Sunday, November 30, 2008

Monkey Bread

We are getting our holiday baking underway here, and I thought I'd share a favorite recipe. You may very well have it already, but if you don't you should. We just made it for Thanksgiving morning, but it makes any day feel like a holiday!


Monkey Bread

2 cans biscuit dough (20 biscuits)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 sticks butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350º (my pan is dark, so I set mine at 325º).  Spray a bundt pan with cooking spray.

Melt butter with 1/2 c. sugar and 1/2 c. brown sugar. Set aside.

Put the 1/3 c. granulated sugar and 1/3 c. brown sugar along with the cinnamon into a plastic bag.

Cut biscuits into quarters and roll into balls. (Or not.  It really isn't necessary.  I cut them into quarters with a kitchen scissors.) Add a few at a time to the bag of sugar mixture and shake until pieces are well coated.

Drizzle a little of the butter mixture into the bottom of the pan. Place half of the coated biscuits on top. Pour half of the butter/sugar mixture on top. Sprinkle with half of nuts, if desired. Repeat with the next layer of biscuits, butter mixture and nuts.

Bake about 35 minutes, until golden brown. Check at about 30 to make sure it's not getting too dark. After removing from the oven, let stand a few minutes and then invert onto a large plate. Enjoy!

Notes to self:
1. It would probably be fluffier and prettier if the kids didn't roll the dough balls to death.
2. Pretty is over rated.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

God's Kindness: A week of thankfulness (finale)

(Part three here)

The song that started this whole thing about a week ago had me singing, "It's your kindness that leads us to repentance, oh Lord." So I went to look up this encouraging verse by checking kindness in my concordance. There it was, Romans 2:4. A verse of encouragement? Not exactly! Here's the whole thing:

"Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?"

The Roman Christians had lost sight of God's kindness and were marked by a hypocritical and judgmental nature. Paul was telling them to stop it!

The last couple of years have found me checking my own theology for legalistic baggage. This commentary on this passage by Chuck Swindoll really struck a chord with me:

"One of the worst forms of pride among Christians is a militant, harsh, abrasive attitude that expresses itself in judging others. The most accepting people on earth should be Christians. And the most winsome, magnetic place in the world should be the church. Both can be true if we will stop judging others and start opening doors of Christ-centered giving."

I am thankful that... was so clear to me when Christ poured out His kindness and made himself irresistible to me.

...someone issued me the challenge to commit to a life of following Him.

...God has given me times of rest and blessing.

...God taught me to be fearless by showing me His faithfulness as He allowed my fears to come true. often He has used the church, His body, to wrap His arms around me in my need.

...just when I am getting comfortable, He challenges me to take another step forward to extend His grace to a world full of people who need Him just like I do.

...he continues to stretch my thinking, to show me the vastness of his strength, his greatness, his character.

...he is constantly in the process of transforming me to be more like him.

(NOTE: Just in case you have been curious enough to click through these posts, and find yourself waiting for someone to challenge you to commit to a life of following Christ, consider yourself challenged. You could never make a more profound, life-giving commitment.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

God's Kindness: A week of thankfulness (Part 3)

(Part two here)

"He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." Acts 14:17

Once I discovered that God could give me more courage than I ever imagined having, things started to get better fast. I was a late bloomer, but a little confidence went a long way. I found real friendships, and quit worrying about who I wasn't friends with, and what they thought about me. (Now isn't that a gift you wish you could give your daughter!) My later high school and college years were, simply put, a feast. This was true both in terms of friendships, and of spiritual growth.

Then came graduation. I took a job at a small private school in the town where my boyfriend lived. I made barely enough money to get by, but I was excited to get a new start on my adult life. The real blessing was that I got involved at the church where my boyfriend was the youth leader. I could not imagine the extent to which I would come to rely on my church family.

I lived in that town for two years. Early on my boyfriend broke up with me, and soon after that, moved away. I would jokingly say that he took off and left me with the kids, since I then took over as the youth leader. (That was actually the best part--they were amazing.) In those two years, I lived in five different places--and not because I thrived on change. I had a car that about sucked the life out of me for all of the times it broke down, placed me in harm's way, and cost my last penny to fix. I wrecked my knee when I took the youth group skiing, and ended up having major knee surgery. In the middle of winter. Let me just say for the record that crutches and ice were not made for each other.

In the end, my car died, and for several weeks I ended up depending on my roommate and my friends from church to get me to and from work, and to physical therapy for my knee. Very painful therapy, which in the end was never successful in restoring my range of motion. So I ended up in surgery again, to break up the scar tissue caused by the first surgery and subsequent six weeks in a cast. Did I mention that I was totally dependent on others to get me everywhere I needed to go during these weeks that turned into probably a few months? I hated that.

God knew what I might not have wanted to know at the time. He was teaching me to be fearless. Not that it worked 100%, mind you, but it occurred to me later that, during those two years of barely scraping by, pretty much everything I feared happened. Plus some things that I never thought of fearing. My relationship ended. I ran out of money. I ate food from the food shelf. I lost my source of transportation. I had surgery. Twice. I had to ask for help. LOTS of help. But oh, the Lord came through! Not only did I learn to trust Him, but I also learned why He loves a cheerful giver. It was no fun to be on the receiving end, but it was truly amazing to me the way that my church family reached out in love and kindness to me, OFFERING help so that I wouldn't have to ask.

God knew that I needed to be fearless. Just a few months later I headed to the Philippines for two years, not knowing anyone. They were years of tremendous unrest in that country, but they were years filled with peace in my own life.

I think often about the two years that God spent proving to me that when my fears come to fruition, He is faithful. I never would have asked for a season like that, but I am thankful that rather than always giving us what we ask for, He gives us what He knows we need.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

God's Kindness: A week of thankfulness (Part 2)

How thankful I am that I received that challenge at camp to live for Christ because He died for me. It was so obvious to me. Of course I would make such a commitment. So did several of my friends.

Fast forward a couple of years. Tenth grade. A group of those same friends was at a girl's house one night. I guess I found out about it by calling around to see what was going on. That didn't occur to me until later. After I had been there for awhile. Some people were hanging around in the kitchen. Some downstairs. I was in the kitchen. I have no idea for how long. What I do remember is that I realized the others were taking turns. Hanging out with me. In the kitchen. They were starting to smell funny when they came up. Yeah.

Somehow they knew better. Somehow they knew I would not be going along with this plan. I told them they were crazy. I told them they were about to waste their lives. I went home and told my mom and cried. And started looking for some new friends.

Maybe you have been there. In the kitchen. Or downstairs. Understand this: I wasn't speaking in judgement on them. They all had burdens in their lives like I did. It's just that I loved them. And I knew the peace of letting God carry my burdens. How I wished they did too.

I'm thankful because when I told God I intended to live for Him, I knew that it was for life. It wasn't that I hadn't known and loved and believed in Him before. But somebody took the time to issue the challenge to make a commitment to the relationship. A commitment that would give me the courage as a teenager to walk away from friends who were headed the wrong direction. Had it not been for the commitment, I might have been downstairs. Praise God, I was not.

Jesus said, "Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-29

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

God's Kindness: A week of thankfulness

Ever have a song from who knows when pop into your mind and start living there for awhile? That's what happened to me this week. So much so, that I'm going to turn its message into a series of posts as my Thanksgiving celebration this year.

The song is "Your Kindness" by Leslie Phillips, based on the scripture in Romans 2:4 that says, "God's kindness leads you toward repentance." This is certainly true in my life.

I was a young teenager struggling with the realities of my parents' marriage falling apart. I didn't have an easy time making friends, and I certainly didn't want the friends I did have to have an awkward need to somehow treat me differently because of our family situation. I chose to remain silent about the matter. But somehow I knew that God knew all about it. So I talked to Him, the friend who understood me completely, surrounded me with His compassion, and cared for me as my heavenly Father who would never leave. Ever.

God pursued me with His kindness through those years, and I found Him irresistible.

I was at a Young Life camp during that time where the speaker issued a simple challenge. He said that if we believe that Jesus died for us, it only naturally follows that we would live for Him. The scripture he used has been my life verse ever since:

"For Christ's love compels us,
because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.
And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves
but for him who died for them and was raised again."
2 Corinthians 5:14-15

Every follower of Christ has a story. Mine is so simple. He found me when I was lost. I was, am, and will forever be grateful. I couldn't help but turn in His direction and follow Him.

Here are the lyrics to the song "Your Kindness" by Leslie Phillips:

Waiting for angry words to sear my soul
Knowing I don't deserve another chance
Suddenly the kindest words I've ever heard
Come flooding through my heart

It's your kindness that leads us
To repentance Oh Lord
Knowing that You love us
No matter what we do
Makes us want to love You too

No excuse no one to blame
No where to hide
The eyes of God have found my failures
Found my pain
He understands my weaknesses
And knows my shame
But His heart never leaves me

It's your kindness that leads us
To repentance Oh Lord
Knowing that You love us
No matter what we do
Makes us want to love You too

If You are for us
Who can be against us
You gave us everything
Even Your only Son

It's your kindness that leads us
To repentance Oh Lord
Knowing that You love us
No matter what we do
Makes us want to love You too

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Snippets

Today was a great Sunday.  Everyone brought their Operation Christmas Child boxes to the altar during the service, and we had a prayer of dedication, asking God to bless the recipients in every way.  It was fun seeing the kids take their boxes up.  They have loved this.

The sermon was on the preeminence of God.  We learned that that's a word for making Him the main thing in our lives.  That's just what we've been learning in a Bible study I'm in using the book Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. It's based on the account of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42.  Jesus chides Martha for being worried about so many things, when only one thing is needed.  He's "the thing".  THE thing.  The ONE thing.  So it was good to be asked in a different way today, am I keeping him the main thing in everything?  As a family are we keeping him the main thing? Can we say that everything we do contributes to, rather than detracting from, keeping him the main thing?  It's actually a question Lee and I ask ourselves often, because we find it a struggle.  I believe that most of the things that we do have the potential to honor the Lord, but I'm not sure that all of them do.  Especially if they make us too busy to enjoy time with him.

Yesterday we attended the funeral of a man about my age from our church who had multiple disabilities, both physical and mental.  He had such a sweet spirit and beautiful smile. He used his gifts to serve faithfully as our greeter. The service was packed.  It was a truly beautiful tribute to Mike, and to his impact on his world. It was a humbling reminder to never underestimate the value of a life.

Last Sunday we had the groundbreaking for our new church addition.  This has been a LONG time coming!  God has truly stretched our church's faith in the process.  I think that perhaps in His plan, it has been much more about building our character and focus than it has about erecting a structure.  

As we broke ground, I was reminded of these words from scripture. Although they are a farming and planting reference, they still seem to apply.

"Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord until he comes and showers righteousness on you." Hosea 10:12

Keeping him the main thing...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

No more word verification

OK.  I did it.  After three passionate pleas and like a million amens, I turned off my word verification.  If you don't know what that is, it's that last hoop you used to have to jump through to comment on my blog by typing in whatever cryptic gobbledygook they put there for you to copy.  But no more.

I turned on word verification after I found an extremely profane, computer generated comment on a post.  So now that you know you don't have to do word verification, and you are eager to get commenting on my posts, I hope you'll excuse any inappropriate comments that you get to before I do.

And now for something really random.  A few people have had this challenge on their blogs lately to go to the sixth photo in the sixth folder in your files and tell what you remember about it.  This is really a favorite of mine.  I took it with my brother's camera (hi Dave!) when I was just considering buying my first digital camera.  And I bought one just like his.  Bethany has always loved a playground, and they are still one of my favorite places to take pictures.

Now doesn't she just make you want to leave a comment?  You can. No word verification. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pay it forward (part 2)

I received a gift of help this week from a fellow blogger that I would like to pass along. Susan at Short on Words is a fabulous photographer. While most of the photos she posts are outdoors, she posted some great indoor, low-light photos this week. I have been dreading impact of the colder, darker days, on my photo taking opportunities. When I saw Susan's photos, I asked for some pointers. In case anyone else doesn't like to use flash, here are the tips that she so graciously shared (I elaborated a little after I tried them out):

1. Check your camera's white balance setting, and set it to incandescent or flourescent light (it's a lightbulb icon on my camera) for indoor pictures to get truer colors. (Note the yellow cast on the picture of Ben's Halloween candy. It's so much better in the ones in my mosaic below!)

2. Without flash, photos taken in low light can have a lot of noise or easily be blurred. Changing them to sepia can sharpen and provide much better detail. (Note the two versions of Ben and the presents in the mosaic. This photo is quite fuzzy full-size--the color is nice, but the sepia version looks much clearer.)

3. Pictures with lower resolution often look great if they are smaller. You may not want to print them, but they can look great on your blog or in a small slot in a photo book.

4. Susan's pictures were action shots, so she increased the shutter speed (a.k.a. sensitivity or ISO) to keep them from being too blurry. This results in lower resolution yet, she pointed out, which is why she kept them small and used sepia. (Edited:  Actually, for Susan's accurate explanation of this, check the comments!  I lost some info in my translation--which incidentally happens all too often in my photography as well.  ;-)  )

5. She also recommended that if possible, move the subject close to a window or lighter area.

If you can use these tips, then go try them out, thank Susan, and pay them forward!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Pay it forward

There are many moments in life where we receive a gift--not really a present, not for a special occasion--but a gift that we could never begin to repay. The great thing about gifts like these is, not only are they useful and timely, but the giver expects nothing in return. The best way to show thanks and honor is to pass the gift along.

We are blessed in so many ways. Just the other day, Ben was saying that he is probably one of the luckiest people in the world. (Not his sentiment ALL of the time.) He understands that he has more love and more things than the average person on this planet could ever begin to expect. This is why it's a blessing when we are given a great opportunity to pass our abundance along.

Our church is one of many around the country (and world) that promotes Operation Christmas Child, an effort to send Christmas gifts to impoverished children, along with practical assistance and a message of hope. This year our kids were excited to participate, and to earn money to buy gifts themselves. In fact, they were actually the ones who took the initiative! So Christmas came to our house this week (complete with snow!). The kids went to work making cards, wrapping boxes and packing their treasures.  We are thrilled that they know that God is the giver of all good gifts, and that they can pass along the gift of the good news about Jesus to other kids.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I Accept!

Melissa B. at the Scholastic Scribe is an English teacher.  I love English teachers! (See below.) She has created this little award to draw attention to bloggers who know how to craft their words.  Very cool.  There are so many awesome writers sharing their passion out here.

I would like to thank Marrdy and Michelle, who have both given me this award recently. I'm glad they both won it, because they deserved it! I could only hope to live up to it.  But I will use it as an opportunity to point out a few others who surely do.

The rules are posted here on Michelle's blog, so if you are a winner, click the link to find out what you are supposed to do.  (And I just broke one of them.)  I have my own rule about awards I pass along:  you get to choose whether to play or not...I just want you to know you're appreciated!

Here goes:

Kathy over at Mama's Losin' It probably gets several blog awards every day. She's famous. In her former life, she too was an English teacher. Every week she holds "Writer's Workshop", in which she gives several writing prompts to get readers thinking and writing on their own blogs. Voluntarily! About 50 of them every week! And she writes her own post using one of the prompts each week. SHE  is romancing her students

Stefanie at Because I Pause is a very reflective thinker.  She uses writing creatively to think her way through the joys and challenges of life.  Her writing often helps me process my own thoughts.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, Carrie at The Gremlin Wrangler has a blog that is worth a million.  Her pictures are fabulous, but her writing is also priceless. You must read her Letters From Your Friendly Cashier, posted weekly.  She's a treat.

Courtney at It's How You Live uses writing to challenge herself and others.  She has a great passion for living out her faith and teaching her kids to do the same.

That's four.  Many of my other favorites have already received the award, or have received other awards from me.  Really, everyone who blogs and/or comments deserves an award, because we all use the blogosphere to harness the power of words. Sometimes we are the communicators.  Sometimes the audience.  Sometimes both.  I can't pick just one more, so I congratulate all of you on using your writing to inspire, challenge, encourage and entertain.  I am the better for it!

If you can read this...

...thank a teacher. And while you're at it, I'd like to thank the teachers who taught me to write. There were many of them. But one sticks in my mind.  

Mr. Bird was my English teacher my senior year of high school.  We loved him.  In fact, there were several of us who occasionally went out to breakfast with him. Before school.  Yup, teenagers who got out of bed early to go hang out with a teacher.  He was that cool.

Not only was Mr. Bird cool, he also taught me something that helped launch me into a successful college career:  How to Organize My Thinking on Paper. And when I say successful, I'm thinking of a research paper I wrote for the eloquent and brilliant Dr. Clark.  When he returned it to me, I could hardly believe my eyes.  In his comment he stated (and I quote), "Your writing sparkles with lucidity." Yes, he did!  And when Professor Dean was about to hand back a set of essays, he said, "I want to read a paper to you in which the student took the question seriously and gave well thought-out answers and evidence." As he began to read, I realized that it was my own.  Yes, it was!  Thank you, Mr. Bird. And Dr. Clark and Professor Dean.

After college, I went on to a teaching career of my own.  Since I taught second grade, I taught all subjects.  My favorite?  Writing.  At a workshop about writing instruction, a presenter said something that really resonated with me:  "If your students can't think of anything to write, you haven't romanced them enough." Thank you, Mr. Bird for romancing us--for capturing our imaginations, and giving us opportunities to realize when we wrote we learned, and learned about ourselves.

I still love to write. It's the best way I know of to clarify my own thinking. I am very thankful to have blogging as a forum for my writing. I am humbled by the fact that people read it and are actually kind enough to provide feedback. I can only hope that every once in awhile it sparkles with lucidity.