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keithsbabybraceletc

If you’re going through a challenge, this post is for you. Maybe it’s a teen challenge, a fertility challenge, an over-the-edge exhaustion challenge, maybe it’s a health challenge – your own or one you love.

Maybe it’s a financial challenge, a dream challenge,  a broken-down car challenge, academic or behavior challenge, a heart-breaking challenge.

There’s only one rule for further reading: Do Not Qualify Your Challenge, don’t compare, quantify, or measure,  don’t shut off conversation because it’s not the exact challenge. Challenges are challenges – they stretch the heart, stretch faith and hope; they frustrate, hurt and, yes, grow us. In each challenge, God is the same.

As a child of God, though, the course of action is the same, regardless of the challenge: keeping our eyes on the one who can walk us through the challenge, protecting us, helping us, and, at times, carrying us. Whatever your challenge is, this story is for you, too.

In just a few days, we celebrate Easter, the resurrection of our Savior who died to save us – to save us from a life of separation from the Father. He became the forever sacrifice, his spilled blood covering our sin so that our creator, our Father, could look upon us, his children, pull us into his embrace, and walk with us homeward.

December 20th, my husband and I started a journey, where Christmas, Passover and Easter collided and burst alive, bringing into sharpened focus what it is to believe. it. all. And in the believing watch the writer of our story unveil a plot designed to shorten his life before my husband took his first breath.

December 20th, Christmas  time- a mistake just realized. . .

Noticing a discrepancy between his heart rate when kayaking and walking, when my husband went for his annual physical, he was referred to a cardiologist he’d seen the year before. When he returned from the heart visit, he told me there was a problem.

There’d been a mistake.

The tests from the year before hadn’t been forwarded to the primary care doctor – and no one had notified him. Last year’s test results showed severe aortic stenosis. He needed a heart valve replacement. He was only 59 years old.

He came home without a description of what a heart event would look like – or what we were supposed to do in a heart event. I wanted a manual with step-by-step directions. I wanted to be prepared. I felt like we’d been handed a time bomb that could go off at any minute.

I wasn’t willing to wait around. I’m pro-active.  He was in to his primary care doctor in 30 minutes. Surely there was a mistake, we thought. Wrong file? Wrong name? Wrong person? My friend’s 94 year old father’s aortic valve was replaced the year before – this is something that should have been 40 years down the road.

At 4:28 that afternoon, after not hearing anything further, I called to make an appointment with my friend’s father’s cardiologist at St. Thomas Heart in Nashville, two minutes to closing. The receptionist listened to the story – I hung up  with an appointment for two days later with the promise of a referral following.

We weren’t ready to tell our sons – not until further information was accurately gathered and a plan formulated. Besides, it was Christmas.

“Who’ve you told?” he asked, seeing my sheepish expression. Well, my friend who gave me the name of the new cardiologist.

Another friend drove over with a smaller Christmas Tree cookie cutter that evening. When I walked out to her car and she handed it to me, I burst into tears – so two people knew.

Two people God sent across my path who believed in the power of prayer, who believed that God still heals, still does miracles, still answers the prayers of his children.

God knew I would need to keep my hands and heart busy on the day  in-between.  We were surprised but He wasn’t. . . He was already steps ahead of what we knew. . . which is why weeks earlier he’d dropped this idea into my heart to build friendship, to fill my home and heart, to mix, bake and find space for laughter.

I baked a hundred cookies that night, with dough for 50 more. You see, I’d invited a family with as many kiddos as mine over to decorate cookies. . . the day before the cardiologist visit  – cookies to take to a local assisted living at lunch time to share and sing Christmas songs. We cut out more cookies, talked birth order personalities, baked some more, talked spiritual gifts, laughed, made icing, had fun with decorating points, made a huge mess, and delivered the results with Christmas songs and time spent with the residents.

christmascookiescThe new cardiologist diffused the time bomb and scheduled further testing January 2nd to solidify the plan for an aortic heart valve replacement.

Another in-between, another wait. He had complete peace; I baked: my grandmother’s coffee cakes, Christmas cake, majeskas and bourbon balls, Christmas casseroles, and hot chocolate. I measured, stirred, whipped, baked, washed the measuring spoons and cups, the mixer, the pans over and over. . . and kept my focus on the one leading us through this journey. . . . and thankfulness for the reason for Christmas steeped the in-between, the wait, thankfulness the son of the king agreed to come down from his throne, be born a baby in a manger. . .

Yet, just as quickly as I thanked God for the birth of his son, I was thanking Him for Easter, for the crucifixion and resurrection, for the sacrifice of the unblemished lamb whose shed blood would cover my sin so God would be able to look upon his children – to love, fight, protect, heal each of us, to hear our prayers, know our fears and abate them, save us from Satan’s attacks.

“The sun has finally come, heralding the hope of the Christmas Season! This seeming constant rain and darkness has been a reminder of life without the birth of our Savior – and this sunshine drives home the symbolism of the saving hope He brings and what this celebration is really about! Wishing you and all you walk among the saving hope born of Christmas!” ~ December 24th, Instagram

A couple of challenges ago, I learned not to hold my breath in the wait of a prayer sent out. Breath-holding until the challenge has passed isn’t trusting God. There’s no peace in it, no fully living with a breath-holding mentality. God leaves such precious blessing in the wait of a prayer sent out, but when we live holding our breath, pausing until the prayer  is answered, we miss the blessings. The most important part of living happens in the hard wait, so I breathed in, “Lord, Jesus Christ” and breathed out, “Have mercy on us.” Breathing Jesus in. Breathing mercy out.

Intentional living, intentional loving, intentional focusing on the one who had the map to this journey. . . The Christmas gifts we gave weren’t all spot on. The stockings looked like a slackard elf put them together. Everything seemed a step off except for when my focus  was on the one who held both of us by the hand and guided us.

It was an I Believe Christmas. . . 
run smack into an Easter resurrection. . .

Maybe that’s what everyday living should be – a collision of Christmas and Easter in a come alive way.

lakeleafcWe decided before Christmas to tell the boys on Bucher Family Hat Day, January 1. I think it took a while to process this significant health challenge, to solidify how we were going to walk this forward, and finding the words to use to express and encase this challenge.

At no point did Keith ever doubt what the outcome would be: God had this! He didn’t doubt it for a moment.

My heart’s desire, maybe it’s my mission statement, is to show the boys what marriage looks like as we grow old with God as the center of that relationship. January 1 we were ready to tell our boys, to lead them forward through this challenge as God led us. They were about to realize marriage with God as the center isn’t challenge free but faith full.

Living over 1 1/2 hours from every major city, including downtown Nashville, we experienced a lot of drive time at 4:3 a.m. for the next 8 weeks. January 2 began a series of tests: a TEE, and heart catheterization were the big ones.

His arteries were great. My cooking did not cause the problem. It wasn’t that he’d eaten the wrong diet, not exercised enough, not lived the right kind of life style – whatever that may be.

He was born with a two-leaf heart valve (bi-cuspid), instead of a three-leaf heart valve (tri-cuspid). He was born destined for a life cut short. Our sons will need to be tested eventually.

Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy – he does it slyly, a sneak-thief thinking he can outsmart God: switching three-leaf heart valves with two is just one way. If we put our heads together, I imagine we could fill a book with a list full of ways Satan tries to interfere with God’s kids. Yet, no matter how Satan tries to interfere, God isn’t just a few moves ahead. He’s already implemented the steps for the win.

For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
   I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
   My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
   Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them” ~ Psalm 130: 13-16

The heart-valve study chooses the procedure for valve replacement: open heart surgery or the TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve implantation). One is very uncomfortable with an eight week recovery, while the other requires only an overnight hospital stay.  The study chose open heart surgery, and within six months was no longer an option. The procedure needed to be done quickly because since last year’s sonogram, the aortic valve was now critical.

A mistake had been made a year before. . . or had it. . .

The birth and resurrection had never seemed so closely connected.

Rummaging through Keith’s top drawer, I found his hospital baby identification bracelets. His mom and dad had no idea they were expecting twins. The story is a sweet one.

Dr. Mahaffey came out to tell Lloyd, my father-in-law, he had a healthy baby girl. Some minutes later he came out again and congratulated him on a son.

“But Dr. Mahaffey, you just told me I had a girl. Don’t you know which? Is it a boy or a girl?” my father-in-law, 25, asked.

“Son, you have one of each,” the kindly old doctor said, at which point, Lloyd slid down the hospital wall in shock.

They still laugh about the audacity of how Dr. Mahaffey charged double for the two: $75 a piece.

Those baby bracelets with the misspelled name, the II signaling he was born second. . . no one ever realized satan had already made a move to destroy that precious life. Satan didn’t yet realize God already had the saving plan.

As we stepped deeper into this “All is well” journey, one by one, God sent people across our path who stopped for real conversation, whose “How are you doing” wasn’t just a hand-off greeting, people who still believed miracles happen, that the power of God overcomes. I also invited a hand full of women I’d written with in the blogging community for years, women with a heart for intercession to pray with us. 

Slowly, a small brigade formed, praying with us for complete healing, for unflagging strength and courage for the journey, to encourage us to keep our eyes focused on the one who works those miracles, who heals the broken places, who has the best battle plans and wins.

This small brigade were the Aaron and Hurs in the hard of the challenge.

So Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.’ So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword” (Exodus 17: 8-13).

These intercessors who believed with us: “All is well!”

stairwellc
During the pre-tests for open heart surgery, a nodule was found in his lung. The plan changed. Though the PET scan was borderline inconclusive, the pulmonologist thought it was Adeno cancer. An eight week recovery was out of the question. Open heart surgery was switched for the TAVR to be followed by a biopsy followed by lung surgery.

I asked God how I needed to pray. He sent me to 2 Kings 4: 8-37, the story of the Shunammite wife and mother whose son had fallen ill and died. She didn’t wail and tell the world of her challenge, her grief, her fear or heart-break. She just said, “All is well.”

“All is well”  I said as we followed him.

Severe aortic stenosis? “All is well”

Nodule in the lung? Cancer? “All is well”

How are you doing? “All is well”

All is well!

The Passover just collided with Christmas and Easter.

That mistake? It wasn’t a mistake after all. . .

(The rest of the story in Part II: When Easter, Passover and Christmas Collide)

lakeleafc

Linking with these blogs this week:
Trekking Through – http://www.trekkingthru.com/
http://www.richfaithrising.com/ Unite the Bloggosphere
http://purposefulfaith.com/ Cheerleading #RaRaLinkUp
http://www.messymarriage.com/ Messy Marriage
http://holleygerth.com/ Coffee for Your Heart
Mary Geisen/ TellingHisStory
abounding Grace/Graceful Tuesday/
Creativity with Art

Inspire Me MondayLiterary Musing MondaysTea and Word TuesdayPurposeful FaithTell His StoryRecharge WednesdayPorch Stories Linkup, Welcome Heart, Worth Beyond Rubies WednesdayEncouraging Word WednesdaySitting Among FriendsDestination InspirationTune in ThursdayHeart EncouragementMoments of Hope Faith and Friends Faith on Fire FridayFresh Market Friday, and DanceWithJesusFriday

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hotbrownc

“All change comes from deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out the changes that understanding creates in your heart.” ~ Tim Keller

. . . Because Cooking can be so much more than just cooking. . . .

I adore the Louisville Hot Brown Sandwich. For a long time, I rarely ever made it. Not because the recipe was difficult, but because I believed that it must be served it on individual, stainless-steel Hot Brown plates in order to oven-broil until the sauce puffed up just a bit and turned a hint of golden brown.

Being a Louisville girl, I had to do it more right, than, say, someone not from Louisville. . . right. . . ?  But what newlywed can afford little stainless-steel Hot Brown plates? Should I have bought them one at a time. Then “Poof,” we were a family of seven and buying them just wasn’t on top of the necessary list. Since I couldn’t afford the plates, I didn’t make the dish.

It didn’t seem . . . seemly. . . to serve it any other way. Any other way wouldn’t be authentic, genteel southern. . . the right way. Besides, it smacked of wrongness to take something with a bit of white linen grandeur served with a bit of horse racing kick to it. . . and put it in an everyday ordinary casserole dish, kind of like taking a Derby winner and turning it into a plough horse.

Preconceived Notions of how things should be done are sometimes the biggest self-imposed Stop Signs preventing everyday ordinary experiences of goodness.

An it’s-just-not-done-that-way kind of mentality can sometimes make it hard for the good things to grow in life – good things like God-designed skill sets needed to build God-designed dreams, or strong, comfortable-in-their-God-designed-skin kids, life-long love, a life-changing relationship with the Father who creates and the Savior who saves.

Sometimes, I have learned, I need to let go of preconceived notions of how I think things should be – and just do them in a way that enables me to do them.

Tradition and innovation are not easy friends.

Maybe I don’t always make homemade Alfredo sauce over pasta. Maybe I buy the pre-made sauce and add garlic and parmesan, while sauteing the chicken in olive oil and Italian seasoning.

My oldest, he came home from college one day, walked through the door, saying, “We’re not like other people, Mom.”

I answered somewhat cheekily, “We’re called to be a peculiar people” (referencing 1 Peter 2:9).

I don’t think that’s what he meant. He never elaborated. Maybe that is something we could have sat long and talked much about – but, probably, it’s just that our family, my husband, me, five sons, living in a town where our extended family was hours away –  preconceived notions of what some traditions ought to be didn’t allow our ideas of life, faith, love and family to thrive, so we made adjustments to our life recipe for the outcome our hearts sought.

Maybe I don’t make homemade bread. Maybe I buy biscuits in a tin, brush them with butter mixed with pressed garlic and salt, and when they come out of the oven, brush them again.

Maybe we don’t always sit down around the kitchen table for dinner because there’s a college student, a high school student and one who works still living at home – and maybe we sit more often at the counter some evenings and have individual conversations about big and little things. Sometimes we’re all at the counter, some finishing up, some coming in, some in the middle – and the conversations intertwine in an oddly real, sweet, out-of-the box meaningful way that is soul food in itself – all because I let go of Preconceived Notions of how I once thought things should be done – and in order for an environment to be created that makes room for God with us, in us, around us, in the good and the bad, the wins and the losses, the overcoming and the misses, the hard challenges and the celebrations.

I’m not angling for a t.v. show, though I’m into “good things” and “best dishes” for my family. I’m angling to make those who sit at my kitchen counter or table content, satisfied, comforted, filled with stuff good for the body with side dishes of soul food – both love and truth, the sweet and savory, the easy and the hard, the veggies and the meat – and I want them to come back for more. . . even when their mail doesn’t come anymore to this address.

Yes, after 36 years of marriage, almost 33 years of parenting, I am still weeding out preconceived notions of how to do things – or maybe they’re inappropriate expectations of how things ought to be done – and making changes for better-hearted, God-designed living.

So I finally gave up on the most authentic way to serve a Hot Brown Sandwich – and turned it into a casserole – much to my sons’ delight! I hope it gives you an opportunity to sit long and talk much with those God gives you to sit at your table or you kitchen counter!

“To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”
~ John Henry Newman

hotbrown2cMuddy’s Hot Brown Casserole
The crux of the sandwich is the sauce, which, oddly enough, is a combination of two sauces

Sauce One or Bechamel
½ cup butter or margarine
½ medium-sized sliced onion, minced
1/3 cup flour
3 cups hot milk
1 teaspoon salt
A dash of red pepper
A couple of sprigs of parsley if you have it, but parsley isn’t a must
A dash of nutmeg

Melt the butter or margarine in a saucepan. Add onions and cook slowly until a light brown, about 15-20 minutes. Add flour and blend until the flour makes a smooth paste(you will see the browned onion minces in the paste). Add milk and other seasonings and cook 25-30 minutes, stirring constantly and briskly at first until the sauce of thick and smooth. When it is thick and smooth. Some recommend straining the sauce. I never have.

Sauce Two or Mornay
2 cups of sauce one
2 egg yolks
½ c. grated parmesan cheese (more doesn’t hurt)
1 tablespoon butter
8 tablespoons Heavy Whipping Cream Whipped

Combine egg yolks with a 1/2 cup of room temperature Sauce One. When combined, add to the rest of Sauce one. Heat, stirring constantly and remove from stove when starts to bubble. When hot and thick add cheese and the butter. The sauce must not boil or it will curdle.

hotbrown3cThen for every ½ C. sauce that is to be used for the sandwich, fold in 1 tablespoon of whipped cream. For this it would be 8 tablespoons whipped cream. The cream gives a lift to the browning-off under the broiler.

hotbrown4c.jpgTo assemble, cut the crusts office 2 slices of bread for each sandwich. Toast the, lining with toast either a casserole dish or a cookie pan (I use a 15X21 when we have a house full to feed)  On top of the toast, layer a slice of country ham topped with a layer of chicken. Enshroud with a goodly portion of the sauce. Place in a very hot oven or under the broiler until the sauce slightly puffed with a little bronze to the top, but not too bronze.  Top each piece of toast with a half a slice of cooked bacon and parsley.

Ingredients List:

Bread (one long loaf of white bread)
(20 slices of bread for a 15X21 cookie pan)
Bacon (a half a slice for every piece of toast)
1 lb. sliced turkey or chicken
1 lb. ham or country ham
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
3 cups hot milk
½ cup butter + 2 tablespoons (or 10 tablespoons total)
1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
A dash of red pepper
A couple of sprigs of parsley
½ medium-sized sliced onion, minced

hotbrown5c.jpg

Linking with these blogs this week:
Trekking Through – http://www.trekkingthru.com/
http://www.richfaithrising.com/ Unite the Bloggosphere
http://purposefulfaith.com/ Cheerleading #RaRaLinkUp
http://www.messymarriage.com/ Messy Marriage
http://holleygerth.com/ Coffee for Your Heart
Mary Geisen/ TellingHisStory
abounding Grace/Graceful Tuesday/
Creativity with Art

Inspire Me MondayLiterary Musing MondaysTea and Word TuesdayPurposeful FaithTell His StoryRecharge WednesdayPorch Stories Linkup, Welcome Heart, Worth Beyond Rubies WednesdayEncouraging Word WednesdaySitting Among FriendsDestination InspirationTune in ThursdayHeart EncouragementMoments of Hope Faith and Friends Faith on Fire FridayFresh Market Friday, and DanceWithJesusFriday

 

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pasta

“‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’And she answered, ‘All is well’” ~ 2 Kings 4:26.

72 days into 2019 – 7 days of doctor visits, pre-surgery testing, 2 surgeries, 3 hospital stays totalling 14 days. There has not been much Everyday Ordinary. . . . , but there have been miracles, stunning displays of God’s timing, and God with us . . . . and such a story to tell – of what God has done for my husband,  for the desires of my heart, for my family, but the telling of that is not for today (but soon – and if you didn’t know, it’s o.k. because only a handful did because we focused on God throughout the journey). Today is for the Blessing of the Everyday Ordinary.

My youngest, the saucy one, he’s a senior this year. His soccer season started about a week ago. Home is mama cooking, as he calls it, “The good stuff.” I remember baking my granola bars two weeks ago. I’d even made my Chicken Noodle Soup and Grilled Cheese – was it about 10 days ago? Even a Chicken Piccata. But there wasn’t any consistency. No Everyday Ordinary.

He’d tell you I hadn’t been cooking at all. He even used my Instagram account to prove I hadn’t been cooking: “Where’s the pictures, Mom?”

Moving out of A Time of Great Challenge back into The Everyday Ordinary, God knew I’d need some help with the transition.

The youngest, somewhere in 2019, woke up wanting to eat Banana Pudding. Maybe it’s his taste buds maturing. Maybe it’s because it’s his dad’s favorite. Regardless of the reason, just because he asked, I bought all the ingredients, but I just couldn’t seem to get the timing right.

“Today Mom?” he’d ask.
“No, not today,” I answered, eyeing him. “Someone ate the vanilla wafers.”

“Now Mom?” he asked another time.
“No, someone at the bananas.”

“Banana Pudding, Mom?” a third time.
“Milks all gone.”

He wasn’t used to this kind of project fail from his mom, so he determined I needed coaching,  his own special, saucy brand of coaching – a lot of verbal sauce with a hug thrown in to get me to cross the finish line – really, to help me cross over into Everyday Ordinary – and I couldn’t resist his entreaties, so I promised, “Tomorrow” – and yesterday I did. He even offered to help me so he could learn.

When I tried to get by with just one box of instant vanilla pudding (because that’s how my husband’s mama made it – so that’s the way I make it), he made sure I pushed through and used both boxes: “No slackin’ Mom.”  A few layers later, my husband walked through the kitchen, checked out my progress, “Yes,” I answered before he even asked. “Meringue on top just like your mom made.”

Whew! I was being hen-pecked in my kitchen. . . . I loved every minute of it, every minute of this special brand of Everyday Ordinary that is Home to all of us at the Blue Cotton House. Apparently, they needed the Everyday Ordinary I’d cultivated for over 36 years just as much as I did.

When I set the Banana Pudding on the counter, if I had doubted that I was back in Everyday Ordinary, I knew, when, instead of admiring how beautiful it looked, the youngest asked, “What’s for dinner?”

I was ahead of him this time because I’d been planning on putting a new spin on an old favorite recipe.

Monday I had cooked my Muddy Cheese Steaks with green beans and salad, yesterday was grilled ham and cheese because of an away soccer game, but last night – last night we experienced the grace, the extravagant beauty of finally moving into the Everyday Ordinary, where we sat around the counter eating, talking, friends coming in, sharing a bowl, followed by a mile walk in a early spring trying to blow winter out.

God knows! He know sometimes we need being sauced back into shape, sometimes we need someone cooking “the good stuff,” and sometimes, we need the “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” that allows God to work his miracles in our lives, and we need the rhythm of The Everyday Ordinary, with its God-designed blessings and grace,  to come home to after the challenge has been redeemed.

Chicken, Pancetta, Lemon and Garlic Pasta

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Package Capellini Angel Hair Pasta Nests
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 clove garlic, minced
  • 4 ounces diced pancetta
  • 3 boneless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
  • 1/4 cup hot sauce
  • 2 cup whipping cream
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese

Directions

In a medium nonstick saucepan, heat butter and Olive Oil over medium-low heat. Add minced garlic and diced pancetta, stirring frequently, for 1 to 2 minutes until aromatic. Add the chicken, lemon juice, and hot sauce. Cook for 5-7 minutes on each side until chicken is cooked through. Stir in the cream and heat through. Season with salt to taste.

While chicken is cooking, prepare pasta according to directions.

Layer with pasta nest, chicken and sauce, pepper and sprinkle with parmesan.

* * *

One of the scriptures my husband would recite each time before he went under anesthesia and when he came out:

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” ~ Numbers 6: 24-26
bananapudding

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green beansc

I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees” ~ 2 Corinthians 12: 9 The Message

After walking through A Great Challenge, in the middle of an everyday ordinary moment, when rinsing out the upteenth glass of chocolate milk, filling the dog’s water bowl, or clearing away the clutter on the kitchen table –  that is when the courage, strength and resilience dissolve, leaving me nothing with which to hold myself together. Maybe it’s just God’s timing, telling me that it is in the everyday ordinary where it is safe to let go, to let the frayed edges recognize they are frayed so they can then mend, the tiredness rest, the bedraggled soul refresh.

No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.” ~ 2 Corinthians 12: 9 The Message

Mending time is where I need to give myself space for healing to wholeness. The Everyday Ordinary can be a re-set space, where the hum of routine soothes, even familiar acts of organizing the forks, knives and spoons, of rummaging through the socks for mates. . . of measuring ingredients for the green beans. Routine allows thoughts and emotions to simmer, to steam up and release in the mending space of. . .  the everyday ordinary.

I cook maybe like some men fish. I imagine fishing centers one into an everyday, ordinary hum of a routine, a kind of going home where the right now can be poured through the sieve of memories of those who mentored, teaching things about fishing that were more than fishing, to better process what needs processing – and, by remembering, ennoble the heart to indirectly help face a challenge directly – or the aftermath of a challenge.

Cooking is that kind if processing for me – connecting to the past – to the future and to the right now. Cooking allows a particular kind of busyness that allows the spiritual and emotional effects of challenges to safely bubble to the surface, letting me face issues at first indirectly, then directly.

auntjoycekitchen (2)c

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.” ~ 2 Corinthians 12: 9 The Message

Sunday I made a pot of green beans, just the way Aunt Joyce showed me not quite 36 years ago when I married. She doesn’t remember anymore, how to make her green beans. Dementia steals the good stuff: the stories, the good conversations, even the recipes. She is 3 1/2 hours away – and I miss our conversations about the nothing going on or about the challenges, the quirky stories and the recipe sharing – and so I make her green beans, the everyday, ordinary, home-cooked but not garden-fresh green beans (I fail at cooking fresh green beans) because in the challenges I miss being with these women who taught me to be resilient enough to overcome the challenge. That Never-Give-Up Spirit is a Pass-It-Down Thing – and it’s something I want to pass down to those God gave me – and to show them how to never-give-up with God beside me! Cooking in the kitchen reminds me of them, which reminds me of the things they taught me, which always leads me to inviting God into whatever has led me to stirring, mixing or whipping up an idea of something that tastes like savory or sweet, feels like a warm hug, conjures joy – whatever the needs in the everyday ordinary.

Cooking Aunty Joyce’s green beans makes me feel less alone in the challenge. Making my mom’s caramel icing or chocolate fudge or creamed spinach, though she’s eight hours away, makes me feel the same way, like she’s right there, encouraging me.  Fry Chicken – well, that’s time with Grandmother – nobody could fry chicken like she could – or make a Charlotte Russe. When I cook, sometimes all the women who poured into me, are there – and, though I’d rather they all be there still, sitting in my kitchen pouring into me, I remember the lessons they taught me, and it encourages me.

Sometimes, the fried chicken is more than fried chicken, the caramel icing is more than caramel icing – and the green beans are more than green beans. Sometimes God uses the recipe to do a healing, shalom kind-of-work within me.

Cooking takes me back to the kitchen where I grew up – filled with Grandmother and Mom, and then later to Aunt Joyce’s kitchen, filled with Grandmother, Mom and Aunt Joyce – and I miss those kitchen moments of long-ago home, and this sadness has indirectly created a release valve of today’s challenges walked through -where the courage, strength and resilience can dissolve making space for mending, resting and refreshing – and it started with those never-ending glasses of chocolate milk that needed cleaning out, followed by the green beans that needed making, my mind a rabbit warren full of memories, and a soul desperately trying to rest in its creator but not quite knowing how to achieve it on my own.

Maybe the kitchen isn’t your refreshing, soul-mending space. I’d love to know 1) what you busy yourself with to ennoble the heart to indirectly help face a challenge directly, and 2) the mentors who poured into you as you grew into your soul-mending space.

Aunt Joyce doesn’t remember the recipe anymore, but I do – and my grandson loves them by the plate full, my husband by the heaping big spoon full.  The boys?  I’m not sure they really care about green beans. Me? They taste best right out of the pot!

 Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” ~ 2 Corinthians 12: 10 The Message

Aunt Joyce’s Green Beans
(I’d never measured for green beans before, but I did for this. I’m sure if you love them as much as I do (and my husband and grandson), you’ll soon get into pouring and mixing without needing to measure.)

Green Beans (50 oz can), drain,  rinse and pour them into a pot. Fill the pot with water, turn on medium heat.
Add the following:
1/2 the juice of one lemon
1/4 teaspoon. marjoram
1/2 teaspoon. summer savory
2 tablespoon bacon drippings (or vegetable oil for a healthier choice)
2 bouillon cubes
1/2 a regular onion, quartered (quartered so those who don’t like onions but respect the flavoring they add can easily remove before serving)
salt/pepper to taste

Bring to a boil for 15 minutes, then simmer on low for hours, maybe all day. Some think green beans are best when cooked all day and served the next. I tend to agree. Like a good marriage, the longer some things simmer together, the more they blend into something delightfully more savory.

“What grace is meant to do is to help good people, not to escape their sufferings, but to bear them with a stout heart, with a fortitude that finds its strength in faith.” ~ Saint Augustine

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Let me set the table here – the historic table – about recipes and reputation. Growing up in my grandmother’s house, I had the luxury of learning all sorts of recipes – daily recipes, bridge day recipes, celebration recipes and feast recipes. It was long after I married that I came to recognize that a recipe wasn’t just a recipe – a recipe had the potential to be reputation defining – if you could create a delightful dish others couldn’t, then the day you hosted a table full of ladies for bridge was a guaranteed culinary success – because bridge was so much more than bridge.

As I collected recipes for my family cookbook, I also collected their history – the story of how they came into the family. Machiavellian cunning in the kitchen? Deliciously so!

For example, Aunt Joyce’s Grits Gruyère recipe came from her husband’s Aunt Ruth who had been trying to wrest it from one of the ladies in her bridge group, Mrs. Curry, for quite some time. Not one to concede failure, Aunt Ruth called Mrs. Curry’s youthful daughter, inexperienced in Machiavellian tactics, when the lady was out of town – and successfully filched it. Aunt Ruth had the ability to play a deep game – with gloves, cotton or kid, on or off.

I was oblivious to the undercurrents, the power plays, the Machavillian side to these sweet ladies – probably just like Mrs. Curry’s daughter who so trustingly gave over her mother’s secretly guarded recipe. I can understand, looking back. We hadn’t yet entered a world of culinary competition and intrigue. We were just babes in the kitchen, enjoying plateful after plateful of deliciousness, year in and year out, who never imagined a good recipe was social currency. We probably didn’t even know what social currency was.

Years later, I remember watching a dining-room table discussion with two of my very favorite aunts about whether or not to share my great-grandmother’s, their grandmother’s Corn Fritter Recipe. It was a contentious moment, a throw-back moment to a time that doesn’t really exist any more. It both saddened and gladdened me.

The internet, cooking blogs, and cooking channels have changed how women by their cooking. Recipes are neither soul defining nor social currency. Instead, cooks are defined by the generosity of spirit of not just recipe sharing but showing how to make it successfully. That is one change I adore!

I grew up with good cooks who enjoyed kitchen competition in a very lady-like fashion (a competition probably born out of The Depression and WWII when produce was so hard to come by),  but when I met my husband’s family, I learned it was a grace thing, too.

Recipes, expectations and cultural differences have the potential to create big messes, little messes, short-term messes and life-long messes. Messes, I have learned, are happenings in need of God’s kind of grace – not just given, but received, too!

Saturdays and Sundays always contained the ability to burst into family day at my husband’s parent’s house – both when we were dating and after we were married, living down the road, over a few hills, around a few curves. It’s where I learned a bowl of ice cream was more than a few tablespoons, and hot chocolate didn’t just come in tea-cup sizes – but tumbler sizes, too. Mountain Dew came out  of the water faucet – Really! For a girl who grew up not even having one coke a week, it sure seemed like it did!

I remember the first time I had soup beans. My father-in-law showed me the best way to eat it: take a peeled onion, bite into it, along with a spoon full of beans – and, well, I just couldn’t enjoy it as much as he did. I remember trying to make Soup Beans early in my marriage because my husband so enjoyed them (sans the onion). I threw in salsa, cheese – and, well, utterly failed with the soup beans. For about 30 years, I gave up on Soupo Beans.  It wasn’t until a few years ago when someone used the words, “Chow-Chow” that I was able to cook them without trying to make them something they weren’t. I just put some Chow Chow on top! Success!

But one day, after the souop beans and onion,  Ann had a pot of Chili cooking on the stove, simmering, just getting ready to fill a bunch of bowls. Thinking Keith’s mom had been waiting for the chili to simmer before she added the spaghetti, I thought I’d help her out. I pulled the spaghetti out of the cupboard (we must have been engaged by then), broke it into pieces and was stirring into the chili when she came in from the other room. Remember the girl who haplessly, naively gave Aunt Ruth her mother’s prided recipe? I think this was my haplessly, naive moment – totally unwary, unsuspecting of potential territorial recipe undercurrents.

I met the Grace of Ann, not in the breaking of the spaghetti into the chili, but in the no-turning-back, stirring-it-into-the-chili moment. There I was, eager-to-please, oblivious to the fact that people outside of Louisville, Kentucky ate chili without spaghetti. Face-to-face with my mother-in-law who’d just walked into the kitchen, I learned my lesson – but there was no territorial battle, no sulks, just unmerited favor, forgiveness and acceptance. She gave me grace – and I gladly took the grace she offered.

I remember both of us laughing, but I am sure she must have thought her son was marrying one crazy girl.

I’ve spent about 36 years trying to pin down my own recipe for making chili. I haven’t had any complaints, but I hadn’t yet been satisfied enough to write one down and say, “This is it.”

I believe I finally have a chili recipe for my family cookbook! Yes – there’s spaghetti in it because that’s just the Louisville girl in me! That it took me 36 years is just the never-give-up in me!

Maybe it will be made even more complete when one of my boys brings home a girl with enough good kind of crazy in her to add a special ingredient from where she comes from to make it even better. But for now – this is what’s in the family cookbook:

Chili Recipe
Brown 3 lbs. and drained and place in dutch oven
In a food processor, dice up the following:
One large sweet onion
1 green pepper
10 oz. cans whole green Chile peppers
Add onions, peppers and Chile peppers to hamburger mixture, let simmer for 5 minutes, then add the following:
1 – 46 oz. V8 Bloody Mary Mix, original
2 packet/boxes Carroll Shelby’s Chili Kit mix
Stir well.
Next blend in the following:
1 – 15.5 oz. cans Dark Red Kidney Beans (Dark Red for Color)
1 – 15.5 oz. cans Black Beans
1 – 15.5 oz. cans Chili Beans
Salt and Pepper to taste
Bring to a simmer.
Add 8 oz. spaghetti, broken into 2-3 inch pieces
Simmer until ready to serve.

I always serve with some kind of hot sandwich. Grilled Cheese, Bacon Cheddar Twists, or Jalapeno Cream Cheese Crescent Rolls are my favorites. See recipe or links below.

Grilled Cheese Recipe:

Melt butter and dip both sides of two pieces bread in the butter.

Depending on size of bread, I use one to two pieces of cheese (two much cheese makes it just too much) and possibly a slice of country ham.

Grill until golden on each side.

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Bacon Cheddar Twists from Farm House Rules
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Jalapeno Cream Cheese Crescent Rolls from Jen Around the World (When you run out of croissants – biscuit dough works just as well! Made mine with Mild Italian Sausage! Held some filling back for my low carb diet. It’s a recipe that makes for happy people in my house!)
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. . . and the naysayers said she wasn’t good enough, smart enough, creative enough, worthy enough . . . who said her dream was just that – a dream – and nothing would come of it. . . and the thief called Doubt tried to pick her soul pockets, steal her identity, take away all she held dear, all the goodness that her Lord had seen fit to give her.

“All is well. . . ,” she said as she ran, choking back her despair, unable to see beyond the tears . . . she ran to her Savior, grabbing hold of her Lord. . . and she didn’t let go.”

. . .  and the girl said to the wolf stalking to destroy her and all she held dear, “All is well.”

“What have you to be ‘Well’ about?” asked the wolf, encroaching on her peace and safety, as the wolf shadowed her, threatening her. “I am more powerful than you!”

“All is well,” the girl repeated. “Because my Lord has said so.”

The shadow of the wolf receded as he slunk away; Her Lord was more powerful than the wolf.

winterwell2 2019c.jpg. . . and the girl spoke to the storm that bore down upon her to rip her apart from root to heart, “All is well.”

“That cannot be,” said the storm, a vortex of chaos, rage and coldness, twisting the dirt, roots and limbs of the earth up to the heavens. “For I have more strength than you. ”

“All is well,” said the girl. “Because my Lord said so.”

. . . and the storm for a moment quieted as if deflated, then roiled itself up into a rage, unleasing its full force on the girl, bashing against her like a tsunami to a shore – and the storm saw her Lord, standing between the girl and the storm, protecting her with his gleaming shield – and the storm raged onward, searching for those who didn’t know “All is well,” those who didn’t have the protection of the girl’s Lord to save them.

. . . and the girl spoke to the fever that came quiet and hot into her home, trying to break the life of someone the girl loved very much. . . and the fever taunted her, as she dipped the cloth into the cool water, squeezing out the excess, and laying it on the forehead of the one she loved so, she spoke saying, “All is well.”

“I have come to break your spirit and to destroy your  heart’s desires,” the fever whispered, knowing she alone could not control the army of unknowns that gave the fever its authority to determine life and death.

“All is well,” said the girl,” dipping the cloth into the water, wringing the excess out and gently placing the cloth onto the fiery forehead of the one she loved.

. . . and the fever surged, burning her fingertips, “How can that be? You don’t even know from where I come. You have no wisdom to stop me. Love and determination cannot sway me.”

“All is well,” said the girl. “Because my Lord said so.”

. . . and the fever broke, withdrawing his army of unknowns, abdicating his position of influence to the greater power of her Lord.

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. . . and the girl sat in a quiet moment, time after time, with her Lord, thanking him – that because of him, “All is well.”

We at the Blue Cotton House have been walking through a BIG challenge since a few days before Christmas. I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around how to talk about the challenge – or how to pray about the challenge. It was in my kitchen, as I was cooking through the challenge, that God sent me to 2 Kings 4: 8-36 – and “All is Well” became my battle cry. I couldn’t determine how to write about it until this morning – because it’s not my story to tell but I am a supporting character in the story – and this morning, while a Little Snow came, my husband and I drove to a mountain view where we will build one day – and God showed me how I could write about the challenge – and his amazing grace and saving power. Not long after I finished writing this, we received an answer where the fullness of joy overflowed our home and hearts. There is still a Little Ways to journey to the Challenge’s End, but, let me tell you – miracles do still happen, God makes ways where there was no way, and He will, if you let him, stand with you every step of the way, and, while sometimes when the journey isn’t a journey we want, “All is well.”

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”  For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence” ~ Psalm 91:1-3.

“The God of my rock; in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my savior; thou saved me from violence. I will call on the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies” ~ 2 Samuel 22: 3-4.

“How precious is Your loving kindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings” ~ Psalm 36:7.

“For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man that trusts in thee” ~ Psalm 84: 11-12.

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Linking with these blogs this week:
Trekking Through – http://www.trekkingthru.com/
http://www.richfaithrising.com/ Unite the Bloggosphere
http://purposefulfaith.com/ Cheerleading #RaRaLinkUp
http://www.messymarriage.com/ Messy Marriage
http://holleygerth.com/ Coffee for Your Heart
Mary Geisen/ TellingHisStory
abounding Grace/Graceful Tuesday/
Creativity with Art

Inspire Me MondayLiterary Musing MondaysTea and Word TuesdayPurposeful FaithTell His StoryRecharge WednesdayPorch Stories Linkup, Welcome Heart, Worth Beyond Rubies WednesdayEncouraging Word WednesdaySitting Among FriendsDestination InspirationTune in ThursdayHeart EncouragementMoments of Hope Faith and Friends Faith on Fire FridayFresh Market Friday, and DanceWithJesusFriday

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“In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don’t.”
~Blaise Pascal

Note: There’s a big challenge in my little world. I wrote the major draft of this before I had knowledge of the challenge – and reworked it for two reasons – to encourage me in the vortex of the challenge – and to encourage those who struggle with just believing God is God. For this past year, I’d wondered why I wrote and couldn’t hit the post button – I think I understand why now – because I needed the message now. Praying this encourages you, too – in your challenges.

Do you believe in God – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? The God who led his people out of Egypt? The God who punished his chosen people when they’d turned away from him. The God who forgave them?

The God who promised, “Every man will sit under his own vine And under his own fig tree, And no one will make them afraid, For the Lord Almighty has spoken.” ~ Micah 4:4

The God who promised, “Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets.” ~ Zechariah 8: 4-5

The God who promised:
“They shall build houses and inhabit them;
    they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
 They shall not build and another inhabit;
    they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
    and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labor in vain
    or bear children for calamity,
for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord,
    and their descendants with them.
 Before they call I will answer;
    while they are yet speaking I will hear.
 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
    the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
    and dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.” ~ Isaiah 65: 22-25

Do you believe this. . . this is for you?

Do you believe God, the Great I am caused a donkey to speak, or three faithful men believed God would deliver them one way or another from a fiery furnace?

Do you believe God, El Roi, the GOd who sees us hiding from him, running from him – do you believe he loves his children –  you and me –  despite our sin? That he makes a way to redeem those children – you and me – from the made choices each of us made and continues to make?

Do you believe God, Yahweh, The Lord our Righteousness, The Lord our Shepherd, Do you struggle believing that God sent his only son to be the unblemished forever-sacrifice for our sins so that nothing would ever again separate us from God, nothing except our choice to not believe?

Do you believe that he died on the cross and on the third day, rose again? That between now and when he comes again, he loves us more than we can fathom?

Do you believe in Him – it all starts with that. Are you at least willing? wanting to believe?

Before the miracle came the belief in Him – and the one who sent Him.

“And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. And he marveled because of their unbelief” ~ Mark 6:5.

There was a father who brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus, needing help, wanting help, wanting to believe the unbelievable. I’d say he’d reached the very bottom of himself – his wisdom, whatever wealth he had, his own efforts, that the big love, the big dreams, the big hopes for his son, despite the challenge drove him into the sphere of Jesus whose love was bigger. Love for those around us sometimes are what opens the door to relationship with the Father and his son – love as big and deep as our human can love – and when we’re so helpless, so desperate that we’re willing to meet the Father – all we know if that no earthly father and mother could help us – and so we go to meet him with the only expectations we know – fallible, often incapable expectations – because that is how we are with out.

This father, he dropped all pride in self – and reached out, realizing he couldn’t do it – and willing to believe that Jesus, who claimed to be the son of God could. . . possibly his faith at that point was even smaller than a mustard seed.

“Because you have so little faith,” He answered. “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” ~ Matthew 17:20.

This father was willing to try believing, though he didn’t know how – didn’t know where to start – this radical believing. He made a mess of it – reaching out, trying to make the connection to Jesus, the beginning moment of their relationship, saying it all wrong.

“But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” – the father asked Jesus. (Mark 9:22b)

If!

How many of us go to God with an if mentality. If  is almost a gauntlet thrown down – a challenge to someone’s skill, ability, maybe even right to do something, be something, doubting yet daring, hoping to believe that the same time.

If!

I saw a little girl one time running into her house, hollering, “Daddy” to come take care of the bully who’d hurt her. She ran into that house as if she belonged. She ran into the house knowing her daddy would fix her hurt and stop the cause of the hurt.

Ifs are the words of those who don’t feel or believe they belong in their father’s house, don’t have a father they can count on to bind their wounds, heal their hearts and stop the bullies. An if mentality doesn’t know, doesn’t really believe that when they burst into their father’s house, hollering for help, that they will be treated as if they belong, as if they were a favored child.

This father with the demon-possessed son had an “if” self-image – and he projected that self-image onto Jesus.

And Jesus responded to him, “‘If you can’!” (Mark 9:23a).

Note the exclamation point!  Exclamation points sometimes express exasperation. A “what-more-do-I-have-to-do-so-you-understand” kind of exasperation! How many times do I have to say this over before you get it?

As someone who is so good at saying things so wrong, I understand exactly how that father feels. Foot-in-Mouth Disease? That’s me! I can give a compliment and leave a person insulted – I’m even better at it when it means so much to me. My younger self would have wanted to just fade into the back of the crowd and run away, mortified I’d made a mess of it with a, “Never mind – sorry I bothered you.”

But the father didn’t. He swallowed his mortified self – waited in hope – because he had nothing left to hope in – hoping for the compassion he’d sought from this savior he had heard about.

Jesus didn’t hold on to his exasperation – he released it, letting it evaporate because I think he recognized in the man the awkwardness of beginning believers who maybe wonder that something so wonderful can be true? And wanting it to the core of their soul if it is? Jesus let his exasperation go because I think he saw a man desperately wanting to believe – who didn’t know how – and he understands us all, our doubts, our mustard-seed faith, our ifs – and He wants nothing more than to help us outgrow the ifs and doubts of who we are to Him.

I don’t know about you, but it makes my heart settle down in a heart-melt kind of way when Jesus said “All things are possible for one who believes” (Mark 9:23b).

The father asked Jesus for compassion – and Jesus delivered that compassion, first in this reponse – and then in the deliverance of the man’s son. I can hear the gentleness, the compassions the man asked for, the love, invitation to believe . . . can you hear it, too?

All things are possible . . . for one who believes.

All . . .

a blind man can see, a lame man walk, a sick woman healed, a child brought to life, a friend brought for healing – and a man’s demon-possessed child. . . All were healed.

All things are possible! All doesn’t exclude anything. Jesus doesn’t deal in tricky small print and exception.

Just don’t expect it do be done with ways only you and I can fathom. Gods ways are not our ways – and he comes up with ways we can not even begin to imagine. . . or day to imagine.

“Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

If you have trouble believing. . .1) in God and 2) that God wants to “do something” about your challenge, something complete, whole, restoring, maybe even miraculous, then ask yourself, “Do you want to believe? Really want to believe that God is real, that Jesus is real, that salvation, grace, miracles and heaven are real?”

Do you believe it’s for you, too? Because it is.

God already knows the size of your belief. He already knows that maybe sometimes both you and me struggle – but we need to say it to him, to own it – so he can do something about it. I’ve always said, “God’s not your mama who bursts in uninvited to fix her kids problems. God waits to be invited – and then He’s all about it!

. . . and if you really, really want to believe. . . in God . . . just ask him,” I want to believe. Help my unbelief.”

It’s as simple as that!

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