Morning Meditation: Advent – An Invitation from Me to You

Good Morning Friends!

How are you this Christmas season? Are you rushing? Are you busy? Is there lots to do? Parties, shopping, baking, wrapping, decorating, even volunteering and giving!! Are you excited or waiting for it to be over? Have you thought or fantasized about taking a break from it all?

Advent. I haven’t thought about what it means much in years past but this year my heart is strangely drawn to its meaning & purpose. Advent beckons me to stop, to reflect, to hope, to anticipate. There is a message, a gift, a reason for Advent. There is a purpose in Advent that not only enhances but reveals Christmas. Something about Christmas is lost without Advent. To understand Christmas we need Advent. We need to stop & wait. Waiting. The very antithesis of what modern day Christmasing is all about. But then again, why should we be surprised? Jesus has always been counter cultural.

I invite you to wait with me, I invite you to Advent. Here is a beautiful morning meditation, an excerpt from Slice of Infinity by Margaret Manning, aptly entitled, “Waiting”.

“The season of Advent that precedes Christmas is a season of hope-filled waiting. Advent looks forward in anticipation of Christ’s return, but also remembers all those who awaited his arrival into our world more than two thousand years ago. Advent is a season of stillness and reflection and as such, it is the antithesis of all the busyness and chaos of the Christmas shopping season.

The consumer mentality overwhelms and demands a fever pitch of activity. Sadly, any waiting one might do is more likely waiting for Christmas to be over. And rather than being filled with hope and joy, we wait in a state of anxiety, or cynicism, or harried indifference toward the miracle that is upon us. In all of our busyness, we miss the gift of waiting with hope and expectation.

Yet, the Advent season extends an invitation to do just this: to watch and wait for the coming of the King, to wait for the Christ who comes in new ways into the very messy stuff of our lives—not just one season a year. But we cannot hope to catch a glimpse of him without the hard waiting for him to show up.

Of course, there are those who feel they have been waiting so long for God to show up in the messy details of their lives. Giving up on waiting seems to hold the promise of rest, as the work of waiting is wearisome. Just as there were those in the early days of the Christian movement who began to ask “Where is the promise of his coming?” and those who mocked the divine silence of inactivity, it is not difficult to understand how those who wait for answers—for an end to suffering, for reconciliation, for transformation—are tempted towards cynical despair.

Is there hope in remembering that Advent invites us to wait for the God who shows up? Can encouragement be found in the celebration of Christmas, a celebration proclaiming that God has come and that God will come again in the waiting of today? Is there reason to watch and wait for a God who arrives in ways we could not expect?

Advent invites the world to examine these things with courage. The very act of waiting opens eyes, hands, and hearts to receive this most precious gift.”

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Advent Image copied from: http://pastoralyn.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/advent.jpg

 

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Sans Sucre – Chocolate Cake Revisited

So I keep going back into the fridge with my spoon, opening the container and scooping out more sinlessly decadent chocolate icing and popping it into my cake hole.

Fruity Carob Icing at Computer

 

 

 I think this is a guilty pleasure that most of us can relate to. The tempting siren call from the refrigerator, reminding and beckoning us to indulge – or over indulge if you are of my persuasion – in whatever particular treat sits unfinished within its cool preserving embrace.

The gentle hum of the motor seems to whisper hypnotically, “eat me, eat me, eat me”.

We find ourselves unwittingly before that great stainless steel barrier, our only protection from what lies within and then, our hand reaches out, almost against our will, fingers caressing the cool smooth handle. In that moment any remaining strength drains from our body and we give in to the sweet, smooth richness, licking it off our lips and savoring the lingering flavor. That extra slice of cake or scoop of ice cream that was supposed to be for next weekend or after we got on the treadmill to balance out the calories; that empty space on the fridge shelf is now magnified in the glare of the accusing electric light.

Quickly we shut the door and retreat to the living room only to be caught out when our husband or roommate calls out, “hey, I thought there was a piece of cake in here!”  Oops.

You might note however that at the beginning I took the liberty of describing my icing indulgence as “sinless”. This is because, unlike other times, Paul and I are in the middle of a cleanse of sorts. A whole-foods, all plant-based, low fat, oil-free, sugar and added sweeteners – free cleanse (click here to read about what we ate during week one).  Problem is, I have a BIG sweet tooth so I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to make it through. The whole-foods, plant-based part wasn’t a stretch cause that’s how I usually eat, but cutting out oils and eating low fat (aka no nuts or avocado and “sniff” no chipotle flavored Veganaise!) was going to be a challenge.

Fats are one thing, sugar however has been likened to crack cocaine in terms of addictive properties. In January 2013 I eliminated all processed, refined sugars from my diet and only ate or baked with pure maple syrup, honey or coconut sugar as well as fruits and fruit juices. As one of my friends likes to point out, yes, they are still “sugars” and interact in your body like sugars but when you limit yourself to only these sources of sugars, it is amazing what you cannot eat and even more shocking how many canned or processed foods have one or more forms of sugar listed in their ingredient lists. The result is a significant reduction in one’s consumption of sugar and considering that the average North American will consume the equivalent of an industrialized sized dumpster worth of sugar in a lifetime, that’s definitely a good thing!!

I managed to eat free of processed sugars for a whole year and a half without feeling deprived in the slightest. Sure, I had to make and bring my own desserts with me but thankfully I enjoy being in the kitchen so it wasn’t that much of an adjustment; plus, just like when I switched to a plant-based diet, my new diet forced me to become creative and discover an endless array of wholesome yet delectable desserts. 

In fact, deprivation was not my struggle but rather self-righteous smugness as I sat having my cake and eating it too.

But oh how the mighty are fallen!! In the late spring of 2014 I was visiting the city with my best friend and decided to “treat” myself at restaurants with regular, sugar-laden desserts. Let me tell you, I paid the price for those indulgences, my stomach churning like a washing machine on agitate. But that’s all it took; despite the pain and obvious protests of my body, I had opened the door to the sugar monster and there was no getting her off my couch and out of the house. Most of the time I tried to ignore the sugar monster, walking around it as I went about my day but this monster was more like the angel of light than the red pitch fork devil so eventually I found myself spending a bit more time giving in to the invitation to have just that “one” thing, until eventually it took longer to stretch out my pants before being able to wear them and my favorite jeans got stuffed in the back of my closet because I didn’t feel like wearing them anymore (ok, ok: they were too tight).

I really wanted my old-new friend to leave but I didn’t know how to get Sugar out the door. I knew it would hurt; I would miss Sugar and I wasn’t sure if I liked my old jeans all that much anyway.

I can’t really say where the motivation came from. I really didn’t think I would launch into a cleanse, let alone a sugar-free cleanse right now. We were in the middle of house renos and painting, getting ready to sell our house to move and I was interviewing for a new job, plus all the other regular life stuff that makes being married, working full-time and parenting so busy. But then something just snapped. I packed Sugar’s bags and bid her farewell. It’s crazy and amazing at the same time but I can honestly say that I don’t even miss her; maybe it’s because just over a week later my favorite jeans and I reunited. Sure, I need to wear them with a flowy top to hide what won’t completely fit inside – hahaha – but we are friends again and that feels good.

Meantime, we were invited to a BBQ this weekend and I knew I needed a dessert that would satisfy my sweet tooth when confronted with my old friend Sugar, who was sure to be invited too. It’s times like these that I am really thankful for the internet. I searched “vegan desserts no nuts no oil no sugar” and voila, I found this rich, decadent chocolatey banana cake complete with icing that fit the bill!!  Score one for the whole foods vegan. Poor Sugar; she was sulking in the corner. This recipe also happens to be gluten-free and I am delighted to say that all my omnivore friends, including my seven year old’s non-vegan friend, loved it. In fact, there is not one piece left; just a container of extra icing in the fridge. In fact, I think I will need to publish this now because I think I hear a sweet siren call coming from the fridge and it’s a call I need to answer.

Crazy Fruity Carob Pudding Cake

Fruity Carob Pudding Cake - 2

Note: I didn’t have any rice flour so I substituted oat flour in the cake base (just take whole oats and process in a high powered food processor until they are a fine flour); I substituted buckwheat flour in the icing (you can also easily process buckwheat into a flour in a food processor). I think you could use either of these flours or try another GF flour of your choice in either the cake or icing. I used cocoa powder because that is what I had and I omitted the lemon juice from the icing as I am not a huge fan of how too much lemon juice can potentially negatively flavor foods.

I will definitely be making this again … probably next weekend in fact!! 

If you make this cake, post a picture and let me know how it worked out!!

Happy Baking!!

Fruity Carob Pudding Cake Sliced - 2

PS – I do understand that the majority of calories in a Medjool date comes from sugar, so while it is a whole fruit and comes with other nutritional benefits in Medjool dates that help to balance the sugar content, they should, generally speaking, be eaten in small quantities infrequently if one is trying to be conscious of their sugar intake.

PSS – this cake was not consumed with moderation in mind; it is just too good, so let the consumer be forewarned!!!

 

 

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Eliminate to Add Value: A Plant-Based Cleanse

Since switching to a plant-based vegan diet almost five years ago I have become more conscious about consuming whole-foods. In today’s convenient, fast-food world of “nutrition”, it can be very challenging to consistently eat in a way that is body-friendly, earth-friendly and animal-friendly. To get myself back on track, I have decided to undertake a “cleanse” of sorts and recalibrate my taste buds and cravings toward tasty, satisfying, nutrient-dense foods that I can feel good about.

Since food is such a popular topic and a necessary part of daily life, I thought I would chronicle our journey, for my own notes and for anyone who might be interested in how to undergo such a cleanse while still feeling full, satisfied and not deprived. Just ask my husband, initially a reluctant participant but 3lb lighter a week later, a more amenable companion.

This is a whole-foods, all plant-based, low fat, oil-free, sugar-free, added sweetener-free cleanse. No added oils of any kind, sautéing is done in water or veggie broth, so I have adjusted existing recipes to meet this requirement. Low fat so no nuts, seeds or avocado however ground flax, hemp hearts and chia seeds are included to provide essential omega 3 and 6 fatty acids (ground flax is a regular part of my diet especially because I am in surgically induced menopause and therefore need phytoestrogens); no sugars or sweeteners unrefined or otherwise so no fruit juices, Maple syrup, honey, agave or coconut sugar; whole fruits are ok including a limited amount of whole dates, raisins, dried fruits (make sure there are no added oils or sugars) & figs. Beverages include water, herbal & black teas & black coffee; a limited amount of unsweetened plant-based milks may be included but try for organic with limited ingredients (most plant-based milks have added oils). All vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, beans & legumes, soy, rice, quinoa, oats, whole and ancient grains are included; limit whole grain pasta & sprouted whole grain breads to one or two servings a week; herbs, fresh and dried, as well as spices, sea salt and pepper.

One Day Sample Meals

Breakfast

Whole Grain Cereal Mix with Berries

  • 5 cups of water 1 cup of oats (gluten free if needed)
  • 1/2 cup quinoa flakes
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour or flakes
  • 1/3 cup Red River cereal (or more oats for gluten free)
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup ground flax

Bring the water to a boil, slowly add all cereals except ground flax, stirring continuously while adding. Reduce heat to a simmer while stirring, simmer for about  10 minutes or until thickened and liquid absorbed, making sure to eliminate clumps. Remove from heat and stir in ground flax. Serve hot or cold with a sprinkle of cinnamon and fresh or frozen  berries of your choice. Add a mashed banana at the end of cooking for added sweetness if desired.

whole grain hot cereal mix

Lunch

Arugula Chickpea Fig Salad

This salad has a base of arugula, topped with diced sweet peppers, cucumbers, sweet cherry tomatoes, edammame, a generous helping of warmed chickpeas tossed with onion powder,  garlic powder & black pepper, and finally sweetened with some sliced figs.

Supper

Lentil Marinara Pasta

Similar to Alfaghetti, this thick, satisfying sauce is sure to become a weeknight staple. It comes together quickly with no chopping so it’s perfect for those busy nights where there is lots on the go. It also freezes well.

  • 2 – 796ml jars of tomato basil spaghetti sauce (check for added sugars and/or oils or make your own; I usually like Antonella’s brand but it does have added oil)
  • 1 – 540ml can of lentils, drained and rinsed
  • 1 lb sliced button mushrooms
  • 4 cups fresh baby kale or spinach or a mix of both or equivalent amount frozen

Place all ingredients into large pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes.  Using an immersion blender, process until smooth.  Serve immediately over hot whole wheat spaghetti or noodles of your choice. Top with homemade vegan parmesan cheeze if desired.

Lentil Marinara Spaghetti - Sam

Week One Meals

Breakfasts this week are hot cereals (see whole grain cereal mix above) with fruits or store bought Grape Nuts or Cinnamon Raisin Flax Meal cereal (China Star Study All-Star Collection) with berries or sliced bananas.

Lunches are Arugala Chickpea Fig Salad (see above) and Tomato Tortilla soup (Quick-Fix Vegan) with added kale, minced cauliflower and brown rice.

Suppers are baked lentils with kale served over brown rice and a side of steamed asparagus topped with nutritional yeast; Masala’s Chickpeas (The China Study cookbook) with added kale served over brown rice; Chipotle Corn & Quinoa with Pintos (Quick-Fix Vegan) with added red pepper, spinach & fresh pineapple.

Desserts are banana nice creams with ground flax and a splash of pure vanilla.

Have you ever completed a cleanse? Don’t forget to share your story – we love to hear from you!

Happy Eating!!

 

 

 

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I Am Pro-Choice

Baby Feet Heart

“If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.” George S Patton Jr.

Citizens of Stepford, something strange is happening in our country; where MPs spend their days compromising in order to tow the party line and every Canadian acts like love is just a feeling, devoid of reason or sound wisdom. Where a young person learns that freedom to choose is dictated by the herd. And sees the silence engulf her best friend, her parents, her church and her community, and realizes that any moment, any second – her turn is coming.

We live in a world where it is increasingly dangerous to be truly pro-choice. In an ever shrinking world where we are connected electronically but not relationally, we do not realize that we are no longer choosing. While people have always been influenced by prevailing culture, never before has there been social, cultural, religious and political pressure of such global proportions. We are being molded and influenced in this giant, unprecedented thought experiment every time we click refresh. Everything is instantaneous, there is no time to properly process or filter the barrage of ideas or invitations. Click like. Retweet. Share. Repost. Reason or logic need not prevail in order for us to choose. The incessant stream of popular thought on our unsuspecting psyches is enough to deceive us into thinking that our thoughts are our own.

But what about when we consciously disagree with mainstream society, when we would choose otherwise if we felt free to choose; how many of us actually would say so, publicly. How many of us stay silent. How many of us would be fearful of posting an unpopular statement or article. I am afraid. But then I did it anyway. Last summer after the same sex marriage ruling in the United States I decided to share or like articles that supported the traditional definition of marriage. And I felt very real pressure, if not to conform then at least not to actively or publicly oppose the majority. I admit to not posting anything on this subject since then.

On October 19, 2015, Canadians ushered in a government that is ironically anti-choice about pro-choice. Liberal MPs have no choice but to vote pro-choice. Soon they may also have no choice where physician assisted dying is concerned. I wonder how many are staying silent. I wonder how many are willing to trade someone else’s life in order to keep their career. I wonder how we can trust a person who puts their career ahead of their convictions. And I wonder when the same question will be asked of me. Will I trade my moral convictions and the commands of God in order to be accepted or liked or to keep my job or to avoid prison? A long time ago I did just that. I traded someone else’s life to be accepted. I chose an abortion. It was my right to choose, not because the government said so but because God gave that right to everyone, the right to choose, even if we choose to disobey Him. Today I choose to believe in the sanctity of every life – born, preborn and those who are dying, because I met a Man who traded His life for mine when my life was not worth saving. I owe my life to Jesus and I gladly choose to obey Him. The rulers of His day killed Him because He also did not conform to the popular culture.

Martin Luther King Jr spoke not only into his day but also into the future when he said that “history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period (…) was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” I am pro-choice and I choose life. What do you believe? What will you choose? Will you stand up and be heard or will your silence speak for you?

“If serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve (…) but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15

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(Dis)Qualified

DisQualified

I love listening to sermons on my Smart phone while I am working out or cooking. I really couldn’t tell you how I spent so much time alone in my own head before. The prospect is a bit daunting; after all, my mind could take me anywhere! One of my favorite preachers and I are kindred spirits in this way. He says that he always has something on in the background when he is prepping his sermons because he doesn’t like to be alone with his own thoughts. I think he is half kidding but the other half, the not kidding part, demonstrates how we are used to the distraction of multiple media vehicles. In fact, research tells us that thirty percent of all our media time is spent exposed to more than one medium at a time. I am listening to Chris Tomlin on-line as I type this and am also simultaneously sending and checking my text messages. But I digress (surprising, I know). A few years back while preparing for a sermon, my on-line preacher friend was surprised to hear his name pop up on the show he was listening to. He raced back into the room to catch more of the interview. A well-known minister whose books he had read was being asked what he thought of Steven Furtick. Pastor Steven was elated; this well-known speaker knew who he was!! Clearly, Steven Furtick had arrived and he waited eagerly to hear what this man would say. As he tells it, the minister sighed deeply and visibly slumped in his chair as if just considering Steven Furtick was burdensome. And then he said it: “unqualified”.

Pow.

Can you feel the air being knocked out of your lungs? Unqualified. And this wasn’t just some side conversation that Pastor Steven accidentally overheard in a bathroom stall. This statement was broadcast into the social stratosphere where people connected to other media devices were able to share, tweet, blog, re-post and comment all inside a few minutes, effectively perpetuating the original insult into a ripple of unending electronic slaps in the face.

Unqualified.

How about this: exposed.

Of course, Pastor Steven Furtick wouldn’t still be around preaching today if he hadn’t already understood that God calls those who are unqualified. In fact, that is classic God. He loves to use those who are unqualified. Case in point, the twelve disciples: uneducated, low on the social ladder, lacking in any qualities that would recommend them. In fact, God loves to use those who are unqualified so much that if you are qualified and want to be used by God, it would almost be better if you messed it up somehow (ok, not really, but you get the point). So Pastor Steven took his unqualified self and authored a book by that very name: (Un)Qualified.

Pow.

Take that devil.

God can take the enemy’s worst assault and mock him with it by turning it into the springboard for your success and victory. And that my friends, is pretty awesome. It’s classic God and its classic Hollywood: the underdog emerges victorious to the cheers of the adoring crowd. It whispers to the heart and hope of every repentant sinner: God can use you.

But, what about when you dis-qualify yourself; what do you do with that?

I can get excited about God using me unqualified. I tend to get easily puffed up with false pride so the thought that God’s glory shines brighter through my brokenness is pretty awesome. In that sense I am glad that I was not born wealthier, smarter, or with greater innate talents or abilities because I am always aware of my need of the Father and the more clearly I see that, the greater His majesty is magnified. It’s win-win.

But what about when you do it to yourself; when it’s all on you and there is no fall guy; when you disqualify yourself?

When I mess up again for the gabillionth-trillionth time – even though I know better, even though I know how to avoid the trap but don’t – it’s like running into a brick wall at full speed. It’s not that I expect to be perfect or float through the day on a cloud of unattainable righteousness. I get that we won’t truly be like Him until we are face to Face. I’m ok with what I think of as the “smaller” stuff. To be honest, I kinda feel like just struggling with the smaller stuff is a badge of honor in itself, like some twisted indication that I have arrived at a more mature spiritual level. How’s that for some crazy.

When I first recommitted my life to Jesus I struggled with all the worldly stuff I dragged like a heavy chain into my new life. I remember talking with this one guy that was in the same small group Bible study as me. He was earnestly relating his struggle with not resenting his roommate for using some of his laundry detergent. Seriously. This is what this guy was struggling with. I was torn between letting out a loud snorting guffaw and praying to be like him. I mean really, there I was struggling not to jump into bed with every other guy in our church and this guy was cut up over laundry soap. Let’s just say the irony of that moment was not lost on me even then.

Fast forward a decade and a half and I have matured in the Lord to the place where I feel ready to have my own laundry soap prayer requests. I feel the call to ministry, whatever shape that may take God alone knows but I have had a few opportunities to preach and my heart soars with a loud resounding “yes God, use me!” And then, I disqualify myself. Fall from grace hard and fast. Ain’t no covering it up. I know I will be preaching the next day but there I am red faced, breath curling out my nostrils like a medieval dragon and my child looks at me with eyes like deep pools and says, “if you love me mummy, why are you talking to me like that?” All of a sudden the dragon is a limp, defeated girl, crumpled on the side of the bed. “You’re right baby; mommy isn’t talking to you very nicely.”

Disqualified.

That night I toss and turn, sleep evading me. I’m not sure if it’s entirely related to my epic mommy-fail earlier (it was worse than I made it sound; I cleaned it up for publication purposes!) or partly indigestion but either way it feels like some sort of spiritual torment. I know I should get out of bed and just start calling on the Lord, start worshipping Him because I know that is the quickest way to give the devil a boot in the butt. But I don’t. I know better but I just lie there, tormented, defeated …

Disqualified.

How could I get up and preach the next morning, a failure in my own personal life. Because there is no getting around it. I am who I am, imperfectly in process of becoming. I like that about the Bible actually. Nothing is sugar coated. All the imperfections and ugliness of the human heart are paraded through its pages as the Lord trumpets His victory in the middle of our mess. We see that the Apostle Peter wasn’t just an unqualified fisherman; he also disqualified himself when he denied the Lord three times. King David wasn’t just an unqualified shepherd boy; he was also a disqualified adulterer. Moses wasn’t just an unqualified orator; his temper disqualified him when he struck the rock instead of speaking to it.

Unqualified. Disqualified. Me. You.

Arguably, the subtle difference between these words is negligible. The result is the same. These are apt descriptors for children of God but only when we see their meaning through the eyes of the One who qualifies those whom He calls. “And giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of His holy people in the kingdom of light. For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:12-14)”

So how did I get up and preach the next morning? How will I stand the next time I disqualify myself? How can you keep going when you disqualify yourself? We have a Savior whose sacrifice qualifies Him to qualify us. After all we are not placing our hope in our own righteousness but in the steadfast promises of God. We are not pointing to us but to our Savior and that means He is the only One we need to weigh in the balance. Is He enough? Did He do what He said He did? Can He do what He has promised?

Ask yourself this: Does Christ Qualify?

When we see that Christ qualifies we can say with the Apostle Paul:“I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

 

“But when (Christ) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool. For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First He says:

“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”

Then He adds:

“Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Hebrews 10:12-25, NIV (emphasis mine)

 

 

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Who Does That?

Life is hard at times. Maybe you got a bad grade on a test, maybe the boy you like asked another girl to the prom, maybe a giant zit landed in between your eyebrows and refused to leave. Or maybe you’re all grown up and the test result is cancer, or maybe the boy you married is the man who left you, or maybe the prescription steroid you take for rheumatoid arthritis has made the scale groan beneath you no matter how many times you go to the gym. And you don’t have the energy to do what you used to do, or what you would want to do if you could ever feel like you; the “you” you used to be or thought you were. And you wonder how you will make it or even if you want to because you are not even sure what “it” is. Sometimes you don’t know where you are going anymore or even if you care. You are tired and you need to rest. If you could close your eyes and hibernate like a bear in the woods covered beneath a blanket of snow in a silent wood … well you might just rest enough to try again.

This post is for all those who need to rest.

For those who wonder if God sees you in this season. If you need to feel the hand of God cool on your brow, giving you permission to just stop and rest awhile; because He gives rest to the weary (Isaiah 40:29; Jeremiah 31:25) and hope to the lonely (Psalm 68:5,6). He speaks in the silence and brings calm in the chaos. He can be seen in the tempest and perceived in darkness.

Dear friends, this world will bring sorrow and deep grief. There is no doubt about it and no denying that it will come to each one of us at one time or another. In the midst of the battle, whatever enemy you might be fighting, the Lord prepares a table and invites us to sit and rest, to eat and be filled.

Let me ask you, do you ever invite your friends to dinner, spend all day preparing a feast, then leave before they arrive, stay away while they dine and wait until they take their leave before returning? That would be absurd. God has said He prepares for us a table in the presence of our enemies. (Psalm 23:5) If the Lord prepares a table for us, then He is our Host and therefore present with us as we sit and rest, as we eat and are filled. He is with us in the storm.

But how can this be? When we think of dining with the Lord we imagine heavenly palaces and a supernatural kingdom, far from the grief of this earth. Yet the Bible tells us He prepares a table for us in the midst of our enemies, on the battleground, amongst the blood and carnage and even death. God knows that in this world we will have trouble but He also says that He has overcome the world. (John 16:33) So the Lord invites us to receive from Him in the middle of our battles, in the middle of our grief, in the middle of our heartaches and sickness and loss and fears. When we accept His invitation we will receive whatever it is we need to carry on because we are sitting at the King’s table and everything we need is in abundant supply. (Psalm 23:1)

It can be so difficult to understand, so confusing to our modern minds; why would God ask us to dine with Him in the middle of life’s greatest struggles. Why not take us back to the palace or to a place of victory. Why invite us to stop and eat in a place that feels like defeat. He is the King after all. This is a hard illustration for us today because we see pictures of the British royal family attending gala openings and football matches, not on the front line of battle. In days gone by kings would lead their soldiers into battle, a scene more reminiscent of Lord of the Rings than the House of Windsor. You could trust your king because he went ahead of you and prepared the way; he did not ask of you what he was not prepared to do or give himself. He was the first in battle and willing to lay down his life for those he served.

Can we see Him now, our warrior King; He is the One who goes before us, who fights for us and is with us in the battle wherever we go. (Matthew 28:20) Who fits us with armor and teaches our hands to fight. (Psalm 144:1) Who binds up our wounds and brings healing in His wings. (Psalm 147:3; Malachi 4:2) He is the King of glory and He invites us to dine in the middle of our struggle because He sees our need.

Beloved, if we would stop being amazed and surprised at the struggle, as though something unexpected had over taken us (1 Peter 4:12), then we might stop looking in confusion at the battle around us and see instead the invitation to rest and eat in the middle of it all.

No other king can do this. No other king would have the courage or audacity or foolishness to invite his soldiers to sit and start feasting in the middle of the battle, right there on the battlefield in the midst of the enemy. Who does that??? The King of glory, that’s who!  The King above all kings, the Lord Jehovah!!  For crying out loud, can we see how glorious He is?

He makes a mockery of the enemy by lavishing on us a feast in the midst of their very worst assault. He laughs at their schemes and thwarts their plans. Only the King of kings and Lord of lords can do this.

You can lay it down now friend. You can rest. The King is here and He sees you. He has invited you to come and rest, come and be strengthened, come and be filled. Don’t worry about the battle any longer.  The King is here and He is with us.

Psalm 23-5

 

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Back to the Future

it takes a childhood to raise a childMy son seems to possess a surprising lack of forethought.  The other day for instance he brought home an old printer cartridge in its cardboard box. Apparently he and his buddy had decided they would use it as an airplane engine. Did I mention that what he lacks in forethought he more than amply makes up for in imagination and creativity? So I told him he most certainly could not play with the old printer cartridge and answered his why nots with all sorts of clever unconvincing grown up rationale that made absolutely no impression on a seven year old distracted by thoughts of fighter jets and building his own engine.  While my reasons must have sounded like the wap-wap, wap-wap-wap type of grown up speak heard in a Charlie Brown special, some part of my “no” must have registered because when I did catch him, happily hammering away on that old printer cartridge, he had had the sense to hide it behind the sofa chair.

Of course it was my own fault for not throwing it into recycling right away. What was I thinking?

Clearly I am not thinking at all because this afternoon he and this very same friend (clue number one) were upstairs playing in his bedroom while I was downstairs cooking. There was the usual amount of noise and carry on, some occasional loud thumps and banging but nothing alarming, or so I thought. I did yell up the stairs once, “you’re not doing anything you’re not supposed to, are you” to which I received a very reassuring, “no mummy” so I carried on with my work, content in the happy knowledge that my son was now old enough to play responsibly and unsupervised (clue number two).  It wasn’t until much later when some now forgotten reason took me back again to the bottom of the stairs. This time I noticed a small puddle of water on the bottom step and on the next and then the next.

I mounted the stairs calmly because as a responsible grown adult I was quite unable to fathom why there should be water on the stairs. I was absolutely unprepared for the carnage that met me at the top. The boys had decided to have a water fight in his bedroom with an orange-coloured water pistol and an old travel size Listerine bottle. It looked as though it had rained inside his bedroom. Pictures he had drawn and hung on the wall ran together, water dripped down inside dresser drawers soaking into folded shirts.  The tops of the dressers had also soaked up water and made rough ripples in the faux wood finishing. But the worst of it was that the floor was slick with water and puddles that were causing the hard wood floor to swell and buckle at the joints. Apparently this water fight had been going on for quite some time and the boys had been enjoying sliding across the wet wood floors. In the next room the bath tub was half full of water with a collection of Legos sunk to the bottom of the tub and another collection strewn across the sink and countertop. The bathroom floor was also mildly flooded.

I might have lost my mind but for the fact that I think I was in shock. That and the fact that the Holy Spirit has been doing some pretty heavy duty work in my life.

Whereas before I would have exploded in anger I actually felt surprisingly calm given the magnitude of the mess and damage. Having my son and all the crazy challenges that have come along with some of his behaviors and temperament had unearthed a very angry and controlling spirit hiding inside of me. Before having my son I did not realize that I had a problem with frustration, anger or wanting to control others. It may have creeped to the surface on rare occasions but I had managed to successfully stuff it back down again and cover it up. All seemed well.

So when I had my son and started acting and reacting in these incredibly shameful and hateful ways, I began to wish I had never had a child. I blamed him. He was driving me crazy. He was making me angry. His behavior was the problem. It was his fault that I was feeling like this. Why couldn’t he just listen? In times of great rage I even secretly felt that I hated him.

What kind of a monster was I? I felt so ashamed of myself and afraid of this intense anger that I could not control. I even blamed God. Why would He give me a child like this? God knew I couldn’t do this. Why didn’t He give this child to one of those loving, patient, super parents and give me a placid, compliant child instead.

I was a miserable failure. I loved my son and I believed he was God’s gift to me, a blessing I did not deserve; but he was also a gift I could not handle because I was broken. While I had thought I was a kind, patient and giving person, God saw into my hidden brokenness and in His immense kindness would not leave me that way. For He makes all things new.

Two years ago as our son’s behavior began to spiral out of control my husband and I were stressed and pushed to our limits. At the same time, I was losing my own battle with my temper. I was deeply afraid; of my child and myself. I was desperate for God to give me a breakthrough. I really wanted God to change my child. If my child would only behave then I could behave.

Of course you know where this is going. God did not change my child’s behaviors; in fact his behaviors intensified. I actually believe I had a mild form of PTSD after my son’s first year of school. In my despair however, the Lord did answer me but He went past what I wanted and cut to the real heart of the matter: my heart.

God said, “you were made for this.”

Wait. Excuse me God but what did You say?

How could I – angry, stormy, explosive, controlling, shameful, broken, failing me – be made for this? Then it came to me, a lightbulb moment of revelation. The hateful, frustrated, angry, controlling me was not actually me!

Of course, I was acting and behaving in those ugly ways but that was the broken, sinful version of me, not the me who God had designed me to be. Since Christ now lives in me and the Spirit of the Lord empowers me, I can walk in freedom from the bondage of sin and its behaviors. Freedom from the past and shame, whether that past happened ten years or ten minutes ago. The real me, the real Julie, the one who finds her life in Christ, that me was made for the child I was given and for the life that I am living because God does not make mistakes.

When I realized that truth and started speaking it over and into my life, I began to be set free. No longer did I believe that I would always be defeated in this area and when I realized that, the enemy’s hold on me weakened. I had a hope to cling to and strength to keep going.

When I walked around my son’s room this afternoon, wondering where to begin and just what the consequences should be, I didn’t explode in anger but I did speak some hurtful words. This life with the Lord is a journey of becoming. We are in the midst of becoming who we are called to be and in the becoming we still wrestle with sin and old habits. I have been meditating on a great quote by Amber Mills Lia in When You Need to Fix Your Child’s Behavior: “it takes a childhood to raise a child and a lifetime to grow in Christ”. I am so thankful to know it is supposed to take this long!! I used to wonder in my anger and despair how I or my child would ever become more than the wretched messes we so often seem to be. In this new season however I am learning to speak into our future the life that Christ died for us to have.

Later this afternoon, when the water had all been cleaned up, I knew there was a more important mess I needed to clean. I told my son I had been wrong in some of the things I said to him. I told him instead about who he is in Christ and I spoke life over him and his future. I looked at who God has made him to be and I spoke that vision into his heart. My son wrapped his arms around me and squeezed me so tight that I know he too was experiencing the grace and hope God has for us. There is so much we do not understand and there will be more mistakes and tears along the way but through it all we hear the voice of the Lord, calling us back to our future in Him. And that future is pretty amazing.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 3:12-14 NIV

 

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Curried Chickpea & Veggie Pasta Salad

I’m so excited and I just can’t hide it (yes, I am singing that very catchy 1982 song by the Pointer Sisters and no, I am not ashamed to admit it!). Seriously, how else is a girl supposed to feel when she stumbles across a new fantastic vegan recipe site? The last time I was this excited was when I purchased the Oh She Glows cookbook. I fully admit to having vegan-girl crushes; for a while there all I could talk about was how any recipe by Robin Robertson transformed my kitchen into a plant-based paradise. I was so blissfully happy trying on recipes, like Imelda Marcos with a new pair of shoes (young ‘uns, this is what google is for, type in “Imelda Marcos” and you will learn some history; slightly useless history in the grand scheme of things but still, history). And then, like love affairs are sometimes wont to do, the passion and intensity that marked the beginning of our courtships began to wilt like an extra head of kale forgotten in the back of the crisper, and I began to resent all the time it took to chop, chop, chop and stir, stir, stir just to keep the love alive. Sometimes I just couldn’t take it anymore. I would leave my once beloved recipe books on the empty countertop and sneak out to A&W for a veggie burger and sweet potato fries. I know, I know; the shame of it all has been eating away at me with each salty processed bite but I couldn’t stop!  And then, I met her.  My new vegan girl crush: vegangela.com.  Kinda ironic that she is Canadian (although living in Sydney, Australia – this girl is smart!) and has the same first name as my other Canadian recipe heroine Angela Liddon! Anyway, the best part is I have been inspired to try new recipes again and we have been feasting on her fabulous Coconut Curry Lentil Soup, Vegan Tortilla Pierogies (mmm, vegan sour cream) and Mushroom Soup, all absolutely delicious AND with the ability to make you feel like the new vegan Martha Stewart. I’ve made all those recipes as is but I tweaked her almost raw curried chickpea & veggie “noodle” salad just enough to post my own take on it.  This would be a perfect salad to bring to a summer potluck or pack for a picnic and it does great as make-ahead lunches. I know love can be blind but I promise you this salad is worth it; I ran some over to my neighbor right away and she immediately requested I bring it to her BBQ next week. With either version you can’t go wrong and I will bet you just might find yourself falling in love again.

Happy Cooking!

curried chickpea pasta salad2

Curried Chickpea & Veggie Pasta Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 cup green cabbage, cut into thin strips
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
  • 2 carrots, julienned or cut into thin ribbons with a peeler
  • 1 cup cooked whole wheat or multigrain spaghetti noodles or bowtie pasta
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • ¼ cup cilantro (or mint), chopped (optional)
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pinch of red chili flakes (optional)

Dressing

  • ⅓ cup crunchy or smooth natural peanut or almond butter
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tbsp fresh grated ginger
  • 2-3 tbsp water (as needed)

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, mix all dressing ingredients, adding just enough water to thin it out to a thick dressing consistency.
  2. Pour the dressing over the veggies, pasta and chickpeas; mix until well-coated with the dressing. Season with salt and pepper, and red chili flakes (if using).  Eat immediately or refrigerate until ready to use.

curried chickpea pasta salad

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Bringing Sexy Back

Dear fellow bloggers and readers,

I have been absent from my blog for two months now. I won’t get into the details – unless it turns out they make a great blog post idea! – but I will say to those of you who faithfully blog: good on ya! Working full time and managing children and other commitments makes posting regularly a real challenge.

Though my absence may seem unfruitful, I have had some things simmering on the back burner, ideas that will come to fruition shortly. For now,  I would like to re-introduce myself to you by Bringing Sexy Back, my most recent article for the Spiritual Thoughts Column of the Thompson Citizen.

If you’re reading,  thank you for sticking with me and remember: with Christ the best is always yet to come!

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He Seemed To Know Me

I didn’t know him, the man with the scars but he seemed to know me. I felt uncomfortable under his piercing gaze; he smiled like he knew something I didn’t. He wasn’t mocking or condescending. He wasn’t proud or aggressive but there was something sure and calm in his demeanour that made me stop and look. There was no awkwardness in the way he held my eyes, no break in his steady sure smile though I shifted my eyes and feet, no longer sure of myself. I felt exposed – like in those dreams where you’re naked in public or you’ve been caught in a lie – but I also felt oddly relieved. My arms were aching with the sweet relief of having laid down some heavy weight and my shoulders felt light. There was a strange twisting ache inside my chest. Something about this familiar stranger’s smile made me long for what he invited, like longing for a mother’s soft embrace or the sweetness of a child’s cheek next to yours.

All at once I wanted to run away with – and yet away from – this uncomfortably comfortable stranger. I’d had men undress me with their eyes before, exposing things I had invited in exchange for promises that were left unfulfilled. Yet this man was not like them; though he undressed me with his eyes, it was my spirit not my flesh that he laid bare. Instead of taking by force those adulterated places, he caressed the shattered brokenness of my soul and left me soothed not soiled.

I squirmed uncomfortably. His caressing gaze, so different and so pure, made me feel like an abandoned child now unexpectedly caught up in love’s embrace. I did not know how to accept it, though I longed for it so. Something told me if I stayed I would get used to his gentle touch, that this was true love come at last. I had been ruined and wasted so long ago, given myself to so many cruel lovers that now I could only blink confused in the light. How could my blind eyes trust that what I saw was real? The longer his gaze held mine, the more I wondered if I had sensed his presence before, somewhere in the shadows and memories of my life. I felt that he had been there all along though I had not seen him. My eyes darted away then back again expecting to see him looking away, to see him distracted by another, one more lovely than I yet he didn’t look at anyone but me. 

Suddenly I knew why he looked at me so. I belonged to him. I felt his immense power. He could take me and I would have no choice, he could do with me what he willed. Yet he would not. He wanted me – I could see that now – wanted me more than anything else this side of heaven but he waited, demonstrating his power in stillness. His bridled passion invited release. I could say yes. He wanted me to choose him. He wanted me to come to him, to see him like he saw me, naked, our true selves and me as I was meant to be.

He had always been and always would be whole and wholly good. Others had filled me with lies and their own desperate longings, taking what was left of my hope and leaving me empty and used.

I knew that his love wouldn’t use me up but fill me up.

I wanted to run and give myself to him. But there was a stipulation that made me hesitate. I could not ignore it. If I came to him, I must be his and his alone. I knew I could not give myself anymore to past lovers though their siren calls still beckoned from now distant shores. The memory of these unions lingered, crouching at the door, their haunting melody still stirring twisted desires for their familiar pain. Yet there was no comparison, even blinded my eyes could see the truth in the light of his shadow. I could see the insane irony of looking for love where only death lives. But choosing him meant choosing new life. It meant I needed to be born again and being born again meant choosing each day the joy and pain of living, the pain of being raised from death to life. Each day I needed to choose him, to live the new life and love he offers because the old life and loves can still be resurrected. I can see from his scars that my lover knows how to do more than talk me through it. He will walk me through it because it is the path he has already taken.

He held back, my gentle tender lover, so unlike any other I have ever known.  He let me choose him. And when I came to him, trembling and unsure, the softness of his embrace wrapped me in the fierce assurance of who he is and what he offers. In him there is no hesitation; he is steady and sure.

He seemed to know me and his knowing gave me hope that I could know myself for the very first time. 

in this is love

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If Not Here Then Where?

Christians are really rather bothersome. They are always going on about what God considers to be ok or not ok. Is it ok to watch Fifty Shades of Grey? Is abortion ever acceptable? What about ordaining homosexuals? Those are some pretty hot button issues for Christianity today but what about the “small” stuff? Does God care if I drink alcohol? What about smoking or swearing or white lies? What matters, what doesn’t and why should I care?

After all, I’m saved, aren’t I? The blood of Jesus washed away my sin when I accepted Him as my Saviour. Didn’t He suffer so I wouldn’t have to? Well yes … and no. I don’t have to take the punishment that Jesus bore but I am asked to become like Jesus. So how did Jesus become Jesus? He learned obedience through the things He suffered. (Hebrews 5:8) Jesus submitted His will to that of the Father’s. He sought the Father’s will above His own. He didn’t just magically touch down on earth, suffer beatifically on the cross for a few hours and then return to heaven.

He lived.

Jesus intentionally lived through every experience that made Him the High Priest who sympathizes with all our pains and sorrows. (Hebrews 4:15) Then, He sat down at the right hand of the Father where He now gets to do whatever He wants.

Wait. What? Back up a second. Does Jesus do whatever He wants?

Nope. Scripture is pretty clear that Jesus does not do what He wants; He does what the Father wants. (John 5:19, 8:28, 12:49,50) In heaven, things are as God wills them to be. There’s no debate, no considering someone else’s opinion.

So if Jesus does not do what He wants why would we think we get to do whatever we want?

Sure we may be super confused at times about what it is that God wants us to do but we should be clear on this one point: it really is all about Him and what He wants.

Let’s think about this realistically. If we do not want to submit to God here on earth whatever makes us think we will desire to do so in heaven? Do we really think we can spend our time despising God’s commands here on earth and yet be happy to obey them in heaven? Heaven is not like school where you are expected to behave for a few hours and then the bell rings. Heaven is God’s way twenty-four seven without recess.

If we think that in heaven we will somehow automatically delight to do God’s will maybe we should think again. What about Lucifer? He was the most beautiful and exalted of all the angels. He lived in the presence of the Lord. He saw and experienced God’s majesty on an ongoing basis. Yet he was tempted by pride and fell.

Now I am not trying to get into a theological or Scriptural debate here. I realize we are created different than the angels. As God’s children we are offered grace and redemption and those who love Him will be made like Him. (1 John 3:2) In the meantime maybe submission to God here on earth is preparing us to enjoy the time when we will be fully, completely and forever submitted to our King. If that doesn’t sound like your idea of heaven maybe it’s time to rethink things.

(this article was originally posted in the Spiritual Thoughts column of the Thompson Citizen on Friday March 06, 2015)

His commandment is eternal life

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