like wrestling a jellyfish

We were sitting around a crowded table at the youth offices with plastic plates piled with Abbey's ciabatta pesto creation and various other potluck offerings. Our Bibles and devotionals and journals were all spread open in the mix of things and we were talking about how Jesus learned things. He studied the Scriptures and realized what it was He was supposed to do. As he learned, he obeyed by submitting to what was prophesied about Him. Jesus learned things. Doesn't that sound crazy?

It could have been all the banana bread baking or the fumes of a newly refinished gym floor a few doors down, but as the realization settled in, we wrestled. We tried to make sense of Jesus being human - learning things from the Lord and learning things about life that he didn't know before. We wrestled through the possibility of another human obeying perfectly and submitting to the Father's will. Yes, we know it's not possible. We know that Jesus fulfilled the law. But, we thought about it. We wrestled.

And that's when I looked around and saw that we were thinking of things, imagining things, wrestling with things that made our minds hurt a little bit. It kind of just came out,

Sometimes, when we seek hard after the Lord in Scripture ... sometimes it's like wrestling a jellyfish.

They looked back at me blankly while the picture played in their minds. I probably should have, but I didn't take it back, because I really do think that our searching sometimes feels slippery and even that sometimes we are surprised by what we find. Sometimes answers seem illusive or strange and sometimes they sting. But, we're drawn into that wrestling match because there's something incredibly beautiful about knowing more of something so wonderful.

Yes, the analogy breaks down, as all analogies do.

But, until someone gives me a good reason not to, I'll keep wrestling the jellyfish as I seek to know more about my Savior, to find out what pleases Him, and then delight to do those things.

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

stuffing peppers and bellies

I grew up in the country. When October 31 came around, we would get dressed up and take a tour of the countryside, stopping at neighbors' and relatives houses who were all ready for the "Nichols kids." I never knew that other kids went to houses where they didn't personally know the people inside. Sometimes, we even sang a song or sat on the sofa for a while Because we were getting candy and popcorn balls, but we were also giving ... a little time for them to treasure. Well, I didn't go out to trick, treat, or sing at houses last night... but I did stuff something other than a candy bag - PEPPERS! I used this recipe, but made some serious changes. I didn't measure anything, for starters. I used fresh tomatoes and brown rice. I threw in some extra spices and (probably the biggest change) I used some peppers we got from my neighbor and I couldn't tell you exactly which kind they were. Something funny happened in the middle of making these little guys... I realized it was 3 pm and I hadn't eaten lunch! Good thing I had a BUNCH of rice mixture left over! I threw some on a corn tortilla, added cheddar and salsa... and 5 minutes later there was lunch! And then the peppers came out :)

I decided to get my community on and head over to my friends' place to share these peppers and finally watch Tree of Life (terrence malick's new flim). We ended up putting the rice mixture on top of this baked goodness and then throwing it in for a second baking to melt some cheese on top and dinner happened accompanied by some delightful conversation!

Then we watched Tree of Life. (more on the Nature vs. Grace discussion in the film to come!)

So, what did you stuff last night? A candy bag? Your belly?

Did anyone stuff their brain on the Reformation in honor of the anniversary? I spent a bit of time reading this article at the Gospel Coalition, "Abandon the Reformation, Abandon the Gospel" and thinking about how history remind us of God's faithfulness and our responsibility.

What thoughts have you, dear friends?

Tomorrow, I will write about the Tree of Life. Oh my, is there ever much to say!

sweating cinnamon

How is the baking business, you ask? I just got back from the gym and I'm pretty sure I sweat cinnamon, if that's any indication. I know it's a stretch, but it made me think about the fragrance of Christ. As a creative writer, I know smell is the sense that best captures a reader - the sense that will take the reader directly to the place in the story where all the action is because we remember smells. I can be lingering in a play room and instantly be transported to my childhood by the smell of a toy. Maybe you have passed by someone on the street and you can't help turning around because you almost feel like you know him... because of the cologne he's wearing.

I love that our sense of smell is carried on the invisible wind, but the proof is in the vivid images that rush our minds at the slightest whiff. This thought led to my remembering this verse from 2 Corinthians,

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.

We are willing captives in God's triumphal procession, spreading around the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. Wow. I sincerely wonder if the fragrance of Christ lingers when I leave a place. When people are around me, does their mind have a vivid picture of Christ front and center? It's way more eternally significant than leaving cinnamon in my fragrant wake.

Anyway, these were my thoughts while on the treadmill tonight... when I wasn't watching the BYU volleyball game (thanks to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, BYU international television accompanied my workout... which reminds me - I should get Hope College to televise some sports action down here!).

5 ways to keep stress out of the kitchen

A ball of chocolate chip cookie dough ready fo...

There are a lot of possible stressors in the kitchen, but I strongly feel that the kitchen is a place where stress should be relieved not added. If I let baking stress me out, I would certainly be in quite a predicament at the moment (launched a bit of a baking business in order to raise money for an upcoming mission trip). So, here are some personal tips if you are finding yourself conditioned to dread the combination of cookie dough and cookie sheet.
  1. exact measurements Yes, I do have and use measuring cups... occasionally and as strong suggestions. I believe strongly in the power of estimation and (to be honest) I enjoy the uncertainty and risk involved in "eye-balling it," as my mother used to say.
  2. noise I hope this is an indicator of a future of full kitchens: I like to bake while talking, singing, and laughing. I've also been known to have the occasional intellectual discussion over a healthy lump of cookie dough and I highly suggest it. No philosophical argument will come to fists when you've got something as sweet as cookies in the oven (with gooey fingers)! If I'm not talking on skype, hanging out with friends, then I'm singing my favorite sounds and some you can get for free: noisetrade, briterevolution, designers.mx, just to name a few.
  3. stray drips, splats, and the occasional cookie on the floor Everything while you are baking is EDIBLE, so don't forget you can clean up/taste test all in one enjoyable finger swipe! While baking and talking to my mom on skype about this stress-free post, she says, "don't forget about the flotsam and jetsam..." to which I reply, "I have no idea what language you are speaking right now, mom." After a half second blank stare, she says, "Well, I don't really know what it is either....(giggles) but I'll look it up for you." We finally figure out it's originally a nautical term used to describe floating debris or items thrown overboard. Apparently, my mom thinks this also means things spilled in the kitchen. I'll take it, mom.
  4. burnt edges Here's the deal, folks: you will inevitably get a wee bit past the recipe-prescribed "golden edges" every once in awhile. It's just one of those kitchen facts of life. So, be "easy" as my Canadian friend Heather would say. Just go with the flow and, trust me, there is always somebody who genuinely prefers cookies the way you've just taken them out of the oven. Burnt, brown, or between gooey and barely baked... they will get eaten and enjoyed!
  5. clean up As much as I want to say clean up can be skipped entirely - that's actually a way for you to smother all the silly cheer of freshly baked goods. My method? Scrub a dish or two while the cookies are in the oven. As I use bowls, spoons, etc., I collect things in one bowl and put it in the sink to soak so when I do get to it everything is in a clean-ready state. I might also use already floured, sugared, and soda-ed utensils over again in a different recipe if I've got many things happening at once (regular occurrence). Lastly... keep the conversation or music going through cleaning. I certainly don't like to be standing at the sink alone, scrubbing out the last bits of tasty cookie remains from a pan. No need to resent the cookies for making a mess! Even clean up can be social!

Okay - so there are 5 things. I'm learning here and I'm hoping to store some of these lessons for the days I can manage my own kitchen. If baking is as stress-free as I just made it sound, I might want to think about a new career!

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

how NOT to gain 100 pounds while baking

I think I could almost say I am studying baking as a second language right now. I won't say it's easy, but I will say it is very rewarding (even if only in the "kitchen smells good all the time" sense). Anyway, I thought I might share with you some of the things I'm learning in BSL. I hope, if you ever choose to take on this delicious course, you'll take note of this extremely important advice so it doesn't become painfully obvious that you've enrolled in said course.

 

  1. Do NOT brew a fresh pot of coffee while the cookies are in the oven
  2. Make sure you begin the cookie process just after you've filled your tummy with good things, not before
  3. While the dough is rising in the oven, throw some green beans on the stove - fresh, crispy green beans with salt, pepper, and a bit of butter. Then MUNCH on those instead of the "broken cookies"
  4. Hide the milk!!
  5. Entice your friends into the kitchen with the job of "taste-tester" and then TRUST them!
  6. Remind yourself with each batch or finished cake that these items are going to be sold - and that finger-licking isn't necessarily professional.
  7. Intentionally plan a workout following your baking session so you can't over-indulge... you know you will regret it later.
  8. (This is my favorite) Allow yourself to lick the cake pan, once the cake is safely on its serving plate. There's no point in completely denying yourself the good stuff!

That's all I got for now. Any other suggestions from fellow bakers-in-distress?

let that LOVE fly like cRaZy!!

You lead me out of myself

I'm getting ready for the SO-FAMOUS Sweet Dinner (10, 09, 06), which is happening on Thursday!! I have been thinking so much about what it means to love - really, truly love people. Loving these senior girls for the past three years makes it hard to write about love without crying. They make fun of me for it, but I'm not ashamed. Maybe tears are part of the overflow, too?

All I know is, I've got a GIANT lasagna (ahem, I might have used a turkey pan) and I have big plans for the special heart tins my mom sent me in a package last year. I'm working on parodies and decorations.

And in all these things, every once in awhile I take as deep a sigh as I can manage to remember that all this is just a reflection... it's all overflow and I've got to keep getting filled.

So, I thought these words would be good to start out the morning. One of my favorite sounds to rummage up inspiration in my soul is The Arrows from South Africa. Two ladies rocking out, weaving clever lyrics with layered melodies is what I call a good time. Well, maybe if you read these lyrics for pilgrimage you'll get the picture. I wish I could find a youtube video to post (if you can, let me know!). Here is their myspace page.

On this pilgrimmage to the new Jerusalem and it's the highway of holiness that gets me there start of the journey is the day when I let the seed fall to the ground and the day that I die is the day I start to climb

On this pilgrimmage to the new Jerusalem and it's the highway of holiness that gets me there every time I choose Your way instead of going my own direction those are the times when I fall right behind that You come to lead me along will You lead me on?

and if I ever lose my hope You're there to light the fire You bring me everything I need when You quiet me with the Love you give and You sing those songs all over me and You tenderly You lead me out of myself and You walk with me

On this pilgrimmage to the new Jerusalem and it's the small and the narrow gate that gets me there I know that many are called but that only few are chosen those are the few who abandon themselves to pursue Your kingdom come Your kingdom come

and if I ever lose my hope You're there to light the fire You bring me everything I need when you quiet me with the Love you give and you sing those songs all over me and you tenderly You lead me out of myself and you walk with me and you walk with me and you walk with me and you walk with me ---

Today, my chorus is, "Lord, lead me out of myself"

and let LOVE fly like cRaZy

sweet smell of spice and other things nice

Tonight we got back into the monday-baking swing of things. Elena and Alejandra brought laughter as a friend to fill all the lonely spaces in my kitchen (only recently vacated after Christmas left). We detoured from our normal crowded kitchen routine because there was just simply too much catching up to do. I baked and they talked - anything else would have resulted in a disaster on all sides. I promise I would admit it if I resented their un-helpfulness, but I'll tell you what I told them, "Just having you in my house makes me so happy."

I felt like a 26 year-old version of my own cheesy mother... and, well, I don't mind a bit! I realize now that all those times we were crowding my mom probably made her feel pretty popular. I don't think it was just the smell of spaghetti or casserole or chicken... I think it was a kind of home-baked smell she had that invited us in to chat. It could be wishful thinking, but I hope I inherited that fragrance!

It doesn't hurt that just the sight of this beautiful apron (thanks, sister!) brings culinary inspiration!

 

giving PRESENCE this Christmas

I intentionally didn't start out my post yesterday with an apology because I wanted to get right into the strangeness of my gym encounter. Today, I want to post an ENORMOUS slideshow to give you an idea of what the last two weeks have been full of: PRESENCE. Awhile ago, I posted a video from Advent Conspiracy that challenges people to give more meaningful gifts of time and hand-crafted gifts rather than breaking the bank. Here it is again, if you missed it:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eVqqj1v-ZBU]

I haven't quite felt up to pounding out life at the keyboard because there's been a LOT of presence-making! I finally got my handmade gifts off to the States, via someone's suitcase and now I'm working on finishing up the ones I still need to deliver here. There's A LOT of baking going on, to be sure. It could be granola, sugar cut-out cookies, pumpkin cake, or a number of other things... but there's ALWAYS something to do in the kitchen this time of year.

Well, enjoy this slideshow. I hope it lets you peek in and kind of sit with me as I go about being present this Christmas.

[slideshow]

things are not what they seem - including Mondays

I started a mental list awhile back, because I always happen upon the strangest things. I realized, they might not be strange after all, just bad assumptions. Before I get into my somewhat silly list, let me be serious for a second. Three things happened today that made the world shine like a candle at a Christmas Eve service. 1) phone chat with my mom and grandma, who came through surgery like a champ 2) a skype call with a dear friend that made distance feel like "just around the corner" 3) the most GLORIOUS reunion of baking goodness with my favorite high school ladies...

AND bonus number 4) students huddled in my office for the first mission trip meeting with excitement practically bursting out of their buttoned up uniforms.

These things prove again my belief that any "case of the Mondays" can surely be cured - Mondays do not have to be the dreadful thing they seem. My favorite scene from the day involves: one student working through a series of facial expression while texting, another student busily finishing college applications, and myself dancing around the kitchen to Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas," while piping hot Nutella-Peanut Butter brownies cool on the counter. Mondays? Yes, please!

Okay, here's a few examples of bad assumptions:

  • A sign that says "maquinas trabajando" does not necessarily mean machines are working... it could also mean men with pickaxes and shovels.
  • When you see sewer covers in the road, don't be fooled - they may not have a long life as a sewer cover. Chances are, you will soon have to swerve around that spot with great skill because someone has swiped it to make a buck.
  • Those silly yellow and white lines on the road are not to indicate to drivers what should and should not be done in traffic. Nonsense! They are to decorate the otherwise dull streets!
  • Whoever said there is such a thing as "too much of a good thing" has obviously never tried the nutella + peanut butter combination.
  • That terrible cliché about "dancing like no one is watching" is horribly misguided. I think it should go something like, "dance like everyone is watching... and just keep going!"

Okay, that's all for now. I hope you bursting with joy tonight - don't forget to

let LOVE fly like cRaZy!

million miles to go

I love this song by Joy Williams and Trent Dabbs... not because it is catchy or clever (because it is those things), but because it reminds me to persevere. Tonight, it's really not about a layered love relationship as much as it is about chocolate dough chilling in the fridge, a newsletter almost finished, and a cup of I Love Lemon tea that needs refilling. One thing you should always do when you start a recipe - read through all the directions (especially if it says chill for about 1 hour). Don't worry - I'm not fazed. The countdown begins... at 9:12 pm.

Today, I told a student she was an onion with many layers and after-school I taught cheers in heels behind my closed office door. Interesting day? That's not the half of it! :)

I can also now, at 10:55 pm, go on record saying the following:

Though recipes may be gracious about cavalier attitudes towards flour and sugar, it is NOT SO with ingredients like semi-sweet chocolate chips (tried substituting COSTA bars), dark brown sugar (tried substituting unknown Honduran sugar alternative), and chocolate mint wafer candies (tried substituting chocolate mints, like the ones you get at a restaurant).

Yep, I just wanted that to be officially on record... and also, you should only believe the exclamation, "So easy!" on a recipe if you have all the ingredients... and start very early... and are not still wearing your white pants from work.

I'm not disappointed, though. I finished my newsletter and spent some solitude time in the good ole cocina. I'm pretty sure my version will fly tomorrow, but we'll see. If not, there's always

let LOVE fly like cRaZy

Monday are YUMdays!

I love Mondays. No, really. I LOVE Mondays.

You think I'm kidding, but today sealed the deal. Here are some of the things today that overflowed my cup:

 

 

  1. I drove to school instead of rode the bus, which perfectly placed about 8.5 extra minutes to spend with David in 1 Samuel
  2. I ran out of coffee filters at my house, but savored a Vanilla Chai tea... delicious start!
  3. I met the day with uncharacteristic (before coffee), silly joy and greeted students with grand gestures and lopsided smiles.
  4. During our mid-morning break, I was heading back from an errand in the administration building, secretly hoping two certain, special students would be waiting in my office... and THEY WERE. I think I scared them with my loopy-ness and laughter, but I don't care. I love it when I find students in my office... especially when the special ones appear!
  5. CHAPEL happens Monday and today was such a blessing! I am sure many of the seniors won't admit it, but they want to know about hearing God's voice. That was exactly the message!
  6. Then, I got to counsel one of my favorite students using a SWEET analogy about records playing in our heads. Sometimes we've let the record of lies steal the show and we listen to it over and over and start to believe all the foolishness it plays. We've got to put that sweet record called Truth on stat and then you better believe we're gonna speak and act out of that life-giving overflow! I'll admit, my favorite part was connecting it to a Corinne Bailey Rae song, "Put Your Records On" because every time I saw her I broke out into singing.
  7. I love that THIS was shown to remember our time at the SLEEPout!
  8. then...(drumroll) it's MONDAY so that means culinary collision with two of my favorite ladies! I seriously can't explain how beautiful and brilliant these girls are... so I won't try. Just read this blogpost and you'll get a little taste of the night (not a real taste, but a cyber-ish one:).
  9. I love praying in my car on the way back from Monday baking dates. Shoot, and I just have to say again how much I love these amazing high school girls. They may/may not be changing my life (mostly may).
  10. I may/may not have consumed too much caffeine today (mostly may), which means I might be up writing for awhile!

I hope you are going to

let LOVE fly like CRAZY

with a wink and a smile

I'm not sure why, but this song was playing in my head as I sat down to write today. I just lunched on my version of a Honduran staple - baleadas (substitute wheat tortilla, take out salty cheese, add salsa) - and now I sit helplessly waiting to hear back from students who are probably sleeping and completely unaware that my afternoon plans somewhat hinge on their replies. In the meanwhile, I want to bring you up-to-date on some of the happenings here. In my typical, completely disconnected fashion, I'm giving it to you straight today about baking, meanings of words, and a strange desire to start a movement.

LovE CakE!

I'm still marinating on this idea of baking and sweetness and life and tasting ... yesterday was the last day of chapel and I spent the morning hours (prior to 6:30 departure) baking up some serious pumpkin gobs with butter/cream cheese frosting. A week of creative treats for the seniors who bring their Bibles to chapel almost wore me right out, but there is a beautiful, redeeming quality to what some women painfully label a chore.

This redeeming quality to laboring in the kitchen is not the look on people's faces when they eat your hard-won creation (though I've found I often make them eat it in front of me so I can see a reaction) nor is it the exclamations of delight and the serious battle for second helpings. The redeeming quality is an empty tupperware at the end of the day.

I (quite haphazardly) stumble onto the school bus in the morning in professional garb, toting a backpack and the familiar tupperware container with secret treats. By the time I get to school, I usually have frosting or chocolate or some unknown ingredient stuck to some inconvenient place. But, back to redeeming qualities...

The tupperware goes out from the house full and comes back empty. Every single one of the little, labored-over creations has found its place and that knowledge only finds me right back in the kitchen to make it happen again. What joy! Check out this video that my friend Kasey Miller (who, by the way, is one of my favorite inspirations in the kitchen!!) shared... this will make you want to LOVE CAKE too!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c38W5YQ5PdQ]

gracia and gracias

So, my word study on "pan" and "paneh" might have failed, but I'm very interested in the connection between the Spanish words, "Gracias" (thank you) and "gracia" (grace) and I think this will lead to something more conclusive. Both words are derived from the Latin root "gratus," which means "beloved," "agreeable," "favorable," and "pleasing."

I was originally interested because at the Micah Project sometimes we just spend time in prayer thanking God for His character. Many times, this will come up, "Señor, gracias por tu gracia!" Maybe no one else takes notice or thinks it odd, but whenever I hear that, I wonder about the strange and beautiful connection between gratitude and grace. When we say thank you, we are responding to an action or a gift or something we have received. Gratitude is what happens (or should happen) after receiving something good. We feel strange accepting a gift or complement without giving something back, so we express our gratitude by saying, "Thank you."

Here is where I get really interested... why do we use almost the exact same word to describe unmerited favor? The Miriam-Webster dictionary (and many Christians) gives the first definition for grace to mean what is received from God and that which allows one to have faith in what Christ did on the cross.

So - back to that Latin. If the Latin says, "pleasing, beloved, agreeable," and "favorable," why am I stuck on these two words? Well, if we say "thank you" because we have received something, that person or persons have become (in some way) beloved or agreeable to us. What is AMAZING is that we have done absolutely nothing to please or become favorable in God's sight. Even our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6), but God called us "beloved" and showed us "favor," though we came with nothing to deserve this response.

WOW!

starting a movement

Everybody is making movements these days, so I thought I would throw in my two cents about what deserves "movement" status. Maybe it's because I'm sitting here waiting for a student to tell me if she does/doesn't want to meet for coffee (though she told me for sure yesterday) or maybe it's because I've been around young people long enough to know commitments are ... fluid at best and often motivated by bad information.

So, I'd like to start a movement. The movement will be called, "we care and follow through with things that matter." I know - it's not very catchy right now, but I think I could hire some serious PR and those flaky kids would really start jumping on board. Well... they would jump on board if the message was so diluted no one knew exactly what kind of movement they were joining. But, they would join for sure, eventually. And, by that time the whole purpose of said movement would be moot (case in point).

That's my point.

It is very easy to get kids fired up about things (there are many, many broken things to bemoan in this world) and very hard to get kids fired up about searching serious answers followed up by serious action. I'm not talking extreme, here, folks. I actually think things get extreme when we get distracted by flashy PR campaigns and people telling us what is important and what to do about it.

I guess it would be refreshing to see a youth movement with, as my high school history teacher used to say, "fire in its belly." Everything from coffee dates to mission trips to environmental debates would be informed by something solid - something true and absolute and transformational. Let me know if you know of one and I'll scrap the whole idea.

Chapel Week: delicious-ness

I'm not going to ramble tonight because yesterday I think I scared my mother. I just want to give you a couple recipes. We have had chapel every day at school, which means that I've been baking everyday to encourage the seniors to carry their Bibles :)

Here's the menu to date:

Oatmeal Peanut Butter Cookie Sandwich (to see the FULL modification go here)

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate Chip Dream Bars

For these bars, I added to the bottom crust, because many bakers suggested a smaller pan. I needed the quantity, so I just increased some of the proportions. Also, I used whole wheat flour and added peanut butter to the second layer. I skipped the chocolate on top because they were already very sweet. It was a HIT!

 

 

Chocolate Peanut Butter No-Bakes

For these cookies, I didn't really follow a recipe. I had chocolate chips, peanut butter, milk, oatmeal, vanilla, and spices on hand, so I made my own combination and we'll see how they go over tomorrow morning.

 

 

 

 

Just in case you are wondering, I'm planning a big hoorah for Friday that will involve my favorite ingredient for this time of year - PUMPKIN!