Monday, January 26, 2015

Give Thanks = Content

Our pastor has being doing a wonderful series called Change of Heart, examining the conditions of the heart - the hungry heart, lonely heart, prideful heart...
Yesterday he talked about the suffering heart.
There was something about the morning that was different.
There was a thick presence in the air.
Perhaps it was my new fun haircut!  Or perhaps it was the Holy Spirit.
As the music played I found myself fighting back tears - not totally uncommon for me! 
 But this felt different, like a wave was about to crash over me and no matter how fast I tried to turn and run, I would not escape the enveloping water.
"Blessed be your name,
in the land that is plentiful,
where streams of abundance flow,
Blessed be your name."
We began to sing what has already become an "oldie but a goodie,"
and I could hear the roar of that wave getting closer to me.
"Blessed be your name,
when I'm found in the desert place,
though I walk through the wilderness,
Blessed be your name."
"Every blessing you pour out I'll turn back to praise.
When the darkness closes in Lord, still I will say,
Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Blessed be your name."
After reading Ann Voskamp's 1000 Gifts, I've learned to apply this truth in my own life,
whether blessing or darkness, give thanks and bless the Lord.  It truly is one of the great keys to being content (my word for 2015).  Cultivating a grateful heart also grows a content heart.
And as the refrain approached, so did that tidal wave.
"You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be your name."
Not just teary eyes, but the "oh my word, I'm about to shake and perhaps snort with weeping," realization hit me as fast and hard as a crashing wave and there I was, cute new haircut and all, using every dry finger to wipe my eyes as tears fell more quickly than I could catch.  I knew my running mascara had now radically transformed my look!
And in a moment I was right back in that car in front of my doctor's office, almost 4 years and a month ago to the day, tears falling like rain with the realization that the hopes of our 4th baby were gone.  Where there once was a heart beat, there now was none.
As I wept in my car with the news, I racked my brain, trying to find answers and questioning what I had done to make this happen.
I heard God speak the words of this song, truly the words of His own in scripture,
 "I am the giver of life and I give and take away, blessed be My name."
I found great comfort in those words.
I also found a great challenge in them.
Can I bless God when He takes away?
Will my heart choose to give thanks and bless the Lord in my loss?
I was caught totally off-guard at church yesterday as I sobbed.
Just when you think you've moved past a loss, the grief hits you at very
unexpected times, even 4 years later.
But as I cried and sang those words, I found a strength rising up within me as I declared,
"My heart will choose to say, blessed be the name of the Lord."
Yes, I will be content in all things because I am choosing to give thanks and bless the Lord in the good and in the bad.
God's love crashed over me yesterday and I'm so grateful that I could not out-run that wave.
Messy cry and all.
He reminded me that true contentment comes when I choose to have a heart of gratitude
and bless Him at all times.
His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Heart Recipe

 "I have good news and bad news.  Which do you want to hear first?,"
I asked my parents as we arrived to our annual trip to Cambria.
"The good news I guess," my Mom answered.
"I've cracked the code!  I've finally figured out Grandma's cinnamon rolls!"

For as long as I can remember, my grandparents would come visit us from Illinois and my Grandma would bring a large shopping bag filled with small tin foil packages.  Each one contained a single cinnamon roll that she had made.  She would bring these delightful treats hundreds of miles to us and we'd be over the moon about it!  The tiny foil packages would quickly go to the freezer where they'd remain until we took a selected amount out and placed them in a hot oven to warm up.
Grandma Jones' cinnamon rolls are a part of my childhood like roller skating, water skiing and ballet.
As I got older, I begged to learn to make these fantastical buns and finally, with my crimped hair and acid-washed skirt, Grandma Jones and I made her cinnamon rolls in our very own kitchen.
She was rather particular.
I don't think she liked much help in the kitchen and liked to do things herself -
especially her famous cinnamon rolls!
But she let me help a little, grabbing the rolling pin out of my hands from time to time and correcting my mistakes.
Boy I wish I would have paid more attention that day! 
I was probably a junior in high school and had no idea then that those rolls would stump me for years to come!
My Grandma passed away just after I graduated from college.
Years later I decided to try to make Grandma Jones' cinnamon rolls on my own as a surprise for my family.  With her bread recipe I jotted down on some scratch paper, I started out on the all day adventure.
"Place 3/4 of a 5 pound bag of flour in a large bowl.  Heat the milk and let it cool, test the temperature with your elbow..." These mysterious instructions left much room for interpretation!  My first batch was pretty, but lacked flavor.  There were not many specifics on what exactly to put in the rolls.  Cinnamon, sugar and butter obviously, but how much?  So each year I added more ingredients to try to make the flavor match my Grandmothers, and each year mine came up short.
My Grandma never frosted her cinnamon rolls,
so I couldn't mask the mistakes with a layer of sweet, white confection.
I began to write notes on the recipe of what I tried and if it worked or not.  What became my New Years Day tradition of making Grandma's cinnamon rolls, also became the day of trial and error!
This year my children were eager to help in the day long festivities.

 I did a little research of other cinnamon roll recipes to see what I might do differently. 
For the past several years, my focus has been on the filling of the rolls - more butter, more sugar, sprinkle sugar in the pan and on top before baking, more cinnamon, try brown sugar...  They just needed more flavor!

I snapped a quick photo to text my mom, announcing what was filling my day.
Her reply said it all! 
"Remember, Grandma Jones put a bag of sugar on top!!"
In other words:
If we're going to eat these things one more year, please, for heaven's sake, add MORE sugar!!!!
 The dough was mixed and rising for 2 hours.
It looked like a cream colored moon, rising to fill the sky.
My favorite part came - "punch it down."  There's nothing like putting your fist in the center of a heaping mound of soft yeasty dough!
The dough was turned over and let to rise again for 1 1/2 hours.
All was going well.
It was now time to punch it down again and start rolling out the rolls.
Looking at the tempting ball of dough, I pinched a small piece off and put it in my mouth.
The sensation was not what I expected.
I rushed to the recipe.
Had I forgotten the salt?  Had I put in the right amount of sugar?
This dough had no taste!
Making Grandma Jones' cinnamon rolls this year was different.  Over the past year, I have started baking my own bread almost weekly and by now I have the recipe almost memorized.  I know that for 2 large loaves of bread I need 1 Tbsp. of salt and 1/4c. of sugar or honey.  With my Grandma's bread recipe which yields 3-4 loaves of bread there is less than half that amount of salt and sugar! 
AH HA!  I've cracked the code of Grandma's cinnamon rolls!
It's the dough that's the problem, not my lack of cinnamon and sugar in the rolls!
The dough itself lacks flavor!
Remember at the top of this tale I said I have good news and bad news?
Well, you've heard the good news - I figured out why for years my cinnamon rolls don't taste as good as Grandma's!  And now for the bad news -
I figured this out after I made this labor intensive batch!

The parallels to real life are all over this cinnamon roll fiasco!
There is something missing in our life, something just isn't quite right.
We search for answers in our attempt to have the fulfilling life we long for, but adding more things just doesn't seem to make the difference.
Year after year we make new resolutions, try new things, buy new clothes, new cars, change careers... we do everything we can think of to change the flavor of our life, but the problem doesn't lie on the outside. 
More cinnamon and sugar won't change the heart of the cinnamon roll! 
What we need to change is our heart!
A life that is following God's recipe for living is a full, flavorful, delicious life.  When we lay down our own thoughts of what life should be and surrender the recipe we've always used, then God opens our eyes to all sorts of surprises and possibilities we never imagined.
We often place our time and energies in things that won't yield eternal rewards and we keep coming up short, year after year, trying to dress the problem in a different outfit, but the problem still remains.

Until we change our heart recipe, we will continue to lack flavor.
What recipe are you following to live a flavorful life?
So look out.  Next year I'm changing the bread recipe and making the best cinnamon rolls yet!

*all photos on this post were taken by my children!
**my apologies to all the friends I dropped off a hot batch of these tasteless rolls to! Next year will be different - I promise!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Grateful Heart Friday

A few years back I did a little something on my blog called "Grateful Heart Friday."
I still hold to the truth that we're not born with grateful hearts, we need to cultivate them!
Which means we need to practice gratitude everyday until it becomes like breathing - it just happens naturally on it's own without trying!
Last year I did an amazing study with some friends on the beloved book
 "1000 Gifts" by Ann Voskamp. 
It was incredible to say the least. 
Haven't read it?  Do it!
A huge part of being content (*my word for 2015),
 is to recognize and receive the gifts that are all around us, everyday. 
If we are always looking for something other than what we've been give,
we miss out on the gift that is right now.
When I say, "thank you," I am receiving what is being offered in the moment and I am filled.
I am content.
With that, let's stop and say thanks for all the gifts we received this week as
 Grateful Heart Friday commences!
I'm grateful for a dear friend who took my 3 children for the evening so that I could bless another friend with a ride to the airport.  I'm grateful for a soft-start to our homeschool week.  I'm grateful that my children love to learn and are eager to work! (at least this week they were!!)  I'm grateful for Downton Abby starting!!!  I'm also super grateful for American Idol starting!!  It's those simple pleasures!!  I'm grateful for a new lamp.  I'm grateful for an awesome hike in our town with beautiful views and mountains.  I'm grateful for fabulous friends that live across the street.  I'm grateful for a husband that took off work to get our plumbing issues fixed so I didn't have to.  I'm grateful for the Cooking Club.  I'm grateful for fun kiddo activities starting up.  I'm grateful for the start of award season!  I'm grateful for cloudy days and sunny days at the beach.
I'm grateful for hot cocoa with my hubby and his willingness to step out.
I'm grateful for a God who never ceases to extend great gifts to His kids!
What are you grateful for?
Make it known!
"Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done."
Psalm 105:1

Tuesday, January 6, 2015


Just after Christmas a word popped into my head for the New Year. 
 Many years ago I talked to a friend who always adopts a word for the new year - listen, try harder (that's 2 words, I know!), rest... and I thought that was so cool.  But as I sat and tried to think of my word for the new year, I panicked with the pressure of choosing the right word!  So I let go of the whole "word for the new year" thing!  Until a few years back when I was sitting at Westward Beach, partaking in my New Year's tradition of sitting at the beach alone recapping the year that just ended and looking forward, prayerfully, to the one just beginning.  It was that day that God impressed a word upon my heart for that new year, or phrase rather, "Be strong & Courageous."  Little did I know that I was entering the start of a 2 year battle with loss and anxiety.  God knew what He was doing that day - encouraging me to be strong and courageous for what was yet to come!
Since then, I have been grateful that on my traditional New Year's Day at the beach, God has given me a word for the year. 
This year it came early! 
That was the word the came like a lightening bolt, striking my heart.  Content.
Being a former perfectionist, I've been programmed to always be looking for things to be better, stronger, faster, more productive...  Nothing wrong with striving for better things in life, but taken to an extreme, it can kill you!  Also, there can be an undercurrent of discontentment that always drives someone to have a wandering eye or change things and "make them better." Towards the end of 2014 I began to see how discontentment has crept into many areas of my life - family, friends, home d├ęcor, church, me... 
If we are always looking for something other than we've been given,
we miss out on the gift that is right now. 
 I realized that I've been missing out on a lot!
2015 is the year that I'm going to be content. Not because I'm going to suppress any desires I have for something new or different, but because I'm going to trust that God is for me, has my best in mind, and He has given me all I need in this moment.
Psalm 23  "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want."
He is sufficient.  He is all I need and all I want.
Happy 2015!


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