Sunset Moves

The day is stretching out, the final wrap-up of all things lingering in the air, caught in the golden sunbeams. Birds are alive and busy, giving voices to the air and the trees. And I am just sitting, waiting. Watching it all from a contented posture.

As a mama, I don't get many moments like this. Moments where the people in my life aren't tugging at me, or where my own sense of urgency isn't craning it's neck to do and see more.

This moment seems so full of life and peace, and I this what brings God closer? Is it the silence or the emptiness of the moment? And so I ask you, if you think you know what it is for you:

What opens your heart to experiencing God's presence? What draws you closer to Him?

This isn't one if those questions with a right answer. I believe that each of us was designed to know God's presence in different, specific ways. If that sounds a little too...hippie...for you, take a minute and think about this:

What distracts you from God's presence?

We all know that these distractions exist. And if there are things in our lives that can take away from our knowledge of and focus on our Maker, than the opposite must also exist: there are things that enhance our experience of God.

The crazy thing is, the list of things isn't small. I have a feeling many people would be inclined to give automatic answers like church, worship music, reading the Bible. All true, and all good things, but our experience of God doesn't stop there. That would negate everything else that we do and see on this earth, and would reduce us to mere spiritual beings. But as long as we are alive here, we are physical, too.

God's presence isn't a movie theater we escape to every once in awhile or a church service we occasionally show up for. He's not a short vacation from "reality" or work. God Almighty, who created all things, is involved in all these things. He is not limited to certain areas of life.

Honestly, I think my morning devotions have gradually tended toward this "vacation" mindset. My time with Him has become quick nibbles of His grace, a snack on His word before I rush off to more necessary things. And I end up short, wondering why He doesn't seem to be enough for me during the day.

This lack I feel seems to relate to the amount of time I spend trying to siphon out anything from His presence that might solve today's problems. The way I get caught up in monologue-ing my worries.

When I'm "with" God, how much time do I spend actually listening to His voice? Waiting to hear from Him? Asking what He has for me, instead of begging Him to come do all the things I want Him to get done?

There are two concepts about God that have been twisting back and forth in my soul these days:

On the one hand, there is the overwhelming definition of His love that winds through the entire Bible, wherein the theme is simply to be with Him. Accept His love. Enjoy His presence. That in the midst of every other thing under the sun, there is this strand of spider's web that glints in the morning light - a mere whisper of His voice, "Just be with Me."
"And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord." // Hosea 2:19-20
That is the first concept I can't escape.

The second is this: God's command to do. He calls us into His love, and immediately there is this change, where our beloved hearts have a need to act. His words toward us are not passive, but demanding. Do My will. Serve. Love. Be My body in this world. Share all that I have taught you. You are blessed in go.
"Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit...I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned...If you keep my commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full." // John 15:1-2, 5-6, 10-11
To me, these two concepts (His love that quiets, His commands that motivate) have seemed to be contradictory. If He is all about loving me exactly where I'm at, than my job should be to relax in that knowledge. But when I flip that coin, I feel this anxiety that God is always on that move and that I have not been moving with Him. There isn't time to merely sit quietly in His presence! There is only time for more doing, reaching out, loving and saving and making a difference.

I sit back and close my eyes. Where are You, Father? Which side of this coin is really You?

The walls around me are dusky with shadows. The thin carpet underneath my crossed legs feels both scratchy and soft - a testament to its long life. The sun is just beginning to pull low in the sky, reaching for the treeline, slowing down time as the sunset always seems to do.

As I sit and contemplate how to know His presence more fully and more often, I begin to move. There is music in this empty room and I can't help it; I start to dance. I feel graceful, connected to these songs of praise in a way that I can't when I'm sitting still. There is no one here. Nothing to do, or clean, or tidy. There is no one to serve or listen to.

It's just me. My body, alone and stumbling, but somehow...whole.

This is the way I worship. This is the way I experience His presence. Dance has always been more than a workout or hobby for me. Even when I am ungraceful in the motions, it still feels right, as if my body were made for this dancing. Not that I always know it, but that my body does. This body that He formed and breathed life into.

When my mind has forgotten, my body can remind me. So often we push aside emotions and physical sensations as not being from God, and it is true, they are poor leaders for our faith, easily manipulated. But they are not separate from our spiritual life. God has given us ways to connect our souls with our flesh. Think how communion is bread and wine - things that satisfy, give us pleasure, connect His words with the physical realm.

As my dancing turns into a surrender, I realize a startling, subtle truth: the two concepts that have been at war in my soul are not playing tug of war at all. They are twisted together. Inseparable.

If we know His love, we become a picture of that love. It is not only who we are when we talk to ourselves in the mirror. It is our movement, our song. Love has never been passive. Being loved and loving others is obeying His commandments. And love knows so many forms.

I often want the doing, the loving, to have a specific recipient. I want it to have a goal...and then a good result soon after. But perhaps the doing has to just start with doing - without anyone to see or know or react. An action not for man, but for God Himself. And if we are faithful in these small things - these actions that seem so minute and unnoticeable - then I think He begins bring a recipient and a goal your way. He begins to push you to be faithful with more.
"I think of those words we long to hear, the ones we've talked about before. 'Well done, my good and faithful servant' (Matt. 25:21). There is no exclamation point. No extravagant adjectives. No long and complex explanation. There is simplicity. It sounds like not one BIG accomplishment but instead a lifetime of obedience. So ordinary you might miss it if you're not paying attention." // from Fiercehearted by HolleyGerth
If you have been standing still in your faith, I beg of you to start to move. Move your feet to the beat of the music. Move your hands with the threads of a blanket or the kneading of dough or the raking of earth. Find your doing in the here and now.

He is there. He sees it.

And the more you move, the more the people around you will be moved. Everything has a beginning and an end. Begin, and let God choose the ending.

Move. Today. Without complete understanding of where it will take you. Move because He's given you this body and this place for this very reason.

He has a work that He has created your hands to do.

Work, and bear fruit.

"For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." // Galatians 6:8-9

"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." // Ephesians 2:8-10

Recipe Roundup: Festivities, December 2017

December sort of escaped me, and I confess I didn't make as many new dishes as I was hoping to. Things like gift shopping, wanting to loaf around, traveling to see family, and rock climbing kept me from routines and healthy meals.

But as I've been told, it's best to regret nothing. A good way to start out the New Year, eh?

Christmas always seems to take it's time coming, and then disappears in a flash, leaving me staring rather nervously at the New Year's date, wondering how another year is slipping from my hands. The amazing thing is, Christmas is not limited to a day or even a few weeks of anticipation. It is held in God's eternal love for us, and our constant anticipation of His coming back to earth.

What parts of Christmas are your favorite? Which ones can you keep holding on to throughout the new year? Maybe keeping in touch with family more or making cookies and giving them to neighbors or sending little gifts just because. These things don't have to have Christmas trees stamped on them to be important.

Without further ado, here is the scant handful recipes I tried last month that managed to turn out right. I hope you enjoy them! (Sorry for the lack of photos...)

Crustless Taco Pie - this low-carb dinner option is easy, filling, and can be personalized by serving it with any number of your favorite toppings.

  • To make this meal a bit more budget-friendly, I used half the amount of ground beef, subbing in a similar amount of beans.
  • Make your own taco seasoning (recipe here). I make a double or triple batch and keep the extra in my cupboard.
  • Go wild with the toppings! We chose lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, more salsa, and a side of rice (though that does take away the low-carb-ness of the recipe...haha).

Chicken in White Wine Cream Sauce - remember that Beef Bourguignon I made awhile ago? This is another recipe along those same lines. It is rich, decadent, simple, and French. And it involves wine (white instead of red this time) and a long time in the oven. What's not to love?

  • I'd say the most important part of this recipe is the browning. Since everything cooks to perfect tenderness in the sauce, you want to make sure you get a good crispy brown crust on everything before it goes into the oven. DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THE BROWNING. I got impatient and nervous; this took away that deep golden color and flavorful fried skin. Crisp up that bacon real good. Fry those chicken sides nice and hot.
  • Don't rush the recipe. I did, because there was a hungry toddler whining (my own stomach may have been growling a bit). But as I am learning from the French, good food takes time and everyone needs to learn to wait patiently to achieve this dinner perfection.

Crockpot Pork Carnitas - this is one heck of a crowd-pleaser, fool-proof recipe! Amazingly easy and incredibly yummy. I'll be making it again for sure.

  • Freeze ahead of time. I froze the pork and a halved orange so that I could whip this up anytime I needed an easy dinner.
  • Serve with anything you like - tortillas and salsa, with rice, over noodles, piled high on veggies...this is a really versatile main dish.
  • Seriously. You can't screw this one up. Enjoy!

Light and Rich Mini Fruit Pizzas (GF) - I turned this recipe into some adorable little mini "pizzas" for a Christmas party we went to. They were a perfect treat to follow those rich, heavy holiday feasts; light and fruity, gluten-free and healthy, with a cream cheese frosting that makes them still feel decadent.

  • Definitely go with the mini version! They looked so much more sophisticated and fun than one large pizza shape. A fruit pizza tends to have a rather blah look, even if decorated well. You could use cookie cutters to cut out interesting shapes.
  • The recipe uses the word "blend" instead of "mix" in the instructions for the cookie dough/crust, and I thought that was a bit odd. I mixed the dough by hand and it did not hold together at all. I had a rough time of it cutting out little circles. Use a blender/food processor to get a firmer dough.
  • If your dough still doesn't hold together, maybe use a second egg white. The cookie part had great flavor but stayed rather crumbly.
  • Top with any kind of fruit you would like! I used strawberries, bananas, and blueberries; I meant to add kiwis to keep up a Christmas color scheme, but they weren't ripe enough.
  • After frosting and decorating your pizza/cookies, stick them in the refrigerator for 30+ minutes. This insures that the whole thing will hold it's shape (and that fruit juices won't bleed all over the frosting).

Overnight Whole Wheat Pancakes - last month I tried overnight soaked grains for the first time in the form of these muffins, and they turned out wonderfully! I was surprised that simply soaking wheat flour can turn normally dense baked goods into fluffy masterpieces. This pancake recipe went off without a hitch. Perfect for Sunday morning breakfast with the family.

  • Don't worry about leaving diary products out overnight! I was wary of doing it, but nothing bad happened to me, even after eating several of these. So now I'm a believer.
  • The one oversight in this recipe is the lack of sweetener. I added a little cinnamon sugar to mine, but honey or maple syrup would work, too.
  • Add vanilla.
  • To create a light golden color, fry the pancakes on a little lower heat than normal; they take a few extra minutes to cook through.
And, last but not least: this Korean Roast Chicken.

My husband snagged some secondhand cook books for me (for free!). After spending hours and hours going through Pinterest recipes, flipping through real, tangible cook books has been an absolute joy. You should try it some time.

This particular recipe turned out really yummy, though a little on the salty side because of the soy sauce. It even held it's flavor and texture well as a leftover dish.

Hit me up with some of your favorite recipes from the holidays!

Greater Things Are Yet To Come: The Real Christmas Trees

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of His splendor.

"Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours...

"For as the soil makes the sprout come up
    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations."

Isaiah 61:1-3, 7, 11 (emphasis added)

These verses sprang out at me yesterday, the words practically lunging off the page - just as the Bible says it will, this truth sharper than swords. I was sitting in church. Someone else was reading the words aloud. But I found myself following along eagerly, my finger tracing the lines, my mind racing with the implications.

Here is where life is! Here is the fruit, the plant, the roots, the tree I have been longing to grow!

Our hearts thrill at powerful words, don't they? There's a song that leaves you quivering with excitement and singing along as loudly as you can. There's a rich, important person declaring action, not just dead words. There's a friend who lifts you up with her timely encouragement.

Words are power.

And here, in this Sixty-First chapter of Isaiah, we find such instigating words that Israel was given the encouragement to wait many, many years to see their Messiah become flesh, to see their dreams of redemption come true.

Doesn't it sound like a fairy-tale, almost? Good news that brings joy, healing that takes away our earthly problems, freedom from all our bondage to these tangible things around us, darkness banished, comfort and provision lavished upon us. And in place of these sticky strands, this web of despair that's been tangling us in confusion? We get to be trees of righteousness and praise. Glorious plants that have grown through the darkness and reached new heights in the light of His presence.

Have you ever seen a tree that sort of took your breath away? Maybe it was nearly taller than you could even see, it's trunk wider than your car - the redwood trees in California. Or perhaps it was just so graceful, so attuned to it's natural surroundings, that you wanted to imitate its growth. Or, if you're like me, you saw a rather knobby tree this weekend, its branches lined with warts - places where branches had been severed. And it was beautiful because it continued to grow; continued to make a way towards the light, even though others had cut off its previous attempts, even though rocks were standing tall all around it, blocking its way to the sun. The frame of this tree was all over the place, winding and curving in ways that made no sense at all.

But still it grew.
I have been praying all year that I would bear fruit in Christ. That I would be able to see myself as a tree - one of those pretty ones, covered in pink cherry blossoms or dotted with the golden fruit of peaches. And my mother gave me this quote to hold on to - a piece of driftwood to buoy me up from despair:
"It is said that in some places, the trees do not bear fruit, because there is no winter there." // Unknown //
I have been holding on to that, knowing that winters are about digging deep, finding rest, shifting perspective, going through hard things. But this Sunday I saw a new dimension to this tree metaphor. That maybe this winter-time is not merely for waiting, but also for hoping. For seeing things without my eyes. For noticing the promises that already exist.

The worship band was on fire as they played song after song, ones that I knew well, but somehow had overlooked the meanings before. I had glossed over the lyrics because I thought I already knew those truths.

"For greater things have yet to come,
And greater things are still to be done in this city..."
// God of This City //

And I wondered, standing there in church with Jesus-music blasting around me, Do I believe there are greater things yet to come? Do I believe that there is still more here, in this place, than I am seeing?

I thought of Mary, promised a baby even though she was an absolute virgin. Of the Israelites, promised for years that their Messiah would appear. Of Abraham, told he would be the father of many nations - despite the fact that he didn't have a single kid. So many people wondering, hoping, depending on a story that I'm sure they had doubts about. But Christ came. He showed up. Not late or behind schedule, but precisely on the day that He had set aside to fulfill these promises.

Greater things have yet to come. I had to know where this song was coming from. The Bible verse or story behind the faithful words. So I did what any normal 21st century American does and I googled it. Y'all, you need to read this. It's only a few paragraphs, I promise, but it is worth knowing where this song came from. Chris Tomlin didn't actually write it. But God used him to get this song, these words, out of Ireland and into American culture. Read this real quick or watch the 3-minute video if you like Irish accents *wink.*

I'll wait.

This is the part that spoke power to me:

"We need to understand that we have an authority, that we have an authority that comes from Christ, to see part of Christ from the dead lives in every single one of us. And that we actually need to have an attitude of going out and serving the world with just with love, and actually living out the great connection."

Did you hear that? You have the authority from Christ to love.

You don't have to wait to graduate college or get your PHD. You don't have to be friends with the mayor or have met the President. You don't have to be bilingual or important or rich or famous or strong or perfect or model-gorgeous or prodigy-talented or even the top dog in your group of friends. 

You just have to speak. To love. To allow all that God is pouring in to you to be poured out on other right in front of you.

He has released you from all your bondage (death, darkness, sin) through His death. He showed His deep and sacrificial love to you then - and He is continuing to show it to you now, each day, in a million nuanced ways. If only we will take notice. Soak up His words like sun on our leaves. Drink up His gifts like water in our roots. And grow outward with the authority to love, and give, and serve the fruit that is only just beginning to grow on our limbs.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of His splendor.

You are a tree. Maybe not one that can be seen with eyes of men. And perhaps your fruit has never brought you attention or affirmation or applause. But your tree exists, and it is growing. Your fruit, small as it may be, is an offering of praise to Him. We are the real Christmas trees, planted by His love and cultivated by Christ Himself. How do I know this?

Because of His promises. Because we are all hoping for greater things yet to come. Because we are not merely waiting patiently on the Lord; we are also declaring that He is God now and forevermore. Eternity is today. There is sacred in the ordinary, magic in the mundane. "Jesus didn't just die for our sins; He died for our every day." // That one is courtesy of my husband, wisdom hidden in one of his simple prayers... //