Monday, September 28, 2015

To Gracey, On Your 1st Birthday

Not a great picture of either of us, and you can tell Carson in a few years what you think of him, but I love you anyway!

Dear Gracey,

              Let me just start by saying: I hope that this blog post, on my very famous, world-renowned blog, doesn't offend your brother and sisters, since I have never written them a post on any of their birthdays. I love them no less than you, but you see, I never had to write a post like this one to any of them either. So, they will just have to trust that Aunt Clare would give her life for any of them, same as you, and they probably don't really want a blog post anyway. They will most likely happily settle for the usual gift card. ;)

     But you, Gracey, where to begin? At the part where you literally are only here because God is so much better, so much more powerful, so much more *grace* full than I could have ever imagined a year ago? Because I thought I knew Him, and then I met you. And if I think you turned my life upside down, I can't even begin to address how your mom and dad feel. But for the grace of God, you should be dead. And that seems like a harsh, hateful thing to say, but it is true. You, my sweet, sweet, niece are the most physical evidence that as the heavens are higher than the earth, so His ways are above our's.

   Your tiny little busted heart could not sustain you. You were so ill, after months of waiting your trademark grin had faded to the faintest smile. You were not doing well. And neither were we. The Lord and I had this conversation every day: "It's today, Lord, right? We've waited long enough, haven't we?". And *my* heart started to fail, and the doubt crept in, whispering in its hateful way... "What if?".

   And I will NEVER forget the night before God graciously reached down and decided to restore your life. I called your mom-she needed help, she was constantly at the hospital, and your brother and sisters needed someone, and she needed someone, and I wanted to be there, but was worried-what if we had months ahead of us? We were looking at plane tickets and trying to make travel plans and nothing was working. I kept hearing a Still Small Voice, and I finally stopped. I could hear, as plain as day, it was saying, "Wait". And I told your mom. And we agreed, we would stop trying to make plans and take the weekend to figure out what the Lord wanted us to do. We prayed, and I felt peace wash over me. I knew the Lord was going to make His will so abundantly clear we would not be able to miss it.

    I went to bed that night and slept like I hadn't slept in weeks. And I woke up to a phone full of messages-that peace? It was the Lord. He was just being patient, wanting me to trust that He had it under control. Do you know what it is like to hear that the Thing you've been praying for-for days, that turned into weeks, that turned into months has finally happened? You feel like you are in a dream. You keep checking-is it real? Yes, it is still real? But is it really real? Yes, it is really real. And you don't know what to say, or do.

    But then, like with all of life, the dream turns into cold, hard reality. And you had your precious donated heart, the greatest physical gift any person can give. There were ups, and there were downs. You could go home, wait; no, you couldn't. You were out of the hospital, now you were back in. You were gaining weight, you were losing weight. And that is when it hit me, as a pastor I once knew used to say, "The way you get in, is the way you go on." We realized: the prayers we had prayed before your gift? Those were the ones we would keep on praying. "Lord, provide." "Lord, sustain."

    So that is you, my darling niece. You never let us forget Who is really calling the shots. Your life screams what we should all take time to remember: every moment is precious, tomorrow is promised to *no one*! You are a breathing, smiling, talking, moving reminder that your life is not your own-you were bought with a price. And every moment is a gift.

   You are me- except you are highlighted, underlined, written in boldest black. You are each of us, we just don't want to see it. Every moment of your life has been bathed, showered, flooded with prayer. And mine should be no different. Because I, too, have been bought with a price. I am not my own. And I am also living on borrowed time, each fragile, priceless moment to be accounted for to Someone Else.

   You have showed me what it means to pray without ceasing. You have shown me how to smile through the pain, to carry on with the glorious task of living in the mundaneness, the beauty and the tragedy that is life. The very prayers I prayed, not just for a heart, but for you to taste ice cream, meet your siblings, sleep in your own bed! have happened before my very eyes. And it, you, are my very own miracle. And I haven't stopped being thankful. And I won't stop being grateful.

   You are amazing Gracey, not because you had a heart transplant, but because God created you. You are amazing Gracey, not because you live on borrowed time, but because we all do, and our time is better because you are in it. You are amazing Gracey, because your smile can light up a room, and your laugh is contagious, and you radiate God's goodness. You are amazing Gracey, because God filled you with possibilities that are on the cusp of being explored, and you get to wear on the outside what most of us only wear on the inside: we are here by God's grace, no more, no less. And I can't wait to see what He has in store for you.

                                                                                    Love Always,
                                                                                               Aunt Clare

Friday, July 24, 2015

C.S. Lewis and Craziness

   I didn't really have the best day. Let's be honest: I haven't really been having an amazing summer. It might look swell on Facebook and Instagram (I'm kind of old-school, and I tend to only post the "good" stuff-I save the whining for the blog! ;) ) but it has been far too busy for my tastes, and I feel like I haven't gotten to do any "savoring"-only flying from one activity to the next with plenty of hiccups and missteps sprinkled in. Definitely FWP, I know! So, I spent a considerable portion of my afternoon partying-I mean the pity kind. And to distract my self from my "too much fun" woes, I did what any self-respecting person with an iPhone does: I got on Facebook.

    How in the world did I think *that* would make me feel better?! The first two stories in my newsfeed? These horrific murders in Oklahoma-two brothers killed their parents and siblings, and the breaking story of a shooting spree in a Louisiana theater. And this all comes amidst the recent allegations that Planned Parenthood is in the business of selling baby body parts. (Sorry, but that was NOT surprising, just sickening and sad.) WHAT IS WRONG WITH THE WORLD?!!!

    Sadly, all those messes did put my trifling "problems" in perspective, but I was still feeling pretty down. Kind of like when you complain that you have been suffering with a cold and someone says, "Well, at least you don't have cancer!" Because *that* just makes you feel alllll better, amiright? Except, not really, because you still have a cold, which makes you whiny, and now you are feeling sorry for all the people in the world who have real problems, and being all depressed that you can't do anything about it.

  So, I turned off Facebook, after posting this verse, (because I 100% believe that the Word is appropriate at all times and for all reasons). And tried to carry on with real life. That thing I keep complaining about, you know?

  And my kids were clamoring to read "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe", because like any intelligent thinkers, they are powerless to resist C.S. Lewis' brilliant storytelling. And they begged for another chapter, so I read two. And I began to think about how awful Narnia was. We had just finished the chapter where they find Mr. Tumnus' tossed home. (Sorry, I guess I should have posted a spoiler alert for the two people in the world who haven't read The Chronicles of Narnia.) Things are really grim, and because "this ain't my first rodeo" so to speak, I know that things will only continue to get worse. They will find much greater evil than a ransacked house. And it will shake them up.

    And it is scary-to face the reality that you are a child and you cannot possibly know how to get yourself out of  a situation that you did not create, and are seemingly helpless to control. Where things keep going wrong. A world where it is "always winter but never Christmas".

   And doesn't that just feel like the world we live in? Always dreary, often frightening, sinister and cruel-where those in power are bent on our destruction, and it seems that in addition to being at cross purposes with all our ideals and morals, our very lives are at stake. But see, you and I, being the savvy readers that we are, know this: it is all just stage setting. It is all just a build-up to the final, glorious climax. It seemingly takes forever, you realize that especially when you are reading it out loud to small children, but these details are painted vividly for a reason: it will make the triumph of good over evil all that much more delicious.

   Because we all know the good guy wins! Don't get me wrong: I am not saying that God promotes murdering, thievery, and wanton disregard for His law just to prove a point, or make the finale even more grand, but we do not need to lose hope.

"One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as He promised. So be very careful to love the Lord your God." Joshua 23:10-11 (NIV)
   We aren't in this all alone-we need to not lose hope. We have been promised that in the end WE WILL WIN. The crux of the whole thing is this: we just need to be very careful to love the Lord. The impossible is possible with Him-grandiose endings are kind of His thing. Just as it took insane trust for the Pevensie children to believe that Aslan could deliver not just them, but all of Narnia, it takes the doesn't-make-sense-in-the-eyes-of-the-world faith to believe that one can rout a thousand. And I don't know about you, but I would have never guessed that Narnia would be saved in the manner it was.

   "All shall be done, but it may be harder than you think."  C.S. Lewis, I am quite certain, did not write those words only for children. He knew, as any believer does, that God's ways are not our ways.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my wayhigher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:9

   Today, all seems wrong with the world. It will take an insane amount of trust to believe, that in this completely crazy world, that Someone can come along and make everything right. And that He may be willing to let me have a part in that. But it is so true, and the ending will be so much better than anything I can imagine or hope. I am quite certain it will be harder than I think, but there is amazing comfort in knowing that it shall all be done.

                                                                             Above all, contemplating Him,

P.S. I guess this is kind of theme in my life lately, since my last post was this one. Sorry-sometimes I get kind of fixated...or maybe I just need a lot of reminders. ;)

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

It's Not The End...

    I really can't stand letting an entire month go by without posting. So, even though I am usually in bed by now (I am a *firm* believer in getting enough sleep, so I am usually in bed by 10 or 10:30 pm) I just couldn't let June slip by unnoticed.

   June certainly deserves notice, but due to the actual living of life, the recording of it has gone by the wayside, hopefully only momentarily. There was a wedding, and a recruitment to a Very Important Committee, and birthdays, and family and parties and a number of painful things that I really can't go into detail about. Posts are always swirling in my head, but they just never hit the top of the priority list. Family, and church, and friends, and occasionally this little thing we like to call laundry, definitely upset the rankings.

   And some days, lately, there is a lot more "Come, Lord Jesus", than "This is the day the Lord has made...". But I saw the card up above, and I had to take a picture, because that is just the God's honest truth-and I am not saying that in a jesting manner. Truly, I have been promised that it will all turn out for the best. And it won't be okay in the "mediocre-just-getting-by"sense, but okay in the "everything-will-make-sense-and-we-will-all-know-true-Love" sense. Because Romans 8:28 is more real than my feet at the end of my legs.

    "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose."

   Life is crazy. For me, at least, always has been, always will be. And I'm okay with that. I have been called according to a purpose, and it is, He is, so much greater than me. I hashtagged this pic with #alreadyknowhowitends.  I do. Thank God.  Because that card? Whoever wrote it hasn't been clued in yet: they say the Author is unknown, but I know Who it is. He gave me salvation and it comes with a promise: in the end, I will be with Him, in the perfectness of eternity, and it will be glorious beyond my imagination, because He is glorious beyond comprehension. And so, this month may not have made it onto my humble little blog, but I busy working for a Purpose, and even if it all seems wrong, in the end, it will be oh so right. It will definitely be okay. Thank You Jesus...

Monday, May 11, 2015

10 Minutes Cheese and Onion Enchiladas

     Mexican. It is my most favorite type of cuisine. I would probably eat it every day, if I could. I love spicy, flavorful food, and it fills the bill every time. I also love it because so many things are so simple to prepare.

     These enchiladas are *so* easy! I love to order cheese enchiladas at Mexican restaurants, but I could never get them quite right at home. So recently, I took to ordering them every single time we went to our favorite Mexican place and I discovered something: unlike most recipes I had found, theirs were never soggy, and they weren't swimming in sauce. And it hit me: I didn't have to bake my enchiladas! I would get better results, and faster ones, by skipping the baking! So that led me to put these together. You melt the cheese in the tortilla in a skillet, and top it with the sauce right before serving-resulting in cheesy, but not soggy, enchiladas with the perfect amount of sauce!

10 Minute Cheese and Onion Enchiladas
1/2 white onion chopped
butter for sauteing
8 corn tortillas (I used "super sized ones, that were about 6 1/2 inches across)
8 oz. Monterey jack or jalapeno jack cheese (depending on how spicy you want them), shredded
4 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
16 oz. of your favorite green enchilada sauce

1. Saute the chopped onion briefly in a separate pan. The onions can be caramelized, if you like, but I only cooked mine for a few minutes because I wanted them to still maintain some texture. Set to the side.
2. While the onions are cooking, heat your sauce. Keep it on "low" while you cook the enchiladas.
3. Preheat the skillet on low, and add a *generous* 1/4 c. (or a scant 1/2 c., which ever way you would like to look at it!) of cheeses, using about 3/4 monterey jack to 1/4 amount of cheddar to the center of a tortilla. Place in the skillet. Add about 1 tablespoon of the onion in a line down the center.
4. I added 1/4-1/2 tsp. of water to the side of the skillet and topped it with the lid. Keep a close eye on it, all you want is for the cheese to melt.

 5. As soon as the cheese is melted, remove the tortilla, roll it quickly on  the plate and top it with sauce.
6. Serve with your favorite toppings-I can never resist sour cream!
     I only made one at a time, and it still only took me about ten minutes to make enough for our entire family (and Joel had three!). This is such a great vegetarian meal, truly no one even misses the meat. I added black beans and Spanish rice on the side-and some guacamole, which we ate before it made it in the photos.

      I was a little worried that because these were so easy they wouldn't be tasty-um wrong! Joel raved about them, and I will definitely be making them again-especially during the summer when I don't want to heat up the oven.

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"Thrifty Thursday" at Living Well, Spending Less

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Truffles

     I love to make candy. I prefer it to almost any other kitchen activity. Some people find it tedious, and others complain that it is hard, but I think it is one of the most rewarding foods you can make! People just don't get excited about veggies, or casseroles, or soups they way they do about candy! And they are almost always impressed when they find out you made it yourself. So, if you are in the mood to be complimented, or you want to surprise a sweet-lover in your life, make them some candy!

    I made these truffles for a tea we had at church recently. I wanted something that would appeal to the majority of women, and I have found that dark chocolate is (almost) universally loved! Since it is spring, and the tea was just for the ladies, I also decided that raspberry would be the perfect complement. Who can resist pink?

     The key to these truffles is the cream cheese. I won't sing the praises of that most delicious ingredient right now-suffice it to say, I love it! Throw that in with just a few other things, and you will quickly have candy that will amaze and impress all your friends. 

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Truffles
Makes approximately 36-40 candies

5 oz. cream cheese (softened)
1 1/2 tsp. raspberry extract 
4 c. powdered sugar 
Red food dye or coloring
1 package (10 oz.) Ghiradelli 60% cacao bakings chips

1. Thoroughly mix the cream cheese and raspberry extract together. 
2. Slowly add the powdered sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring each time until it is completely incorporated. 
3. If the mixture forms easily into balls, you may want to taste it to see if you want to add more raspberry extract. Be aware, though, that the flavor will intensify as the chocolates chill, so don't add too much. I felt that after 24 hours the 1 and 1/2 tsp. amount was perfect. 
4. Add your food dye if you like. I used gel food coloring (for cakes, etc.) so I didn't have to add much liquid to achieve the color I wanted. If you are using traditional food coloring, you may have to add more powdered sugar afterwards so that the mixture will be firm.
5. Scoop mixture out by level tablespoons, and roll into balls. Place on waxed paper and freeze for 10-15 minutes, or refrigerate for 30 minutes. Don't leave them in the freezer for too long, because if they actually start to freeze, they will expand once they are dipped and crack the chocolate, and it will make the extract "ooze". They will still be tasty, but they won't look as nice!
6. Melt the chocolate according to the package directions. (Basically, in the microwave at half power, in 30 second increments).
7. Working quickly, dip the candies using two forks, top with sprinkles or edible "pearls" if desired, and place on waxed paper to set.
8. Place in fridge to set. Once they are completely hardened, they can be placed in mini muffin liners to gift, and stacked. Keep them refrigerated!

    These were a huge hit! I based them on this recipe, but found the proportions weren't tasting right. So I changed them to suit myself. And of course, I had to make them into truffles. And dip them in dark chocolate! I love it when I can start with an idea and then really turn it into something that I love. And I love these! 

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