Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Dead Wooden God

What God are you worshiping this Christmas? Isaiah makes a fabulous point in chapter 44:13-19. Here’s a brief synopsis of his message...

A carpenter draws up blueprints for a statue. He carefully selects an appropriate tree and cuts it down. He wastes nothing of the tree; using it as fuel for his fire to heat his home and cook his food. He holds a part of the tree back and fashions it into a statue. He sets the statue on the mantle, calls it his god and bows down and worships it.

Where’s the logic in this?!? How can a statue made from the same tree as the wood that heated the house and cooked the food be a god? Once the tree is cut down it’s dead. The statue is just a dead piece of wood.

Can the statue create? Can it communicate? Can it control day and night, wind and rain, moon and stars and sun? Can it inexplicably cure cancer and restore someone to complete health? Can it bring peace and joy into your life? Can you have a relationship with a dead piece of wood? Can it offer you forgiveness and freedom from the mess you’ve made of your life?

It’s fairly easy to see the obvious answer to these questions is a resounding, “NO”. There’s no possible way a dead piece of wood can do any of these things no matter how many times you ask it. Most of us don’t go out and buy statues, bring them home, call them our gods and start a religion around worshiping them. Let’s consider a question a little closer to home.

Can you have a personal relationship with your big screen TV? (No, bonding with it for four hours every night to watch reality shows doesn’t count.) Will you find unending happiness and inexplicable joy in your new BMW or will it only bring you debt and stress once the initial pride of ownership wears off? What about the job that’s taken the place of your family? Can it bring you freedom and unconditional acceptance? We’re not so different than the people Isaiah speaks to. Our idols are just more subtle.

This Christmas let’s take time to quietly reflect on what god we’ve been worshiping and what god we plan to worship in 2012. If you look for Him you’ll find the Christ child. The true, living God lying humbly in a manger, not forcing Himself into your life, but extending an open invitation for you to welcome Him into your heart.

What god are you worshiping this Christmas?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Caramel Corn

Looking for a sweet popcorn treat for Christmas? This is quick and easy. It's great for munching on at home or for giving as a homemade hostess gift.

Start by popping between 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of popping corn (this measurement is unpopped corn, not actual popped corn). Dump this in a large pan or roaster.

Melt 1 cup margarine in a large saucepan and stir in:
2 cups brown sugar
½ cup syrup
1 tsp. salt

Boil together for five minutes.

Remove from heat. Add 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 tsp. baking soda and stir well.

Pour syrup mixture over popped corn, mixing well to coat kernels.
 
Bake at 250 degrees for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring corn every 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool. You will have to break it up once it's cool as the kernels will stick together. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Eyes Of Jesus

I spent last week in rural Manitoba with my step-mother while she recovered from chemotherapy. When Sunday rolled around I decided to go to the Austin Evangelical Fellowship church just around the corner from her house. (That’s Austin, Manitoba population 450, not be confused with Austin, Texas population...a lot more!)

Pastor Colin Bell preached a thought provoking message based on Luke 10:30-37. He challenged us to see people through the eyes of Jesus and consider what the implications of this might be.

Do I really want to see people the way Jesus sees them? Can I handle that? Am I willing to take the time to ACT on what I might see if I truly open my eyes? Am I prepared to get involved in the messy lives of other people? Are the lives of other people even any of my business? Don’t I have enough of my own problems without worrying about the lives of others? How might this change my life, or the lives of those around me? I’m left with a lot of questions, and not many satisfactory answers.

I don’t know if I really want to see others through the eyes of Jesus. This means I’d have to look past the ragged clothing, the dirt stained skin, the shopping cart filled with garbage bags and the filthy hair of the person living on the street to see the story behind the haunted eyes. I’d realize this person once had a home, a family, a job. I might come to understand we’re really not much different and I might have to respond with some sort of action; but what?

I admit to an internal struggle when I encounter a homeless person. I don’t know how to act and I’m uncomfortable. Do I ignore them and walk on by? Do I reach into my purse and give them money? Do I say the standard, “hi, how are you today?” Do I give them the address for the local soup kitchen? Why should my reaction to them be any different than my reaction to the cashier in the grocery store? I’d greet her with an optimistic hello and ask her how her day is going – so why not the street person?

If I see people through the eyes of Jesus then I’m obligated to show love to the rude, woman in the office with her impeccably manicured nails, coiffed hair, layered make up and designer suits. It means looking past the outward facade of snobbery, rudeness and anger to see the insecurity and poor self image lurking beneath.

These are just two possible scenarios in a day of seeing through the eyes of Jesus. Imagine the impact of this action over the course of a week, a month, a year. Perhaps we appreciate our own lives more fully when we get involved in the messiness of others’. Maybe the answer to our own problems lies in helping other people overcome theirs. Is it possible that seeing people through the eyes of Jesus frees us to see ourselves through His eyes; to finally recognize the deep, deep love He has for us and the world around us?

Are you ready to see through the eyes of Jesus? Are you ready to rise to the challenge of loving people just the way they are? Are you ready to love yourself the way Jesus loves you?

Share your thoughts below by clicking on “comments”.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Cherry and Mint Snowball Experimentation Update

Last week I posted a recipe for snowballs - the only candy I know that's made out of a vegetable (assuming a potato qualifies as a vegetable which is another whole controversy...vegetable, fruit, starch...you decide).

This evening I had an opportunity to experiment with the recipe and am pleased to report a successful trial in flavouring with maraschino cherries and almond extract in one batch and mint in another. Both are quite nice with a dark chocolate coating.

So, for anyone who's feeling adventurous - start with the same snowball recipe from the original post - one boiled, mashed potato, add 1 cup icing sugar.

For Cherry Snowballs:
Instead of the vanilla extract add 2 tsp. almond extract and about 1/4 cup of chopped maraschino cherries. Add enough icing sugar to make a soft dough. (You'll find this takes more icing sugar than the original recipe as the cherries add more liquid into the mixture.) Just keep adding icing sugar until you get a dough you can roll into balls and set on waxed paper. Then dip in melted semi-sweet chocolate. Voila, yummy chocolate covered cherry snowballs!

For Mint Snowballs:
Instead of the vanilla extract add 1 tsp. mint extract (you can add more if you like a stronger mint flavour, but I found it quite strong with just 1 tsp.) Add enough icing sugar to make a soft dough, roll in balls, allow to set on waxed paper and dip in melted semi-sweet chocolate.

Merry Christmas! Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Snowballs

It's recipe week here at Living Day By Day In God's Grace. Rather appropriate since I started my Christmas baking this week. Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing some simple recipes for sweet Christmas treats. I thought I'd start out with one that brings back memories from my childhood.


Snowballs were always fun to make as a kid because I could take a meal time staple that I wasn't particularly fond of...a potato...and turn it into a sweet, chocolaty candy treat. A little weird, I know but easy to do!


I have a vivid teenage memory of formulating a plan to snag one (or more) of these out of the cupboard while my mom was out the room. I went into stealth mode. Silently I carried the chair over to the fridge, balanced precariously on it and extended my reach with the help of a ruler. I patiently maneuvered the snowball container closer to the edge of the shelf and finally met with success as I was able to tip it over the edge and catch it with my free hand.


The taste of dark chocolate was mine. My mouth watered. I pulled off the lid and let out a shriek of alarm! Mom came running in to find me staring in dismay into the depths of the container. The entire contents was overtaken by a furry blue and black mass of mold!  Eeewwww! So much for stealth mode!


I speak from experience when I tell you to store these in the fridge!


SNOWBALLS


Potato
Vanilla
Icing sugar
Semi sweet baker's chocolate
Coconut and/or sprinkles and/or chopped nuts


Boil one medium potato and mash it - don't add milk or butter - just mash the potato
Use a mixer to beat in 1 cup icing sugar
Add 2 tsp. vanilla
Beat in enough icing sugar (1/2 cup at a time) to make a soft dough
Roll a bit of dough between your palms to shape into balls and place these on wax paper.
Let them set for two or three hours.
Melt semi sweet baker's chocolate.
Place rolled snowball on fork held over the chocolate pot.
Spoon chocolate over snowball, then use a knife to slide the snowball onto the waxed paper.
Sprinkle with the topping of your choice.


Hints and tips:
I used a potato that was about 3 1/2 inches (9 cm) long and 3 inches (7.5) cm wide
It took 5 1/4 cups of icing sugar to work up the soft dough
I used 8 squares of chocolate
I got 62 snowballs from this mixture


I hope to do further experimentation later in the week with cherry flavoured fillings and mint flavoured fillings and will post updates on how these work out.


Post your Christmas childhood memories by clicking "comments" below.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Avoid Life - Be Busy

A few weeks ago I shared some of my thoughts on busyness. It prevents us from spending time with God, breaks down our relationships and hinders our spiritual growth.

If we know this is a side effect of leading hectic lives, why do we do it? Why can’t we say no? Why do we schedule every minute of our work week and every minute of our weekend so we hardly have time to eat, sleep and breathe, let alone rest, relax and rejuvenate?

Busyness becomes an excuse. We use it as an avoidance tactic. We hide behind busyness so we don’t have to face truth or circumstances in our lives that make us uncomfortable. Perhaps as a short term coping mechanism busyness is effective. But if it’s used on a long term basis it becomes damaging.

If we’re too busy we don’t give ourselves time we need to reflect on problems in our lives. We don’t have time to address outstanding issues and to heal our emotional or psychological wounds.

I think women are masters at using busyness as a tool.  Here are a few examples you might recognize:
  • After a separation a women intentionally schedules all her free time so she doesn’t have to think about her broken relationship.
  • A single woman pours herself into work and fitness so she doesn’t feel the empty, loneliness of the house around her.
  • Someone else spends evenings and weekends with friends and takes night courses to avoid giving in to self-damaging behaviour when she’s home by herself.
  • A single mom becomes a “super volunteer” with parent/teacher associations and school functions to fill the void of losing her husband.
  • When her youngest child moves out of the house a mother spends all her free time volunteering for the church so she doesn’t hear the silence of the “empty nest”.
This fall I had an unusually busy travel schedule for work. While I didn’t intentionally plan it, the busyness allowed me to avoid thinking about my step-mother’s breast cancer diagnosis.  As long as work consumed my time I didn’t think about the inevitable chemotherapy treatments. I lost my mother to cancer when I was fifteen and I remember how the chemo affected her.  The thought of my step-mother going through that absolutely horrified me.

Sooner or later we all have to slow down and deal with reality. It’s not healthy to stay too busy. It’s not healthy to run away or pretend our problems don’t exist. The only way to deal with them is to face them, admit we have no control over the situation and ask for help if we need it.

Sometimes this means getting professional coaching or counseling. It could be as simple as taking some quiet time to work things through in your own mind. Perhaps it’s something we haven’t taken to God in prayer. We need to pour out our worries to Him and spend time in silent reflection listening to the Holy Spirit whispering to us while we feel God’s peace wrap around us, soothing and warm as an electric blanket.

None of these things are possible if we persist as hamsters on the wheel of life. Are you busy today because you’re avoiding a circumstance in your life? Do you need to make time in your schedule for quiet reflection? Is it time to take steps to resolve the problem once and for all? Don’t wait any longer, start today.

Share your thoughts by clicking on "comments" below.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembering

What does Remembrance Day mean to you? For me it’s a time of reflection, of struggling to understand the world’s history of war and conflict, of grappling to reconcile the loss of life going on every day with the peaceful, free world I step into every morning.

How do you remember? How do we remember and honour a life changing event that started 97 years ago; a time when most of us weren’t even alive?

I’ll be honest. I wrestle with the idea of war. I’m the stereotypical “Pollyanna”. If “why can’t we all just get along” was a motto it would be airbrushed in bold Arial font on my forehead! I hate conflict. I don’t understand war. And I hate the thought of people dying in the cold dark night, alone in knee deep mud with the sounds of heavy artillery booming next to them while bombs fall like rain from the sky!

On the other hand I’m deeply grateful to live in Canada.
Canada - a country where our children can play in the streets free from the threat of suicide bombers.
Canada - a country that is ruled by democracy and freedom of speech.
Canada - a country that doesn’t live under the regime of threats, terror and tyranny.
Canada – a country with religious and cultural freedom.

Would this Canada be possible today without the battles that took place in World War I and World War II and the ongoing battles in the Middle East? Can those of us who enjoy our freedom simply sit back and declare the loss of life justifiable? Or do we live with an inner tension, the dissonance of knowledge; the knowledge that our country is free today because other people gave their lives for that freedom?

Recently I’ve been listening to a summary of the life of Sir Winston Churchill. Here was a man who lived to see both World Wars and played a very active leadership role in each. Churchill understood the danger of apathy. His set of moral values simply would not allow him to stand back and watch while citizens in other countries lived under the grips of tyranny. He understood tyranny is about power and needs to be stopped. For this understanding he was quite frequently labeled a “war monger” – someone who loved war, but in fact Churchill seemed to viscerally grasp the fact that if tyranny isn’t stopped all of humanity suffers.

So we live in freedom and war rages on; struggles and conflicts within ourselves and battles in countries an ocean away. Freedom is not to be taken lightly. It comes at a high price – the lives of our brave men and women, the peace of mind of their families, the minds of the soldiers who return doomed to wrestle with nightmares and post traumatic stress for the rest of their lives.

These men and women believe freedom is worth the price. Let’s not take their sacrifices for granted.

Lest We Forget

Visit Terry Kelly’s Youtube link, “A Pittance of Time”  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kX_3y3u5Uo

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pumpkin Cookies With Brown Sugar Candy Icing

Scott's Parable Christian Bookstore in Red Deer makes the BEST pumpkin cookies with brown sugar, caramel icing on them. It's a perfect rest stop during the drive back and forth between Edmonton and Calgary. A drive I've been doing about once a month. 


Red Deer lies smack dab at the half way point of the 3 1/2 hour drive. As you walk in you're greeted by the spicy aroma of freshly made cookies drifting suggestively from the small cafe in the back of the store. It's really hard to resist the temptation of a cookie (or two) and a cup of tea for the remainder of the drive.

After many samples (strictly for scientific taste analysis) I decided these tasty sensations should be reproducible in my own kitchen. The recipes that follow are the result of my Sunday afternoon experiment.

PUMPKIN COOKIES
1/2 cup butter
1 1/4 cups packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup mashed pumpkin (just the pumpkin puree, not the pie filling)
2 cups flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. ginger
1 cup chopped pecans

Cream butter and sugar together and beat in eggs. Mix in vanilla and pumpkin. Add the rest of the dry ingredients including the nuts and mix together well. Grease a cookie sheet and drop the dough by tablespoons onto the pan. Bake at 375 degrees F for 15 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Once these are cooled mix up the icing. (Do not make the icing ahead of time as it hardens quickly)

BROWN SUGAR CANDY ICING
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup butter
Mix these ingredients in a pot on the stove and bring to a bubbling boil. Stir constantly and boil for 2 1/2 minutes. Remove from stove, add 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 cup icing sugar. The icing will be runny at this point - this is normal.

Beat with a hand mixer until icing takes on a thicker spreading consistency (it will take a while, keep beating it). You can either dip the cookies into the icing or use a spoon to ice them. If the icing thickens too quickly add a little cream to it to thin it out again.

Hint: This icing is good as a caramel fudge, too. Double the recipe and pour the remainder into small pan. Cut into squares and...YUM!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Busy

Busy. Does that word sum up your life? Could you add descriptors like chaotic, crazy, out of control, over the top, hectic, frantic, or demanding and come up with an even more appropriate description?

I can relate. In the last six weeks I’ve driven over 10,000 km for work, been home 15 ½ days (including weekends) and travelled around three provinces. The mileage is actually a new record for me in my work travels. Sadly setting this record wasn’t exactly on my bucket list! (For those of you not familiar with the movie “The Bucket List” you can watch the movie trailer here http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0825232/)

I’m writing this while away over the weekend, knowing I’ll get home Monday night only to turn around and head for Winnipeg on Wednesday afternoon. To be perfectly honest the mere thought of leaving after only two nights at home dismays, disgusts and horrifies me to the point of gagging...literally...GAK! But, it has to be done so I’ll go.

My travel schedule isn’t usually quite this hectic and if I’m honest with myself (something I don’t always like to be) I have to admit it’s starting to take its toll. The dark cloud of anxiety lurks around the corner like a serial killer.  Mind numbing panic hunts me like a wolf stalks its prey. I know I need to slow down, allow myself time to relax and enjoy life. I’ve been down this road before and the only place it leads is the dead end street of stress-induced asthma and the plunge over a cliff into heart palpitation canyon!

I wonder if Martha ever experienced anxiety or panic attacks from her busyness. I can so empathize with her.  Scripture says

“As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me. But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”  Luke 10:38-42

I feel for Martha. She probably spent a week before Jesus' arrival dusting, vacuuming and straightening up the house. She polished the silverware, washed the fine china and set out the crystal. She’s been up since dawn prepping, cooking, and baking. Succulent, mouth-watering aromas waft out behind her when she stomps out of the kitchen, determined to point out to Jesus just how lazy her sister is. Martha is feeling very self-righteous, she’s doing all the work and she wants everyone to know it, dammit!

I’m Martha. And while I hate to admit it, Mary was onto something. In all her busyness, Martha misses Jesus. Mary gets it. She understands if we’re too wrapped up in our lives we miss spending time in the very presence of our Lord. Missing out on God’s presence is the price we pay for our busy lives. Yes there are other costs – health and relationship problems, stress, depression, and anxiety – they’re all the cost of being too busy. But when the busyness of life gets in the way of our time with God then life is TOO busy! We’ve got our priorities wrong! It’s time to re-evaluate.

Where are you today? Are you too busy to spend time with God? Share your thoughts below by clicking “comments”.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Living In The "In Between"

Do you feel out of synch with life? Not sure which way is up or which way is down? Have an uncomfortable feeling of not quite fitting in? Living in the “in between” stage of transition?

I lived in Calgary for seven years. I quite enjoyed living there, had great friends and a wonderful church community. I loved the beauty of the skyline –sparkling, glowing lights from the downtown area filling the night sky – and the breath taking view of the awe inspiring Rocky Mountains jutting up on the western horizon. Over the years the city became home, its threads woven into the fabric of my life; a part of me.

When I got married in June 2010 I knew I'd be leaving the city to start a new life with my husband in Stony Plain, a community just outside Edmonton three and a half hours away. He and his children lived there and our priority was to remain close to them. As is often the case, logistics interfered with life plans and I didn’t end up moving to Stony Plain until March of this year.

I travel for work and since I’ve moved I’ve experienced an odd sense of displacement. I get to the airport at the end of the week and check the departure monitor for my flight. I wonder why the flight time on the monitor differs from the one on my itinerary and am suddenly struck by the realization I’m automatically looking at Calgary flights instead of Edmonton flights. When I’m driving familiar routes through Saskatchewan I automatically point the car in the direction of Calgary, but quickly realize I need to head north to Edmonton, not west to Calgary.

This week as I drove into Calgary for work I experienced that “out of synch” feeling again. The city felt like home. After seven years of coming back to this city I was programmed to experience the feeling of being home when I got to the city limits. But another part of my brain quickly kicked in telling me this wasn’t home; my home was the house I share with my husband in Stony Plain. It was a strange sense of being pulled in two – the city of Calgary feels like home but I don’t have a home here. Our house in Stony Plain feels like home but the community around it doesn’t.

It’s an “in between” stage in the transition where old habits and feelings are weakening but new habits and connections haven’t been established yet. This odd sense of displacement is experienced in moves, in job changes and in other transitions in life where circumstances have changed but the mind hasn’t quite grasped the reality of the situation yet.

It takes time to adapt to change. I’m pleased that our house now feels like home and I hope one day when I reach the town limits of Stony Plain it too will feel as though I’ve come home.

Are you living in the “in between” stage of transition? Share your thoughts by clicking “comments” below.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Thanks on Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. I’m overcome with a wonderful sense of lethargy as I revel in a turkey and pumpkin pie induced coma. I’ve overindulged this evening to the point of actual physical pain for a few hours after dinner. Everything was just so good!

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been eating restaurant food for the last three weeks while I travelled for work. Or perhaps it’s simply because I can think of very few foods I enjoy more than turkey. Whatever the case, I shamelessly filled my plate and then against my better judgment filled it again. As if that wasn’t enough I crammed in a monster piece of pumpkin pie smothered in whipped cream, followed by Earl Grey tea to wash it all down.

I know there’s more to Thanksgiving than just appreciating the finer things in life (like turkey) and there are so many things I'm thankful for this weekend.

1.       I’m thankful for finally coming home after three long hard weeks of being on the road, driving over 5000 km and living in hotel rooms and eating restaurant food.
2.      But, I'm thankful to have a job that enables me to have a home to come back to and one that will pay for my hotels and food when I travel away from home.
3.       I’m thankful for time this weekend with my husband to just enjoy being a couple. To take the time to finally hang pictures after being in the house for six months so it actually feels like a home.
4.       I’m thankful for the privilege of attending worship this weekend without fear or threats to my life; for the ability to sing praise and worship songs to God, to physically bask in His presence and feel His joy because I'm His child and He loves me regardless of all the mistakes I’ve made and all the mistakes I’m sure I will still make.
5.       I’m thankful to have a husband who understands, honours, and shares my faith.
6.       I’m thankful to have a husband who loves and honours me for the person I am, not the person I think he wants me to be.
7.       I’m thankful for the means to buy the food to serve family and friends a Thanksgiving dinner and for the day spent in the kitchen preparing, baking, cooking and cleaning.
8.       I’m thankful for each bite of food with its plethora of unique flavours – for the succulent turkey mixed with tart cranberry sauce, for sour pickles, for sweet and buttery yams, for crunchy potato casserole, for creamy meaty gravy, for spicy, savory stuffing, for the slightly acidic taste of asparagus and the exquisite explosion of wine on my taste buds as it washes it all down.
9.       I’m thankful for Gavison to calm the pain of overindulgence :)
10.   I’m thankful for the wonderful fall palate of oranges, reds, yellows and browns adorning the trees. And for the satisfying crunch of leaves under my feet that makes me laugh again like a carefree child.
11.   I’m thankful for a safe, warm, comfortable place to sleep.
12.   I’m thankful for the ability to read and write and for the courage God has given me to reach out and share my stories with those around me. I’m excited about the future and what He has in store for me and my family.

There are so many more things I could share, but I think you get the idea. I know I sometimes I complain and whine and go through life not appreciating opportunities that are mine each day. But in my heart I know and understand that I am truly blessed.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

What are you thankful for? Respond by clicking on “comments” below.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Hello Dolly Bars With A Chocolate Twist

Growing up we lived on a farm in rural Manitoba. Our closest neighbour lived a mile and a half away down a gravel road. Conveniently our closest neighbour was also my best friend. As teenagers she and my sister and I spent a lot of time together playing board games, badminton, croquet, lawn darts and generally entertaining ourselves as only teenage girls can.

(Just as an aside I think they started putting safety tips on lawn darts because of us. There was a minor accident involving me, my sister, a renegade lawn dart and contact with a rather fleshy part of the back of my anatomy, which surprisingly enough is capable of bleeding quite profusely. It took a few days before I was able to sit down comfortably again. But I digress)

Sometimes we had sleepovers and these generally entailed baking some sort of sticky, high calorie dessert that we’d happily polish off as we sat up talking till the wee hours of the morning. One of our favourites was Hello Dolly bars. They were so easy to make and swimming in greasy, fatty goodness!

Typically the base is made from graham wafer crumbs and butter, but I recently decided to try substituting Oreo cookie crumbs. (It’s hard to go wrong with chocolate!) Here’s the recipe for Hello Dolly bars with a chocolate twist.

Chocolate Hello Dolly Bars

¾ cup butter
1 ½ cups Oreo cookie crumbs
1 cup coconut
1 cup chocolate chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F
Melt the butter in an 8” x 8” pan and stir the Oreo cookie crumbs into it. Spread this mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan and pack down lightly with a fork. 
Sprinkle the coconut over the base.
Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the coconut.
Drizzle the can of sweetened condensed milk evenly over the chocolate chips.
Bake for 35 minutes or until nicely browned.

Enjoy!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What's Enough?

Have you ever considered the word “enough”? I mean really thought about it, rolled it around on your tongue and tasted it or stared at it so hard your eyes crossed while you imagined what it looks like?

I vividly remember having a conversation about this word with a friend when I was ten. It took place on the big yellow school bus we rode each day. We’d had a spelling test and “enough” was one of the words. I’d spelt it wrong (probably using the popular “enuff” or “enuf” version) and was expressing righteous indignation over the fact this word dared to exist! It’s a silly sounding word...enuf...kind of like the sound of a sneeze, but phonetically how do you get “uff” out of “ough”?  What’s up with that!?!

This young fixation with the word was just the start of what I’ve come to realize is an ongoing issue in my life. What’s enough? How much is enough? Do I ever have enough?

The problem came to light when I cooked my first Thanksgiving dinner. I man-handled the frozen turkeys in the grocery store, heaving one after the other out of the deep freeze until my hands could have functioned as ice packs. I wanted to make sure the turkey was big enough to feed eight. None of them seemed up to the task but I finally settled on a 15 lb (6.8 kg) bird. Needless to say I had a “little” bit of turkey left over! Actually we ate turkey pie, turkey stew, turkey soup, turkey sandwiches, turkey tacos and turkey casserole for the rest of the week! Six months later we still had leftovers in the freezer!

When cooking for larger groups of people I’ve done the same thing with roast beef, steaks and even stir fry and desserts! (OK the desserts I generally make more than one because they’re just fun to do...but there’s always the chance ONE might not be enough!)

I thought this fixation with “enough” only encompassed the area of food in my life, but apparently I was wrong! Recently I created a new flower bed in our front yard and ordered a special blend of garden soil from the local “dirt company”. After the truck dumped the heap on our lawn I turned to my husband, saying dubiously, “That doesn’t look like very much dirt. Maybe I should have ordered more. I don’t think there’s enough there.” Then I started to shovel...and shovel...and shovel...and guess what...there was LOTS of dirt. Enough to fill the flower bed AND create another bed all around the front of the house!

You’d think I’d learn my lesson, but then there were the flower bulbs. In my mind I saw endless, rippling waves of yellows, pinks and purples bursting forth in bloom as the first rays of spring sunshine warmed the damp exposed earth. I bought daffodils, tulips, crocuses, anemones, and hyacinths and started to plant. I thought I’d dig a few holes, stuff in the bulbs and...boom; done in an hour. Three hours and 206 bulbs later...I thought I was single handedly planting Butchart Gardens!

These are just a few examples of areas in my life where I’ve been afraid of not having enough. I don’t know where this stems from – I grew up in rural Manitoba. Life wasn’t easy for my parents but we certainly always had enough food on the table, clothes to wear and toys to play with. I think somewhere deep inside we all experience the fear of not having enough.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about contending with “a thorn in the flesh”. Three times he asks God to remove it and three times Paul is told, “...My grace is all you need...” Essentially God is saying “I’m Enough!” You don’t need the designer clothes, you don’t need the BMW, you don’t need the latest version of Windows on your computer, the new iPhone, or the 62” TV set. I didn’t NEED the 15 lb turkey and I certainly didn’t need the 206 flower bulbs!

What I do need is God in my life. I need to accept the grace He offers to me every day. Hopefully through acceptance of this grace I’ll learn to overcome the “need” for things that aren’t that important. If I let Him, God will be enough for me. Are you willing to let Him be enough for you?

Do you have any funny stories about things that weren’t “enough” in your life? Share them by clicking comments below.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Reading God's Word For Your Life

This week’s blog topic comes from Faithful Bloggers, a directory listing various Christian blogs.  You can visit their site at www.faithfulbloggers.com .

Do you have a love affair with books? Do you walk into a book store and lovingly caress the hard covers while soaking up the ambiance? I have a friend who views all unread books as potential friends. Is this you?

Maybe you’re more of an electronic person; absolutely hooked on your Kindle, Kobo or Sony e-reader and can’t wait for the next download! 

Maybe you’re like me. I’ve developed quite an attachment to my glossy, pink Sony e-reader but can’t give up completely on the hard copy book. An entire shelf of my bookcase overflows with books I’ve bought to read “one day”.  A number of books live on my Sony that fall into this category, too.

This brings me to another question. Of all the books you’ve read have you ever read the Bible cover to cover? And another question (more to satisfy my own curiosity to see if I suffer from a fear of not having enough – more on that in next week’s post)...how many Bibles do you own?

I’m rather embarrassed to say I own six copies, including the one on my e-reader; all in different translations. I’m not even going to mention the ones my husband owned before we got married because that throws the number of Bibles in our house way off the charts! Sadly in spite of all this ownership up until two years ago I hadn't read the entire Bible cover to cover.

 
This deficit in Bible reading certainly wasn’t from lack of available Bibles or from lack of trying. Many times I started a reading program at the beginning of a new year thinking, “THIS is the year I’ll stick to the plan and read the entire Bible!”

I’d focus on it for the first month, reading in bed. Too many times I’d wake myself up with an unattractive snort only to realize I’d fallen asleep yet again. I’d fall behind, get discouraged and eventually give up.

A couple of years ago I was working on growing my personal relationship with God. I was praying, asking Him to use me in His work when a vivid thought slashed across my mind, “How can I use you if you won’t even spend time in My Word?” Wow, did I stand convicted! That evening I decided it was time to take this Bible reading seriously. I pulled out the copy of "The Message" I purchased with good intentions a year earlier and started to read.

I didn’t work with a schedule. I didn’t let it randomly fall open hoping God would point out some life changing scripture. I simply opened the cover and started with the first chapter just like I was reading any other book. I changed my reading time. After dinner I shut off the TV and reached for my Bible instead. Soon I was looking forward to these relaxing, quiet reading sessions.

I don’t remember how long it took me to read through "The Message" the first time. I wasn’t on a time schedule. I was just reading and learning from God’s word. He spoke to me as I read and a number of times I found myself writing down thoughts and insights in a journal. Some of these thoughts even became messages my pastor encouraged me to share on Sunday morning at church.

Are you unsuccessful with your Bible reading? Stop pressuring yourself, approach it like you approach any other book. Open the cover, start in the beginning and read till you get to the end. You don’t need to read for a set period of time. Use whatever time you’ve got even if it’s only ten minutes at day. Eventually you’ll be surprised to find you’ve completed the Old Testament. One day you’ll finish the Book completely and want to start all over again.

Will you understand everything you read? No! But pray and ask God for wisdom and understanding. Surprising as it may seem, He WILL give it to you. Will there be sections that could potentially put you to sleep? Yes! Persevere! You’ll be amazed at the rich stories and history contained in this Book. There are stories of love and war, violence, hatred, reconciliation, failure, defeat and triumph. You’ll read of men and women of incredible faith and people with great trust and hope for the future.

I could go on and on but it's best to experience it personally. You'll find your faith strengthened, changed, and renewed. Post your comments below – Have you read the Bible from cover to cover? What works for you?


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Who's In Your Driver's Seat?

Four months ago we acquired a small, grey ball of fluff with eyes, teeth and a fluffy tail who goes by the name of Zeus, affectionately nicknamed the “Jaws of Destruction”.

He’s capable of chewing through any cell phone charger, speaker cable, phone cord or headphone wire faster than a chainsaw eats through a 2 x 4. He’s very efficient, one...two...three bites and he’s done – the cord is in pieces.

Lately when we open the door he’s taken to dashing through our legs, scurrying down the sidewalk and charging across the street. He’s three lawns down before you even know he’s escaped. Fearing for his life we went to the pet store this weekend in search of a device to serve as a barrier on the porch to slow his race for freedom.

When we pulled up to the pet store this is what we saw. 

I couldn’t resist turning to my husband and stating the obvious, “Look there’s a dog driving that car!” It actually looked quite natural, and yet...not!

This made me stop and ask the question, “Who’s in my driver’s seat?” Do I cling desperately to things in life beyond my control, stressing myself out? Do I trust God enough to open my clenched fists and relinquish control to Him? Am I trying to be tourist, navigator and driver all at once or have I allowed God to take over the role of navigator and driver while I enjoy the journey?

I must confess I have a few “control issues”.  Anyone who knows me is rolling on the floor laughing at the magnitude of that understatement. OK, I have HUGE, GIGANTIC, GARGANTUAN, HUMUNGOUS (insert any other “large” adjective here) control issues! I like to do things my way, on my time schedule, in the location of my choice. 

I’ve read various articles over the years indicating the need to be “in control” stems from a low self-image, and feelings of inferiority and insecurity. I can honestly say this holds true in my case. Over the years I’ve struggled with all three of these self-defeating attitudes.

There's good news though. In the last few years I’ve relaxed my tight grip on control. Why is that? I’ve found someone I can trust who always provides for me and meets my every need; someone who always gives what's best for me, even when I don’t know what "the best" is.

Any idea who I'm talking about? God. I’ve learned to give up control and trust God with a lot of things in my life. I’ve learned I don’t always have to have the answers, that sometimes it’s OK just to ask questions, ponder the possibilities and leave the answers up to God. Life isn’t perfect and I’ve realized I don’t have to be either. I just need to be genuine, truthful and teachable.

You can trust God in your life, too.  Here’s some reassurance straight from God’s word, the Bible...

“For I know the plans I have for you, “ says the Lord, “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11 (NLT)

“So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time He will lift you up in honour. Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7 (NLT)

“I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 14:27

“The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.” Isaiah 58:11 (NLT)

“Don’t worry about anything; instead , pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT)


It’s time to finally let go of that exhausting need to be in control. It might take a few attempts before you succeed, but start by asking God today to take your cares and burdens on His shoulders. Then keep coming back to Him in prayer with your worries and learn to trust Him fully. Who do you want in your driver’s seat?

Comment by clicking on “comments” below.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ice Cream Sandwich Dessert

Wow, time is flying by faster than cars in the final lap of a Nascar race! I'm absolutely loathe to write these next words, but find I have no choice. The final long weekend of summer is upon us (or about to be) and it seems like summer just started last week (when the 30 degree weather finally showed up).

I know a lot of you are planning to gather with friends or family to bar-b-que and enjoy the long weekend. Don't waste a minute of the weekend slaving in the kitchen - keep it simple! Here's a recipe you can throw together faster than your dog can steal steaks off the bar-b-q. (Be sure to put this together the night before so the flavours have a chance to mingle.)

ICE CREAM SANDWICH DESSERT

1 box of 24 ice cream sandwiches
1 large container Cool Whip (thaw this ahead of time)
1 package Skor bits (find these in the baking aisle with the chocolate chips)

Cover the bottom of a deep 9" x 13" pan with a layer of ice cream sandwiches. You'll need to cut a few to make sure the entire bottom is covered (squish in the pieces if you have to).
Spread half the container of Cool Whip over the sandwiches.
Sprinkle about half the package of Skor bits over top.

Add another layer of ice cream sandwiches, again being sure to cut to size to fill the entire pan.
Spread the rest of the Cool Whip over the sandwiches.
Sprinkle the rest of the Skor bits on the Cool Whip layer.

Cover and freeze.  Enjoy!

If you try this recipe please come back and leave feedback on how you liked it.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Starting Strong But Finishing Poorly

Self Esteem and Weak Leadership

Last week we looked at the early life of Joash, king of Judah.  We saw how he was able to thrive as king under the positive guidance of Jehoiada, the high priest, in spite of a severely dysfunctional family history. The historical account of Joash’s reign begins on a high note with the statement, “Joash did what was pleasing in the Lord’s sight throughout the lifetime of Jehoiada the priest.” (2 Chronicles 24:2)

Sadly his reign doesn’t end on this same positive note. The words “throughout the lifetime of Jehoiada the priest” foreshadow the downfall of Joash’s reign following the death of his mentor.

The early verses of 2 Chronicles, chapter 24 depict the acts of Joash and Jehoiada as they rebuild the temple of the Lord and reinstate godly worship. But in verse 15 we’re told Jehoiada dies and Joash is left without his lifelong mentor and guide.

Immediately things take a turn for the worse. Verses 17 and 18 tell us, “But after Jehoiada’s death, the leaders of Judah came and bowed before King Joash and persuaded him to listen to their advice. They decided to abandon the Temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and they worshiped Asherah poles and idols instead!...”

Did these men take advantage of Joash while he was vulnerable following his mentor’s death? Is it possible he was a weak individual who thrived under the strong leadership of Jehoiada, the priest, but when left to his own devices succumbed to the pressure of other leaders around him? Was he not capable of making decisions himself?  Perhaps he struggled with low self esteem and self doubt, finding it easier to give in to the opinions of others than to defend his own beliefs.

Whatever the reason Joash is influenced by the leaders of Judah and a lifetime of revival of the Lord’s temple is tossed to the wind. Joash begins to worship idols and follows pagan gods. Zechariah, Jehoiada’s son, sees what is happening and questions Joash, calling him to task for turning from serving God. But Joash, too deeply enmeshed in the pagan lifestyle, coldly orders the leaders of Judah to kill Jehoiada’s son.

In the end Joash is assassinated by some of his own men because of his decision to kill Zechariah and doesn’t even warrant burial in the royal cemetery. It’s sad to see a life start out with such promise and end so poorly.

Do you struggle with self doubt? Perhaps you’ve been bullied. Have you made decisions based on the approval of your so called “friends” or co-workers; perhaps even your boss and then regretted the choices you made? Have you compromised your beliefs and standards to satisfy someone else?

These are hard questions to answer truthfully. No one likes to admit to compromising their values or changing who they are to make someone else happy. The truth is at some point in our lives we’ve probably all done just that. It’s very difficult to defend yourself and your beliefs to your peers or the bullies in your life if you struggle with self-esteem and self-worth. We see from the life of Joash how important it is to speak up for what we know is right and not give in to evil influence.

I’ve struggled with low self-esteem all my life. In hindsight I know one of my marriages failed because I was too weak to stand up for myself. I “went with the flow” and believed I was flexible, adaptable and accommodating when really I was just “wishy washy” and weak, allowing all my decisions to be made for me because I didn’t want to make them myself.

A poor self image is hard to overcome. Sometimes it’s hard to believe we’re worthy of self love and self respect and the respect of those around us.  We don’t think other people care about our opinions and don’t believe we have something of value to contribute to conversations and life around us. But believe me when I tell you we do! You are of utmost value to God! You have something important to contribute to this world and to the people around you! You are worthy of God’s love, your own love and the love and respect of others!

If you struggle with low self-esteem please seek the guidance of a trusted counselor. Consider reading some books on the subject – a good place to start is “Completely His” by Shannon Ethridge. Believe that God loves you. Remember the verse John 3:16, “For God loved the world so much that He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”  That’s you – the world is you and me! Try reading the New Testament in the Bible and you’ll see just how much God loves us all!

Have you struggled with self-esteem?  It’s more common than you think.  Please comment below.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mentorship - Shaping People's Lives

Is there someone in your life you respect or admire? Someone who is a positive influence?  Someone who helped shape the person you are today because they cared enough to take time to listen and teach you?

Parents, aunts, uncles, family friends, teachers, grandparents, and pastors all make a significant difference in the life of a child if they are willing to take the time to listen patiently, teach, and when necessary, lovingly discipline.  As adults we can hone our talents, gifts and faith if we are able to find a knowledgeable person who is willing to mentor us in our quest to learn and grow. A great example of the influence an adult can have in a child’s life is seen in the initial rule of King Joash of Judah (2 Chronicles 23–24:1-14)

Let’s take a quick look at Joash’s relatives leading up to his reign. Joash’s grandfather, Jehoram, starts his reign by killing all his brothers – presumably so no one will usurp his throne. He worships pagan gods, leading all of Judah into idolatry. Eventually he is afflicted by what is termed “a severe intestinal disease” (2 Chronicles 21:18) and dies an agonizing death. The last verse of 2 Chronicles 21 sums up his reign succinctly by stating, “...No one was sorry when he died.” Ahaziah, Joash’s father, reigns as king of Judah for only one year before he is killed. The historical account of Ahaziah includes the words, “...He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord...” 2 Chronicles 22:4. Trust me this really isn’t the way you want the historical record of your reign as king to read!

Joash’s grandfather and father aren’t exactly a positive influence in his life, but wait until you hear about his grandmother! When Athaliah (Joash’s grandmother), finds out her son is dead she goes on a killing rampage targeting the entire royal family because she doesn’t want anyone ruling in her place. Talk about dysfunctional family!

Joash is just a baby when his grandmother goes on her killing spree and would certainly have perished. His aunt who is married to Jehoiada, the high priest, intervenes and steals Joash away, hiding him in the temple. He remains there for six years under the care of his aunt and her husband, Jehoiada. (2 Chronicles 22:10-12)

Eventually Joash’s evil grandmother is overthrown. At the tender age of seven Joash becomes king and is guided, taught and mentored by Jehoiada.  He reigns for 40 years and, “...Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the days of Jehoiada the priest.” (2 Chronicles 24:2) Now that’s what you want to see written on your epitaph as king! As long as Jehoiada is alive Joash thrives under his instruction and walks faithfully with the Lord.

Next week we’ll look at the flip side of Joash’s story. We’ll see what happens in the absence of a mentor and explore the damaging effects of peer pressure.

Early on in my career I worked as a secretary for the co-ordinator of a department in one of the hospitals in Winnipeg. I was in my early twenties and still very impressionable. I learned many lessons from this wonderful lady. She modeled exemplary work ethic, positive attitude in the midst of a stressful and chaotic department and she always had a kind word of encouragement for her staff. Each morning she would come into the office with a big grin on her face and say, “It’s a great day”, and you knew she genuinely meant it.

By watching her I learned you can choose the attitude you have each day (and a positive attitude is way more fun than a negative attitude), I learned to work hard and to serve people and I learned to manage stress in the work place (that one took a few more lessons over the years before I mastered it, but I caught the early glimpses of what stress management should look like).  It’s been 20 years since I worked for her but last year I took a few minutes and wrote her a note explaining the impact she made in my life and how much I appreciated the things I learned working for her. 

Joash’s life could have been very different had it not been for the patient instruction of Jehoiada.  My career may have been very different had it not been for the influence of this lovely lady in my early working years. Never underestimate the impact you can have on someone’s life. Look around you. Is there a young person you can help by offering some guidance? Do you need someone to mentor you in your faith journey? Has someone new started in your office and needs a little help?

Comment below if you’ve mentored someone or been mentored yourself.