For your weekend…

It’s been a very busy week.  We’ve been getting ready to participate in the Prairie Arts Festival on Saturday–and that takes a lot of work!  We’ve been spending our hours in the shop making beautiful things and anticipating all the friends we will see as they come to enjoy the festival and all the wonderful artisans and other vendors who will be there, as well.

I haven’t had a lot of internet time this week, but the following little story did catch my eye…and my heart…so I thought I’d share it with all of you:  http://www.cbs6albany.com/news/features/top-story/stories/never-leave-man-behind-marine-helps-boy-finish-5k-10019.shtml

I think this really short story embodies the very best of our military!  That brings me to the challenge for the weekend:

Most of us in the US will be celebrating Labor Day this weekend and, as a result, will have a bit more time off than we usually do.  While you’re out and about, please make a point to show your appreciation to our military members and their families!  Their service to our country is normally a much unappreciated job–but it is oh, so necessary!  Let’s make an extra effort to show them that we support them and remind them that we are grateful for their willingness to serve our country (and US!) in such selfless ways!

Enjoy your weekend wherever you may be!

Grace & Peace!

 

Hummingbird wars

All morning long I’ve been listening to the sound of flurried hummingbird wings and the tiny “cheep, cheep” of their voices raised to sound off at each other.  I’ve watched as one hummer, in particular, simply sits on the edge of the feeder or in the tallest branch of the nearest Japanese maple to maintain his guard over the feeder and the sweet home-made nectar it holds.

There’s plenty of nectar available for all of them, but he’s not having it.  He wants to keep it all to himself.  He’s a beautiful little creature…with an ugly selfish attitude.  As they circle the feeder, he hops all around the little perch bar just taking up space and keeping the others from being able to get even a taste.

He’s a bit like we are at times.

Unfortunately, the other hummers haven’t come up with a better strategy yet.  I keep wondering when they’ll have a meeting in the big oak tree and hatch a plan to take turns keeping him occupied so the others can come in for a treat.  So far, they seem determined, but clueless.

Each one is unwavering in the desire to take care of himself and because that is the case, NO ONE is really getting to enjoy anything.  Well, except for me…and my cat, Lewis.  We’ve both enjoyed the show immensely.  Oh, these hummingbirds are gorgeous, but they’re using precious energy instead of pursuing something that will last.  I’ve done that, too.

While Lewis is preoccupied with feline dreams of his own little winged treat, I’ve been thinking about how many times I’ve waged my own silly little wars.  How many times did I get deterred by something that seemed larger than it actually was?  How many times did I fail to work with others because I was so focused on meeting my own goal?  How many times did I hog the sweet spot when there was plenty of room for others with similar desires?  How many times did I look silly and selfish to others who were looking on and wondering why I thought it was so important that I be the one in charge?

I love it when God gets my attention and chooses to teach me in such gentle ways.  Today I’ve been reminded of the verse from the Song of Solomon (2:4) which says,

“He brought me to the banqueting house,
And his banner over me was love.”

I’ll keep putting out the sugar water banquet for the hummers because I love having them around and I’ll make sure that the cat doesn’t get to them, but figuring out how to share will be their own problem to solve.  I’m just grateful God chose such a beautiful way to teach me MY lessons for the day!

For your weekend…

Hope.  It’s become the word of the week.  From our pastor’s Sunday morning sermon to multiple blog posts and conversations, it has been a week filled with hope.

I’ll be honest and tell you that some of it hasn’t really looked all that hopeful.  Hope hasn’t always come dressed in a smile this week.  Some of those posts and conversations were tearful and hard, but the fact that people were still talking about the future expressed a certain hopefulness that they weren’t always able to put into words.

According to www.biblegateway.com there are 164 uses of the word hope in the ESV translation of the Bible.  I looked.  In fact, I read every one of those verses and I also read the official definition of the word on http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hope  which told me that hope is both a noun and a verb…and that the word “expectation” was used in defining both of them.

One of the first verses I thought about when I started writing this post was Hebrews 11:1, which says,

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

That verse tells me that hope comes first.  Faith comes later and that brings me to your challenge for the weekend:

Grab a pen and some paper.  (There’s just something about seeing things written down that can make a difference!)  Now, take 10-15 minutes and just think.  I’m pretty sure that there is an issue you’ve been wrestling with this week, so I’m not going to assign a topic.  Pick your own.  Take those few minutes to really think it through.  Then write down your hopes for the situation.  List what you’d like to see happen…list your expectations…list whatever comes to mind.  Depending on your problem, it might include some fears or concerns.  List those, too.

I’ve found that miscommunication—or the complete lack of any communication at all!—is generally at the heart of most interpersonal issues.  Once you know what you’d like to have happen in a given situation, you can more clearly express those thoughts to others…and that absolutely increases the odds that they will know what you’re thinking! (grin) Oh, I’m laughing as I type, but I’m also serious.  We can’t get upset when others don’t respond the way we’d like if they don’t KNOW what we’d like as a response. That doesn’t guarantee they’ll be on board with what you desire, but at the very least, it gives you a starting point for meaningful conversation.

Now, if your issue is something that you need to chat with God about, please know that this is NOT a fortune-cookie promise that you can take to God and demand His response.  This exercise, however, can give you the time to settle out what you really do want from the situation.  That, in turn, will allow the Holy Spirit to guide you about whether or not your desires match up with what God has already said in His Word…and if not, it will give you an opportunity to change that.  Again, just seeing it on paper, can give you more clues than you might imagine about whether or not something is actually a reasonable expectation or not. However…and this is really important!…remember that God IS the God of hope and there is nothing beyond His power.  When your desires match His will there is nothing He won’t do to see them fulfilled.

 “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” Romans 15:13

Grace & Peace!…and hope.

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise!

Are you ready for something really shocking?  My life isn’t all about me after all!  Yes!  You read that right!

Guess what else?  Your life isn’t all about you, either.

I’ve had this little reminder handed to me up close and personal over the past couple of weeks as I sat and shared life with some people who are dealing with some pretty hefty issues.

I could listen with empathy because I’VE BEEN THERE!  I know what some of that stuff feels like and, truthfully, sometimes it just stinks.  There’s no other way to put it.  Sometimes God chooses to do things in ways that we would never choose for ourselves.  When that happens we actually do get a choice about part of it.  We get to choose our response.  We can choose to learn or we can choose to leave.

Now, don’t get me wrong…once you belong to God, you can’t ever get away from Him, but you can definitely choose to leave the situation you find yourself in and just run away.  The problem with that is that God’s still going to be right there and since He’s still determined to teach you the things that will make you more like His Son, chances are pretty good that you’ll just find yourself in a similar situation wherever you land.  Not sure I’m right about that?  Think:  Jonah and a very big fish.  (grin) You can’t ever outrun God; so really, if you run, you’re just choosing to delay the lesson.  That, too, is a choice.

Our other choice is that we can choose to learn.  Sometimes that means taking action.  Sometimes that means just sitting still until we’re certain that God is moving us.  Sometimes it means we just need to listen to others who have been there before us and come out on the other side…or at least are a little further along in dealing with it all.

Personally, I’m one of those who usually learns by doing things myself… the hard way.  That means listening isn’t generally my strong suit, but that doesn’t mean I’m not called to do just that occasionally.  When I’m smart enough to do things His way, I have found that there really was a purpose behind it all.  Sometimes, however, we may not see the purpose for a long, long time.

That’s just one of the things I realized during those conversations with my friends.  I realized that sometimes we may go through things just so we’ll understand what it is like when others go through them.  People need to have a safe place to be real.  They need an open heart and a person on the other end who can help them realize that (a) they’re not crazy–it really is that hard and (b) they’re not alone.  They also need to know that it is possible to get to the other side of an issue and even when that’s not possible…or at least takes a very long time…it is possible to survive it, anyway.

I realized something else this week, as well.  I know that I went through those hard situations that my friends now face for more than one reason, but if being able to share our common bond and let them know they aren’t alone was the only reason for my own difficulty, then it would still be worth it.  God loves us all enough to provide the what and the who we need as we need them.  It is always worth it to be used by Him.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort which we ourselves are comforted by God.”  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a litle while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”  1 Peter 1:6-7

Get ready to put your hard lessons to use for the Kingdom!  It’s time to be Jesus with skin on for someone around you today!  Someone out there needs what you already know…and they need to know WHO you know, as well.

A cardinal kind of faith

My cardinal is back again this morning.  I’ve seen him at the feeders and further out in the yard throughout the year, but he’s become a regular on the back porch over the past week or so and he’s getting bolder by the day.  As I sit at my kitchen table pecking keys and pouring out my heart, he hops around on the outdoor furniture and in and out of the large pots where the Japanese maples are placed just outside my window.  I fully expect him to knock on a glass pane and wave at me any day now. (grin)

This cardinal is gorgeous!  He is very healthy—plump and perky—and his much smaller mate sometimes joins him in exploring the Japanese maples.  As you know, the male cardinal is the one with all of the really red coloring, though even in all of his fiery finery, he doesn’t always show up well against all of my colorfully patterned chair cushions and the bright greenery of late summer.  But just you wait!  Come winter when all of the greenery has faded, he will show up as a stark blaze of glory against all the gray of winter.

We’re like that, too.  It is only the backdrop of our circumstances that really hides or highlights our faith walk.  You may feel like you’re flying under the radar—unnoticed and insignificant—like you’re really not doing anything big for God right now.  Please know that isn’t really the case.

There’s something to be said for consistency.  Whether you know it or not (or like it or not!), people are watching.  They want to know if what we have is truly real.   It is not only during the easy times that they come to know that about our faith walk with God.  It is most often when we face difficulties that they see our true colors and our relationship with God becomes visible in ways we didn’t expect or plan.

Many people think the cardinals are just seasonal.  They’re only accustomed to seeing one posed against the whiteness of snow on a Christmas card.  This cardinal, however, is here.  He has chosen to stay throughout the hot, muggy summer months.  He may not shine or be as visible right now as he will become as the seasons change, but he is still here.  He is consistent in his presence.  Be consistent in yours.  That consistency is important so that when your seasons also change—and they will!—you will be ready to shine, as well.

Uncomplicated

I love it when the songs we sing on Sunday stay with me throughout the week! It isn’t always the ones you’d expect, either.

This past Sunday, our worship time started off with a wonderful xylophone solo by one of our worship pastors. He started off with a very simple version of “Jesus Loves Me” and gradually transformed the notes into a fabulous rendition of “Amazing Grace” that held our congregation quietly spellbound.

As I listened to this talented musician share his gifts with us before God I couldn’t help but think about these two songs and know that they were played in the perfect order.  Jesus DOES love me (and YOU!) and we need to know and experience that love before we can ever hope to grasp the amazing grace that He also came to provide for us.

 “For God loved the world in this way. He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”  John 3:16 (HCSB)

It isn’t complicated.  Jesus loves you.  He loves you so much that He left all of heaven behind to tell you so and make it possible for you to spend all of eternity with Him.  It wasn’t convenient or comfortable.  It also wasn’t optional.  It was necessary.  We have no other hope for grace…oh, that amazing grace.

Jesus loves me, this I know.  For the Bible tells me so…

And just like that…

I love mowing the yard.  It’s a great opportunity for prayer and contemplation.  This past week, the arrival of company on Friday, the serious need to have the lawn mower serviced and the long list of things on my to-do list before the company arrived meant that I was mowing our yard Thursday night after supper.

As I circled the yard and prayed for people I love the sunlight faded and the darkness deepened.  By the time I was through, I was having trouble seeing all the details with the clarity that I would normally–although I must say the lightening bugs put on a fabulous show down in the lower section of our yard.  As I rolled into the shop where my husband was creating beautiful things for upcoming shows, I told him, “Just so you know, there may be a few things sticking up out there tomorrow!”  He jokingly responded, “There better not be!” to which I replied, “You know what?  I guess you’ll just have to be in charge of what bugs you!”

And just like that…it hit me.  We all are.

It’s a simple thing and it is not new, but it hit me hard:  we’re all in charge of what bugs us.

We get to decide where to draw our own lines and how we respond to where others draw theirs.  We get to decide.  No more of this silly blaming others for making us angry or rude or sad or whatever other emotion we may choose to feel.  We have the power to choose for ourselves.

We’ve always had it, you know.  We’ve just allowed the cultural propensity for being the victim to erode our personal responsibility for our own actions…and attitudes.  It’s been a poor choice.  In every single situation we have the opportunity to ask the following questions:

  • Is this really the way I want to respond?
  • Is this really the way I want to spend my time and energy today?
  • Is this really the way I want the people who see me respond this way to remember me?
  • Is this the best response?
  • Is there something I can learn from this situation–even if it is just “don’t do this again!”?
  • What will my response tell others about what I believe…or Who I believe?
  • What can my response teach others today?

We get to choose.  It may be the only bit of power we have in the situation, but it is still powerful. In fact, just taking the time to ask yourself how you want to respond can give the time needed to make a better choice the next time someone draws their lines on top of yours.

All this contemplation reminded me of one of my favorite quotes that I shared with a friend just this past week, as well:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.
Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home.
The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude… I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.
And so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes.”  
–Chuck Swindoll

Chuck got it right…will we?

(In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that it is possible to know this, to write this and before the day is out…still make the wrong choice:  the choice to be annoyed…and show it.  It is also possible to recognize that you’ve done so, laugh really loud at yourself and, just like that…make a better choice.  The main thing is this:  be gentle with yourself and keep trying!  We can do this!  We get to be in charge of what bugs us.)

For your weekend…

I realize that the accepted (and celebrated!) mandate of our culture is “MORE!”, but I think my house and I both breathed a great big sigh of relief last weekend as my husband and I filled the back of the pick-up with items to take to a local charity shop.  Certainly, there is a good feeling that comes from choosing to help others, but honestly, my best delight about it all was the SPACE that was left behind and the unexplainable joy of lightening the load of STUFF that we no longer just love here at home.

I’ve done this for years.  I’m on a permanent mission to make sure that wherever I look in my house there are only those things that perform a function or make me smile…and if something can accomplish both of those things at the same time, then all the better!  To do that, I keep a perpetual give-away box going.

The give-away box is the place for everything from candlesticks and decorative pillows to extra cookware and clothing as I continue my quest for joyful function.  I find that as I let things go, peace comes in…internally as well as visually.  This practice has the additional benefit of making me more carefully consider my purchases and the expenditure of budgeted funds.  Knowing that I will need to release something I already own and enjoy to make way for a potential purchase makes me take my time and really consider whether I will appreciate/use the new item more than what already currently works for me.  My One-in-One-out rule is an exercise in self-discipline.SONY DSC

For example, I donated my dining room table this past weekend, as well–antique and perfectly serviceable, but one I’d bought as a place-holder piece until I could find just what I wanted.  I’ve shopped for one I liked better for YEARS without success…and then…about a month ago I realized that I already had a table that I LOVED in my house that was the exact same length as my dining table.  It was also vintage, MUCH more my style and it just needed longer table-height legs to make it work!  (It was originally in an elementary school reading classroom from back when I was still there!)  I now have a table I love at a height I can use in the dining room and loads more space at the foot of my bed where the table was previously located.

I know that we’re not all the same.  Some people absolutely revel in excess while my soul loves the pared-down version of beautiful useful things.  HOWEVER!  I’m pretty sure that we could all do with a little more space at home (and whether you want to keep it open or fill it up later is up to you!  grin), so here is my weekend challenge:

Look around your main living area and then…

  1. Take 5 minutes and put as many things as possible in their proper place.  Just 5 minutes, then stop.  I promise you–it will make a difference. (you can always repeat this step again later if there’s still stuff that really bothers you!)
  2. Take 5 minutes and note any items that are in need of change, repair or replacement.  DO NOT automatically run to the store!  Shop your own home to see if you already have something that will perform the same function.  Don’t be afraid of changing things around!  That lamp, side table or art piece that you thought was just for the living room might be great in your more private areas of the house and vice versa!
  3. Join my counter-culture revolution and start your own give-away box.  Blessing others will bless you way more than you can imagine and will allow the items you keep to become visible enough to remind you why you liked them enough to buy them in the first place.
  4. Sit down, put your feet up and relax.  You just might hear your house breathe a sigh of relief, as well.

Personally, we’ll have a house full of wonderfuls this weekend, so #4 will just have to wait for me…guess it’s a good thing I did this last weekend!

Grace & Peace!

Stuff It!–Fresh Farmer’s Market Squash!

As some of you already know, we spend a good portion of our Saturday mornings (from April through October) at the local Farmer’s Market in town.  The season officially ends on the last Saturday of October, so we’ve got a bit more to go this year.  Our local market can be a pretty happening place most of the time, but the crowds and the vendors start steadily decreasing after school starts.  This is a serious mistake, as far as I’m concerned, because people are missing out on some of the last of the summer’s veggies fresh from the farms and gardens in our area.

The thinning crowds do leave time for additional conversations among some of the vendors, however, and sometimes you get to find out more than you’r originally planned!  Toward the end of last season, I got to have a really nice chat with Scott Enlow, owner of Black Creek Farm, our local source for organic produce, free-range eggs and all kinds of interesting tidbits about his exotic veggies.

I had loaded up on two different kinds of fresh kale, two small butternut squash and what Scott told me might be the very last of the summer zuchinni.  We talked about the options available to us and how Scott looks forward to harvesting the fall crops for his customers who ride right up to the garden area and tell him what to pick.  Then…we started talking food.  Now, there’s one thing you should know about people who grow their own produce…they generally like to eat it, too…and in the case of Scott and his wife, Lydia, they’re usually pretty inventive about how they serve their bounty.

Scott was particularly excited about the butternut squash and how well they keep through the winter.  I told him how excited I was to get the zuchinni he had available that day–especially since there were two pretty large ones that would be just perfect for stuffing.  Apparently, this was a new one for him and as I prepared the recipe the other day, I thought it might be something you’d enjoy, as well…because there is still time!  You can still find some great crooked neck squash or zuchinni available in your area.

I’ve had this recipe for so long now that I had trouble tracking it back, but the original recipe can be found at http://www.coconutandlime.com/2006/06/stuffed-pattypan-squash.html

Over the years, I’ve made my own adaptations–just like every cook I know–and here’s (generally) the way I do it.  By the way, if you’re one of those “it has to be the exact measurement” cooks, then this is NOT the recipe place for you.  In our family, we’re more a “throw it in and stir until it looks right” kind of people.  Either way, give it a shot!  It is DELICIOUS!!!

Stuffed Squash–any kind

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Choose how much you want to fix (then add an extra one or two for the stuffing part!) and put them in a pot of boiling water for about 8 minutes.  That’s just long enough for them to soften, but still be pretty firm so you can work with them easily.
  3. Once they’re finished boiling, plunge them in cold water to stop the cooking process and pick out the ones you want to stuff.
  4. Cut the ends off (if using yellow-crooked neck or zuchinni) or cut the top off (if using pattypans) and use a spoon to remove all of the seeds inside.  Discard the seeds.
  5. Place the seeded shells into a baking dish that has been sprayed with Pam.
  6. Repeat Step 3 with the remaining squash, then dice them and put them into a mixing bowl.
  7. Add a hand-full of grated cheese (I like to use extra-sharp cheddar or Parmesan depending on what taste I’m interested in that day), a sprinkle of fresh basil and rosemary or Italian seasoning–if you prefer, about a  1/4 cup of bacon bits, a little bit of diced onion and enough bread crumbs to make the mixture hold together well.
  8. Fill the shells with the squash/bread crumb/cheese/bacon mixture.
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the tops are lightly browned.

ENJOY!

Same God, different directions?

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking lately…about all kinds of things, but mainly about how it is that God has different tasks for each of us.  Awhile back, a young friend returned to the US after a two-year stint as a teacher in Malawi.  She talked about it one night at church and one of the things that she said really stuck with me.  She said that she had started out saying “yes” to God in the small things and over time that led her to an easy decision to say “yes” in the larger ones.

Her recounting of her time in Malawi was followed by another young woman in our church who had much the same reaction and spoke of her recent time of mission work in African orphanages.  I sat in my pew thinking about my friend who was leaving to teach in Rwanda and another one who was leaving for a two week teaching-mission trip in another far corner of the world.  I couldn’t help but compare their tasks to the ones God seemed to be giving me lately.

While their tasks seemed large and important–glamorous, almost–in their scope, my path seemed to be narrowing.  In fact, I had been feeling the need to disengage from some of the commitments I have made on the local level here at home.  I couldn’t help but wonder why.  I mean, honestly, I don’t feel the least bit called to do a stint overseas, but compared to writing a blog about seeing God in the everyday things—like the really gorgeous cardinal that is currently hopping around on the colorful cushions outside while looking in my window—well, you can see the differences in the tasks for yourself.  Mine just didn’t seem to be as important.

All around me I see people who are busy doing God’s work in large and amazing ways while I feel called to the quiet ones.  I’m not by nature an envious person, but I must admit that I felt a tiny bit jealous at the magnitude of the tasks with which they were being entrusted.

And then I realized something:  while our locations are miles and miles apart, our directions aren’t really that different at all.  We’re all called to love God and love the people He puts in our path regardless of the landscape or location.  Additionally, there are people here at home who need to see God at work in those of us who stay here just as much as those people my friends will meet in their far-away locations and they all need to know that He loves them…and that means we all really do have the same mission, after all.

I share this today because I know I’m not the only one out there who may have been questioning the direction God seems to be sending you.  Of course it is best to be sure that you’re really hearing from Him about what you need to do instead of trying to assign yourself your own tasks, but Allison was right:  we all need to learn to say the “yes!” to God…regardless of the size of our assignment at any given time.

When you say “yes” to God and leave the results up to Him, you actually lighten your load.  I think that’s one of the real meanings behind Matthew 11:28-30,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

So, whether your burden for the day is laundry for loved ones or leaving the familiar for the unknown—or somewhere in between!–remember that we serve the same God and say the “yes!” to Him today with a cheerful spirit and a happy heart.  God is in charge and all is well.  He will equip you to rest in Him regardless of the task you are assigned.

(Bonus:  For those who are interested in learning more about Allison’s adventures in Malawi check out her blog at http://www.allisoninmalawi.blogspot.com/  Her honest sharing of both the joys and the difficulties during her teaching mission has given more depth to my prayers for the others I know who are far from home on the mission field.)