From Phillippians 4…
4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
I like this very familiar passage because it reminds me of several basic things, that I need to hear each and every day:
* Rejoice in the LORD! He is my God, my Saviour, my provision, my king! How can I not rejoice in his goodness to me? There is no qualifier placed on rejoicing in him; I am exhorted to find my joy in him in whatever circumstances I find myself. And just to be clear: This is not an executive order to “suck it up” when we are in the depths of despair, but a loving reminder to us from our Heavenly Father that he is sufficient for whatever this life throws our way.
* Let your GENTLENESS be evident to all. My er, gentleness has been anything but of late, I am ashamed to say. Some versions refer to this word as forbearance, or patience. I can always use more of this, and let’s just say there are four little people and one big people whom I live with that would not mind seeing a bit more gentleness from yours truly!
* The admonition to refrain from being anxious carries with it a precious promise: that the PEACE OF GOD which passes all understanding will further guard my heart and mind in Christ.
* A reminder to choose to PRAY instead of fretting, to bring to God both our concerns and our thanks! Pray instead of worrying!! Pour out your heart full of concerns to him! And THANK HIM for that peace which he alone can bring into the darkest of situations.
14Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
As a child growing up in the Baptist, E.V. Free and Presbyterian traditions, I do not recall our family ever observing Lent. When Jay and I married and joined a Presbyterian church body, Lent continued to go fairly unnoticed until a couple of weeks before Easter when we certainly were inclined to meditate on the events leading up to Passover, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and finally Resurrection Sunday.
For the past couple of years we have attended a wonderful and truly refreshing PCA church here in Dallas. I could go on and on about the ways our family has been blessed by being a part of this body, but that is a post for another time. While this particular congregation does not collectively observe Lent, a number of our dear friends within the church do, and over these last two years I have watched them as they choose to give up a particular indulgence during the forty days leading up to Easter as a way to focus more on Christ, his sufferings, and ultimately their faith in and walk with him. Until this year though, I have never felt compelled to join the ranks of those “giving up something” for the season of Lent.
But the fact is, that for a host of reasons, I have felt more keenly aware of my own sins and shortcomings in recent months. This is not to say that I have become more sinful than before; perhaps I have, but that is not my point. I have truly felt more of a struggle with my sin, and a sense of frustration as I battle against it than I have felt in a long time. Mostly, I accept this as a positive thing, for if we are not finding ourselves battling sin then perhaps we are either ignoring it, or becoming complacent or even hardened to it. Yet the outworking of struggling against our sin can be exhausting!
Our family is experiencing a set of somewhat challenging circumstances on several fronts. Though I might choose to end these trials in favor of an easier time, these challenges are certainly pushing and prodding us to learn and grow in new ways, and to become more sanctified than we might otherwise. So I am ultimately thankful for the opportunity to know more of Christ and what it means to serve Him, whatever my circumstances in this life. We are learning firsthand that no growth occurs without a good deal of hardship and some pain along the way.
Which brings me to Lent. In the midst of this hardship, I would like another reminder to continue to cling to Christ: to trust his kindness, his love for me, and his promise to help me travel through whatever paths he has planned for my good and his glory. Toward this end, I would like to turn away from an area in my own life which has plagued me since I was a young child, more and less depending on my circumstances. And so…I am going to try to give up biting my nails for Lent.
It might sound silly; most people I know give up chocolate or alcohol, or even Facebook (!) in an attempt to indulge less in the pleasures of this world, and focus more on Christ. But there is no glaring area of my life where I habitually ignore Christ’s call to trust him more than in the pathetic and ugly act of continually biting my nails. It is for me a sinful reaction to the stresses and pressure of life, and an area which, due to more stresses than I can remember in a long time, I have absolutely just given up trying to tame in any way recently.
Some people when they are stressed, go eat a bag of chips or a carton of ice cream, others turn to their god of alcohol to numb the pain of life, still others spend money they do not have in an effort to escape from the cares of their present situation. When things get tough for me, I choose to destroy my poor little fingers!! And while it doesn’t make me fat, or create heart or liver disease, or financial debt I cannot repay, I can safely state that it is a poor stewarding of the body of I’ve been given, and therefore not in keeping with behavior fitting one who calls themselves a Christian. Additionally, it is an outward manifestation of a refusal to give certain hardships and stresses over to Christ who has promised to help me carry whatever burdens I encounter in this life.
So…for the next forty days I am making a commitment to try my very best, with an abundance of help and grace from God above, to turn away from my nasty habit, and turn instead toward Christ. If, in every instance where I went to nibble on a nail, I instead stopped, took a moment to pray and meditate on the things of Christ, and fixed my eyes upon him instead of my worries, how could it not help me to love him more, and worry less about my circumstances? My prayer is that he might use this simple act of faith from a struggling sinner to strengthen my frailty and glorify himself more in me.
If anyone else is choosing to observe Lent this year, I’d love to hear about why you are doing it, and what you are choosing to abstain from or give up. Maybe we can be of help and encouragement to each other these next forty days. And regardless of your personal position or beliefs about Lent, “May we all continue to fix our eyes on Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross…..so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”.
Last night upon returning home from soccer and pizza with friends from church, I slapped together a couple of meals for our family to eat later this week. One of them was a pan of the yummiest chicken enchiladas I’ve ever managed to make, so of course, I feel it is my duty to share it with my readers!!
I “sort of” followed a recipe. But as always, I altered it enough that I am going to just write down my own version, and refer you to the original recipe which did inspire my creation. I found the original recipe added in steps that just seemed unnecessary, and way too time-consuming. So I opted for ease.
One more note: despite the original recipe calling for two enchiladas per serving, we found that the way this dish turned out, one enchilada per adult was plenty of food for Jay and I. Probably just as well since they are not at all low calorie!!
2-3 ish cups of cooked chicken breast, cut in strips
lemon/lime juice (I used all the juice in one small lemon this time)
2 Tbs canola oil
1 onion, chopped
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
1/2 chili pepper, minced
1 can rotel, mild
1 can chicken broth
1/2 cup white wine
1 can Healthy Request Cream of Chicken Soup
1/2 cup fat free half and half
10 flour tortillas
1/2 can green chili enchilada sauce
3/4 cup sour cream
2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese
small amount chopped green onion
Toss chicken breast strips with lemon or lime juice and cumin. Set aside.
Grease a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray.
In a large skillet, heat oil; add onion, chili pepper and tomatoes till softened, about 5-8 minutes.
Add in chicken, since it’s already cooked it doesn’t need to stay in long, just enough to heat and distribute the flavors. If you were using uncooked chicken you’d cook it for a while during this step.
Add in rotel, 3/4 of the broth, all the wine, half the can of soup, and the half and half. Stir to combine, and heat to a simmer – you want this to “cook down” a bit before assembling your enchiladas.
Meanwhile, in a separate bowl (I just used the bowl I tossed the cooked chicken in earlier) combine remainder of the broth, other half of the can of chicken soup, enchilada sauce, and sour cream. Stir to combine; this is going to be your topping after you assemble the enchiladas.
This next part could probably use some modification since it is rather messy, but it resulted in the moistest enchiladas I’ve ever cooked, so perhaps it wasn’t all bad.First, be sure to spread a little of either your topping mixture or your sauce chicken mixture in the bottom of the 9×13 pan, to help keep the enchiladas moist.
Then, since the skillet mixture is going to still be rather soupy even after cooking for a time, use a slotted spoon or even a spatula to fill each tortilla with a good amount (1/2 to 3/4 cup, maybe?) of the saucy chicken and vegetables stuff. Place enchiladas seam-side down in your pan. I could only fit 10 into mine, you might fit more if your tortillas were smaller. I managed to get all the chicken meat and most of the veggies used up this way, and there was a good amount of the saucy mixture left in the pan. Dump the topping you mixed up into the remaining sauce, combine the two, and pour over your enchiladas. Sprinkle with cheese, and a handful of sliced green onions if you like. Store in fridge for up to a day and/or bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or till cheese is melted and bubbling. Serve with salsa, avocado, and some rice and beans for sides. ENJOY!!
This year we “did up” Valentines’ Day more than I can ever remember. Our week of love, or “LoveFest 2009” as I like to think of it was filled with fun with friends, crafts and baking, and time with family remembering our love for each other.
Jay and Abigail began the week by attending a dinner party for Dads and Daughters. One of our sweet friends arranged this evening, and it was really lovely. What a great idea for a group of fathers to spend a special “date night” with their girls! They dressed up, and dined on fancy food. Jay even composed a special poem of haikus for the occasion, which he presented in a card to Abigail. I thought it was pretty fantastic, and wanted to share it with our readers, but he’d rather I not post it, so you’re just going to have to take my word for it!
Then this week we tried something new for Valentine favors for our friends. We melted crayon pieces into molds to make heart-shaped chunky crayons. I got the idea here.
While the directions were good, these crafty recipes never seem to explain things as thoroughly as they might! So….we learned along the way:
*to first be sure to spray your mold with non-sticky stuff BEFORE filling it with the crayon pieces
* to use only Crayola crayons, as they melt better than those other “imitation brands”!
* to use crayon nubs of the same thicknesses – and forget those chunky crayons: just stick with the standard-sized, slender crayons.
Lastly, and perhaps MOST important, be sure to explain to all small fry in the family that just because it emerges hot from an oven and sits on a cooling rack does not mean it is for human consumption. One little guy in the party was reduced to tears and exclamations of “This does NOT taste good at all, Mommy!” after sampling one of the finished products!
Here is what some of the non-bitten crayon hearts looked like:
When you are done with these wax-works of art, you may further embellish them like this
On Wednesday we met seven other families at a nearby park for treats, Valentine kickball, and exchanging Valentines with each other. It was perfect day for it, and incidentally, the first time my daughter has ever played kickball, a definite oversight in her education so far!
We attended yet another “Love” function on Friday: a Valentine Tea hosted by friends, where my children contributed to the elegance of the meal by breaking out into song mid-chew. I believe “Hotel California” and Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” were their two musical offerings. Also there was burping. (Note to self: must work on those “tea-time” manners!)
For most of the week, our dining table at home was strewn with photos, Valentine card stock, and patterned papers and stickers. With these materials, we constructed many a homemade card to mail out or present to family in town. All of the children, even Josiah got very into the craftiness (and surprisingly, he didn’t eat any of these creations!). It was a LOT of fun.
In the midst of all the crafting in the dining room, there was baking aplenty happening in the kitchen. I cut out and baked 99 heart-shaped sugar cookies. Yes, I counted them ALL! We iced them in pink,
and gave many, many, many away. Incidentally, when you make 99 cookies, there are still plenty left for your own family to enjoy!
Other years when we still had a budget for eating out, Jay and I would have surely planned a date night of some sort to commemorate the holiday, and focused mostly on celebrating between ourselves. I loved that this year I had to think about the whole family, and how we would all celebrate the actual Valentines’ Day. We considered a fancy dinner of sorts, but the aforementioned burping at the tea persuaded me to try another route. Ultimately, we settled on making homemade, heart-shaped Valentines pizzas for everyone that evening. Each child got their own piece of dough to make a personal pizza,
and top it how they liked.
They LOVED both making and eating them, and this may well become a family tradition.
While the pizzas cooked we amused ourselves with an old-fashioned game of Charades, also a first in our family, I’m pretty sure. It was a great night!
Jay and I did exchange Valentines this year, just a bit more humble than usual. There were no fancy chocolates or bouquets of flowers, but I got something I treasure infinitely more. For the first time in our married life, my man wrote me a love poem!! Be still my heart! It was so touching I even cried, and I just don’t cry much these days, so you know it was good! And no, I’m not sharing that poem with you either, guys. Sorry.
Well, here is hoping that you, Dear Reader, enjoyed Valentines’ Day this year too, and got to do something special with the ones you love.
The last time I was at the grocery store, “pancake syrup” was on the list of things I needed. However, upon stopping at the syrup aisle, I was shocked at the price for our regular bottle of Log Cabin. The larger size was $3.99!! And I just could not find it in myself to pay that price for high fructose corn syrup poured into a bottle with a pretty label. Mind you, I’d love to just feed our family the pure maple syrup, which is better for you, and tastes a thousand times better, but recent (lack of) income woes around our house have necessitated that we cut back all spending drastically, so that didn’t seem a wise purchase either.
While I pondered what to serve my hungry children atop their waffles and pancakes, there stirred in the back of my mind a vague memory of my own mother whipping up some homemade syrup concoction on her stove during the days of my childhood. It wasn’t a regular thing in our house growing up, or surely it would not have been so vague, but clinging to this thread of a memory, and a little bottle of maple flavoring, I finished my shopping trip determined to find a recipe of my own for cooking some homemade syrup.
The children were rather surprised when I announced this morning that I was going to create syrup instead of pouring it from a bottle, but they went along with it willingly. I even had a cute little assistant to help me.
The recipe was easy, quick to assemble and cook, and used few (and inexpensive!) ingredients! Upon tasting “Mommy’s Syrup” there was unanimous agreement around the breakfast table that it was much, much better than Log Cabin. What praise!!
For kicks, I looked up the ingredient list for Log Cabin, and have to say, that even though I have not in the past been a huge reader of labels, was unimpressed by what goes into a bottle. When you can say that your homemade recipe of water, sugar, and a dab of butter and maple flavoring is WAY more healthy than what you’d buy in the store, you start to wonder how in the world the manufacturer can get away with charging $4 for a plastic container filled with I’m not exactly sure what. See for yourself:
Ingredients: Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Sugar Syrup, Pure Maple Syrup, Salt, Cellulose Gum, Sodium Hexametaphosphate, Caramel Color, Sodium Benzoate and Sorbic Acid (Preservatives), Artificial Flavor. Source for these ingredients Note it has pure maple syrup listed even though there’s not one drop of maple syrup in it!
For anyone interested, here is the recipe I used this morning to make my syrup. I changed it up a little (don’t I always change my recipes up a little?) by substituting a cup of brown sugar for one of the cups of white sugar. I first put only the cup of white sugar into my pan, and lightly “cooked” it, stirring often so that it did not burn. Then I added my brown sugar, boiling water, and maple flavor as directed. I also added a tablespoon of butter. I cooked it for about 7-10 minutes till it thickened slightly, stirring much of the time. When it was ready, it looked like this:
I served it warm over waffles, and stored the remainder in the fridge where I understand it will keep for some time.
What a deal! It was simple enough – and inexpensive!! – to make, and so happily received, that I have lofty aspirations of never again buying the stuff in a bottle.