Somewhat Simple Soup Supper

Somewhat Simple Soup Supper

I don’t want to carry gratitude around in seasons.

I want to carry it in my bones,

I want to rest it in on my tongue

like it is a language

that I never stop speaking.

~Arielle Estoria

My favorite part of hospitality, hands down, is setting the table and warming up the home. Here’s our table ready for guests!

We hosted some of Tom’s coworkers for supper. In our home,”dinner” seems too formal, especially when soup is served. Soup is my absolute favorite to serve in cool weather. Along with bread, it’s truly a one dish meal. After the soup and cornbread, we passed a tray of chocolate chip pumpkin bread and almond joy cookies to finish off the simple meal. 

My favorite things about hosting in autumn?

  • The sun sets at 5:30! No one will notice the dust, spots and smudges, especially if you dim the lights and use your candles! Old candles are just fine; they don’t have to match. If you have a spicy scented candle, light it near the entrance to elicit that fall ambience.
  • There’s a chill in the air and soup is a perfect choice to warm everyone up!
  • You can add to the nostalgic autumnal feelings by hauling out your brown and earthy colored wooden bowls, plates and trays. Clip some magnolia branches with their beautiful velvety leaf backs, and add magnolia pods, pinecones and acorns that you find amongst the trees outside. Decorate the table with these items and set down in the middle a glass-enclosed candle among the natural elements. Glass enclosed for safety— I’ve been known to start a fire!
  • Shop your house for an old tablecloth and napkins and have fun setting your table.
  • Simmer water in the teakettle for spiced tea and hot chocolate.
  • Collect your throws and small blankets and toss them around in an inviting way to cozy up.

Nothing says cozy like a fire. I almost turned the thermostat down and lit a fire in the fireplace since the temperature hadn’t  dropped quite enough!

I’ve been thinking that the annual season of autumn feels a lot like the autumn season my husband and I are in. Time to slow down a bit, to look back, be grateful and to let go. A season of gratitude and anticipation.

Here’s to autumn; the food, the new and old friends, the family and especially the counting of gifts and blessings. Going forward with anticipation for what’s to come!

 

WHITE BEAN CHICKEN CHILI (my version)

4 cans navy beans (2 cans drained & rinsed; 2 not drained)

2 quarts chicken broth; add more if needed

1 t parsley

1 t cumin

1 t oregano

1 t paprika

1/4 t red pepper

1/4 t black pepper

olive oil

2 lbs (more or less) boneless chicken breasts, cubed

1 large onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic

1 small jalapeño, chopped (carefully remove membrane & seeds & don’t rub your eyes!)

handful of fresh cilantro

  • Boil broth & beans & add seasonings
  • Saute chicken in olive oil & add to pot
  • Saute onion, garlic & jalapeno; add some of the cilantro
  • Add all to pot and simmer as long as possible
  • Before serving, mash some of beans to thicken soup & add rest of cilantro

 

JULIE’S PUMPKIN BREAD

3 Cups Sugar

1 Cup Oil

4 Eggs

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2/3 Cup water

2 Cups Pumpkin (one 15 oz. can)

3 1/3 Cups Flour

1 Cup Raisins (optional) OR my personal favorite: 1 Cup Chocolate Chips!

  • Mix ingredients together in a large bowl and pour into 3 greased and floured loaf pans (8 inch or 9 inch). Bake 1 hour @ 350 degrees. Cool briefly before turning out.

ENJOY!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Miracle of the Open Door

The Miracle of the Open Door

“Most of all, love each other steadily and unselfishly, because love makes up for many faults. Show hospitality to each other without complaint. Use whatever gift you’ve received for the good of one another so that you can show yourselves to be good stewards of God’s grace in all its varieties. 1 Peter 4: 8-10

Crispy green celery sticks stuffed with crunchy peanut butter. That’s what I remember from the meal. They were delicious. I don’t recall what else we ate because, I guess, it wasn’t that important. What I DO remember is the way I felt. My close friend Barbara had again welcomed me into her home; to her table. My respite. On this particular night another friend joined us, also. I don’t remember where our kids were. Maybe they’d eaten earlier? I believe Barbara’s husband was out of town, but I’m not positive. She’d prepared the meal and put our heaping plates before us—but the sustenance I took in was far more than food.

“Share what you have with the saints, so they lack nothing; take every opportunity to open your life and your home to others.” Romans 12:13

Everyone needs a meal when the stomach is hungry. But there is so much more to the open door and table than the food we eat. I was hungry for peace. In her home, I could relax and breathe.

I brought no contributions to the table other than my familiar companions: shock, deep sadness, and fear, to name a few.

The memory of the food served has vanished. But I can still see myself sitting at that table in that kitchen, in that neighborhood in Mobile, Alabama. I don’t think I talked about my problems. But just being there, enjoying a change of scenery and watching life actually going on around me. That’s what helped. To hear, “Pass the salt”, or to talk about a new recipe or the weather was consoling. To know that everyone’s life hadn’t stopped just because I felt that mine had. Somehow I was surprised that those things helped.

Minutes before I arrived, I’d felt such heavy darkness and despair in my own little home, only five minutes from Barbara’s. Hopelessness was smothering me.

The hopelessness dimmed when I crossed the threshold into her warm home. My circumstances hadn’t changed but engaging with others took my mind off of my despair long enough to think about other things.

My husband had left days before. Or maybe it was weeks. He walked away from my young son and me. He walked right out of our door. But not before he reminded me to bring the garbage cans in because a hurricane was coming. *

I was pregnant with our second child.

It would take me years to recover from the horrendous experience that began when he left.

Thus this story of the “the open door” and its impact on my life. I credit Barbara and others for giving me a love and passion for the ministry of hospitality. I truly hope you’ve experienced serving others this way. And I hope you have received biblical hospitality. I really hope you see how valuable it is.

Hospitality can look like sitting on the sofa sharing coffee or a glass of cold water. It can be ordering pizza and eating on paper plates. You could offer hospitality in a coffee shop or on a park bench. When you have the time and inclination, you can also create a nice home-cooked dinner and serve it on your favorite plates.

THE FOOD IS NOT MOST IMPORTANT. NOR IS THE PRESENTATION. Your kindness, your willingness to give of your time to engage and listen; that’s what’s important.

What if a full laundry basket overflows on the sofa? That’s okay. Now your guests know you’re a normal person in the middle of a busy life. They may even offer to fold! I can promise you if the friends or strangers in your home are tasked with helping you out, they will feel more relaxed and welcomed. If you have it all together or seem too perfect, they’ll be less likely to invite people into their homes, especially you! Show them that they are important enough for you to hit pause on regular chores. I intentionally made a point of having people in our home during major repairs and construction. The times when the refrigerator was shoved across the room, or when we had huge holes in our sheetrock and sub-flooring was under our feet.

I’d be completely lost without God! He’s my Hope; His Holy Spirit helps and comforts me.

WE are Christ’s Body—His hands and feet. We are the ones with doors and tables and food that encourage other folks around us.

Jesus saved me. Hospitality and His Body brought me life.

We are made to be WITH, not alone. Nothing feels worse than loneliness. We need each other, especially in the tough times!

Why do I  share my story from so long ago? It’s good for me to remember. I want to keep fanning my own flame of hospitality as well as yours.

Let’s step out of our comfort zones and connect in a meaningful way with someone new. Let’s be on the lookout for someone dying to know the love and acceptance we’ve experienced.

“Share what you have with the saints, so they lack nothing; take every opportunity to open your life and your home to others.” Romans 12:13

*I hope to never dishonor others while being transparent about my life; my former spouse later regretted his actions and we were eventually on good terms.

 

 

Don’t Quit in the Middle

Years ago, around the time I was birthing babies #3 and #4, I quit right in the middle of a sewing project. I’d imagined how cute my gray dress would be, after perusing the gigantic pattern book and choosing the perfect one. I’d purchased the fabric and cut out the pattern per directions. Then I quit. I accomplished the easy and fun part by the impetus of my imagination, but quit right when the project became difficult. I felt terrible about my(frugal)self when I finally tossed that pretty gray fabric, already poised to be a stylish dress. My approximate expenses were $7.00, three hours and weeks of self-degradation. It was a failure; but not exactly a life-altering one.

Some quitting, however, produces dire results.

Awhile back I took a sweaty walk around “the loop” at Wrightsville Beach. I started to think of this subject of quitting. As I walked, I recalled a recent conversation with a friend who’d just retired. She said, “I wonder if I should have retired earlier; our time together is just so precious.” I looked at her, a bit shocked, replying, “Precious? I remember when your marriage was anything but precious…that season when awful things occurred and your marriage was hanging by a thread. When anger and hurt permeated your days”. I wanted to be sure she knew how profound her choice of adjectives was.

Precious: Of great value or high price. Highly esteemed or cherished.

We both teared up. We realized that it was by God’s Grace and their commitment to their vows that they now had more richness than they could’ve imagined; more than seemed feasible.

I was still dripping in 100% humidity as I continued my walk, still pondering the earlier chat with my friend. She and her husband could have quit in the middle and the fallout would have been devastating, causing ripple effects in the family and community. But they didn’t quit! I’d seen her smile and sensed her contentment—tangible fruits of righteousness.

One caveat: I understand that some marriages are not salvageable. I experienced a divorce in my early twenties, after trying everything in my power to keep it together. I then became even more passionate about the importance of fighting for marriage.

Statistics show that most couples who come to the brink of divorce and then decide rather to work on their marriages, actually become much happier in later years than they once were. Sometimes we have to navigate pain and struggles before we see the sweet fruit!

I thought of my Tom. We’re so happy and in love. But there have been many times when, behind the smiles on our faces, there was anger, hurt and resentment. Those years I wrote about earlier when we “passed like ships in the night” Marriage is So Much Trouble. When intimacy was a job to check off the to-do list. The times when I had unhealthily learned to “turtle” as Bob Goff likes to say. My natural response was pulling away—head in, tail in, arms and legs in. And I thought myself “nice” because I didn’t outwardly express anger. Then I learned that silence and withdrawing are just as negative a response.

 And if one person is vulnerable to attack, two can drive the attacker away. As the saying goes, “A rope made of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12

I’m convinced that the reason we didn’t give up and quit in the middle of our marriage was because of the Three Strand Cord. We have been able to stay true to our covenant with each other and with God because He has always been at the center, closely wrapped around us, even and especially in the hardest times. When life was anything but fun. When the dreamy days of flipping through the pages of a bridal magazine were replaced with poopy diapers, poopy bathrooms, tantrums, cleaning, an angry child, constant cooking, predawn sessions begging God for Grace to survive, and finally, another 24-hour day was completed. The season I learned to take one step in the right direction and to not stop. To say one more kind word and reach out with a gentle touch when I just wanted to be held and comforted myself. Some days, weeks and even years were so hard to bear that it’s painful for me to remember now. But the gift of growing older is to see a broader clearer perspective. To see that He really was faithful and He really had a plan all along. And all the not-quitting was truly worth the sacrifices.

We got married to be together. For better or worse. Guard your heart. Guard your eyes. Put on love. One touch here. A kiss there. A kind word. Love is made up of lots of little decisions. Let’s wear LOVE like a coat. Let’s wrap our SELVES completely in it.

Since you are all set apart by God, made holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with a holy way of life: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Put up with one another. Forgive. Pardon any offenses against one another, as the Lord has pardoned you, because you should act in kind. But above all these, put on love! Love is the perfect tie to bind these together. Let your hearts fall under the rule of the Anointed’s peace (the peace you were called to as one body), and be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15

The Art of Life

I enjoy and appreciate art in all its forms.

I truly believe that unique art appears all around us in our day to day lives. If only we have eyes to see.

I first awakened to this idea about three years ago.

I found myself noticing our daughter-in-law, Mary’s hands and the way they moved when she changed our granddaughter, Eliza’s diaper. The routine chore looked like art to me. Her lovely slim hands gently, carefully and naturally smoothed and fastened the diaper around the precious bundle. I’d never thought of this before. It got me to thinking about other times I’ve observed such art.

I thought of my sweet mom—how I miss her and how she would have revelled in our sweet grandchildren. I remembered all the mending she did for me when she came for a visit. It was a needed contribution of time and effort. She’d hem dresses, sew on buttons, and make repairs when I couldn’t seem to find the time. I can still see those lovely aging hands (the same ones I see on myself now), gracefully, patiently using the needle, thread and that ancient thimble that she’d preach “you can’t sew without!”

I also thought of our daughter, Katherine, and how her hand so gracefully and intuitively moves along a canvas, a board or envelope with her lovely fluid hand writing. It’s a splendid gift; an art.

These things have me reminding myself to look for “art” more inclusively and more gratefully.

I love what Oswald Chambers has to say.

“At the basis of Jesus Christ’s kingdom is the unaffected loveliness of the commonplace.”

We’re wowed by the famous and beautiful! We find disparities between us and them and the wind goes out of our sails as we’re navigating in our little world. Let’s stop that. Let’s look close by and open our eyes to the art at hand.

The next time you see a young daddy snap his daughter into her pjs; his smile beaming with swelling love, just think of the gloriousness of the God-designed family.

Observe the routine flow and flair of the seasoned homemaker as she cleans her kitchen, after serving love up to her people.

What about the art of teaching? The teacher daily responds with patience and dogged determination to fight for her kids. The caring consistent voice on which her students come to depend remind them that they are valued and they are going to succeed. When relationship and trust form between student and teacher it’s awesome to behold.

A mama reading to her toddler; the gentleness with which they touch, the familiar smells, the unique sound of mama’s voice— the dialect, that’ll always be comfort and affirmation for the precious recipient.

I started to think of more ways art is evident.

The repairman who “restored” our fridge was both skillful and kind; graciously answering all of my questions with a smile.

My friend, Renee; the way she serves up tasty homemade chili in her one of a kind pottery bowls. Everything she cooks is delicious; more so because of the relaxed flair and love that go along with the experience.

I thought of Barbara and how she mentored me in the art of devotional reading and listening. I can still remember sitting in her yard, kids running all around us, while we read J.B. Phillips’ version of the New Testament. It wasn’t just a book. It was bread and life.

When I’m with my dermatologist I feel like I’m the only one that matters at that moment. She’s affirming, thorough, decisive; calm; a great listener. I don’t know how she does it with her swamped schedule. But I happen to know she treats all her patients the same way.

My long time friend Nancy’s art of listening is a treasure to me. She appears to plan conversations as appointments in her day and then employs them as life-giving ministry. I want to be a better listener for others as she’s been to me.

What if we vacuum, dust, and clean toilets with the notion that God has given us these magnificent bodies to express our worship and gratitude by offering up our everyday-ness as art?

I’m folding towels, painting furniture and writing a letter to a friend. This is my calling today–my place and my art. Join with me as we celebrate each other along the journey, spurring on the unique “artists” around us!

“Teach me to shepherd the small duties of this day with great love.”

Everymomentholy.com

 

 

Magical Friendship

Magical Friendship

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

― A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

The acquiring of friends is one of the most magical if not miraculous experiences of my life.

A few months back I woke up feeling lonely. Now, I’m not trying to get you to feel sorry for me. Honestly and surprisingly, I don’t feel lonely often. But that day was different. I just wanted one person to hang out with. I wanted someone I could be myself with and not have to think hard before a word came out of my mouth.

I moved away from my hometown nearly two years ago. What I’ve found, and it totally makes sense to me, is that the people I’ve met in Columbia already had their own lives, schedules, activities and friends before I came. They may theoretically need to eliminate something in their lives before I can fit in. In a similar way, when I return often to Wilmington I see acquaintances and friends carrying on as if I never left. I promise I’m not clamoring for a pity party— I’m just being honest. It’s all a natural part of life.

I think God created us to endure, enjoy and learn from change. It’s such an important and inevitable part of life.

But that particular day, as I said, I felt lonely. So I did something about it. I texted my friend who I’ve mentored for a long time. You can read an earlier post about our friendship here: The Making of a Friend. I can’t really recall how long she’s been in my life. All I know right now is that when we first met she and her husband were newlyweds and now they have five children. So it’s been a while. LOL!  We met while working at a church service project. I invited she and her hubby to our small home group. The rest is history. We’ve lived far apart most of the years we’ve been friends, since her husband is in the military. She’s much younger and I think of her as a daughter. I’ve virtually walked with her through some hard places, because life… We’ve been honest and vulnerable with each other and I knew I could be transparent with her. She called me. After I asked all the questions about how she was doing, I said, “Okay I need to share some feelings with you. You don’t have to fix me; I just need to say this out loud.” It felt good just to hear myself say the words and to hear her listening. She went on to tell me about a difficult situation she and her husband had been navigating with a third party. Immediately the magic happened again. We were entering into each others’ lives and caring and responding. It helped me to get my mind off of myself; pray again for her and also feel relieved of my sad feelings.

“Right now, someone you haven’t met is out there wondering what it would be like to meet someone like you.” – Unknown

What is more fulfilling and more gladdening than a true friend? They don’t just happen overnight. They require LOTS of time. At first you work on being comfortable with each other, then, if all goes well, you feel safe enough to share your stuff; what makes you happy, sad, what motivates you and all the inside things. In a friendship it’s important to listen A LOT. As an aside, I try to be conscious of giving my friends a chance to speak because I feel like I’m apt to talk too much! I often pray the prayer that always works:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalms 19:12-14

Friendships take intention, initiation and pursuance.

I remember another friendship that I strongly pursued many years ago. I liked this person a lot and I made an intention to stay in touch with her, no matter how busy we both were. It felt one-sided for awhile and I wondered if she liked me and if she would have time or interest to be friends. I almost cry now, twenty-seven years later, so incredibly thankful for the friend she is to me. I’ve learned so much from her. She’s the one now, more often than not, who pursues. When she calls, she will hardly give me time to ask about her life. She’s too busy wanting to hear all about mine. She’s also the friend who once told me that I have spinach in my teeth and asked if I “meant” to wear two different earrings.

When I worked hard at being her friend, I never knew the treasure our relationship would be to me all these years later!

“We need old friends to help us grow old and new friends to help us stay young.”

– Letty Cottin Pogrebin

 

Blindly Going

The year was 1980 and I was en route to my OB/GYN. You will think this odd, but I always looked forward to my regular appointment.

I found out I was pregnant with my second child at about the same time my husband decided to leave our marriage. It was not something I ever imagined going through and my pain was almost unbearable.

In the doctor’s pretty and quiet waiting area, I would sit in a comfortable cushy chair. I’d pile up as many magazines as I could gather on my diminishing lap, and hope the wait to see my doctor was extra long.

Back home in my little 900 square foot house my dear friend was watching my two-year-old little boy along with a set of twin boys, also two, and about three other kids, depending on the day.

I certainly had very little time for reading at home. There was no extra money to buy magazines so I perused as many as possible while I enjoyed having a babysitter. No matter what the exam entailed, the appointment was a break for me.

I’d opened a small daycare in my home to support my family. Having taught public school, including kindergarten, I was familiar with the art of childcare. My wonderful friends helped me by transferring their kids from other daycare centers and placing them in my care. It was an extremely difficult season but one where God’s grace shone bright.

All of these memories flooded into my thoughts a couple of months ago when I decided to take a walk across the Lake Murray dam in Columbia. I wasn’t really dressed for a warm four mile walk, but I happened to be in the area for a job with a client, so I couldn’t resist.

I began the walk along the concrete path and looked across the water which appeared to have no end. Instantly, the endless water triggered thoughts of that earlier time when my future was an endless scary blurry unknown —when going to the doctor was the highlight of my week. I’d been in a season of looking out over my life having no clue what was ahead; or how anything would turn out.

I would soon have my second child and I couldn’t know then that my daughter, Dawn, would have severe cognitive deficits. Her lack of appropriate development and need for constant attention would add a very difficult and complicated challenge to our little family’s life.

On my way to the doctor visit that morning so many years ago, I heard God speak clearly to me. Not audibly, but just as certain— I saw a picture in my mind. I was praying along the drive there about my life and how in the world was I going to make it!? As clearly as could be, I heard God speak that I was going to be fine because I was planted on the Rock. That I hadn’t built my life on shifting sands. These words referred to a familiar scripture (Matthew 7:24-27) and the message was simple enough.

It was just what I needed to hear that morning in order to keep going. One step at a time; one day at a time.

Earlier, when I was a teenager, I’d established continual communication with the Lord through the Holy Spirit. Diving into God’s Word had become a consistent habit in my life. In the darkest times, truth and hope became congruent and magnified during my desperate need for guidance.

Abraham traveled, by faith, to a land he did not know (Hebrews 11:8).

As a young woman with a toddler, pregnant and alone, I also saw myself going blindly into an unknown land. I continued to trust in the truths that had been spoken, and persist in the hope that I’d one day have a decent life. In case I sound emotionally “strong”, let me assure you that I felt very weak. There were so many times I felt like I couldn’t change another diaper, or survive another tantrum or comfort my daughter through the night when morning would come so quickly. That I’d never be able to enjoy a so-called normal life. But I also recognized the Holy Spirit coaxing me to keep going (without seeing).

I’m only telling you my story to encourage you, no matter what you’re going through. The great thing about living more years than some of your friends (a nice way to say “being older”) is that your retrospection is longer! I look back now with joy deep down; so grateful for my life. I couldn’t see this clearly years earlier; it’s taken me many years of closeness with Jesus to come to this place. So, don’t give up, my friends! I believe there is more good ahead for you, too. I am truly fine! And I believe you will be fine, too. In the meantime, keep pressing on and keep building a close relationship with Jesus. He’s the friend that sticks closer than a brother.

Just this morning, my long time companion, Oswald (Chambers) told me this:

“If we are going to live as disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that all noble things are difficult. The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty of it does not make us faint and cave in, it rouses us up to overcome. Do we so appreciate the marvelous salvation of Jesus Christ that we are our utmost of His highest?”  

(July 7 entry from “My Utmost for His Highest”)

“Gloriously difficult”– sometimes he makes me laugh, but he speaks truth! Carry on, Beloved!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life Was Easier When I Knew Everything

Life Was Easier When I Knew Everything

“Faith must be tested, because it can be turned into a personal possession only through conflict. … Faith is unutterable trust in God, trust which never dreams that He will not stand by us.”

Oswald Chambers

 

Recently my husband speculated about a lifelong friend; wondering why this person’s life had taken the turn it had. He pondered why certain things haven’t happened the way we expected them to; good things we’d hoped for him. Tom turned to me to ask what I thought. I almost surprised myself when I said, “We can’t figure out why things didn’t turn out differently for him. There are so many variables–life is uncertain.”

Lately, I’ve experienced visceral pain for friends who are in hard situations. Desperately praying;  I carry them close to my heart. I remind them of my thoughts; what else can I do?

I used to know everything, or at least thought I did. Of course, I would never have said that; but when I look back I realize I behaved as if I had all the answers. I guess I thought most outcomes could be determined simply by choices; that things would work out if we behaved and worked hard, or something like that. Choices and actions are important. Then, there is that Ever Present Looming Universe Over Which I Have No Control.

I had a lot to learn in the compassion and humility departments.

Years ago, I probably would’ve had answers as to why our friend hasn’t achieved the things we expected. I’d have known what he should have done in order to be successful.

Before I had children, I’d hear screaming mamas and kids while grocery shopping. I’d roll my eyes in judgement. I could tell that mama what to do to make her kids behave. A parenting expert without children! That’s what I was.

I had suggestions when a friend suffered from depression. I truly cared for her, but I didn’t understand her inability to stay in a good mood. She needed to get involved with other people and get her mind off herself. I wanted her to snap out of it.

Somewhere along the way, the teacher called Life came into play. Bad things happened to me. My marriage partner for life decided to leave. The baby I was carrying when he left would have serious disabilities.

When my daughter was three, I dragged her with me several hours to a revival where a well known speaker would be leading the services. Apparently he was known for faith healing. The only thing needed from me was an ability to really believe she’d be healed. And believe I did! In my mind, I could see her normally engaging with people around her. But, sadly, the miracle I wanted never happened. And it hasn’t happened to this day, many years later.

My daughter wasn’t healed and I was painfully disappointed. Then, other troubles came upon my family. I won’t bore you with all the details but there were some very hard seasons.

As I look back now these many years later, I have a very different perspective than I did when I knew it all. I see all of the troubles and heartaches I’ve experienced, as a gift of sorts. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t wish that “gift” on other people, and I don’t want to re-do those experiences. But they have begun to mold me into what I wanted from the very beginning. Christlikeness. I’ve seen the process over and over in other people. I honestly wonder if Christians ever change and grow without the trials that beat up against us. I tend to think they are a necessary part of life.

These days, I say, “I don’t know” all the time. Why did I ever need to have answers for everyone? Frankly, it was probably fear. If I could figure out how to create positive outcomes then I’d be able to avoid my own pain, which seemed like a good idea. I’m a chicken when it comes to pain.

I’m closer to God and trust in His miraculous power more than ever. The way He’s blessed my life and answered so many desires–especially my Tom– has humbled me.  I pray each day for impossible things to happen in the lives of people I care about, and some people I don’t even know. I continually pray for a miracle for my daughter, Dawn.

I try my best to focus on Him and allow His Presence to overshadow the bad things that happen in this earthly life. Horrible things like young people dying and parents of small children taking their own lives.

I’m a more grateful person now. I’m looking for beauty in the moments; things I overlooked or minimized for so long.

I typically see folks now through a lens of compassion. Especially the ones I would have thought weird or scary in earlier decades. They’re the ones who I imagine have suffered the most. And they are still standing on their own two feet. Certain kinds of heroes.

I know far less than I used to know, but I’ve relinquished my life (a little) more freely to the One Who Knows Everything. And He is Wholly Good.

Better a Neighbor Nearby

“Better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away.” 

It’s been nearly a year now since Shari invited all the neighbor ladies over for a party at her home. A party to say goodbye to me. I wasn’t the only one in tears that night. Honestly I was crying a lot last year. I didn’t want to move from our home or our neighborhood. But we knew God was pointing us in the direction of South Carolina, after a job offer had been made.

Twenty-six years earlier, Shari had greeted me with these words as I walked past her house, “I want to have a baby shower for you!” At that time as well, I was touched and honored. True to our neighborhood, the ladies came to Shari’s en masse, arms loaded with pink curly beribboned packages. As we sat around the cozy family room, little one-week-old Katherine was passed from mama to mama with all the oohs and aahs you might imagine. Shari had even crocheted a pink blanket for our baby girl.

Shari was the neighbor I really wanted to get to know over thirty years ago. We were busy women; she with three kids and me with eventually four. We’d hurriedly greet each other; she while entering her back door and me as I ran in and out of my front door. She always seemed to have her life together—she was continually planting something or painting something or engaged in a myriad of activities. I wasn’t sure if she needed or wanted another friend. Even that long ago, the neighborhood friendships were pretty well established and I didn’t know how we’d fit in.

There was no texting going on in the late eighties. One day I picked up the telephone from its base on the wall and called Shari to see if I could borrow some sugar. First of all, I needed some for the cookies I was baking. Secondly, it was a great opportunity to break the ice with my neighbor.

A cup of sugar here and there, neighborhood gatherings, chatting in the yard between houses, laughing together, sharing broken hearts and enduring long illnesses and deaths of neighbors who’d become like family. Those were the bricks gradually and carefully laid one atop another over a long span of time—forming a structure called friendship. After Shari became single and our kids were all grown, I’d occasionally ask her to share a meal or I’d walk over with a plate of left-overs. We’d take walks together and meet at restaurants for a late lunch after her pre-school teaching was over for the day. We’d go to movies and events; and she’s the one I’d call first when I needed a ride to the airport or the mechanic. I’d smile really big when I opened the front door to find a couple stalks of broccoli, some tiny just-dug red potatoes and long skinny green onions. I always looked forward to that little garden coming to life —I’d never seen someone have such success in a small plot of ground as Shari did.

A friendship doesn’t happen overnight. First someone has to make a move. Then come conversations with an emphasis on listening; hopefully many conversations; then you’ll become involved in each other’s lives. Finally, if everything goes well, the relationship will become meaningful and encouraging to both parties. The best friendships don’t need a lot of emotion to begin; just someone to take the first step. That step may eventually lead to an important relationship that you can’t imagine not having experienced.

You may say, “That’s all very well, but you don’t know my next door neighbor!” True; but just consider what your next step might be.

God tells me to first love Him and secondly love my neighbor as myself. Sometimes we just need to ask ourselves, “If I were that person next door in the same situation, how would I want to be treated?”

“Therefore, you should treat people in the same way you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.” 

Now, I’m preaching to myself as I’m again connecting with new neighbors. Beginning is the hardest for me. With God’s help, I’m choosing to say yes to opportunities even when it’s uncomfortable.

Maybe today you’ll look at your neighbors through a different lens; they aren’t there by mistake.

“We make our friends, we make our enemies, but God makes our next door neighbor!”

G. K. Chesterton

 

 

Expectations

Pray, and let God worry.

Martin Luther

 

On my morning walk I was praying like it was my job— serious praying that befits this season. Friends with serious health diagnoses, a sweet friend fighting for her life after a horrific accident and a couple manuevering a very painful breach in their marriage—we love them all so much and we’re crying out for answers. It seems almost too heavy a burden sometimes.

Not only are there urgent needs; there are those perpetual prayers that I’ve voiced for years, sometimes becoming weary and bored with my own words. I pray rotely— like songs or idioms that stick in your head. They never completely leave my consciousness.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever see the answers to those long-term prayers. The measure of my hope seems to be commensurate with the amount of time an item has been on my list. Those old tired prayers can become repetitous, almost numbing.

On my best days I stir myself to visualize glorious outcomes. I watch for the answers, peeking through the cracks of my awareness much like when I’m expecting arriving friends—walking to the door; looking through the window to see if they’ve arrived.

I believe for the answer but I know that it may not come in the way I want. There is that faith element in our companionship with God that we can’t get away from. It takes believing without seeing to even know Him. Faith motivates us to keep after it (prayer) when we don’t see results. When we think God is deaf or busy doing something else. I have to pray in agreement with what I believe He would pray and then trust that I’ll see it come to pass. He is Love. Also, He is Sovereign and He keeps some things in a secret place that I’m not privy to.

What if God answers some prayers after I’m gone? What if He answers differently from what I imagined? What if an amazing response finds its way into the life of someone in conjunction with my prayers?

AM I ABLE TO LET GO AND REALIZE THE FUTURE BELONGS TO HIM?

Years ago as I was thinking along these lines, I found myself encouraged by a beautiful young woman named Ruth. There is true beauty in one whose heart is so pure and selfless.

We find Ruth living in Moab in 1140 BC. At that time a Jewish family relocated from Bethlehem-Judah to Moab to escape a serious famine. One of the family’s sons married Ruth. Sadly, after only a few years, the father and two sons died, leaving only the mom, Naomi, and her two daughters-in-law to fend for themselves. One daughter-in-law, Orpah, decided to remain in her homeland, but Ruth insisted on staying with Naomi and returning to Bethlehem. Naomi urged Ruth to leave her, but Ruth was emphatic, even though the future looked very bleak.

” Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.”  Ruth

Ruth’s story is interwoven with God’s Sovereignty; His overall Purpose in history was sure to be accomplished. In Ruth’s determination to support her mother-in-law, she played an important role in continuing the lineage that would bring the Messiah to our world. As she set out to earn a living, Ruth found favor with a prosperous leading man of the city. He allowed to her to glean barley in the fields after the workers left. The man, Boaz, kindly asked the workers to leave extra grain for her to collect. Ruth quickly created a livelihood for herself and her mother-in-law. She also caught the eye of Boaz. Naomi had explained that he was a relative of hers and one of the men whose responsibility it was to care for widows in their family. In what is a true love story in itself, Boaz married Ruth and relieved she and Naomi from their fear of the future. Ruth would go on to have a son, Obed, making Naomi a happy grandma and carrying on the family line.

That’s all exciting enough, but here’s the real clincher. RUTH WAS A DISTANT GREAT-GRANDMOTHER OF JESUS CHRIST THE MESSIAH! And…she didn’t even know. Ruth made selfless choices apparently with no thought of herself.  She chose what what she perceived to be God’s will in real life decisions. And just look how prominent a role she plays in history!

Ruth has given me much hope.  Our pleadings DO HAVE RESULTS, even though we may never see them. We have to walk in faith, praying and making the best decisions we know to make and then LEAVE THE RESULTS TO OUR FATHER. As earthlings, we see only part of the big picture. We might be flabbergasted if we knew how profoundly our choices and prayers affect the future.

 

Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.

Corrie ten Boom

 

 

Is Your Table Big Enough?

Is Your Table Big Enough?

Is your table big enough for folks outside your family? Is your heart large enough to offer a hand of friendship to a neighbor or a stranger?

I remember how scared I was the day before I hosted a dinner in our home for the very first time. As a new bride, I was very excited and anxious about setting a table and serving new friends— another married couple. I was a public school teacher and I worried about having time to get everything ready. I decided to prepare the meal ahead of time. I guess I was afraid I wouldn’t be ready otherwise. I wish I could remember how I arrived at my particular thinking and what food I’d served. I do remember that it wasn’t well suited to being prepared ahead. In other words, it was quite overcooked by the time we sat down to eat. Looking back, I could probably easily have whipped it together after school that day. That was back in the day when I’d sit in bed at night poring over cookbooks and imagining serving the lovely staged meals in the photos.

The meal surely wasn’t all that great, but I do remember the conversation being easy and the enduring friendship which began that night.

I recall another low point early in my culinary career. My sweet daddy went to the grocery store and bought me a chicken after he happened to see the one I’d planned to cook for dinner. It would be my first chicken and who knew they had expiration dates? If he hadn’t intervened, I may not be here today to tell my story!

My mom was wonderful in the kitchen, daily working her magic; I certainly didn’t lack an example. I likely had no interest in cooking at my parents’ home. That seems to be how kids are. Until it’s important to you, you don’t acquire the skill.

My first hosting experience came back to me recently along with the nervous feelings. It was such an odd feeling— I don’t remember having anxiety about hospitality in thirty years or more. Here was the occasion: our new neighbors were coming over for dinner! We’d barely met them and it would be my first time cooking and entertaining in our new home in Columbia.

Why show hospitality?

As Christ followers we’re connected to a large body of other people. We need each other. Hospitality is a practical way to show love to fellow Christians as well as to those who don’t have a relationship with Christ. As we sit around a table together we’re on common, level ground.  Our homes are the perfect place to reach out to people of different backgrounds and lavish them with kindness.

1 Peter 4:8-9

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Hebrews 13:2

Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Romans 12:13, 15-16

When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.  Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Suggestions:

  • Call and invite someone over for a meal before you have time to get scared.
  • Say yes if your guest asks to bring something. People like to help and it makes everyone more relaxed.
  • Offer who you are and what you have–be authentic!
  • Don’t wait until your house is ready!
  • Order pizza & salad or prepare something simple.
  • Don’t attempt a Thanksgiving meal!
  • If you do the prep, a one dish meal is best. A pot of soup or large salad with a delicious loaf of bread, for instance. Band-Aid Bread (Recipe Included)
  • Set the table ahead of time. Use what you have—light a candle and cut some flowers or greenery from your yard.
  • Remember the essentials: a smile and a listening ear.

Our recent dinner with neighbors went well. We enjoyed learning about each other and they seemed to like the meal. I even told them a bit of my story and confessed that I was nervous that night.

My first entertaining experience lit a flame in me that’s never gone out. There’s nothing I’ve enjoyed more than inviting people to share our table. A magic happens there unlike anywhere else. Is your table big enough?

“People will forget what you said, forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou