30 July 2012

tithing cumin

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. (Luke 18:10-14)

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. (Matthew 23:23)
cumin seeds
{image credit: cumin seeds by Bill Hails}
Do you tithe cumin? Sometimes I do.

Sometimes I obsess over small acts of righteousness--which, done with such a pompous attitude, are no longer righteous. All to the neglect of justice and mercy and faithfulness. 

Example. Recently I was writing an email to a friend, in order to say that I could not do something which she had asked me to consider. Instead of making this straightforward statement as you might expect, I spent fifteen minutes wondering if I should write "I thought about it and decided that it won't fit my schedule" or "I talked to Jared about it and we decided it won't fit into my schedule."

Why such agonizing over a turn of phrase, Rebekah? This is embarrassing, but . . . I wanted to sound like an awesome wife. Truth be told, I really had mentioned it to Jared. But now I wanted to slyly drop that (rather irrelevant) piece of information into the email, thinking that perhaps it would give me Submissive Wife Points.

(The ridiculousness of this makes laugh even now. Explaining that I asked my husband makes me sound holier? And I need to earn points? Oh dear. . .)

In the end I told my friend that I had thought and decided, without dragging in my consultation with the hubster. Thankfully, I'd realized what I was doing: not only boasting, but boasting in something that isn't particularly praiseworthy in the first place--it's not as if the Bible commands women to consult their husbands on every aspect of their schedule.

I just thought it would sound good. 

In other words, I had gotten hung up on my reputation as a wife and decided that this was an opportune moment to "tithe cumin." Oh, reputation. How stupid it makes us. Meanwhile, I shut my eyes every day to opportunities for real love. 

May I devote myself to mercy and justice rather than to self.

God, be merciful to me, a sinner.

P.S. #1 Would you consider sponsoring a child through Covenant Mercies? They need you. We are so rich here. For us, sponsoring Simon and Tigist has been a tiny way to turn away from ourselves, and towards love that pleases the Lord . . . perhaps it can be the same for you.

P.S. #2 I don't mean that the mere phrase "let me ask my husband about it" is Pharasaical self-advertising. Hey, I say it all the time--if you seriously need to ask him, say so! But in my particular story, I was only going to include that piece of information because I thought it would make me sound better. That's where the problem lay. :)

28 July 2012


Sliced oranges on the black
{image credit: photopotam}
Several weeks ago, I read a post from A Life Unprocessed on eating the peel/skin/rind of fruits and vegetables. Personally, we already eat the skins on peaches, apples, or potatoes--the usual suspects. I never peel eggplant or squash either, and until it broke, I was simply scrubbing my carrots with a bristle brush.

Man, I need to get another brush.

Two things I'd never thought, however, about were kiwis and oranges. I don't like the bitter flavor of their skins alone. But . . . aha . . . what would happen if I threw them into a smoothie?

Unsurprisingly, the Blendtec performed its magic disappearing trick on them, and now I'm sticking unpeeled oranges and kiwis into smoothies all the time. No weird texture! And in a sweet fruit smoothie, I enjoy the tart note lent by the peel.

If you don't fancy eating citrus rind, I would advice slicing it into slim strips and drying it. Just spread it out on a plate for a couple of days until every last bit of moisture is gone. I keep mine in an airtight glass jar. It's great for a homemade "air freshener": throw several cinnamon sticks, a few whole cloves, and some dried orange strips into a small pot of water, bring it to a boil, then reduce it to low and simmer for several hours. Magnifique.

27 July 2012

Weekend linkage

Jared: Do we have any ice cream?
Me: You cannot eat ice cream right now!
Jared: You're disrupting my kingdom.


These French cows have it pretty good.

I think most of those newly trendy state-shaped cutting boards are extremely impractical (like, does anyone who buys them actually use them?), but you have to admit that Pennsylvania is rather . . . rectangular . . . so this could work.

Very funny menu advice from a toddler. "If you get confused about cooking, ask grandma. She has many good recipes including but not limited to chicken nuggets."

26 July 2012

salmon cakes 2.0

{image credit: Oceanlight}
Canned fish is cheaper than fresh. Baking is easier than pan-frying. Short ingredient list is better than long. So altogether, we have here . . . a better salmon cake.

Skipping the coconut flour makes these moister. (Ugh, I do hate that word.) And no need for breadcrumbs as a replacement; since now you are not trying to flip them in hot oil, and are instead baking them in the dry heat of an oven, you don't need that stick-together factor quite as much.

Lots of flavor and little work. Woo! Recommended sides? Fresh green beans, and a potato salad such as this one.

Regarding the photo . . . I know, poor salmon. But smart bear.

Do you have any other suggestions for how to use canned salmon? It's the cheapest way to eat wild fish but not the most glamorous.


Baked Salmon Cakes
(by this time I think I can claim this recipe as my own)

1 1/2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1/3 cup minced onion
1/4 cup minced bell pepper
1 14.5-oz can wild-caught salmon drained*
1 5-oz can albacore tuna, drained
1 to 2 large eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh herbs (parsley and basil are good)
a few grinds of fresh black pepper

1) Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, or grease lightly with olive oil.
2) In small skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add onion and bell pepper; saute for 1 minute, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes or until onion is translucent.
3) Put fish into mixing bowl and break it up with a fork. Add cooked vegetables, the egg (or two if the mixture seems really dry), salt, and seasonings. Stir well.
4) Shape into eight cakes, approximately 3/4 inches thick, and place on prepared sheet. Bake 5 minutes, flip, and bake 5-10 minutes more. Serve with wedges of fresh lemon and/or tzatziki.

*Mackerel is also tasty, but not quite as pretty. Think brown rather than pink.

Linked to Simple Lives Thursday.

25 July 2012

Well Written Wednesdays: I thought you knowed everything

"Father," said Young Jerry, as they walked along: taking care to keep at arm's length and to have the stool well between them: "what's a Resurrection-Man?"

Mr. Cruncher came to a stop on the pavement before he answered, "How should I know?"

"I thought you knowed everything, father," said the artless boy.

"Hem! Well," returned Mr. Cruncher, going on again, and lifting off his hat . . . "he's a tradesman."

"What's his goods, father?" asked the brisk Young Jerry.

"His goods," said Mr. Cruncher, after turning it over in his mind, "is a branch of Scientific goods."

"Persons' bodies, ain't it, father?" asked the lively boy.

"I believe it is something of that sort," said Mr. Cruncher.

"Oh, father I should so like to be a Resurrection-Man when I'm quite growed up!"

-from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens


Parental manipulation 101: faux ignorance and flattery. Young Jerry, he's a sharp one.

(If you don't recall, he just discovered that his father is a resurrection-man and is now gleefully prodding at the paternal conscience.)

24 July 2012

ahoy, discoveries! vol. 7

I found this Bodum tea press at a yardsale this spring. Whether you like loose-leaf or bagged tea, this design simply locks the tea in a waterproof compartment after you've finished brewing, which means that you no longer need to fish it gingerly out of the hot water. Also, glass retains heat better than ceramic, though I do love my Boleslawiec pottery teapot as well.

Ikea aprons rule. I've got four aprons in my pantry but this is the only one big enough to guarantee zero splashes or stains. . . and I'm not even a large person. Maybe I am just abnormally messy? DADDY, NO COMMENTS ON THAT.

Gillette Fusion. Yes. Just as I wear a men's wedding ring (I don't do dainty jewelry, and none of the ladies' options were wide enough to match the band on my engagement ring) I now use men's razors. They work better than wimpy girl blades. Avalon Organics makes a great shaving cream, by the way.

This Microplane zester is my favorite new toy. Garlic and parmesan! Lemon and carrot! Chocolate and more chocolate!

For some reason I never realized that one could take cod liver oil capsules instead of choking down the oil itself. It's a good time.

23 July 2012

obstructed identity [part II]

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies--in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 4:10-11)
Last week I mused on one error we make in self-identification. We often think that we are important because of worldly status. In this, we idolize emptiness and reject God. Only the Lord can offer fulfillment, security, or any of the other things we look for in an identity--nothing else comes close.

{Duccio di Buoninsegna}
This week I want to talk about the second error, which is the one I have noticed in my own life lately: we refuse to embrace our glorious inheritance in Christ and shy away from the good works prepared for us. In other words, we think we are too weak to serve Him . . . and shamefully, we think He is too weak to help us. Fearing failure, we content ourselves with small ambitions instead of boldly asking the Lord for guidance.

If we do this, we are forgetting the promise of God's word. We are His beloved heirs, with the power that raised Christ at work in us! Furthermore, He has given us gifts through the Holy Spirit. He has a purpose for us, and quite often, that purpose will surprise our cynical hearts.

The Lord performs awesome deeds through weak people.
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)
In the past, I have unconsciously fallen prey to the idea that I should not aspire to anything that seems "lofty." Because good Christians are content, right? Yes, but it depends what we mean by contentment. God never condemns ambition per se, only the selfish ambition that seeks to glorify ourselves instead of Him. Paul announces that
In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me . . . thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written: "Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand." (Romans 15:17-21)
That sounds like quite a lofty goal to me . . . and it is an utterly holy one, because Paul's motive is to make much of God.

Not all supposed contentment comes from humility. At times it is actually apathy (fa la la, here is the status quo so I will just meander along comfortably until something else comes up). And I truly believe there exists a godly discontent; it is the stirring of the Lord in our hearts. God knows how easily we slip into coldness toward Him and toward his kingdom. He uses this sort of discontentment, then, to call us further into Himself. He shakes us up and makes us wonder:

Am I serving You with all my heart, Lord? Or am I serving the idol of my own comfort? Could there be more You'd have for me?

And often, He puts something on our heart to do.

When that kind of discontentment arises, we should listen.

When I hesitate to pursue God's unsettling call, just because I assume that it won't work, I dishonor Him. When I stuff my fingers in my ears so I won't have to hear His voice, I dishonor Him. When I stubbornly sit in my rut under the guise of humility, I dishonor Him. I am acting as if God will set me up for failure. If the Lord calls, He equips! No, the results might not look how I envision, but they will definitely be good.

{the one and only Van Gogh}
Tricky to talk about this topic without sounding like a teenage magazine--"Follow your dreams, and you can reach the stars!" That's not even remotely what I mean, though. The point is not that we will all become Martin Luther or Joan of Arc if we just tap into our hidden potential. This is not about searching inside ourselves for an self-serving ambition, or seeking our own fame.

This is about His fame. This is about asking the Lord, What would you have me do? And would you give me faith to do it in confidence, knowing that you can produce fruit in your time?


I guess some concrete illustrations would be helpful. For me, the first way this came up was in fellowship with other Christians. I'd been feeling as if I had nothing to contribute to others, and that when friends opened up about their difficulties--whether in small group or any other context--I should just shut up, because I am not experienced or wise enough to offer anything useful. At times I'd feel a desire to minister to them, but I would hold back in fear. Well, Jared and I are currently taking a course centered on Paul David Tripp's Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands. In this (incredible) book, Tripp states:
God never intended us to simply be the objects of his love. We are also called to be instruments of that love in the lives of others.

When you think of personal growth and change, what comes to your mind? Are you . . . immediately assuming that you need the help of your pastor, an elder, or a professional counselor? This is what our culture assumes is required to bring about change. Clearly, God raises up particular people for formal ministry roles, but the Bible's circle of helpers includes all of God's people. What's more, the Bible's view of personal change is radically different from our culture's. Scripture declares that personal transformation takes place as our hearts are changed by God's grace and our minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit. We don't change anyone; it is the work of the Redeemer. We are simply his instruments.

The problem is that most of us think that God is carrying around a very small toolbox! A successful carpenter uses many tools, each one designed for a particular job. God has a huge toolbox, and his principal tools are his children. Sadly, many people in the church do not see themselves this way. They think of ministry as something for the paid professional . . . Yet their adoption into the family of God was also a call to ministry, a call to ministry, a call to be part of the good work of the kingdom.
That was me exactly. I assumed that God had left me out of His toolbox, but by discounting myself, I was actually discounting the Holy Spirit's ability to work through me. I wasn't being humble. I lacked faith!

The next time I was going into this type of situation, I asked God to give me something to say. I want to help, Lord. Keep me quiet until you give me something to say . . . but oh, would you please use me? And He has. As I have petitioned Him for guidance, I've finally been able to share Scriptures and give counsel. It's an incredible joy. (Please understand that this is in no way a boastful statement--believe me, I can take zero credit for any wise words that exit my mouth. Sometimes I don't even know where they are coming from. Then I remember. "This comes from the Lord who is the Spirit." Wow. Why did I wait so long to ask Him?)

The second example is in this, actually. Writing. Me as a writer, sitting at a keyboard with the ability to produce something worth reading. I've just got to point out what an encouragement my husband has been to me here. He's the dreamer-in-residence, the one with big plans and the guts to follow through, while I'm the nitpicking worrywort. So when I say "Writing is fun," Jared says, "Have you ever thought about a book?" People leave comments on my blog. Jared says, "What about that book?" I feel a pull to use my talents to serve the Lord, but am unsure of where to go. Jared says, "Ahem. Book?"

I scoff, but he keeps suggesting it, and eventually I realize that he's right. Not a book, not right now, but . . . hey. I can put words together! And I have a blog! Perhaps I should view this little website differently. Perhaps I should sit down and write more often. I could even take this gift before the Lord and ask Him to use it!

(Yeah. I'm slow.)

The result of this has been astonishing, to me anyway. As I have tried to write for the Lord, with confidence taken from His promises instead of my own, I have seen Him work. Every time somebody comes up to me and thanks me for writing, it's tempting to be vain about it, but in the end I can only praise God.

I used to think that my blog, and the other ways I exercise the gift of the written word, were self-indulgent hobbies with little impact, so I wouldn't spend a lot of time on them. Now I have faith that writing here (even though it's really small) is a worthwhile ambition, an opportunity for ministry, so I spend real time crafting posts. Basically, my view of myself has changed, and so has my view of the things I do. If I am indeed one of the Lord's own children, with the Holy Spirit dwelling within, why not have ambitions for His glory? William Carey advised others to "Expect great things from God and attempt great things for God." Blogging isn't exactly great, but for me it is a first step of faith. I'm excited to see how God leads me.


In The Westing Game three young people come to the realization that they have been downplaying their own giftings and, indeed, their personhood. Angela Wexler by trying to squeeze herself into her mother's mold, Theo Theodorakis by refusing to make ambitious plans, and Chris Theodorakis through sheer discouragement at his physical handicap. They are all holding back on who they were created to be. Things change, though. When Angela stands up for herself, Theo takes a chance, and Chris receives some rare encouragement, their perspectives alter.  

Maybe things could be different. Maybe I could accomplish something.

Raskin doesn't write from a Biblical perspective, so after these three characters gain new confidence in their giftings, they still end up pursuing human-centric goals. No mention of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever. All the same, their revelations illustrate our tendency to get stuck in the rut of life.

Do you ever feel stuck?

Maybe you are already running full tilt toward His call, and adding another dream would be more self-serving than anything. If so, awesome. Keep running your race! Maybe, though, you are like me. You've got some things on the edge of your mind, wondering if they come from God but too scared to follow up. Let me ask you: are you looking to your own weak self for strength? Or are you looking to the God of all glory, who will complete every good work He begins? He has adopted you and given you a full inheritance in the Kingdom, with a share in His Holy Spirit even now.

You are His cherished child.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. As it is written, "He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever." He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. (2 Corinthians 9:9-10)
 Holy, Holy by Tim Hughes on Grooveshark

P.S. This post on Practical Theology for Women offers more thoughts: "False Humility, Worm Theology, and Self-Esteem." Regarding godly ambition, I've had several people recommend Dave Harvey's book Rescuing Ambition. And if you fall into my camp, you have got to read Jessi Connolly's new e-book, Be Quiet and Say Something. It gave me renewed faith that the Lord positions us to have influence, and that we need to be stewards of our gifts instead of casually tossing them aside.

21 July 2012

listening lately

If you commute to work or school, or if you (like me) tend to clean and cook in giant spurts rather than tiny chunks, that means you've got periods of time during which you can listen.

Cabin Pressure, starring Roger Allam and Benedict Cumberbatch. Thanks to Matthew (who discovered it) and Luke (who loaded twenty episodes onto his mp3 player) we laughed all the way to Maine.

T.H. White's The Once and Future King, narrated by Neville Jason. I had no idea Disney's Sword in the Stone was based on the first book of this series.

Messages from NEXT 2012: I would particularly recommend those given by Kevin DeYoung and Matt Chandler.

And messages from Desiring God 2010: thus far, I've most appreciated Francis Chan's on "The Life of the Mind and the Peril of Pride."

20 July 2012

Weekend linkage

Me: I think it's dumb to be content with mediocre.
Jared: Well, you are not mediocre.
Me: You are not dumb.


Reading on the subway! I loved seeing the variety of books people choose to read, from Nietzche to Dickens to the Talmud.

Cookie Monster improves upon Carly Rae Jepsen (which, admittedly, wasn't a hard job).

The Chap Olympiad, London's Annual Contest of Gentlemanly Prowess. Sports include butler-racing and cucumber sandwich discus; Algernon would approve. (I bookmarked this especially for my brothers, but no one should be deprived of the spectacle of grown men jousting with umbrellas.)

Interesting article on what type of aid is really needed in Africa: why is contraception the priority for certain foundations?

Also concerning children, a fascinating take on New York nannies. There is no way I could devalue the contribution these women make to their charges' lives--and yet at the end of the day, it saddens me to know that the parents are so far removed from their children's daily existence.

The family who didn't know they were poor--what a great story.

19 July 2012

you never know until you try

brown eggs
{image credit: dear new girl}
Our last evening in Maine, we had a lot of random things in the refrigerator, so I decided to dump them into a pan and see what happened. I figured it would probably taste good, and it was better than scrapping the last of the eggs and cheese.

Serendipitously, a breakfast casserole happened. It was basically a square quiche . . . but with a lot of cheese. Plus potatoes, so maybe more like a frittata?

In any case, despite its dubious origins, it was delicious and I'll certainly make it again. :) Here is the recipe.


Simple Breakfast Casserole 

2 tablespoons butter
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1/4 pound spicy sausage
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (I mixed cheddar and mozzarella)
1/4 cup cornstarch
5-6 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 cups diced cooked red potatoes*

1) Preheat oven to 350 and lightly grease a 9x9 baking dish.
2) Melt butter in skillet over medium heat; add bell pepper and saute for one minute. Reduce heat, cover, and cook just until tender.
3) Remove bell pepper from skillet. Increase heat to medium, add sausage, and cook as desired. Mine was in links, so I cooked it first and then sliced it up.
4) Toss cheese with cornstarch in large mixing bowl. Whisk in eggs, then milk, salt, basil, and oregano. Spread potatoes, bell pepper, and sausage evenly in prepared baking dish, then pour egg/cheese mixture on top.
5) Bake in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes.

*I cut up leftover baked potatoes, and I didn't peel them. If you haven't any already cooked, you could pan-fry the potatoes along with the sausage.

Shared on Simple Lives Thursday.

18 July 2012

music for sadness

On Jordan's stormy banks I stand, and cast a weary eye
To Canaan's fair and happy land where my possessions lie.
I am bound for the promised land.

-Samuel Stennett


This is one of my favorite playlists. I originally put it together while struggling with depression in 2011; now it just keep growing, and I play it a lot. Discouragement can ambush me at any time, whether springing from grief, condemnation, or any other weakness. These songs remind me of God's love and sovereignty. They encourage me to bring my heavy heart to Him. He gives comfort and hope!


17 July 2012

how about Hepzibah?

Even though I'm not pregnant yet, we talk about baby names all the time. This may seem obsessive (okay fine, it is) but honestly, we need to get an early start: in two and a half years of this discussion we've only found three or four names we both like.

Sometimes the debate gets a little ridiculous.

Recent email exchange, from an evening when we were both sitting in the living room, supposedly "working" on our laptops:

Me: do you like the name Olympia?
Jared: eehhh...
Me: FINE. How about HEPZIBAH?
Jared: nope
Me FINE. How about JEMIMA?
Jared: nope
Me: FINE. How about LUCINDA?

[I was serious about Olympia, but not the other ones]

16 July 2012

obstructed identity [part I]

{image credit: dry3210}
Turtle had time for one more question.

"Angela, what did you sign on the receipt this time after 'position'?"


-from The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin


I've been reading The Westing Game to Rachel and Mark (it made a great rainy-afternoon occupation in Maine, then passed some time on the long drive back too). This is my second time through the book. While I still enjoy its clever structure and sheer silliness, I am also noticing some of the more serious themes woven into Raskin's murderous hijinks. One such theme locks straight into a current preoccupation of mine: identity.

At the book's opening, each character must sign a receipt asking for their names and positions; they write things like "judge, Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court" and "secretary to the president." By the end, when they are asked to sign again, all those positions have changed. Each character has learnt something about him- or herself and so chooses a new self-descriptor.

Sometimes the positions grow more humble: Grace Wexler poses as an "heiress" the first time round, but realizes the value of hard work and concludes that she is a "restauranteur." Sometimes they become more honest: Grace's husband Jake finally admits to being a "bookie." Two positions, those of Angela Wexler and Chris Theodorakis, are particularly touching. These characters have gained confidence and dignity over the course of the story. Where once Angela penciled in "none," she now writes "person," and where once Chris was labeled a mere "birdwatcher," he can now call himself an "ornithologist."

So, identity. A potent question. Who am I? Who are you?

It seems to me that we can make many mistakes in labeling ourselves, but here are two of the big ones illustrated in The Westing Game.

1) We strive to create an identity in the glitz of this world, which is ultimately worthless, instead of humbly accepting the life given to us by God.


2) We refuse to embrace our glorious inheritance in Christ and shy away from the good works He has prepared for us, contenting ourselves with weak ambitions.

I guess the first error results from too high an opinion of ourselves, and of this mortal world in general. The second results from (hold on to your tulips) too low an opinion of ourselves; I honestly believe that much apparent humility has roots in doubt rather than truth. But put your Calvinist protests away till next week, because this week I'm tackling the first.


We so often strive to create an identity in the glitz of this world, which is ultimately worthless, instead of humbly accepting the life given to us by God.

{image credit: National Geographic}
In Raskin's mystery Grace Wexler, Josie-Jo Ford, and Denton Deere take refuge in identities that are designed to impress society, but prove to be false or unsatisfying. Grace thinks she ought to be a belle, and proceeds to dress, talk, and act as if this were true; she believes that if other people perceive her as a genteel heiress, she will be happy. Wealth and popularity are her idols. Judge Ford, who had an underprivileged childhood, received a private scholarship for her education--but she is a fiercely independent woman who feels guilty about taking someone else's money. To deal with her insecurity, she has built a stern reputation which she can wield against any naysayers. Finally, Deere is a medical intern trying to impress his lukewarm fiancee. Like Grace Wexler, he tries to make sure that everybody around him knows how wonderful he is, and like Judge Ford, he signs his name by piling on as many titles and jargon terms as possible: "D. Denton Deere, intern, St. Joseph's Hospital, Department of Plastic Surgery."

These three characters build artificial identities by consulting what their world values, then trying to achieve those ideals. Money? Check. Strength? Check. Intelligence? Check.

But they're all lying. Yes, Launcelot, the truth will out--Grace doesn't have any money, Judge Ford is a fragile soul, and D. Denton Deere is only a mediocre student. The energy spent on creating and then sustaining their impressive reputations? Wasted.

Outside of The Westing Game, we too commit this error. We build a false identity to sustain our peace of mind, brick by foolish brick, using the world's values as our blueprint. I'm important because I can run a marathon! Because I've risen to the top of the corporate ladder! Because I keep my house perfectly clean, sew my ten children's clothing by hand, and run an artisanal potholder business on the side!

Then life's pressures mount. Our identity trembles. Unthinkable that it should fall--so we scramble to prop it up. "The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply" (Psalm 16:4). More training, longer hours at the office. Exchanging rest and joy for stressful insecurity.
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. (1 John 2:15-16)
Such an edifice cannot stand. We think it raises us up to heaven, but it will tumble and take us with it.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this;
be shocked, be utterly desolate,
declares the Lord,
for my people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living waters,
and hewed out cisterns for themselves,
broken cisterns that can hold no water.
(Jeremiah 2:12-13)

Another thought. I mentioned the world's "worthless glitz" above, but the sad part is, a lot of the blocks we build into our private edifice are actually good things. That means we take God's wonderful gifts and turn them into trash.

Here, I'll tell you just two of my favorite building blocks: being intellectual and being crunchy. Obviously, I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with either, but how I love to use them as my security! That's where the situation gets twisted. Who am I? Oh, let me tell you. I'm a granola-munching smartypants, so don't you mess with me. I know things. I am superior. I am confident. I am somebody. Hear me roar.

All this because I make kefir and like W.B.Yeats . . . and of course, if I somehow besmirch this carefully curated identity by eating Reese's Peanut Butter Cups or making an ignorant remark, woe! It may take days to rebuild.

How do we stop this madness? How do we stop crafting these lofty positions that ultimately betray us? I guess it looks different for everybody, but the way I see it, the remedy is primarily faith in God's promises.

The only reason to abandon our pretentious identities is if God had something greater to offer us--an unshakeable source of confidence, of joy, even of "self-worth."

Unsurprisingly, He does.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. (Ephesians 1:3-10)
There's our confidence. There's our delight. It would be so sad to spend years devoted to an empty edifice, only to discover at the end that you've missed out the real glory: life with Christ, and the enjoyment of His love for all eternity.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Ephesians 3:2-4)
What's granola to that? :)

p.s. I like comments! Tell me what you think.

15 July 2012

free to a good home

Free Stuff!! 3009
{image credit: marty macfly}
We plan to move this fall, so I've gone into full-on cleaning mode. This involves a lot of discarding. I march through the house and pull things off shelves, trying to remember the last time I used each item and whether it's truly essential. If I don't want to pack it up and drag it to a new home, away it goes! Clutter is decimated, and I am happy.

I have few qualms about this process, as I'm not much of a sentimentalist; to me, stuff is just stuff. But my husband is a nostalgic packrat, so sometimes my gleeful cleaning rampages cause distress among the populace. ("Hey! Where's my favorite wooden cutting board?" "Took it to Goodwill." "NOO!")

Even after our yardsale last weekend, quite a few items still sit in no-man's-land. These are the best of the lot; they're great, objectively speaking, but we simply do not have a place for them in our home. They are feeling unloved and rejected, so would you like to take them in?

1) Hamilton Beach blender. The base and lid are pretty beat-up but it works!
2) George Foreman grill with nonstick plates.
3) Copco salad spinner, a gorgeous golden yellow.
4) Farberware 10-inch nonstick skillet with lid, nice high sides.
5) Farberware 3-quart nonstick saucepan with lid.
6) Farberware 5-quart nonstick pot without lid. Rather scratched up on the inside.
7) Black and Decker food chopper.
8) Nordicware Bundt cake pan. It's awesome, but after dropping most grains from my diet, I never use it.
9) Flour sifter from King Arthur Flour. Again, flour doesn't appear much in my kitchen anymore.
10) Wooden mancala game. We have two, so this one has never been used.
11) Pampered Chef garlic press.
12) Pampered Chef copper-plated trivet (similar to this one).
13) The Mennonite Community Cookbook, hardback edition.
14) Two Circleware glass pitchers, one with simple horizontal banding and the other with a windowpane design.
15) Eight red placemats from Target.
16) OXO 8-cup mixing bowl.
17) Three black metal library-style bookends
18) Two 3-ounce plastic containers, the type with locking lids.
19) Seven Corolle dessert plates, white with a deep gold design around the edge.
20) The American Country Inn and Bed & Breakfast Cookbook.

UPDATE: Everything's gone! Thanks for taking it off my hands, friends--I hope you enjoy!

13 July 2012

Weekend linkage

"Stupid post office. Off with its head!"


We got our first substantial crop of green beans out of the garden this week. This simple salad from Smitten Kitchen is perfect for fresh summer beans. (Speaking of the garden, it's growing so abundantly and the plants are so closely spaced that you can hardly see the ground, which means you can hardly see the weeds, which means I don't have to pull them. My evil plan is working.)

Tolkien Legos!

The Higgs-Boson particle explained. I understood it . . . mostly.

No guessing on your SAT.

Two good posts on infertility, from Practical Theology for Women and Naptime Diaries.

Have you ever seen Horrible Histories? So funny. Three of my favorites are the arrival in the British trenches ("I'm guessing you're not looking for the South African division, my friend!"), the medieval paramedics ("hark! it sounds like a proper ambulance") and the English rulers song ("No monarchy until came me: Charles Two, who liked to party / King Jimmy Two was scary, oooh! Then Mary was a smarty").

You've got to be kidding.

Five New Yorkers who wear one color all day, every day.

Phil Vischer on his new project (Jellyfish Studios), moralistic children's media, and following God's lead. "We're not called to be a people of vision, we're called to be a people of revelation. God speaks and we follow. We've completely taken this Disney notion of 'when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true' and melded that with faith and come up with something completely different. There's something wrong in a culture that preaches nothing is more sacred than your dream."

I just discovered that Blogger has instituted threaded comments on all blogs. I mean, this would be even more exciting if I had a lot of comments to thread (COUGH readerswhonevercomment, Iknowwhoyouare COUGH) but all the same . . . cool.

12 July 2012

five spice spinach

{image credit: satakieli}
I've got nothing clever to say here. This is good and you should make it for dinner. Fin.


Five Spice Spinach
(a riff on this creamed spinach recipe)

2 tablespoons butter
1 small yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup whole milk or half-and-half
16 ounces frozen spinach, thawed and drained*
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder (I've been using Frontier)

1) Melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Add onion; saute for a minute, then reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until soft and translucent.
2) Add garlic and cornstarch. Raise heat to medium and cook, stirring briskly, for 30 seconds.
3) Add tomato paste and half of the milk. Whisk well to incorporate, then whisk in remaining milk. Bring to low boil and let cook, stirring often, until thick.
4) Stir in spinach, salt, and five-spice powder; heat through and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve immediately.

*You may of course use fresh spinach; you'd want to steam it first. But I am not exactly sure how much fresh spinach is needed to equal 16 ounces of frozen spinach. A lot, anyway.

Shared at Simple Lives Thursday.

11 July 2012

Well Written Wednesdays: now you hear a million splashes

"Out on the islands that poke their rocky shores above the waters of Penobscot Bay, you can watch the time of the world go by, minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, season to season.

"You can watch a cloud peep over the Camden Hills, thirty miles away across the bay--see it slowly grow and grow as it comes nearer and nearer; see it darken the hills with its shadow; and then, see it darken, one after the other, Islesboro, Western Island, Pond Island, Hog Island, Spectacle Island, Two Bush Island--darken all the islands in between, until you, on your island, are standing in the shadow, watching the rain begin to spill down way across the bay.

"The rain comes closer and closer. Now you hear a million splashes. Now you even see the drops on the water . . . on the age-old rocky point . . . on the bayberry . . . on the grass . . . Now take a breath--it's raining on you!"

-from Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey


{image credit: J Holcomb}
Our vacation to Maine last week was lovely as usual. On the jagged coast, on the moss-carpeted trail, on the shore of Jordan Pond as beavers build a lodge, on the peak of Cadillac Mountain as the sunrise pushes its glow above the horizon--there is always a time of wonder.

This photograph depicts the Winter Harbor lighthouse on the Schoodic Peninsula. The house we rented this year was located close to Schoodic Point, which we all enjoyed very much. Big rocks, and the ability to climb them, tend to be a highlight of our vacations, and it's even better when those rocks are getting smacked by waves at random intervals.

09 July 2012

living in a minor key

{Chi Rho page from the Book of Kells}
"He had delighted above all in strong effects of colour: spirits who have upon their heads instead of hair the feathers of peacocks; a phantom reaching from a swirl of flame towards a star; a spirit passing with a globe of iridescent crystal--symbol of the soul--half shut within his hand. But always under this largess of colour lay some tender homily addressed to man's fragile hopes.

"This spiritual eagerness draws to him all those who, like himself, seek for illumination or else mourn for a joy that has gone. One of these especially comes to mind. A winter or two ago he spent much of the night walking up and down upon the mountain talking to an old peasant who, dumb to most men, poured out his cares for him. Both were unhappy: [the imaginative youth] because he had then first decided that art and poetry were not for him, and the old peasant because his life was ebbing out with no achievement remaining and no hope left him.

"Both how Celtic! how full of striving after a something never to be completely expressed in word or deed."

-William Butler Yeats, from The Celtic Twilight

Goodbye Miss Goodavich/Rosie' by Lúnasa on Grooveshark

Yeats and his striving Celts, whose music--filtered through their melancholy--reflects certain crucial truths about darkness: mostly that it's real. We often live in a minor key. Even in happy moments a tarnished side gleams through. On a broken earth, both unmet longings and imperfect expressions of beauty and goodness are inevitable.

This song by Le Vent du Nord was playing as we ate dinner several nights ago. Though clearly not a Celtic group, their Quebecois music shares elements with that played by Lunasa or The Chieftans--the misty sadness underlying so much of it, the "striving after a something never to be completely expressed in word or deed" as Yeats observes.

  La Valse À Huit Ans by Le Vent du Nord on Grooveshark

As it played, I turned to Jared and told him, This is precisely how life feels right now. It's written in a minor key. Melancholy much of the time . . . yet all the parts still work together so beautifully. 

Here is what I mean. I have learned that the darker movements of life, when walked through at Christ's side, have their own perfection. He works and strengthens; He shapes the struggling soul into lovelier form. Most of that forming comes as we raise our eyes from today's grief to see Him, more glorious by contrast.

Because Yeats is right. We will never reach like a flame to the stars, not on our own. However, the longing for paradise ("this spiritual eagerness") is valid, and it is abundantly met in Christ. So any suffering that refines our desires, pointing them to Him, actually becomes a thing to embrace. Mysteriously, it becomes a means of peace.

Blue Bonnets Over the Border by Natalie MacMaster on Grooveshark

Perhaps this is why Celtic music speaks so directly to my heart. I've wondered about that for a while. I remember listening to Thistle & Shamrock with Daddy on Saturday nights, dancing across the kitchen floor, enthralled by the tunes and rhythms. I remember watching Riverdance in childlike rapture. How could it grab on to me like that?

Now, I understand. It was how the musicians crafted beauty out of darkness. I've always wanted to grapple with the dark instead of run away from it, and I heard the rough edge of experience in those tunes, even the joyous ones. They were honest.

She's the Sweetest When She's Naked by Laura Risk & Jacqueline Schwab on Grooveshark

By no means is Celtic music all sad (just as my days are by no means filled with depression and woe!), yet I love the melancholy side most. Its musical acknowledgment of difficulty reminds me that pain is simply reality. Then as someone like Natalie MacMaster turns grief into a work of art, I am reminded that it's okay to look darkness in the face. In fact, such recognition is better than pushing pain down inside of myself, or ignoring it altogether. Clear-minded lamentation tends to transform darkness into--not joy exactly--but something far above despair.

Maybe because with faith, lamentation becomes prayer. Maybe because God crafts beauty out of darkness too.

The Vega Set (Jigs): The Banks Of Lough Gowna; The Gaelic Cl by Solas on Grooveshark

But finally, music such as this encourages me to think of the day when our darkness will vanish.
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.  (Hebrews 11) 
Our minor key will change forever. Fruitless striving will stop. We'll reach for the stars and find them within our grasp; our fragile hopes will strengthen; final illumination will be found. May the miracle come soon.

In the meantime, I believe that God has a use for the darkness, and even our tears become shards of glory.

Because of these things . . . given the chance, I wouldn't change the song.

Ashoken Farewell by Scythian on Grooveshark

p.s. This seems an appropriate time to mention that Lunasa is coming to Long's Park on August 5th. That means free. I will so be there. Bring a picnic!

08 July 2012

when you want to make a zeppelin go up

We played a lot of Taboo on vacation last week.

Me: When infants arrive...
Matthew: Stork!

Simon: Mom doesn't like these...
Luke: Microwave!

Jared: In the barnyard, male hens say...
Luke: Cock-a-doodle-doo!

Matthew: In Europe, they had a revolution and removed things...
Simon: Guillotine!

Luke: The oysters went on a picnic with...
Me: Walrus!

Me: In the ground there are...
Matthew: Worms!

Luke: Cowboys capture things with...
Simon: Lasso!

Jared: Hipsters like this and it makes lines on your pants...
Luke: Corduroy!

Matthew: When you want to make a zeppelin go up in the air...
Me: Helium!

Simon: Nerds use these to guard writing utensils...
Luke: Pocket protector!

[yes, these are all the right answers]

05 July 2012

chocolate covered blueberry smoothie

blueberry muffin
{image credit: mellow stuff}
As Madame Blueberry once learned, it's always best to be thankful for what we have . . . and right now that includes blueberry season! Yay antioxidants and all that, but the real reason to celebrate is blueberries' incredible sweetness, lovely color, and ease of picking. (Whenever I crawl around a strawberry field I find myself grumbling, Why can't you guys be on nice eye-level bushes like blueberries?)

Nothing compares to fresh local fruit; when I was a wee lass, I thought I disliked blueberries, but that was due to several bad experiences with mushy, sour January berries shipped in from a continent away. Then we went to Spring Valley and I realized the (very great) error of my ways.

Here is a smoothie to showcase summer's best fruit, plus a little chocolate for fun.


The Chocolate Covered Blueberry

1/3 cup canned full-fat coconut milk
1 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 a frozen banana
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
2 teaspoons raw honey
splash of vanilla

As per usual, dump it all into the blender and process until smooth. If you use fresh rather than frozen fruit, you may want to add several ice cubes.

02 July 2012

swallowed up by life

"Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, 'I believed, and so I spoke,' we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

"For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling . . . not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

"So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him."

(2 Corinthians 4:13-5:9)