Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Resurrection Basket

The Resurrection Basket is a special tradition in our family. We learned about it from my dear friend Anne’s son, Andrew. He makes one for his mother every year.

Each year our basket has a little bit of a different personality. Sometimes it is large and sometimes it is small. I vary the container – a bowl, a box, a basket, a crate -- depending on whether I can find what I used the year before or what I discover in the basement or garage. Sometimes I splurge and buy a new one.

I always use potted fresh flower to signify life – sometimes I use spring bulbs. We gather the other items from around the house. This year my daughter made a cross out of two sticks and some vine. The girls found fresh moss from the yard and we spread it around the base of the flowers. We added a stone, a nail, a branch with thorns from a rose bush and, new this year -- a small piece of towel. A purple ribbon is woven between the blossoms. Each item represents a different part of the Easter story.

This is a fun activity to do as a group, alone, or in the classroom. Make it for yourself or make it for a friend or a neighbor and share with them the true beauty of Easter – the truth that Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the dead. He is alive!

In addition to the one we made for our family, the girls decided to make smaller ones for each of their teachers.
If you create a Resurrection Basket, let us know! We’d love to hear about it, and any ideas about what you placed in your basket.


Monday, March 29, 2010

The Garden of Gethsemane

The “Last Supper” was over. The disciples did not understand it as the “Last Supper,” but Jesus knew. Nothing is a surprise to Him. Not even this evening. What happened in the hours that lied before Him was part of God’s plan right from the beginning. Jesus was on a mission to rescue the people that He loved.

As the disciples (minus Judas) walked along the dusty road in the cool of the night, their feet, recently washed by the Servant, became coated again with dirt. And as they travelled, Jesus spoke to His disciples about many truths – truths like Jesus being the only way to the Father and about abiding in Jesus, like branches on a vine, and – oh, so much more. (See John 14 – 17). He comforted them with the words, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me” (John 14:1). And Jesus prayed. He prayed for the disciples. He prayed for Himself. And He prayed for you and for me. Remarkable.

Shortly after they set out, they arrived at the gate of the Garden of Gethsemane, at the base of the Mount of Olives. The garden was a favorite place of refuge for Jesus. Again, Jesus went in to spend time with His Father in Heaven. This time, though, He would intensely begin the journey of coming face-to-face with the suffering that He would endure on the cross.

The biblical account of what transpired in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-41; Luke 22:39-46) is intense. My heart is heavy as I imagine (if that is even possible) what my Savior had to endure for me and for all. I am humbled by His willingness to submit to the difficult will of God. I am amazed by His love. And I am strengthened by His example of how I can live, being obedient to the Father in the daily struggles of life. Jesus had to carry the weight of all the sin of the world. God does not ask us to do that, but He may ask us to carry something.

Dear reader, it is hard to know and follow the will of God, isn’t it? It’s scary and confusing, at times. It is difficult to do -- well, actually, it is impossible without the grace of God.

Believe that God is Who He says He is. He is loving, kind, faithful and just. Pray for His will to be done, and pray that He will give you the grace to be obedient to whatever He may be asking you to do. Trust that His way is best, even when it seems very, very hard. Stand firm. Be strong and courageous. Walk humbly.

Turn to Him and call out to Him, “Abba! Father! PaPa! Daddy!” (just like Jesus did – Mark 14:36) and believe that His will is good and perfect, and that He loves you very much, with an unfailing love. Jesus knew that, and we can know that, too.

The Garden of Gethsemane is a difficult place to enter with Jesus, for here we see His pain, unlike we’ve seen it before. I think that we often would much rather stand outside of the gate. Some may not care to enter. Others may be too frightened to face what happened there. And even others fear their own guilt and shame. But as we are willing to step in to the garden, trusting the Lord to hold our hand and show us what He desires for us to see about Himself, we can begin to understand the depth of His sorrow and sacrifice as He faced all the brokenness and sin of the world. Here we are more amazed at the breadth of His love. And here He grows in us an incredible joy, lush in beauty and color, in this season of celebration. It is here, in the garden of Jesus’ willingness, sacrifice and pain where our faith is strengthened and our hope enlarged. Remarkable, indeed.

(If you would like to listen to more about Jesus and His coming face-to-face with His own suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, click here, and then click on the link for February 10, 2010 - Gethsemane: Mark 14:32-42 . The above is just a sample of what I shared this winter at our Women’s Bible Study. You will also find more links to listen to the other lessons I taught in the series that I titled, “Remarkable Moments with the Savior,” when we stepped into the stories of Jesus and the people that He came face-to-face with – people like you and me who were hurting, hungry, hopeless, fearful, loving, critical and more).

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Angel Food Cake with Butter Cream Frosting

By popular request (following my last post titled The Ultimate Comfort Food), I present to you my mom’s famous recipe for Angel Food Cake with Butter Cream Frosting. WARNING: Eat at your own risk. A ridiculously excessive amount of internal exposure to this food may cause gastrointestinal upset – AKA nausea.

Angel Food Cake with Butter Cream Frosting

1 Angel Food Cake – baked. A box version is great. Who knows what to do with all of those extra egg yolks, anyway. This is the vehicle for getting the frosting in to your mouth and a bit more socially appropriate than a spatula.

½ cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup superfine or regular white sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

½ cup butter

½ cup margarine

Scald the milk and let cool. Add vanilla to cooled milk. Whip the cold butter and margarine in mixer for 3 – 4 minutes until it is like heavy cream (but not soft and runny). Add salt and then add sugar ¼ of a cup at a time, beating for 30 seconds between each ¼ cup. Once all the sugar is added, beat for 2 minutes. Then, add 2 Tablespoons of milk at a time, beating after each addition until smooth. Once all the milk is added, beat for another 2 minutes.

Spread the frosting over the cooled Angel Food cake. If time allows, cool the cake for an hour to firm up the frosting. This is not necessary, but preferred. Either way, trust me, it is delicious (but my no means low-caloric).

Enjoy, dear readers … and have a piece for me, while I allow myself time to forget the feeling following too much cake (I mean, frosting).

P.S. My mom just informed me that the recipe originally was obtained from the "New Antoinette Pope School Cookbook" printed in 1961 and was given to them for their first wedding anniversary by my mom's parents. The recipe was called, "Mrs. Miller's Quick French Butter Cream Icing." My mom used to make the angel food cake from scratch every 13 days, with leftover egg whites, having fed me (awwww...) a yolk a day, when I was a baby.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Ultimate Comfort Food

Angel food cake with butter cream frosting. Homemade, fresh, and slightly chilled, it is my all time favorite cake. It must be made with my mother’s recipe for butter cream frosting, though. No other will do.

Between you and me (and the World Wide Web, I suppose), I massively craved it yesterday. Yes, not just craved, but massively craved. Cravings are unusual to me, and so seeming harmless enough, I indulged myself in the process of making this cake. Well, I didn’t really make the cake. I didn’t have time for that, so I cheated and bought a pre-made angel food cake, but I did make the frosting. Like I said, there is no comparison to my mom’s recipe. To me, it is the (almost) ultimate in comfort food.

I whipped up the frosting while throwing together dinner for the family. A sample here. A sample there. Many samples every where. The texture, the flavor, the taste – did I tell you it was my favorite? I frosted the small cake, which I determined was more of a single-serving size, and therefore, had plenty of frosting to spare (which equates to sampling). Truth be told, it wasn’t really the cake I was after. It was the frosting. The angel food cake was just a vehicle to get the frosting in to my mouth -- something a bit more appropriate than a spatula.

After dinner and being that the cake was rather small, I ate a third of it. I then cleaned up, and went to bed. At 10:44 PM I woke up with a stomach ache.

“Why did I eat all that cake – I mean – frosting?” I swooned.

Thankfully, I'm better this morning. It was a quick turn around, but believe it or not, I am not craving butter cream frosting today.

Now you may be asking, what spiritual truth lies woven in this silly story? To me, it is a guttural reminder that we can eat too much of a good thing, but we can never eat too much of God’s Word -- and His Word will never make us sick.

I don’t want to diminish the fact that my cake (I mean frosting) was delicious. It was. But I am reminded that while food is good for the body and enjoyable, God’s Word is a delight, bringing comfort and strength to the soul. It really is the ultimate comfort food.

Jeremiah 15:16 says, “When your words came I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight.”

It is a satisfying truth, dear reader. God’s Word is a delicious, healthy, life-giving, nurturing, comfort food. I want to encourage you today to pull up a seat and dig in to it. Indulge yourself. God is faithful to take your heart and needs for today, and feed them with His truths and with His love. Taste and see that the Lord is good; none other than His Word will do.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bit by Bit

My friend reported the first sighting of the Merganser ducks on the lake by her home, and I saw the Red-winged Blackbird today. Faint patches of green grass sweep across the landscape. Snow piles, once 6 feet tall, are now only inches away from being gone. Small buds are barely bursting from the ends of the branches. Fresh smells of life permeate the air. Spring is springing forth – I hope. It has opened the latch on the gate at the end of the long path of winter, and is making its way in to our days. Evidence of its arrival is slow, but none-the-less I see it creeping in.

Spring is a living sign of hope. Out of the cold of winter, life emerges. As a reflection of hope, it reminds us of the hope of healing for the broken-hearted, a hope that is only found in Jesus.

Did you ever notice that not all the migrating birds show up on one day? Not all the grass turns green in one instant. We do not wake up to all the leaves being full grown one morning, nor is all the snow melted in one day.

Bit by bit spring arrives, and bit by bit the healing of the hurting heart occurs. It is patchy at first, and perhaps even sparse, but it will come. When we trust our hearts to the healing hand of the Creator, Who created the motion of the seasons, we can rest assured that He will bring healing to our times of cold darkness, as well. And bit by bit, we will witness the changes. It is a process – sometimes a very long process. Chilly days may reappear, maybe even a snow storm … but winter does give way to spring and He who manages those days, is caring for you in your days, as well. God is faithful to heal the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3). Wait upon Him, trusting Him to bring about life and beauty in His perfect timing.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lugging Unneccessary Luggage

“Remember the time when …” my six year old said to me with a playful twinkle in her eye. She is a teaser and she loves to remind me of silly things. I’m not sure why, but she loves this story.

Almost 20 years ago, my husband and I were newly married and heading out to Telluride, Colorado to go skiing with my husband’s father. It was a long drive from Milwaukee in our 1990 red Camry. With the AAA flip map in hand, we stuffed the little car full with all that we would need and then some ....

I remember the trip, but I forgot one comical detail -- the "then some." Apparently (and I was just recently reminded of this), I was concerned that once we arrived in Colorado that I would not be able to keep up with the skiing skills of my husband and his father, and that I may get bored. I wanted to make sure I had something to fall back on.

I thought I needed a “back pocket -- just in case” provisional plan and (are you ready for this?) it was my circa 1980’s portable White sewing machine. For 2800 miles round trip, we carted that heavy machine in the back of the car. I have no idea what I was thinking. Some sort of safety net, I guess. I never used it. We just lugged it there and lugged it back.

As I’ve been giggling about the story with the kids, I’ve been thinking about other less material luggage that I lug along in life.

Sometimes, on long and uncertain journeys in life, we carry things with us that we really don’t need. We fear the “what if’s,” and may either intentionally or unintentionally cart along some unnecessary items. These things weigh us down. They are burdensome. They take up space and make the journey more difficult. Defense mechanisms. Old ways of life. Coping mechanisms. Self-sufficiency.

We take things in to our own hands, lugging them around, instead of allowing God to direct our paths. We can’t imagine that there is something for us on the end of the journey, that is different and good, and so we bring along with us that which we do not need, to fall back on when we are in a pinch.

A sewing machine. It was harmless enough, but I know better for the journeys in life. Just for today – that is how we should live -- trusting God for what He has for us and not worrying about tomorrow (Matthew 6:25). We can trust Him that He will provide just what we need, staying open to what He may have for us in new and different ways. We can choose a willingness to sit in the uncertainty of time unfilled, trusting Him to fill it with His presence or service to others or blessings that we could never imagine.

Dear reader, I don’t know about you but I need to take stock of what I may be carrying in to today, that I really do not need, choosing to leave it behind, trusting God for all things, and looking to see what opportunities are in today. Just for today.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Fragrance of Life

Exhausted physically and emotionally, I settled in to my overstuffed chair to spend time with the Lord. Brushing up against a small pillow, a suddenly smelled the most pleasing aroma of lavender. I forgot that it was there, but its scent was unmistakable and unavoidable. The small decorated pillow is filled with small petals of dried lavender. They are withered, stripped from their stalk some time ago, but they continue to emit a lovely fragrance that delights.

And just as suddenly, God pressed in to my heart a reminder of His truth -- God uses areas in our lives that are dried out and withered – times of loneliness, pain, betrayal and loss -- to create a sweet aroma in the lives of those He places in our path. We may wonder, “Is there is anything good coming out of our pain? Is there any purpose in all of this?” Yet, when covered in the love of Jesus, these circumstances are used to bring hope to others. As others brush past us, God takes what we are enduring for Him, trusting Him in, and produces a sweet scent of hope.

2 Corinthians 2:15, 16 says “For we are to God the aroma of Christ … the fragrance of life.” What withered and dry time is God using in your life to produce the fragrance of life? Depression? Betrayal? Loss of a job? The death of a loved one? Loss of a dream? Living with a difficult person? Struggling with a disobedient or wayward child? An illness? Life is difficult. It can be hard to imagine or believe that there anything good will come out of so much pain and loss, but there is hope.

Like the pillow is covered in a lovely fabric, when we allow the most beautiful covering of Jesus' love to surround all areas of our lives, we will be used for His glory and His purpose. In His timing, He will bring about a pleasing aroma. Dear reader, perhaps you are fainthearted and downcast today. Take heart that God is using your circumstances to bring the fragrance of life to others around you, when you chose to be covered in the beautiful fabric of His love.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Taking Hold and Holding Close

The airport was crowded. People toting heavy bags stood in long lines, inching slowly forward towards the ticket counter. A little girl of about 3 years old in lime green pajamas and tennis shoes stood next to me. Her straight, blond hair was pulled back in to a loose pony tail. Green eyes peered out from behind wisps of hair that covered a portion of her fair face. She did not smile. She clutched a faded pink blanket that reflected much use and laundering.

Standing next to her was her father. He was muscular and of medium build and wore military fatigues. Strapped to his back was a large, bulging back pack. He toted a duffel bag with one arm. His hair was cut short. He appeared quiet, yet, confident as He stood close to the little girl.

Despite the heavy load that he carried on his back and handled in his left hand, he reached down and scooped up the little girl with his strong right arm. He kissed her cheek and talked gently and kindly to her. She smiled from time to time, but mostly she just stared at him, looking confused and sad.

Perhaps like me, dear one, you are not fond of good-byes -- living them or watching them. They make me cry. Tears pooled in my eyes as I looked at this father, who I surmised was leaving for the Middle East on deployment, and his daughter who clung to him. Good-byes stir up cauldrons of grief, mixed in with loss and loneliness, inside of me. I can feel the depth, the movement and the intensity.

As I’ve replayed this image in my mind the last few days, the Lord continually has brought me to Himself. At times, we can be like a little child. Confused and scared, we try to stand close to Him. We peer out from behind our circumstances, and wonder, “What is happening? Will I be alright? Need I fear or will I be safe?”

Psalm 18:16 says, “He reached down from high and took hold of me …” Our Father reaches down and lifts us up in His strong arms. He holds us close. He lavishes us with love. We may be uncertain and fearful, but God reassures us with His Word and with His presence. As He carries the weight of the world, He embraces us with a confidence that He is in control. He is not going to leave us -- ever. He always has an arm and place of safety and comfort for us; He is trustworthy and faithful to be present and all we need.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Vast Expanse of Uncertainty

I clicked one boot in to the cross country ski and then the other. Slipping my hands in to the straps, I grabbed my poles and lunged forward, starting on my journey across the vast expanse of the frozen lake that was before me.

Swish. Swish. Swish. The skis glided across the snow packed ice.

“I’m not sure about this,” I thought to myself, as I hesitated about 100 yards out from the shore. “What if the ice cracks and I fall in to the lake? Hmmmm. This feels too risky. Maybe I should turn back. What if I don’t make it?”

The deep groans of the ice shifting and aching, like the voices of hump backed whales, echoed across the lake. Intermittent, unpredictable and haunting in their tone, they underlined my doubt, and accented my fears.

But as I looked and listened ever so closely, I learned and began to believe that it was safe and I would make it. Imprints of fresh car tracks traversed back and forth in front of me. A pick-up truck sat parked in the middle of the lake, marking the spot of a devoted ice fisherman. The ruddy sounds of snow mobile engines grumbled through the air, as they zoomed back and forth across the lake in the distance. There were others on the lake -- others who were, quite frankly, a lot heavier than me, and they were not falling through the ice. Their presence reassured me that I would most likely make it across the ice, too, and I did.

Dear reader, there are times when the Lord asks us to step out and travel across the vast expanse of uncertainty. We look ahead and we wonder. Will we survive? Will we fall through? The groans of doubt and fear beckon to us, “Are you sure you’re going to make it? Isn’t it a bit risky?”

But, if we look and listen, we will see that God sends across our paths the lives of others who have gone before us, trusting God, and living full lives in Him.

We may witness people around us who walked through difficult times, or are walking through times of trial, and who live faith filled, dramatically different lives. They took a chance to step out and into the will of God, and they are evidence of His faithfulness. They are people with fresh tracks who do not give up, but wait on the Lord, seek the Lord and walk in obedience to His ways, not the ways of the world. Through their words and actions we learn of and remember God’s truths and of His great love for us, and we are encouraged and strengthened.

God’s Word also reminds us of those who have gone before us many, many years ago, sure of what they hope for and certain of what they did not see (Hebrews 11:1). Hebrews 11 is known as the “Hall of Faith.” Here, we read of great heroes of the faith – Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab -- who chose to trust God and who were commended for their faith. He used their lives in powerful ways then and He is still using them today to spur us on in difficult times.

In the vast expanse of the uncertainty of life, God is always asking us to trust Him. As part of His grace, He gives us the examples of others (either modern day, or from days of old) who went before us, and who chose to walk with Him -- people who experienced the Lord’s love and mercy, and were strengthened by Him, despite unfathomable odds. They are people who did not give up. They were all the more rich because of what God asked them to do and because of their choice to stay close to Him on the journey. They shine as a light in the darkness to help us see that it is safe to follow God, for only He is faithful.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Radically Radiant

Radiant. When I hear or see the word an image of a small portly pig sitting humbly yet confidently under a web, pops into my head. The word "radiant" shimmers in the threads of the web, woven there by a the pig's spider friend. I am talking about the story of Charlotte’s Web, of course, a classic tale written by E.B. White about friendship, loyalty and love.

Charlotte, the gentle and kind spider, believes in Wilbur, the pig. Her belief in Him gives him strength, hope, a purpose and because of her, he also radiates joy.

I don’t know about you, but some days I would not describe myself as radiant. Dull? Weary? Worn down? Doubting? Fearing? Yes. Radiant? From the inside looking out, I’m not so sure. But …

God tells us in Psalm 34:5, “Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.” When we seek Him, abide with Him, look to Him, we reflect His radiance. We can’t help it. His radiance shimmers off of us, regardless of what we think or how we feel.

I’ve known some pretty – like, really beautiful -- radically, radiant people. They are not radiant because of what they accomplish, how popular or witty or smart they are, or because of what they do for themselves. No, they are radiant because they live a life that is dependent on loving the Lord and seeking Him first in all things. I bet if I asked them, they would most humbly say that they do not notice their radiance. But, the truth is they are beautiful and they reflect the glory of God in their strength and in their joy – both of which He gives them.

Dear reader, look to the One – at the One -- Who loves you more than you can ever imagine. Believe in Him, for He made you and He believes in you. The Lord will use His love and grace that dances off of you, to encourage others in their faith and draw them closer to Himself. When we live a life depending on Him, we are radically, radiant! And as we grow in an understanding of Who the Lord is and live lives seeking and loving Him, we will grow in strength, hope, purpose and joy.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Champion for Dignity

“Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you.” I don’t know who said this ludicrous statement. Apparently, someone who never was hurt by words. In my opinion, their opinion could not be further from the truth. Words can hurt – a lot.

Our son has Cerebral Palsy. I am often amazed at what people say, either to me or in ear shot of my son and me. “What’s wrong with him?” “Was he born like that?” “Why does he walk that way? ” “Is he ok?”

I understand that people just don’t always think about what they say, but regardless, their words can be hurtful and lack an awareness of the dignity of others. Sometimes I am tempted to retort back with “Nothing is wrong with him, but there is something wrong with you – you’re rude,” but up until today, I have resisted and just let it go. It probably wouldn’t do any good, anyway. But, in an attempt to increase awareness of how words can hurt and vandalize the value of others, today I refer you over to my friend Jennie’s blog.

One of Jennie’s three sons has Down Syndrome. She wrote a challenging post today on her blog A Little Something Extra for Us, so I am stepping out from my normal “devotional” style and recommending that you read her thoughts – they are strong and passionate, as she makes a plea for “Spread the Word to End the Word.” (She is not referring to God’s Word, but the word “retard” ). Thank you, Jennie, for being a champion for the dignity of people with special needs and for those who love them.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Perfect Peace

She finally fell asleep, holding my hand, snuggled up in a blanket, with an ice pack resting on her forehead – perfectly peaceful. When you are a little person (and a not-so-little person) falling can be traumatic. My daughter trying her hand (errrrr – feet) at ice skating, took a tumble and hit the ice face first. Poor little dear. She is better this morning, but not lacking a “purple eye.”

As I sat with her last night, looking at her as she rested quietly, my heart turned to thoughts of the Lord and how He tenderly cares for us when we are struggling. We fall down (either on our own or from the impact of others) and are hurt. We ache and we cry and we call out for help.

He picks us up with His strong and loving arms, and comforts us with His love. He holds our hand. He cares for us with His Word. He may bring others along side of us to help us, but often, I find that He meets our every need, personally and intimately. And when we fall asleep, we can be confident that He never does. He does not slumber nor sleep. He never takes a break. He never gets tired or worn out. He is always perfectly, loving and in control.

As I held her hand and rubbed her little forehead with my other hand, brushing her hair out of the way, as she dozed off, I whispered, “You’re going to be alright, Honey. Just relax. I am right here. Momma loves you and I will take care of you."

And I heard the words of the Lord whisper in to my heart at the same time, “I have everything under control, dear one. I know you are hurt. Rest here, in My love. I am right here. All day, all night -- even when you sleep. I am watching over you and taking care of you.”

My daughter rested soundly. She knew I was nearby and would take care of everything. Even though she was so tired and needed to sleep, she rested sweetly and confidently in my arms. God’s arms are everlasting arms, and in these arms we can find ultimate rest.

Dear one, keep your mind and heart focused on Him. When you are striving and tired, place your weary head on your bed and trust that He will cover you with His feathers (Psalm 91), watch over you while you sleep and give you perfect peace. Like the Psalmist let us confidently say, even when we are hurting, “At day’s end I’m ready for sound sleep, for you, God, have put my life back together,” (Psalm 4:8 MSG) and then commit to believing that it is true.

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