The Christian Life

12 Days of Christmas: Day 8? Day 9? // Are you still counting?

Tonight, I want to begin discussing a particular topic I've started writing on more times than I can remember. It's a topic that has too many facets to count, can easily become convoluted, and is so big that I usually end up calling it quits after a couple of hours because I can't wrap my mind around the vastness and simplicity of this philosophy.

Jesus said, "love your neighbor as yourself." When asked which neighbors he's referring too, he goes on to tell the story of the good Samaritan, pointing out that even those we perceive as our enemies are the ones he's telling us to love as ourselves.

I'm going to begin small here by saying that every purchase we make is an opportunity to love our neighbors both near and afar. There are companies out to make a buck, and there are others out to change the game, both in business and in the lives of those they employ. The question of course is why do we feel the need to buy from big, greedy companies? Well, for one--we're greedy and we buy into advertising that tells us that we need to make every purchase our heart desires. That's probably a whole other subcategory for another day (case in point on trying to write on this topic).

I'm going to the roots of These Sacred Grounds tonight by sharing my first coffee shop in the 12 Days of Christmas series. This is a business whose mission is to support those coming out of foster care, and whose instrument is coffee. I want to encourage you to check out their website, but more importantly support their work and the work of those like them.

If you don't know much about the foster care system, I'm not going to bog you down with statistics, but I will encourage you to do some research. I will also paint a simple picture for you: a human child is taken from their home due to some form of abuse or neglect. Child is sent into a foster home where they may or may not experience love and care. Child goes back home. Child is taken from their home again, but because there is no room in their original foster home, they get put in another one. Child goes back home. This cycle could easily go on for well over a decade, never giving this child a chance to know love, security, or deep and safe family bonds. Child turns 18, and is on his/her own. Child may or may not have experienced a plethora of abuses, substance abuse, or homelessness growing up, not including the aforementioned lack of love and care that all humans need. This creates a lot of problems for this child--now grownup. Where do they turn? Do they have any opportunity to go to college? Have they had any professional counseling? Did they graduate high school? Do they have any job prospects? The issues for these "state kids" is overwhelming to say the least.

Every corner of the internet these days is preaching the #village, the #tribe, the #squad, and yet what does it look like to have deep community where even the foster children know they have a safe place? By supporting coffee shops The Monkey & The Elephant, we can truly live out the gospel of loving our neighbors as ourselves in community. Can we all take in a foster child or orphan? Can we all go into prisons and show love to those living inside cell walls? Can we all support to needs of the widows, the abandoned, the abused, the sex trafficked? In the most perfect of worlds with the most perfect of communities, yes we can. In fact, I encourage you to take a moment to consider if your family should be doing any one of these things.

The truth is, for one reason or another--or at least a million and one excuses, we are not doing these things. I can't get into all the reasons we (weeee all) need to surrender and do the dirty work of the gospel because that's not the purpose of this post. The purpose of this post is to say that through creative thinking, intentional buying decisions, and by not giving into big companies telling us how we should live, we CAN do all of those things by supporting businesses and non-profits like The Monkey & The Elephant. There are many out there, and with the internet they're easy to find.

This may just be one tiny step in the direction of living our neighbors as ourselves, but we can't have a revolution without taking a step.

The Monkey & The Elephant
1218 South Alder Street
Philadelphia PA, 19147
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12 Days of Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day 6!

I started this 12 Days of Christmas series for two reasons: 1. I wanted to share parts of my life that I love with the world, and 2. Since deciding to step more fully into my desire to write, this was a little challenge I gave myself—write 12 days in a row.

So, here I am: Day 6. It's 11:25pm and I honestly don't know if I'll have this finished my midnight, but since I've already chosen what I'm sharing with you, I should be able to bang this puppy out.

I told you once before, in my first recipe post, that sharing recipes--sharing many things in life is not easy for me. It doesn't come naturally for me to say, "Here's something I know that you don't, so let me share it with you,"

Why wouldn't I want to share the things I know with others, any sane and healthy human might ask? Because then you might not need me. And if you don't need me, you may not want me.

There are a few aspects of being in community with others that I believe to be fundamental. In order to stay in a community (of any kind) a person must feel wanted, needed, appreciated, and have an overall sense of belonging.

Now, mind you, by me withholding parts of myself in order to manipulate others into needing or wanting me IS NOT the heart behind true community, and therefore not a part of myself I want to embrace. It's a part of my life that I've gradually surrendered over the years, but every time I share something I love with the world, it's still a difficult step forward for me.

Tonight, I'm sharing not one, but two recipes involving chai. I don't think tea comes naturally to Americans. Many cultures around the world have created and sustained customs around tea: customs that involve special cups and spices, some that involve special straws and others that use the drink as their cultural cue to leave soon.

The two recipes I have for you are two that I can safely say have no right to a special custom. In fact, I'm pretty sure they were both personal experiments in the kitchen at some point. That's why I don't bake, by the way (except for chocolate chip cookies); baking is too precise for me; there’s no wiggle room in baking, so the two of us don't create great results. Experiments though, that’s where the kitchen and I mesh—up until I want to make something a second time. Dilemma of dilemmas.

Both of these beverages are on the sweeter side, but can have a little kick with the chai depending on the type you use. You can play with the ratios too, in order to get them to your tasting preferences. Experiment away!

Recipe 1 // Chai Hot Chocolate

  • Make hot chocolate as you usually would. That is assuming you would absolutely and always make it with milk on the stove or else, go without. If you're response to that is, "no, I make it with water then we may need to talk."
  • Allow one chai teabag to steep in the hot chocolate pot.
  • Pour into your favorite mug and enjoy!

Recipe II // Chai Apple Cider

  • For this one, I usually use those boxes of chai you can get at TJ's or Starbucks or where ever, but it will also work with a lightly sweetened cup of steeped chai as well.
  • So, get whichever chai you choose
  • Get your bottle of apple cider
  • Cut them 1 to 1 in a pot on the stove
  • Repeat the last step from the first recipe.

I know, I know…both of these are essentially rocket science :). Enjoy, my friends!

12 Days of Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day 3

Today is the day! It is THE day! After four years, our calendars are marked, we have accepted the invitation, and we are ready. to. go. As I wrote about before, four years ago Kris and I set out on a journey to figure out our personal finances. We had no prior understanding of budgeting or debt or anything in regard to money.

Though several friends suggested we take some plan of action for our finances before getting married, it never caught on. It never stuck. And by that, I mean we weren't interested in hearing about money--it sounded boring and not "for us." At least not until that January of 2013; not until desperation began to take over and we had no choice but to do SOMETHING--ANYTHING to get our finances in order. Once we had no money, no career, and nearly $100K in student loan debt, we knew something had to happen.

What happened next was one of those experiences I wish more of my life looked like. It was one I think could be compared to a marathon instead of a sprint...not that I would know, but it was one I can look back on and see that we didn't simply recognize a problem, but we took the hard, difficult, and necessary measures to change them.

So often in life, recognizing our issues isn’t the difficult part—at least not if we’re being honest. The difficult part is figuring out what needs to be done in order to change our path, to redirect our steps. And we actually did, my friends. We actually changed our outcome. I hope that as time goes on, this part of our history is something we can pass down to our children and their children. I hope this isn’t an aspect of our lives soon forgotten because this wasn't easy and because it's an experience worth passing along.

I’m not going to get into all the details of the hows, the whys, and the mistakes because I’ve shared that with you already, but I am going to share the tools with you in hopes that it will continue to inspire others to make the necessary changes. I'm going to start by saying that money and personal finances and budgeting and debt and workbooks and courses all sound like an awful combination of words that make me want to fall asleep just thinking about it. But please trust me when I say that Financial Peace University can truly be a tool that changes your life. No, I'm not getting paid for this in any way; I'm just a really happy student whose life and family were changed because of this material.

There are classes you can attend, which honestly may be ideal as far as having others to go through this process with, but that’s not how it looked for Kris and I. I honestly do not remember the conversation or the final push that made us decide to go through the FPU material, but I do remember it was on sale. I also remember being sorely disappointed when I thought I’d ordered DVDs, but in fact ordered CDs—uh….what? 13 sessions (now 9) of teaching on personal financial over CD. . .?

I mean, it already sounded fun, but man…now we’re really in for a treat.

But guys, it actually worked. For one, Dave Ramsey is hilarious. He’s engaging and he speaks from and to the heart. He shares his own past and struggles with finances and he gives so much detail and encouragement that he really just kind of pumps you up, even over CD-Rom.

Anyhow, there we were 13 CDs and a workbook (a workbook of which I bought used on Amazon because we were so broke) at our fingertips. Quick survey, does anyone still own a CD player? We sure as heck did not. What to do now?

Fortunately, we had a road trip planned. NJ>Niagara Falls>Grand Rapids>Columbus>NJ.

We’re pretty roundabout people, as you can see from a map, but we made the best of our long, snowy drive that January of 2013. We listened; we wrote. Most importantly though, we learned to talk about money and how to get on the same page with one another in regard to our finances.

Four years later, we’ve hit our goal. Today is the day. The final payment is headed to Great Lakes this very day.

I hope you can hear this, friend. If you’re struggling at all with your finances or you simply want to get to the next level, take the time to take FPU. It’s worth it. It’s nothing more than a tool, but it’s a really great tool that helps people find financial freedom.

I think the idea that really sums up the material for me is that Kris and I stopped being controlled by our money, and we took control of it. And by that, I don’t mean either of us spent uncontrollably or had major money issues. But, in truth, we just didn’t know where it was going. We didn’t know how much we made or had or how much we spent on food or gas or electric bills. We learned to be the ones to make those decisions before they just happened.

Have you taken the course? How did it help your family? Have you thought about it and not gotten around to it? Where are you in your financial journey?

Merry Christmas, and have a Financially Freeing 2017!!

12 Days of Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day 2

Community is not everything. Community is not everything, but it is necessary for a full life. Community is not easy, but is hard work. Nay nay, it is extremely hard work. It is hard work to fall short, to be humbled before others, to live so closely in the presence of others that we cannot hide our deepest, darkest selves. It’s easy to give up and walk away instead of face our inner selves with others.

Community is something that is formed, it is molded, and it changes over time. Community welcomes joy and celebration over jealousy. Community welcomes suffering and empathy over self-centered thinking. Community prioritizes the choosing of love. It calls us out and tears us down, while also lifting us up.

Community is made. It is made with those whom we chose to make it. Community is a two-way street. It is not always gentle and sometimes it is a downright pain in the ass that you kind of want to punch in the face; it is seemingly unworthy of the suffering it may cause.

Community is created in our homes and on the streets. It establishes itself in parks and on city streets, in public and in private. Community is a recipe made for a slow cooker. Community is read about in books, but seldom lived out. It’s too hard; people don’t want it. Not truly. We are selfish. We get caught up in the things of this world; we get by just fine living our lives, never embracing our deepest selves.

Community is shaped around the table, in conversation, in getting to know one another, in living alongside one another, in choosing one another. Community is doing one another's dishes before we go back to our own dwelling. And not to force this horribly obvious transition, but what a joyous occasion when those dishes can be kept to a minimum.

I love this meal I’m going to share because it does just that. This meal is like community. It’s simple, yet profound.  It is a dish full of grace, which let’s be honest—all communities need to be. This dish looks at it’s own imperfections instead of pointing out the imperfections of other dishes. To top it off, it has all the necessary pieces of a well-balanced meal while sticking to one casserole dish and maybe a bowl or two. It has the veggies, the meat, the potatoes, and the bread. In my eyes, it is truly the perfect community dish. And now, I share it with you to share with your community as it was once shared with me.

Chicken Pot Pie:

1. Set the oven to 375 degrees.

  • Sauté 1/2 cup of chopped onion.
  • Add 1 cup of butter—Usually two sticks.

2. Once melted, add dry ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • ½ tsp-1 tsp. pepper

3. Stir in wet ingredients:

  • 3 cups chicken broth (or veggie!!)
  • 1.5 cups of milk (or non-dairy sub)

4. Stir until thickens

5. Add:

  • 1 bag of frozen veggies. I usually do Trader Joe’s Organic Foursome
  • Shredded chicken (leftovers are GREAT for this!!)

6. As those ingredients are combining, I place those little frozen, garlic potato pods (also from Trader Joe’s) along the bottom of a large casserole dish with a splash of milk).

7. Pour the blend from the pan over the potatoes.

8. The Topper: in a medium sized bowl, whisk the following:

  • 2 cups of your favorite biscuit mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk.

The consistency should be a little thick, but not too thick. This part may take a little practice. You should be in love with the topper. If you’re not, try the recipe with halved, uncooked biscuits instead.

9. Put in oven for 30 minutes:

10-15 minutes in, put slits in the topper. I don’t know if this does anything to the meal itself, but it sure does look pretty!!

Enjoy this meal. Love one another deeply. Pray for and with one another.

For dessert, I recommend a round of Ticket to Ride :)

Overall shopping list:

  • 1 onion
  • butter
  • flour
  • milk (or non dairy sub)
  • chicken broth (or equivalent)
  • salt, pepper, and thyme
  • 1 bag frozen veggies
  • chicken
  • frozen potato pods
  • biscuit mix
  • eggs

OH YEAH! One more thing: This is a great recipe to take to people's homes if they are sick, just had a baby, lost a loved one, etc. I suggest doing so in a throw away tin dish so as to not burden them with cleaning and keeping track of dishes afterwards.

 

 

12 Days of Christmas: A Sharing Sesh // Day One

ahh, my people! It's been too long. I've been thinking about my blog and all of you every day since I last wrote you. I've been thinking about what to write, what to possibly share in this chaotic time.

This year's presidential outcome, racism, devastation, terrorist attacks, and war seem to be overtaking our world. It's all been on my heart and mind, and in my prayers, but what could I say? Every direction I turned, people were talking, people were hating, judging, and pointing fingers, so I stepped back, breathed deeply, and searched for my direction.

I've had an amazing few months with my two daughters and husband: laughing and delighting in one another, stretching and growing as a family of four. I've been tired and at a loss. I've had margin, but in all honestly that margin has been used to make up for sleep-deprived nights. Over this past year, my heart drew deeper and deeper into my desires of researching, writing, and sharing, and for this reason, I am thoroughly excited to see what awaits in 2017.

But! In the meantime, I have so many things and people and passions I want to share with you! When I found out last week that the traditional "12 Days of Christmas" begins on Christmas day, I was excited to bring a writing idea to life. Only now, that idea looks slightly different than it did initially. At first, I was going to share with you 12 coffee shops, no—books, no—coffee blends, no—coffee shops in the East Bay...Uhh, do you see my dilemma? There are SO many things I love and want to share with all of you for the 12 Days of Christmas. So now, I'm just going to share 12 anythings I love: some coffee, some people, some books, some organizations. I have a few passions swelling up in my heart; and now--they are my gifts to you.

I want to start today by sharing a person: a writer and fellow saint of the Christian faith who passed into eternity 20 years ago this past September. As I laid (lain? lyed? l...?) awake at 4:45 this morning, I picked up one of his books where I last left off some time last week…in the introduction. After reading through a couple chapters, I began to think that this man might be the single most influential writer for me in 2016. Over this past year, this man's words brought healing and restoration for both my husband and for me. His words have been an arrow pointed towards, and shooting us full force into the direction of, grace and redemption.

I have had a bumpy relationship with Henri Nouwen over the years. Craziness--I know. I first picked up one of his books, Return of the Prodigal Son in 2009, and I couldn't even finish it. I remember something about his voice bothering me, and I put the book down. I picked it up and put it down again. Though it screamed redemption, art, beauty, and story telling, I couldn't hear him. I was distracted, and I never finished it.

A couple years later, my girlfriend lent me a copy of Reaching Out. Ugh, this guy again. His voice. I couldn't read it. I couldn't read it, but I also couldn't let it go. Three years—maybe four years later, when the cross-county move and therefore, the Great Book Purge came upon our family, it was one of the few I held on to. I didn't know why; I didn’t even like this guy's style. Maybe because I wasn't the book's true owner or because the original owner was now living in New Zealand and the friend who lent it was up in New York, and yadda yadda. It was small enough in size, wasn’t mine to give away, and so I brought it over 3,000 miles with me.

This past spring, I decided to read it. No, I needed to read it. It stared at me like a portrait in hush hush art museum. Shh, don't speak. Listen. What is the art saying? I don't know because it keeps following me around the room. Haha, I'm somewhat joking—I love museums. But really, the book had this you-must-read-me-now sense about it. It had a voice that whispered, "I will bring you healing. I will help you rest in the love of your Heavenly Dad." It said, "I know you couldn't hear me in the past, but the time for healing is now, right here, in the midst of my very few pages."

And it was right. It brought to light, it convicted, it healed, it encouraged, and it spurred me on to the deeper life. It was JUST what I needed right when I was ready to hear it.

After I closed the last page of the book, I hoped my husband could hear it too. I hoped that he too could hear that we were arrogant and self-centered, that we were living out of a place of loneliness. And again, it did.

A few months later, he (Kris) says that he found another Henri Nouwen book that is slaying him. "I have your next book," he says to me.

"Ugh, I don't want to be slain again. We're going through all of this wonderful Emotionally Healthy Spirituality material with the church, and that is already doing a great work in me. Do I really have to?"

Enter: Christmas Morning 2016. 4:45am. The children all tucked under their blankets with care. "What the heck, man? Why am I awake???!!!" Usually. Ok—sometimes, and really only on my best, most devoted, deep, and obedient days, these early-morning moments beckon me to prayer. But this morning, at the early hour of 5am, I was beckoned into the world of Henri Nouwen once again. I was called into the world of Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World and oh. em. gee.

Like, the literal Gee. Does he ever slay me with His love? I am a beloved of the great I AM--the God who is with us, which we are reminded of every year on this very day. Many of us will sit in church buildings and hear the message of the good news of Jesus, our ultimate beloved One, but will we hear? Will we understand? Will it change us?

I know, I know, shouldn’t I be talking about baby Jesus and the manger and all things Advent and Christmas for these next 12 days? The truth is, these are the things that point me to Jesus. The everyday moments and people, books, coffee shops, and conversations that point me to my Beloved.

Merry Christmas, dear friends, family, and strangers alike.

Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper. -Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World

If you're in a place of hearing him too, here are some of my personalized links to a few of Nouwen's works: