Without Much Fanfare

North America’s most renowned venue for Shakespearean plays is in Stratford, Ontario, and during their “Stratford Festival” from May through October, the town is brimming over with art and theater lovers (except early in the morning when I took this picture; I think most of the town was sleeping in).

Alan, Joel, and I went recently for a long weekend to take in a couple of Shakespeare’s finest—one comedy and one tragedy—and a musical.

Sunset along the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario

Each play was so provocative that I’ve reflected for a long time on the themes, morals, and values, but today I want to admit that what I loved the most—and what I’ve remembered with the greatest sense of pleasure—was our evening walk through the Shakespeare Gardens and along the Avon River.

Oh, the plays were amazing, no doubt about it! The acting was superb. The props were fresh and fun.

Sydney Opera House in Sdyney, Australia (2004)

Alan and I saw The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Sydney Opera House fifteen years ago, but it seemed (if anything) even more ludicrous than ever.

The tragedies of Othello were still as dark and senseless as ever, and the musical (which I’d never seen before) was both enlightening and hopeful (although the profanity was so bad that I wouldn’t personally choose to attend it again 😦 ).

Fanfare at the Festival Theater

Five minutes before the end of each intermission, a troupe of musicians came outside to alert us that it was time to go back inside, playing a short fanfare. It made me smile, as I always think of “fanfare” as some sort of ostentatious commotion used to draw attention to something . . . which—of course—it was, but not as we think of it today. This fanfare was straight out of Shakespearean England and the 400-year-old tradition of announcing something important: In this case, the conclusion of an impressive play!

That being said, our visit to a local church Sunday morning and our walk along the Avon River Sunday evening (following the Sunday matinee and a great dinner) were the true highlights for me!

Bumblebee on Dill Weed in Shakespeare Gardens

They weren’t our reason for going, and they weren’t what we paid to see, but those events most refreshed and restored my soul, and they gave me the most pleasure!

Truly memorable breakfast at Features Restaurant in Stratford, ON
(YES! I recommend it!! 🙂 )

In your busy life, what most feeds your soul? If you’re like me, it’s not the fanfare of life’s theatrics but the solace of God.

Not in excited pomp and circumstance, but in stillness and reflection . . . Truly, in practicing the presence of God and communing with Him through prayer.

The silent testimony of God’s great goodness speaks to me

Full House at Stratford’s Festival Theater

even more eloquently than the thunder of music and applause.

How about you?

Raindrops on roses . . . one of my favorite things!

O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee . . .To see thy power and thy glory, so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary. Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name” (Psalm 60:1-3).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (48): The Quiet Do-Gooder

Do you get overwhelmed by all the appeals for help you receive from organizations? How about the folks at the markets with placards asking for spare change? Fall is “the season” for fundraisers in Grand Rapids, and this past week, one of my friends experienced one company’s latest bright idea for pressuring people into donating: “Just text in your donation right now while you’re sitting at the table, and we’ll flash your name and amount up on the big screen!” Woah! Is this meant to create competition, extra glory for the donor, or shame for those who won’t or can’t give more (beyond the extremely expensive ticket price for the dinner)?

I would like to say, “Wait! We’re getting this all wrong!” I’ve been to fundraisers that are almost like auctions: “Who will give us $100? Just raise your hands! Now, who will give us $1,000? Who will give us $5,000?” I think the last bid was for $25,000 that night. We didn’t participate in the bidding war, but I did go home feeling a little shell-shocked.

Jesus taught us the “right” way to give: “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:2-4).

Giving to the poor is commendable, but let’s give out of hearts that overflow with compassion, not to avoid the social stigma of feeling uncharitable! Giving can fill us with joy when done out of a pure heart for the right reasons, but otherwise, it just makes us resentful or proud. Dear Lord, don’t let our acts of charity go to the loudest, highest bidders or be governed by our desire for the praise of men, but rather let us give prayerfully, in response to the quiet promptings of your Holy Spirit. So simple. So obvious from scripture. So contrary to the way our world works!

Text for this meditation: Matthew 6:1-4 “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

Creamy Chicken Alfredo

Ever wondering what to serve for small children who still prefer all things buttery and salty, easy to digest, and preferably some type of pasta or rice? Here’s a dish that’s fancy enough to please almost all palates, but (especially if you leave out the veggies and herbs) will also get requests for seconds from the tiniest spoon feeder!

Creamy Chicken Alfredo
(Serves 6-8)

Combine in a frying pan:
4 oz. butter (margarine or olive oil can also work, but butter tastes awesome!)
1 pound skinned, de-boned chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 medium, finely-chopped onion
2 tablespoons crushed garlic
1 teaspoon fresh or ground rosemary
1 teaspoon seasoning salt (I use Lawry’s, but your favorite works fine)
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon ground basil (or up to 1/4 cup fresh, chopped; it tastes great!)

Creamy Chicken Alfredo with Broccoli

Fry until no longer pink inside (about 6-7 minutes), then add:
4 oz. butter
8 ounces chopped mushrooms
1 small head of broccoli chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 eight-oz. package cream cheese
2 cups light cream (“half’n’half”). Or, you can use 1 cup heavy cream and 1 cup water to replace the light cream; 2 cups of milk also works but isn’t quite as yummy—or caloric, so you can save some cals that way if you want!)
2 tablespoons flour
6 oz. freshly grated Parmesan cheese (or any Italian-blend grated cheese you want)


Simmer, stirring often to make sure everything becomes creamy, until the mushrooms and broccoli are tender, about 10 minutes

Pasta:
In a pan of boiling, salted water (according to the directions on the package), add:
12 oz. of fettuccine pasta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s al dente. Drain off any excess water, and add:
8 oz. butter (or 4 oz. olive oil if you’re watching your weight)
6 oz. grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Serve with a tossed salad and freshly baked bread and butter
or garlic bread.

Even small children who are hard to please will usually love this mild, buttery delight . . . particularly if you don’t include the onions and mushrooms!)

He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4).

unPlanned

Two days ago I had the pleasure of an unplanned visit with the gaffer for the newly released movie, Unplanned. (John is my son Dan’s brother-in-law.) Have you seen it?

It’s the gripping true story of the experience of Abby Johnson, who personally had two abortions and then became an activist for Planned Parenthood . . . until she actually witnessed an abortion. Until. What about you? Do you have any opinion about whether or not abortion is a reasonably good option for ending an unwanted pregnancy? If you think abortion might be the best and easiest option, please PLEASE watch Unplanned.

It’s rated R, probably for blood visuals related to some abortion problems, but I think it is valuable for anyone who is exposed to sexual contact . . . or for sure by high school age. Does it make sense that any girl—who is under 18 can have sex, get pregnant, and have an abortion without parental consent—should be restricted from seeing a movie that discusses the issues surrounding abortion? I’d say “NO!”

I grew up in a liberal home and didn’t blink an eye at over the issue. I figured that if anybody ever raped me, I’d have an abortion. However, my husband, Alan (who was usually more liberal than I was on “political issues”), said he thought it was wrong and that if I was ever raped and impregnated, he would prefer that I kept the baby rather than getting an abortion. I was totally shocked, but it also made me rethink my position. During medical school, as part of his training, Alan observed an abortion. His response was similar to that of Abby Johnson’s. He was horrified and sickened. He never wanted to be witness to an abortion again, and he felt that he had watched the undeniable killing of a helpless infant that resisted with all its tiny being having its life snuffed out.

After Alan began practice, he discovered that he had patients who even into their eighties were still haunted by their experience of having aborted a baby early in life. The regret and shame seemed never ending. He has been a strong proponent for being pro-life ever since, and so am I.

But, what about the millions of women who have aborted babies? Is there no relief for them from having an aching heart and a bad conscience?

Yes! There is no sin outside the grace of God, nor are any of us without sin, we just sin in different ways. In fact, the Bible is clear that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That’s why Jesus died: to provide a way to be forgiven for our sins: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17, ESV).

If you have had an abortion, are considering having an abortion, or know someone who is struggling with abortion issues, please consider watching Unplanned. It will make you sad, but it also offers hope and healing! God is here, and He loves us!

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 ESV). “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21 ESV).

Thoughts to Ponder Learned from Some of the Giants of the Faith

“Find your purpose, then lose your life fulfilling your purpose” (John C. Maxell).

Learning from the Giants, by John C. Maxwell, started off a little slow for me, but by the end, I was very happy to have persevered in listening my way through it. Maxwell imagined sitting in his study for a day, being visited by a number of the Bible’s great leaders. As I was usually driving while listening, I resorted to writing down my favorite memories of what Maxwell had to say after arriving at my destination, so they may not be perfect quotes, but I wanted to share some provocative bits of advice gleaned from his studies and commend the book to you as encouraging reading. (P.S.—You know how I love to share photos, too, so I picked out some pictures from my last trip to Mackinac Island, although they were chosen more for beauty than connection to the text.)

Queen Anne’s Lace

Elijah:
*God loves you, even on your worst days!
*Wait, serve, and learn while you wait.
*Our purpose must always be more important to us than our position.
*Find your purpose, and then lose your life fulfilling your purpose.
*Brokenness always precedes blessing.

Arch Rock on Mackinac Island

Job:
*Character is more important than reputation, so work on growing your character.
*Reputation is like a shadow; it has no substance.
*Character is what will enable you to withstand tribulation.
*At the end of Job’s life, he was filled with promise and not pain anymore!

Deborah:
*Be prepared for God to surprise you.
*Expect the unexpected.
*You must deal with your past before God will give you a future.
*God can make nothing out of you until you realize you are nothing without God. (Editorial Note: We are always the objects of God’s love, which gives us great worth, but I think Maxwell was pointing out that God loves the humble in heart.)

Jonah:
*God is a God of second chances.
*Mercy always runs downhill.
*But—think about what you missed by not living right from the beginning!

Joshua:
*God will only give you the promises you claim.

Daniel:
*Be motivated by conviction, not convenience.
*Greatness isn’t doing all you can do; it’s allowing God to do all He wants to do through you.
*You will never lose your way if you never lose your why.
*Courage is like muscle; it is strengthened by exercise.

With my soul have I desired thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek thee early: for when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (47): Be “Perfect” . . . Is That Even Possible??

My father grew up going to church but rejected what he had learned as a child and became a self-proclaimed atheist for many years, so when I was a child, I never went to church or heard anything about Christianity. In fact, my mother wrote as a “cute saying” in my baby book that at some point I said, “I think I should know more about the Bible.”

After eagerly trusting Jesus as my Lord and Savior the first time I ever heard the good news that God loved me and Jesus died for me, I immediately shared the Good News with my parents. I don’t remember what they said, but my mother’s attitude was sort of a non-descript “That’s nice honey,” and my father’s was a condescending, “Well, you’ll soon grow out of it.”

I was much older before I got my courage up to ask them why they didn’t believe. My mother (who was at that time agnostic) said it was because she didn’t feel certain God was real. She was afraid he was perhaps just an abstract construct, so she was unwilling to trust lest she be disappointed or discover that she’d been deceived. My father, on the other hand, had a more definitive reason. He remembered reading Jesus’ command from Matthew 5:48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” and—knowing that he could never be perfect—decided to give up before he ever started trying. Why ascribe to an impossible standard? Why undertake an impossible quest?

My husband’s parents both believed in God and felt that the Bible was true, but Alan’s father had an almost exactly similar stance to my father’s. He said he could never be perfect, and that if he were to say he was a Christian, then he would have to be perfect, and since that was impossible, he would always feel like a liar and a hypocrite.

Why did Jesus tell people to be perfect, since he knew good and well they couldn’t be? Was he trying to turn people away? Was he just setting us all up to feel like guilty losers who are nothing but failures? Was he suggesting that unless we attain perfection, we’ll never enter heaven?

NO! But, well yes (in a way)! Jesus spoke the truth, which is that in order to go to heaven, we must be perfect. Thankfully, Jesus is also the way: Although we can’t be perfect, he could, and he was. He fulfilled the Laws of God perfectly, but then he offered himself as a sacrifice for our sins. If we are willing to humbly admit that we aren’t perfect and never will be, and that we don’t deserve to go to heaven based on our ability to keep God’s perfect standards . . . if we are willing to admit that we are sinners (law-breakers of God’s perfect laws) BUT are also willing to accept the free gift that Jesus offers us—his death as the full payment for our sins—then we become children of God, joint-heirs with Jesus, and possessors of eternal life. When we accept Jesus as our savior and surrender our lives to Him, He becomes our Savior and Lord. The Holy Spirit indwells us and begins the good work of making us more and more like our Master, until someday—when we see Him face-to-face in heaven—we will at last become perfect, not because we are, but because He is, and He has made us like himself.

Now, that’s not so hard, is it? Nobody told me I had to be perfect to become a Christian. All I heard was that God loved me and Jesus died to save me, and that’s all you need to hear. Believe in Jesus and surrender your life to him. He will receive you, give you eternal life, and the Holy Spirit will indwell you to comfort, guide, and teach you. Life is hard, but trusting Jesus is inestimably easier than trying to attain perfection without the aid of the one and only, truly holy, 100% good Higher Power, which is God himself!

Texts for today’s meditation: Matthew 5:48: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Also: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

P.S.—Thankfully, both my parents became believers in their eighties, and Alan’s mother became a believer in her sixties. I hope Alan’s father also became a believer, but I’ll have to wait until heaven to know for sure. At any rate, as long as you have life and mental faculties enough to choose Christ, it’s never too late. Hopefully, as we age, we’re better able to recognize our own lack of perfection and more willing to lean on God’s everlasting arms for help! He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). My mother was never disappointed in Christ after she believed. Instead, she became peaceful about her impending death, which assured me that her future was secure. God is so merciful!!

Photo Credit for Painting: “Love Everlasting” by Yongsong Kim, permission granted by Foundation Arts, website: Havenlight.com

Scrumptious Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup Pie

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie
(Makes two pies, each of which serves 8+)

(I made one 10″ and one 8″ pie in this photo)

Make two 9-inch pie crusts:
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Crush 2 packages of chocolate graham crackers (about 14 oz), then blend in:
1/4 cup sugar
1 /2 cup melted butter
4 oz. chocolate chips (will still be chunky)
Divide evenly, pat into the pie plates, and bake at 350° F. for 8-10 minutes, then remove from oven and let them cool.

Pie with 4 oz. chocolate chips and 1 cup chocolate frosting
added on top of warm crust

For a special touch, I like to sprinkle another 4 oz of chocolate chips on top plus:
*1 cup hot fudge (recipe here: https://kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress.com/2015/08/05/recipe-for-the-best-hot-fudge/
*or 1 cup of chocolate frosting
*or 1 cup of ganache if you like the “death by chocolate” taste

(Ganache can be made by beating together:
1 cup heated (but not to the point of simmering) heavy cream and
8 oz melted chocolate chips; if you make this, use half (warm) on top of the warm crust and the other half on top after the pie is thoroughly chilled or frozen and the ganache has cooled)

Filling:
In a blender, whip
2 cups heavy cream until soft peaks form, then add:
1 eight-ounce package of softened cream cheese
1.5 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 jar (15-16 oz) smooth peanut butter
1 cup milk

Blend until it’s completely smooth, and then divide evenly into the two cooled pie shells. (Make sure they’re completely cool so you don’t melt the filling any.)
Pop into the freezer for at least one hour, or freeze completely (which takes about 2 hours).


Top with:
6 crumbled peanut butter cups per pie
Then cover with either:
1 cup home made hot fudge sauce, or the other cup of ganache (if made above)

This pie can be prepared ahead and frozen for up to a couple of weeks if need be. (Cover it securely with some type of freezer wrap if you do.

Take it out of the freezer to thaw for about a half an hour before serving. It definitely tastes best if served somewhat softened, which really enhances the flavor.

(My grand daughter ate every bite and didn’t get sick . . .
but I didn’t give her very much! 🙂 )

***Warning: This pie is so rich it can make people sick, particularly if it’s served at the end of a large meal for dessert. I’d recommend serving very reserved slices (more like 10 per pie or 2″ at the widest point), and just tell people they are welcome to have seconds if they want more. Think “heavy chocolate torte” or “pecan pie” size. When I served normally big slices, I’d end up wrapping up part of the servings to be finished later . . . but nobody wanted me to throw any of it out! 🙂 )

Remove far from me vanity and lies; give me neither poverty nor riches;
feed me only food sufficient for me” (Proverbs 30:8, KJ21)