Potpourri: no, yes, hope, food

Happy New Year!

Our family continues to heal from a grueling last half of 2017, but we are certainly here with more hope and peace than we’ve had in a long time. There are still remnants of illnesses, but overall we are much healthier now too!

I have been learning a lot about self care and setting realistic boundaries for what I can and can’t do. This work empowered me to say no to two seemingly great opportunities to serve our denomination and local church district. I love our denomination, but the heart of my ministry has always been with the local grief community outside the context of church and denomination.

Saying no in turn allowed me to say yes to more with the non-profit my husband and I founded to provide non-clinical peer support for those grieving the death of a child. Just a few days of laser focus on that work and multiple doors are opening that will guide us into the future. Our non-profit turns ten years old this year! Lots to celebrate, even though the work is related to much grief and sadness. I have been contemplating how many people I’ve come to love and cherish that I would likely have never learned to know outside of our deepest sorrow and greatest pain.

This has long been one of my guiding quotes.

In my personal work and soul care, I’ve also been having some fun trying to reconcile the multiple and diverse streams of culture and influence in my DNA. My dad is from an Eastern European immigrant family, Mom from generations of horse and buggy Mennonites in which faith I was raised and colors my understanding of God. Learning more about my whole identity has been fun, but I’ve also been reminded that my true identity is a child of God and the ultimate “Home” I long for is being at home with God.

As always, I’ve been enjoying making some great food! I’m posting some on my recipe blog, The Cultured Country Cook. My purpose for the blog is simply to share great recipes. I’m not a fancy food photographer, but we sure do eat good around here. I was thinking this evening, I sure hope there’s a kitchen in heaven, cooking and baking and enjoying good food are some of my life’s greatest pleasures. Simultaneously I pondered how my husband might hope there’s NOT a kitchen in heaven since he usually ends up doing the dishes.

I read through English veterinarian James Herriot’s books last year, so one evening I made roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, Yorkshire pudding, and creamed peas. I had read some chapters and paragraphs aloud to the family and we had a great time with that meal, recalling specific stories from his books.

We’ve had extremely cold temperatures here the past few days so tonight’s comfort food was cheese ravioli with mushrooms and browned butter, a simple spinach salad with strawberries, oranges, a drizzle of olive oil and a fresh-squeezed lime. Dessert was a homemade maple walnut pound cake with light maple cream cheese icing and homemade coffee custard. I had subscribed to the emeals menu planner several years ago, but haven’t used the recipes a whole lot. Tonight’s ravioli and last night’s Spanish Chicken Soup were both from emeals. I’m hoping to utilize that more!

I made cinnamon rolls for the pediatrician’s office who care so wonderfully for our children.

And a “poop emoji” cake by request for some friends who knew I had made one as a joke for Our son’s birthday last fall.

I continue to work out what it means to be fully present in my life and the invitations to be are all around me, if my eyes and heart are willing to see.

I’ve been delighting in the following words from Bob Goff in Love Does: Discover a secretly incredible life in an ordinary world.

“There is only one invitation it would kill me to refuse, yet I’m tempted to turn it down all the time. I get the invitation every morning when I wake up to actually live a life of complete engagement, a life of whimsy, a life where love does. It doesn’t come in an envelope. It’s ushered in by a sunrise, the sound of a bird, or the smell of coffee drifting lazily from the kitchen. It’s the invitation to actually live, to fully participate in this amazing life for one more day. Nobody turns down an invitation to the White House, but I’ve seen plenty of people turn down an invitation to fully live.

Turning down this invitation comes in lots of flavors. It looks like numbing yourself or distracting yourself or seeing something really beautiful as normal. It can also look like refusing to forgive or not being grateful or getting wrapped around the axle with fear or envy. I think every day God sends us an invitation to live and sometimes we forget to show up or get head-faked into thinking we haven’t really been invited. But you see, we have been invited — every day, all over again”

People might choose to turn down invitations to the White House these days, but I refuse to decline this invitation to fully live. May it be so. Amen.

Of Praise and Thanks

Words to one of my favorite hymns paired with snapshots I’ve captured over the past few weeks. 


For the beauty of the earth, 

for the glory of the skies, 
for the love which from our birth 

over and around us lies; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 


For the beauty of each hour 

of the day and of the night, 

hill and vale, and tree and flower, 

sun and moon, and stars of light; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 

For the joy of ear and eye, 

for the heart and mind’s delight, 

for the mystic harmony, 

linking sense to sound and sight; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 


For the joy of human love, 

brother, sister, parent, child, 

friends on earth and friends above, 

for all gentle thoughts and mild; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 

For thy church, that evermore 

lifteth holy hands above, 

offering up on every shore 

her pure sacrifice of love; 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 


For thyself, best Gift Divine, 

to the world so freely given, 

for that great, great love of thine, 

peace on earth, and joy in heaven: 

Lord of all, to thee we raise 

this our hymn of grateful praise. 
Text by Folliot S Pierpoint 

Music by Conrad Kocher

Confessions; just in case I’ve misled you

“You have the perfect life,” she said, “a great husband, beautiful children, doing what you love for work. I dream about your life.”

Wait! What?! I nearly spit out my tea. 

“You know, what you post on Facebook,” she added, “Your life is perfect.”

First off, I admit, my life is filled with many wonderful things. My husband is loyal, devoted, rock-solid awesomeness. Our children are adorable, have mostly great behavior, and are respectful, caring, compassionate little humans. I am in awe that I get to live my passion of being there for others in grief, even though that calling was birthed through my own dark night of the soul. 

Additionally, I am generally a “look on the bright side” kind of gal, so even when life’s suck-o-meter hits red hot, I hurt, shake my fist, and with almost every scenario, find a way to see the positive. (There are exceptions.)

I decided a long time ago a life of gratitude is much sweeter than constant comparisons. I’ve never wanted or intentionally tried to pretend my life was perfect. Sharing my shortcomings and chaos helps me connect to others, but I also don’t want to complain or come across as whining. Ask my children, I loathe whining. 

So here’s some real-life relatable blackmail material for you. 

I can eat nearly a whole bag of Lay’s BBQ potato chips in one setting, especially when paired with chunks of yummy cheddar cheese. Sometimes I have ice cream for lunch. As much as I enjoy exercise, I’ve been dealing with an excruciating bout of plantar fasciitis for months and just being on my feet is extremely painful. Exercise is pretty much impossible until this improves. So much for rockin’ 40 in August, but I guarantee I still will!

Those adorable wildlings that steal my heart create monster messes (shhhhh, so do their parents) and I’d rather write and read than clean. People, hear me when I say my house is nearly always in disarray. We have an endless cycle of laundry; dirty, drying, unfolded. The counter is a catch-all for school projects, art projects, and cooking projects to the point it becomes a science project. Once, a friend for whom I had set a place for supper said, “Wow, I’ve never seen this end of your kitchen table.” He probably hadn’t.

Sometimes the children fight and the baby cries to the point I give up on cooking supper and we eat cereal instead. My husband gets mad at me. I get frustrated with him. 

I have skeletons in my closet. I have family whose skeletons are currently curing. Even when their choices become maddening and hurtful, the decision to love and wrestling with what that love looks like continues to shape and mold me. I fail. Often. 

Hopefully this will change soon, but most all of my work is volunteer so we are always trying to make ends meet financially. I spend too much money on groceries. 

I deal with anxiety and situational depression. Many days I feel like I don’t do enough, am never enough, can never catch up, never measure up, and wonder if anything I do truly makes a difference. I shoulder the weight of the world, even when it doesn’t ask me to. I am not prone to compare myself with others materialistically, but I am my own worst competition when it comes to making a difference. 

I worry about ridiculous things, and our pediatrician can tell you I worry obsessively over our children. Although my Facebook posts might be positive, they are more often a statement of faith than anything else. 

So yeah, I love cooking and eating healthy, but am an emotional eater. I love happy kiddos, but ours are still typical stinkers. I love family, even when they make terrible choices. Our struggles might come in different forms, but ultimately we are all living our own vida loco. 

We all get lemons, I just much prefer lemonade and will go to great lengths to find the sweetness. 

Onward and upward, dear peeps. I’m signing off to clear clutter and eat chips. 

Character Test

It was the most basic character test and I blew it. Right there in front of God, my husband, and our children. I was looking for an important folder I need for an appointment today, and thought I knew exactly where it was. (Never mind I should have secured said folder several days ago, knowing this was coming up.)

I huffed around, shuffling papers and sighing, being snarky with my husband, and then of all things, blaming it on the children who hadn’t put their toys away. Really?!

For the sake of peace and sanity, I gave the folder search a break and went to get myself ready for the day. As I separated myself from the frenzy and frustration of the missing folder, I was convicted to ask for forgiveness.

The test of character is not in leadership training and board meetings, not in the face we wear and the facade we present in public, but in the ways we treat those closest to us. I was ashamed at what this most basic test revealed. And I repented.

Thankfully God and my family both have an overwhelming fountain of grace and patience, and I seemed to be the one most upset about my reaction. I still haven’t found the folder, but life will go on with no one the worse for wear. I, however, pray that this incident will continue to serve as a reminder for me to pray and breathe before I respond.

Character quotes I found on the Internet. 

“Our character is defined by what we do when no one is looking.”

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think of you.”

What has helped you refocus when you are stressing about something like this?

Holy as the Day is Spent

Thanks to Carrie Newcomer for this delightful reminder…

Holy as a day is spent
Holy is the dish and drain
The soap and sink, and the cup and plate
And the warm wool socks, and the cold white tile
Shower heads and good dry towels
And frying eggs sound like psalms
With bits of salt measured in my palm
It’s all a part of a sacrament
As holy as a day is spent

Holy is the busy street
And cars that boom with passion’s beat
And the check out girl, counting change
And the hands that shook my hands today
And hymns of geese fly overhead
And spread their wings like their parents did
Blessed be the dog that runs in her sleep
To chase some wild and elusive thing

Holy is the familiar room
And quiet moments in the afternoon
And folding sheets like folding hands
To pray as only laundry can
I’m letting go of all my fear
Like autumn leaves made of earth and air
For the summer came and the summer went
As holy as a day is spent

Holy is the place I stand
To give whatever small good I can
And the empty page, and the open book
Redemption everywhere I look
Unknowingly we slow our pace
In the shade of unexpected grace
And with grateful smiles and sad lament
As holy as a day is spent
And morning light sings ‘providence’
As holy as a day is spent

Listen to this beautiful song here.

 

Love Challenge

We just passed the annual day of love. I am someone who is generally turned off by the commercialism surrounding holidays – any holiday, and Valentine’s Day is no different.

However, as a child, my dad nicknamed me “the love bug.” I have always loved love and the idea of love. I was born with a strong “mercy gift” and compassion for others that I did not (still don’t) understand. But when I compare myself to 1 Corinthians 13, I also realize how I fall short of true love for myself, my church, my community and my world.

According to 1 Corinthians 13, Love is patient. I am not. This is one of my most self-recognized “flaws.” Get-er-done already. That’s my motto. I don’t care if it’s a task, an idea, self-improvement or home improvement, just do it already. And the words “waiting” and “patiently” do not co-exist in my vocabulary. Love Challenge: Embrace the waiting in every situation and trust what God is doing.

Love is kind. Ah, well, sometimes I can be kind. Especially if someone is kind first. But Scriptures tell us it is easy for people to be kind to others who are kind first, true love is being kind even and especially when others are not. Love Challenge: “Be kinder than necessary for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

It does not envy. Hmmm… I don’t envy many material things, but guess what? I envy others’ gifts. I would love to be as even-keel and rock-steady as my husband. I wish I were as gifted with words, math skills, organizational skills… and on and on and on as my friends. This envy has at times prevented me from developing and stepping out in my own gifts because I measure my inadequacies and insecurities against other people’s gifts. Which leads right in to the next two… But first, Love Challenge: Recognize my own strengths and trust that I am who I am for a reason. Rely on God to help me use those strengths for the building of his kingdom and to accept his grace in my weaknesses.

Love does not boast, it is not proud. Ahem… (a little throat-clearing here.) Sometimes what seems like humility and inferiority is, in reality, an ugly form of pride. Yep. I deal with it. Love Challenge: Do not “boast” in or call attention to my insignificance in an effort to have others build me up. Recognize my identity as a child of God and rest in that.

It does not dishonor others. Uh oh. Repeating that embarrassing moment a co-worker shared in confidence, wishing (mentally or by telling others) that “over-spiritual zealot” would stop talking so the service could move along, reliving the past or revisiting moments that are shared only to let others know how I was wronged. Love Challenge: Choose to see every person as God sees them and then to love them as he does.

Love is not self-seeking. Sometimes doing good things can become more for the praise of others than because we should. As another portion of this Scripture says, we can give all we have to the poor, we can give our body to be burned at the stake for the sake of what we believe, but if we do not have love, we have nothing. Love Challenge: Don’t glory in the good I have done or will do. Recognize that the good we do often happens in times and ways that others will never know.

It is not easily angered. I’m not necessarily easily angered, but easily frustrated is a whole different story. I think it correlates with my impatience. Love Challenge: When I find myself becoming frustrated, take time to breathe. Take time to understand the source of my frustration or anger. Is the target of my frustration really the source? Is it worth the investment of time and energy it takes to hold on to the anger or frustration? 

It keeps no record of wrongs. This is one of the toughest parts of this Scripture for me. I. Keep. A. Checklist! Sometimes I’m not even conscious of this checklist, but I know it is there and I can pull those hurts out of my memory box without digging too deeply. I don’t believe we completely forget the hurts that caused our deepest pain, but I do think we can hold on to it by sharing only to retaliate against the perpetrator(s). This one can be really tricky.  Love Challenge: Burn the checklist. When the reminders come, make a conscious decision to let go… again… and again and again… 

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Sometimes I think our national and local media would do well to remember this one, but it is a good reminder even for myself. Love Challenge: Do not glorify the bad. Rejoice in and promote truth and light. Even the smallest light overcomes darkness. Be that light, carry that Light. 

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. I fall way short on the trusting part of this sentence. I do not always protect those I love from harmful gossip nor do I protect the defenseless and “least of these.” Love Challenge: Trust. Not in others, not in myself, but in God. Protect those who are in my care, whether I know them or not. 

Love never fails. Well, this one I cannot live up to, but by trying to live by the above challenges I pray that I become better at this loving thing.

Read the rest of this Scripture here.

Despite all my shortcomings and failures to live up to this perfect love, I still love love. I still believe that love ultimately wins over hate. I pray that with God’s grace I can live his love in such a way that others want to experience it too.

Anyone else have a love challenge or want to join me in mine?

Experiencing the holy in everyday moments

I was excited about participating in a “NuDunkers On Pneumatology” online discussion this morning. Pneumatology is just a fancy word for the theologies of the Holy Spirit. With a 4-year-old and a 17-month-old at home, I prepared ahead of time to make sure I would have the perfect quiet atmosphere for the discussion of this fascinating topic.

Yeah right!

Instead of reflective and educated ruminations about the Holy Spirit, I was saying things, “Elsie, get Eli’s underwear off your head.” “Eli, don’t sit on top of Elsie and stop pulling the dog’s ears.” This, all while listening as best I can to an honest and through-provoking discussion about the Holy Spirit.

But this is the beauty of my life; holy moments wrapped in the humdrum of the everyday. My life has many seemingly insignificant moments and yet when I pause and pay attention, I hear the whispers of God in it all. And in my personal experience, that is my pneumatology of the Holy Spirit.