Lessons About Giving Up Negativity: My Lenten Update

photo by garibaldi

It's a lot easier to resist to chocolate or give up soda. We're nearing the end of Lent, and my goal to give up negativity has proved much more difficult than I'd anticipated.

It's hard! It's hard to be hyper-aware of what you're saying. It's hard to apologize and repent when you let negativity slip. It's hard to keep reminding yourself, "Don't be negative, don't be negative," when you're chatting up a storm. It's hard to keep praying for strength to be positive when you're not seeing much result.

And so, little by little, I have drawn away from those principles and gone lax on my Lenten promise. I'm sorry to say I wasn't just a couple weeks into it when I let it start to fall by the wayside and retreated back to "normal." It just got too hard to keep up with it every day, every sentence, every time I opened my mouth.

I realized this the other day with disappointment. Of course it was never meant to be something I'd "go back to" when Lenten was up. It was a challenge intended to be a seed for the rest of my life, something I would continually grow and prune and eventually see a harvest for.

Even as Lent draws to an end and Easter looms (celebration! hope! redemption!), I come back again, tail between legs, to this heart challenge. To go back, and try, try again. To keep learning, to keep striving, until the ultimate Easter occurs.

God is strong and can help you not to fall. 
He can bring you before his glory without any wrong in you 
and can give you great joy. He is the only God, the One who saves us. 
To him be glory, greatness, power, and authority through
Jesus Christ our Lord for all time past, now, and forever. Amen.
Jude 13:24-25

Surprise! A Birthday Trip to Savannah!

photo by semerssuaq

For my birthday on Thursday, Michael has planned a trip to take me to...Savannah, Georgia!

My interest in visiting Savannah was first piqued when I read about its timeworn houses and lush gardens and otherwordly mystique in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil in a college journalism class. Something about stepping back in time, to a place where nostalgia and markers from an olden era are all around you, makes me giddy. (I think part of that stems from the fact that the house I grew up in is nearing a century-old.)

Then I had a couple friends who went there and raved about the town. Now, I finally get to go myself!

Michael has planned a little getaway for us, which is my favorite way to celebrate anything! We're going to go for two days and spend the first day camping and hiking (our first camping trip together!). The second night, we're going to get a hotel room downtown and do some of the tourist-y stuff.

This is incredibly timely since we have spent the past few days trying to sort out our taxes (taxing in and of itself to say the least) and just found out that the clutch on Michael's truck is shot so we're likely to be getting rid of it and turning into a one-car family (not necessarily a bad thing, but still stressful while we figure all the details out). Needless to say, it will be a great little getaway to get our (my!) minds off these little hiccups that have popped up over the past couple days.

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#101: A look back at my first 100 blog posts

 photo by strandloper

The other night, as we were wrapping up watching an episode of the new Jamie Oliver series "Food Revolution" (love it!), Michael clicked over to this little blog to see what I've been up to lately. I showed him the adorable baby-and-balloon photo I found and as I was pointing out this and that, he caught something I hadn't realized at all: Hey, you've written 100 blog posts!

Well, what do you know? I have. And this, my friends, is humble post #101!

I thought in celebration of the occassion, I'd take a minute to link back to some of my favorite of those 100 posts:
Why we moved to Atlanta--and left a well-paying job, in this economy
Some of the everyday miracles God has blessed us with lately
Learning to Plant In Spite of Stormy Weather
What a step of faith looks like: Living in anticipation of our future goals
Turning Down the Job: And Lessons I Learned About Marriage
Decision-Making: Out of Fear or Faith?
Learning to embrace where God was calling me--even when it was the last thing I wanted to do
Telling my husband I love him, in three words
A Note of Caution Regarding Relationship How-to Books
Lessons I'm Learning: Embracing the unknown
Do you notice a pattern as well? Most of these "favorites" are those posts that trace the big life lessons that God has been doing in my and Michael's life together and where he's taken us through some leaps of faith. These are the things that have changed my life, the markers that line the way of how I got to where I am today.

Thanks for traveling alongside me down this bloggity memory lane. Here's to the next 100!


Not Your Typical Babyshower Game

Last night we hosted a baby shower for one of the couples in the small group we joined through our church. They're due with their first baby in less than a month and have already had their fair share of baby showers, so we wanted to make this less "shower-ish" and more hanging out with friends. (Especially because half the people are guys!)

We did a F-U-N game that I thought some of you might want to steal some time in the future if you're planning a shower. It tests your knowledge about the couples and helps you get to learn a lot more about them and who they were as a kid.

I sent both mama- and dadda-to-be an email questionnaire, querying them on "What was your most embarrassing moment from childhood?" "What did you get in trouble for as a kid?" "What things did you collect?" "Who was your favorite cartoon character?"

When they responded, I combed through their answers and pulled the unexpected or ambiguous answers. Such as, "Who collected minnows as a kid?" (Answer: Dad.) "Who collected scorpions and kept them in the freezer?" (Answer: Mom.) "Whose first CD purchase as Garth Brooks?" "Who went through a grunge phase in high school?"

I narrowed their responses down to 20 questions, with guests having to guess whether the questions are about Mom, Dad, or Both. It was a kick to see people's guesses to the questions and to see them laughing as they read their way through the list and their struggle to determine who hated cake and who loved liverwurst sandwiches.

I think we all had a lot of fun and learned more about our dear friends. And now, if their baby ends up collecting wildlife, we'll have much more understanding!

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Stovetop Décor with Colorful Cookware

The other day, I was embarking on yet another new recipe (a potato / green bean / tomato / egg / pesto salad, if you're curious) and quickly had my go-to pots in use on the stove or in the sink to be washed. I remembered I'd stashed a couple pots in the back of one of our pantries and dug one out to boil the eggs.

Lo and behold came this paisley beauty of a pot. I had completely forgotten about this pot I had picked up at a thrift store a couple years ago. When did they stop making ornate little pieces of art like this?! You may not be partial to olive green and mustard yellow like I am, but you can't deny this beats a plain old silver pot any day.

So ever since then, I've determined to keep it out, bringing a fun little punch to my stove top and future cooking creations!

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Pearls of Wisdom from the pages of "Chasing Francis"

photo by Lawrence OP

Chasing Francis is more than beautiful words and a beautiful story--it is deeper than that (which I shared in a longer review here). Inspired by the teachings and life of St. Francis of Assisi, it is filled with poignant lessons and pearls of wisdom. Even though this is a fiction book, my copy is filled with underlined sentences and marked-up pages.

I wanted to share some of the thought-provoking quotes I found throughout the book:

"'A truly great preacher isn't someone with a seminary degree who explains the gospel. It's someone who is the gospel. Francis gave away every possession he owned because he wanted people to see that it was possible to trust Jesus for everything. He walked barefoot everywhere, kissed the lesions of lepers, and bathed them so they'd know the love of God....He walked the talk, and everyone knew it.'" (page 149)

"'Francis used to say that he was married to Lady Poverty....Poverty was the cornerstone of his ministry."
"Francis loved poverty because it helped him spiritually....There is a law in physics that applies to the soul. No two objects can occupy the same space at the same time; one thing must displace another. If your heart's crammed tight with material things and a thirst for wealth, there's no space left for God. Frances wanted a void in his life that could only be filled with Jesus. Poverty wasn't a burden for him--it was a pathway to spiritual freedom.'" (page 163, 165)

The Dignity of Others
"'We're all broken people who've lost our dignity, in one way or another. Francis's whole life was about giving people their dignity back--poor people, lepers, people who were despised and rejected by society--the very people Jesus sought out to minister to.  His commitment to restoring people's sense of their God-given value thrilled the hearts of cynics who had all but given up on believing that the gospel was good news to anyone. What if we all, as a church, decided to make one of our distinctives being restorers of people's dignity?'" (page 199)

"In the liturgy, every act is a metaphor or symbol. The word liturgy literally means 'the work of the people.' It's an ancient text that helps us reenact the redemption drama. What we're reciting is a compress version of the redemption story." (page 95)

The Arts in Church
"'My parents think the arts are trivial. They say you should go to church to get good teaching, not a sonata,' Carla said.
Cudder politely wiped his mouth. 'That is ironic, really. First, the Bible is a great literary work of art filled with poetry, songs, stories, parables, history, apocalyptic drama, and wisdom literature. Second, the very people who pride themselves on being focused on the Word often come perilously close to practicing a form of Gnosticism that overvalues the spiritual and eschews the material. But the Word became flesh! The Incarnation proves that the divine can be communicated through the material--color, sound, texture, words printed on paper, the movement of the body....Our neglect of the power of beauty and the arts helps explain why so many people have lost interest in church.'" (pages 109-110)

Judging the Church

"'I tried to blame everything on the whole Christian subculture--but that isn't fair. Here, I've learned that no one is my problem but me. Francis never judged the church, even when he didn't like what it was doing. What right do I have to judge it? Spiritually, I just want something more.'" (page 152)

(all quotes from Chasing Francis by Ian Morgan Cron)

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My daydream of late...

P.S. I did a little tinkering with my lay-out...any thoughts or feedback?

Buying beauty for 99 cents...

Yesterday, the sky was bleak and gray and depressing. At the grocery store, I saw this cheery handful of daffodils on sale for $0.99. I couldn't resist. I brought them home, placed them in a little vase (actually a pilsner glass!) and then propped them up right in front of where I was doing some reading for work.

Bringing a little sunshine in on a dark, dreary day...for less than a dollar!

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What doing "nothing" for a day taught me

photo by safetylast

Last week, Michael and I attempted our first-ever "Sabbath." I had always thought the Sabbath was about resting and giving our bodies and minds and spirits time to stop and breathe. I do think it's about that, but if that's all it were, wouldn't we all embrace the replenishment wholeheartedly? Why do we instead fight it? Why is it so hard to spend a day not doing?

In our Judaism class, we touched on the Sabbath and our rabbi pointed out something that I'd never really thought about: In Old Testament times, these people worked with their hands whether farmers or sheepherders, etc. Taking a day off from work was not just a day off from running errands, but a day off from their livelihood. What would happen to the soil? To the weeds cropping up? To the seeds that need to be sowed? To the animals creeping around the plants? Taking a day off could really impact your seasonal harvest and whether you have enough to eat, to keep warm, to live. It was literally a sacrifice.

And so for them, taking a Sabbath was an act of trust and faith. Trusting that God will stay faithful and help you get everything done that you need to get done, that he will multiply your efforts, despite the fact that you took a day off to spend with him.

Hearing that, I realized, that has been the root of my lack of Sabbath. The resting part sounds great, but really I need to get this done or that done, which trumps God's command. Which is a lack of trust that what I sow into him, he will reap into a harvest that I cannot fathom. This time is not lost, but invested in such a way that to-do lists cannot capture.

So we Sabbathed last week, from sundown to sundown. I knew I'd be laying my computer aside and not touching any work. I worked ahead to have our next day's lunch ready. But there were little things I hadn't expected to be difficult to me: Wanting to put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher, wanting to pick up around the house, wanting to fold up the laundry. They were just little things--not really work, I reasoned. I had to fight the urge to "do" and to trust that when it came time, it'd all get done, it'd all be fine.

And, of course, it was. Because God is good.

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You know it's spring when...

illustration from vintageprintable1
I am happy to say that spring is here, my friends. There seems no denying it when:
You peel the heavy down duvet off the bed and pack it in the closet.
"Bundling up" means bringing your cute little jacket--not your coat and gloves and scarf.
You roll the windows down in the car for the first time.
You are talking to a friend on the phone when he says, "Are those birds chirping in the background?!"
You get your first ice-cream cones of the season!
You attempt a building project, involving saws and sandpaper and drills and hammers and nails. (I'll share more about our project soon!)
You start planning a camping trip!
So, in celebration, here's a perfect usher-in-the-springtime song Michael and I have been listening to on repeat lately: "Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, a fun little diddy that goes, "Home is wherever I am with you..."

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A List of the New Recipes I've Tried

For the past couple of months, I've made an effort to try one new recipe a week. It's not something I'm stringent on; some weeks I'll try three or four and other weeks might skid by without a newbie at all. Essentially though, it's a challenge I've set for myself to get more comfortable in the kitchen and try new things.

(Another consequence has been that I've gotten much more acquainted with my grocery store aisles, trying to track down things like wheat germ and balsamic vinegar. Without fail, I always end up in the baking aisle and walk up and down looking for some item. With the balsamic vinegar, I stood in front of the huge Kroger olive- and vegetable-oil section, reading each and every label with no luck. A couple of shopping trips later, I discovered the vinegar tucked away in the condiments aisle!)

So, I've started clipping more and more recipes (from blogs, magazines and copying down recipes from cookbooks found at the library), which then compelled me to overhaul my little recipe basket (pictures in all it's homemade glory above!). Every couple of weeks, I'll finger through my collection and sort out the ones I'd like to try or that I have most of the ingredients for, and pin those to the fridge by my shopping list. This process has been helpful for me to stay acquainted with my recipes and try to plan out menus in advance (although I haven't made a week-long menu spreadsheet in quite awhile!).

I thought I'd go through and share some of the recipes I've checked off my list (linked to recipes, where possible):
Black bean burgers
Blue cheese and dried cherry meatloaf (in the crockpot)
Chicken pot pie
Chicken burgers
Chicken ole foil supper
Cornbread from scratch
Granola (tasty) and granola bars (not so much)
Homemade hamburger buns
Homemade breads, bagels, english muffins
Homemade pizza dough
Honey-glazed carrots
Maple-walnut chicken
Penne with asparagus, spinach and bacon
Polenta (yuck!)
Pumpkin pudding
Southwestern pot pie
Sweet potato and black bean chili
Veggie lasagna
Wheat berry salad (I haven't been able to track down wheat berries at the grocery store, but just using barley has been delish! Anyone care to enlighten me about where I can find them?)
Yogurt in a crockpot

What about you--any new recipes to share? I’m always up for new inspiration, so please leave any suggestions in the comments, or let me know if you have tried any of the recipes I’ve shared on here!

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A Book for Your Wishlist: "Chasing Francis" by Ian Morgan Cron

All I knew about St. Francis of Assisi was limited to a statue with his nameplate that stood on the edge of a San Diego garden that I visited a couple years ago. I even took a snapshot of the statue, as it stood strikingly against a breathtaking California backdrop. (At least, I think it was his statue...)

Then, I read Chasing Francis by debut author Ian Morgan Cron. It's in these pages that the author brings this 800-year-old Christian and his revolutionary insights and actions to life for the modern-day reader.

This is one of the best books I've read in quite a long time--especially because it's a fiction title. Oftentimes I feel that fiction titles can be a bit of a waste of time. Here, though the plot of this book is fictional, it is steeped in the historical and authentic--a genre called "wisdom literature." So while you get to read a beautifully, cleverly written and poignant plot, you actually end up learning a great deal about Francis.

Not only is it filled with rich storytelling that will teach you a thing or two about history, but this book will also make you think about what's next. The story is told through the eyes of a megachurch-pastor who is starting to wonder about the depth of the faith that he's grown up on--is there more to loving God and following Jesus than he's been fed?

As the pastor learns more about Francis (while visiting Assisi and living alongside Franciscan monks), Cron begins to unravel what we as modern-day Christians can learn from Francis, a man who cast off his riches, preached to crows, directed the first Christmas play and who revolutionized the floundering faith of his day. What might it look like if we loved God, loved people, like this man did?

Seriously. Read it. (It struck me as a fictional complement to Shane Claiborne's Irresistible Revolution if you found that compelling.) Whether you like fiction or not, it is an incredible story that you can't help but find inspiring.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Becoming Vulnerable: The Power of Confession

photo by g_sinchon

Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you. - James 4:8

There was a time two summers ago that was nothing out of the ordinary, yet it’s remained in my memory ever since: I had been in a funk—those seasons that inevitably settle upon you for one reason or another. I knew what I needed to do (draw near to God) but my heart just wasn’t in it.

Instead, I decided to meet up with a friend, where I just let it all out. I kept talking and confessing everything that was burdening me and holding me down. And it was in that moment, in that conversation of releasing everything pit up–as hard or lame as some of it is to admit–the weight was lifted.

In Lauren Winner’s book, “Girl Meets God” she talks about how she started going to see a priest routinely to confess her sins, even though she’s not Catholic. She talks about how it’s in God’s nature to take the ordinary and everyday and use it to purify us and draw us closer to him: water gives us new birth in baptism; bread reminds us of the price Jesus paid and brings us close to him in the Eucharist; and God also draws us closer to him when we confess our sins–to ordinary people, just like each and every one of us.

Our inclination is to bottle up our imperfections and smudge over them so no one can tell. Or if we do tell, we tell people who will have the right answers or perhaps the people who are worse off than ourselves. But we don’t want to risk tarnishing our image or our reputation. So our sins cower deep inside. But when we become vulnerable and break down walls and open up about our shortcomings, especially to other ordinary, broken individuals, a surprising bit of healing can come through that.

And that’s what happened on that seemingly insignificant Wednesday, as my friend and I sipped Starbucks and sat on a curb in the parking lot and just talked. As we talked, I could feel my funk lifting, my heart getting inflated again and swelling back up. I came home that night, renewed…

Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you will be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
James 5:16

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Loving God for who he is, rather than for the benefits

"I had rather be poor for Your sake than rich without You. I prefer rather to wander on the earth with You than to possess  heaven without You. Where you are, there is heaven, and where You are not are death and hell." That's a quote I just read by Thomas a Kempis in The Imitation of Christ.

Dr. Archibald Hart writes about this quote and says, "He is telling us to love God for who He is, not for His benefits, great as they may be. This leaves many of us in a dilemma. How do we separate His benefits from Himself? The answer lies in examining our own motives and attitudes. As we lift our eyes off the benefits, we are able to worship God Himself with all our heart." (from Archibald's Habits of the Mind)

Wow. Am I the only one who finds that to be a very convicting (and humbling) truth?
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Misadventures in Cooking: From "Polenta" to "Placenta"

(doesn't it look nice and innocent? our homemade veggie polenta)
I make it a goal to try one new recipe a week. This isn't too hard for me because my recipe repertoire is still pretty small, plus I get quite a few magazines that I rip recipes out of each month (which I like to sign up for for free; subscriptions are paid for by advertisers).

As I'm learning, life in the kitchen is never uneventful!

For instance, I decided to make one of my ripped-out recipes the other night: "Vegetable Polenta Stacks." The picture looked good, the ingredients and directions sounded easy enough. So we embarked. Even at the end, the whole thing looked tasty; I thought for sure this was another point for Carmen-in-the-Kitchen. Michael even remarked that they looked "gourmet."

That was until we bit into them: such a disappointment. They were tasteless and like chewing on rubber, quickly earning the moniker "placenta" instead of "polenta." (Gross, I know.)

Needless to say, another recipe pitched in the garbage. Sometimes I feel a little like Einstein in the kitchen, testing and testing, filtering the good from the bad. But at least we tried it out. I know we're getting closer to culling out our little culinary corner of the world, one (good) recipe at a time!

Speaking of recipes, does anyone have a good recipe for whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies? We've gone through a few different recipes and not found one that we've fallen in love with yet. Let me know if you do. Thanks!

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Decision-Making: Out of Fear or Faith?

photo by chany14

Want to know something funny about how God works?

Remember when I got the job offer that I ended up turning down? Only days before my second interview with them when they offered me the job, I received an email from the company I'm currently freelancing for, extending my contract by at least two months. That probably doesn't sound like a lot of time to anyone else, but for me, living on the knowledge of only one month at a time, that's luxury. My entire definition of stability has been overhauled and having more than 30 days, well that's more stability than I've known in quite awhile!

Having that knowledge made it easier for me to turn the job down, knowing that it wasn't (at least for the time being), this crummy, queasiness-inducing offer or nothing. It made it easier for me to step out in faith and say "no" even when logic might compel someone to decide otherwise.

I’ve learned a thing or two over the past year and a half when it comes to big decisions like this one…

I remember, two summers ago, trying to decide whether to take a job in a new state where I knew no one. I remember being scared to take it, what if it didn't work out? But I also had been witness to God going before me and opening this door, and I knew that I couldn't turn back now, just because of fear. I stepped out in faith and took the job and moved to Michigan.

I remember this past summer, when Michael and I were getting married and trying to decide whether to move to Atlanta or stay in Michigan. This time it was different though, because it wasn't clear either way; there were pros and cons to each. I felt like God, rather than closing one door and opening the other, was, this time, opening both as viable options and saying, "This time, you get to choose." And as I thought more about this decision, I started to hone in on this idea of fear. The idea of moving to Atlanta, leaving all "security" behind, was the scary decision, calling for a bigger leap of faith. And I realized I didn't want to make a decision based on fear. And so we ended up packing up and moving to Atlanta.

Those two life-changing decisions, made less than a year apart, have had an incredible impact on me and came into play with this job offer decision. I recognized that I would only take the job based on fear, fear of not knowing where my next paycheck might come from when this freelancing gig dries up. "There is nothing to fear but fear itself." I think there's a lot of truth to that statement, and I'm trying to learn to not let fear steer me in my decision making but instead walk by faith. And, as He's shown me in these previous examples and time and time again throughout my life, God has not let me down yet when I do.

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A Love-Hate Relationship with my Bread Maker

one successful loaf of homemade bread!
There's a great sense of satisfaction I get out of being able to point at something and say, "I made that," whether it's art on our walls, a skirt in my closet or yogurt in the fridge. As I've endeavored to expand my prowess in the kitchen, one of my goals has been to make more and more things from scratch. On that list is learning to make my own bread.

As I considered this, I remembered that my mom had an old bread maker sitting in the basement that she rarely uses. So I asked if I could borrow it as I set out on my bread-making experimentations. Of course she said yes (she's my mom!), so Michael and I hauled the large white contraption home, and set it on the countertop, saddled just beside our coffee maker. I checked out a bread-machine cookbook from the library and set to work, seeing what kinds of homemade goodies me and my newfound friend could whip up.

Let me just say, it has not been quite as easy as I thought it would, and sometimes the bread maker seems more foe than friend. To date, I've had about as many bread-making successes as I have had failures:

two loaves of wheat bread; one batch of hamburger buns; two batches of pizza dough
beer bread; dinner rolls; hamburger buns (this was after the first successful batch!); English muffins

Part of me wants to throw in the (dish) towel and give up--stick to the grocery-store shelves like everyone else. But another part of me--the part that is committed to conquering the kitchen once and for all--desperately wants to press on and through these culinary hiccups.

So in the spirit of second (and third and fourth) tries, I fired up the bread machine and poured in some water, eggs, flour, yeast for a new wheat bread recipe. And do you know what garnished our breakfast table this morning? Toasted homemade bread--with storebought strawberry jam. (I know when to stop while I'm ahead!)

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My daydream of late...

photo by alesa dam 
Lately I've had this little daydream creep in. In it, Michael and I have a little house with a wrap-around porch in the country. Out here, we aren't saddled with busy routines, the worries about finances or careers that fill us with stress and drag us away from what's important. I get to have a little garden in the yard and we sit outside and watch the sunset or the rainstorm or just the shadows dance along the ground.

We get to slow down and relish this little life of ours, unhindered by the hustle and bustle that currently keeps us company.

I think part of it--sloughing off consumerism and materialism for a bygone simplicity--has been inspired by a book I'm currently reading: Chasing Francis by Ian M. Cron. I'm about halfway through it (and I'll share a full review of it in a week or two), but it's a beautifully written fictional story about a man who goes to Italy to learn about Saint Francis of Assisi. It's here, in an age-old friary, that he picnics with monks, journals in a cave, and explores Francis' thoughts on faith and life and begins to rediscover his faith in Christ and God.

Wouldn't that be wonderful? The simplicity (and perhaps, innocence) of it all is so enticing to me right now.

Of course then you step back into reality and remember that there are bills to be paid and rent or taxes hovering overhead that keep us here and there and tied to our 9-to-5 schedules. There's nothing wrong with that, but sometimes it feels limiting. Sometimes I'd like to shake it off for a little upgrade, a little bit of this.

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When I was Young: Remembering what Jesus was like to me as a child

photo by erica_marshall
It was as a child that I first heard people talking about “asking Jesus to come into your heart.” I remember being young—probably five or six—and hearing the pastor invite us to pray this prayer, inviting Jesus into our hearts. I prayed that prayer and I remember going home and believing it.

Like I said, I was really young. So I took this prayer literally: In my mind’s eye, Jesus had shrunken down to a two-inch miniature and climbed into my heart’s chamber and was tacking a little “Home Sweet Home” sign up. I imagined my heart was something out of how they showed the insight of the genie bottle in “I Dream of Jeannie,” with red-velvet walls and a big plush couch that Jesus reclined on.

Being the eldest child, I was used to entertaining myself. So at night, I would tell Jesus stories, since, you know, we were having a slumber party and everything.

I’m not sure when I outgrew this idea and many times I wish I hadn’t. I wish I still pictured Jesus there with me all the time, rather than pushing him aside too much of the time or altogether forgetting he’s there alongside me. I wish I still believed so simply, so wholeheartedly, so lovingly.

I imagine that’s much of why he commended the faith of children, saying in Luke 18:15-17, “Let the little children come to me. Don't stop them, because the kingdom of God belongs to people who are like these children. I tell you the truth, you must accept the kingdom of God as if you were a child, or you will never enter it.”

…the kingdom of God belongs to people who are like these children.

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Ever wonder how God “talks” or how to “hear” him?


Homemade Black Bean Burgers Recipe

I'm a sucker for a burger and fries. There, I admitted it.

But I'm also trying to be healthy (or at least, healthier) so I've started collecting recipes for ways to bridge both desires. Here's a recipe for a homemade black bean burger (which I've scaled down to only two servings) that has become a regular in our recipe line-up.

Black Bean Burgers (serves 2)
1/2 cup dried black beans (or about half a can of black beans, rinsed and drained)
1/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
1/8 cup minced red onion
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/8 tsp. ground cumin
dash of black pepper
1/2 large egg (I usually just refrigerate the other half to make for breakfast the next morning; according to the USDA, make sure to "Use leftover yolks and whites within 4 days.")

If using dried black beans, be sure to soak and boil the them first for the appropriate amount of time.
Once that's done or if you're using canned black beans, place beans in a large bowl and mash with a fork or put in a food processor to chop them down (I find that easiest).
Stir in the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
Divide the mixture into two patties and then grill on skillet/frying pan for about 5 minutes each side.

You're done. Seriously. Throw on a hamburger bun, top with guacamole or salsa or whatever toppings you like, and enjoy! (I like to serve them up with a side of sweet potatoes. I really can not get enough of those little tubers!)

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Learning to Plant In Spite of Stormy Weather

photo by h.koppdelaney
“Those who wait for perfect weather will never plant seeds;
those who look at every cloud will never harvest crops.”
— Ecclesiastes 11:4

I love the wisdom in this verse–and its call to step out in faith. Just because things aren’t perfect, doesn’t mean we should not act. God may not open that door for us now, but by the time we get right up to it, if it’s His will, we must have faith that he will.

This verse speaks volumes to me, time and time again, season after season. The first time I read it and journaled about it was just as I was starting my new life in Grand Rapids, a time when my world was feeling both exciting but also ever so topsy-turvy. So this revelation, not to let worries or “not-so-great circumstances” hold me back from sowing and trust God for the reaping, was so of-the-moment. It was also early into my relationship with Michael, and we’d been doing the long-distance thing for over a month. In so many ways I looked at my life and the encumbrances that seemed to loom all around me and this verse caused me to whisper over and over again: “Keep sowing. Keep trusting. Persevere.”

And here I am, more than a year later. Though this verse takes on different meanings now (including a job and what our future will look like, locale-wise, children-wise, etc.), the point of it never seems to grow old for me. I still don’t know what the future holds, and I’m trying to learn to let go of that desire. I went for a walk today and that was the thought pervading me: “I don’t care what happens next. I don’t want to rush God with this. I’m OK with whatever he’s got up his sleeve.” Because I know Him, and I know that whatever he’s having me wait for is totally going to be worth it. There is going to be a harvest!


Show and Tell: My Mug of Many Colors

This is a mug I painted when Michael and I were in Florida with his family. One evening when it turned chilly, we all went to a little ceramics shop and took to painting.

The first time I'd gone to a ceramics-painting shop like this was when I moved to Grand Rapids and my dear friend Carrie convinced us we had to go. I had taken a couple ceramics classes in high school where I made my projects from scratch--and you could tell!

We went to that ceramics shop a couple of times while I lived up there. The first time, I painted a little bud vase for my mom for Mother's Day. The next time, I painted a latte mug and attempted using stamps. Neither of them really lived up to my artistic vision.

But on my last trip to the shop, I saw a mug sitting by the side of the sink where you rinsed off your brushes and palettes. On it were just a bunch of random paint swatches that all overlapped and revealed a beautiful mishmash of colors. I determined that I wanted to have one of my own.

In the midst of getting engaged, planning a wedding in a mere 10 weeks and then moving across the country, those plans soon were replaced by greater priorities.

So when I had the opportunity to finally get to create this little gem of a mug, I was a little hesitant whether it would turn out or not. But, painting my favorite verse, Ecclesiastes 3:11, "He has made everything beautiful in its time," on the front and framed by these random colorful patches, I can humbly say that it turned out, well, beautifully. Beauty in its own time, indeed.

Linked up at Trash to Treasure!

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The Power of Words: Learning to commend rather than complain

photo by trash_it
One of the keys that they focus on in my 30-day challenge is not just to eliminate negativity from what you say, but to replace it with more encouragement. That even seems to be more important--making sure that, viewing your words as currency, you use them to build up rather than tear down.

As I try to keep that two-part idea front of mind in my quest to forgo all negative speech (which has proven quite difficult and cause for many apologies and repentances), I also want to make strides at encouraging those around me with my words and use my speech for good, for edification.

A couple days ago was the first day that I realized that and how awkward making that bridge can be at times. For instance, our internet had been out for more than two weeks. We had called, waited patiently and still nothing. Finally, I got a phone call from an older man named Monroe. He told me he was on his way to look at the situation.

A couple hours later, Monroe called me back to let me know the progress. Then a couple hours later, he called me back again to let me know it was up and running and for me to double-check and make certain. He then made sure I held on to his phone number in case our service acted up in the coming weeks. Can you say customer service, or what?

Having worked in retail during high school, I know that it's much more common for customers to complain about service rather than commend it. That always rubbed me the wrong way, but sometimes it can feel awkward for me to ask someone, "Um, is there a way I can tell someone how good of a job you've done for me?" It sounds silly, but the idea of asking that can make me nervous--and usually wuss out.

But today, convicted with my new insights, I called Monroe and asked him. He said, "Oh I'm just doing my job; the only thing I could do is give you my supervisor's phone number." So I ended up calling the supervisor and telling him how pleased I was with Monroe's work and dedication. The supervisor then told me about how Monroe had gone above and beyond while fixing our service, because it wasn't supposed to be done until tomorrow but he wanted to see to it that we get fixed as soon as possible. He also told me that he holds on to all compliments like those to put in his employees' permanent files and that, years later, they can look back and see the kind things people said about them and the work they did.

And hearing all that, I was so glad that, for once, I took the extra couple of minutes, fumbled over the awkward words, and did the thing I knew was right.

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