A Race to the Finish Line

My oldest son’s family (with four boys) are arriving one week from today for Christmas, and this is the room where they usually sleep on the pull-out couches.     What do you think? Am I ready for company? No, I don’t think so either.   😦 We’ve been trying to update our 30-year-old kitchen because our laminate counter tops were worn through and showing spots of white and the drawer hinges had been replaced so many times that the company no longer sells replacement hinges! I realize that Christmas is the wrong time to redo your kitchen, particularly when you’re expecting 24 people to visit, but when we started this project (6 months ago), they said it would take 6-10 weeks. Wrong! But you know, sometimes the only way out is to just keep trekking, so that’s what we decided to do! After all, eating out of the frig off the floor is over-rated! I can totally recommend the guy who’s doing our remodeling. The timing had nothing to do with him (had to wait on the cabinets to arrive, and then the order was incomplete, etc.). Jeff is doing an impeccable job (just for the record).  Unfortunately, he needs foot surgery, so he’s been working long hours to try to get things in shape for us so that I have a functional kitchen for the holidays. The counter tops and new sink will take another month. On top of that, he’s trying to do some extra things that somehow didn’t get into the contract. The lady at the store said, “Oh, he can put in temporary counter tops for you!” but failed to put that in the contract, and of course, I failed to realize that she failed to put that in the contract (along with various other necessary items, such as the strainers for the sink [whatever those are] and the supplies to convert our new range from propane to natural gas)…which Jeff is going to try to do for us (although he’s never done it before), because the company who is supposed to do can’t until after the holidays, and I need a stove!!     So the dust is flying and the living areas are pretty much a disaster area!                            Will Jeff be able to finish before the company arrives?  If so, will I be able to get the house put back together so we can eat at the tables?  (BTW, how in the world did I accumulate so much stuff in just 45 years?) I’m not sure the answer to any of those questions, but I’m praying it works out! Have you noticed that doing things “right” almost always seems to take a lot longer than we think? It generally costs more as well. There are hidden expenses (not just financially, but emotionally and spiritually)…all sorts of things we need that we didn’t know we’d need, not to mention human errors in communicating and planning. Still, God calls us to keep moving forward, doing the best we can and praying for help! I’m believing this is going to work out… somehow, and I hope that if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by life this holiday season, you will also keep looking up and trusting God to see you through!

“The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the Lord. (Proverbs 21:31)

 

Rise Up, My Love (264): Overcoming Trials

Song of Solomon 8:5 “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?”Are you feeling all clear and cheery today? No clouds in the sky of your heart? Or, are the clouds gone but you’re burning under the heat of the sun? You’ve laid your burden at the foot of the cross, but you’re still wandering through the wilderness?

Healing is always miraculous, and sometimes God heals us completely in a moment, but often giving our struggles to Jesus is like getting a cast on a broken leg. It begins the healing process, but it may take months before we can walk without a limp. Or, as in the case of Jacob who became a “prince” with God, we may limp for the rest of our lives (Genesis 32:31-32).

Whatever the consequences of our sins and trials may be… Jacob came through his wilderness experience as a prince, and so can we. In case you’re still struggling, let’s consider this verse again. We all have wilderness experiences in our lives. We all have times in our lives when we feel very alone, very lost, very betrayed…very hurt. We feel pain. Often we feel great loss…loss of love, loss of trust, loss of the presence of those we love.

Most of us have experienced the anguish of, “Yea, mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me” (Psalm 41:9). Our whole world turns grey. Our minds race like rats running a maze, but all we can find are dead ends. There is no way out. There is no way of escape. We can run, but will that help? Which way is the right way?

I used to always want to run away from pain, but I’ve learned over many years that running away doesn’t work. Yes, there are some types of physical pain that can be avoided by running, but we can’t run away from spiritual and emotional realities. In the spiritual realm, we must learn to make the painful journey out of the wilderness—not by running wildly away from trouble—but by leaning on our Savior and finding all we need in him.

No matter how wonderful our spouse, family, and friends are, there are times when they will fail. No matter how much our parents love us, they can’t always be there for us. I am one of the very blessed ones. Some have no parents or spouse at all, or the ones they have are cruel and wicked. Some people have no friends or family at all…good or bad! They are alone in this world…not just part of the time, but all of the time. What then?

No matter what the circumstances of your life are today, if at some time you have come to the Lord repenting of your sins and asking Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Savior, then you are a child of God and a part of the family of God and bride of Christ. In that case, whatever the wilderness…he is with you. How shall we escape? “How shall we then live?” By leaning on the everlasting arms of our Savior. By looking into his eyes and sensing his love…by being filled with his peace and presence. By following his example and walking beside him.

What is the wilderness? Most of the time it is the sense of emotional desolation we feel when we are disappointed by the circumstances of life. Really, it is the Wilderness of Sin (Exodus 16:1), and at its heart—the wilderness of our own sin, created by looking inward and feeling sorry for ourselves instead of looking upward and rejoicing in God when we are suffering tribulation.

Yesterday (fifteen years ago!) I called a former pastor’s wife whom I knew was suffering with vision problems and bruised ribs from a fall in the bathtub. When I asked her anxiously, “How are you?” expecting to be empathetic with her pain, she responded with incredibly cheery faith, “Oh, I’m just rejoicing in the Lord.” Wow! What a testimony to the realness of her comfort in God’s grace. This is the true secret of overcoming!

Just today (while editing this), I talked to a friend wh0 just come out from anesthesia after a hip replacement. I asked her, “How are you feeling?” to which she replied, “Oh, we had a fun day. They wheeled me into the wrong surgical suite, but they figured it out before they took out my appendix, and we all had a good laugh.” What a great attitude!

During the biggest test of my life, I “failed of the grace of God” (Hebrews 12:15). Under the torch of God’s hot refining fire, I gave up in many ways. I gained fourteen pounds in six months. I lost all desire to live and just wished I could die and go to be with the Lord, “which is far better”(Philippians 1:23), more absorbed by my own pain that moved by the needs of those around me.

Have you been in the wilderness? Have you come to the foot of the cross? Have you found the way out? Please take the time to read Hebrews 12 slowly and carefully. In my (Scofield) Bible, the heading for this chapter is “The walk and worship of the believer-priest.” That’s you and me! Don’t forget our calling and responsibility. What are we to do? Look up, and know that God is all wise, all powerful, and present everywhere…even here this minute.

Understand that not one sparrow falls without his consent, and not one person falls without his consent either. We may feel alone, but we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us through terrible suffering…perhaps similar to our own…perhaps even worse. Most of all, “Consider him [Jesus] that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (Hebrews 12:3). Trust Jesus. Lean on him. As soon as you can, stop crying and wipe away your tears!

Eventually it’s possible to find peace and joy again—even after terrible trials—and feel like being alive once more. It’s possible to come up out of the wilderness. I know. It happened to me.

Sausage Gravy and Biscuits…Made for Northerners

I went to college “Down South,” where sausage gravy and biscuits were part of every morning’s ample cafeteria buffet offerings. However, being a northerner, I rarely ever tried it, and when I did, it seemed a little bland and heavy. The first year after graduating, I taught high school in North Carolina (also “Down South”) and noticed that biscuits and gravy were popular there as well. Forty years later, I’ve realized that sausage gravy and biscuits are a much loved breakfast offering for about half of America, the U.S. military generally, and I don’t know who else around the world, so I decided it was time to make peace with sausage gravy. The only way I could really do that was to give it a little more kick, and the easiest way I’ve found to do that is to add a little chopped up, spicier brats. Here’s what I’ve done, and it passed muster with my northern family. If you have a really terrific recipe (maybe a secret family recipe from the South), I’d love to have you share it with us as well. After all, cooking is an art worthy of lifetime learning, right?!

Sausage Gravy and Biscuits with a Flair
(Serves 4-6)

Start by baking 8 large biscuits, either from scratch or according to the directions. Once they’re in the oven, start the gravy. (Biscuits take 10-15 minutes to cook, so they should be done just about the time the gravy is done.)Sear in a hot skillet on high heat: 1/2 pound ground breakfast sausage
2 large bratwurst sausages chopped into bite-sized pieces (with whatever level and type of spiciness you might enjoy; I tried one with pepper and cheese and another with mushrooms and provolone cheese, but my guess is that a lot of varieties would add a pleasant flair).Optional: A sprinkling of onion powder and garlic powder. (Being a breakfast item, my husband doesn’t like much of either of these lest it effect his breath during his work day, but they would both add flavor.)  Turn the heat down to medium and continue frying until the meat is completely cooked through and nicely browned. Turn the heat down to low, add  1/2 cup flour and stir until the meat is evenly coated and even the flour is starting to brown. (Scrape with a spatula to keep anything from burning.) Continue cooking, adding 3 cups of milk, one at a time, making sure the gravy mixes smoothly and doesn’t form any lumps.
Salt and pepper to taste (You can even add a little crushed red pepper if you really like spice.)Ladle the sausage gravy over the biscuits and serve piping hot! I think one of the reasons I didn’t like it in college was that it wouldn’t be hot enough by the time I ate it. Congealed gravy is never appetizing. 😦            “Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord” (Psalm 105:3).

Ending Well and Getting a Fresh Start

        Our refrigerator has been sort of the epicenter of family and friend lore. If you’ve sent me a photo of your family in the last few years, it’s probably here! It also serves as a bulletin board and place to display the grand kids’ art work,             and when the children visit, they definitely check to see what’s up! Now, I should explain that we bought this refrigerator used 25 years ago when we first moved into Tanglewood Cottage, and it was definitely in need of replacing. Therefore, it was the first thing to be changed out.However, I have a whole section on  my blog dedicated to “The Pictures on my Fridge,” and every picture means a lot to me!  So, before I let them touch my refrigerator, I lovingly peeled off all the photos and placed them into a coffee table photo album to keep the memories alive! The shiny, new refrigerator (my first “new” frig in our 44 years of marriage) has made me stop and think about the coming year. 2018 will be a shiny, new year… full of possibilities, but without any pictures hanging on it yet. What shall we do? First of all, I certainly don’t want to neglect my family and friends, and I want to finish this year well with the loved ones who are depending on me here at home. Sadly (because I’m so limited and our kitchen is an updating disaster area for the time being), that means I won’t be doing much blogging between now and mid January, although I’ll try to keep my recipes and Song of Solomon meditations going (and anything else as time allows).

One of my girlfriends suggested that I re-post some of my earlier blogs that people seemed to enjoy a lot. That didn’t feel quite right to me, although if you’ve got some free time and are interested in any particular topic, everything I’ve written for the past almost 10 years is still recorded, and if you type a subject into the “Search” bar on the top right-hand corner of this blog, it will bring up posts that touch on that subject. I have to admit, though: The fact that I won’t be able to write much frustrates me and makes me feel like a failure! Does that ever happen to you? You have more to do than you think you “should,” so you feel like a flop? Take heart! God’s priorities are different from ours. He makes things much simpler than we do. God doesn’t measure success in productivity, but in living right and loving well: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, ESV). If ye fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, ye do well” (James 2:8).

Meanwhile, I pray that God will bless and guide each of you during this holiday season. May you find joy in anticipating the good things God has in store for you this coming year, and may you fill up your days with fruitful service and a host of happy memories from loving well and being loved!

 

 

Rise Up, My Love (263): How to Survive Heartbreak

Song of Solomon 8:5 “Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?” This is a magnificent verse. It is speaking—of course—of the bride. From whence is she coming? The wilderness. How is she coming? Is she alone? No, not at all. She is coming in the company of her beloved, enabled by his support.

This is a verse that gleams like a gem lying openly atop the burning desert sands of life…no digging to understand what’s meant, just scoop it up and it’s yours! Better yet, it’s like the glitter of light reflecting from an artesian well, marking an oasis in the desert of life…no need to dig the well, just draw out the water and be refreshed. You know what the verse is saying…just meditate on it…”chew on it” for a while and allow its truth to become your own experience!

Have you ever been in the wilderness? About fifteen years ago, I lost my mother after ten long years of her suffering with Alzhiemer’s, and shortly thereafter I learned that one of my dearest friends had betrayed me in a most devastating way. I felt desperately lonely and heartbroken…I believe it was the lowest point in my life, and my husband was totally unhelpful. (He is now very supportive, just for the record.)  At any rate, it took me many years, but I learned a very painful lesson. When we’re in the desert, we’re never going to survive unless we start taking one small step at a time…putting one foot in front of the other even if we’d really rather die and go to heaven. Nobody can do this for us. God wants us to lean on our Savior and walk out of the wilderness with him, but there are certain steps we have to take or we’ll never really get out.

*We have to confess our own failures: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).

*We have to forgive those who’ve injured us: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

*And then, we have to consciously refuse to think about the past hurt, just as our dear heavenly Father does: “And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).  *Finally, we have to start walking up and out of the wilderness, like someone who’s trying to recover from a broken leg (or for us older folks—a hip or knee replacement), leaning heavily on our beloved spiritual husband, Jesus Christ, for support. Slowly but surely, without even realizing it, we’ll start to heal and find joy again, but it comes from leaning on Jesus and communing with him with an iron-clad resolution to refuse looking back.

Will you take time to stop for a few minutes and sort through your life relationships? Are there injuries that rumble like thunder through the back of your mind and send a bolt of jagged pain ripping through your heart when you remember them? If so, how about taking a few moments to visualize something with me. Imagine gathering up all these terrible memories one by one as if they are billowing black clouds that you can reach up and pull down into a bundle. Imagine taking the bundle and bringing it to the foot of the cross, giving it entirely to Jesus so that it is no longer yours. Confess and forgive: “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil” (Luke 11:4).

Have you given your burden to the Lord? If so, it is his. You don’t own it any more. Don’t try to take it back; don’t open the bag; don’t try to sort through the memories anymore. They belong to Jesus, and he wants you to choose to “remember them no more.” That chapter is finished. Over. Done. Look forward.

One night while our family was leading worship at our local rescue mission, a big, handsome, fierce-looking African-American man with dread locks came to the front of the room at an altar call carrying a long knife, which he lifted over his head, holding one end with each of his hands. For a moment we all held our breath, not perfectly sure what he intended, because carrying concealed weapons was strictly forbidden at the mission, and no one had known that he was armed with such a deadly knife.

However, when the man reached the front where my husband was standing, he kneeled down and laid his weapon on the floor. This is just what we need to do with those killer thoughts that we’ve kept hidden within us! Lift that lethal bundle over your head, come straight to the cross, and lay it at the feet of Jesus.

“This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing” (Isaiah 28:12). “Casting all your care upon him: for He careth for you” (I Peter 5:7).

Chocolate-covered Sea Salt Pecan Toffee (If You Love See’s…)

My oldest brother has been spoiling our family with a big box of See’s chocolates as a Christmas gift for the past 25-30 years, which is a super highlight of the seasons’ taste treats! In fact, I practically have to hide the box and wait until all Christmas comers have arrived before doling out the delectable chocolates. About seven years ago, our son Jonathan and his wife moved to Spokane, Washington, which is one of the locations where they actually make See’s chocolates, and you can go to the shop and pick out your favorite flavors. After many taste tests, Alan and I both decided that their California brittle crunch was our top choice, and so I started trying to figure out how to reproduce them at home.  I’ve come up with my own recipe, which isn’t exact (I think they use almonds, and I’ve used pecans roasted with sea salt…and mine aren’t as crunchy), but they definitely melt in your mouth and disappear from the platters fast!

Chocolate-covered Sea Salt Pecan Toffee
(makes about 5 dozen pieces of candy)

In a large cooking pot add:
1/2 cup water
2 cups granulated white sugar
2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup corn syrup
1 pound butterBring to a boil, stirring often to keep the candy from sticking. Make sure all the sugar has dissolved.  While the toffee is cooking, heavily butter a large cookie sheet and place it on a wooden cutting board. Also take this time to grind up 12 ounces of pecans into very small pieces. (This in not quite ground fine enough, but do not turn it into a totally consistent powder).  Lower the heat to a simmer and continue cooking until the “medium soft-ball” stage (about 300°F), where a drop of syrup placed in cold water forms a chewy ball. (If you take your fingers and gather the syrup out of the cold water [see below], it should form one medium soft ball.) *Note: I use a metal spatula to stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure nothing sticks or burns. This will probably take about 10-15 minutes. Once the syrup has reached the medium-ball stage,turn the heat down to low and add the 12 oz. chopped, roasted, salted pecans. (Those nuts on the right are a better consistency than those on the left.)                                  Stir them until they’re completely mixed in.  Add 1 teaspoon baking soda, stirring gently until it’s thoroughly mixed. Let the mixture start to rise… then remove it from the heat and pour it directly onto the buttered cookie sheet.  The next part is a little tricky. Let the pan cool until it can be cut, but not until it’s completely cool. This takes about 25 minutes.  When the toffee can be cut without immediately losing its shape, cut it into small pieces. (I do 9 lengthwise slices by 7 wide, but do them however you want!)  Microwave  24 oz. chocolate chips and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a bowl for 2 minutes.                                               Remove from the microwave                                               and stir until smooth.  Take a toothpick and make a tiny dot where each cut begins and ends around the entire perimeter of the pan,                                             then spread the chocolate                                              evenly over the entire pan.  Let it cool about 10 minutes, and then run your knife gently along the same tracks. The chocolate won’t be hard yet, but that’s okay. It still prepares the way for even pieces when it’s completely cooled. Depending on where you cool your candy, it may take an hour or two before the chocolate is completely cool without being so hard that it breaks into  uneven pieces. At that point, take a knife and cut along the same lines one last time. If you’ve done it right, when you remove the candies, they should come out in neat pieces. (However, bigger pieces of nuts can make things a bit uneven, as you see above.) it’s not an exact replica of See’s candies (which are entirely enveloped in chocolate, BTW), but it’s close enough to make us smile and saves mega bucks over trying to buy See’s!  I hope you and your loved ones enjoy them. They do make great Christmas gifts and are popular at Christmas parties or the office.We will rejoice in thy salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners: the Lord fulfill all thy petitions” (Psalm 20:5).

Jehovah Jireh: When Plans Go Wrong, God Will Provide a Way

Here it is December 1st, and things are not at all as I’d planned! In particular, my son Jonathan teaches for Moody Bible Institute, and his family has been in transition this past year, moving from Spokane, Washington to Chicago, Illinois. Meanwhile, Moody gave Jon a wonderful “sabbatical” for research and writing this fall, so their family went to Germany (Linda’s homeland) during his study break. They planned to return to the U.S. in time for Christmas and then look for housing. (Please Note: If any of you know of a small home or apartment to rent in a safe neighborhood within 20 miles of downtown Chicago, would you please contact me? Thanks!) However, Jon was unable to get  his visa renewed and had to come back to America early! We love having him home, but he misses his “girls” (that especially includes his wife 🙂  ), and he’s had to persevere through some pretty chaotic conditions here, since we’re still anguishing over issues surrounding a kitchen update (which was theoretically to be done well before Thanksgiving).Still, God provides, doesn’t He? Linda and the children are under the watchful eye of “Uncle Volker,” who has been a wonderful surrogate grandfather while Linda’s parents are gone just now, and I think everything will turn out fine. At least, I hope and pray so! But, it’s pretty unnerving to be without a home base for a long time, isn’t it? Even having your kitchen torn apart is unnerving, particularly if you’re expecting 24 family members home for the holidays during the coming month. I was told our kitchen update would take “6-10 weeks,” but it’s taking more like 6-10 months!  😦

These are just small traumas in the scope of life, but they definitely knock you off your game (as they say in English). I think about friends who are battling cancer this Christmas (one just 18 years old), those grieving the loss of their mate or child, and those who are suddenly without a job. I am sure there are doubtless some out there who are homeless and really don’t have any place to go. Life is terrifying at times, isn’t it? I don’t know how anyone copes without trusting God, and I just want to say that there is “a higher power” available to help you! His name is Jehovahjireh…”Jehovah provides.”

Genesis 12 teaches us that four thousand years ago God called Abraham (and his wife, Sarah) to follow him away from his homeland into a strange, new land. In Genesis 22, God tested Abraham, asking him to sacrifice his one and only son on Mt. Moriah, which must have taken incredible faith, since it would make no sense at all. It was a test to see if Abraham would trust and obey God, but I’m sure Abraham didn’t know that. At any rate, just as Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac, we are told, And Abraham lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, behind him was a ram, caught in a thicket by his horns. And Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called the name of that place, ‘The Lord will provide’ [literally in Hebrew: ‘Jehovahjireh’]; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided(Genesis 22:13-14, ESV).

If you are struggling today with frightening or heart-breaking circumstances, please pray to Jehovahjireh, the God who provides. He will make a way!

“God Will Make A Way”
(—Don Moen)

“God will make a way
Where there seems to be no way
He works in ways we cannot see
He will make a way for me

“He will be my guide
Hold me closely to His side
With love and strength for each new day
He will make a way, He will make a way.”

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