Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Echo Effect

An unseasonably warm day in winter is more than enough reason for me to get out the door on a run.  And so, yesterday, I ran the roads through town, basking in the warmth.  I know that every time I run, it changes me by increasing my fitness and revving up my metabolism.  But for a long time, I was not aware that for 24 hours after I stop running, my body reaps the benefits of a run.  My body continues to burn calories and fat at a higher rate for hours afterward, than if I had not exercised.  In a sense, I carry it with me the rest of the day.

When I take the time to read my Bible and pray, I also carry with me the benefits throughout my day.   Every time I read God's Word, He changes me.  His Word goes with me throughout my day -- a residual effect, as it were - that impacts me and everyone around me. 

His Word and His grace have the power to change the world.  If you have seen (or read) Les Miserables, you have witnessed how grace transforms a life and reverberates outward.  The entire movie is a visualization of grace.  The simple and sacrificial act of grace by the priest completely transforms Jean Val Jean and everyone around him for the rest of his life.  He was a changed man.

Every day, look for a pocket of time to read God's Word.  It will reverberate throughout your day, continuing as if in a series of echoes. We are all busy, but I promise that your time in His Word will be returned to you and multiplied.  You are different because you spent time with God.

His Word doesn't just change you for 24 hours.  It will change your life.

...being changed into His likeness
from one degree of glory to another.

                         2 Corinthians 3.18

Friday, January 25, 2013

If You Want Things To Be Different, Something Has To Change

When I lived in Memphis and belonged to the YMCA, at the beginning of every year I often had to wait my turn to use a treadmill.  It appeared that the entire city was motivated to exercise.  All times of the day and evening, the workout room was packed.  But by this time at the end of January, new year resolutions had grown thin and so had the crowd.

Change is difficult to achieve, because it does not arrive by Federal Express on our doorstep. Change is hard work.   Ruts are deep, and the humbling part is knowing that we are the ones who dug these confining trenches.  The longer we remain in our ruts, the deeper we sink into the miry bog.

But as overwhelming as it appears, the way out starts with one tiny step.  And then another.

I have learned to cook over the course of thirty two years of marriage, one recipe at a time, but then it appeared I was stuck with a small repertoire of faithful meals, served a few too many times.  What can I do different?  I have shared a few of my culinary misadventures on this blog.

But this fall, I took one more step, a commitment to trying one new recipe a week.  So far, so good.  Some were definitely "repeatable," and others, well, at least I tried. 

It is so much more fun to cook with our daughters, but since we are separated by distance, I gave each of them the same new cookbook for Christmas, Dinner:  A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach, a compilation of recipes and stories from her blog.  Separated by miles, my daughters and I are all trying new recipes and sharing with each other what worked and what didn't.  It is fun to be working through the same book together.  Our varying learning styles are coming to the surface, and  I am being held accountable to stick to the recipe.  Our youngest daughter said that substituting one ingredient was ok, but more than one changes the result. Ok, I will try to behave.

In the process, I am finding that these little incremental changes -- these deliberate efforts to do something new -- are helping me to incorporate other changes as well in my life.  It is far too easy to get bogged down in a familiar pattern, a schedule, a constant way of doing things.  It limits our vision,  keeps us on the same traffic pattern, ingrains "impossibility" into our mindset, and establishes mediocrity or boredom as a way of life.

Trying something new -- no matter how small -- becomes a catalyst for other things as well.   It enlarges how I think, expands my vision, and nurtures an adventurous spirit in me.

As I made last night's meal, a new recipe from our Christmas book, I questioned the outcome until Bill walked in from work and said, "Wow, something smells really good."  And it was, a great satisfying soup for a cold night in January, quick and easy to make.  Enjoy.

Kale, Sausage and White Bean Stew
adapted from Dinner:  A Love Story

1 chopped onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/4 lbs. Italian chicken or pork sausage,
             casings removed
1 - 32 oz. container chicken broth
1 - 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 - 14 ox. cans cannelloni beans, rinsed and drained
1 large bunch kale, washed, stems removed,
       and chopped into small pieces
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Saute onion in oil until softened, add garlic, salt,
pepper, and pepper flakes.  Add sausage, breaking up
with a fork and browning until cooked through.
Add tomatoes and beans.  Bring to boil. Add kale.
Simmer until wilted, stir in red wine vinegar.  Ready to serve.

(Cannelloni beans are just white kidney beans. 
I substituted fresh spinach for the kale - since I already had
a bag.  Once the sausage was cooked, I drained off
the fat, and then put all of the ingredients into a slow
cooker on high setting, until ready to serve.
I also added 1 tablespoon Mazola chicken bouillon
seasoning to intensify the flavor).
Serve with fresh crunchy bread and fresh fruit.

I am delighted that there are leftovers.

Next week, another step, another recipe.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Even When I Can't See Him

Several weeks ago, I thought that I heard the familiar sound of the large bird that took up residence in the empty field beside our house (see previous posting "That Annoying Bird).  I heard the plaintive cry as I ran on an old railroad bed nearby that had been converted into a running path.  And then, later, the sound rang out from the trees as I ran up the long uphill street towards our house.  "I heard the hawk or falcon again," I announced with excitement as I came in from the cold.  "Not likely this time of year," my husband stated.  "It was probably just a crow."

A few days later while I was running, I approached a section of trail that skirts an industrial building and its adjacent lot of parked utility trucks. From overhead came an enormous bird, its wings spread out, swooping down as if he was a 747 jet coming in for a landing.   He grazed the path without touching the earth and flew up into a large tree nearby.  From my perspective on the ground, I could see him only because I saw where he had gone.  His tawny feathers blended into the bare winter boughs which stood against the sky like crazy lace.   He was camouflaged, but he was there.  I wondered at that moment how many times I had run past him, unaware of his presence, missing the delight of knowing he was there.

Over the course of days and weeks, I have seen him again swooping on the runway, twice soaring over a small local lake, and just the other day near the end of a run, landing resolutely right before me as if we had planned his arrival down to the very second.  I run differently now, aware of my surroundings, looking for him.

I stand in awe of this mighty creature, noble and majestic.

This morning as I read in the Psalms, hoping for the air outside to warm up a bit before I head out to run, I was reminded that I am surrounded by the LORD'S presence.  And even when I cannot see Him,  God is there, watching over and His steadfast love giving me strength.  It is not an illusion nor wishful thinking -- He is there. God changes everything by His Presence.

Keep me as the apple of the eye;
hide me in the shadow of Your wings.

                           Psalm 17.8

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Pour Orange Juice All Over It

In last night's episode of The Biggest Loser, a television show about people trying to lose weight, a group of five contestants were locked in a room for four and a half hours a day with temptation.  They were faced with mounds of candy, desserts, and fatty snacks.  After two weeks of healthy eating and exercise, these temptations appeared even more exaggerated. One said something about it being "my worst nightmare."

As the clock began ticking, and minutes and hours loomed ahead, instead of being lured by the old deceit, "Oh, one bite won't matter," or "Oh, that would taste really good about now," right from the start, one man began moving the trays and bowls and plates out of direct view.  But one woman knew that out of sight might not be good enough.  She walked up to the display and poured orange juice all over the donuts and pizza and chips, the candy and desserts.  All those temptations sat soaking in orange juice, and suddenly, they didn't look so good anymore. 

Two of those five teammates had the audacity to face their temptation and fear.  And it had a positive impact on the rest.

We all struggle with something overwhelming, be it addictions, or fear, or the terrifying grip of peer pressure.  Or to be anxious, angry, harsh or selfish.  You are not alone.  Everyone struggles with something, some more visibly than others.

Pour God's Word over it.  Marinate that temptation or fear in Scripture.  Memorize a passage of the Bible or a series of pertinent Bible verses, and recite His Word out loud.  Write it down.  Carry it with you.  Repeat as necessary.  And God will use the power of His own Word to change you, transform you, enable you to see your situation through different eyes and heart, to see deceit for what it really is, and to grasp His strength, even in the midst of it.  And the wisdom to do something different ("why didn't I think of that before?").

Yes, temptation is often too hard to withstand, but not too hard for Him.

And when I choose to take God's Word for what it is, stand up and walk away from temptation, it provides a path of liberty and strength for others to do the same.

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to Your Word.
...I have laid up Your Word in my heart,
that I might not sin against You.

                             Psalm 119. 9, 11

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.
God is faithful,
    and He will not let you be tempted beyond your strength,
but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape,
that you may be able to endure it.
                             1 Corinthians 10.13

Friday, January 11, 2013

Who Moved?

Long, long ago, when I was a teenager, a guest preacher named Malcolm Cronk stood in the pulpit for a few months while the church searched for a full time pastor.  One Sunday evening, he told the story of a man and his wife who were driving and listening to music on the radio (back in the days when cars had bench seats all the way across and radio was the only source of music).  When one particularly romantic song was played, the wife turned to her husband and said, "Why are we not so close like that anymore?"  Her husband turned and looked at her sitting over by the window and said, "Who moved?"

I realize that everything I do brings me deeper in my relationship with God or inches me a little further away. The relationship is still there, but the closeness suffers.  Reading my Bible, meditating on and memorizing His Word,  praying, connecting with other believers, worshipping God in all I do, going to church, obeying Him -- these are all actions that matter, expressions through which God changes my life.  These things do not save me, they are just a response to Him who does,  because I love God, because I want to be closer in my relationship with Him.

"Why do You stand afar off, O LORD?
Why do you hide Yourself in time of trouble?"
                                    Psalm 10.1

Who moved, but me?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Why We Can't or Don't Keep Resolutions

A stack of magazines has taken over our kitchen table, full of recipes and good intentions left unread and untried.  They had been squirreled away in a cabinet and put aside in a basket in the corner for a time when I would get around to perusing them.  I really meant to read them, but as I pulled them out in an effort to unclutter, I noticed the headline of one magazine, "Eat better in 2011."   Humble pie for me!

My resolutions had dissolved into a stack of not done and untouched, heading for the recycle bin.

There is something about a fresh new year before me that causes me to take stock in how I have spent the past year and what I strive to do in the next twelve months.  "I will do better next year," I promise no one but myself.  For the most part, I have found that I tend to put the "doing" first, when a focus on the "being" holds far more significance.  It is the core of my being that drives the doing.

The reason our resolutions fail -- or why we fail to keep them -- may be their substance.  What are we seeking?    Perfection in the eyes of the world?   Things to check off a list?

When I read the following resolutions, I was both humbled by the shallowness of my own goals and inspired to dig deeper.  The man who wrote them in 1722 - 23, then re-read them weekly for the next 35 years, to remind himself that his relationship with God is what makes the difference in a life.  It is not so much a list of what to do, as a bigger vision of what God sees.  Jonathan Edwards did not consider himself as a theologian, but a simple man seeking God.

May God bless you in the new year as you seek Him.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Why French Women Don't Get Fat

In my 32 years of marriage,  I have attempted to expand my repertoire of recipes by tackling new culinary adventures.  Growing up in a family of "just add water," I had NO idea how to cook when my husband and I were married.    I started with making Bisquick biscuits and have worked my way through slowly from there.

One of my most astonishing surprises in learning to cook has been the richness of French cuisine with its dependence on heavy cream, loads of butter, bacon drippings, and the best bread on the planet.  Oo-la-la.  But when I had the opportunity to visit Paris many years ago, I was shocked by the slimness of French women.  How do they indulge daily in such calorie-laden food and get away with it?

I have found through the years that when you admire something in a person, watch what they do and how they live to discover what is their hidden source of strength.  Yes, French women are thin, and they eat amazing foods, but they do not snack at all, and they eat small portions SLOWLY, savoring every bite.  They do not eat just to fill, but instead they maximize the experience of eating well.  They eat only when they are hungry, and they make it worth eating.

A entire package of Oreos cannot take the place of indulging in a single Pain de Chocolate.

The phrase, "Man does not live by bread alone," appears in Deuteronomy 8.3 and as if to underline its significance, Jesus repeats it word for word (Matthew 4.4.). We use it to emphasize that there are more important things in life than eating.

But the truth in this phrase lies in the second half of the verse: "but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."

No wonder our souls are so hungry.  We stuff ourselves with that which cannot satisfy, and don't understand why we are still empty inside.  And God's Word gathers dust on the the shelf.

Seven years ago, a young boy in my church challenged me and others to join him in reading through the Bible in a year.  One of my daughters encouraged me to do it with her, reading a little bit everyday by everyday.  In the process, God's Word has incrementally changed me.  And to savor the richness, I take a verse from my reading with me through my day by writing it down. (See link on the righthand side of this page for

Join me in reading the Bible through this year.  Four chapters a day, or if you prefer, a bite from each the Old and New Testaments, Psalms and Proverbs (I like the schedule found at  And like French cuisine, just a little everyday fills me with its richness and truth.  And changes my life.