Monday, February 28, 2011

In a Dry and Weary Land

Sometimes grace is imperceptible. I know it’s there, but the days seem so ordinary, so routine. I don’t feel like I’m hanging by a thread, yet I don’t feel invigorated and enthusiastic. I’m just…there. Not moving forward, not moving backward.

I miss the feelings of growth, of purpose, of passion. The times when God feels so very near, hope so very real, and my life like a piece of clay being molded on the potter’s wheel. Instead I feel like He took a break from this project.

It’s a dry season.

“O God…my soul thirsts for thee; my flesh faints for thee, as in a dry and weary land where no water is.” (Psalm 63:1)

I get up in the mornings with my tea and candles and lift up my prayers to the One who has given me the day. In the evenings, I kneel down to the same One who stayed at my side throughout the day. I visit Him in church. I serve Him in my neighbor. I praise Him as I look up at the stars on a clear night. I still love Him, and He still loves me.

But I don’t feel it. And that bothers me sometimes.

Then I remember it’s not about the feelings.

It’s about the faithfulness.

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes,

“On the whole, God's love for us is a much safer subject to think about than our love for Him. Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian Love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will.”

And I’m reminded that my feelings are a very fickle indicator of where I am on my walk with Christ. He is not so concerned with my emotions, or lack thereof, but rather with my choices each day. That I choose to follow Him when I feel like it and when I don’t.

I only see a part of the picture, a lump of clay, a stretch of the path. He sees it all. When it feels as though the paintbrush has been laid aside, the pottery is unfinished, and the trail goes in circles…He says, “Trust me.” He has not left along with my emotions. He has not stopped working just because I cannot see the finished work. He is there in the times of spiritual dryness as well as the times of growth.

"The great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not." (C. S. Lewis—emphasis mine)

Amen. Our God is faithful. Even—or perhaps especially—in the dry and weary land.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Visiting Elizabeth

What will I do? What should I do? I’m so confused!

Been there. Said that. Many times.

In the midst of uncertainty, I get caught up in trying to figure it all out. The whole picture. I panic. And I worry. And I find myself slowly becoming preoccupied with myself and my uncertainty. Slowly shutting out all around me as I focus on the one problem.

Even in my prayers.

Long ago another woman experienced uncertainty in her life. In one small moment, everything changed in a big way.

“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin…and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you…and behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus…the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (Luke 1:26-28, 31, 35)

And in this life-changing moment for Mary and for the whole world, she replies with humility, trust, and grace.

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (vs. 38)

Only a minute before, she was a simple, prayerful teenage girl. And now—the Mother of God.

Yet she reacted to the uncertainty in her life so very different from the way I often react. Instead of focusing on herself and trying to figure it all out, she focused outside of herself…on the needs of others.

She visited Elizabeth.

“Behold,” the angel had told her, “your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible. ” (vs 36-37)

At a time when so many questions must have been swirling in her head, when she had good reason to be preoccupied with herself and her situation, she choose to trust God with her future. Instead of becoming paralyzed by worry and fear, she took a small step, a practical step—helping her neighbor.

I could learn something from this.

Because the older I get (I did have a birthday recently, you know!), the more I’m realizing that Uncertainty is a frequent companion on this journey of life. If I allow fear, worry, and selfishness to rule during those times, I’m not only being disobedient to the One who commands me to cast my cares on Him, but I’m also missing out on the beauty of peace, faith, and trust.

And the crazy thing is…when I choose to focus outside of myself, as Mary did—to chat with the grocery cashier, to sit with my elderly neighbor, to write a note to a friend—I actually find myself more joyful and refreshed by letting go of my own cares.

Life is beautiful and uncertain. Yet our God is all-knowing, almighty, and full of love for us as individuals.

"Cast your cares on Him, because He cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7)

And visit your Elizabeth.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wintertime Crafting

Homemade sugar scrub-- healthy and natural with only three ingredients-- and ones that you can actually pronounce! (coffee grounds, orange peel, and honey)
This made a lovely gift for my Starbucks-loving roomie!

Oh yes, I've joined the 'going green' movement with my homemade napkins. Inexpensive cotton fabric and a few minutes with the sewing machine-- the greater challenge will be actually using them as napkins; they're just too cute!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

My Turn... be the birthday girl! What a great day! So many little things that added up to one very special day. I didn't really have any expectations for my birthday this year-- I think that's what made it so enjoyable! I appreciated all the small moments and thoughtfulness because they weren't expected. ( I see a life lesson in that?)

In the evening, I opened...are you ready for this...a letter to myself that I wrote ten years ago on my birthday. Four pages of words from my teenage self. Advice, hopes, dreams, memories. Some of it brought tears to my eyes. And some of it made me laugh out loud!

Then I sat down and penned a letter to myself ten years from now. What a difference in the content, yet some things are very much the same. Will I look back at this one and laugh just as merrily? Will the memories make me cry? Will I smile at God's faithfulness once again?

Looking back ten years...then looking forward ten years...all in one evening. A lot of emotion for my little heart.

I have a couple blog posts in the making, but for now, only a couple websites to share.

Whole Grain Gourmet- I love cooking with whole wheat flour and other whole grains, yet substituting them in a new recipe can make for some interesting results. Enter Whole Grain Gourmet-- where they've already tested the recipes with whole grains. I love it! Such a variety of recipes and the comments provide helpful feedback. At this point, I've only perused the recipes, but I do see they have a forum as well.

Old-Fashioned Living- I stumbled onto this website when looking for instructions on cooking pumpkins last fall. What a jewel! All sorts of Do-It-Yourself ideas for crafts, recipes, decorating, and more--all with an old-fashioned flair. Again, I'm not a member on the forum, but I have certainly enjoyed the resources shared on this site!

I haven't been through all the content on these sites, so as always, visit with care. They really are delightful, though, and I hope you enjoy them.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sweet Birthday Girl

This month my sponsored child, S______, turns 10 on her birthday. I look at her in the picture on the refrigerator, dressed in a pair of baggy jeans and a purple T-shirt too big for her. A pair of sandals with flowers peeking out from under her jeans. Gorgeous dark eyes twinkling. And the most beautiful smile.

Something inside me softens.

And I’m humbled by the fact that this little girl halfway around the world, living in a culture and poverty level I can’t begin to understand…smiles at me. Writes to me.

And thanks me.

For sharing with her what was not mine from the start (1 Chronicles 29:11-17.

I didn’t make the choice to be born to a middle-class family in America. And she didn’t choose to be born in a poor African village. We are separated by an ocean in more ways than one—yet so very connected by the fact that we are both daughters of God, both so precious and loved by the One who created the very ocean between us.

But really, we’re not so different from each other. She does her chores and helps her family. She studies her lessons and learns about God. She loves, she hopes, she laughs, and she dreams.

My sponsorship has been an incredible blessing to me. It broadens my view, taking me outside my little bubble, remembering that it’s not all about me. S____’s letters bring a smile to my face along with her artwork. The knowledge that my small gift each month can make such a difference in her life is amazing. And that heart connection that spans the distance is indescribable.

I know some of you already sponsor children, and some of you may not be able to afford it right now. But if you have been thinking about it as a possibility, I want to put in a good word for CFCA—Christian Foundation for Children and Aging. I’m so impressed with their mission and that the over 94% of your donation actually goes toward those sponsored (the remaining percent going to fundraising and administration). Their co-founder has for the past year been traveling throughout communities CFCA serves, meeting the families—all on foot. He is truly ‘walking the walk.’

Father of us all, we pray for CFCA and other organizations like it, that you bless them in their mission to see You and care for You in the hungry, the thirsty, and those without clothing or shelter. We pray for all those they serve, and those they would like to serve. Open our hearts to our brothers and sisters, that we live in solidarity with them, remembering them and lifting them up to you as we eat, drink, shop, and rest in our warm homes. Help us to live with grateful hearts and to share from our abundance, not just our money but our time and the love You've poured into our hearts. Amen.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Life is beautiful...

-singing along with a catchy pop song while washing dishes.

-after an hour-long phone call with a dear friend.

-when I felt the gentle conviction of the Gospel reading of the Beatitudes at Mass on Sunday…just when I was struggling with comparing myself to others who seemed to have it all—on the outside.

-when my roomie and I stayed up late talking and drinking our Trader Joe’s Sipping Chocolate in coconut milk.

-when a friendly peaches-and-cream kitty trotted up to me as I stood by my car on a clear, cool night.

-with the warmth and sense of belonging I feel in my choir family and my church family.

-when my voice teacher encouraged me to look into becoming a Disney World singer—I mean, who wouldn’t want to dress up like a princess and sing Disney songs for a job?

-when an employee at JoAnn’s helped me pick out fabric, reminding me of the importance and beauty of the human connection in a world with ATMs and self-checkouts.

-with the little, unexpected things my parents do for me…and the realization of how much I love and treasure them.

-after a long day of errands and grocery shopping, thankful I have the money to pay for them.

-listening to the Christian radio station…the uplifting conversations as well as the songs.

-knowing that the little moments do matter, perhaps more than the big moments. That even when I’m unsure of the big picture, I can focus on these little moments and remember that in "the abyss of eternity...nothing is lost" (St. Maria Faustina).

-and finally, I have to say life is quite beautiful with a handful of crunchy almonds and 90% dark chocolate chunks. :)

Friday, February 4, 2011

I'm Learning

Sometimes we don’t really need answers to the why’s of life.

Sometimes we just need to know Someone is listening to us when we ask them.

There’s an incredible sense of comfort in just knowing someone is with you during the hard times. In my psychiatric nursing classes, we learned the benefits of presence, of listening, of empathizing. We didn’t learn how to fix it all—but simply how to be present with one who is ill, hurting, or grieving. We learned that words aren’t always necessary. Answers aren’t always possible.

Caring, loving, and just being there was sometimes enough.

In my own times of sorrow, I find myself most grateful for the ones who entered into it with me. Who didn’t shy away from the messiness. Who didn’t offer trite explanations or haughty words of advice as they tiptoed around the situation. But those who held me, cried with me, and shared their own stories of brokenness and healing.

And so my own reaction to the suffering of others has changed. Rather than awkwardly wondering what to say, I realize that sometimes words aren’t needed. They probably don’t need the cliché reminders that a lost loved one is in a better place, that others have worse problems, or that it was meant to be. More likely they need the reminder that they are not alone in their pain. That it is okay to grieve, and others will kneel down in prayer to hold them up. That’s the Body of Christ in action.

One of the most beautiful and powerful Scripture meditations I’ve ever heard was from a few simple thoughts on John 11, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The point that took root in my heart was that even though Jesus knew He was going to raise Lazarus from death to life, He wept (vs. 35). He grieved with His friends in the moment, even though He knew it would all turn out in the end.

Wow. What a God we serve—that He enters into our sorrow and feels it with us. And so should we with each other, as we seek to follow His example.

He listens. He loves. He cares. He comforts.

And so must we. Taking comfort in Him, and sharing that comfort with others.

Life sends its hard knocks to everyone. Many things are unanswerable this side of heaven. But perhaps we really don’t need the answers. We know the One who has the answers; but more than that, we know He is with us in the suffering—and every moment of life.

And that, my friends, makes this life beautiful.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Quick and Elegant: Pesto-Olive Chicken

Oh yes, it's time for another recipe. This one is incredibly easy-- yet very classy.

Pesto-Olive Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 6 oz. each)
1/2 cup pesto (prepared or homemade)
2 jars (4 1/2 oz.) sliced mushrooms, drained
1 can (4 1/2 oz.) chopped ripe olives
1 cup shredded provolone cheese

Flatten chicken slightly. Place in a 9 x 13 baking pan. Spoon pesto over chicken, top with mushrooms and olives. Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes (until chicken is fully cooked). Remove from oven and sprinkle with cheese. Return pan to oven and bake 1-2 minutes longer until cheese melted.
Mmm! Tastes as fabulous as it smells.