Please Wake Up, Church

Nearly a year ago, I went to an event at church one Saturday evening with my parents and sister. Every winter the church has a wild game cooking event, where the men make dishes with wild game and everyone can sample the food. When we went to the event in February of this year, a silent auction was also held to benefit a young woman who used to be a member of the church and who is battling cancer. Local businesses donated items for the auction and a lot of the community came to the event. This church is not a mega church; average Sunday morning attendance is around 350. In the end, nearly $40,000 was raised in one night between the silent auction and people just reaching selflessly into their own pockets and bank accounts and helping this young family. Nearly $40,000 in one night given to one family in need. It was so inspiring to see such generosity. That is what it looks like for a church to be the hands & feet of Jesus in a big way. That’s what it looks like to show the love of God to someone. It was beautiful and I felt blessed to have witnessed it.

In contrast to that, a friend texted me a photo today of an event she & her office had been invited to by a local church in a neighboring town. They were given a card that reads – You are invited! Christmas Gift Card Giveaway!! It goes on to give the time & place of the “worship experience” when this will happen. Powerful Drama! Open to EVERYONE! Must be present to enter! This church will be giving away $1,000 in gift cards that morning. There will be five $100 gift cards and one $500 gift card.

Already this bothers me. It just seems bizarre to lure in the masses with the promise of the shot at money. But what I learned next put me over the edge.

The gentleman who came to invite my friend and her coworkers to the Christmas Gift Card Giveaway went on to tell them that there are several needy families in their church and he asked if they could possibly each give a few dollars to help meet the needs of those families.

I’m sorry, what? What?! I don’t understand. There is a disconnect. This is absolute nonsense. Why is this church missing this? Are they confused? Because I am most certainly confused. Call me crazy, but I’m thinking common sense would tell this church that if they have $1,000 at their disposal right now and there are families within their own church in need, help those families. Meet those needs.

Money talks. I know. This is America. Money talks, but you know what talks louder and resonates longer? Meeting a need.

This church may give away a $500 gift card to someone who comes to their big event. That person might be a mom who will buy a designer purse for herself and/or an X-Box for her teenage son. That church member will still be hungry, and that is absolutely shameful. In fact, it’s not only shameful, it’s embarrassing.

I have a feeling that even in 2014, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat” would trump, “I was bored and you gave me an X-Box” every time. I think a kid would forget where his X-Box funds originated a lot faster than a family would forget who put food on their table when they had none. I think if a need was met, that would reflect God’s love and show His true character, and isn’t that the point?

Jen Hatmaker says it best in her book, 7.

Static has always surrounded the Christian life; so much threatens to distract us from the main point. People have always preferred details and complications and rules, but when Jesus was pressed, He said (Jen translation), “Love God and love people. That’s pretty much it.”

Sometimes the best way to bring good news to the poor is to bring actual good news to the poor. It appears a good way to bring relief to the oppressed is to bring real relief to the oppressed. It’s almost like Jesus meant what He said. When you’re desperate, usually the best news you can receive is food, water, shelter. These provisions communicate God’s presence infinitely more than a tract or Christian performance in a local park. (Or, may I add, a Visa Gift Card Giveaway.) They convey, “God loves you so dearly, He sent people to your rescue.”

I guess that’s why “love people” is the second command next to “love God.” And since God’s reputation is hopelessly linked to His followers’ behavior, I suspect He wouldn’t be stuck with His current rap if we spent our time loving others and stocking their cabinets.

Indeed. Church, let’s represent Him well. Please, let’s don’t miss this.

Gratitude – My 30 Things

The big social media trend in November is to always list one thing you’re thankful for each day throughout the month. I like the idea of it – practicing gratitude – but I don’t necessarily want to jump on board & post a thing each day. So here’s my list all in one big post – 30 things for which I am thankful.

#1 – Jesus. If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.

#2 – My parents. Why God decided to give me such an incredible gift of being born the daughter of Bo & Ginger, I have no idea, but I sure am thankful. They’re the greatest. I hit the parent jackpot.

#3 – My sisters. One has been my trusty sidekick throughout life, one has been the one I’ve always looked up to, and one was literally long-lost and I met at the age of 19. I’m grateful for all three. I hit the sister jackpot.

#4 – My sweet Sayid. I had no idea I was such a dog person until this puppy came along. God sent him my way when my heart needed a little mending and his silly, happy, loving disposition was the perfect remedy. He sure knows how to make someone feel loved and makes me laugh every day.

#5 – The rest of my family. Aunts, uncles, niece, nephews, brothers-in-law, cousins. Also my grandparents who aren’t here anymore, but were very special to me.

#6 – My job/coworkers. My job is not a dream job; that’s no secret. But it’s steady and for that I am thankful. The best thing about my job is my coworkers. I genuinely like them. In an environment where we can easily get stressed and discouraged and where we are often being berated or fussed at by angry clients, we always find reasons to laugh. We laugh a lot. Laughing helps the bad days be bearable, so I’m thankful to work with people who can find the humor in life.

#7 – Good health. I know not everyone has this, but I do. What a blessing.

#8 – Good friends. My best friend has been my best friend for over half my life. I grew up hearing, “The friends you make in college will be the friends you have the rest of your life.” I’ve got some good ones from those years and they’re still among my favorite people, ten years after graduating. The friend I’ve had the longest who I still am in frequent contact with has been my friend since the summer before second grade. Old and new, I’ve got some good ones; I think I’ll keep them around and try to be good to them, too.

#9 – My Compassion kids. I became a sponsor to a Guatemalan kid named Juan in 2003 at a Jars of Clay / Caedmon’s Call concert. Since then, I’ve gained more sponsorships and have formed true relationships with these kids. God used a discouraging point in my life to make me decide to stop just sending my sponsorship payments and start sending letters and encouraging these kids in their lives. That changed everything. I can guarantee they are as much of a blessing to me as I am to them. There are children in other parts of the world who love me and pray for me by name. Wow. What an honor. I only wish I had taken the time to write to & encourage Juan back in the beginning. Hindsight is 20/20.

#10 – A roof over my head and a warm bed to sleep in. Right now, there’s an extra level of gratitude because it’s my parents’ roof. They’ve graciously allowed me to move into their house so I can keep saving for a downpayment for a house and afford a house that I will like in a safe area. I sleep soundly at night in a safe, comfortable place. That’s also not something everyone has.

#11 – Tastebuds. I love food. I’m also thankful that I love food. I’m not a meat and potatoes girl. I’m a meat, potatoes, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, chocolate, asparagus, banana pudding, quesadillas, guacamole, deer chili, taco soup, granola and yogurt, spaghetti, lasagna, lots and lots of gravy, sushi, salad, you-name-it kinda girl. I’m thankful for adventurous tastebuds.

#12 – Our produce co-op. It’s going so well! I’m thankful I got to go to Dallas last April and learn from experience by helping with my sister’s co-op. I’m thankful Robertson Produce has been so accommodating to us. I’m thankful for a group of people who enjoys the co-op and does their part for it to be successful. It’s a good thing.

#13 – Ice cold coffee. (With chocolate, half & half, and milk, of course.)

#14 – My car – aka “Impatient Cow”. I love my trusty little paid-for, non-fancy car. She just surpassed 100,000 miles this week and I’m hoping to get at least 150,000 more miles out of her before we part ways. Impatient Cow & I get along just fine. I hope we have years & years ahead of us.

#15 – My sewing machine & my friend, Heather, who took the time to teach me to sew. Etsy inspired me and Heather taught me. My old metal Kenmore sewing machine was handed down from my mom and is older than me. I am not super skilled at sewing and honestly can’t even sew a straight line, but I’ve made some pretty cool stuff – sock monsters, tree pillows, rice bags, and my favorite – my quilt.

#16 – Netflix. Thanks to Netflix, I’ve discovered and fallen in love with Friday Night Lights, Grey’s Anatomy, and The Blacklist. For me, it’s $7.99 per month well spent. Also, the whole commercial free aspect of it has me positively spoiled.

#17 – Bicycles. I love them. They’re fun and I find them so charming.

#18 – New York City. My favorite winter vacation spot. The brisk, cold weather & feeling energized while walking down the streets. Dressing in layers. The Brooklyn Bridge. Ice skating in Central Park. Navigating the subways, which I have finally – finally – become successful at. Grimaldi’s Pizza. Junior’s cheesecake. I love it there. I’m thankful for the trips I’ve taken and the friends I’ve taken them with.

#19 – Perdido Key, Florida. My favorite summer vacation spot. Sleeping late. Toes in the sand. Naps by the pool. Home cooked meals every night. Watching for shooting stars after the sun goes down. Nettis! Brownies and ice cream and boiled peanuts. Seeing the unending water as far as the eye can see and feeling so small and so in awe of how big God is. It never fails.

#20 – Football. I just love football. New Orleans Saints. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. Football season is my favorite. I went to every football game in high school because I was in the band and I loved football games, but I understood nothing about the game other than touchdowns. Now I actually understand football and I stinking love it.

#21 – Books. Reading is such a great escape. I’m thankful for my books and for library books, for cheap used books at garage sales, and for monthly deals in the Kindle store. Oh – and my Kindle Paperwhite! I love it. It’s so easy on the eyes for reading, it amazes me.

#22 – Sunday School. I love my Sunday School class. I look forward to it every week.

#23 – Prayer. The fact that God hears me and cares for me is amazing.

#24 – Mail. Good, old fashioned mail that comes in the mailbox. When I get an honest to goodness handwritten letter or card in the mail from a friend or from one of my Compassion kids, it brightens up my whole day. It’s so rare these days.

#25 – America. I’m so thankful to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I’m thankful for our brave military; they’ve given so much.

#26 – My Bible. With my first paycheck at my job in 2005, I bought myself a new Bible and it has not yet been replaced. I’m thankful for the encouragement I find in the Bible and the fact that I’m free to read it and learn from it.

#27 – The four seasons. Winter is brisk and cold and sends me inside to wrap up in my quilt. Spring brings flip flop season and longer days. Summer brings Farmer’s Market vegetables and beach trips. Autumn brings pretty changing leaves and football. There’s something good in all of them and just when we’ve had enough cold, we move on to warmer weather in the spring. When we’ve had all the heat we can stand, here comes fall. God knew what He was doing when he worked all of this out, and I always find myself looking forward to each changing season.

#28 – The sound of a fan at night. It’s so soothing. When I’m trying to fall asleep in a completely silent room, it’s difficult. So give me a fan and I’ll get some solid sleep. Give me two fans – my usual habit – and I’m happy as can be.

#29 – Garage sales. I was raised going to garage sales and I’m so glad. To this day, one of my favorite things to do on a Saturday is go to garage sales with my sister. It’s budget friendly entertainment and I’ve found some great deals.

#30 – Sunrises and sunsets. They’re beautiful. I’m always grateful when I get to see one and actually take the time to stop and appreciate it.

I’m sure I could go on, but there we have it. Thirty good things. I’m a thankful girl.

Little Miss Muffin

IMG_9987

Have I mentioned how much I love our co-op? Well, I do. I absolutely love it. I love getting my bag of fruit and vegetable surprises every other Friday. I love picking a “bonus” when there are items in excess. I love shopping for the co-op. (It’s my turn this Friday! Yay!)

I love that I’ve learned that I like things I’d never tried – snow peas & bok choy; they are delicious sauteed in a stir fry.

I love that I’ve gone from not really caring for apples to being a full blown apple snob when it comes to honeycrisp apples. Yes, I’ll have one. I’ll have five, actually. I see what all the hype is about. They are the most perfect apple.

But here comes the greatest surprise of all. I enjoy baking muffins. I’ve never enjoyed baking. I’ve never been good at baking. I can cook something on a stovetop like a boss, but baking has never been something that appeals to me, simply because I’ve never been successful at it. It just hasn’t ever been fun to me. As of one week ago, baking never crossed my mind as something I’d like to do.

But then we had all these bananas from co-op that started getting too ripe for my taste. When little brown freckles start appearing on my banana peels, it is time to give them away to my friend, May Fances, or throw them away. But I also knew that you can bake with overripe bananas. I had reached the point of two options: trash can or baking. What’s the worst that could happen if I baked – it turns out mediocre? That was pretty standard for me and at least I would be making an attempt. So, baking it was.

I looked up banana nut muffins on Pinterest and found a beautiful photo on a pin. I felt sure it would be too complicated and my muffins would never be successful or look anything like those pretty muffins, but to my surprise I had all the ingredients required. Also, I took the time to read the details and instructions, and I learned that I’d been measuring wrong all along. (That might be a big part of why my baked goods were always such a disappointment!) I also learned that if you bake muffins at a higher temp for about five minutes and then reduce the heat, they stand up tall & proud. I had no idea.

So I whipped up these muffins. I even put the pretty thin banana slices on top and mixed up the cinnamon, brown sugar, and chopped pecans to sprinkle over them.

My muffins were beautiful. My muffins were delicious. I was amazed and patted myself on the back excessively. Who knew I had it in me to make such great muffins?! I sure didn’t! (Link for recipe is below the photo; this is the pin from Pinterest.)

Jumbo-Banana-Nut-Muffins
http://sallysbakingaddiction.com/2014/02/18/master-muffin-mix/

Tonight I moved on to blueberry muffins. They look beautiful and taste lovely, too. I’ve turned into Little Miss Muffin. (Yes, I know, it’s Little Miss Muffet, but there are reasons Little Miss Muffin is funny to me.)

So now I’m thinking cheesecake! (Dream big!) That might be a little too ambitious. Should I slow down?