Friday, September 3, 2010

Arms open and outstretched...

I'm having kind of a bumpy fall, so far. I feel a little off-balance for some reason...nostalgic, fragile, emotional. Some of that is probably the inevitable let-down after the crazy rush and push of a harvest season. Some of it may be due to the intense season of study in which I've immersed myself -- the highs and lows that come with some authentic spiritual revelation. This is also "back-to-school" time, which means something completely different when your "children" are now "adults." My baby turned 20 last week. My baby! How did this happen?

So I'm trying to find balance. My natural inclination is to straighten up, shake it off, slap a smile on my face and soldier on. (Any other firstborns out there?) But lately, I've been giving myself permission to experience whatever season I find myself in. Not that I plan to wallow in melancholy, but I'm not going to deny it either. When irrepressible joy bubbles up (as it always does) I'm not going to squelch it - I'm going to revel in it. I don't want to miss the lessons of each season.

I read a passage in The Message translation the other day that tied together a lot of things I've experienced in recent weeks so I've chosen to memorize it - Jude 1:20-21a.

"But you, dear friends,
carefully build yourselves up
in this most holy faith
by praying in the Holy Spirit,
staying right at the center of God's love,
keeping your arms open and outstretched,
ready for the mercy of our Master, Jesus Christ."

Carefully build yourself up in the faith - by praying, staying in the center of God's love. I love the picture of "arms open and outstretched" -- ready to receive mercy, but also to dispense it.

I pray for God's blessing and mercy on you -- as you fully experience this season of life.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Do you not know?

This is a very familiar passage, but one I've never fully committed to memory. When I was running, I did recite verse 31 repeatedly to myself when I felt "faint!"

Last night, almost three weeks into a pretty grueling corn harvest season (temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, lethal dust, relentless monotony, late nights) I was feeling particularly weary and discouraged. I turned to Isaiah 40 for comfort - and found it. So I'm memorizing this passage for the last two weeks of August:

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:28-31

I love the reminder that we cannot fathom God's wisdom - it's "unsearchable" as the ESV translation states. He is God. I am not. What a relief! And HE chooses, because of who He is, to renew our strength, to increase our power, to keep us from growing weary and faint...when we hope in Him.

Thank you, Lord!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Overflowing with hope...

May the God of hope
fill you with all joy and peace
as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13

This is my memory verse for the first part of August (I forgot to post my verse from the end of July...I used a portion of Ezekiel 40:4 as camp preparation - "...look with your eyes and hear with your ears and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for that is why I brought you here..." Good one, huh?)

Anyway, I was looking around for an inspirational word tonight - something that would soothe my weary soul and something that I could share with others needing a word of encouragement. This verse seems to indicate that very thing by saying that, as we trust in Him, and He fills us with ALL joy and peace, we may overflow with hope. Overflow implies spilling out or bubbling over, impacting others with the joy, peace and hope we have through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Hope. It's a precious thing. Spending a week with over 500 teenagers and almost 200 adults at Cross Camp made me realize it can also be an elusive thing. There was joy, brokenness, surrender, worship...we made much of Jesus all week long. There were also painful stories of lives and homes where hope is lost. These stories have pressed on me in the days since camp ended.

My heart is full...praying for some precious teenagers just trying to live out their faith with some integrity in some difficult situations; while also
see-sawing between overwhelming gratitude and a twinge of guilt over how blessed my life has been.

The God of Hope. May He fill us all with all joy and peace as we trust in Him. And may we be faithful to share that blessed hope with others.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Sufficient grace...

Memory verse for July 1...

"But he said to me,
'My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.'
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly
about my weaknesses,
so that Christ's power may rest on me."

2 Cor. 12:9

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

...inexpressible and glorious joy...

"Though you have not seen him,
you love him;
and even though you do not see him now,
you believe in him and are filled
with an inexpressible and glorious joy,

for you are receiving the goal of your faith,
the salvation of your souls."
I Peter 1:8-9

Memory verses for June...more to come later, but for now, savor that love and belief in Him fill us with an "inexpressible and glorious joy..."

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Amazing Artichoke Adventure...

Okay, brace yourself. I'm about to attempt a cooking post. Well, it's kind of a cooking post, but really more of a construction post. One of my family's favorite treats is stuffed artichokes. My dad's mom taught my mom how to make them, and I've been wanting to learn for years. So we scheduled an artichoke extravaganza recently and I took many, many pictures to commemorate this rite of family passage! This is basically artichokes stuffed with a cheesy, crabby, bread-crumby combo of goodness. Here goes:

We begin with...the artichoke. Mom usually tries to snap them up when they're on sale. We stuffed 10!

Spread some newspaper out to work on (makes clean-up easier) and take some scissors and carefully snip the pointy, thorny edges off of each so:

Isn't it pretty already? Okay, then you carefully cut off the stem (so it will sit upright) and cut off the very tip-top (where it's hard to individually snip the thorns).

Put them in a pot of boiling, salted water for 30 minutes, remove carefully, turning upside down to drain, then allow them to cool. (We boiled four at a time.)

While they are cooling, prepare the "stuffing." Here is the cast of characters:

And a pound of crab meat (Mom uses white backfin crab meat. And mom knows best!) Drain it and flake it with your hands, feeling for any random bits of shell.

Okay, this is where it gets a My mom is one of those cooks who instinctively knows when to add and when to stop. So these are approximate measurements which should make enough stuffing for 4-5 artichokes.
In a large bowl, combine 2 cans of bread crumbs...

1 1/2 cups shredded Romano cheese...(Mom substituted a combo of Parmesan, Romano and Asiago cheeses)

1 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese and sprinkle with 2 tsp. garlic salt...

Add the crab...
Side note-this colander was a wedding gift to my parents from my dad's grandmother - almost 50 years ago!!!

Another side note...this is my mom's recipe box. I may hijack it!

Add a GENEROUS amount of olive oil. (Seriously, have plenty on hand). Glug it around, stir to combine until it looks about right.

Taste and see if the seasonings seem right. Then, just grab some and start stuffing it into each individual leaf. (FYI - any time you see beautifully manicured red fingernails - they belong to my gorgeous Mom. I've never known her NOT to have beautiful hands - and I've never known her to hesitate to use those beautiful hands to prepare wonderful food for her family!)

We worked on individual sheets of foil so that when we were done we could wrap it up for storing. Uh, for the record, there is a distinct possibility that, in my enthusiasm, I might have overstuffed this one:

Drizzle some olive oil over the top of the completed artichoke...(Mom's motto: If a little olive oil is good, a lot is better!)

Bring the foil up and around and wrap tightly! Ready for the freezer!

When you're ready to eat one, pull it out to thaw, then put it in a pan with about 1/2 inch of water in the bottom and bake at 350 degrees for an hour...(we decided to eat one right then, so it didn't take as long to cook!)

I meant to take a picture of it right out of the oven, but I, uh, got a little carried away. So here's how a half-eaten one looks...(I promise, it's delicious!)

For the uninitiated, you eat these by pulling off a stuffed leaf (starting at the bottom) then rake the stuffing and the soft flesh from the top of the leaf with your's what the pile of eaten leaves look like...

When you get down close to the center, it looks like this...

Pull the leafy part away from the base part and there is this little spiky, hairy center...

Carefully scrape the little spiky part off and you're left artichoke heart. I wonder who first thought it would be worth all the work to get to the heart? Anyway, mix up a little oil and vinegar (yes, more oil), chop up the heart, swirl it around and enjoy!

So after a couple of hours of fun in the kitchen, THIS is what I had to show for it!

This really isn't difficult and it is so, SO good. We'll have one as an appetizer (two if there's a crowd) and enjoy every bite! Don't be intimidated - you can do it!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Laughing at the days to come...

Scripture memory for the last half of April:

"She is clothed with strength and dignity;
she can laugh at the days to come."
- Proverbs 31:25

Proverbs 31 describes a woman who is capable, intelligent and virtuous - and the highest praise is reserved for her spiritual life. As women, we can bog down in expectations - those imposed on us by society or even the church. Just reading Proverbs 31 can leave us feeling inadequate - or exhausted! But the ultimate truth of the passage is that the woman's spiritual and practical devotion to God permeated every area and relationship of her life.

I couldn't resist verse 25 when choosing a verse to memorize.
"Clothed with strength and dignity..."
We don't get dressed accidentally (although my choices may cause people to wonder at times!) We choose every day what we are going to "put on." Strength is defined as the quality or state of being strong; the capacity to withstand great force or pressure; having the emotional and mental qualities necessary to deal with events or circumstances that are distressing or difficult. Dignity is defined as worthy of honor and respect. Choosing to put these on allows us to "laugh at the days to come."

As the Amplified Bible says:

"Strength and dignity are her clothing and her position is strong and secure; she rejoices over the future [the latter day or time to come, knowing that she and her family are in readiness for it]!

Naturally, I love the beauty of "laughing at the days to come." What security! I want to be THAT woman!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Something far more interior...

For the first two weeks of April, I've chosen a verse in The Message translation of the Bible. I love the reminder that it's really not about me - what I do, religious or otherwise - it's about grace.

"For in Christ,
neither our most conscientious religion
nor disregard of religion amounts to anything.
What matters is something far more interior:
faith expressed in love."

Galatians 5:6 - The Message

The beginning of Chapter 5 in Galatians kicks off a theme of freedom ("It is for freedom that Christ has set us free!") and Paul goes on to explain the danger of depending on "law" rather than "grace." In The Bible Exposition Commentary, Warren Wiersbe explains it this way:

Living under grace means we "no longer rely on the external force of the Law to keep us in God's will, because we have the internal leading of the Holy Spirit of God. Christ died to set us free, not to make us slaves."

He goes on to say, " To live by grace means to depend on God's abundant supply of every need. To live by Law means to depend on my own strength, my own efforts to keep the letter of the Law and be left to get by without God's supply."

Why would we choose to be enslaved to a legalistic list of do's and don'ts, (represented in other translations of this verse as "circumcision or uncircumcision"). Yet we often do. We rush around trying to be "good enough" to earn God's love, when He has already lavished it on us. We're so focused on achievement that it's hard to readjust to the radical concept of grace - unmerited favor, freely given.

We are called to a life of grace that comes from an interior relationship that produces faith which is "activated and energized and expressed and working through love." (Amplified Bible) So, yes, we are called to act, but compelled by Christ's love, not law.

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
Stand firm, then,
and do not let yourselves be burdened again
by a yoke of slavery."

Galatians 5:1

Let's live free.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

He will quiet you with His love...

The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.
Zephaniah 3:17

This, to me, is one of the most beautiful verses in the Bible. There is assurance in every word...

He is the LORD.
Your God.
He is with you.
He is mighty.
Mighty to save.
He takes delight in you.
Great delight.
He will quiet you.
With His love.
He rejoices over you.
With singing.

This was one of many verses we read during our Bible study this week (Priscilla Shirer's Discerning the Voice of God - I cannot recommend it highly enough!) and it's one I've loved for years but never fully committed to memory. So that's my plan for the next two weeks. To meditate, internalize, memorize - LIVE this verse. What a beautiful God!

I love words and reading different translations of the Bible always gives interesting insight into a particular verse. I especially loved the Amplified Bible translation of this verse, which goes deeper into the "quieting" of God.

"He will rest [in silent satisfaction]
and in His love He will be silent
and make no mention
[of past sins, or even recall them]."

So much of the time, it is my churning mind, worrying, rehashing or recalling past offenses or sins, that desperately needs quieting. What a beautiful, comforting picture of God's loving care and forgiveness. The Amplified Bible translation goes on to say,

"He will exult over you with singing."

"Rejoice" is defined as feeling and showing great joy and delight. The definition of "exult" goes a step further - it implies elation and celebration as the result of success! God is exulting, rejoicing over us with singing, because He knows the ultimate outcome of our lives - and He sees success in our future. Granted, this is not success by the world's standards, but success by His definition and on His terms. He is faithful. He is good. He is love. And He can be trusted with our lives! Live in this assurance!

Monday, March 1, 2010

My portion forever...

I did actually start this post on March 1, but never got around to finishing it and now, all of the sudden, it's March 4!

Time. It's getting away from me.

I've already been working on these verses, which fall into the category of "Lord, make it so" verses. Kind of like the "instructed tongue" from last month -- I'm not there, but hoping to get there. Anyone know what I mean?

Anyway, here are the verses I'm working on:

"Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever."
Psalm 73:24-25

I'm not sure what exactly drew me to this passage at this time - except a tug to focus on God and God alone. Not His will, not what He can do for me or my family, not even what I can do for Him. I want to seek HIM.

My flesh and my heart my fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. I love how The Message puts this part:
"When my skin sags and my bones get brittle, God is rock-firm and faithful." Yep. Good stuff.

I'm a word girl, and the word "portion" intrigues me. The dictionary defines it as a part of a whole; a piece of something. But the Biblical use has a deeper meaning. The Levites - the tribe set aside as priests and temple servants of the God Most High - were not given territory like the other tribes. The Lord was their "portion." They were to rely on Him and He was enough.

Lord, make it so in my life.

(I love the worship song that includes this can hear it here.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

An instructed tongue?

We're starting a new women's Bible study tonight at FBC Wisner, and preparing for it has inspired my choice of memory verse for the second half of February. It's Isaiah 50:4:

The Sovereign LORD has given me
an instructed tongue,

to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.

I love this verse - although I cringe when I get to the part about "an instructed tongue." I mean, God may have given me an instructed tongue, but I don't seem to use it very often. I'd love to know the word that sustains the weary - and to be the kind of woman whose speech is marked by grace, wisdom and comfort.

Then we get to the part about "He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught." That's where the new Bible study comes into play. It's "Discerning the Voice of God" by Priscilla Shirer and it's focused on expecting, anticipating the divine voice of God. He can and does speak to His children...are we listening?

Am I?

The New Living Translation puts it this way:

The Sovereign Lord has given me
his words of wisdom,

so that I know how to comfort the weary.
Morning by morning he wakens me
and opens my understanding to his will.

I want to expect, listen, wait patiently -
and obey His voice...
what are you learning from God's word

Monday, February 1, 2010

To follow is the only free road...

Well, I'm beginning my 2010 Scripture memory journey! I skipped over January, so I'm beginning with a passage of three verses to "catch up!" Since the celebration in Houston with Beth Moore, one verse in particular in Psalm 119 has continued to resonate - verse 32.

I run in the path of your commands,
for you have set my heart free

So often, we're convinced that freedom is "out there" somewhere, in the wild, untamed jungle of life. But it's impossible to run through that kind of jungle without getting entangled in vines, scratched and bruised by branches or stumbling into unexpected obstacles. You can only run with free, wild abandon on the path - a path made smooth by a loving God.

I love the way the topic of freedom is addressed in The Reason for God (a book I'm re-reading for the third time). The author, Timothy Keller, reasons that freedom is not the absence of restrictions but finding the right ones, "the liberating restrictions." He gives the example of giving up time to practice and strengthen a natural talent or ability. "You've deliberately lost your freedom to engage in some things in order to release yourself to a richer kind of freedom to accomplish other things."

Keller also uses the example of love - the most liberating loss of freedom. In love, we have to lose independence to gain intimacy...and we're happy to do so!

Back to memory work! I'm working on Psalm 119:30-32...

I have chosen the way of truth;
I have set my heart on your laws.

I hold fast to your statutes, O LORD;
do not let me be put to shame.

I run in the path of your commands,
for you have set my heart free.

One more reflection from Beth's teaching on Psalm 119. The Psalmist uses a variety of words for the revelation of God - precepts, word, statutes, commands, teachings, testimonies, judgments, promises. The word "law" is used frequently, but not in the way we might translate it - a list of "do's and don'ts." The word law is more accurately translated as teachings, instructions, communication. One of the main things that sets us apart as the people of God is the fact that He speaks to us. This passage is my prayer - for me and for you.

(If you're memorizing Scripture, I'd love to hear from you! Let me know what verses - and why! I love to know the stories behind the choices!)

Monday, January 25, 2010

...for there I find delight...

It's so hard to describe how an intensely diverse group of women can become a community through their association on the internet. During this past year, hundreds of hearts and lives became intertwined through a year-long Scripture memory challenge on Beth Moore's blog. Twice a month we'd "gather," sharing the verses we chose, revealing ourselves through the words we were clinging to for inspiration and comfort.

The year culminated this past weekend in Houston as Beth, her daughters Amanda and Melissa and the wonderful staff at Living Proof Ministries hosted a Siesta Scripture Memory Team Celebration at their home church - Houston FBC. I wasn't sure if I could go - I didn't know any other women going and I am NO city driver! Jesse came through! I was reviewing my verses on the tractor one day at the farm and he just looked at me and said, "You've worked so hard! I'm taking you to Houston!" So, we hit the road Friday, checked into the Hilton Garden Inn and went off in search of Mexican food before he dropped me off for Friday night's session. Jesse dropped me at the door and I felt a momentary (and completely uncharacteristic!) attack of shyness as I saw groups of women streaming into the church. Fortunately, one of the first girls I saw was Amanda - I felt like I was greeting an old friend!

I wandered into the meeting room (Beth's old Sunday School classroom, as it turns out) and found another woman who was on her own.

"Anyone sitting here?"
"No - please, sit!"

Her name was Karlys (pronounced car-less) and she was from LaPlace, La.! We became instant friends. She and her husband own a business that deals in pagers for church nurseries (kind of like the ones you get at restaurants! Cool, huh?) Another woman, Karen, sat nearby and we visited and "people-watched" before things got started. We were all close to the same age and were struck by how many "younger" women were there - it was a marvelously diverse group! I spotted one of my favorite bloggers, "Big Mama" (who is tiny and adorable) and couldn't resist introducing myself and chatting with her a minute.

When Beth came bursting in the room, the excitement was electric. She, Amanda and Melissa welcomed everyone and told us a few things about ourselves. There were 507 of us from 42 states (including Alaska and Hawaii) and Canada! Twenty-two denominations were represented!

Travis Cottrell
led worship, which brought me to tears. Karlys and I talked later about the fact that sometimes the presence of God is so palpable and emotion is so thick and real you can't even sing. It was a relief to be sitting with someone who understood this. Sisters. So cool.

Then Beth bounded up on the platform to teach (not looking at all like someone who had endured a recent surgery/cancer scare). It was actually pretty reassuring to see her acting like we've seen her act through 11 Bible studies and numerous Living Proof weekend events. Funny, animated, touching, passionate - the Beth we know and love.

She taught through the weekend on Psalm 119 - 176 verses of an emotional roller coaster that every woman there could relate to at one point or another. Throughout the weekend, she constructed a "run-on sentence" summarizing the psalm and us as we relate to it. Here are some highlights:

I am a resident alien...
We are sojourners, pilgrims, strangers on this earth. We're not supposed to be at home here. As much as we may try to put our security in some "place" or thing or person, we need to learn to exclaim with the psalmist "you, God, are my portion." (119:57) You are enough. Only you will satisfy.
...seeking direction...
God is capable of leading us, guiding and sustaining - although the light He gives for our path may only illuminate the next step of the journey (115:105) even though we sometimes wish for a floodlight, rather than a lamp. God reveals Himself and His direction through His word and will open our minds so that we can understand. (Luke 24:25). deep want of wonder...
"Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law." (119:18) We have a soul-craving for wonder - a deficit of this wonder creates a profound sense of disenchantment. The psalmist expressed passion, love, delight, joy and wonder in God and His word. peril and need...
The writer of the psalm is not afraid to cry out from the depths of despair ("I am laid low in the dust..." v. 20). He brought his valid lament before God and trusted in His power to revive. There are 70 different prayer requests in the 176 verses of Psalm 119. Beth pointed out how often the psalmist asked God for His favor "in accordance with your promise." Knowing God's word and His promises can give us greater confidence when we bring Him our requests - and our lament.
...troubled by humanity...
The psalmist devotes many verses in Psalm 119 to telling on his enemies. The psalmist boldly asked God to deal with them (vs. 81-88; 118-119; 126). Beth gave a wise reminder that God will act - He will deal with the enemies of His people, but He "takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked." (Ezekiel 33:11).
-- especially my own --
Let's be honest: our own humanity is just as troubling as anything we see on the news. Beth's reminder: "We are the redeemed. Let Him redeem you!" Let His chastisement refine us and make us even more passionate. Another good word - Biblical "blamelessness" is not perfection. It simply means to walk free of the dominion of sin - do not let it rule over us (119:33). It is for freedom that Christ has set us free - we can walk free and we must! Another encouragement - 119:9-11 - when we've hidden His Word in our heart, it will keep our way pure.
knowing that, to follow is the only free road...
No way to improve on the words of 119:30-32 - "I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws. I hold fast to your statutes, O Lord; do not let me be put to shame. I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free." I love that picture of a path that has been made smooth for us, so we can run with free hearts. Freedom is found on the path.
...for a straying sheep, longing to be found.
I loved this conclusion. After all the declarations of love for Lord and His word, the psalmist had to confess - "I am a lost sheep. Come find me." How beautiful that we can always trust Jesus to come after us. Beth put it this way: "The only reason you know Jesus Christ is because He came looking for you. You may feel that you have temporarily misplaced Him - but He has not misplaced you."

Saturday, Karlys and I joined up with Melanie from Idaho (I met her the night before over Texas sheet cake!) and when it was time to break into twos and threes to share our memory verses, we headed outside for a patch of grass. It was such a fun time, reciting, encouraging (occasionally launching into a pantomime to assist a sister in need!). We high-fived and congratulated each other - and made a pact to continue on with Scripture memory throughout 2010 - holding each other accountable as we go.

When it was time to say goodbye, email addresses were exchanged, along with hugs between these sweet women and others I just barely met, but felt such kinship with. It was a unique experience...strangers becoming friends, linked by a shared love of Jesus and His word. It kind of felt like the curtain was raised just a bit, offering a glimpse of heaven.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Joining hands, hearts with Haiti...

The pictures are heartbreaking. The people of Haiti, already mired in a maze of poverty and chaos, have suffered unimaginable loss. Here, on my couch, wrapped in a warm blanket, I feel helpless. But there is something I can do - that we all can do.

We can pray.

And we can give.

I read something somewhere yesterday that struck me: "Prayers are powerful and effective not because they alter God's providential plan but because they are a part of it."

In this great mystery of our relationship with an all-powerful God, He somehow esteems our heartfelt cries. When our hearts are knit together in prayer, this act of humility, this confession of our need, is somehow woven into God's ultimate, providential plan. Let us be faithful to this precious calling.

We can also give. There are several avenues currently available:

• Text the word "disaster" to 90999 to give $10 to Compassion International’s disaster relief program. (The donation will show up on your cell phone bill.) Or visit here to give. Here's an excerpt from an email I received from Compassion today:

"Without a doubt, the children we serve in Haiti are in shock and face immediate needs for food, water, medical care, shelter and counseling. We have teams prepared to respond, and we are deeply committed to helping each child.

• You can donate to Samaritan's Purse by clicking here and giving to Haiti relief.

• World Vision is another organization with a presence in Haiti. You can donate here.

• Some dear friends just returned from Haiti where they worked with several groups, including Heartline Ministries. To donate to this ministry, click here.

Let's do what we can.

Lord, show them your mercy, according to your great love...