Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Looking for Ziplock Bags


I heard once that Jesus liked to use parables (simple stories used to illustrate a lesson) with the Hebrews because they were visual learners.  A lesson made a bigger impact with them if it was told in "pictures".  I must be part Hebrew.  I, too, like object lessons, word pictures.  And God, knowing me so well, understands this and faithfully gives me object lessons in my day to day living. 

The most recent and memorable lesson came on a spontaneous trip to the local dollar store.  I was preparing some freezer meals for my grad school son and ran out of ziplock bags.  (Isn't it interesting how the brand name of a product becomes the generic category for all things similar?)  Since I was right in the middle of my preparations, I decided to make a quick trip to the nearest store that would carry such a product, the local dollar discount store.  I don't on a regular basis shop at this store.  Most of the time I stop there because I just need one or two items and don't want to make the incredibly long 8 minute drive across town to the mega discount place!!! (Oh, the joys of small town life!) 

I arrived at my destination and parked my car assuming that this was going to be one of those uneventful, unimportant, mundane moments in my stay at home life.  


Because at the same time as I was getting our of my car and approaching the door to the store another car had pulled into a parking space right in front of the door and it's occupants were getting out and approaching the same door.  Nothing unusual except that the two "gentlemen" that were walking down the sidewalk right ahead of me now were anything BUT usual.  It was obvious as I came closer that these two guys had very little female influence in their lives.  (At least that is what I inferred.)  Neither one had "seen" a bar of soap in a while and their garments had not "seen" the inside of a clothes washer for some time.  My nose told me so!  One man definitely needed a belt for his britches and they both would have benefited from a trip to the barber shop.  

Ya get my drift!?!?

At the moment my senses came to this realization I started planning on how I could avoid meeting up with them at the entrance.  I could walk slower; pretend I forgot something in the car and turn around; stop and "check" the text messages on my phone.  But the next moment, God's voice inside of me said, "Mary, what is the topic of Bible Study this week?"

The study in the book of James for that week covered Chapter 2, Verses 1 through 13. 

My brothers and sister, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism.  Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in.  If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
James 2:1-4 (MSG)

So I quickly asked myself, "How would you respond, Mary, if these two guys were dressed in beautifully tailored suits and Italian leather shoes, wearing Giorgio Armani cologne, looking like they had just stepped out of an upscale Los Angeles hair design studio?"  Well, other than wondering what the heck were these guys doing in my small town Nebraska,  I imagine I would gladly walk right into the store with them.  Thus, I kept right on walking behind these fellow dollar store shoppers and much to my surprise when we reached the door one of them politely opened the door, stepped aside, and held it open for me with a friendly smile on his face.  I returned his smile, looked him in the eye and said, "Why, thank you!"  

Score one for me!  But before I throw my elbow out of joint patting myself on the back let me tell you the rest of the story.  

I proceeded to walk to the back of the store searching for the freezer bags, wondering where would be the logical place for them.  Not finding them in that section I turned around to explore another area when, low and behold!, here came my two scruffy "friends" heading down the same aisle towards me.  I made a rapid exit stage right into the next aisle to avoid another encounter.  Score minus one for me!  

Feeling a slight twinge of guilt I continued on finally finding the food wrap and bag area.  As I stood there debating whether I should buy the 18 bag box or the 10 bag box, this brand or that brand,  who should appear to my left at the end of the aisle but......"Smelly Guy Who Opened The Door For Me".  

And the guy looked at me and asked (drum roll, please),

"Do you know where the ziplock bags are?" 

I looked at him (with my mouth agape, I'm sure), looked at the shelves in front of me and said, "Umm, right here", pointing at the boxes of bags.  

"Thank you.  I'll let my friend know......Hey, they're over here!"

In an amazed state of mind, I made my selection and headed to the registers, paid for my purchase and headed to my car in the parking lot.  And then I just sat there, still amazed, processing what I had just experienced.  

Tears welled up in my eyes as I realized that God had given me another object lesson.  I had just been a part of a modern day parable.  You see, He says in James that to show partiality is sin. (James 2:9)  And He had just given me the opportunity to chose between showing partiality or extending mercy.  I'm not sure if I passed the test.  Maybe I scored a 50%, maybe more, maybe less.  But the moral of the story stabbed me right in my heart.  

I sat there thanking God that He had urged me to keep walking when I encountered the guys in front of the store.  I wondered how did it happen that at that exact moment, I and the two men arrived at the same store at the same time with the same purpose in mind-to purchase ziplock bags.  I wondered why did these two people, who didn't seem to be the kind of guys who would even know what a ziplock bag was, ask for them by name, the exact same name I call them.

Regardless of the outward appearance, we are all the same in some way or another.  If I take time to consider others I will find a common ground with them which will lead me to be merciful, to not discriminate based on the world's value system.  That is the point that James (Well, actually God) was making in the second chapter of his letter.  

We are all just looking for ziplock bags.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Doing Something!


Something or someone has been tugging at my heart for quite some time now.  When I sat down to try to discern when this all started I came to the conclusion it was probably when my oldest child took a one week long trip to Panama about 10 years ago.  She came home a changed person with a heart for the impoverished, under-privileged peoples of the world.  She felt an overwhelming desire to
“do something”.  She questioned why spend so much money on her own education when others lived in subservient conditions.  She wanted to quit school, go into the world and use her gifts and abilities to make a difference “NOW”.  As her parents, we listened as she shared her heart and then encouraged her to stay the course she was on and assured her that to make a difference it would be best to finish her studies, continue on to medical school and hone her gifts and abilities to be even more useful by God in the lives of people.  We essentially told her to “wait” by continuing on the present course.  

After that initial exposure to a worldview God has continued to draw my eyes up and away from myself.  My other children have traveled outside of our country’s borders and I have vicariously experienced the world through them.  I have “loved” a Kenyan little boy receiving his first pair of new shoes.  I have been “hugged” by a grateful Ugandan woman receiving medical attention.  I have “seen” the mountains of northern Italy.  I have been given the opportunity to invest in the education of a refugee man's daughters.

My heart was tugged through these experiences but then the past year the tug intensified to a yank!  Twice I have listened as Jen Hatmaker shared the journey she has been on through ministering to the homeless in her community, adopting two precious children from Ethiopia, partnering with others to raise funds for home building in Haiti and most recently, traveling to Haiti to interact with the people there. Her words challenged me to consider my own personal involvement in the lives of the afflicted, both here and abroad.  Each time I returned home from the conferences convinced I needed to “do something”.  (Sound familiar?) 

This past month my book club read Daughters of Hope, real life stories of women who live in parts of the world where not only is it difficult to be a woman but it is life threatening to be a Christian woman.  I hesitated to even start reading the book because I knew this would not be a casual read.  I was going to learn things that would affect my heart.  And just as I suspected, the book lassoed my heart, drug it to the ground and hog-tied it in true rodeo fashion. 

The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back came a few days later when I finished the book Radical by David Platt.  In it, the author “challenges Christians to wake up…and embrace the notion that each of us is blessed by God for a global purpose.” (quote from book cover) 

The summation of all these experiences has me feeling helpless, frustrated, compelled to “do something” about the injustices of the world.  I feel like I am in a “spinning my wheels and getting no where” frame of mind.  What does God expect me to do with all this knowledge?  I am convinced that God is going to hold me responsible for this information.  I want to be a good steward of what I now know.  I cannot, with a clear conscience, put it all back on the shelf, say “Now, wasn’t that interesting” and go on about my "Mary" way.  God is not going to let me turn a blind eye to the people in need in this world. 

I have called out to God asking Him:

"What do You want me to do with all this information?!?!" 

"How can someone like me even begin to make a dent in the injustices of our world?!?!" 

"It is all so big, God, and I am so little!!!"

And He has answered my cries!  No, we are not selling it all, packing what’s left and heading to the jungle.  And we are not adopting!!!

No, I am praying.  

Now that might sound somewhat anticlimactic after all the steam I have been building up.  And I, too, thought that prayer didn’t sound like “doing something”.  I like to see tangible evidence that my efforts have accomplished something.  I like to stand back and admire the sparkling kitchen sink after applying some elbow grease.  I like to see the empty clothes hamper after the last load has been folded.  But James 5:16 says that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”  

Prayer is “doing”.

David Platt in “Radical” closes the book with a challenge that includes to pray for ENTIRE world in the next year.  I am taking that challenge.  I realize that if I am not willing to commit to plead the case of the afflicted before the throne of God I cannot expect to be used to “do something” more.   God says, “Just do Step 1, Mary.  We will talk about Step 2 later.”  If there even IS a Step 2 for me.  No matter.  Today I will pray for a small group of people in Honduras using PrayerPoint from Samaritan’s Purse and for those in Russia, following the guidelines from Operation World.   And I publicly state here that I will pray for the world in the next 365 days.  I will “wait “ on the Lord by continuing on the present course.  I will be content to not “see” the results of my labor but to trust the truth of God’s Word that my prayers can accomplish much.  I will not sit on the knowledge that He has entrusted to me. I will not spin my wheels any longer.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Time to Bake The Scones!

Fall has arrived!  It's time for fuzzy wool sock and fleece jackets and baking!   All summer when the temperature hovered around the 100º mark I refrained from heating up the oven as much as possible but now the night time lows are dipping into the near-freezing zone and the extra heat from the oven is welcome in the house.  Usually fall baking recipes center around---

but because I still have a box of strawberries that was included in one of the last CSA farm boxes I picked up in September I felt compelled to find a recipe that utilized this summer-like fruit instead of the traditional fall tastes.

I searched for a recipe and Strawberry Shortcake Scones caught me eye.   
Scones are one of those fancy sounding sweets that are not at all difficult to make.  Basically, they start with the usual ingredients found in most made-from-scratch biscuits.
The dry ingredients are blended together, the cold cubed butter is cut in with a pastry blender and the half and half is stirred in just until it all comes together and the dry ingredients are moistened.  The dough is flattened out into a 1-inch thick rectangle...
 cut into 6 squares which are cut again into 12 wedges.  The scones are placed on a parchment or silicone mat covered baking sheet.
After baking for 16 minutes the scones are golden brown and looking good.
Once cooled a bit, a powdered sugar glaze is drizzled over the top.
Yum!  A taste of summer in a warm fall-like pastry.  

(submitted to TastyKitchen,com by Alaska from Scratch)

     2 cups all purpose flour
     1 Tablespoon baking powder
     3 Tablespoons sugar
     1/2 teaspoon salt
     2 cups strawberries, hulled and cut into quarters
     5 Tablespoons butter, chilled and cut into 1/4 inch cubes
     3/4 cup half and half
     1 cup powdered sugar
     1/2 teaspoon vanilla
     2-3 Tablespoons half and half
Preheat oven to 425º.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silcone baking mat.

Combine first 4 ingredients in large mixing bowl and stir with wire whisk.  Add butter and cut in with pastry blender until mixture is crumbly.  Add strawberries and toss with fork until coated with flour mixture.  Pour in half and half and fold in gently until dry ingredients are evenly moistened.  Do not over mix or knead dough.

Turn dough onto floured surface and flatten with hands until a 1-inch thick rectangle is formed.  Cut dough into 6 equal squares and cut each square in half diagonally to form 12 wedges.  

Place scones on baking sheet and bake at 425º for 16-18 minutes or until golden brown.

Remove scones to cooling rack placed on wax or parchment paper and let cool for a few minutes before adding glaze.   Combine glaze ingredients, adding more or less cream for desired consistency.  Drizzle glaze evenly over baked scones.

Enjoy with a cup of your favorite hot beverage!