Thursday, September 3, 2015

What I learned in August

We spent the bulk of August at the beach in North Carolina.





Only two weeks, really,
but when you figure that they were the middle two weeks,
and we spent the first week getting ready to go,
and the last week unpacking and recovering,
August was consumed by vacation.

Vacation is good.
We were able to disengage from the normal routine.
Now that our kids are older and don't live at home,
it was an incredible blessing to spend time with them.

I learned how to play some new games --
Dominion and Carcasonne, for instance.
The brain, she can still grind into gear for fun.

I'm not sure whether it counts for learning,
but I saw my first shooting stars
and my first baby sea turtles.

I am becoming sensitive to proper adverb placement,
realizing that misplaced adverbs are epidemic.
I knew not to split an infinitive (although I mess up sometimes),
but I am becoming very particular about how adverbs are placed
within sentences that have compound verbs.  It's tricky.

Clearly, I am loosening up about the use of passive voice.

I learned some things I'm not sure I wanted to know --
and some things I'm sure I didn't want to know --
about how digestive issues are handled during a triathlon,
and lab results that don't bode well for the progression of my lupus,
and unsavory details about bad life decisions someone is making.

It is an exercise of faith each day
to trust that God is working to shape me
through every experience He brings my way.

Feeling crushed is good for me;
it turns my eyes to God for help.

Experiencing beauty is also good for me;
it fills my heart with gratitude and hope.

I am learning a great deal about hope.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
    but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.
~Proverbs 13:12, NLT

And we believers also groan, even though 
we have the Holy Spirit within us  
as a foretaste of future glory, 
for we long for our bodies 
to be released from sin and suffering. 
We, too, wait with eager hope 
for the day when God will give us 
our full rights as his adopted children,  
including the new bodies he has promised us.
~Romans 8:23, NLT

I pray that God, the source of hope, 
will fill you completely with joy and peace 
because you trust in him. 
Then you will overflow with confident hope 
through the power of the Holy Spirit.
~Romans 15:13, NLT 

 


Monday, August 31, 2015

Spider

Usually I am not afraid of spiders.

My kids will tell you.  I am a beast at killing spiders, squashing them with a tissue and tossing them into the toilet before flushing them away forever and all eternity.  I have saved screaming children from spiders on many occasions in the past.

However.

This morning I'd gotten up for a brief spell, and was just climbing back into bed to read my Bible for a bit.  I placed my cushioned backrest in position and climbed into bed, pulling my covers up over my lap.

A flash of motion caught the corner of my eye, and I looked down.  On the top edge of my covers, right where the sheet turns neatly back over the upper edge of my blanket, right where these covers nestled against my body, scuttled a massive, hairy, gray-scaled spider.

I bellowed a primordial scream of death.  Usually spiders do not cause me such alarm, but the combined size and proximity of this creature made it something quite fearsome.

As I screamed, the spider twitched and darted creepily into a crevice within my covers, where I couldn't see him.  So, obviously, I continued to scream, twisting, thrashing and trying to get away while simultaneously grabbing for a tissue from my nightstand.

The spider emerged from under my covers and ran down the side of my bed to the floor.  I was experiencing a strange physical sensation of paralysis, combined with panic and the utmost need to know exactly where the thing was at all times.

When Shawn arrived, I was leaning out over the spider from my bed, tissue in extended hand, as the screams continued to emanate from my throat.

"What is the matter?" he asked.

"Huge spider," I gasped, gesturing.  He saw it--it was far too huge to miss--gulped back an exclamation, snatched the tissue from my fingers and obliterated it.  Yes, he saved me.

But then he gave me my coffee, a large mug.  Caffeine was not, perhaps, the best thing to follow up an experience like that.

It took me literally four hours to stop trembling.

God at work VII (and gluten-free chocolate cake)

I am thankful to God because we had a good weekend.

Jon's birthday was Thursday, and we took him out for dinner.   But on Saturday, we had a little birthday barbecue with some friends from church.  We ate hamburgers, hot dogs, brats, potato salad, coleslaw, beans, fresh veggies, guacamole, and gluten-free chocolate cake.  Jon said he wanted me to be able to share in the cake; I thought that was terrifically sweet of him.  More about the cake (and the recipe) in a minute.  We also played Dominion, a new game we learned while we were on vacation at the beach.

On Sunday, Jon came home with us after church and we feasted on the leftovers from the barbecue.  Then we went shopping for birthday shoes for him.  It was a very nice day.

And... about the cake.  Even though Jon had expressed that he wanted me to be able to eat it too, I was planning on going easy and fixing him a boxed mix.  I was sure I had one.  However, in the end, the only boxed mix in the pantry was Red Velvet, and although Red Velvet is okay, it isn't anyone's favorite, and I didn't want to serve it on his birthday. 

I decided that it would be less work to make a scratch cake than to go to the store again.

This may or may not have been true.

But.

As I thought through my scratch options, I realized that if I mixed up a cake from scratch, I might as well go for gluten-free.  Then I remembered that I had a bunch of almond flour that I'd ordered through Amazon and hadn't yet opened.

I looked at "gluten-free chocolate cakes" online, but they all looked flat and dense, like brownies.  If I wanted birthday brownies, I'd make birthday brownies.  I wanted birthday cake.  So I made up my own recipe, prayed, went forth...

And it was really good!  God blessed my efforts, my weekend, and my birthday boy.

The cake.  Frosted.

The cake.  Decorated.

The cake.  Cut.  
Note the traditional, cakey texture.  
It was fluffy and moist, lightly nutty because of the almond flour, 
absolutely delectable to me, as I have not had real cake since forever.

I warned our guests with a disclaimer that this cake was gluten-free.  They loved the cake and said they never would have known it was gluten-free if I had not told them.  They also commented that they enjoyed the almond kick from the almond flour.

Gluten-free Chocolate Cake

1 cup almond flour
1 cup oat flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 and 1/3 cups butter, softened
1 cup sugar (use organic if you think it matters)
4 eggs
1 Tbsp vanilla
2/3 cup unsweetened baking cocoa powder
1 and 2/3 cups plain kefir (or buttermilk) 

Prepare two 9 inch layer pans. (I line the bottoms with waxed paper or parchment paper, and grease the sides.)  Prepare an extra (smaller) pan, because you will have some extra batter.  Preheat oven to 350.

Measure the almond flour, oat flour, coconut flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a large mixing bowl.  Whisk together thoroughly.  (You really should sift these together, but there are lumps too big to pass through a sifter in some of these flours, so if you sift, plan to tip the lumpy parts out of the top of the sifter and mix back in after you've incorporated the salt and leavening.)

Beat the softened butter with your electric mixer.  Beat in the sugar, and the eggs, one by one.  Add the vanilla and cocoa powder.  Beat well.

Beat the flours into the butter-egg mixture, a little at a time.  When you are adding the last portion of the flour mixture, also pour in the kefir.  Mix thoroughly and portion into pans.  This batter will not rise as much as regular cake batter, but it will rise.  Fill pans about 3/4 full and put the extra batter into the extra pan you have prepared.

Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.  Remove the small cake, and bake the two layers for 5-10 more minutes.

I was glad for the extra little cake, because it allowed me to taste-test my product before serving it to my guests.  Shawn and I ate it right down.

(Also, in case you are interested...)

Chocolate Frosting

    1/2 cup butter
    2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
    3 cups powdered sugar
    1/3 Tbsp milk
    2 tsp vanilla extract

Melt butter in microwave in a glass measuring cup.  Stir in cocoa.  Add powdered sugar to cocoa mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, stirring thoroughly after each addition, until you have added 1&1/2 cups.  Turn into mixing bowl and use an electric mixer to beat in the rest of the sugar, the vanilla, and the milk.





Friday, August 28, 2015

God at Work VI

I wasn't going to write today, but then something happened.  Something small, but crazy.

I'd been thinking I should read Psalm 46 today.

I've been reading in the Psalms, in the forties.  Yesterday morning I read Psalm 44 to Shawn before he went to work.  I got to the end, and we both sat in silence for a moment until he said, "Well.  That wasn't very encouraging."

So today I started to read Psalm 45, but I got distracted (this happens a lot).  Then I found myself showering (auto-pilot is a very strange thing), and under the streams of warm water, I thought about the way my world is rocking right now, the mountains quaking and falling into the sea, and I thought of Psalm 46, and I wanted to read it.

However, after getting dried and dressed, I got distracted again, and found myself checking emails and blog stats, not reading my Bible.  Meandering, I read yesterday's post and clicked on the link at the end of it.  Still meandering, I started reading old posts from my Seeking Wisdom, Craving Grace blog, and suddenly, there I was, staring at Psalm 46.  (Click that link there, if you want to see what I found.)

God is so good.  How can He be so good?  He led me to the scripture He wanted me to read, the exact scripture He had put on my heart, led me there through my own blogs (can you believe it?), by using my own lack of self-discipline and inability to avoid distraction.  God blessed me, even in my weakness and shortfalling.  I cannot grasp this.

In Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis wrote about how the Pevensie children went back to Narnia after only a little time in our world, to find that hundreds of years had passed in Narnia.  As they walked around and tried to get their bearings, they figured out that they were at the ruins of the castle where they had ruled as kings and queens epochs ago.  One of their discoveries was an apple orchard, where they were able to eat and nourish themselves on fruit from mature trees.  It was while they were munching the apples that they began to connect the dots: they remembered planting the apple trees as saplings.  Of course, they had no idea at that time that one day they would be lost and starving, and they would find this fruit and be comforted, fed, and reorientated.

God has used things from my past to do this for me more than once.

Years ago, I had the blessing of teaching a Bible study in a large church.  There came a point when I had to step away from this ministry (the joy of my heart, it was so hard to leave).  The times that followed were tumultuous, and I experienced confusion, sadness and loneliness.  But then I happened to find a new Bible study in a different church, led by a woman who used to come to the Bible study I once taught.  A tremendously kind and humble person, she gave me much more credit than I deserved for guiding her to a place where she felt equipped to minister to others.  Her Bible study blessed me in ways I cannot explain.  It seemed that God took seeds I had tried to plant, and He grew them into something that could help and nourish me when I was in need.

I had the same feeling today as I read Psalm 46 on my long-neglected "other" blog.  God gave me words then that ministered to my heart today.

God is always at work.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

God at work V

Since we arrived home from our vacation, I have been under the weather.

Stupid lupus.

One of my biggest struggles is to eat.  When I feel this way, food is vile to me.  Even my old stand-byes, things I can almost always eat--like bananas and kefir--trigger gagging and revulsion.  Anything with lettuce is repugnant, anything sweet turns my stomach.  Milky things, eggs, cheese, the thought of putting any of it into my mouth gives me an unnatural urge to spit.  Being gluten-free becomes a curse, as the only thing I can imagine eating is toast.  Real toast.  Whole wheat toast.

My deepest apologies.  I do not say all of this to complain.  I'm trying to develop the proper backdrop for today's story.

After three days of being able to eat very little, crowned by intense nausea yesterday, I am hungry.  Yes, I am very hungry.  My stomach gnaws and gurgles.  But the worse I feel, the less able I am to prepare something I could actually eat.  Then, the less I eat, the weaker I become, and the worse I feel.  It's a bad spiral downward.

Today I felt less sick, though.  So I decided to make gluten-free muffins.  I prayed for the strength to complete the task.

It had been awhile since I made muffins.  I finally located the cupcake liners for the muffin tin, and I was powerfully short on them.  However, as I began carefully to separate them, rubbing hard between my fingers to wrest them apart, I found that there were exactly 12.  I found exactly 6 leftover paper liners, and exactly six leftover foil liners.  As I worked through the last of the foil liners, teasing one from the next, I kept thinking I'd reached the last liner, but they kept coming, like the fishes and the loaves, until my muffin tin was filled, and then they were gone.

This seems like a provision from the Lord to me, an encouragement when I was weak, a help. It was one thing that didn't go wrong, but worked out perfectly, despite my utter lack of planning.  Such things do not happen naturally, not in my life, anyway.  God is at work, and little miracles add up to big blessings.



So for a late breakfast that was more like lunch, I ate the leftover half of my grilled chicken breast that I was unable to finish last night, two muffins with butter, and a bowl of applesauce.  Today will be a better day, and that's a good thing, because it's Jon's 20th birthday.








Also, an observation:

Most people on this earth tend to one of two types.  There are those who suffer constant guilt and feel that everything is their fault.  And then there are those who accept no blame for anything and believe that nothing is their fault.  May the Lord give us wisdom to see what we are responsible for, and to see what we are not responsible for.  May He give us peace about the things that are not ours to bear, and may He give us grace to make right the things that are because of us.  Wisdom and grace, that is what we need.  I once tried to start a blog about that.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

God at work IV

I was feeling bad about the last post being off-topic for the month, but then I realized that it wasn't.

God is at work when He brings blue-sky blessings, and He is at work when He tests our faith strength with trials.

God is at work today, whether or not I can see Him.  He is invisible, and sometimes His activity is shrouded, but it always comes to light, for my good and for His glory.

A few years ago, my son David was sick.  I believe that he had a fungal infection in his lungs, although we'll never know for sure.  His saxophone reeds turned black when he played on them.  Every time he got a hint of a cold, it immediately brought on a serious fever, and within 24 hours he would be coughing blood.  Doctors kept prescribing antibiotics, which are not helpful when you are dealing with a fungus; in fact, they are counter-productive.  David had a few allergic reactions to these antibiotics.  It was a time of great stress.

I prayed and prayed and prayed.  God didn't seem to answer.  At one point, we even asked people to come over and anoint David with oil and pray for him.  Again, nothing happened right away.

This week I was reading in my Bible.  I was looking for a specific verse, to encourage me in my present valley.  I found it in the end of James 5:16 --

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. (NLT)

I have to remind myself continually that I am righteous, not because I am perfect, for I know that I am far from perfect and have sinned many, many times.  I am righteous because I have been bought with the blood of Christ, washed clean, forgiven, and justified before God because of the righteousness of Christ that has been credited to me by grace, through faith.  Because of what Jesus has done for me, I can claim this promise, that my prayers have great power and will produce wonderful results.  Because of Jesus.

Finding and meditating on this verse was a great comfort to me, first because of what it means, and second because of the context where I found it.

Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.  (James 5:14, NLT)
Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.  (James 5:15, NLT)

Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.  (James 5:16, NLT)

In reading the surrounding verses, I was reminded of when we called for people to come and pray for David and anoint him with oil.  David did not receive immediate healing on that afternoon of prayer. In fact, it took nearly two more years, but ultimately he has been healed amazingly.  During the time when Shawn and I were on our trip to Utah for our 25th anniversary in June 2012, David ran out of his asthma medicine.  He called us in Utah, and I started to scramble to figure out how to call the pharmacy back home and get a refill for him.  However, he stopped me.  "I feel good, Mom," he said.  "I think I'll be fine if I wait until you get home."  By the time we got home, David was feeling great, the best he had felt in years, he said.  He wanted to stay off the medicine.  His health has been so different ever since.  Last year, he even ran a half marathon, with no medicine at all.

God jogged these memories in me, I'm sure, to strengthen my faith and to remind me that He is in control, working on His perfect time table, attentive and able and always planning for our good and His glory.  He worked then, and He is working now.

I will end with some completely unrelated vacation pictures.  It was a joyful time, and it is good to focus on joy.


A funny picture of Shawn and Jon at the beach.

Shanny and Jon in the sunset.

People I love in front of Carolina blue sky.

Caswell Beach, on a day I got them out for a shark-free excursion.

Oak Island lighthouse at Caswell Beach.

A tug boat in Cape Fear.

On the ferry to the Fort Fisher Aquarium (another shark-free excursion day).

A seaworthy crow near a rope.

Silly seagulls.

A pelican on a post.  I cannot explain my delight over pelicans.

Me!  At the aquarium, looking at an eerie tank of jellyfish.


One of our little base camps at the beach.

The view from under our umbrella.

The little red shovel Shawn used to dig our umbrella in, each time he set it up.












 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Crying

Sometimes you cry.

Sometimes all the blessings in the world can't knock out the dread despair you feel over a certain issue, an issue of love and choices and loss and waste and rebellion and distance and love.

And then there are times when you cry.

Even though you love God.

You know He is in control, somehow, although it doesn't feel as though He is.

You want Him to manage things, to take things in hand, into His all powerful hands, and manage them and fix them and put them right.  Right now.

But He doesn't.  Not right now.

He doesn't need your ideas for a solution, either.

His ideas are better than yours.

So is His timing, although you'd like to tell Him otherwise, but you would be wrong.

Still, it hurts to wait and watch.  It hurts a great deal, and the pain provokes tears.

Usually you hold the tears back, for the most part, blinking, blowing your nose, changing the subject, breathing deep.

Sometimes you cry messy, sobbing loud, gripping your sides and feeling your belly heave against your forearms.  This is unpleasant, and invariably you come to a point where you hear yourself, your cracked throat making these wretched, embarrassing sounds of grief, and you feel stupid and dramatic.  A voice in your head says, "This is ridiculous.  Knock it off."

At that point, you really would be awkwardly self-indulgent to continue, so you stop, wash your face, get back to something that you can't really focus on.  Trying to focus is better than drowning in that other grief over there.

I have heard people say, "Worry and fear are the opposite of trust."  I suppose on the surface that's right, but I still worry about pain, even as I trust the Lord to do what is right and best.  I think it's like going in for surgery at the hospital.  I trust the doctor.  I have to trust the doctor.  I go for the surgery, submit to the surgical prep, allow them to stick the needle for the anesthesia drip into my arm.  I let them do the surgery, because I trust that they will do a good job, and I trust that in the end, I will be better off than I was before.  I understand the necessity of the process.  However, I still worry.  I still have fear.  I still dread waking up in pain and going through the recovery.

I also worry as God leads me through the valley.  I do not worry that He will make a mistake.  I worry that the process will hurt.

I don't like pain.

Pain makes me cry.