Friday, June 29, 2012

Try a Little Kindness

Her name was Tabitha, although some referred to her as Dorcas.  The passage in Acts 9:31-41 that tells us about her gives very little information but the few words contain a powerful insight.  

She was known for her kindness and generosity.  

She sewed dresses for the widows of the town.

She was greatly missed when she died.

These nuggets that summed up Tabitha's life are small and great at the same time.  She had no impressive title.  She held no place of authority in the community.  I don't see a woman of power and influence.  Well, at least as the world around would define power and influence.

But I see something in the response of those who had been touched by Tabitha's kindness and generosity--the widows of the town.  

They wept at her passing.  

They felt a deep sense of loss.  

They wondered what they would do without her.  

And all of this was generated by a woman who was just being kind and generous, just doing what she could do to make the lives of those around her a little easier, a little better.  She sewed dresses.  

A commercial that has been running on TV for a while shows a series of kind acts, each one done in response to observing someone else doing a kind act.  A pay-it-forward sequence with a twist.  Each person is inspired to be kind and generous just because they saw kindness and generosity in another's life, not because they experienced it themselves. 

I heard the story of a young woman who lost her cell phone on a recent road trip and then was shocked to find out from her parents that the stranger who had found it called her home and was sending it to them.  A totally unexpected outcome for the gal and she was impacted by it.

My conclusion is that I underestimate the power we have to influence the world around us just by being kind and generous.  And I have been amazed at the opportunities to be kind and generous that present themselves every day if I look for them.  Kindness and generosity do not require any special talents or abilities, do not require advanced degrees, do not require much time and effort even.  I am discovering that God just asks me to be available and willing.  

I am grateful for the "Tabithas" in my life.  Those who chose to be available, to extend a bit of kindness, to give a bit more than is necessary.  I am thankful for the person who returned my purse to Customer Service after I left it in the shopping cart.  I am thankful for the person who left his name and phone number on my car windshield after his car door hit mine.  I am thankful for the friend who dropped off a vase of fresh flowers after I participated in a half marathon.  And I'm thankful for those who have offered an encouraging word to think on the truth about me, my life, my circumstances.

The power of kindness and generosity isn't one of those "I've never thought of that before" ideas but what a great reminder for me to keep my eyes open and my ears attentive to put them into action in my life.


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Too Hot to Bake But I Want Chocolate!

It's Hot!!

So what are you going to do when it is 103ยบ outside and you want to eat something chocolatey but you really don't want to heat up the oven?

Whip up a batch of No Bake Chocolate Fudge Bars.  

These were my go to chocolate fix when my kids were young and the "gotta have some chocolate now" urge hit me during nap time.  They are quick to mix up, take only a few ingredients that are usually in my cupboards and are GOOD! 

I don't think this is a unique recipe and you can probably find one that is similar in many cookbooks and web sites.  I originally discovered it in one of my all time favorite cookbooks, "Favorite Recipes of the Nebraska 4-H Club", that I have had since high school.  It is obvious that it has been a favorite from it's condition.
No cover.  Binding gone.  Stained and dog-eared pages.
I loved this cookbook so much that when I ran across a duplicate copy at a garage sale about 20 years ago I snatched it up, knowing that my first copy wasn't going to last forever.  Unfortunately, the second copy has suffered a similar fate.  
First copy on left.  Second copy on right.  I have to keep both copies because each one is missing different pages.
For the bars, combine sugar, milk, butter and cocoa in a saucepan and heat over medium high until butter is melted.  Bring to a boil and allow to boil for 1 1/2 minutes.

Remove from heat.  Add peanut butter and stir until the peanut butter is lost in the chocolate pool.
Do not mistake that yellow blob as mustard instead of peanut butter.  
Then add in oatmeal and vanilla (and nuts if you are feeling adventurous. I always skip the nuts.)

Quick cooking or regular oatmeal seems to work equally well in this recipe.
It's really all about the chocolate anyway! 
The mixture all gets spread into a 9x9 or 11x7 greased pan.
Save the wrapper from the butter to grease the pan.
Now, patiently wait for the bars to set up before cutting. Or impatiently put the bars into the freezer for 20 minutes to speed up the process which allows you to cut and eat much faster!
Guess which method I chose?

Another option it to drop the mixture by teaspoons onto was paper to make individual No Bake Chocolate Cookies rather than Bars.

I like making bars best.
Now you have no excuse for denying yourself your family something yummy on the hottest days of the year. 

And, by the way, this is one of my new favorite cookbooks....
Wonder what she (meaning the book, not Ree) will look like in 20 years!

            from "Favorite Recipes of the Nebraska 4-H Club"

2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
4 tablespoons cocoa
1/2 cup peanut butter
3 cups oatmeal
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup chopped nuts, if desired

Combine sugar, milk, butter, cocoa in saucepan and heat over medium high heat until sugar is dissolved and butter is melted.  Allow to come to a boil and continue boiling for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove from heat, add peanut butter and stir to combine.  Add oatmeal, vanilla and nuts (if desired).  Stir until blended.  Drop by teaspoons onto wax paper or spread in greased 11x7 or 9x9 pan.  Once cooled, cut into bars.

Monday, June 18, 2012

A Kitchen With a Motto

My kitchen now has a motto.  

Over the weekend I finished up a project that had been in the "Idea To Do Someday" category of my life ever since I picked up two black rectangular frames from the 60% off section at Hobby Lobby earlier this year. 

I love it when something gets completed or at least started from my "Ideas To Do Someday" list.  I am much better at adding things to the list than getting them accomplished. Case in point-I added ideas to my "To Do" list as I was working on this project.  The list never gets shorter!

When I brought the frames home I knew they needed to end up on my kitchen wall on either side of the vinyl decal clock I found a couple of years ago at Kohl's for 50% off.  (Yep, I'm a cheapskate.)  

But the question was--"What to put inside those frames?"  

I decided to jump on the chalkboard paint wagon that has been traveling around the design blog world for a while and do a black chalkboard insert for one frame and then when my daughter brought home a wooden spoon and fork set from Africa I knew they would get framed in the other one. 

I  cut a rectangle from some thin wood stuff (highly technical description) that I had in the garage and painted it with two coats of black chalkboard paint.  After drying I "primed" the surface by rubbing it with white chalk and then wiping it clean.  Once it was secured to the frame with small nails I added my new kitchen motto taken from Luke 15:23, a portion of the Prodigal Son parable told by Jesus.

When the father sees that his son is returning from being gone for so long, he calls for a celebration and a feast and declares: 

That would be my desire for the preparation and eating that takes place in my home.  I want my kitchen to be a place of celebration and merriment.  God richly provides us with all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17) and this new motto is a reminder for me to have fun and enjoy the moment, even if that moment involves a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or peeling carrots or doing the dishes (which always needs to be done if there is eating involved at home).  

And as the chief cook and bottle washer in our home the responsibility to see that this happens falls on me.  My attitude can make or break a celebration in my kitchen.  
As an added reminder the Scripture verse also shows up on my condiment caddy that sits next to the stove.

So...what's the motto of your kitchen?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Who am I believing in?

I recently was introduced to the writings of William R. Newell, a pastor in Chicago and administrator at Moody Bible Institute beginning in 1895.  It is said that he had a clearer grasp of the magnitude of God's grace in Christ than some others had or have.  One quote in particular that has drawn my attention is:

"To be disappointed with yourself is to have believed in yourself"

It caused me to look back through notes from my devotional time because I remember having a similar thought from another Bible Study I was involved in last year.  I had written:

Expecting myself to fail is not trusting in God's power working in me, but in my own weakness.

This was an "Ah Ha" moment for me at the time but now I realize it was God opening up a dialogue with me that is continuing to unfold.  You see, I probably have seen myself as a less-than-productive, too-laid-back, not-motivated-enough, somewhat-lazy, undisciplined creature for most of my life.  Those who know me have tried in vain to encourage me that such thinking is invalid but I have been sure I knew better and brushed aside their comments as mere flattery or as ill-informed well-meaning kindnesses. I have been quite familiar with my short comings, my weaknesses, my failures and disliked them all. 

I think that being aware of our weak spots is important though.  It has kept me from volunteering for positions I knew I was not qualified to do.  It has helped me set priorities and boundaries in my life.  But to dwell on those cracks in my facade with disdain and wish them away and feel inferior because of them is not what God intended when He created me in His fearful and wonderful way.  At least that's the conclusion I am coming too and what I think Rev. Newell was getting at in his quote. 

When I have been or am disappointed in myself, it is the same as thinking I should be better or should get better.  It is saying I believe that I am capable of more.  It is saying that I am better than this.  That I am not living up to my potential.  That I need to more "perfect".  And it is easy to see , in my case anyway, how this line of thinking leads to a conversation with me that goes something like: 

"What's wrong with you!" 
"Why can't you be like so-and-so!" 
"You are such a loser!" 
"You blew it again!"
"Why would you ever think that you can do that!"  

You get my drift?  And did you notice all the "I" statements there?

God tells me in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that I, like Paul, should "most gladly, therefore, boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me" because God's power is perfected in my weakness. If I let my shortcomings put me in a funk because I think they shouldn't be there, isn't that wanting to be strong in myself and not strong in the power of Christ?  Isn't it believing in myself rather than what God can do in and through me?

The Apostle Paul also wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:10

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.

God, through Paul, is telling me that who I am is a sign of His grace.  I have abilities, and some strengths, because He put them there.  I also have weaknesses because He put them there.  And He did that because I need to need Him.  And that's where He extends more grace to shore up those weak areas and let His own incredible strength come through.   When I mess up and get down on myself it is the same as saying I deserve to be perfect on my own.  That I want to be able to trust in myself all by myself to be who I want to be.  Again, a lot of "I" mentioned there.  

Failure is disappointing and not fun at all.  I hate to miss the mark and fall short of the finish line or make a mess of things or come off looking like a doofus.  But the real disappointment shouldn't be in the reminder that I am less than perfect, but in the realization that I was depending on myself again.  That once again I believed in my own ability to get it right.  Beating myself up is not putting anything in order.  Order comes when I get my thinking back in line with God who says that:
"we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves." 
(2 Corinthians 4:7) 

I am a cracked pot of clay.  Why do I expect to be a silver clad urn on a pedestal?  If I was, there would be no need of Christ in my life.  I wouldn't need His power to work in me.  I wouldn't need the support and encouragement of others. I could take all the credit myself and the "surpassing greatness" would be all mine.  

Oh, but that is not God's desire.  He desires a relationship with me.  He wants me to need Him so that I will depend on Him and His inexhaustible love for me, so that I will recognize that apart from Him I can do nothing (John 15:5) but with Him, I can do all things (Philippians 4:13).  God wants me to believe in HIM and trust in HIM, not me in either case.

Just to be clear...I don't thing my weak spots should just be ignored by me.  God gives me plenty of guidelines in how to address them in His Word.  My conclusion, so far, is that my response to my failures or stumbles or trip ups has to turn me to my need for Jesus and His strength and not to my lack of ability or perfection.  My eyes have to be turned away from Me, Me, Me and focused on Him, Him, Him
I imagine that this dialogue with God is not finished yet.  Maybe He intended it to include someone who reads this and sees the flaws in my thinking or agrees with some of it or is wondering some of the same thoughts.