A New Adventure

I sit down to write with great excitement and expectation building in my heart. After living in Athens for 24 years and serving on the staff team at Ohio University and the greater Southeastern Ohio area for the past six years, God has called me to move to Cleveland to be part of what He is doing in Northeastern Ohio! 

It has been a long, prayerful journey. About a year and a half ago, I felt the Lord leading me to pray about going to another campus. The closest thing I can relate it to is to God’s call to Abraham to leave his family, home and everything he knew to follow God. He had no idea where he was going but he responded by faith and went. For much of this past year and a half I wasn’t sure where the Lord was telling me to go and the possibilities seemed endless. But I kept seeking the Lord and praying, confident that He would lead me to where He wanted me to be.

At the beginning of this year I felt the Lord bring Cleveland to mind time and time again. Through friends on the staff team there I kept hearing about the great need they felt. There are 160,000 college students in the Cleveland and greater Northeastern Ohio area and our Cru presence there is small but growing. Currently we are on seven of the 18 campuses in our scope and are trusting God for more. I’m excited to join this small but mighty staff team and help give shape to this new and growing movement. I’m so excited to trust God for students in Northeastern Ohio to experience the gospel, grow in their faith and be sent out to make disciples of all nations.

Of course it is hard to leave a place that I have called home for most of my life, move farther away from most of my family and leave a staff team and students I dearly love. But I’m so excited to take this next step of faith with the Lord. I have been studying and meditating on Psalm 25 often in this past year. Repeatedly God has used verse 10 to bring my heart and mind rest. It says:

All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness

     For those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. 

I can just picture myself walking down a path with God’s steadfast love on my right and His faithfulness on my left. How could I not take this next step of faith with confidence and joy? I often say that life is such an adventure when you follow the One who created it and this exciting transition reminds me of just that.

Would you pray with me as this transition quickly approaches? It’s hard to believe that in less then a month I’ll be settling into a new house in a new city. Pray that details would fall into place, that the time I have left in Athens would be full of joy and celebration with the people I love and, most of all, that I would draw close to the Lord, resting in His perfect plan and perfect love.

He is able to do what He has promised.

Hope in the Waves

A tidal wave hit me again. I feel knocked on my back, the wave rushing over me so quickly that when I try to catch my breath all I get are lungs full of water. The only thing I can say is “I trust You. I trust You. You are good. You are loving. I can trust You.”

These waves come at strange times. As I’m driving or grocery shopping. Just now it was as I was washing dishes. A tidal wave of loneliness or doubt or fear, anything that reminds me that this world is not my home. I brace myself against the kitchen counter. How bad is it going to be this time?

Honestly, it’s really hard to trust You in those moments. It’s hard to believe that You are good or loving. You really feel more harsh, cold, distant, cruel. Hope and light feel like they give way to darkness as the waves keep crashing. Another. Then another. Hope that once seemed so bright is dim.

I could try to struggle, to fight the waves and the current but all that does is leave me exhausted and frustrated. I could be tossed about, wave to wave, yelling at You and asking  why You would let this happen. But all that does is leave me angry with a hardened and bitter heart. Neither get me anywhere or do any good.

So, I stop. I stop and let the waves hit. I embrace every drop of water. I feel the impact as I hit the ground. I don’t run from the wave or try to fight it. I embrace the torrent ride before me.

Aren’t You the One who commanded the winds and the waves to cease with just a few words? Aren’t You the One who parted seas to lead Your people to safety only to have it crash down on their enemies? Aren’t You the One who spoke the world into existence  creating something out of nothing? If You wanted the wave to stop You would have stopped it.

But no, You have a plan in these waves. With each one You are taking me somewhere I could never go if the water was still and placid.

And that is what gives me hope. Not that the storm will end, though I know it will. Not that I’ll end up somewhere better, though I know I will. What gives me hope is You. If I didn’t know You are the One in control, that You are the One holding me when all strength and will has left me, that even when hope feels the dimmest it is still as bright as ever, then I would be done for, swallowed whole by the wave. In this storm I know You are with me. Even in the roughest moments when I can’t see You, You still see me. More than that, You are holding me. This storm rips away anything I could have ever taken refuge in and leaves me with You. It’s You, me and this torrent sea.

But it’s here that I experience the fierce, jealous, all-consuming love You have for me. And it’s that love, that assurance, that allows me to curl up, close my eyes and rest.

I don’t know how many more waves will come crashing. I don’t know where these waves are taking me. But I know You–that You are both good and sovereign, that You’ll never leave me and that You are completely worthy of my trust.

But this I call to mind,

and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,

“therefore I will hope in him.”

                                                                Lamentations 3:21-24

Because He Cares for You

Jesus wept.

Two little words, one major verse, in the midst of one of my favorite stories of Jesus’ power and authority.

Maybe you remember the context. Or maybe, like me, your eyes have quickly swept over these two precious words in a hurry to get to the climax of the story. You see, it is in the midst of these two words that Jesus was on His way to raise His friend, Lazarus, from the dead. He had been dead for four days now so Lazarus’s sisters, Martha and Mary, were in full mourning. They had sent for Jesus, telling Him that their brother was ill. But Jesus intentionally waited to go to this family He so loved.

Why did He wait, you ask? For two reasons, I think. One is, as Jesus Himself states, so that His disciples would believe that Jesus did in fact raise Lazarus from the dead (John 11:14-15). But the other reason, however, can feel a little harder to swallow. John, the writer of the gospel, says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:5-6).

Wait. He loved them so He stayed? Yes, He loved them so He stayed.

But isn’t love relieving pain? Getting out of hard situations? Doing whatever you can to make your loved one’s life as easy as possible? Isn’t it, in fact, unloving of Jesus not to go right away to at least comfort Martha and Mary, if not to heal Lazarus so he won’t die?

This past week I was at a large Christian conference with Cru called Indy CC. During that conference I was able to hear from Paul David Tripp, a well-known pastor and Christian author. One afternoon he spoke from 1 Peter 5:6-10. Over the last few days the first two verses have been running through my head. First Peter says,

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 

Paul Tripp then stated that the question is never ‘Does God care?’ but rather will you recognize His care when it comes?

So, I have to ask myself, do I recognize God’s care when it comes in this story? Jesus didn’t rush to relieve Lazarus, Martha and Mary’s pain. Instead, in His deep care and unbelievable grace, He walked through their pain with them so that they could see His glory. Paul Tripp calls this uncomfortable grace. God takes them someplace they never would have chosen to go so that they could know Him more.

But, Jesus’s heart isn’t removed from their pain. Remember, Jesus wept. Jesus wept. Have you ever seen someone weep before? It is full, unhindered grief. And Jesus wept with Martha and Mary even when He knew they would see their brother with breath in his lungs and pep in his step again later that very afternoon.

What does this tell us about our Savior? He cares and His love for us is fierce. He cares so deeply about us, our pain, our wounds, our sin. He mourns with us when we grieve and are hurt, even when He knows how He is going to redeem them.

Another quote resounding in my heart since this conference was shared by a staff woman, Laura. She said, “Tears in God’s economy somehow, someday, turn to laughter.” How Lazarus, Martha and Mary must have laughed in joy for years to come after walking through so much grief and pain. How grateful they must have been to be held in the fire, without instant relief, because of how much more their now knew their Jesus.

I have to ask myself, what pain am I hiding from? What is my heart crying out for relief from? How can I recognize God’s care in the midst of it? And how can I joyfully embrace this grace, as uncomfortable as it might feel right now, that He has lavishly given me?

The Gift of Knowing the Father

And they [Zechariah and Elizabeth] were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child…. (Luke 1:6-7)

When I think about what it must have been like to be Elizabeth I’m overwhelmed by the things she must have had to process with the Lord. For most of her life she was denied something she dearly wanted: a child. She was walking closely with the Lord, honoring Him with her life yet was most likely an outcast in her community because she was barren, something she had no control over.

Can you imagine? It had to have been so lonely. Yet she was still “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”

Wow. That couldn’t have been easy. I think of my own natural inclination to demand things. I might not say it with my words but I can see my demanding spirit in my reaction to situations where I don’t get what I want. I often fall into the trap of thinking that following the Lord is a formula. If I put in x, y and z than God has to bless me. If I do or say the right things than God has to provide what I want.

Clearly this reveals so much about my view of God. I think He can be manipulated. I’m so desperate for control I’ve domesticated Him in my mind because I want what I want.

This means that when I don’t get what I want, when things are withheld from me, I am not full of faith but full of entitlement and bitterness. Gross.

But what is Elizabeth’s view of God? What motivated her to continue to walk in righteousness despite this emotionally painful and draining trial that went on for years? She saw God has He truly was (and still is!) and knew He was better than any gift He might give.

When I read about Zechariah and Elizabeth I am reminded that following Jesus does not mean your life is easy and you get what you want. Following Jesus is about relationship. I follow Him because that means I get to know the Father through the Son. Anything on top of that is an awesome bonus.

Elizabeth lived by faith. She trusted God and knew He was good, even when it looked like He was withholding good from her. Look at how she responded when she found out she was going to have a child:

 After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” (Luke 1:24-25)

She responded with thankfulness, not bitterness. She didn’t say, “Finally, Lord. It took you long enough.” No, she was thankful that the Lord had “taken way [her] reproach among people.” She knew it wasn’t necessary for Him to do so but in His grace and kindness, He did.

And, what’s more, look at what she and Zechariah got to be part of by patiently waiting on the Lord’s timing. Their son got to declare the coming of the Messiah!

I’m sure Elizabeth didn’t do this perfectly at all times. She was human. She is a great example but she isn’t the one we strive to be like. Remember, her son’s purpose was to proclaim the Messiah! Jesus is the one we follow. He is the one we want to imitate. He is the one who ultimately showed us what it looks like to yield to the Father and endure suffering because of who the Father is. As Hebrews 4:15 says,

 For 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.

So, what do you need to yield to our Father? What do you feel your spirit demanding? What does it reveal about your view of God? How are you going to take comfort in His character, knowing He is good and faithful?

 

Chicken and Spring Veggies Quinoa

Last Tuesday night I thought was going to be like any other night. I headed over to my friends’ house to go out for ice cream. Little did I know they had a life-changing activity in store for me. As we sat in a local coffee shop, enjoying our Whit’s ice cream, they turned to me and said they would love to help me think through a budget.

I think my hands automatically got sweaty and my heart started racing. If you know one thing about me know this: Numbers are the death of me. I promise I’m not being dramatic. If you want to see my eyes glaze over and my mind shut down start talking numbers and it is bound to happen.

However, I know that being a good steward of my money honors the Lord and that having a budget is part of adulthood so I tried not to shut down right away. I don’t know if it was the ice cream coma I was in or just the fact that I have really fun friends but somehow we ended up back at their place, Macs out and Excel up, figuring out a reasonable budget for me.

You can read more about my friends’ mind-blowing tips here. Trust me. You want to check it out.

Anyway, since that fateful Tuesday night (which I recognize was only a week ago) I have developed this new game. Instead of just buying what I want without regard of cost I’m determined to only buy the things I really need before handing over the cash divided among my little stack of envelopes. There really is an emotional attachment to those dollar bills!

Part of this game is a new desire to use up every last bit of anything I buy. This has radically changed how I am in the kitchen. I’m probably the most wasteful cook you’ll meet. I hate eating the same thing over and over again which results in me either throwing away a lot of fresh produce or having 80-bajillion different kinds of pasta because I want a new kind every time I go to the store (Seriously, who thought of putting pasta into the shape of wagon wheels or bowties? Genius!).

So today when I was about to grab my reusable shopping bags and head to my favorite place ever, Kroger, I paused and looked over my supplies. Turns out I had everything I needed for a healthy, well-balanced meal right at my fingertips! And it turned out so delicious I thought I’d share it with you. This game keeps getting better and better!

Chicken and Spring Veggies Quinoa
Makes 2 servings

Ingredients: 

1 chicken breast
½ cup of dry Quinoa
1 cup of water
Garlic
Olive Oil
Lemon Juice
Red Wine Vinegar
Butter
Salt and Pepper
1 cup of favorite chopped vegetables (I had a bag of frozen mixed vegetables on hand)

Recipe

(1) In a small skillet, heat a quarter-size drop of olive oil and a tablespoon of minced garlic. While heating, rinse off chicken and pat dry.

(2) Add chicken to heated skillet with lemon juice, salt and pepper, all to taste. While the chicken is cooking, add quinoa, water, salt and a teaspoon of minced garlic to a saucepan. (I’ve found that quinoa without added flavor can be bland. Another option is to use chicken broth instead of water when cooking it). Bring to a boil then cover and reduce to a simmer for 10-15 minutes until the water is absorbed.

(3) As quinoa is simmering, flip over chicken and add the cup of vegetables and red wine vinegar to taste (I also added more lemon juice, salt and pepper just to the veggies). Cook until chicken is done.

(4) Once all the water is absorbed in the quinoa, add a little sliver of butter for flavor and fluff.

(5) Cut chicken breast into small pieces. Combine quinoa, chicken and veggies together. Season to taste.

What are recipes you have come up with using just what you have on hand? 

Hope for a Desperately Sick Heart

Follow your heart. Every Disney movie ever made promotes this idea. Our culture lives for it. Do whatever feels right and makes you happy.

I’m sure you’ve been down that road before. Let me ask, how did it turn out? Looking at the long term, big picture, what was the end result?

I’ll be honest. Most of the time when I follow my heart it leads me to heartbreak, failure and sin. It normally leaves me thirsting for something more, completely unsatisfied and frustrated. I say to myself, I thought this was supposed to be good? When does the Fairy Godmother come and the pumpkin turn into a carriage?

It’s really interesting to look at what the Bible has to say about the heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says,

 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?

Hold up. Excuse me? My heart is deceitful about all things? It’s desperately sick? That doesn’t sound like anything Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother was selling.

Jeremiah 17 is telling me that my heart is so wicked and twisted that no one can understand it. No one. Including me.  Following it will not make me happy, will not lead me to what is right, and will not satisfy. In fact, this verse explains exactly what I’ve experienced. No wonder following my heart leads to such destruction.

All of this sounds pretty hopeless. I can’t follow my heart because it will lead me to terrible places. No one can understand it, not even me, so I must just be stuck.

Thankfully Jeremiah goes on to say:

 “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

There is one thing, or rather one person, I forgot to include in this situation: God. He is always a game changer. I don’t understand my heart but He does. That is why God the Father had to send His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for my sins. God knew there was nothing good within in me and did the only thing He could: He gave me a new heart through his Son.

The only thing is old habits die hard. My old heart was really good at being deceitful and I was really good at following it. Learning to live with the new heart, one devoted to Jesus and desiring to love and obey Him alone, takes time and discipline. After so many years of following my heart it’s hard to believe that following this new heart devoted to Jesus will lead to happiness, especially when it means saying goodbye to old loves I have grown accustom to.

But here is what gives me hope: God knows me. He knows what is for my good. He knows how the story ends. He knows that I genuinely desire to love Him above everything else. He knows that I want to follow Him over my sinful heart. He knows the struggle my heart goes through as I daily have to choose who I love more: Him or the world. He knows that I honestly asked Him to come into my life, forgive me of my sin and transform me into the image of His Son.

And since He knows that, He won’t leave me. He is faithful.

I can’t trust my heart but I can trust my God. And because of that I have hope that my heart will change.

Newest Obsession

Over the course of break the amount of time I spend cooking and baking has grown exponentially. Seriously. If I’m not addressing Christmas cards I’m probably in the kitchen trying a new recipe. Let me tell you, it has been wonderful! I think hobbies are super important, especially if you have a job where your to-do list could be never-ending if you let it. We need to make time to play and have fun, people! I honestly think the Lord delights in it because, for me at least, it’s a trust issue. At some point I have to put down my work and trust God will either give me the time to do what I need to do or He will complete what I cannot do. But I digress…

This break I’m publicly declaring cooking as my new hobby! I will make time for it and won’t let guilt distract me. There, I said it. :)

But with the new hobby comes a need for new resources, which is really what this post is about. I can’t stop Googling cooking blogs or watching the Food Network. If my roommates didn’t reap the benefits, I think they would have an intervention.

Here are three blogs that I absolutely LOVE!

(1) The Pajama Chef
This blog is actually written by my former roommate Sarah! I can tell you first hand she is a wonderful cook and never does anything from a box…except brownies. I recently made her Sweet Potato Soup. I highly recommend it.

(2) Fat Girl Trapped in a Skinny Body
I stumbled upon this blog when I was searching for a Chocolate Chip Banana Bread recipe made with whole wheat flour. There is no butter and less sugar than other recipes I’ve used in the past. It was really good!

(3) Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice
I just found this one last night but can’t wait to try out her recipes! What caught my eye last night was her Zuppa Toscana.

So with that, who’s ready for dinner?