Merry Merry

silent night wide version
In my work as Church Communication Director, I have the privilege and honor of working with a talented graphic designer, an artist in her own right and also thankfully, my friend, Nancy Ingersoll. She gave me permission to share her beautiful Silent Night which she created for an Advent art display of peace-ful imagery. Please check out her work here.

tree

Feeling merry? For some Christmas does not feel like a merry season. For some it is hard, lonely, depressing. For most it can be exhausting.

Good news (Christmas is always at its center good news): “Tonight, at the foot of the cradle… there are no big people, no powerful people, no proud people. Tonight we are all children who straggle to the manger with nothing. Tonight we are all just raggedy manger stragglers – fathers who lay down all their work, mamas who lay down all their weariness, children who lay down all their wants. Tonight we kneel down before Jesus and reach out our hands that need little – because we want more of God.” Ann Voskamp, Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

My prayer for you and for me today, tomorrow, next week, is that we will take a break from the do-ing to focus on be-ing – being still, being with God and loved ones, being at peace, being joyful. It will take an act of will, this intentional be-ing, but be strong. It takes strength to lay down our burdens when our muscles have become so accustomed to carrying them. Let’s adopt a new posture of strength: kneel. Empty our arms, then hold them out for the baby. It’s that easy, and that hard. The do-ing can wait.

 

advent wreathIt’s time to light the Christ candle! Merry Christmas, friends.

Announcing Peace

Read and light all candles: The first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace. The second candle represents God’s peace in us. The third candle represents the call to make peace with one another. The fourth candle represents the Gospel of peace. The center candle represents Jesus, the Prince of Peace.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Luke 2:10-14

Read: The angels announced: There is so much fear on earth, but do not be afraid. We bring good news of great joy. Your Savior has come! The One you’ve been waiting for, the Answer to your prayers, the Salve for your wounds. He will be your Lord and your lover, the One on whom you cast your cares, the All-Sufficient One. Sing with us: Glory to God and peace on earth. Come, let us worship the Prince of Peace!

Pray: Dear God, thank you for the gift of your Son who is our peace. In the name of Jesus we pray for peace on earth, Amen.

Meatless Monday – Cauliflower Soup

A year ago I wrote this post about lining up my expectations with my Quirky Christmas reality. Always a struggle, during this month between Thanksgiving and Christmas the house has been clean for about three-quarters of one day; the cards still haven’t been mailed; worse yet, the packages will cost us a mint to ship overnight; and the tree was up and lit for three weeks (as opposed to last year’s one week) before the kids had time together to decorate it.

You know what? Oh well! I’m not Pinterest Perfect, and that’s alright with me. The house is festive, the kids clean and fed, and we’re focusing on joy. Today, in fact, was downright close to perfect: I got up before the guys and reveled in morning quiet with coffee and a book. I met up with friends and kids for more coffee and belly laughs. Guy took the day off work and, because it’s raining and we’d originally planned a hike or a walk on the beach, we went to an indoor archery range and discovered a super-fun new family activity we can all enjoy; we ate a late lunch out; and now we’re cozy at home. And a cup of tea and another good book await me at bedtime.

There is beauty in brokenness

There is beauty in brokenness

Yes, it’s Christmas week and I have yet to plan the holiday menu and shop and slowly begin to prep ingredients over the next few days. But some days you just want something simple, quick, and healthy. A sweet friend who is way closer to Martha Stewart-dom (or her French counterpart, whoever that may be), introduced me to this recipe years ago when I thought cauliflower could only be endured in small florets doused in Ranch dressing presented on a party veggie tray. That is, in fact, how I introduced my kids to it. Later I took Tween to a farmer’s market where he discovered purple and peachy-orange cauliflower; of course we bought them and he ate them, still raw but relishing every bite. Since then we’ve added it to mixed roasted veggies and stir fry but most often in this soup, which looks like caramel and tastes like comfort.ingredientscauliflower soup

Cauliflower Soup
Serves 4-6

½ white or yellow onion, diced
1 large potato, diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
1 head cauliflower, chopped
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped
Salt/pepper to taste
4 c veggie broth

Sautee onion, potato and garlic in a large soup pot, stirring occasionally. Chop cauliflower. When potatoes start to soften, add cauliflower, rosemary, salt/pepper, and broth. Cook over medium-high heat 15-20 minutes or until veggies are very soft. Use an immersion blender (or transfer soup to a blender) to blend completely. Homemade rustic bread croutons are a nice addition.

Advent 4 – Knowing Peace

Around the time Teen hit middle school I began encouraging him each time he walked away: “Be your best you,” meaning make good choices and do your best and stay true to yourself. You can be yourself, but it takes intentionality to be your best version of yourself.happiness-project

So maybe it shouldn’t have surprised me to discover “Be Gretchen” at the top of Gretchen Rubin‘s Twelve Commandments of Happiness. Fill in your own name and it sounds easier than the reality. I may want to sing like Idina Menzel, or paint like Monet, or innovate like Steve Jobs, but those aren’t my gifts. Sure, I can practice and develop new skills – I can hire a vocal coach, or take a painting or business class – but honestly I probably won’t because those aren’t my gifts; those desires don’t drive me. Beating myself up over a false version of myself won’t make me happy. So I Be Me and employ Commandment #2: “Let it go.”wiz

I saw this on the screen as we watched The Wiz! this weekend. The things each character wanted – a brain, a heart, courage, home – were already theirs; they just had to believe.

Rubin’s pursuit of happiness strikes me as a key to peace: “Be Me” and “Let it go” lead to both happiness and peace. If I am at peace with myself, I have much higher likelihood of being at peace with you. And peace with myself starts with peace with God.

I’m not sure I would know how to be my best me if I didn’t know what God says about me. For example:

God made me – Psalm 139:13-14 says, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!”

God loves me and saved me – John 3:16-17 says, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”

I’m God’s child – John 1:12 says, “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Jesus intends me to live a full life – John 10:10 records Jesus saying, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

God has given me specific gifts for specific work – 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other,” and Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”

God will help me – Hebrews 4:16 says, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.”

Hearing and believing these truths from God’s Word free me up from discouragement and free me to be my best self. I’m created by God, and God doesn’t make junk. I am loved by God, which gives my life value. I am gifted and empowered by God to do good work and live a full life.

I read this prayer this week, and it speaks straight to this point:

Dear God: Please untie the knots that are in my mind, my heart and my life. Remove the have nots, the can nots, and the do nots that I have in my mind. Erase the will nots, may nots, might nots that may find a home in my heart. Release me from the could nots, the would nots, and the should nots that obstruct my life. And most of all, Dear God, I ask that you remove from my mind, my heart and my life all of the ‘am nots’ that I have allowed to hold me back, especially the thought that I am not good enough. Amen.

Blessings on these last few days of Advent 2015!advent wreath

Week 4 – Knowing Peace
December 20-24

Read and light four candlesThe first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace. The second candle represents God’s peace in us. The third candle represents the call to make peace with one another. The fourth candle represents the Gospel of peace.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Ephesians 2:14-18

Read: Jesus Christ is our peace. On the cross He defeated sin and death and tore down the wall separating us from God. He destroyed our interior walls which kept us from being whole and holy. He shattered the walls that separate us from one another, human distinctions that matter nothing to Him. Christ fought the battles to win peace for us. Come, let us worship the Prince of Peace!

Pray: Dear God, thank you for the good news of peace. In the name of Jesus we pray for peace, Amen.

 

Monday John 17:3 How do you enjoy eternal life here on earth?
Tuesday Acts 10:36 How has the good news of peace through Jesus Christ changed your life?
Wednesday Romans 5:1 How does peace with God affect your daily life?
Thursday 2 Corinthians 5:20 With whom does God want you to share His peace?

Meatless Monday – Veggie “Meat” Balls

Yes, I know it’s Tuesday and this post says “Meatless Monday.” That’s how things go sometimes, especially in a busy holiday season. No judgment, lots of grace!

Because their parents turned veggie before they were born, our kids have been vegetarian their whole lives. They’ve never had a beef burger. They’ve only had meat by accident.

At a Christmas party a year ago, Tween saw a platter of meat balls and commented aloud, “Oh, I can’t have those.” The gracious host replied, “Oh, yes, you can! They’re vegetarian.” He had one, and then another, and eventually we moved his sweet body away from the table so others could enjoy them as well.

Not long after, Friend scheduled time to teach Tween to make meatballs. Unlike his older brother, whose love for eating good food motivates him to cook good food, Tween hasn’t been overly motivated to learn to cook. But he had so much fun cooking with Friend, and I had fun watching her invest love and knowledge into her relationship with my son.meatballs in oven
meatball on spoon

As she prepared to host this year’s Christmas party, Friend invited Tween over to make another (double) batch of meatballs. For three hours they measured, chopped, sauteed, blended, stirred, and waited in expectation for that delicious first bite (Okay, it doesn’t really take three hours, but we talked and took breaks, Tween played with the dogs and the adults drank good wine – in other words, we enjoyed the process and the company).

Come party time, Tween proudly stood by the meatballs and invited guests to try them. Carnivores couldn’t believe vegetables could taste so savory-amazing. Don’t let prior experience with cardboard-tasteless, processed meat-less balls steer you away from this recipe. Try it for yourself!

Veggie “Meat” Balls

2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 1/2 c Saltine crackers, finely chopped
2 c walnuts, finely chopped
1 c ground vegetable protein (such as 
Morningstar Grillers Crumbles)
4 eggs
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp celery salt
1/4 tsp liquid smoke
1/2 c Mozzarella cheese, shredded

Use a food processor on pulse to chop Saltines, then walnuts, then onions (because dry before wet makes things easier), setting aside each ingredient as it’s done. Saute onions. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and blend. Use a small ice cream scoop to form walnut-sized balls and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

BBQ Sauce

1/2 c margarine
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 c brown sugar
1 c ketchup
2 1/2 c prepared BBQ sauce (we like 
this one)
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp salt
2 shakes liquid smoke

Saute onions. Add remaining ingredients to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Pour sauce over meatballs in a casserole dish and bake at 350 until warmed through, or place in a crock pot to warm and serve.

Advent 3 – Making Peace

9197523314_d3eb934e5d_nOur friendship burned hot and fizzled furiously like a sparkler on Fourth of July. I can’t explain it, but the first time we laid eyes on each other we decided to become fast friends. Within a week I had invited her in to all of my intimate circles. We had coffee so often Guy asked if we had a standing date. Thinking I was helping her settle in to life in a new town, I spent more time with her than anyone outside my family.

Months later, a switch flipped. I had an uneasy suspicion something was wrong. She didn’t respond to my texts, but showed up at a gathering I had invited her to and tried to pretend away the conflict. Not one for pretense, I left in tears of confusion and spent the next week moping like a brokenhearted teenager.

Soon after she met with another friend who confirmed my hunch: like a character from The Twilight Zone, she was pleasant one minute and smiling yet nonsensical the next.

She called, eventually. She apologized but couldn’t explain; she tried, and when her words made it worse, she stopped trying. Still, she wanted to be friends. Grateful for her apology, I forgave her – I can genuinely wish her well – and explained that she had broken my trust and I couldn’t trust she wouldn’t do so again. I set a boundary, and I’m pretty sure it’s a healthy one.

She texted me after we hung up the phone:

Peace be with you.
I responded, And also with you.

She broke peace. Then she faked peace. With her apology she made peace, but she couldn’t restore friendship. And it’s okay.advent wreath

Advent Week 3 – Making Peace

Read and light three candles (two purple, one pink)The first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace. The second candle represents God’s peace in us. The third candle represents the call to make peace with one another.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Romans 12:18

Read: Conflict comes to every relationship. Even with those we love most, maybe especially with them, our interactions can lead to disappointment, irritation, frustration. What do we do? We can be peace-fakers, denying our problems. We can be peace-breakers who angrily manipulate others. Or we can follow God’s lead and rely on His grace to become peacemakers. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Pray: Dear God, may we love one another well so that the world will know we belong to you. In the name of Jesus we pray for peace, Amen.

 

Monday Psalm 133:1 Share about a time when you experienced unity among God’s people.
Tuesday Matthew 5:9 What does it mean to you to be God’s child?
Wednesday John 13:34-35 Why is love a distinguishing characteristic for Christ’s followers?
Thursday Romans 12:16 How does pride get in the way of peaceful relationships?
Friday Ephesians 4:2-3 How is patience related to peace?
Saturday Philippians 2:2-4 To what “interests of others” can you pay more attention?

 

Another blog I’m enjoying this Advent: lessnerismore. Grab a mug/cup of something warm and tasty and set aside a few minutes to check out her daily Advent blog.

 

Meatless Monday – Dessert for Breakfast!

In honor of Teen’s 17th birthday tomorrow, I’m sharing last year’s birthday blog with some of his favorite birthday foods.

Miracles in the Mundane

HB sign

Today Teen turns 16 years old. Most every parent thinks this annually, if not oh-so-much-more often, but: HOW DID WE GET HERE?

Sixteen years ago our little elf turned our world upside-down. He crawled at 6 months, walked at 10 months, ran by his first birthday, and hasn’t slowed down since.

His life is all-in, full-out adventure. He has no fear. I have had to sit on my hands, close my eyes, and bite my tongue to keep from the perception that I might be squelching his exuberance. Still, he knows. I am timid and he is not and we need each other.

He has taught me more about God’s goodness and creativity in this great big beautiful world than anyone I’ve ever encountered. He has thrust more animals of all shapes and sizes than I could imagine into my hands and into my heart. How could I have known that we’d have three…

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Advent 2 – Finding Peace

Ironically, during a week in which I’ve intentionally focused on expecting peace, I’ve found distress more often.

The same hour I learned about the mass shooting in San Bernardino, I also heard that a neighbor, husband of an acquaintance, was in a suicidal stand-off with police. He alternately pointed a pistol at his temple and his mouth and, after hours of negotiation during which a nearby elementary school – his son’s school – was on lock-down, he pulled the trigger. He leaves behind his beautiful wife and four kids, his youngest only six and four years old.

Heart breaks. Lord, have mercy. Send your peace!

Far less dramatic: Traffic. Rushing. Deadlines. Botched plans. Carpools, worse, no carpool. Kid stress (aka, school stress!). Appetizers for two different functions. Overly full calendar. On and on.

Thank God for His Word! A few of our church staff did a Bible study on Philippians 4:4-9:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Interestingly, I’d most often read those few verses as three different points: 1- Rejoice. 2- Worry less, pray more. 3- Think about good things.

This week I realized they are One Point (as Peterson translates in The Message): “It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

When we rejoice, we put Christ at the center of our hearts and minds. When we present our requests to God, we put Christ at the center. When we think about good things, true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy things, we put Christ – the author and perfecter of all things – at the center. When we fix our eyes on Christ, Christ displaces the worry that has us spinning like hamsters on a wheel and in turn gives us peace.

Phew! Hopping off the hamster wheel as my head spins…

This hasn’t been an easy week. Looking back, however, I felt most at peace when I intentionally focused on Christ. Engaged in friendship, worship, Bible reading, serving loved ones, diving deep in fulfilling work, walking our dog, I can pray and allow Christ to displace worry. Sometimes peace “just happened” as I had already scheduled life-giving activities; other times Grumpy Me made a decision to pray and pursue peace (the dog got a few more walks this week).

Bottom line: The Lord is near. So much better than tossing sleeplessly or numbing the anxiety, we can rejoice, pray, let our loving God care for our needs, and think on God’s good things. As the angel declared to shepherds watching their flocks by night, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Peace be with you!advent wreath

Week 2 – Finding Peace

Read and light two candles (purple)The first candle represents the expectation of the One who will bring Peace. The second candle represents God’s peace in us.

Say aloud together: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read Scripture: Isaiah 26:3 and Philippians 4:4-9

Read: How many times today did you think about yourself: your fears or worries, your wants and needs? How many times today did you offer to God your fears or worries, your wants or needs? We get so easily distracted, so quick to neglect the peace God offers us in His Son. God invites us to cast all our cares on Him because He cares for us. Set your heart and mind on Jesus and live in peace.

Pray: Dear God, help us to trust you and to let go of everything that keeps us from you. In the name of Jesus we pray for peace, Amen.

Monday Isaiah 26:3 Where do you need peace in your life?
Tuesday Matthew 6:31-34 What worries distract you from seeking God, and what will you do about it?
Wednesday Luke 12:25-26 How does worry sap your time and energy?
Thursday Philippians 4:6-7 When have you experienced peace in response to prayer?Friday Philippians 4:8-9 What are some of your favorite “whatevers” to think about?
Saturday Colossians 3:1-2 How do you actively set your heart and mind on God’s priorities?

 

Another blog I’m enjoying this Advent: lessnerismore. Grab a mug/cup of something warm and tasty and set aside a few minutes to check out her daily Advent blog.