unlike a tailored shirt or dress, but lining things up as perfectly as possible along the way ensures less frustration at the end.  Even then, the finished product often does not quite measure up to your hopeful expectation.

It got me thinking about sin, and confession, and this season of considering my imperfections, my depravity. Ever since Adam and Eve's sin in the garden, the pattern for humanity and creation has been imperfect ~ pervasively so.  It's not necessarily that my sin is only the "bad stuff" I do, but rather it pervades {spread through and perceived in every part} my entire being, the entire order of the natural world. All is marred and imperfect ~ my thoughts, my motives, my actions, my desires...everything. It's the reason for sickness, and suicide, angry outbursts, divorce, and all other disasters and tragedies.
And knowledge of this is what ought to make the Cross and salvation so glorious to me.  Jesus pays for my imperfections and rebellion, and then He even makes something good of me by and through Himself.  He takes my imperfectly cut pattern and fabrics and sews together something useful and beautiful in His grace.
Thankful for reminders of this beautiful truth everywhere ~ even in flannel pjs made together with friends!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Hopeless, Ashamed, Yet Brought Near {Lent Day #7}

The tears were coming so easily yesterday and this morning ~ tears of joy and tears of fatigue and frustration.  My friends got to meet their sweet son soon after his birth mother gave birth, and the pictures that followed were just so beautiful.  In the midst of all of that joy, there was also the stress of preparing to teach, buy groceries two days before pay day, shepherd teens in their various activities and needs, and just physical weariness.  I sent the oldest out the door early this morning for a Young Life ski trip, and as he left I couldn't hold back the tears of realization that he'll be gone next year, and of how much I will miss him.

And my temptation is to plow through the early morning hours accomplishing the long list of urgent chores, but I sit and read and this these verses strike me.  They also bring to mind things discussed yesterday over lunch with a young woman from my church.  She wondered about her motives in living out faith and serving in various ways, whether they were out of a sincere love for Christ, and whether she should be doing them if not.

"...remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who were formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ."
Ephesians 2: 12-13

Lord, thank you for drawing me near to You in Jesus. I was a stranger and without hope and You brought me near through His blood.  Again, I confess taking it lightly and living with the attitude that I deserved it.  I didn't deserve it ~ it was a gift in spite of my lacking of any qualifying characteristics.  Thank you for the gift of salvation.  Forgive the attending of church, the singing of songs, the leading of Bible study ~ when those activities are all for my own enjoyment and exaltation.  I do love Your Word and worship and ministry, but there is always selfishness mixed in and a desire to gain approval and a circling of friends who like me and make me feel good and useful. Forgive and purify those thoughts and motives. Forgive my hesitations and outright refusals to speak of You because my reputation may be in jeopardy if I do.  And if I really get to the bottom of this, I have to confess being ashamed of You, and not truly loving Your church either.  Just like I was hopeless to save myself, I am also hopeless to have pure love for You and pure motives in serving You without Your grace and transforming work in my life.  Thank you that you give that grace freely!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Adoption Grace {Lent Day #6}

Donwton Abbey had me dumbstruck and up later than I wanted to be last night.  Actually, I sort of knew what was going to happen, because as I Googled around to see when season 4 would start, I ran across some pretty big spoilers, hints of tragedy.  Wasn't one big tragedy enough for one season?

So, I wasn't as eager to get out of bed this morning in the darkness.  The heater was cranking, and I was warm under the covers, which meant that it was really cold outside.  I came downstairs and checked my phone for messages before grabbing my Bible.  I'd missed one from 12:36am:

"She's headed to the hospital!  Checking to see if they will admit her ~ sorry it's late, 
but thanks for praying!"

The message wasn't from a husband telling me of his wife's trip to the hospital.  It was from a young woman, and dear friend, unable to have a child for over a decade, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the son she and her husband have adopted. The biological mother is the acquaintance of a friend from work, and is choosing life over death in ways she will never fully know for this child whom she knew she could not keep and raise herself.  A struggling single mom already, she is doing the best that she can for the two that she already has.

 Quick prayers for the mom in labor, my friend and her husband, and the health and protection of this little baby boy before picking up His Word and reading this:

"...just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.  In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished upon us."
Ephesians 1: 4-8

And I'm not able to be as overwhelmed by this as I ought to be, but I pray through limited understanding anyway.

I had nothing to offer you.  I still don't, and yet You chose and You still choose me to be your daughter.  And oh, how I needed a father and a mother and a family even in the midst of the ones you had given me. I hate to even imagine where I would be, who I would be without your adopting me.  Even the heart that longs to know you is not something that is a credit to me, but a gift from you. Your grace is glorious and full of riches.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Poor in Spirit {Lent Day#5}

by Michael Dudash ~ "He Shall Hear My Voice"

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:3

Reading and praying over what Robert will preach on this morning ~ Matthew 4:18-25 ~ the calling of the disciples.  I read on and into the Sermon on the Mount in chapter 5, and there it is, another exhortation to confession and humility ~ dependence, not arrogance and self-sufficiency.  "Proud in spirit" seems like it would be a good antonym.

The commentary I grab from Robert's office in the basement says this:

"The poor in spirit realize that they cannot please God on their own.  They are 'poor' or 'bankrupt' inwardly, unable to give anything of value to God, and thus must depend on His mercy."  
Life Application Commentary on Matthew, p. 756

It also points out that the poor in spirit will inherit the kingdom of heaven NOW ~ theirs IS the kingdom, present tense, not theirs WILL BE the kingdom, future tense.  {Oh, how I'm constantly thinking about tense in the teaching of Latin...☺} In their state of brokenness they get it both ways, actually ~ the kingdom now, and the kingdom future.  And I think "the kingdom" always just translates to Jesus.  They get Jesus now ~ His nearness, intimacy, peace, joy, hope, and they get Him later ~ eternal life with Him.

And that is what I want...most days.  But some days not, because inheriting the kingdom now doesn't usually equal worldly comfort and pleasure {a big, beautiful house, weekly trips to the spa, basking in sunshine, and financial comfort, to be more specific} and being "blessed" does not always mean being happy {without sadness, lifted spirits, lots of laughter and fun}. I'm learning though, that poverty of spirit is always good, because it puts Jesus in His proper place in my heart ~ which is the only means to true pleasure and happiness.

Lord, forgive me for the extremes of my spiritual arrogance ~ from the thought that I can gain your approval and earn salvation from you, to the attitude that I don't really need forgiveness so much. Humble my heart before You, and show me, in your kindness, the poverty of my own soul.  Forgive my bad attitude about church on some Sundays, and the people who gather there. Forgive my wandering thoughts during worship ~ my list making and schedule planning with its self-sufficient control and lack of trust.  Prepare me now to join with others in common dependence on You. Amen.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

White As Snow: Nemo and More {Lent Day 4}

Robert took the trampoline down in preparation.

Weathering Nemo last weekend was actually kind of fun.  I can say that, because I wasn't one of the tens of thousands of folks without power.  Our family got a weekend together at home, a postponed women's retreat, and a sort of extended Sabbath rest.  A warm fire flickered in the living room, there were mugs of hot chocolate, hot tea and coffee, corn chowder simmering on the stove top and movies being watched while snuggled under blankets.  It was wonderful.
Good thing he did!

Robert and I also got to make use of the snow shoes we purchased about four years ago.  They were definitely not needed while we were on sabbatical in Texas last winter, and even the winters prior to that one were too mild to have a chance to use them.  I enjoyed our morning trek in the fresh fallen feet of snow so much, that I talked him in to going out again for a longer trek in the late afternoon.  {It's excellent exercise, too. Whew!}
One thing that is so nice about fresh snowfall is that it covers all of the dirt and grime that has accumulated on the previous snow.  We were the first to take a walk through it on the rail trail near our house, and everywhere you looked was pure white.  The red berries and barns {and Ford pick-up trucks, I suppose!} creating the most beautiful contrast.
Blazing a trail!

Up to her elbows!

I couldn't help but think of the covering and the purity Christ's forgiveness grants to us, and how David pleads with the Lord to purify him and wash him making him whiter than snow.  I thought of a story Beth Moore tells about going to sleep one night at The Cove, Billy Graham's conference center in North Carolina.  She felt convicted by her past sin being in the presence of such a righteous man and his legacy, and fell asleep with her Bible on her chest, tears streaming down her cheeks.  In the morning, an unexpected snow had fallen, and as she looked out the window of her cabin, she thought of what the Lord says in Isaiah 1 "Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool." {v. 18} She was overwhelmed by the gift from His hand ~ seemingly just for her.
A blanket of white as far as you could see.
It's been a week now, and the snow has become a bit of a nuisance.  It's dirty and it's in the way.  One friend was late to our coffee date on Thursday, because she backed her car into a snow bank, and couldn't get out.  You can't see around corners and parking spaces are limited because of the mounds of snow piled in lots. 
I got up pretty early this morning, so that I would have time to read and to pray and to write ~ about being washed and white ~ about confession and restoration with Christ.  The boys are away at a retreat, and Kayla was snuggled sound asleep in my bed upstairs, so the house seemed so gloriously silent.  I crept downstairs in the dark and began starting some water for tea when I looked outside.  This is the beautiful gift that I could barely take in...
Fresh fallen snow lining every branch of every tree and bush and power line. It was totally unexpected, and a vivid picture of purity and the covering of the stain of sin He gives to me. "How blessed is the he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!" {Psalm 32:1}

And it's not that we should return to the dirt or play around in the grime again and again.  I read somewhere that confession is not really meant to be our daily bath.  Being forgiven much should move us to love much.  We don't continue in sin so that grace will abound.  It's more about knowing my place before a holy God, and having daily fellowship with Him. It's a position and place of joy, really,  if only I will meet Him there and experience His covering consistently.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Gluten Free Friday ~ Important Ingredients {Lent Day 3}

Corn Chowder.  That's what I had planned to post about today, but I didn't take any pictures of the process of making it, or the serving of it to a fun group of women gathered around my dining room table, and it's really just a variation of the Pioneer Woman's delicious recipe anyway.  And it is to die for, just like she says, because it has some very important ingredients like bacon and green chilies.

Confession is a crucial ingredient in the relationship recipe.  I've had the most interesting and heart-wrenching conversations with women this week, spending hours over coffee or meals hearing about painful relationships and sharing about some of my own.  In every case, the central issue was a lack of humility and confession on the part of the offender.  Stubbornness, pride, a refusal to admit wrong, to take responsibility for wounds inflicted. The relationships we spoke of had either ended or were headed that way, because without the crucial ingredient of confession, it is impossible to have intimate relationship.

Even Jesus does not enter into intimate relationship with those who refuse to come to him humbly confessing that they have offended Him and are in need of His forgiveness.  He does not allow His Spirit to dwell within those who are stubborn or nonchalant about their sins, their offenses.

"Reconciliation is costly for both the offended and the offender.  The offended forgives {cancels} the debt by not bringing immediate judgment and termination of the relationship, as might be reasonable and expected, given the offense.  Instead, mercy is offered in order to invite the offender back into the relationship.  The cost for the offended is in withholding judgment and instead offering the possibility of a restored relationship. The cost for the offender is repentance. Biblical forgiveness is never unconditional and one-sided.  It is not letting others go off scot-free, "forgiven," and enabled to do harm again without any consequence.  Instead forgiveness is an invitation to reconciliation, not the blind, cheap granting of it."
Bold Love by Dan Allender p. 161-162

It's not that I am to put myself in the place of Jesus and demand a recognition of wrongs before any further relating.  Actually, Jesus doesn't do that either.  In fact, He graciously pours blessing into the lives of offenders on a regular basis in order to draw them into true intimacy with Him.  I am called to do the same thing, required to love my neighbor unconditionally.  Not so that they will be beholden to me, but so that they may know Christ, and so that we can cooperate for kingdom purposes.  Intimate relationships are different, though. Parent-child, brother-sister, husband-wife, and close friends, those relationships require something more. The requirement of confession to have relationship with Jesus is a model for those types of intimate relationships, I think.

Because of the stories of the women with whom I was meeting, I had occasion to share about a painful relationship in my own life, one that I've chosen to end temporarily.  For so many years, I didn't realize what was going on, but when the heat was turned up, and issues long swept under the rug surfaced, true colors were finally and fully exposed, and I could see the one-sidedness of it all.  I was giving and forgiving and compromising and making allowances and enabling dishonesty and continuing to put myself in a place of codependent exhaustion and hurt.  There was no real relationship.  It was all me trying to make it work, trying to please, accommodating the person in hopes of intimacy.  In a season of crisis and exposure, I still hoped, in fact against my typical skeptical tendencies, I just knew the person would change, finally and honestly admitting their offenses, and the deep wounds they delivered.  But they didn't.  In fact, their anger and justification and entitlement only intensified.  I was shocked {foolishly} and wounded like never before.

After many attempts at reconciliation were met with a refusal to acknowledge any responsibility for hurt, I knew that in order to truly "love my neighbor" I would have to sort of draw a line in the sand in hopes that a desire for relationship with me would move the person to humble themselves.  And don't worry, it wasn't a decision I made without the counsel of many, but so far, what I hoped for has not become a reality. This reveals quite a lot, the main thing being that this person wants to be related to, to be included, and to be honored, but they don't care enough about me to reciprocate.  You can't keep giving your heart away like that.  It's not what is best for the other person. It is not "loving your neighbor" or your parent, or husband, or sibling, or child.

"Forgiveness involves a heart that cancels the debt but does not lend new money until repentance occurs.  A forgiving heart opens the door to any who knock.  But entry into the home (that is, the heart) does not occur until the muddy shoes and the dirty coat have been taken off.  The offender must repent if true intimacy and reconciliation are ever to take place.  That means that cheap forgiveness - peace at any cost that sacrifices honesty, integrity, and passion - is not true forgiveness."
Bold Love by Dan Allender, pp. 162-163

Desiring warm-soup-dinner-fellowship with my Savior now and always, so trusting Him to help me take off my muddy shoes and dirty coat every day this season.  A crucial ingredient for continued intimacy with the one whose death was required to pay for my offenses.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Love and Lent {Lent Day 2}

 Early morning drive across the state yesterday.  I turn off the blaring radio and almost tear up immediately in the silence.  I know it's time to pray, not listen to the latest pop song or even the latest headlines.  Adoration ~ You are so generous and good, Lord.  You are holy.  Sovereign.  Your was the gift of living water to me. Confession ~ "May I never again know the sentiment of disdain..." I remember Katy's words.  A fictional character, but not totally fictional.  She is also the godly author, and she is me.  Lord, so much pride and judgment in my heart and mind.  Transform me from the sentiment of disdain. Thanksgiving ~ where do I start, Lord?  My home, my children, the fellowship of friends and believers, my health...and my husband.
 I'm driving across the state to meet with a couple of women ~ one of whom has been on a painful journey in the last few weeks regarding her engagement and one who desires to be married like all of her peers at this age.  Both entrusting themselves to the Lord in their desires and griefs, these women's stories come to me in the midst of the impending and unfounded divorce of a young couple in our church, and on the heels of a dear friend's long journey through an abusive marriage. I don't know why I am still so surprised by depravity.
 Maybe it's why the call for me during the Lenten season of preparation seems to be confession.  I kept asking Him how He desired that I spend these 40 days, and this is the thing that the Spirit kept prompting: Confession of my own depravity to Him and others on a daily basis and confession of His truly amazing grace in my life to you and others also ~ on a daily basis.  I ought not be so surprised by sin even when what it looks like in others is not my particular brand of choice.  It's really all the same. I needed the Cross and was as utterly hopeless to save myself as was the next person.
 The Masspike is not busy, the silence remains, and the prayer continues. Confession ~ I don't love my husband like I should or desire to, Lord.  He gets the leftovers so often in the craziness of parenting teens and keeping up with schedules and homeschooling.  Thanksgiving ~ And yet you've given him to me, Lord.  Thank you.  Thank you for this man who loves me fiercely and unashamedly, who nurtures my gifts and listens to my words and worries and wounds, who loves You so steadfastly, and faithfully shepherds the flock of his church and family.  Thank you for one who, in your strength, has forsaken worldly temptation even with its ease of acquisition and experience, remaining wholly committed to me.  Thank you for his humility, and his magnanimity which no one but me truly sees ~ and which even I am oblivious to so often.  And thank you for his humor and lighthearted fun ~ especially since I am almost devoid of such tendencies. {sigh.}
The Cross AND the gift of this man ~ and so many other gifts. Oh Lord, your abounding and unfathomable love despite depravity because of Jesus is something I hope to never get over!  Supplication ~ Please use this practice of confession to grow gratitude for your life and death and for the many generous gifts you give.

Hoping to be here every day until Easter with confessions as a way to observe the season, and would love to hear how you are walking through these days of preparation, too!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Kayla's Quest: Sewing Projects, 5K's, Nursing Home Outreach, Etc.

We set aside Saturday morning to do the first of three sewing projects for Kayla's Quest. Kayla's friend Maddie is also trying to complete a Quest, so we hoped to have her over for the project, too.  We set up two sewing machines, had the fabric and other tools all ready to go, and were working on a special treat for "brunch" when my friend Christie called to tell us that Maddie had come down with a fever, and so they wouldn't be able to join us.  I know both girls were really disappointed, but Kayla and I decided to go ahead with the project that morning.

We made reusable sandwich wraps and "ziploc" bags!  I've been wanting to make some of these since my friend, Betsy, showed me the ones that she had made and was using each week to pack a lunch for Classical Conversations. Though Kayla already has a bit of sewing experience, I thought it would be a good first project for both girls ~ basic straight stitching, with a cute, quick, and usable result.

And how do you like the cute little horse {sitting on top of the machine} that Kayla made out of her new pincushion and pins?
We decided to use oil cloth instead of the PUL fabric used to make cloth diaper covers that some recommend.  If you do any internet research at all, you will find that some people would not use either, as they still contain petroleum products, and are not "food safe," but I figure that this is at least a better option than the plastic used in Saran Wrap and Ziploc products, not to mention the fact that we will be using, and therefore throwing away, much less of those things.  The oil cloth is both wipe-able, washable, and a step toward "green-ness" in this house.  {And the fabric store clerk who helped me had also used the "owl" oil cloth to make reusable sandwich wraps for herself.  It's really too cute to pass up!} The only thoroughly "green" option was to purchase 100% organic cotton and then "infuse" it with beeswax ~ and I'm sorry, but that's just not happening in this house this week. {Neither is kombucha, kefir, juicing, or grinding rice into flour...}

We tested our handmade wraps and bags out on Tuesday when we packed a lunch for our Classical Conversations school day, and they worked great! Our sandwiches stayed cool and moist as did our carrots. {I made a set for myself, too!}
In other Quest news, Kayla completed her required 5K in December.  She trained hard, and then beat her typical training time by quite a bit in the actual race, which was called the Jingle Jaunt, and held in Springfield, MA.  This particular race required participants to acquire sponsors and raise a minimum of $100 for Special Olympics, which we were both able to do thanks to the help of friends and family.

And because of a total mix-up on my part, we had to leave the race very quickly in order to get home for Kayla's  annual tea party.  Yikes!  {I had thought the race was on a different weekend.}
The girls never tire of making gingerbread houses, so they are pretty much a constant at this yearly gathering.   I love the creativity!
 Then the girls made handmade cards to give to the residents of our neighborhood nursing home.  Part of Kayla's Quest Challenge was to organize an outreach to the nursing home, so, with no help from me, she made the call and asked if she could set a date to bring friends and gifts and do some Christmas caroling there. They are ALWAYS happy to have young visitors at the nursing home, and it is about a three minute walk from my house, so after gingerbread houses, card-making, and tea party snacks, we headed over.  The girls did SUCH a wonderful job!  Kayla played a Christmas carol on the piano, and her friend Carol played "Angels We Have Heard On High" on her violin.  They sang about four more songs, and passed out cards and candy canes, and were a HUGE blessing to the residents there!  I was so proud of them.

 We just finished reading this book together which is such a favorite of mine ~ about a young girl unfairly accused of theft and unjustly punished.  Her godly response is rewarded by the Lord and eventually what was meant for evil is used for great blessing and exaltation in her life.  So good!
 With six months left to complete her Quest, Kayla is now working on her memorization on the book of Philippians, and the reading of several more books including these:
This morning I had tea with my friend Karla, and she told me about two Scripture memory "apps" or sites, which I came home and helped Kayla load on her Nexus.  The app is called "Remember Me" and the website is Scripture Typer.  I had no idea such things existed, but we're both excited to use them for our various memory challenges.  Kayla is doing Philippians and I am working on Hannah's song from I Samuel Chapter 1 and Mary's song from Luke 1 for Beth Moore's Scripture Memory Challenge.

Honestly, it's been difficult to keep on top of the list of Challenges we gave to Kayla on her 12th birthday, hard to find time to fit them into regular life.  But, we're plugging along and slowly making our way through the list, and we're very proud of Kayla's hard work on each item.  I pray the Lord will meet her in all of it and use the experiences to grow and mature her faith and equip her for whatever is His call upon her life.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Superbowl {Downton?} Sunday Sesame Maple Chicken Wings

On Friday morning, while listening to NPR on the way to Mt. Snow for our weekly skiing lessons, I learned not only that the Superbowl would be this weekend, but also who was playing.  Needless to say, I don't have a lot of natural excitement for the occasion.  I was hoping NPR was going to interview the cast of Downton Abbey again regarding the sad and sudden plot twist of last Sunday night, and my only thoughts about today were in preparation for my Sunday School class, and tuning in to PBS at 9pm this evening for the much anticipated DA episode. However, some people in my family do care about football, and I don't mind providing the appropriate food to go along with it.  My boys will be headed to a Young Life party tonight to watch the game with friends, and I'll be sending along these wings, so that they will have a GF variety to enjoy.

Not being a huge fan of chicken wings either, I will probably be sitting in my room with a cup of tea while watching Tom's response to tragedy, the recently developed marital strife between Lord and Lady Grantham, the jealous, bitter, romantic angst of Daisy, and the suspenseful fate of Anna and John Bates.

A more sophisticated Superbowl, I suppose.

{Sorry, Kory. This pic is two years old, but the best one I have of the wings!}

But I HAVE tasted these wings, and they are quite delicious ~ everyone here agrees, as you can see!
Sesame Maple Chicken Wings

1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup GF soy sauce
3 Tbsp sesame oil (a bit expensive, but worth it!)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh ginger root
1 Tbsp tandoori paste (this one had lots of ground garlic and chili peppers - in the Indian Food section)
3 garlic cloves
4 lbs chicken wings (we left the skin on)
2 Tbsp sesame seeds

Place first 6 ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Place chicken in a plastic zip-lock type bag (or a baking dish) and pour marinade over chicken pieces. Seal or cover and let marinate for 2 hours. Remove chicken from marinade and arrange in a baking dish or on a cookie/jellyroll sheet. Bake chicken for 25 minutes at 375 degrees. Bring remaining marinade to a boil for one minute. Brush chicken pieces with marinade and turn, cooking 10 more minutes. Turn and baste again, and cook another 10 minutes. Baste again and then sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake 8-10 minutes more until sesame seeds are beginning to be a golden color.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Gluten Free Friday ~ Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Frosting


Nearly all of our quaint {and hip!} local bakeries and cafes now have gluten free offerings, but The Esselon Cafe is one of our favorites.  They offer gluten free bread for their delicious sandwiches or alongside their delectable egg breakfasts, as well as several baked goods that are gluten free.  The bread and baked goods are made at another local cafe called the Woodstar, and then sold at both locations.  If you don't get there early enough in the day, you can almost forget about securing a "Fitness Muffin" for your breakfast or morning snack. Made with a blend of high protein flours, coconut oil, carrots, raisins, and nuts, they are a sort of "Morning Glory" that even those who don't have to follow a gluten free diet gobble up or buy in bulk before mid-day! 

I've been wanting to try and reproduce their chocolate muffin with raspberry frosting for a while now, and last weekend, I had the perfect occasion.  A group of women from my church were gathering here for lunch after church in order to finalize plans for our upcoming women's retreat.  This planning session also happened to fall the day before our worship leader, Cindy's, birthday! 

A women's only lunch + one birthday girl = perfect excuse for making cupcakes!

Usually when I make GF chocolate baked goods, they turn out a bit dry and crumbly, but these were fairly moist.  The frosting is the best part ~ made only with butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and REAL raspberries.  I did have a bit of a *frosting crisis, but nothing that Google couldn't solve.  Whew!

They seemed to be thoroughly enjoyed by all ~ even the gluten-eaters. ☺

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Raspberry Frosting


3/4 cup butter, cut into large pieces
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup cocoa
3/4 cup GF flour
1 tsp xanthan gum 
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
3 eggs at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup Greek yogurt, plain

In the microwave, or gently on the stove top, melt together butter, unsweetened chocolate and cocoa. Set aside to cool slightly.

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt.  In a separate bowl whisk together eggs, sugar, and vanilla.  Add yogurt to this liquid mixture and then whisk in 1/3 cup of the flour mixture.  Slowly add the remaining flour mixture to the liquid mixture and whisk thoroughly.

Add the melted chocolate mixture to the combined flour and egg mixture and mix completely.

Fill lined muffin cups about 2/3 full and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Makes 1 dozen. 

 I doubled the recipe for the muffins and the frosting, and this made my three children VERY happy, since there were plenty of leftovers!

Raspberry Buttercream Frosting

1/2 cup unsalted butter, *at room temp.
1/2 cup fresh raspberries, washed and dried
1 tsp vanilla
1 16 oz. pkg. of powdered sugar

Beat first 3 ingredients together at medium speed until creamy. Add powdered sugar gradually and until smooth.  Spread with an icing spatula or use a pastry bag and wide-mouthed tip to frost cooled cupcakes.

*P.S.  My "frosting crisis" was due to the butter and raspberries being too cold.  The frosting began to separate!  My inclination was to do the exact opposite of what I was supposed to do; I put the disheartening frosting into the refrigerator.  That only made things worse.  After some desperate "Googling" I learned that I needed to put the bowl of frosting into another bowl of warm water to gently warm the icing and then stir until the frosting was smooth and creamy again.  It actually ended up being too thin after this process, and I had to add more powdered sugar.  (It also required a hurried trip to the grocery store ~ on foot ~ before the guests arrived!  My oldest had our mini-van, and my pastor husband was still at church talking with people after the service!} Your frosting should be creamy and smooth in appearance ~ not grainy or cottage-cheese like!

Buttercream frosting rule #1 = all ingredients must be room temp!
 {or even warmer if you live in New England!}

Cindy, the birthday girl, had some knowledge about buttercream frosting, since she is a newlywed, and spent some time this summer sampling wedding cakes.  On one of those occasions, she learned from the chef, that buttercream frosting MUST be room temperature, because even the warmth of our tongues is not enough to properly "melt" and taste the sophistication that is Buttercream Frosting!  Who knew?