Saturday, February 1, 2014

Kindness in Action

In the end, nothing we do or say in this lifetime
 will matter as much as the way
 we have loved one another. 
–Daphne Rose Kingman

I read an essay, "Courtesy is kindness in action," by Michael Josephson on his Character Counts website. (Click on the link for the whole essay.) It says, in part:
As a society we have become almost obsessed with identifying and asserting our rights – to think, say, and do what we want. That’s not surprising, given the history of our country and the prominent role the Constitution and Bill of Rights have played in shaping our culture. We have a right to be unkind, thoughtless, and disrespectful – but it isn’t right. 

Ralph Waldo Emerson pointed out, “Life is short but there is always time for courtesy.”
Wouldn't the world be a better place if we would remember Emerson's simple thought? Let's look at it again:

“Life is short but there is always time for courtesy.”

When we were in grade school, we had to give a Valentine to every member of the class. Even if "that boy" teased me unmercifully about my weight or my hair or my green tights, I was supposed to put a Valentine in his box. (I must admit that I would find the least sappy Valentine from the box I'd carefully selected from the dimestore at Pratt. I would adhere to the rules, but I didn't have to give him the best Valentine.)
My first grade class at Byers Grade School - all 5 of us. Some years, there were 3! I'm second from the left.
The same philosophy prevailed in Jill's and Brent's elementary days, too: Everyone in the class got a card dropped into their Valentine mailbox, carefully constructed from a shoebox, construction paper and doily hearts. 
What would happen if we treated each other with a little unconditional friendship - not only on Valentine's Day, but every day?
Maybe Robert Fulghum's All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten should be required reading for adults. In it, he suggests:
  • Share everything.
  • Play fair.
  • Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
  • Be aware of wonder.
  • Live a balanced life - learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
  • Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.
Isn't it worth a try?

Open your hearts to the love God instills . . . 
God loves you tenderly. 
What He gives you is not to be kept under lock and key,
 but to be shared.

If you want to try the whole warm cookie theory on this Valentine's Day, try these White Chocolate Blondies. A bar cookie is great for a last-minute gift to say, "Thinking of you," "Be my valentine" or "Lots of love."

It's a little more labor intensive, but this Decadent Chocolate Torte is definitely Valentine's worthy.

Or try these Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Truffles.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

God With Us

"Where is God?" Pastor Ben asked during children's time one Sunday.

"He's in heaven," said one of the children gathered at Pastor Ben's feet.
File photos from children's time at church.
"Yes, that's right," Pastor Ben affirmed. "Where else is He?"

And one little girl took her pointer finger, gestured to her side, and said, "He's right here."

I was sitting in the choir loft. And shivers went down my spine as I watched her finger point to her side, just as if God were sitting there, cross-legged beside her, on the green carpet in the front of a church in Stafford, America.

I've remembered it many days since. (See why I'm a fan of children's time? I love Pastor Ben's messages, but he got a little help that Sunday from an 8-year-old, brown-eyed beauty.)

I thought about it again as I read more of the book, "Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference?" by Philip Yancy:
"Let the imagination roam, placing yourself in the presence of God, affirming that since God is everywhere, He is here now. Think of Christ as standing at your side, sharing your experience."
That little girl didn't need a book to tell her a truth she's already discovering in her life: God is right here ... right by her side.

He's right by my side.

And He's right by your side, too.
Our lives may be broken. But, God is like a farmer who takes the broken pieces of a barbed wire fence and splices them together again so we can hold firm.
Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22
As we begin the New Year, the stockings come down from the mantle. We take the angel from the top of the tree and store it for the next 11 months or so in a plastic tub in the basement.
Out of sight, out of mind, right?

No, it shouldn't be that way. While I pack away the bright lights and ornaments of the Christmas season, I shouldn't pack away the truth of Emmanuel: God With Us.

That little girl had it right: God is right here. Right by our side. That's the Good News that we should celebrate long after the last Christmas hymn is sung. We should keeping singing that truth all the way until Advent next year. 

We shared this prayer in worship after Christmas. It's my prayer for the New Year (illustrated with some photos I chose):
God of Nativity, come and touch my soul with your love.

Bind my heart with bonds of peace.

Take my hand.

Guide me to the manger.

No gift have I to bring. 
By your mercy, receive my praise and adoration.

 Be born in me this day, O Lord, my Savior. Amen.

As we enter the cold days of winter, soup is often on the menu at our country home. Need some tried-and-true recipes to add to your repertoire? Try this Tomato Tortellini Soup. It's easy and delicious!

Still have some leftover ham in the freezer from Christmas dinner? Try this Hearty Split Pea Soup from my sister, Lisa's, kitchen. Think you don't like Split Pea Soup? Try this one and you may decide differently.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Bits and Pieces

Great Bend First United Methodist Church
The light comes through the glass and makes the scene glow.
Nativity set at Stafford UMC made by Dorothy Newell
It's Advent. At our church, we pull out the perfectly-white porcelain Nativity scene and light the candles.
Nativity set at Trinity UMC, Great Bend, KS
In another church, the glow of stained glass catches the light of gold threads running through the elaborate clothing that garbs Mary, Joseph and the angel.
Holy Cross Catholic Church, Hutchinson
In sanctuaries across the world, the winter light streams through stained glass windows, showing an idyllic, pristine scene. Mary glows. Joseph beams. Baby Jesus is bathed in the star's light.

But then I remember: Mary was likely 13 years old (or so). Maybe she wasn't so different from the girls in middle school choir, the ones I witness from the piano bench. Yes, the same ones who are are nice as pie one day and then moody and withdrawn the next. (Who am I kidding? You don't have to be 13 to be like that.)

Mary was a young, unwed mother. She was likely the talk of the town ... and not in a good way. She had just had her first baby, not in a well-appointed delivery room - but in a stable filled with smelly animals. She laid him in a manger filled with straw, not a crib with sheets that match a nursery theme. It wasn't all that pretty.

Jesus was born to a family that possessed little and worked hard to make ends meet.
How can we, in the midst of our culture's conspicuous consumption and demand for perfection, turn our focus on the Child who was born into poverty as a sign of hope and salvation for a broken world? While it may seem the world demands perfection, the Gospel message demands nothing from us. Rather, God invites us to gather around the manger just as we are: unfinished lists, burnt pies and all. No matter our imperfections, great or small, God invites us to peek into the manger and gaze at the real Christmas message: That Christ came for us all to be a beacon of hope for the hopeless and to bring peace. 
Rev. Amy Slater
Stafford UMC Newsletter, December 2012
If you look closely at those stained glass windows, it's not a solid piece of glass. It's made of bits and pieces, carefully fit together by master craftsmen, by true visionaries. 
Scott City UMC
We have our own Master Craftsman. He takes the broken bits and pieces of our very human lives and makes sense of them. He can take our disappointments and failures and can craft them into something new and beautiful.

So, when the list seems overwhelming ... and the oven timer dings at the same time the dryer bell sounds ... the packages don't have bows ... and there's too much to do in too little time:  Remember it's not about perfection. It's about grace. And, it's about listening for God's voice in our lives and obeying, like Mary and Joseph did so long ago.

Merry Christmas from our Kansas farm to you and your family!

Gifts don't have to cost a lot of money to be meaningful. I enjoy giving gifts from the kitchen to family, friends, the mailman, the choir director ... the list goes on!

Snack mixes take bits and pieces of ingredients and make a tasty treat. They can be something that your gift recipient can use for unexpected guests or at their own family gatherings. Here are a few tried-and-true recipes that we enjoy at our house and I've also given as gifts. Click on the links for the recipes and ENJOY!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Mundane Everyday Life

I looked beyond the back porch window sill with its collection of dead bugs and thin layer of dust. Clouds tinged in cotton-candy pink billowed above the tall trees to the south. Still, I went to the basement to begin my normal morning routine.

As I sat in my wood-paneled office underground and waited on gmail to cycle up, I couldn't quit thinking about the clouds. Emails and blogs and KFRM radio reports could wait for a few minutes.

So many times, we walk past the beauty in life. I don't even remember now why I went to the porch to begin with. It's not a mandatory stop on my day. Maybe I glimpsed the unusual clouds through the bathroom window and decided to get a closer look.

Our house is surrounded by big old trees, so I grabbed my camera and told Randy I was going to drive down the road to check out the sunrise.

Many times, I'm disappointed by the photos. I can't always get the camera's eye to duplicate the beauty and majesty of the Kansas sunrise or sunset. The evening before, Randy had called me as he was driving a tractor toward home. A storm was blowing through, and the sky was unusual. And, try as I might, I couldn't get the camera to capture the moment the same way as I was experiencing it in person.
But I'm persistent. (Some might say stubborn.) So the "failed" sunset photos didn't keep me from trying to capture the sunrise. See, there are sometimes fringe benefits to being persistent.

Taking photos helps me to "see" the beauty all around me. I have always loved words, but some wise person once said: "A picture is worth a thousand words." (While I'm not totally convinced, I do love photos to go along with words.)

However, it doesn't take a camera in hand to notice the little things. One recent morning, as light streamed through the bathroom windows, the lace edge of the curtains made a pattern on the wall. I watched our now "toddler-sized" kittens roughhouse in the back yard, and it made me smile. The cottonwood at the end of our driveway is dressed in its autumn best, sending me off and welcoming me home with leaves as red as the flag on the mailbox.
As we turn the calendar page from October to November, the sprint toward the holidays begins. We start the lists for Thanksgiving dinner. We look at calendars and circle a date when we can come together for family celebrations. We watch the sale ads for items that might make that perfect gift for Christmas, and we begin hiding the packages in our closets, hoping they'll be safe from curious eyes before the presents are wrapped in red and green and tied up with bows.

If I'm not careful, the everyday blessings all around me can be tossed aside as nonchalantly as a bag of dried up leaves which have lost the luster of just a few weeks before.
Beauty isn't found just in the spectacular. Neither are blessings. They just require me to open my eyes. And then count them, kind of life that old Sunday School song we used to sing in the basement of Byers United Methodist Church:

Count your many blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done. 
Pears and apples are favorite fruits for the fall. Throw in some dried cranberries, feta cheese and bacon, and it's even better. The dressing is a blend of purchased poppy seed dressing and balsamic vinegar. Serve it with steak for a meal or without the meat for a Thanksgiving Day side dish. Enjoy!
 Autumn Chopped Salad with Marinated Steak
Adapted from Iowa Girl Eats blog
6 cups chopped romaine lettuce
3 slices center-cut bacon, cooked crisp and chopped
1 pear, chopped, with skin on
1 apple, chopped, with skin on
1/4 cup peanuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup Poppy Seed Salad Dressing (more or less)
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar (more or less)
Grilled seasoned steak (about 3 ounces per person)

Cook bacon until crisp (I used the microwave.) Cool and chop. Grill seasoned steak to desired doneness. Set aside to rest. 

Combine romaine lettuce, pear, apple, peanuts, dried cranberries, cooled bacon and feta cheese into a very large bowl. In a separate bowl, combine poppy seed dressing and balsamic vinegar to taste. Toss salad dressing with salad, coating well.

For main dish salad, put dressed, chopped salad onto serving plates. Top with sliced grilled steak. Serve immediately.

This generously serves 2 for a main dish salad. As a side, it serves a big crowd.

  • Even though I'm a vinegar lover, Randy is not. And we both preferred the dressing with only 1 tablespoon of the balsamic. 
  • Next time I make it, I might try this homemade dressing, Orange Vinaigrette, which I've used on other main dish salads.
  • I've used peanuts every time, but it would be great with walnuts or pecans, too.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

In His Hands

I'm a get-it-done kinda gal. Give me a mission, and I'll give you a to-do list with bullet points toward accomplishing the task. Though my daughter and I look nothing alike, she, too, is strong-willed and goal oriented. So, is it any wonder that she was blessed with an independently-minded little girl of her own?
Kinley is 21 months old. Though she's a few months away from 2, she is moving into that toddler phase marked by the "I'll do it myself!" attitude. It seems such a short time ago that her tiny fingers were dwarfed by her Grandpa's big hands.
January 2012 - Just after her birth December 30, 2011
These days, she has definite ideas about how things should be. She has opinions about how best to cover up a dolly for a nap and which book in the mountain of reading material is the right one to read. Even if there's plenty of play equipment around, she would choose to swing all day long.
A few weeks ago when I pulled into their driveway for a weekend visit, Kinley came up to the car with an ice bag on her head. She was playing outside with her Mommy and Daddy while they waited on me to arrive. Her feet got tangled up and she fell, head first, onto the cement driveway.

Kinley may have ideas about what she wants to do and the speed with which she wants to do them. But sometimes, she trips and falls. This wasn't her first scrape nor will it be her last.

And you know what? I'm not so different. Too often, I get to traveling at my own speed. I have my to-do list. I have an agenda. I have a plan. I forget that I'm not the one in charge. And I also forget that I don't have to do it on my own.
 There's a bigger picture.
Just like Kinley has someone nearby to pick her up when she falls, I have that, too:
Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
- Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)
I stumble and fall. I make the same mistakes, over and over again, it seems. And God keeps picking me up, dusting me off, and encouraging me to keep going. 
"The grace of God means something like this: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn't have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It's for you I created the universe. I love you. There's only one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you'll reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift, too."
Author Frederick Buechner
Too often, I shake off the Father's hand. I'm a capable person. I can do it. I don't have to bother God with this little thing in my life. Or I may lay a big concern at the foot of the cross through fervent prayer. But then I pick it back up again. Like a defiant toddler, "I can do it myself."

But my Abba Father is ready to hold my hand. The road may be clear of obstructions some days. Other days, it's filled with twists and turns and uncertainty. But, like the Loving Parent that He is, He grasps my hand. I just have to reach out and hold on.
I like the JJ Heller song called "Your Hands." The bridge says:

Your hands that shaped the world
Are holding me
They hold me still. 

Like the old Sunday School song goes, "He's got the whole world in His hands." As I look at the changing leaves and see the beauty all around me as we transition into fall, I'm amazed that those hands that created the world care so much about each and every one of us.

Have you made the transition to fall in your kitchen? Pumpkins and apple cider: Doesn't that sound like the very definition of autumn? Enjoy!

Pumpkin Waffles
with Apple Cider Syrup
Adapted from Kitchen Meets Girl blog
2 1/2 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
3 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup canned pumpkin
2 cups milk
4 eggs
1/4 cup butter, melted

Apple Cider Syrup:
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 cup apple cider
2 tbsp. butter

Preheat waffle iron. Combine the flour and ingredients through the brown sugar in a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, stir together the pumpkin, milk and eggs. Add melted butter and stir.

Stir the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture just until combined. Cook waffles according to manufacturer's directions. Serve with syrup.

Apple Cider Syrup:
Stir together the sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon in a saucepan. Add the apple cider. Cook over medium heat until the mixture starts to boil; boil until mixture thickens. Remove from heat and stir in 2 tablespoons butter.

Friday, August 30, 2013

If We Are the Body

Maybe, just maybe, the essence of God smells a little like the orange fragrance of Murphy Oil Soap.

In August, I was my church's lay delegate to the Unifying Conference for the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church. It was the final process for joining the Kansas East, Kansas West and Nebraska conferences into one Great Plains Conference as of January 1. We slogged our way through 154 pages of a Plan of Organization. Who knew that the kind of insulation used or the number of GFI outlets available in parsonages would spark such debate? (Not me! I didn't even know what a GFI outlet was until I got there!)

But, tucked in the minutia of parliamentary procedural amendments and votes, the 1,700 conference delegates had the opportunity to Serve Salina. More than 1,000 of us accepted the challenge. Projects included yard and groundwork, minor home repairs, helping the elderly or disabled, sorting food and supplies at pantries and working with children. In all, volunteers completed 50 service projects for individuals, families and nonprofit organizations throughout Salina.

I was among those sent to the Saline County Commission on Aging, which occupies the 103-year-old former Saline County Courthouse. It has soaring ceilings and rich wood trims surrounding beveled glass windows and marble walls. The county allows the Commission on Aging to use the building for a nomimal charge, but they don't have the staff to do deep cleaning projects. They are too busy making a difference in the lives of the aging in the county through program like Meals on Wheels, the Older Kansans Employment Program or Live At Home Solutions.

So there we were - armed with rags and Windex and Murphy Oil Soap - and bolstered by a common cause. Our Serve Salina t-shirts got a little sweaty as we got on our hands and knees or climbed ladders to clean - me a lay delegate from a farm in South Central Kansas and another woman from metropolitan Lincoln. There were pastors who serve the big congregations of Wichita and some who preach at three little churches in rural Nebraska each Sunday morning. Big or small, laity or preacher - we were all trying to make a difference in some small way. 

As I started at the bottom of a wrought iron stair rail and worked up and a lady from Agra started at the top and worked down, I was struck by the symbolism. We could have sat in the air-conditioned Salina Bicentennial Center and stuck to the business of approving mission statements and vision statements. But what's the use of a mission statement without some hands and feet to put it into action? That would be about as effective as hanging a rag over a staircase and hoping it would miraculously get dusted. 
Saline County Commission on Aging and related programs, whose offices occupy the structure. - See more at:

How do we live out the mission statement of "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?" Sometimes, it's overwhelming. When you're at the bottom of the hill - or the bottom of a three-level staircase - and staring upwards, it's hard to see the end goal. Likewise, in a world where people are more likely to follow a celebrity on Twitter or check their status on Facebook than they are to attend church on Sunday morning or read the Bible each day, "making disciples" is an uphill climb.
But the only way to finish is to start. You have to get into the nooks and crannies and do the work - one detail and one step at a time.
At our evening worship service, organizers showed a video that featured several of the volunteer projects completed during our afternoon of service. Maybe this particular "cleaning volunteer" was a little envious that some of the other volunteers got to experience smiles and laughter while playing with children at a day care center or watched as a Mother walked away from a pantry with a newly-packed box of food so she could feed her children for another week.

But, there's something to be said for dusting, too. After all, Jesus did his own version of "dusting" before He went to the Cross. Jesus was having a final meal with his disciples in the Upper Room. But no one volunteered to clean the dusty feet of the disciples.  Until Jesus…
Jesus “got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet.”  (John 13:4-5)  ... Jesus said: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14)
See? Sometimes Love itself comes by washing away a little dust. It may even come when you're comparing the virtues of furniture polish brands with ladies who've come to the Senior Center for an afternoon game of pool. We may be rubbing out apathy and instead shining on compassion as effectively as that bottle of Windex and paper towel takes away grime from a streaked window.

As we ended our work at the Senior Center, a pastor asked the center's director to stand in the middle of a circle. We built our circle from the inside out, each of us grasping the shoulder of another, as we prayed for the ministry offered by the director and her staff and for the people who walk through the doors each day.
Later, I thought about all those hands and hearts joined together in work and prayer. I've always heard there's no "I" in team. It's a favorite saying of coaches. I found it somewhat ironic that I personally was part of an "i" in a banner that decorated the Bicentennial Center. The banner used the photos of every delegate and every pastor who had come together for the Unifying Conference. My face happened to fall in the "dot" of the "i" in the word, "Plains."
In this instance, I'd have to say there was an "i" in "team." And in all the other letters, too.
And, yes, there was the essence of Christ Himself in that orange-scented fragrance of cleaning supplies and in the many hands that picked them up that day ... or helped a nursing home patient clap their hands to a praise song ... or skipped down a sidewalk with a laughing child.
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which He blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are His body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
Teresa of Avila
A Casting Crowns song called, "If We Are the Body," says, in part:

If we are the body

Why aren't His arms reaching?
Why aren't His hands healing?
Why aren't His words teaching?
And if we are the body
Why aren't His feet going?
Why is His love not showing them there is a way?
There is a way.

There IS a way.

How about brightening the day of a grieving family, a shut-in or a neighbor with a special gift from your kitchen? This Monster Cookie Bar recipe uses a sheet cake pan, so there will be more than enough to go around. And who isn't cheered up by M&Ms!

Or, maybe you still have zucchini in your garden. Make Banana Zucchini Bread into mini loaves or muffins and share them.