Love wins. Love. Wins.
There is so much to talk about in the way of hurt and heinous acts. The climate is heavy, and our shoulders are sagging just a little. We continue to talk about it, the absence of peace and the presence of hate, but what if we listened for the voice of peace?
My favorite song of the season is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. I’m a writer of words, but more than that, I am a lover of language. We always have multiple choices for the ways we want to say something, and Longfellow beautifully penned these words during a time of tragedy and personal loss.
“And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
There really is no reason for me to repeat or revise his words here. He wrote this in 1863 and it is still so fitting today. He rested in the hope that the right will prevail—and so can we.
In the way of good will to men, I have a story from Christmas just a few years ago. I had a two-day work event. I was a busy (tired) working mom, and I was going to be gone overnight. On a school night. The idea itself was daunting, but I was going to power through and be both a responsible mom and a loyal employee.
So I packed my clothes and gathered my tools for the event, and off I went. Because I was setting up a dinner, I needed to be there early and would have to get ready in a tiny little bathroom, but that was just part of the charm. My mom was with me, because we work together (also part of the charm).
Typically, I am her right hand man, but on this day, I needed her to be mine. I had packed a dress and a suit. I would be wearing the suit to dinner, because it was the more appropriate wardrobe choice. Mom brought the suit in to the tiny bathroom, and I did my best contortionist work as I maneuvered into tights and heels whilst avoiding a toilet and window ledge. (I don’t know why there was a window in the bathroom stall.)
I slipped in to my suit jacket with grace and elegance, and then to my shock, there were no pants. NO PANTS. I cannot go to dinner without pants. “MOMMMMMM!!!” I cried, as my blood pressure started to rise, “I don’t have any pants.” We had a meaningful discussion at this point, and she brought me the dress, which was not meant to be worn at dinner, because it was a little fancy, but thems the breaks. Crisis averted.
At dinner, sitting with the precious people I was hosting, I felt that I owed an explanation for my fancy self. They are all sitting in their slacks and Christmas sweaters adorned with sparkly stars and velvet poinsettias, and I’m in my fabulous purple dress.
“I don’t have pants,” I explained simply. Because, well, how else can one explain the absence of pants? (this is where you need to pay attention). One of the ladies said, “You don’t have pants? Well, do you want mine?” – because LOVE WINS. LOVE.WINS.
I did not take her pants. Had I taken those pants, which were so graciously offered, my friend would not be wearing any pants. You see how this works…. But either way. She was willing. We became better friends after that. I just adore her. And she always compliments my pants when she sees me. It’s our thing.
There was plenty of hurt around that table that night. I was anxious about my clothes, but there was so much more than that. One of the ladies had a son facing heart surgery; one of the couples was about to start a fight against cancer; one of the men was fighting alcoholism; one of the ladies was in an abusive marriage. I have no idea what we ate for dinner that night. I don’t remember the program after dinner. I remember her kindness in the midst of the struggle.
Maybe you don’t offer your pants, or your shirt, or coat. Maybe you offer a meal, or something sweet to snack on, or a warm drink. One of my favorite gifts to give (because it’s cute and inexpensive) is this cocoa with home-made marshmallows.
What you need: large bowl to mix all ingredients in
- 6 ½ C powdered milk (Carnation, for example)
- 1 package chocolate pudding mix (5 oz, not instant)
- 1 Cup chocolate drink mix (Nestle Quick, for example)
- ½ Cup powdered creamer – different from powdered milk
- ½ Cup powdered sugar
- ½ Cup cocoa powder
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, incorporating all parts well. If you’re me, you leave this in a humongous sealed container and use it all up by yourself. But this isn’t about me, its about giving and love and charity…. So instead, you might put it in smaller sealed containers and distribute to friends with instructions for mixing: ½ C mix, ¾ C boiling water in a mug (topped with marshmallows, clearly).
What you need: stand mixer with a whisk attachment, sauce pan, spatula, 9×13 pan, medium bowl, candy thermometer, pizza wheel
- 3 packages unflavored gelatin
- 1 Cup ice cold water, divided
- 1 ½ Cup granulated sugar
- 1 Cup light corn syrup
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla or peppermint extract
- ¼ Cup powdered sugar
- ¼ Cup cornstarch
- Nonstick spray
Ok. This is long, but it’s not hard. Stick with me. Don’t be overwhelmed. These babies are so light and delicious it is totally worth it – and actual time involved is minimal, though they have to sit at least 4 hours or overnight.
In the bowl of the stand mixer, place ½ Cup of ice cold water and all 3 packages of gelatin. Let sit. Don’t mix just yet. In a sauce pan, over medium heat, combine the remaining ½ Cup of water, salt, granulated sugar and corn syrup. Cover and let this mixture heat up for about 4 minutes. Take the lid off and clip a candy thermometer to the side and cook for another 7 or 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, allowing the temp to raise to 240 degrees F. Remove from heat immediately.
Place the whisk attachment on your mixer, if you haven’t yet, and turn it on low to start mixing the gelatin and water. Slowly pour the hot sugar/syrup mixture down the side of the bowl while keeping the mixer on low speed. When all of the syrup is in the bowl, continue whisking but raise the speed to high and allow to mix for about 15 minutes. Add the flavoring extract in the last minute of mixing.
The handy thing about a stand mixer is that you can walk away and spend your time in a productive manner as it whips your mixture for you. Isn’t that considerate? So, while it’s mixing away, combine the powdered sugar and cornstarch in a bowl and prepare the 9×13 dish in this way: spray with cooking spray then dust the bottom and sides with powdered sugar mixture, return the remaining mixture to the bowl to be used later on.
When the stand mixer has finished its 15 minutes of work, and you have a fluffy sticky mess, spray your spatula with cooking spray and ease the marshmallow mixture into the powdered dish, spreading it around evenly. Give the top of this loveliness a coating of the powdered sugar mixture – you will still have a good bit left for later, keep it in a covered bowl, you will use it up.
Don’t cover, but let the marshmallow mixture sit for at least 4 hours – finish up with your shopping, or, if it’s anywhere near a reasonable bedtime, go to sleep. When the allotted time has passed, flip the dish over onto a cutting board and use a pizza wheel (which you have responsibly coated with the reserved powdered sugar mixture) and cut into squares, not bigger than 1 inch or so.
**you can also use cookie cutters at this point if you want the marshmallows in a fancy shape such as a snow flake or star or whatever makes your skirt fly up.
Coat all the cut up marshmallows in the remaining powdered sugar mixture –lightly tossing them in a bag is the most efficient way I have found to do this. Lay the marshmallows out to be distributed appropriately if you are giving them to friends – they will store in any air tight container for about 3 weeks.
Ahhh, the Holiday season and all that comes with it. Looking back through photo albums and social media time lines, it’s easy to see the traditions and even expectations of this time of year. We are disappointed when the trees aren’t lit with glittering lights and a little sad when the outdoor ice skating rink is completely out of place in the 70 degree November sunshine. Turkeys fill the grocer’s freezers and are accompanied by cans of pumpkin and cranberry and candied yams. Why do I never notice candied yams in July? Are they there?
I guess I always expected that every family had holiday traditions. Of course, for me, most holiday traditions have been built around food, but that may not be the same for all of you. There were years of crowded kitchens, outrageous portions of food, giggling (arguing?) children, long Texas drives and open doors to friends and family. Each had its place, and there was always room for more.
Candidly, I will tell you, this is my first holiday season as a single mom, and I am more than a little anxious about it. Traditions seem trite, and expectations seem out of reach. I have been scrolling through ideas of new traditions – or even activities we may never repeat. Isn’t it good and right to hold to a thread of tradition? Shouldn’t the kids still see some theme continued from years gone by? For me, the thread must be thankfulness and faith and, naturally, food.
I am so thankful that God has provided a job, a home, a peace, a security for my family that I could not have provided. Apart from Him I cannot supply any of those things, and when I start to forget that, I start to be a little less thankful, a little less content. And while we’re being candid, so do you.
It’s not hard to find reasons to lose my contentment, as it should not be hard to find a litany of reasons to be thankful. I know He watches me. The careful watch of a loving Father cannot be minimalized, especially today in this world of unrest.
My faith has been tossed around in an unsettling way over the past years, but the truth is, my life has been held secure. When I take an honest look at my failures and my blunders, I see a consistent theme of the faithfulness of the Lord. I am wrecked by the grace that is poured out on me and I am humbled by the way God’s grace turns my world upside down. He holds me. He holds my kids. He holds my heart. When the theme of my life seems to be “prone to wander, Lord I feel it,” I’m rescued. When, instead it echoes, “Praise the Mount, I’m fixed upon it,” I am held. I may run as fast and as far in the opposite direction as I can possibly go – and I find grace there. The thread of faith is sometimes prominent and sometimes can barely be seen, but without it, the whole thing falls apart. (Like Thanksgiving dinner without turkey, or something heinous like that)
When it comes to food, I sort of feel like Aladdin this time of year. You know the scene where the Genie is showing Aladdin how all the things he can possibly want are his if he asks? There is food swirling around and Aladdin is wide-eyed salivating at the sight of it all. (Or that could have been me, wide-eyed and salivating. How about a little more baklava!!??) I love it all, when the left overs run out I am inconsolable.
My (maybe unexpected) favorite holiday food is Cranberry Salad. It is so pretty and red and shiny and nutty and perfectly simple to make. I do not eat it on my dressing. I do not eat it on my roll, sir. I do not eat it on my chicken, or even on my turkey, no sir. Actually, I don’t let my food touch. At all. Ever. That’s a whole other story. Here is the recipe for the most delicious cranberry goodness that will ever enter your life. This is my grandmother’s recipe, and you should see it in her handwriting. She says, “mold,” at the end. I don’t know that she ever put this in a mold, so you can just put it all in a bowl and serve it that way. Any way you slice it – it is AMAZING. (Click on photo to enlarge)
I’ve let a few months pass, so that the experience wasn’t so fresh. I had tried to be so organized and keep my calendar up-to-date so that I didn’t miss important things. You know the sort of things; vacations, doctor’s appointments, parties, the first day of school…. It’s hard. You get it. Life with kids gets busy, and sometimes chaotic. Calendars are of utmost importance.
Well, as long as they are populated correctly, they are of utmost importance.
It was late August and a new school year was just around the corner. First-day-of-school outfits had been purchased and even laundered. I had marked my calendar for Thursday, which was a weird day, but whatever; the first day of school. I had asked my boss if I could come in late so I could be the one to drop the kids off at school for their grand entrance… on Thursday. (So weird to start on Thursday, right?)
On Wednesday morning, I started my grueling drive to the office and noticed little gangs of small children scattered throughout the neighborhood. “Awww, that’s cute,” I thought, “they’re practicing for the first day!” Next, I noticed a big yellow school bus (You know the ones. With the stop signs.), and I thought again, “practicing for the first day”. The more tiny gangs of children I saw, the less confident I became in my trusty calendar.
“I’ll just drive by the school and see what the marquee says,” I thought. That was, after all, the reasonable and responsible thing to do. Sure enough, this was the first day. Not Thursday (because that would just be weird.)
I hurried to call my grandmother, who was watching my precious darlings, and franticly said, “MIMI!!!! It’s the first day of school! I’m coming home! Send the children!!” (She lives two houses away, so this is really not super bad parenting) I contacted my office and told them of my blunder, and they logged it into the collection of ridiculous things Becky has done and laughed. (They didn’t seem a bit surprised. It was hurtful.)
By the time I made it home, the children were kicked in to high-gear and ready to rock and roll. For this, I was thankful. They could have been much different. We got dressed in new duds. We got hair fixed for the obligatory photo shoot for social media. We sorted out lunches. We got back packs and smiles (and maybe a few tears on my part). We made a timely entrance to the fourth and fifth grades with swagger and panache. Nobody was the wiser – except for my grandmother, my kids, my co-workers, my family and a few close friends to whom I lamented my lack of organizational skills and litany of imperfections.
How often is that the case, though? OK, you might not forget to take your children to school on the first day, but how often do you walk in with swagger and panache when five minutes earlier you were a whirlwind of eight kinds of crazy? Happens to me all the time.
I am so thankful that I don’t have to keep it all together all the time. I am so thankful that God had me get the kids’ clothes ready a day early. I don’t typically do that. I am so thankful that my grandmother lives so close, and I didn’t have to drive across town to fetch the young’uns. I am so thankful for the disposition that I did not expect from those darling children of mine.
If I forget to be thankful for the details that God controls when I’m not looking, would I forget to thank Him for the big things I’m protected from that are so clear and evident? I’m afraid I would. I know myself well enough, I’m very sure I would. That is why I need to be reminded to “Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (I Thess. 5: 16-18). He’s got this. He keeps me. Of all the things He’s taking care of in my life, I only see a few; like back-to-school-clothes and tiny gangs of children practicing at their respective bus stops.
In regards to looking impressive on the outside, I think you just might be impressed by the chocolate turtle cake I’m about to introduce. Its way easier than you think it is, so don’t be intimidated by how it looks. I cut some corners on this one, because I was being lazy—so it’s not from scratch (gasp!). This is not my normal M.O., but just accept it. I got my kids to school, OK?
Chocolate Turtle Cake
What you need: mixing apparatus of your choice, three 8-inch round cake pans, cake board or plate, spatula, small skillet
Chocolate cake mix – add an extra egg, sub butter for oil and sub milk for water
Chocolate frosting – whip this up. Seriously. Take it out of the jar and whip it. Into shape. Shape it up.
2 Cups whole pecans
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 bag semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 Cups caramel topping
OK, so I really recommend a stand mixer for this one. You will thank me. Dump the cake mix along with the substituted ingredients into the stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix that loveliness together for 2 minutes. Grease and flour your cake pans, then pour equal amounts of batter in to the pans. Bake according to boxed cake directions. Turn cakes out on to a cooling rack and cool completely. While they are cooling, you have some work to do….
In a skillet, over medium heat, warm up the olive oil, pecans and salt stirring often. Heat these up for about 5 minutes, until they start to smell toasty. Remove from heat and let these guys cool their jets.
Whip the frosting into shape. Whip it on high speed for 1-2 minutes. Use a spatula to ice the tops of two cakes, stacking one on top of the other. With the third, you will now have a tower. Ice the top of the cake and all sides.
When the cake is covered in chocolate frosting, pour chocolate chips into your hand about ½ Cup at a time. Carefully press the chocolate chips into the frosting so they’re nice and stuck. Repeat this until the cake is covered. Distribute the pecans over the top of the cake, and then drizzle with caramel.
This is so impressive on the outside, but really nothing fancy on the inside. Any (disorganized) momma (or daddy, I guess) could pull this off.
I cannot be the only one. If I am, then, all the rest of y’all are wrong.
Do you not have days when you are driving to work already frustrated because you are traveling at a snail’s pace and then (because you have nothing else to do) you find yourself noticing the shades of pink and orange and purple in the sky, and as you take a deep breath, you smile and say a whispered “thank you” to the Lord for the new mercies the morning has brought?
I had that moment this morning. I didn’t even know yet how much I would need a fresh allotment of mercy and grace. All day long.
Remember, I was driving at a snail’s pace. I had a full calendar of tasks today, and I HAD to get them done, not just for the deadlines looming, but because I had plans to eat at one of my favorite restaurants, and those greens and that catfish were my ultimate goal! So, I got to the office ready to rock and roll… and my computer was on strike. Full out, every program with a picket sign, STRIKE.
I sulked at my desk until superman appeared at my door.
I more than whispered another “thank you” prayer, but this one was thanking God for our IT guy. He is my hero; my new best friend. After I refilled his coffee cup (and mine… three times…) and he peacefully resolved the strike, we said our good-byes, and I started tackling my calendar.
By lunch time, when I should have made considerable progress, I was, instead, staring at a screen of .pdfs and .docs who didn’t play well with others.
My eye started twitching. My shoulders became tense. My tone became harsh. My patience wore thin.
I lost my glasses on top of my head, and I lost my paperwork in my paperwork. It happens. Don’t judge.
And then the merciful grace.
I got an “I love you” text from one of the best friends anyone has ever had. My .pdfs and .docs started holding hands. I got a little chocolate therapy.
I remembered the goodness of the Lord in even the little things. His faithfulness and His grace have chased after me even on the days when I was running — whether I was just running because I was busier than I should have been, or running away as fast and as far as I could go.
So, here’s what I’ll tell you on days like this:
- Say thank you to the Lord. –for something.
- Tell your friends you love them
- Chocolate therapy
Triple Chocolate Cookies (3 dozen)
What you need: a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or a hand mixer and large bowl, or large bowl and clean hands. Its your call. Cookie sheet. 350 oven.
½ C unsalted butter, softened
½ C granulated Sugar
½ C brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
(cream above ingredients together)
1 ½ C flour
¼ C cocoa
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
(mix with a fork until combined, then add to the wet ingredients and mix well)
½ C white chocolate chips
½ C semi-sweet chocolate chips
Drop rounded tablespoons full on to a cookie sheet and bake 12 minutes.
I’m just the girl with quips and quirks for your entertainment who may or may not add to your recipe box from time to time. Lyrics from songs which make up the soundtrack to my life grace the lines of so many things I write, and this is no different, in that regard.
I don’t have a recipe for you today. I don’t have a story about my kids, or my grandma, or a holiday party. This time I want to talk about lyrics and love and life.
Today, I am thinking on a song from several years ago, and it starts out saying, “who here among us has not been broken? Who here among us is without guilt or shame?” The song goes on and talks about how we are never abandoned, or orphaned, by God as a result of our behavior.
This is good news, friends! I, for one, desperately need that security. Even my most basic, mundane days are clouded by my own sin and failure. And so are yours.
I am brought to my knees in humility and in prayer with the recent events surrounding a man who is a hero in the faith to me. Many of us have heard, at this point, about the resignation of Pastor Tullian Tchividjian from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida. Many are citing “moral failure” and “the fall.” There is no disagreement from me. He failed to meet the standard of God’s law. He has fallen. He has sinned against God and broken vows to his spouse. And so have I, and one way or another, so have each of us.
Just days before the news of Pastor Tullian’s resignation broke, I was listening to a sermon of his (which I do regularly), and I wrote these thoughts down:
“We are foolish to believe that our biggest failures may not be just ahead of us”
“None of us would deny that we all fall short of the glory of God, but we often try to measure (compare) the distance of our falling short against hers… or his….”
“Those who know how bad they need grace are the best teachers of grace”
The news didn’t make those words less true. They resonate even more in light of the very public fall, shame, valley, failure, sin, hurt, disappointment, loss – which the Tchividjian family is facing right now.
I ask; I beg you, pray for them. Pray for Kim and for Tullian. Pray for their kids. Pray for their parents. Pray for their congregation. Pray for them what you would pray for yourselves, for your kids, for your parents, for your congregation: that there will be repentance, healing, grace upon grace, restoration and love.
We may have all the answers to all of the questions in life, and we may have all the wisdom in all the world (which clearly suggests that we would never commit such a grievous sin that would have nailed Jesus to the cross). We may understand science and mysteries of the universe, but if we do not love, what do we offer? If we are spending time praying for the Tchividjians (and others, of course) we have fewer moments in our day for angrily discussing the complete moral failure of Church leaders.
Coming through some serious broken places in my own world, I can tell you that people are mean. Christians can be judgmental and hurtful. I know because I am one – and I know some (lots). We can do better than that. We MUST do better than that.
I sing songs every day about the wonderful way that Christ is near to the broken. I lift my hands in praise to the One who controls the wind and the rain of the storms in my life. I thank the Father for bruising the Son; for the blood that flowed and covered my sin.
I want to be patient in times of trial, though I confess, I am not. I am humbled and tearful in the presence of a perfect Savior – I am thankful that He is all of those things for me, and for you, and for Tullian and for Kim and for all of us just like them.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ abundantly fill our hearts and minds, and may we know the power of His love in our lives. And may that same grace be evident in the way we respond in times of disappointment and failure.