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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. My husband had complete peace; I baked: my grandmother’s coffee cakes, Christmas cake, modjeskas  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. A genetic issue, 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, the opening the size of a needle.

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!”

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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)

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brokenurncc1(I’m not going to qualify or quantify my story by trying to prove to you that my brokenness was worthy of God’s healing – I am just going to tell you of the part of the journey of one of God’s girls being made whole.)

For the first 36 years of my life, God had gradually revealed himself to me:

  • First as the God who made himself known to me.
  • Then God who sees me, even when I’m hiding, misbehaving, even when no one else sees me.
  • . . . as The God who is There (He is not a God who walks out, abandons His children)
  • I didn’t know God could be a refuge, but I saw a father should.
  • He was The God who answers prayers.
  • The God who meets me anytime, anyplace, for any reason.
  • My God, My shepherd guiding me on the paths I need to take.
  • My God, my Shepherd teaching me to develop a heart for forgiveness.
  • My God coming alongside my broken-hearted self.
  • My God stopping my heart from being crushed.

I had been searching for God. . . and I found my Father.

“You will seek me and find me
when you seek me with all your heart
~ Jeremiah 29:13

At the end of Part II Wilt Thou Be Made Whole: God Becoming Father, I didn’t just realize whose I was but who I was – a daughter of the King – a realization that came alive all the way down to my soul toes.

Happily Ever After? Right? I’m a Daughter of the King – and, like any princess in a fairy tale who has been kidnapped from her rightful place, saved after much suffering, and returned to the place she belongs – life resumes to a happily-ever-after rhythm. Right. . . . Right?

A Daughter of the King! – The knowledge of it was alive in my soul! I finally knew whose I was! I knew that . . . . but there was a gap between knowing and a lifetime of no father memories, no father words, no father hugs, no father fighting for me – just empty space where memories should be. My love language is words of affirmation – those missing words were really more missed than the hugs.

There were days I really missed having an earthly father who was tangibly there for me, who would look out for me in this “Happily Ever After.” The song “Butterfly Kisses” tore me up – I didn’t have that kind of dad who loved his girl like that – and, oh, friends, how I yearned for that kind of father-daughter relationship. I just wasn’t feeling it as a Daughter of the King.

I remember working on my rose bushes, talking to God, saying, “O.K. God. I get it. I really don’t want the mail man showing up saying ‘I’m your dad.’” That just might be more trouble than it’s worth. I know you’re the best dad ever – but, God, I’m really needing something down here. I’m struggling.”

In the rose bushes, I laid it all out –  I poured out exactly how I felt—the fear, the doubt (I believe; help my unbelief), the tangible feeling that my heart—my literal heart—felt like it was going to give out, the honest inability to talk my way through or find the solution through sheer determination and smartness—the soul shattered—because it is only when I am honest with Him about my soul condition—that He can truly save me—because only then can I allow myself to be saved – and in the saving, be made whole.

All those years ago when I’d asked him,  “Show me how to love you like I used to when I was little,” He was just waiting for the invitation – and he took me on a journey that opened my heart to that kind of love again – only better.

That day in the roses, with candid honesty, no blame – I told him how I was struggling. It was like a daughter telling her dad, she’d failed him—just wasn’t good enough, strong enough, smart enough. .  . . and all the while the daughter didn’t realize she hadn’t failed her father; the daughter’s timeline for wholeness was not her father’s timeline for wholeness. She didn’t realize her Father had long before seen her need and had already put everything in place for mending part of her broken self.

I don’t remember how long after I said that prayer a speaker came to our church one night. My husband was in the soundbooth, and I’d arrived just in time with four sons (that’s all we had then).

I scooted into a seat, when the speaker said, “Pull out your bibles.” I remember thinking, “Oh, No! It’s at home,” and feeling a small victory as I thought wryly, “But at least I got here with all these boys. ”

A white-haired, white-bearded man sitting a little further down the pew stretched his arm toward me, handing me his bible, with a gorgeous leather carved covering, engraved in exquisite detail.  I shook my head to decline his generosity. The family I came from would never have trusted so beautiful a book to a frazzled woman with a passel of boys. It might get ruined. The gentleman accepted none of my polite declining – and handed me his beautiful Bible.

Amazed, I accepted his generosity.

urnc2. . . and just like the day I was getting my nails done (See Part II), God infused my soul with a life-changing truth, another big reveal in this divine redesign, the master potter  using Kintsugi to the broken pieces of my soul. Kintsugi is “the centuries-old Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with Gold.” When mended with Kintsugi, the previously broken pottery is not only more beautiful but stronger.

This stranger handed me his bible – in the same way a father would have handed it to his daughter.

This truth started making connections to other moments of generosity over the past two years, examples of how God had been giving me Father Words through other people. (***At no point did anyone expect/ask anything in return – only Father Words were given. When God delivers blessings to us at the hands of man payment is NOT expected).

  • We’d been building our dream house, contracting out the workers and doing a lot of work ourselves. Let me tell you, the first time drywall has been painted is a lot more time-consuming than “re-doing” a paint job. As soon as the drywall craftsman (who was old enough to be my dad) finished sanding and drying, I painted. We’d debate politics and God. I kept trying to talk him into relationship with God. Every now and then, when I was paining, he’d check out how I was doing. More often than not, he’d say, “That’s now how you roll.” Then he’d take the paint roller – and show me how for about a quarter of the wall. One day during our debates, he said something that made me mad. I kept painting while he went for lunch. When he came back, he’d picked some flowers from the field next to the house and handed them to me. The drywaller, the one I kept trying to save, simply said “You’re a good kid. I’m sorry I made you mad.” The debates, drywalling and painting continued. But this man, who didn’t believe in God – was used by God to give me Father Words.

God’s Kintsugi, a broken soul piece mended, the Holy Spirit poured like hot gold filling the cracks and chipped seams. I am no longer too proud  or ashamed for God to pick up the broken pieces of myself, to mend what I cannot mend.

  • A Mennonite grandfather built our stairs and mantles.  He was paid hourly – and he probably had the highest pay per hour of many of the workers. So exact was he at his craft, that he rarely had more than an inch of scrap. I’d bring him coffee thinking to speed him up (you know – the hourly costs). He’d thank me for the coffee, but the coffee never increased his steady work speed. Each morning I’d bring coffee, and each morning he checked out work the plumbers, electricians and et al had completed the day before and advise me on what needed attention (either re-doing or re-checking). This man, who was just there to build stairs and mantles–was used by God to give me a father memory of a dad looking out for his girl.

God’s Kintsugi, another broken piece mended, the Holy Spirit poured like hot gold filling the cracks and chipped seams.

  • A couple at church became my spiritual mom and dad. My boys loved them. Everett on a Sunday morning, Sunday Evening or Wednesday service would say, “Maryleigh, you look lovely today! Keith – have you told Maryleigh how lovely she looks today.” At first, I didn’t know how to receive these Father Words because I’d never had them before – let me tell you, friends, do not discount the idea that a girl gets her self-image from the words her father gives her. I didn’t know how to receive them, though I knew he meant them honorably, fatherly. . . but once I understood, I was able to receive them as blessing, as words of a father to his daughter.

Broken piece after broken piece, God’s Kintsugi mends, the Holy Spirit poured like hot gold filling the cracks and chipped seams.

Such little things, you might think. Some might think derisively that these were crumbs being treated as gold nuggets. Others might be embarrassed at a soul starving in a love poverty caused by fatherlessness.  A beggar taking scraps and counting them a feast. Maybe they are – but whatever these incidents were – my soul felt filled, satisfied of Father things.

Broken piece after broken piece, God’s Kintsugi mends, the Holy Spirit poured like hot gold filling the cracks and chipped seams. 

That night, when the white-haired, white-bearded man handed me his bible, and God opened my eyes to the Father Words He’d been giving me, even before I asked him that day in the roses, the broken girl within felt less broken.

Broken piece after broken piece, God’s Kintsugi mends, the Holy Spirit poured like hot gold filling the cracks and chipped seams. Piece by broken piece, He remakes me more beautiful and stronger than I was before.

A few years passed–a Sunday morning found us sitting left rather than right. In the pew before us sat the white-haired, white-bearded man with his beautiful leather-covered bible.

During Praise and Worship, God dropped the idea into my head that I needed to let him know what his simple generosity had done for me.

God kept nudging me, “Tell Him.” We nudged, God and I, back and forth, He persistently in His, “You need to tell him.”

“He’ll think I’m nuts,”  I countered back.

The persistence of God won. My boys sometimes think I’m crazy when I step out and do things God tells me to do. I’ve learned heed His nudgings. It might look crazy to the world – but the results are anything but.

My husband, well, God knew just exactly the man I needed. He’d come to accept my out-of-the-box ways. He stood by me as I talked after the service to the white-haired, white-bearded, telling him how his simple act of generosity of spirit had opened my eyes to what God was trying to show me:  the love of a father.

It was such a simple act of kindness, sharing his bible, that he had no recollection.

Friend, I would never have told him if I knew what he was going to say in response: First he showed me his bible – it was the same one, a beautiful work of craftsmanship: “I make these bible covers. And I make them for whoever God tells me to make them. God told me today that there would be a couple here I was supposed to make these for. I thought it was for a couple that usually sits over there,” he said pointing a few rows up to the right. “They aren’t here today, so I believe he meant me to make them for you.”

At that moment, he turned to my husband and said, “When God tells me to make a bible cover for one person, I always make one for their spouse, too.”

He then pulled out a binder and asked us to choose the art work we wanted. While we were looking through his drawings, he measured our bibles.

My husband chose a minimalist cover. My favorite drawing was a cover with lots of flowers and an angel holding a lamb on the front, with flowers and a dove on the back. It was labor intensive.

I was battling. . . .What? Guilt? Unworthiness? Unfairness in asking him to spend so much of his time on someone he didn’t know? An orphan mentality of not knowing how to receive a father’s lavish love? Was it this kind of mentality that God spent 40 years in the desert trying to work out of the children of Israel?

The man saw my conflict – and said kindly, encouragingly, “Choose the one you want. He wants you to have the one you like.”

. . . with those words, something spoke to my soul saying, “Your father would spare no time or challenge to do this, or anything for you – do not diminish the blessing gift I am giving  you. Choose  the one your heart desires.”

bible2I did choose the one I thought was so beautiful, the labor-intensive one because a father does not count the cost to lavish his children with love. I had to learn to live like a beloved daughter.

“Happily Ever After” – the stuff of fairy tales? Maybe “Happily Ever After” is living fully as Daughter of the King, knowing whose we are, to know how He sees us – and knowing that whatever the challenge, no matter the challenge’s bigness or littleness, no matter the pain of walking through it

My Dad’s going to make sure I know He’s there,
My Dad sees me, even when I’m hiding, misbehaving, or crying in the closet,
A refuge, my Dad tucks me under his wing when the challenges threaten to beat me up. Yeah! My Dad has wings!
My prayers whether whispered, written in small handwriting, or spoken awkwardly? My Dad listens intently anytime, anyplace, for any reason – and He always answers in His Best time in ways I never imagined. 
My Dad meets me when I call out to Him. Always! I never have to wait on Him, though, sadly, I often make him wait.
My Dad shepherds me on the paths I need to take – and teaches me to walk those paths with a heart for forgiveness.
When I’m crushed or broken-hearted, my Dad doesn’t just come alongside – He makes sure I am not crushed.
My Dad shows me how to love my brothers and sisters – and the ones who don’t know He’s their Dad.

Maybe that is the Happily Ever After in the Fairy Tales. Maybe it is the story with the redeemer Father taking care of His daughter after saving her. The challenges don’t change because that is life this side of heaven – but who I go through the challenges with – That is the Happily Ever After, the hope, the faith, the Father-God in it.

My God who made himself known to me became My Father who made himself known to me.

My Dad loves it when I come to him, am honest with Him about my struggles, with how I feel in the struggle, with my confusion sometimes in trying to understand Him or His plan – He loves it because until I’m honest to Him about how I feel, He really cannot begin the process of fixing the broken places. I am so glad I told Him.

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Part I: Wilt Thou Be Made Whole: A Broken Daughter
Part II: Wilt Thou Be Made Whole: God Becoming Father
Part III: Wilt Thou Be Made Whole: Learning to Live as Beloved Daughter
Part IV: Wilt Thou Be Made Whole: A Whole Healthy Daughter

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
Mary Geisen/ TellingHisStory

Inspire Me MondayLiterary Musing MondaysPurposeful 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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“The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him,
and he delivers them.
Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” ~ Psalm 34:7-8

(Note: Cooking isn’t just cooking at the Blue Cotton House. There’s always a story, a Mom Lecture Nugget, a little nourishment for the soul with words or without. As my first born said a long time ago, there are some people you can run by and spend a second with – and there are some people who really want to know what’s going on, who want to sit long and talk, listen, discuss the heart of what’s going on. So, if you just want to avoid that, The Recipe is at The End)

I’m behind – I need to finish Part II of the our miracle story  – there’s so much to say . . the miracle, God’s amazing mercy and lavish generosity, the post-challenge-post miracle living, the everyday ordinary of the daily challenges, and the littlest of our boys graduating high school, a 10 Year Blogaversary – it feels like yesterday I hit the first publish button – and Blue Cotton Memory was born.  Instead of the usual everyday ordinary where little stuff tumbles  until the shaken out of its monotony by pops of Big Stuff,  it has been a season marked by Big Stuff happening one on top of another.

Some friends asked for a recipe – a recipe that’s been so much a part of this season, starting when Christmas, Easter and Passover collided in December. There were a lot of showerless days in the hospital though the rain poured constantly outside, about an hour and a half away from home depending on traffic – and a Panera around the corner with its chocolate croissants and huge Kitchen Sink Cookies. Across the street is a favorite little restaurant that makes the best salads, and a fast-food drive-through with strawberry lemonades that tasted good to my husband.

For 14 days (first stay 2 days, second stay 6 days, 3rd stay 6 days), the hospital room became a nest, a home away from home. Pillows, a quilt from home, books, bible, knitting projects – and savories like chocolate croissants and huge Panera Kitchen Sink Cookies –  littered a corner of the room with the chair that folded back to make an impromptu bed. These bits and pieces of home created a cocoon of comfort, vigor and hope.

All our boys, the ones still in the nest and the ones with their own nests pulled together keeping the business running, the dog walked, the cat and each other fed, the high school and college class work successfully done, chores normally ignored and left to mom weren’t ignored – I was completely hands off, (though, friends – I was hands up living)! Basically, these boys were not so much boys as men who kept the everyday ordinary running smoothly, so we could work through the extraordinary. I was so very proud of how they handled The Season of the Great Challenge.

The Last High School Soccer Season started before we were home for good. High School soccer started for us in 2000 – all five boys played. It was the littlest-who-wasn’t-little-any-more ‘s senior year, the last soccer season – yes! But it was the end of an era . . . and, Thank You God! My husband was here for it, his health blooming from the miracle after miracle. I think I understand the parts of the story the gospel doesn’t tell us about – life after the miracle, after Jesus opened the blind man’s eyes, healed the leper, restored the health of the soldier’s valued servant, called life back into Lazarus.

Living life after the miracle has been all the sweeter. Sweeter maybe because we’ve been more intentional about it. There’s still challenges, still frustrations – still all the everyday ordinary ups and downs – but maybe it’s also more intentionally living with thankfulness, macro focusing on the goodness He gives us – in each other, in those around us, in the blessing details of the daily. Sweeter for sure because when you’ve walked so close to God,  where you didn’t take your eyes off him as he fought the battle for you, when you’ve been ensconced under his wing, covered so securely in his Holy Spirit protection – the saturation of His presence seeps into every place you go, everything you do, affecting how you do it!

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It was time to focus on the little one grown up and graduating high school! It was a Big Stuff Moment! What a semester he had! He kept up with two college classes, did an internship, and an on-line class at the high school. He wants to be an engineer like his dad – and he played his best soccer – earning All-District First Team. He graduated with Honors. What I’ll remember most about this season? The first is when he said, “God’s got this Mom!” His quiet, confident assurance in a challenging moment! Then the hugs! Such sweet hugs! Later when he said he wanted me to do his senior photos instead of paying someone else!

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Soccer leads up to graduation where we live – and if it’s a particularly good season, it goes beyond. Our team played their heart out – and a couple of seniors who’d played soccer with our guys for years started a new tradition: The Kitchen. They came with pots and pans, with big ladles and spoons, with chefs hats and aprons – and a menu. Even on away games hours away. They came and they banged those pots and pans and cheered! I’ll admit – sometimes they out-noised the home team when we played away games. I loved their heart – and their out-of-the-cake-box creativity!

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I thought The Kitchen needed some Kitchen Sink Cookies – because, friends, when you’re on the game field – your cheer section can carry you through – and it’s important that the cheer section is cheered on, too.

Cost and Cookie Size prohibited me from ordering Panera’s Kitchen Sink Cookies for The Kitchen, so I tried an on-line copy-cat version. I don’t know what I did wrong, but they ended up  in the garbage. It was an utter fail experience. So, I thought and pondered – and the light bulb finally flickered on – I just needed to use my chocolate chip cookie recipe as the base – and add everything and the kitchen sink!

The response? A Savory Memory to a Season of Big Stuff! It was a particularly good season. Graduation came – and soccer continued. The team made it to The Final Four of the State Playoffs! What a run it was! But now we’re back to the everyday ordinary. The depleted schedule has left us in a quiet season. It doesn’t smell like soccer cleats and jerseys that reek of hard, sweaty work. My husband is walking six miles a day – and we had our first kayaking outing of the season. We’ve entered a new season of living but we’re keeping our eyes focused on The One Who Saves. I don’t ever want to lose that feeling of being saturated with His presence – that being wrapped up in a cocoon of his love and protection, regardless of whether it’s Big Stuff or Everyday Ordinary Living.

Muddy’s Kitchen Sink Cookies 

3 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter (one stick)
1/2 cup Crisco Baking Sticks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 10-oz package chocolate chip cookies
2-3 cups tiny twist pretzels (measured BEFORE spinning in a food processor)
Caramel sauce (I use Torani Caramel in squeeze bottle)
(Recommended: (2) 12 X 17 cookie sheet or(2)13 X 18; a small melon scoop; parchment paper to line cookie sheet.)Preheat oven to 375°

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and Crisco Baking Stick until creamy. Add granulated and brown sugar and vanilla to the butter mixture. Blend until creamy. Add eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated. Beat in flour mixture a half a cup at a time until you don’t see any white flour. Stir in chocolate chips. Then add the broken up pretzel twists.

Using small melon scoop, space two inches a part, then drizzle caramel syrup over the tops (if cold, it will not slide down sides but melt as it cooks). Set timer for 9-11 minutes and check. Bake time depends on the individual stove.If the cookies have spread together, separate when warm. Let cool for at 5 minutes.

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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
Mary Geisen/ TellingHisStory

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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chilicc

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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“Give thanks to the LORD,
for He is good;
His loving devotion endures forever”
~ Chronicles 16:34

“The LORD is my strength and my song” ~ Exodus 15:2.

My husband received a call the other day about unclaimed money – apparently, there’s some out there, and we ought to go claim it. Yet, what about the unclaimed goodness God has left for us since the day we were born? God has left and continue to leave his goodness in every day of our lives. This isn’t about prosperity. It’s about the goodness God leaves us in the daily, how he lavishes his love on us, letting us know he is there, wooing us into relationship with him. There are years and years of unclaimed gifts because I didn’t know – years I spent not understanding how he is present in every moment of my day, how he leaves reminders of his great love for me . . . in what seems like the everyday ordinary. Maybe I cannot vintage all the goodness He left me in the past, but I can certainly claim the goodness he has left me today and in the future.

I’m in the middle of a challenge right now – and I find myself needing to keep close to the one who knows my heart – who designed it and understands it better than I do, so right now – and maybe throughout the summer, I’m going to be journaling God’s goodness He leaves me along the path of each day’s journey. Maybe you will join me with your own journals of his goodness and leave a link in the comment section.

You are good, Father, my strength and my song
two red birds chasing each other, flying
ahead of me
God invited to the table
a little boy snuggling close, trusting,
falling into nap
ice cream joy
the quiet with God before the busy sets in
You are good, Father, my strength and my song

morning footsteps in the kitchen, sharing coffee and the needs
for the day ahead
courage to push the clamor of tasks back to give attention to the call of my soul
golden-retriever comfort
the soothing repetition of layering, brushing melted butter,
layering, brushing pastry sheets
for baklava
in a space not hurried by the clock,
the methodical layering, brushing, layering, sprinkling walnuts slowing
my harried heart
the layering, brushing, sprinkling training me in healthy barrier setting
so God joy and peace in the little things
aren’t rushed away
before being savored
little arms hugging in excited, happy welcome
You are good, Father, my strength and my song

vanilla drops in ice water
hearts that don’t let misunderstanding stop the conversation or break the connection
chocolate kisses, sour-patch kids and jelly beans in candy jars
remembering good memories
self-less prayers for others
for God-designed plans fulfilled,
insight into choices,
needs met for the day’s challenges,
for success to rise out of failures
and desire fanned to draw closer to God –
self-less prayer not to make me breathe easier
worry less
but for others to live their God-designed plan
because their story is their story
not mine
You are good, Father, my strength and my song

the bantering of my boys
cooking behind the kitchen counter and watching . . .
one son opening books to study,
another sitting down to take an on-line quiz,
a group sitting around the table talking,
the plastic glasses taken out of the cabinet,
filled with water, one stirring chocolate into his milk,
shoes kicked off and left in the middle of the floor,
“What’s to eat?”
daughter-in-laws who break the boundaries to become daughters
Sadie, our golden, running for her stuffed bunny when someone walks through the back doors.
chocolate ganache over white butter cream.
You are good, Father, my strength and my song

Thank you Father, for your goodness, for your enduring devotion.

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

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lonesheepblur

The old man, he sat on the front porch in the heat of the day, turning his head right, squinting his eyes in the high noon sun westward down the long dusty road. A hot day in the south can be awfully unforgiving.

After he had assured himself no one was coming down the road, he turned his head left, peering closing down the eastward dusty road. There weren’t many trees along this stretch of the road – until you came to the old man’s yard and the borders of his fields.

Satisfying himself, there wasn’t anyone on the road, he sighed, picked up a glass of sweet ice tea. There’s nothing like a glass of ice-cold tea on a hot afternoon to cool a body from the head, down the throat. . . nothing.

The old man continued sitting . . . and watching. There wasn’t much else to do, not like today. I don’t know what the old man thought about – maybe he talked to God inside himself. Maybe he thought about his regrets, his misdeeds, dreams that never came to life.

Maybe he saw a rabbit hare off through a blueberry bush, trying to get away from the antics of a frolicsome pup – and thought later how he’d tell his wife about it.

What did a man – or woman – do when there wasn’t so much to fill up time with . . . stuff.

The old man, he didn’t sit as though bored, tapping his foot in a hurry-up way or huffing a what-can-I-do-fun attitude. He sat with calm, pregnant anticipation, a hopeful expectation. Maybe his nephew coming to visit? Maybe a neighbor’s children coming to see the new baby lambs? An old friend with which to share the heat of the afternoon? Maybe someone to haggle with over seed, hay, sheep, chickens and cows?

After his long drink, he shut his eyes for a minute, savoring the fluid coolness. With a quiet, drawn-out “AAAhhhhh,” he opened his eyes and began once again his vigil of looking west, then east. As the sun reached its pinnacle, he took another long draught, closed his eyes for a moment, savored the coolness of the tea – and opened his eyes.

Three strangers stood at the gate by the road. “How? . . . Where? . . . What? . . ,” he thought. How did he miss them? Where had they come from? What in the world?

He bound off the porch, joy breaking across his face in a wide smile, welcome outstretched in a hearty handshake.

“Come! Come! Rest a while in the shade,” he said. “Let me get you some cool, sweet tea and something to eat to give you strength. This mid-day heat sure is a scorcher today.”

The men probably hemmed and hawed about how they didn’t want to put him out, but the old man pressed them, “I want to do this for you now that you have journeyed by my place.”

To you and me, the old man might seem desperate, too desperate, for company. It might have been off-putting – and maybe you and I would have not gone beyond the gate, been wary of accepting a glass of water or tea from this old man. To the old man, this was the tradition of his father, his grandfather and his grandfather’s father. Many people had abandoned this tradition of hospitality, but he had not. Possibly many travelers didn’t understand this generous hospitality, maybe mistrusted it.

The three men accepted his invitation, walking through the gate the old man had opened for them and settled into the comfortable porch chairs, the shade giving cool respite.

The old man opened the screen door and disappeared into the depths of the house, returning a short time later with a tray holding glasses and a large pitcher of water. There were three bowls, one for each guest, filled with freshly picked blueberries, blackberries and raspberries to stay their hunger until supper could be brought out. He’d told his wife to make sure she prepared the best steaks, the most golden buttery potatoes spiced just right, savory green beans – and her angel biscuits cooked to perfection. Nothing was to be spared for the weary travelers.

His wife didn’t rail at him, berating him for this last-minute meal with these last minute guests that she didn’t know from Adam. She didn’t begrudge the extra work, sharing the best food they had, or the time spent preparing the meal because it was a way of life for them. She’d gotten used to unexpected guests. She’d been trained as a child for moments like these. She’d been taught that hospitality prepared with a generosity of gift blessed the food and the time. Begrudging was a spice that spoiled the gift. Not all her neighbors continued this tradition of hospitality. It was a tradition started long ago in the long, hot stretch of road – to give travelers a meal and rest in the heat of the day, to refresh them to continue on their journey until evening came.

While the old man’s wife prepared their meal, he brought around from the well two white tin basins filled with water so they could soak their feet. The three men removed their shoes, leaned back and soaked their feet, relaxing as the soreness ebbed.

The old man talked with these strangers who weren’t his daily responsibility as if they were cherished guests. Maybe they talked about the news from the towns they had come through. Maybe they talked about the price of sheep and cows. Maybe the old man talked to them about his God, what a mighty God he was who had provided this home, the farm land for grazing, planting and harvesting.

“No,” he said. “No, I don’t have any children,” he responded probably to the questions about his family, a brief shadow of disappointment crossing his face, giving hint to the sorrow at a dream unfilfilled.

Midday ebbed into mid-afternoon. The great oak tree’s shadow grew longer. Supper was served. A satisfying supper it was, too. Some might consider it a feast. A quiet contentment stirred in those sitting on the porch. The conversations were quieter.

One of the men asked the old man, “Where is your wife?”

“In the kitchen,” the old man answered, suspecting that she was probably now sitting near the window listening to their conversation.

The three men put their shoes on, stood up, readying themselves to continue their journey.

The old man stood with them to walk with them to the gate. One of the men grasped his outstretched  hand, “I will surely return to you about this time next year. Your wife will have a son.”

The traveler’s strong grip kept the old man from falling. Who is this traveler, he thought to himself.

The old man’s wife was listening inside the house. “I’m an old woman,” she thought to herself. “Too old for a young woman’s dreams to come true.” She laughed a bitter-sweet laugh. Old as she was, too late as it was, the idea of the joy of having a baby of her own was a dream that still stirred in her heart. Does a heart ever really give up on dreams? Or does a logical head bury them, hiding the dreams voice from surfacing?

One of the men revealed himself then as the God the old man had told them about, when he heard the old woman’s bittersweet laugh, “Why did you laugh old woman? Why did you say, ‘Will I really have a baby, now that I am old?’ Is anything to hard for me? I will return to you at the appointed time next year. You will have a son.”

The old woman, now standing inside the door, frightened, denied laughing.

The Lord looked straight at her, knowing her heart and her secrets, “Yes, you laughed.”

Would the old man and the old woman have been blessed with a son if they hadn’t hearts of hospitality for those they didn’t know? If the old man, Abraham, hadn’t invited them to eat of the best he had, with a heart free of grudging of time, effort and product, would God have given them their heart’s desire – a son? Would God have made him the father of a nation if Abraham had not extended such gracious, welcoming hospitality? (storyline from Genesis 18:1-16)

Generous, heart-outstretched hospitality in the everyday ordinary – God blesses us when we serve with generous, welcoming, heart-felt kindness like the old man did, like Abraham did.

favherdsheepccGod has a history of blessing those who welcome him unawares with a generosity of spirit. Before Peter was invited to become a fisher of men, he invited Jesus to his house (Luke 4:38). His mother-in-law wasn’t well. No one was prepared for company. Food stock might have even been running low. Yet, Peter invited Jesus anyway. While there, Jesus healed his mother-in-law, and then stayed to eat with them. Imagine that conversation. Peter is known for his bold questions and conversation. Before Jesus called Peter, according to Luke, they sat around the table eating an everyday ordinary meal. Maybe it was kinneret sardines with bread, something as simple as our tuna sandwich. God doesn’t expect us to prepare meals fit for a king. He expects only the best of what we have in our cupboards. He wants willing hearts not grudging giving of the our time, our resources or our energy. If Peter hadn’t been willing to make room for one more at his supper table on a regular everyday night when there was sickness in the house, just maybe the opportunity to be called a fisher of men might not have occurred. Peter did ask Jesus into his home, to sit at his table – and a day or two later, Jesus asked him to become a fisher of men.

Arms-wide-open hospitality is what God calls us to. Unabashed hospitality! No matter your social standing. No matter your financial condition. No matter whether you’re prepared or not! God just wants a heart waiting with expectation to sit down with whoever he sends to your gate, to your door, or to your kitchen.

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God blesses those who love one another as he has loved them. Two men, on the Emmaus Road, deep in conversation, were caught up in their own grief of their savior crucified. If they hadn’t made room for one more, not only in their walk but at their roadside table, what would they have missed? Instead of dismissing a stranger walking near them, dismissing him because they didn’t know him or their story, these two men invited him with hearts wide open into their conversation. Then, like Abraham, they urged the stranger to remain in their company and eat with them. . . . they urged him, meaning they didn’t give up when the stranger expressed, “I don’t want to intrude. You have only enough for your journey – not for a stranger, too.” They urged him, pressed him, tried to get beneath codes of etiquette to establish sincerity in the invitation. This stranger wasn’t part of their community, their intimate group, an insider. Their sincerity, their determination convinced the stranger, who after being urged with a generosity of spirit, acquiesced.

This stranger, “when he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight” ~ Luke 23: 30-31

What would they have missed, if they hadn’t welcomed a stranger into their conversation, into their meal, pressing him with a hospitality filled with a generosity of spirit that gave truth to their invitation. They would have missed seeing the newly resurrected Jesus Christ.

Feed my sheep, Jesus tells Peter (John 21:16).

Feed my sheep! Through the breaking of bread, eyes are opened—those of us who believe and those of us who don’t yet.

Feed my sheep! Sons and daughters of the father, live making room for one more in the everyday ordinary

Every day, look to the east and west, the north and south, look with joyful expectation for God to send someone. Invite unashamed God’s sheep and lambs to your table. Sit long and talk much. I imagine in the shade of Abraham’s tent, in Peter’s house, on the Emmaus Road, there was a lot of time to sit or walk long and talk much. Sitting long and talking much is a seed planting and watering time. Sometimes the conversations are directly about things of God. Sometimes the conversations are nothing about God but the spirit of God plants seed from the discussion. Sometimes it is just God seeing if we will welcome his blessing.

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Feed My Sheep Part I: When Kitchen Living Becomes God-Radical
Feed My Sheep Part II: Living a Lifestyle of Making Room at the Table for One More
Feed My Sheep Part III: Which Sheep are Mine to Feed
Feed My Sheep Part IV: How do I Feed All these Sheep? (When there’s Nothing in the Fridge)
Feed My Sheep Part V: A Heart Looking with Joyful Anticipation

Linking up at the following:

http://www.missionalwomen.com/     Faith-Filled Fridays
http://arabahjoy.com     Grace and Truth
http://www.janiscox.com/ Sunday Stillness
Porch Stories – http://kristinhilltaylor.com/
Trekking Through – http://www.trekkingthru.com/
Woman to Woman – http://www.w2wministries.org/
Searching for Moments http://www.lorischumaker.com/better-wife/
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
http://3dlessons4life.com/     Thought-Provoking Thursday
God-sized Dreams http://www.godsizeddreams.com/
http://donnareidland.com   Mondays @ Soul Survival
https://faithadventures.me/ #TeaAndWord Tuesday
The Modest Mom The Art of Homemaking Musing Mondays
Purposeful Faith Tea & Word Tuesday Talk  
 Blessed But Stressed
 Embracing Everyday Glimpses
Fresh Market Friday:  Fresh Market Friday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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feedsheepccc

I remember back in the day . . .

. . . when there really was nothing in the fridge. I was just young enough that I didn’t know then how to make something out of nothing. I knew how to bake a prune cake, homemade thousand island dressing, how to wash a chicken but not fry it, how to make creamed tuna on toast, fry bologna, how to prepare boxed Kraft Italian spaghetti and bake Martha White blueberry muffins on Sunday morning. It seemed like a lot, but it didn’t really prepare me for filling my own fridge and planning a weeks worth of meals, even if, in the beginning, it just was for two.

When my husband and I married, we were both still college students. No phone, no t.v., no hot water for three months because the gas company required a $150 deposit. Rent was $185 a month. Our grocery budget was $25 a week. I remember spending $32 one week. I just couldn’t face my team-mate for life. I felt like I’d let him down. I wanted to go home to Mom – but she was about 1 1/2 hours away – and that would have cost even more, so I went home, faced up to my failure – and discovered that love still loves when you bust the budget by $7.

I didn’t know much about feeding any kind of sheep – literally or figuratively.

That first winter was challenging. We lived in the upstairs apartment of an old house. A group of young men rented the first floor of the house. When they went home for Christmas, they turned off the heat to save money. Our water pipes suffered – and so did we. When we got home from class or working at the newspaper, I’d have to boil pots full of water to pour into the toilet to thaw the pipes. Hearts warmed with love don’t make icy water any warmer – but it sure does make living through icy-water-times worth living through!

Thankfully, my mother and father-in-law raised cattle and shared a freezer full of hamburger, cube steaks and chuck roasts. They shared a lot of meals with us, too. They didn’t just open their freezer for us. Their refrigerator was always full, always waiting for us to come make a sandwich, make a piled-high bowl of ice cream – and fill a bowl with chili, soup beans or vegetable soup. I remember my husband making me hot chocolate once at their house – a tumbler full of hot chocolate. I didn’t know hot chocolate could come in tumblers. My new mom and dad never once looked dismayed when we walked through the door near dinner time – or lunch or breakfast time. My husband’s sweet family taught me a lot about the condition of the heart in feeding sheep – both literally and figuratively.

“We’re going to look back at these days as the best days of our lives,” my husband said. Those were sweet days, indeed. I admit – I did hope that hot water in all our pipes would be part of best days to come. A hot bath on a regular any day makes any day a best day – believe me, a newlywed does not have enough pots to fill a tub full of hot water no matter how much determination is behind the effort – especially when when all you’ve got is a one and two quart pan. I hoped, too that best days would come when I could spend over $25 at the grocery store.  After a failed attempt at having friends over for dinner (a one quart pan cannot cook enough spaghetti for 4 at once) – I hoped one day, having people for dinner would look like a best day, not a fail day.

I wanted to grow up and feed the sheep from my herd just like Nanny and Papaw did – and maybe even feed those that God gave me who maybe just weren’t part of my herd – and not have them stop by McDonald’s on the way home because they weren’t filled up.

Thirty-five years down the road of from the First of The Best Days, 5 sons later, 2 granddaughters and one grandson later, one-still-in-high-school-later, I have that full fridge. I have hot water for baths more often than not, though there’s no hot water in my bathroom sink. Sometimes when the gas runs out before we’ve realized it was running low – there’s no hot water – for the tubs, the sinks or the water pipes. Instead of everyone dissembling and falling apart, everyone swallows their disappointment with a pushing-through-the-bitter-cold-for-a-shower perseverance – a stoic, crazy exercise building family unity that we’d rather not experience but do every so often!

Those meal schedules? There’s a bunch of schedules now – not just breakfast, lunch and dinner schedules. There’s all-the-people-in-my-nest schedules. Running-a-business schedule – and, maybe the hardest to learn of all, the no-way-the-schedule-is-going-to-behave-so-go-with-the-flow schedule. As a matter of fact, I’ve come to the conclusion that all these schedules give birth to additional schedules. There are schedules that have  moved out, though, and made their own schedules.

December wore me out. January came like a Monday – I never plan appointments on a Monday. It’s my day to get the week’s schedule organized in my mind. The laundry gets caught up. The kitchen gets put back together, more or less. I make a stew that should last for a few days.  It’s a restart – a new beginning. January does for the year what Monday does for the week.

Mondays typically start out as a Feed-My-Sheep kind of day. The stew will last for two days – unless they don’t care for it. Then it lasts three. It’s the beginning of the work week, but my grocery stock has dwindled down from Friday – and it has to last five more days. The schedules start snowballing – and the fridge empties. It empties itself of milk first (I really need a milk cow). Everything else follows.

The clock runs out of time, all the good energy within me drains dry, and the fridge starts reminding me of its waning stock, until one of the boys opens the door, and announces, “There’s nothing to eat,” when, usually, there really is. It just takes more thought and gumption to make something out of slim pickin’s. Eggs and cheese can make an omelet. Grilled cheese is a feast, if someone’s hungry. Pillsbury biscuits brushed with butter, garlic and salt go straight to the hungry heart.

However, sometimes the fridge just sadly opens to announce in dismay, “I’m empty, too  – No help for you here.”

Sometimes, though, it’s me that’s empty.

How then, when there’s no room in the budget, within myself, or within time constraints, how can I feed these sheep God’s given me – both literally and figuratively.

Some of my boys will try to persuade me that not everything is about God (and that’s for another post), but I tell them . . . it is. . . . it’s all about God. You don’t get 34.5 years of best days without God in all of it. Even out of the brokenness, God can make best days. It’s all about training the mind and heart to remember what God has to say about it, and when I don’t know what He has to say about it, to go looking for what He has to say.

So when there’s no room in the budget, within myself, or within time constraints, how can I feed these sheep God’s given me – both literally and figuratively.

Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep three times. The second time, Jesus asks Peter:

“‘Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?’

He [Peter] saith unto him, ‘Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.’

He [Jesus] saith unto him, ‘Feed my sheep.'” ~ John 21:16

“Feed my sheep” – not just when it’s easy . . . not just when the bank account and the fridge is full . . . not just when you’re feeling it.

I had a lot of learning ahead of me 34.5 years ago – the cooking, the budgeting, the planning, the sheep feeding – both literally and figuratively. I didn’t know anything about children or loving them. What I knew about marriage probably wouldn’t even fill a thimble. What I knew about who I was to God was even less than that. . . . but that didn’t stop me from trying to learn.

 Feed my sheep, he said.

God takes small to middling hearts, steeps them in his Holy spirit, filling them with his kind of love until something extraordinary happens – one day they have developed the capacity to love more than they ever imagined, as many as they dared to love.

Elisha said to the widow who had nothing, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “’servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.”  Then he said, ‘Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few.  Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.’  So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her.  When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, ‘There is not another.’ Then the oil stopped flowing.” ~ 2 Kings 4: 2-6

I bet if there had been one more vessel, there would have been enough oil to fill it up.

He does that with the time, the energy – and the fridge when there’s his sheep to feed.

He takes the five loaves and two fishes (Mark 6: 37-44) of ourselves – and turns each of us into more than enough  – more than enough to feed God’s sheep, to live the daily always making room for one more or 5,000 more, even if it’s serving just grilled cheese and sweet tea.

Do you want to? Are you ready to make room for at least one more?

Feed My Sheep, Jesus told Peter – and you and me.
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Feed My Sheep Part I: When Kitchen Living Becomes God-Radical
Feed My Sheep Part II: Living a Lifestyle of Making Room at the Table for One More
Feed My Sheep Part III: Which Sheep are Mine to Feed
Feed My Sheep Part IV: How do I Feed All these Sheep? (When there’s Nothing in the Fridge)
Feed My Sheep Part V: When Blessing is Invited to the Table

Linking up at the following:

http://www.missionalwomen.com/     Faith-Filled Fridays
http://arabahjoy.com     Grace and Truth
http://www.janiscox.com/ Sunday Stillness
Porch Stories – http://kristinhilltaylor.com/
Trekking Through – http://www.trekkingthru.com/
Woman to Woman – http://www.w2wministries.org/
Searching for Moments http://www.lorischumaker.com/better-wife/
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
http://3dlessons4life.com/     Thought-Provoking Thursday
God-sized Dreams http://www.godsizeddreams.com/
http://donnareidland.com   Mondays @ Soul Survival
https://faithadventures.me/ #TeaAndWord Tuesday
The Modest Mom The Art of Homemaking Musing Mondays
Purposeful Faith Tea & Word Tuesday Talk  
 Blessed But Stressed
 Embracing Everyday Glimpses
Fresh Market Friday:  Fresh Market Friday

 

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