preparations // anticipations

I called my Grandma last week for advice about pie crust made from scratch for my pretend thanksgiving gathering. She’s my domestic expert – the neighbor lady who is always volunteering to drop off baked goods for baby showers and has a steady store of homemade cookies in the freezer. She’s that kind of grandma and I know she loves my phone calls for domestic advice.

“Oh, honey just buy one,” she said, which didn’t sound as fun (though I’m sure it was much more practical).

Instead, I Macgyvered a recipe involving a (knock-off) food processor and let my butter-chunked dough plates cool for 2 hours in the fridge when I ran in the park. While warming (but not boiling) apples on the stove and manhandling an unconventional pie recipe to fit my NYC kitchen, I cut up sweet potatoes for a maple mash situation. I was a little nervous I would end up combining both recipes in a typical disaster, but I managed to keep them separate.

Mid-bake I realized I was supposed to brush on egg whites to the crust… who has a pastry brush? Not this girl. I pulled the pie out and smothered some across the top, but I knew it was a mistake (that I ended up scraping off later).

My lumpy, delicious smelling creation came out about 15 minutes before we walked out the door. We maneuvered it into a paper bag and then inside a tote with the maple mashed sweet potatoes and a bottle of wine.

The kitchen is sometimes my favorite place because it is where magic is made – the magic of gatherings and spread tables and finger licking and… community. Community gets baked inside kitchens, even if they are skinny like closets and even when they don’t have pastry brushes.

And there is magic in the preparation.
Maybe that’s why people like to crowd in the kitchen space.

I don’t know if my mom would call her kitchen method “magic” – but I do know what it felt like to crowd in and taste the spaghetti sauce, to keep one eye on the broiling toast in the oven and the other eye on the fruit salad, to run out to the garden to cut a head of broccoli so it could be smothered in cheese. There was nothing gourmet or fancy about what she did in there, but we wanted to be close to the preparations because it was magic.

Soon enough, all seven of us would sit down around the long wooden table in the dining room and my dad would end grace with the words, “…bless this food to our bodies and our bodies to your service.” I’m not sure where he picked that up, but I like it. And we all knew that it was code for, “dig in” so it was a pretty popular phrase amongst the siblings.

All that preparation in the kitchen happened so we could gather and “pass the food to the left, leaving our right hand free for self service.” All that sweat in the kitchen got us to sit around in a circle, scooping out large helpings and chatting about the day and the farm and the news in our little town and the news in the big world.

Preparations.

I’ve been thinking a lot about preparations, since I’m hosting real thanksgiving this Thursday but also because Advent is a season of preparation. Next Sunday is the first day of Advent and it seems fitting that it should follow a week of thanksgiving. I can’t imagine what these last few weeks must have been like for Mary as she made preparations to give birth to the Messiah – what her prayers must have sounded like and how her fears must have felt.

Preparations are magical because anticipation is hidden inside.

When my brother Samuel “sampled” the chili and when my sister Christina “tested” the stir-fry, a scolding would accompany my mom’s raised eyebrows, “It’s not dinner time yet.” Because preparations are about something that is going to happen. 

I don’t want to rush past what it feels like to anticipate.

I don’t want to lose the magic of the kitchen space, preparing for something wonderful. I especially don’t want to waste the magic of preparing to celebrate Christ’s birth. If you are looking for a way to celebrate the season of Advent with your family, this Advent guide from the Gospel Project is free right now. I’m hoping my roommates will agree to be a family for the next month, so we can anticipate our Savior together!

Thanksgiving (crowded kitchens and tables and stovetops) is a great place to start.

if you are in the area, you are welcome to come to our thanksgiving gathering
if you are in the area, you are welcome to come to our thanksgiving gathering

thoughts on the last bowl of chili

The last week of October, I dished up my last bowl of chili and ate it at my desk.

I took each spoonful from the styrofoam bowl (only thing I can find at the office) nice and slowly to savor the flavors that reminded me of harvest. Well, it’s not really the end of the leftover chili – a giant tupperware found its way to the freezer after my harvest party on October 13 (It seems my math skills = extra, so it’s a good thing there was freezer space).

There is no better celebration than one that invites others to join in.

This is exactly the kind that happened right around my birthday about a month ago. The blessings got to be too much, so writing about it seemed like giving one bar of notes to what deserved a full symphonic movement.

I finally decided that something was better than nothing and so I’ll share some pictures to give you a taste of the blessing that overflowed.

There is no better celebration than one that invites others to join in… and I hope to be doing a lot more inviting.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

fall asleep counting my blessings

You know the scene I’m talking about, right? The scene from White Christmas where Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney meet in the middle of night because both can’t seem to sleep… and so the famous duet, “Counting My Blessings” emerged.

Today, I’m open-eyed, sleep-counting. The thing is, there are almost too many blessings to get sleep. I wonder what advice Bing Crosby would have for that…

I invented a recipe today and made a royal mess of the kitchen. I didn’t set out to be so creative, but I got there real quick after I got cavalier with the size of my baking pans. I was pretty hopeful when I poured the harvest brownie batter into three pans of different sizes and pretty disappointed when the baking soda/powder didn’t expand my desserts like I hoped.

So harvest brownies became chocolate cream cheese fudge layered brownie dessert. Yes, it became that. I mixed up a cream cheese frosting that failed, which led to the cream cheese, chocolate fudge number that succeeded (I think) and became the finger-licking middle to the two unfortunately thin layers of harvest brownie.

All this while the roast cooks in the crock pot and the bean salad waits to be made on the counter, because tomorrow is Food at First downtown and I’ve got friends to meet up with still tonight.

Blessings.

Full days and short sleeps can keep a person counting without ever falling asleep. It’s a place I could easily navigate as a 20-year-old and one I don’t want to admit is getting harder.

Prayer walking with high-schoolers in the afternoon, teaching college students this morning, baking with cinnamon and pumpkin: blessings. Football games, acoustic guitar sessions in the basement, sitting in the balcony to worship with new community, hearing the Word of God preached with power: blessings. Laughing in the fellowship hall after church, breathing in the breeze on an autumn walk, riding mo-peds under the star-speckled sky, clustering around a tailgate for celebration, stretching the late night hours until they break: blessings.

I am not falling asleep, but I will keep counting.

Counting my blessings.

fruit is meant to be eaten

 

My uncle sent me a text not too long ago after I asked him about the farms in southwest Iowa. It read, “Many mouths will be empty in the world, I fear.” The summer has been a big, ugly drought here in the Midwest.

And that has me thinking about provision.

There’s no way around it – we need food. We might be confused about how much we need, but the fact that we need it is not up for debate. We are wired to need food.

The reality that we depend on food is something God uses every day to remind us of our dependence on Him. When we have daily bread, we are thankful. When we lack daily bread, we remember that He is the bread of life. Whether we are hungry or full, God is always the Provider.

As I think about the fruit produced in John 15, I wonder what happens to all of the produce. Have you ever thought of that? God is the vine and we are the branches. If we remain in Him, we will bear MUCH FRUIT. It is clear that God is the Provider – what branch can produce fruit separate from the vine? But, for the person who remains in the Lord, what is to become of the fruit he/she produces? Does it just accumulate and then fall to the ground under the fruit-heavy branches?

Fruit is meant to be eaten, at least where I come from. I love the summer months that bring blueberries and sweet bing cherries. I love the fall months that bring Honeycrisp apples and grapes and pomegranates. I love the winter months that bring out the canned peaches and strawberry jams. I love these fruits because they are delicious.

So, what if we thought of the fruit on our branches in the same way? What if, as we are remaining in the Lord – knowing Him, finding out what pleases Him, and delighting to do those things – we are a fruit factory

What if God serves up fruit through our lives so that others can taste and see that HE IS GOOD? Isn’t this what it says in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine bright before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise the Father in heaven.”?

As we remain in Him, we cannot help but produce fruit – delicious, ripe, fresh-off-the-vine fruit. Now, if we could just find ways to serve others with this precious produce. Our fruit is not meant to rot on the branch, but to be shared and enjoyed!

The fruit produced by branches connected to the vine is meant to be eaten by others, enjoyed by others, and served to others. Let this be the way we handle the fruit of the Spirit.

Something Sweet

This is a short article I included in my September newsletter, for those that didn’t have the patience to wait for the 30 minute PDF download 🙂

Taste and see that the Lord is good.

These are words that wake me up in the morning and carry me through both spectacular and somber days. This is the word of the Lord. This is His proclamation and promise that He is good. We know God is faithful (Romans 3:3-4) even when we are found without faith. He keeps His promises even when we have twisted His words.

God is always true, always perfect, always good. Do I sound redundant? I hope so. The blessing of this truth seems to seep in anew every time I return to it.

Recently, I’ve been re-discovering God’s faithfulness in this promise (that we can taste and see He is good) by way of baked goods, full kitchens, and Monday afternoons. Before you think that I’m about to blaspheme this beautiful verse in Psalm 34, keep reading. I believe God works through the everyday-ness of life to teach us eternal truths. Right now, baked goods, full kitchens, and Monday afternoons happen to be that beautiful everyday classroom.

Before the school year began, I had visions of laughter circles and conversation and community. How to realize these visions is… another thing entirely. I’m no expert, but I’ve been to college and I know what draws a crowd: food.

God’s design – the very way He worked out the specific details of our bodies – involves a real need for food. Sure, we distorted and perverted and twisted this real need into dependence and false comfort and momentary satisfaction. But, in the beginning, God made Adam and Eve with a body to enjoy – taste and see – food.

He intentionally chose to make us dependent on food for survival, but also capable of enjoying the necessity. He didn’t have to do that, but He did. Wow.

And there’s more.

We are all familiar with the words from Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

What I didn’t recognize until day two of Kay Arthur’s “Return to the Garden” study (in a room full of high school girls gobbling up warm cookies) are these words in 2:18: “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’”

God knew long before extracting a rib that Adam was made for relationship. Adam was made in the image of a triune God and longed for community before he even knew what to call the longing.

So, we were made to eat and we were made to share. Let me re-phrase: we were made to eat, share, and ENJOY it. I just cannot get over this design.

The most beautiful part of my re-discoveries is a return to the thought from which all these began, “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” There is a hunger in our bellies only satisfied by more of Him. Every sweet blessing is a reflection of this Truth.

As my heart wells up with thanksgiving at the way we are designed to enjoy life together (through baked goods, full kitchens, and Monday afternoons), I know my true affection is for the Creator of these marvelous things. He is, indeed, good. His design reflects our need for and our satisfaction in Him alone.

Psalm 34:8 continues, “blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.”

That is something sweet.

let LOVE fly like cRAzY

 

saturday's best offering

 

 

 

 

Bonhoeffer, Baked Cookies, and Bible study

Dietrich Bonhoeffer - among others - lecturer ...
Image via Wikipedia

What could Bonhoeffer possibly have in common with baked cookies and isn’t the Bible a bit of a stretch?

Well, for starters – the letter B!

They all draw a crowd… they are all misunderstood (Bonhoeffer for his theological views and stubborn opinions on Truth and baked cookies for the way they almost always promise to satisfy a sad heart, but only reach the tummy and the Bible for its claim at absolute that is rejected)… they are all a wonderful addition to any evening, especially with a cup of tea… they are all enjoyed with friends…

If you are still puzzled, let me explain.

Bonhoeffer
Lately, I have been reading the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. I first read Amazing Grace by Metaxas and, by the end, felt I had walked alongside William Wilberforce as he painstakingly claimed ground for abolition of the slave trade. When I heard he’d written on Bonhoeffer (Cost of Discipleship and Life Together), I couldn’t be more excited to know more about the life of the man who was a scholar, pastor, theologian, spy, and conspirator.

I love it. I can hardly put it down. What I keep finding so amazing is the way the Lord allowed this willing servant to understand so much and be rejected so often, yet remain determined to preach Truth without fear. To read some of Bonhoeffer’s sermons, written on the brink of Hitler’s propaganda-run takeover of Germany, you would be convinced the man had insider information. His background as a scholar and a pastor allowed for his pragmatic presentation of the Gospel Truth (to everyone from impoverished confirmation class ruffians to some of the most influential leaders of the Third Reich), while his pleasant demeanor made it difficult for anyone to find fault with him. Not unlike many of the Old Testament prophets, Bonhoeffer really was a lone voice crying out against the injustices of a nation and pointing to the Truth that exposed it. Also, like many OT prophets, he was rejected by the people. My favorite part is the way God used the people’s rejection to allow for a Confessing Church to emerge and doggedly fight in the midst of a monster that was Nazi Germany from the inside.

Baked cookies
Fresh-baked cookies are infamous for their mesmerizing effect on a person. Most notably as of late, is the effect they have on my students when I bake and bring them to school. No matter what the occasion, at the sight of anything carried in tupperware, a crowd instantly appears (all of whom have not had anything to eat in days). The strangest thing is, after several periods, the very same students who devoured the freshly-baked goods are back snooping around my office for more of the same treatment.

Interesting, I say. Very interesting…

Bible Study
Tonight was the first night two friends and I met for a Bible study (which, in itself is extremely exciting for me to be engaging with peers). As we worked through the first couple lessons in Beth Moore‘s study of David, I realized how much I missed reading the Word in community.

I recently watched a John Piper sermon called “The Sinful Origin of the Son of Man” and I am so thankful for the way it prepared me to see Israel’s demand for a king as sin, but God’s mysterious ways of revealing Himself (even choosing to reveal Himself) by way of man’s “great wickedness.”

I loved examining the Scriptures and returning to the same Scripture in community to really unpack the meaning. There are so many things to digest – from Samuel’s obedience and patience to David’s ruddy and handsome features (at age 12?). If I could write one take-away, I would refuse… and then I’d give in and talk about 2 Chronicles 16:9

For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him…” (2 Chronicles 16:9 ESV)

After God calls Samuel out of his grieving to go and appoint a new king, and after Samuel obeys but assumes wrongly the next king would look the king’s part, and after Samuel finally waits for the “okay” to appoint the most unlikely of candidates… we realize that the heart God has found to be “blameless” (ESV), “completely His” (NASV),  and “loyal” (NKJV) is a heart that will soon have the weight of a nation on its shepherd shoulders.

What blows my mind is that when God searches the earth and finds hearts that are “fully committed” (NIV) to Him, it does not result in a first class ticket to heaven or a get out of jail free card or a receive a life of rest and relaxation pass. God finds those hearts and then gives great responsibility and even allows great burden in their lives. God promises to strengthen, encourage and hold up these hearts. If we are faithful in our full commitment, God will be faithful in equipping and strengthening us for the great tasks that lay ahead.

Bottom line (totally unintentional use of the letter B here)
We (humans) have an appetite. Bonhoeffer’s appetite for Truth led him to a deep love of God and a deep conviction for Truth to be preached without shame or censor. Our insatiable appetite for cookies reveals our deeper desire to be FILLED with something that does satisfy. Bible study is what APPETITE is all about. We are meant to be FILLED with the Word – the Bread of Life. The more we eat, the hungrier we are. That’s the beauty of Truth… it is at the same time the most filling and the most appetizing thing we’ll ever taste.

Mmmm… this Tuesday is tasting SO GOOD!

let LOVE FLY like cRaZY

this is what I LOVE

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I just wanted to post a few visuals so you can see some of what I’ve been up to since returning in August.

Laugh Circle
If I haven’t mentioned it yet, it is a completely unintentional oversight. I love to laugh. Thankfully, these girls humor me and also enjoy the laugh circle from time to time! The second week of school we went on mini-retreats for one day at a nearby camp. It was a time of fun, fellowship, laughter, and getting excited about what God will do this year!

A tree grew in my room
I have had this idea for a long time, but apparently all it took was a good two weeks of sickness for me to get the creativity on the wall. The idea is that everyone who visits this year will hug the tree and I’ll capture it on camera.

Bible study begins!
One of my favorite things these past two years has been the relationships I’ve made with these now senior girls. They have taught me SO much about what it means to love without condition. My excitement is hard to express in these mechanical typing strokes, but it’s safe to say this year might be the best yet!

Angel food cake with strawberry whipped topping
If I have learned about my Bible study girls, it’s that they love to eat anything sweet (okay, let’s be honest – that’s all girls!). Ever since I made the first angel food cake, the girls have gone crazy for it! That led to both from-scratch versions and stuffing my suitcases with mixes to bring back from the States. The result: our first Bible study was complete with angel food cake and a new whipped cream/frozen strawberry topping. Mmmm good!