Blog

GREAT ARTICLE ON HOSPITALITY

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It’s always fun to read another persons thoughts that express the very same words that are on our hearts.

That’s how I felt when I read this article on hospitality that a good friend shared with me.

I hope it inspires you to invite someone into your home – as is – to share an meal with you this week.

“In Praise of Scruffy Hospitality” by Robin Shreeves.

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SUMMERTIME HAM & CHEESE SANDWICHES

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This is my hands-down favorite sandwich recipe for potlucks and parties.  It is easy to assemble, can be made in advance, and is beloved by everyone in my family.

These sandwiches are a great addition to a food spread any time of the year, but I am particularly fond of making these in the summer because they pair so well with fresh fruit and cold beverages.

Also this recipe multiplies proportionally by the dozen.   Making it an easy meal – with delightful flavors – to nourish the crowd gathering around your table as you enjoy good conversation and lazy summer evenings.

SUMMERTIME HAM & CHEESE SANDWICHES

ingredients:

  • 1 pkg (12 count) Hawaiian bread rolls
  • 1 pound shaved Black Forest ham
  • 5 ounces shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 8-oz tub of chive & onion cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons dried minced onion, divided
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

directions:

  • Cut the rolls in half.  Place roll bottoms of a 9 x 13 baking pan.
  • Fold equal amounts of ham on each roll bottom.
  • Sprinkle Gruyere evenly over ham.
  • Spread a generous amount of cream cheese on the top of the rolls.  (You will not use all the cream cheese.)

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  • Place tops on the prepared bottoms, making sandwiches.
  • In a small bowl, combine melted butter, Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 tablespoon divided onion, and Parmesan cheese.  Pour over sandwiches.
  • Sprinkle remaining dried onion evenly over the top.

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  • Cover with foil and let the sandwiches sit for at least 20 minutes, or in the refrigerator over night.
  • Place covered sandwiches in a preheated 350 degree oven.  Bake for 15 minutes.
  • Uncover and bake for 5 more minutes, or until the cheese is melted, gooey, and golden on the edges.

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Enjoy!

WHAT I’M LEARNING ABOUT THE DILEMMA OF REST

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Enjoying a holiday weekend in Gig Harbor, WA

In the early months of 2016, I finally overcame many of the hurdles that have held me back from working towards my writing goals.  Throughout springtime I was enjoying consistent personal prayer and scripture reading.  Getting up early to write.   Meeting with friends at coffee shops to work on my blog.  Exercising regularly, and actually liking it.

For a brief moment, I was in the sweet spot.  Life was cruising along nicely.  Victory at last, right?

This is where you cue the sound of squealing brakes.

And what was it you ask that completely derailed my groove?

Vacation.  A really nice family vacation over Memorial Day weekend.

Last night Ryan and I were complaining to each other about how off track life still feels after returning from vacation two weeks ago.  It’s ironic that just a few days of relaxing and disconnecting from to-do lists can completely obliterate the successful patterns of discipline we establish for productivity.

And yet, I truly believe that we are created to need rest.  Rest is good, and I am grateful for it.

Nevertheless, last night I fell asleep wondering if taking a holiday is worth the strain and frustration that comes with getting real life back in order.

I know.  First World Problems.

But, I also think that when I am too quick to categorize all of my daily frustrations under this label, I miss out on significant opportunities to learn and grow and mature.  I miss out on opportunities for God to continually refine me into a person who – hopefully – reflects the peace, joy, hope, and love of Jesus to my First World neighbors.

And so, this morning – sensing that I was on a fast track towards debilitating discouragement – I decided to go for a run (for the first time in over three weeks).  I often do some of my best, head-clearing, thinking while running.  Towards the end of my run, I had an epiphany that I don’t just need the gift of refreshment that comes through rest.  I need the gift that comes after rest just as much.

The gift of disequilibrium in my established routine that reminds me that ultimately my strength, growth, ability, and achievement comes from God and the Holy Spirit alive with in me.  Not my time management skills, life hacks, and organizational apps.

I need to be derailed me from my well crafted routines occasionally to remember that – regardless of successes or failures – our worth is rooted in who we are, God’s beloved, not in what we can do.

So now while I’m back at the daily work of being, growing, writing, exercising, serving, and loving.  I’m reminded to do so from The Source of Life, not sources that are crafted from my power and resources.  These tools are good and helpful, but they are just that.  Tools. They are not the source.  And today I’m so glad to be reminded of the difference.

It is the perspective that grows from the cycle of rest, regrouping, and remembering.  I need every stage to accomplish the work of blogging, writing, discipling, and nourishing community in a way that glorifies God and satisfies my soul.

What about you?  How does rest both fuel and derail your daily work routine?  What have you learned about the dilemma of rest?

WHEN LIFE IS FULL

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AGH! I can’t believe that almost two weeks have passed since I posted to my blog.  I’ve missed being here.

For my family the first two weeks of June are just as busy as the last two weeks of December.  End of the year school parties, baseball parties, and birthday celebrations keep our calendar very full.  And this year we threw in a family vacation at the end of May just to ensure that life would be wonderfully crazy.

At the beginning of this year I conquered some obstacles in managing my regular schedule and finally began writing and blogging with more consistency.  I wrote about that here.  And now, in the second half of the year, I need to focus on how to maintain my writing and blogging schedule during busy seasons.  We’ll find out in December how successful I am in making progress on that.

In the meantime, I wanted to share a blog post that encouraged me greatly last week.  The perfect words at the perfect time from Ed Cyzewski, a writer who writes and blogs to encourage other writers.  I subscribe to his weekly newsletter called The Contemplative Writer, and highly recommend it to anyone with a passion for writing.

But whether or not you are a writer, his brief post is a good reminder of the grace that all of us need to be reminded about from time to time.  I coincidentally read it during a moment when I feeling discouraged about struggling to make time to write and blog.  At the conclusion I felt some of the tension leave my shoulders that I was carrying from the burden of not being successful at accomplishing every thing that I want to do well in a given day right now.

If you are feeling that way about anything that matters to you, I hope that Ed’s words will find their way to you to lift some of the weight you are carrying  from the burden of managing to-do lists during unusually busy seasons.

I think his post touches on one of the most significant reasons for investing in community.  The opportunity to practice grace – whether it’s giving it or receiving it or both.

Because finding grace at the place where we’ve come to the end of our own abilities, is often the very place where renewal and growth begins.

This Is What Happens When Life Is Full

It was bound to happen I suppose. Our family’s impending move has filled our weekly schedule to the point that I completely missed sending the email last week. Sorry about that!

Spiritual director Larry Warner had shared in a workshop once that we stop describing ourselves as busy and opt for the more accurate term: full. Life has been full for our family as we prepare to move in the middle of June.

I don’t have anything profound or reflective to share this week other than committing to continue working on making this contemplative project happen, making space as I can for it, and admitting that sometimes life fills up with other things and I literally just run out of hours in a given day.

Perhaps we need to have more discussions about the ways that we are finite, limited, and prone to drop the ball sometimes. We all need grace after all.

Thanks for reading,
Ed

I look forward to seeing you here next week!

GRACE TABLE

Photo courtesy of Christin Babikian
Photo courtesy of Christin Babikian

I made some time this week to pull up a chair at a local coffee shop and wander around the internet looking for inspiration from what other people are saying about nourishing community at our tables.

I was not disappointed.

The fruit of my efforts was discovering a contributor blog called “Grace Table”.  They describe themselves as:

“People who love God, who love communion and who love a good dinner table conversation. We are storytellers who love food. We’re chefs, short-order cooks, soup stirrers, and birthday cake makers. We are kitchen people and grill masters. We make gourmet breakfasts and serve cereal for dinner. We are passionate about faith and food. We’re hungry for a table where grace is said and passed, like a warm basket full of rolls. Come break bread with us–we’ve saved you a seat.”

I think I may have found my long lost soul sisters.

I was encouraged and inspired by many of the posts on their site, but I’ll share a link to one of my favorites, “Open Your Doors Anyways”.

It’s a surreal and magical feeling to stumbling on a reflection of what I feel and believe so deeply in my own heart.

Happy Reading!

WHY WE FEAST WITH COMMUNITY AROUND OUR TABLES

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Oh my.  It’s hard to believe that combining a few simple ingredients can elevate fresh-from-the-oven bread to an entirely new status.  Warm, homemade bread is nearly perfect by itself, but the addition of sweet butter and strawberry preserves created something almost magical.  So delicious that I had a hard time talking with the friends gathered around my table while we ate, because savoring the combined flavor and comfort of the tangy bread and sweet spreads distracted me from the conversation.

For the past three weeks, my Monday night community has been discussing “Out of the House of Bread: Satisfying Your Hunger for God with the Spiritual Disciplines” by Preston Yancey.  This book is about prayer and it’s about baking bread.  It guides the reader to explore nine spiritual disciplines while repeatedly making the same loaf of bread.  Discovering the parallels of practice and patience required to master both.

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Yancey’s writing is poetic.  Putting words to the feelings deep in my heart.

“Out of the House of Bread” is a book that I’ve grown to love like a cherished friend.  This is one of the rare reading experiences that I treasure the most – when the author’s words connect me to roots that are familiar, remind me of truth that is never-ending, invite me to be a better version of myself, and journey with me on the path of trying to understand the intersection The Holy and my ordinary life.

The recipes for the “Sweet Butter” and “Simple Strawberry Preserves” is in the chapter on “Feasting” – a faith practice dear to my heart.  Yancey writes:

“Community is the blessing of the path, the discovery that we both do not walk it alone and that there are people waiting for us on the other side.”

“If we fast, we must feast, for in the places we acknowledge death and sin we also declare life and redemption…Feasting is an act of defiance against the powers of evil in the cosmos, a declaration the battle has already been won, God has already declared victory.”

“It is often said that life is done around the table, but it is often underappreciated how deep this work runs in us.  It is not merely that when we are around a table we are sharing stories, encouraging one another, or seeking forgiveness.  What we are doing is an icon of what is happening at the great table, the feast table of Jesus.  We are mirroring the connectedness of the life of God and, as we mirror, participating in it…Our tables point us back to the Table.  Our guests point us back to the Guest.”

Amen!

SWEET BUTTER

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This recipe is found in “Out of the House of Bread” by Preston Yancey, p 146.

The book is about prayer and it’s about baking bread.  It guides the reader to explore nine spiritual disciplines while repeatedly making the same basic loaf of bread.  Discovering the parallels of practice and patience required to master both.

In the chapter on “Feasting”, Yancey shares recipes for this sweet butter and simple strawberry preserves that are both easy to make AND absolutely delightful.   Together they turned an ordinary loaf of bread into the highlight of a memorable feast.

SWEET BUTTER

ingredients:

  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons toasted coconut

directions:

  • Whip softened butter and honey together with an electric or stand mixer for 5 minutes, until smooth and creamy.
  • Add vanilla and cinnamon, mix until combined.
  • Mix in toasted coconut, whip for another two minutes.

Enjoy!

SIMPLE STRAWBERRY PRESERVES

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This recipe is found in “Out of the House of Bread” by Preston Yancey, p 146.

The book is about prayer and it’s about baking bread.  It guides the reader to explore nine spiritual disciplines while repeatedly making the same basic loaf of bread.  Discovering the parallels of practice and patience required to master both.

In the chapter on “Feasting”, Yancey shares recipes for strawberry preserves and sweet butter that are both easy to make AND absolutely delightful.   Together they turned an ordinary loaf of bread into the highlight of a memorable feast.

SIMPLE STRAWBERRY PRESERVES

ingredients:

  • 1 pint of trimmed and quartered strawberries
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2-1/2 tablespoons of water
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

directions:

  • Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, skimming the foam from time to time to remove any debris.
  • Simmer for 15 minutes, occasionally stirring and skimming, until thickened and the syrupy mixture is translucent.
  • Cool slightly before serving.
  • Drizzle warm, or cool and spread, on a slice of fresh bread.

Enjoy!

TIP#3: THE BLANKET BASKET

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As I nourish community around my table, the blanket basket is a simple provision that fosters an atmosphere of intimacy and literal warmth.

Blankets, like food, represent being cared for and loved.  They are a significant part of inviting people into a space of belonging and lingering.  And they encourage the feeling of community and family as you gather people around your table.

Putting a blanket basket together is easy.  I purchased a large wooden crate from Home Goods – a large plastic bin will do – and I began buying fleece blankets (a few at a time) until my crate was full.  I also included a few blankets that I received as gifts over the years.

I often find lightweight fleece blankets (that are the perfect size for wrapping around your legs or your shoulders while you sit at the table) at CVS and Walgreens on sale for 3 for $10.  They are great for outdoor use, and are machine washable on the delicate cycle.  (I’ve never tried putting them in the dryer, I just lay them over the backs of the patio table chairs and they dry quickly.)

If you nourish your community on your patio, simply setting out a blanket basket at your next gathering will significantly influence the connections being made around your table.  Because when people’s basic needs – like hunger, warmth, and belonging – are thoughtfully cared for, they stay at the table long past the end of the meal to talk, laugh, and share.

And generally the longer a conversation lasts – the more personal and intimate in becomes.

Blankets.  A simple addition to our community meals that offers invaluable benefits.

Is there anything simple that you provide for the community who gathers at your table that significantly develops the connections being made?  Please share your ideas in the comments section.

WHAT I’M LEARNING ABOUT THE BEAUTIFUL THINGS IN COMMUNITIES & FAMILIES

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This Mother’s Day fell in a season of firsts – a season of firsts that follows a season of endings.

Most notably, this year I celebrated my first Mother’s Day without all three of my boys living at home.  Our oldest son, who is a college freshman living in a dorm room two states away, still has another month of classes until summer vacation.

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Never one to readily embrace even minor changes, I woke up on Sunday feeling a weird mixture of melancholy and comfort in spending the day with Ryan, and our two sons who (for now!) still live at home .

As I snuggled with two of my sons on our couch – wrapped in fuzzy blankets and enjoying my morning coffee – I contemplated creating some new traditions.  In response, Jordan and Riley enthusiastically suggested staying home from church so that they could lead a home service for me to honor Mother’s Day.

I was a little skeptical at first if this was a good idea – their initial motivations are certainly questionable.  But I also recognized that doing something original might help me to experience the wonder of new things starting, even as I long for some beloved traditions that have ended.

And oh my goodness.  What they put together was beautiful!  A forty minute service that included arms raised in worship, a solo trumpet performance, a dramatic performance of the David & Goliath battle scene recorded in 1 Samuel 32-52, and a small group discussion that lead to an insightful conversation about the “Goliaths” each of us feels like we are facing.

As part of our family worship, we sang “Beautiful Things” by Gungor.  A lump welled in my throat as I reflected on the new things growing in my home from the dust that is settling over the places where things have ended.

I realized that as much as my mama’s heart missed my oldest son and wished for him to be home with us, this truly beautiful moment probably wouldn’t have happened if Corey had been here.  He is much more reserved and far less emotionally expressive than our other two boys – who are always wanting the approval of their big brother.   If Corey was home, I really don’t think Jordan and Riley could have acted with such uninhibited abandon of their own “coolness”, fueled simply by a desire to whole-heartedly bless their mom.

This Mother’s Day was an opportunity to glimpse God at work in my home and my family right in the midst of all the change and transition.  Sadness and longing, woven together with joy and wonder of all things being made new.

Communities are like that too.  They go through seasons of growth, seasons of change, seasons of loss, and seasons of rebirth.

In the midst of that evolution, God is constantly at work, weaving the broken and beautiful pieces together to create something vibrant and amazing.

Jean Venier, in his classic work “Community & Growth“, writes, “A community cannot remain static.  It is not an end in itself.  It is like a fire which must spread even at the risk of burning out.  A moment comes when a community can only grow through separation, sacrifice, and gift.  The more it finds unity, the more it must be prepared in some sense to lose it, through the free gift of some of its members who will create other networks of love and communities of peace.”

We nourish our community at our tables to share life and nurture relationships.  Life gives birth to life.  Healthy communities encourage one another to be who we are becoming, intentionally seeing who we are rather than who we were.

As a community grows in numbers, as well as in depth, some beloved members must be released to go out and replicate communities of love and authentic friendship in other places.

People being nourished, loved, and equipped to have the confidence to go out and start a new community of friendship and support is one of the most important reasons that we gather people at our tables.

And as a few beloved members move on to their “what’s next”, the members who remain are gifted with the opportunity to explore and express themselves is new and refreshed ways.

Resisting or denying change in our families as well as our communities eventually leads to smothering and withering the very things that are so good and lovely.  We have to be willing to let some things end in order to make space for beauty to grow.

In communities, and in families.

With our friends, and with our sons.

Trusting that hope is always springing up from old ground.