Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Who Would Have Thought

Christmas Eve has arrived.  It’s the most unlikely of days, the most improbable of events. There was a series of happenstances, occurring in such an order that they are incredible in and of themselves. Who would have thought that a baby born so many years ago would change the world so profoundly?

A baby, a little tiny person comes into the world dependent on others for care and love. Each contains promise and potential, unique gifts and strengths. Each is important. Not for power, politics, money or prestige; not for achievements, accomplishments or awards. The King, the Alpha and Omega, the one who would save the world came as a baby. He came helpless and small, not richly but simply.

It is estimated over 350,000 babies are born each day across the world. Each of these precious little lives has worth. They do not have to be accomplished, powerful, or attaining lofty goals. The King, who was there at the start of the world, came as an unlikely herald of joy, peace, and love; announcing it quietly in a little town with the birth of a baby. Who would have thought?

Friday, December 19, 2014

Don't Miss Christmas

I love Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday, taking place in one of my favorite seasons and a celebration of my Savior I love – Jesus! Boxes of decorations can make even the homeliest of Charlie Brown Christmas trees look like beautiful creations. Glittered gluey papers made with earnest determination of little hands are placed in special spots, to be admired in those initial instances and to be enjoyed for years of memories. Picking out presents for those we love and taking great joy in the giving is, for me, right up there with seeing the wonder of any child-hearted person as they glimpse something in a triangular dark green evergreen, white twinkle lights and spun glass bulbs. As a lover of Christmas trees, and a collector of them in all shapes and sizes, I sit here tonight in the light of white twinkly lights wrapped around the alpine trees and think about Christmas. 

The beauty of the decorations, the fun of the giving, the family gatherings and plans they are all good and worthwhile to have. But this week, as I looked at all there is to be done and needs to be done and what is left that will probably not get done, I felt the stress mount quickly. It’s all good things, things I want to do. But how do I do it all? Where do I find the time? Can I have an elf of my own for the holidays? I would gladly pay in cookies and milk! As I was looking at my to-do-list, these were the thoughts that whirled in my mind as I was looking at my to-do list and the calendar and feeling the stress rising. And then, a thought struck me – kind of like the bracing taste of water after a candy cane - Don’t Miss Christmas!

Christmas, with beautiful decorations, gatherings and season plans that hang like ornamental accoutrements of festivity, is really not about those trimmings and is definitely not to be missed in its purest form. It is the cry of a new parent’s heart who looks at this much loved baby with great hope, wonder and the weight of a new kind of responsibility. It is the quiet joy of arms carefully embracing a little swaddled figure, just pausing to watch him breathe. It is the excitement of shepherds receiving the announcement of angels, the fear and wondering at beholding the heavenly host as they proclaim great joy. Christmas is the largeness of history and the smallness of the family home. Christmas is that kind of joy, even in the midst of wrapping paper, memories that make me teary, and being ready to post a help wanted sign for an elf helper.  Tomorrow will be a new day and I’m looking forward to making cookies, running errands and writing a few more cards. But I will be taking a moment then and more afterwards to remember Christmas, the wonder and the majesty, the mystery and the hope, the loudness and the quietness. More than anything I will seek Christmas and not lose it in the wrapping paper. 

The thing about Christmas is that it is just the beginning of the story.  It is a story of truth that speaks of love. Real love – love that is perfect and whole, a love we cannot quantify or qualify. Yes, I will get teary at seeing my great grandmother’s nativity, I will still add the toppers to the Christmas trees, and address more Christmas cards. But, more than anything I will seek Christmas and not lose it in the wrapping paper. 

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them."  Luke 1:68

Monday, December 15, 2014

Football Soup – Gumbo Requires Patience

Gumbo is a great soup for cool late fall and early winter days, when the smell of something simmering in the kitchen makes the perfect complement for holiday decorating. Gumbo is also a dish that requires the practice of patience. Like the work it takes a muscle to be flexible and strong, patience also requires work to be in great shape. This dish is a great one to make when you have extra help in the kitchen. And I was very thankful for my help with a sore wrist!

Why the patience for gumbo? Because it is made from a roux that is cooked until it is nice and brown, requiring fairly consistent stirring and monitoring. For me, it seems like the change from white flour and butter to a light caramel color seems to happen right away. It is the much more gradual change from that light color to a rich deep brown that seems to take forever. Tantalizing hints of color swirl in as you mix, and then are hidden again. Then suddenly, patience pays off, the color deepens and your roux is ready to go!

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 large sweet onions
  • 3 green bell peppers
  • 6 minced garlic cloves
  • 12-14 cups of chicken stock
  • 2 t. salt
  • ½ t. cayenne
  • 2 t. Cajun seasoning
  • 1.5 lbs Andouille sausage
  • 4-7 lbs of chicken (already cooked)
  • 1 cup green onions
  • 1-2 cups of white rice

  1. Before staring the cooking the roux, prepare the chopped ingredients. This will allow you to cook the vegetables and meat while preparing the roux. Onions and peppers need to be cut into bit size pieces, mince the garlic, and chop the sausage to about ½ inch bites. Keep the sausage separate from the other ingredients as it will be cooked separately. Chicken needs to be pre-cooked, and if you want to add an extra richness, use homemade stock from the chicken. If you have help in the kitchen, and gumbo is great for a cooking party, let helpers help while the roux is started.
  2. Once everything is ready it is time to start the gumbo! In a large skillet melt 1 cup of butter and slowly stir in 1 cup flour over medium heat. Stir frequently to avoid burning. Keep working with the roux until it is a dark caramel or milk chocolate color.
  3. In a very large pot, add the chicken stock, chicken, salt, Cajun seasoning and cayenne. Add low heat to start heating the stock.
  4. While preparing the roux, in a lightly greased skillet over medium heat, add the chopped sweet onions, garlic and peppers. Lightly caramelize vegetables in the skillet until they start to soften. Add them to the stock   and mix.
  5. In the heated skillet sear the Andouille sausage to keep those tasty juices inside. Stir occasionally until lightly browned. Add the meat to the   pot with vegetables and stock.
  6. Slowly add the roux and stir well. Let the gumbo simmer until it reaches the desired thickness, for about two hours. Stir regularly. Add more Cajun seasoning and cayenne to taste.
  7. After the gumbo is hot and smelling wonderfully, cook the white rice like normal. Serve with chopped green onions and add hot sauce if desired.

Just like many other things that are worth the practice of patience – so is gumbo. Pull a bowl and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Worship in a Box

A series of boxes hold Christmas decorations. Each box is completely full and packed tightly. It’s time to start decorating, but to my complete confusion I have found someone who insists that we only use the decorations in one box, one box that they have filled. I can see all of the other choices, but the response is an insistence to just use that one box. I agree, hoping that when we get started with one box, others will be added – building on momentum. One box gives us the bottom of the center pole for a Christmas tree, three of the needed branches, a dozen ornaments, and a door hanger for a wreath.

Sound odd? Sound like hyperbole? Sound like there is more to the story? 

There is! But, we need to take a small side trip to get to the ending.

A few years ago, I heard someone talking on the radio about choosing a different word each year to mull over, think on, study, and intentionally consider over the course of the comings and goings of the next 365 days. I have done this for a few years, and my word this year is worship.

In studying the word worship, I find that it is first mentioned about 700 years ago in a format we would find more familiar in an English root. Basically, it is defined as a sense of reverence for something that is worthy of honor, glory; a divine being. I love how big this word is!

After learning about where the word came from, I started looking around at how this word is used around me. I caught glimpses of that broadness, but most of the time I have found worship smashed into a box, kind of like those Christmas decorations. (Told you we would get back there eventually.) 

Remember the one odd ball box of decorations? I don’t decorate like that and I bet you don’t either. But I found worship compressed into one media - one style - one speed - one color, or maybe if it was a big box, two or three.  The one, two or three worship definitions smashed into the box has nothing wrong with it. Not wrong, but limited. I have struggled and grappled with this all year, looking for my own box limits in worshipping God. After all, who best to revere than Jesus? I have found many spots where I needed to expand and look at several boxes.


I want to encourage you to consider, as you also haul the Christmas decorations in boxes through the house, what your worship boxes are. Will you join me in expanding horizons?

An Advent prayer from Common Prayers:
Give us ears to hear, O God, 
and eyes to watch, 
that we may know your presence in our midst 
during this holy season of joy 
as we anticipate the coming of Jesus Christ. Amen.