Monday, October 31, 2011

Lebanese Bread & Seasons of Doubt...

"I believe in the sun,
even when it is not shining.
I believe in love, 
even when I don't feel it. 
I believe in God, even when there is silence."
~words that were scratched on the walls of a cellar in Cologne, Germany 
by a Jew hiding from Nazi persecution

So thrilled to be back to share some thoughts on Session 3 of the Live Deliciously series 
which centers around Jesus feeding the 5,000 (John 6:1-58).
As always, there was so very much given to ponder throughout the week's homework, 
and through the main study much to devour!

The dialogue that occurred between Jesus and His disciples during this miracle 
brought to light a testing of their faith, and in spite of their limited finite thinking,
God fed the multitude of people with a small boy's simple offering. 
Have you ever found yourself in a "season of doubt" ~ a time when you doubted 
God's goodness, His plan, His presence amidst trials in your life?

Out of everything we covered in this meaty text, 
this topic of doubt was the one thing that has resonated with me the most.
Maybe it's because it's so tangible...
because these are such perilous times that we live in...
because there are so many I know going through fierce trials right now...
because the sweat on my brow is still fresh from journeying through my own fierce trials....
Lenya pointed out that trials bring tests. 
I can testify to that.
And yet I've seen tremendous trials become tremendous triumphs.
I've seen great testings turned into great testimonies.

In "Waking The Dead," John Eldredge references a powerful passage from a favorite book of mine called Pilgrim's Progress, the famous story by John Bunyan that I find so relevant to this topic of "doubt." He says: 

"Well into his journey towards the Celestial City, Pilgrim grows impatient with his progress. He leaves the narrow path for what he believes will be a shortcut, but is captured by the Giant Despair and held in the dungeon on Doubting Castle. Under the harsh treatment of Despair, Christian loses heart nearly to the point of taking his own life. Listen in on the whispers of Pilgrim and his companion, Hopeful, in their dungeon:

Pilgrim: Brother, what shall we do? The life we now live is miserable. For my part I know not whether it is best to live, or to die.

Hopeful: My brother, remember how valiant thou hast been heretofore? Apollyon could not crush thee, nor could all that thou didst hear, or see, or feel, in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. What hardship, terror and amazement hast thou playedst the man at Vanity Fair, and was neither afraid of the chain, nor cage, nor yet of bloody death?...

Now a little before it was day, good Christian, as one half amazed, broke out in this passionate speech: What a fool am I, to lie in a stinking dungeon when I may as well walk with liberty. I have a key in my bosom called Promise, that will open any lock in Doubting Castle."

Pilgrim lay in despair because he had FORGOTTEN. 
Hopeful urges him to REMEMBER, both all he had been through, 
as well as the assurances he has from the One who called him on the journey."
One last excerpt I think you will enjoy, and that ties in so beautifully... 
such a moving reminder that even when we doubt it, He is there, 
and He is working behind the scenes in ways we don't even know about on our behalf. 
Remember that when you are tempted to doubt His goodness... 
This excerpt is also from "Waking the Dead," where John Eldredge references 
a segment from C.S. Lewis' "The Horse and His Boy."  

He says: "In this story, Jesus is portrayed as a lion and comes to Shasta, a young, lost boy who figures the world has all but forgotten him...
“And being very tired and having nothing inside him, he felt so sorry for himself that the tears rolled down his cheeks.
What put a stop to all this was a sudden fright. Shasta discovered that someone or somebody was walking beside him. It was pitch dark and he could see nothing. And the Thing (or Person) was going so quietly that he could hardly hear any footfalls. What he could hear was breathing. His invisible companion seemed to breathe on a very large scale, and Shasta got the impression that it was a very large creature. And he had come to notice this breathing so gradually that he had really no idea how long it had been there. It was a horrible shock.
It darted into his mind that he had heard long ago that there were giants in these Northern countries. He bit his lip in terror. But now that he really had something to cry about, he stopped crying.
The Thing (unless it was a Person) went on beside him so very quietly that Shasta began to hope he had only imagined it. But just as he was becoming quite sure of it, there suddenly came a deep, rich sigh out of the darkness beside him. That couldn’t be imagination! Anyway, he had felt the hot breath of that sigh on his chilly left hand.
If the horse had been any good - or if he had known how to get any good out of the horse - he would have risked everything on a breakaway and a wild gallop. But he knew he couldn’t make that horse gallop. So he went on at a walking pace and the unseen companion walked and breathed beside him. At last he could bear it no longer.
“Who are you?” he said, scarcely above a whisper.
“One who has waited long for you to speak,” said the Thing. Its voice was not loud, but very large and deep.
“Are you - are you a giant?” asked Shasta.
“You might call me a giant,” said the Large Voice. “But I am not like the creatures you call giants.”
“I can’t see you at all,” said Shasta, after staring very hard. Then (for an even more terrible idea had come into his head) he said, almost in a scream, “You’re not - not something dead, are you? Oh please - please do go away. What harm have I ever done you? Oh, I am the unluckiest person in the whole world!”
Once more he felt the warm breath of the Thing on his hand and face. “There,” it said, “that is not the breath of a ghost. Tell me your sorrows.”
Shasta was a little reassured by the breath: so he told how he had never known his real father or mother and had been brought up sternly by the fisherman. And then he told the story of his escape and how they were chased by lions and forced to swim for their lives; and of all their dangers in Tashbaan and about his night among the tombs and how the beasts howled at him out of the desert. And he told about the heat and thirst of their desert journey and how they were almost at their goal when another lion chased them and wounded Aravis. And also, how very long it was since he had had anything to eat.
“I do not call you unfortunate,” said the Large Voice.
“Don’t you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?” said Shasta.
“There was only one lion,” said the Voice.
“What on earth do you mean? I’ve just told you there were at least two the first night, and-”
“There was only one: but he was swift of foot.”
“How do you know?”
“I was the lion.” 
And as Shasta gasped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”
“Then it was you who wounded Aravis?”
“It was I.”
“But what for?”
“Child,” said the Voice, “I am telling you your story, not hers..."
Oh Bellas, I simply do not understand why things unfold the way they do sometimes,
I do not always understand God's timing,
and quite frankly I know I'm not meant to.
Being given the sterile blueprint
would rob all the passion of living
as much as I'd like to see it sometimes.
But I DO know that He uses EVERYTHING,
even the darkest moments of our lives,
to bring us into His sweet sweet presence
to do something remarkable within us
that we never could have anticipated.
Always remember and rest hard on the fact that God loves you 24-7 because that's His style. 
He loves you enough to watch over you and take over your scene when He wills it necessary. 
He is our help when there is danger – clear and present.

"Oh Taste and see that the Lord is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!"
~Psalm 34:8

And with that, I'd like to leave you with the coinciding recipe that accompanied this section:
Lebanese (Syrian) Bread. 
I was a little nervous about making this, 
because I have never made any kind of bread before, 
not even tortillas....I know!!! 
But this really was a cinch to make
We filled our bread with lamb & tabbouleh....fantastic!!
go on, give it a try :)
Lebanese (Syrian) Bread
Prep Time: 60 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes

2 packages of active dry yeast
1/3 cup of water
1 Tbsp of flour
1 Tbsp of sugar
3 Cups of flour
1 Cup of water
1 tsp of of salt

1. Sprinkle the yeast over water and add 1 tablespoon of flour and sugar. Stir and set aside to rise for about 10 minutes.
2. Sift the 3 cups of flour with the salt. Add the yeast mixture. Knead, adding one cup water gradually, to make a stiff but not dry dough.
3. Set in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk. Punch the dough down.
4. Divide into 6 to 8 round balls. Place on lightly floured surface. With a rolling pin flatten into 1/4 inch thick circles.
5. Cover with a kitchen towel and let it rise again for 15-25 minutes. Brush with milk.
6. Preheat oven and baking sheets to 500 degrees. Place the bread on baking sheets or a baking stone until puffed up and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Then turn over so the other side browns also.
When the bread is a little cool, place them in plastic bags to soften.

And last but not least, I would like to extend my most heartfelt and sincere THANK YOU to Elisabeth Pregadio, Audrey Martinez and ALL of the women from our small group in the Live Deliciously series, and to Gail, Krista, & Liz (Lorraine Brown's friends & neighbors) - thank you from the very bottom of my heart sweet bellas for your outpouring of love, for your generosity and kindness, for reaching out to bless our little family in such a mighty way, you truly are a gift to me and we will never forget how God used you to touch our lives in such a special way.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Birthdays & Beauty!

"I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made"
~Psalm 139:14

I'm taking a quick break from chronicling my adventures through the "Live Deliciously" series to share some introspective thoughts with you this morning....but not just any ol' thoughts....

Always a favorite time of reflection for me as I take a gaze back and a gander forward to ponder what it is I'd like to purpose in my heart for the coming year. It may surprise some that I truly enjoy growing older....I like to look back and consider the pearls of wisdom I have managed to glean year after year...a perpetual rite of passage...and the older I get, the more at rest my soul becomes.

Spent some time in Psalm 139 this morning...sigh....what a smile it brought to my face as I contemplated the richness of it. "How precious also are Your thought to me, O God! How great is the sum of them!" (Psalm 139:17)

I'm reminded of conversations with older women who confess that if they only knew in their youth what they know now, how differently they would have lived. They express regrets of obsessing over their weight and living with such insecurities that prevented them from embracing the best years of their life.

In a post he titles
Leo Babauta says, "I’m not cool, and I’m cool with that. I wasted a lot of energy when I was younger worrying about being cool. It’s way more fun to forget about that, and just be yourself."

Smile. Wise words indeed.

We live in a society that has a very convoluted perception of BEAUTY, would you agree?

I wanted to share a delightful passage from one of my favorite books "Captivating" by Stasi Eldredge...such a courageous reminder that we do not have to "try" to BE, we already ARE!
Live from that place sweet bellas, live like it's real.....much love to you this beautiful fall morning....
"All around us God's creation shouts of his beauty and his goodness. The way snow creates a silhouette of lace on a barren tree, the rays of sun streaming forth from a billowing cloud, the sound of a brook trickling over smooth stones, the form of a woman's body and the face of a child anticipating the arrival of the ice cream truck all speak of God's good heart if we will have but the eyes to see. The coming of spring after a hard winter is almost too glorious for a soul to bear. God's beauty is lavished on the world.

Beauty may be the most powerful thing on earth. Beauty speaks. Beauty invites. Beauty nourishes. Beauty comforts. Beauty inspires. Beauty is transcendent. Beauty draws us to God.

A woman in her glory, a woman of beauty, is a woman who is not striving to become beautiful or worthy or enough.
She knows in her quiet center where God dwells that He finds her beautiful, has deemed her worthy, and in Him she is enough.
In fact, the only thing getting in the way of our being
fully captivating and enjoyed,
is our hiding and striving.

So Jesus says, "I will quiet you with My love" (Zephaniah 3:17). A woman of true beauty is a woman who in the depths of her soul is at rest; trusting God because she has come to know Him to be worthy of her trust. She exudes a sense of calm; a sense of rest; and invites those around her to rest as well. She speaks comfort; that all is well; that all will be well. A woman of true beauty offers others the grace to be and the room to become. In her presence, one can release the tight sigh that so often grips our hearts, and breathe in the truth that
God loves us and He is good."

Friday, October 7, 2011

Come Thirsty...and Feta Stuffed Dates

"Our hearts are restless
until they find their rest in You."
~ St. Augustine

Have you ever felt restless?
Like there is something missing?
And no matter how hard you try to fill that void,
the emptiness remains.
Session 2 of the" Live Deliciously" study focused
on "the woman at the well" in John 4:1-40.
At first glance, one might think
they don't have anything in common with this woman,
but I beg to differ.

So often, so many of us try to find satisfaction in worldly pursuits,
just like this woman at the well.
Some lose themselves in shopping, others food.
We crave that "high."
Some determined to fill their calendars with
an action packed social life or extreme busyness.
Still others pursue their satisfaction
in physical relationships, addictions,
or have become consumed with achieving the "perfect" appearance.
There are so many things
we can find ourselves pursuing
in hopes to achieve a feeling of productiveness,
 accomplishment or validation.
But when it comes right down to it,
there is only ONE
who can satisfy the longing of our soul.

In the homework, we learned that
water is essential to life.
It was highlighted that "just as our bodies
have symptoms of physical dehydration
(such as headaches, dizziness, dry mucous membranes),
spiritual dehydration also has it's symptoms:
fearfulness, worry, and compliance to the world and its futile ways."

There is so very much that can be gleaned
from this story alone,
but one of the main things that stuck out for me
as Larissa Lusko took us through the main teaching,
was to ask ourselves
"Lord, what is my greatest need?"
I acknowledge that He alone
wants to become my greatest need
and longs meet that need abundantly.

"But whosoever drinketh of the water
that I shall give him
shall never thirst;
but the water that I shall give him
shall be in him a well of water
springing up into everlasting life." (John 4:14)

You were created to fulfill
your very own special purpose and destiny,
and this is something
that no one else
can fulfill for you.
The homework beautifully illustrated this when it said
"we might be fed for the moment
by hearing what someone else has learned,
but nothing replaces the deep satisfaction of discovering God's spiritual truths for ourselves."
I couldn't agree more...there simply is no substitute
for uninterrupted, undiluted time in His presence.

The woman at the well had already experienced the disappointments of what the world had to offer,
only leaving her empty and longing
for something that would last.
What about you?
Are you thirsting for the living water
that only Jesus can provide?

Came across a poignant passage in "Waking the Dead" by John Eldredge which references an excerpt from The Chronicles of Narnia that I wanted to share, such a beautiful reminder that nothing else in this world can satisfy but HIM....come thirsty.....

"In The Silver Chair, the fourth book in the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis introduces a new character to the land of Narnia. Jill finds herself transported to Narnia as if she were caught up in a dream. The first creature she encounters is Aslan the lion, the Christ figure throughout the series. Aslan appears for a moment, then stalks slowly back into the forest. Jill is terribly afraid of meeting up with the lion, but her increasing thirst drives her in search for water.
Alas! Jill discovers a stream,
but she has to pass Aslan to reach it.

"Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.
"I'm dying of thirst," said Jill.
"Then drink," said the Lion.
"May I - could I - would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill.

The Lion answered this only
by a look and a very low growl.
And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream
was driving her nearly frantic.
"Will you promise not to do anything to me,
if I do come?" said Jill.
"I make no promise," said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

"Do you eat girls?" she said.

"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men,
kings and emperors, cities and realms,"
said the Lion.
It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

"I daren't come and drink," said Jill.
"Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.
"Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer.
"I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."

"There is no other stream," said the Lion. "
There is no other stream Sweet Bellas,
there is only ONE who pursues us
to quench our thirst with Living Waters.
Come refreshed.....

"My soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water."
(Psalm 63:1)

And with that...I'd like to share with you the recipe that was generously given to us for Feta-Stuffed Dates. You can CLICK HERE to see Lenya Heitzig prepare this delicious treat with step by step video instructions. I thoroughly enjoyed preparing this, another first for me. It was truly effortless, the flavors were both savory and sweet and the lemon just added that extra zing, I'm so impressed! I didn't realize I would love it so much, and I think you will too. If you are looking for a definite crowd pleaser and something unique that you can serve your guests during the holidays, this is it.
Enjoy and Mangia!
Feta Stuffed Dates
recipe courtesy of She Ministries
Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 12 minutes

12 Medjool dates
1 cup feta cheese
1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
12 whole almonds
honey for drizzling

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. spray a cookie sheet with non-stick spray or lay a piece of parchment paper on it.
2. place almonds on cookie sheet and roast until golden.
3. slice the dates along the top, carefully pop them open, and remove the pit.
4. using a food processor (or blender) mix together the feta, olive oil lemon zest, and lemon juice until it is creamy with no lumps. spoon about 1 teaspoon of the cheese mixture into each date.
5. insert toasted almonds into the middle of cheese mixture. bake at 375 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
6. remove from oven and drizzle each warmed date lightly with honey.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Dolmades & Live Deliciously!

"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by doing so some have unwittingly entertained angels."
~ Hebrews 13:2

It really is no secret, I speak my love through food.

Whenever there is a crisis at hand,
my immediate response:
start cooking!!
I may not have the financial means to help
or always be able to be present physically,
but by golly I can cook you a meal.


Whenever there is a celebration at hand,
my immediate response:
start cooking!!
I may not have the financial means to get a gift,
or always be able to be present physically,
but by golly I can cook you a meal.

I truly do express myself through food, and it brings me great joy to serve others through food.
So it's no surprise that when She Ministries announced it's next study series:
"Live Deliciously: Dining with the Savior," I was PUMPED!

All of the study sessions and homework will center on meals that Jesus had with certain people, and the powerful message that surrounded it - PLUS, each week they will be sharing delicious Middle Eastern recipes for us to take home, and even will incorporate some food demos and tastings...

I mean really, HOW COULD I NOT GO???
Even as I pondered how VERY pregnant I would be by the time the study started,
and how physically challenging it would be to get myself, my 1 year old AND my 3 year old fed, ready and out the door in the early morning to attend, all I could think about was:

They describe the study like this:
"A wedding reception. A loaf of bread.
A cup of water.
It's remarkable how many of Jesus' miracles,
conversations, and relationship began with 1 idea:
'Let's eat!'
In each encounter, Jesus changed those He was with - and He can change us through giving and receiving hospitality as well."

sigh. I'm SO in.
Let the feast for both body and soul begin!
I'm so thrilled to blog about my adventures through this study, and to have the opportunity to share every delicious moment with YOU!

I learned that in the Greek, the word "hospitality"
is beautifully translated as
"love of strangers."

I love that!!
I cannot begin to tell you how much I've been chewing on that simple thought.
I have been prompted to find ways to be even more hospitable,
both to the people I know,
and the people I don't.

"For I was hungry and you gave Me food;
I was thirsty and you gave Me drink;
I was a stranger and you took Me in" (Matthew 25:35)
YES! What a poignant reminder!
Truly whatever we do unto the least of men, we do it unto Him (Matthew 25:40).
In fact, the Law of Moses elevated hospitality to a religious duty (Leviticus 19:34).

I'll sum up just a few thoughts from our first study session, appropriately titled "The Best Is Yet To Come" in which both the message by Lenya Heitzig, and the homework revolved around The Wedding Feast in Cana (John 2:1-12), Jesus' FIRST miracle where He turned the water into wine.
WOW!!! There really is SO much Lenya touched on, so many significances she brought to light.

In small group we really chewed on it in detail (in fact, we ran out of time in our first small group session just barely 1/3 into the homework discussion! People were pulling out nuggets and sharing such interesting perspective, and it really made us ponder in ways we hadn't considered...what a fantastic group of women!!) One thing that stuck with me in the message was a quote that was shared: "Before we can pray 'Thy Kingdom Come," we must be willing to say, "MY kingdom GO!" (Alan Redpath)

Isn't that the truth. It was such a relevant reminder for me right now. We have to be willing to let go of our plans, our agendas...we must be willing to empty ourselves out before He can fill up our vessel.

Final thoughts:
In John 2, Mary still believed Jesus would do something even though He gave her a gentle rebuke that His time had not come to display His glory like that, and she told the servants "WHATEVER" He says, do literally means, do it now, and do it without hesitation. And so they obeyed in just that manner. In fact they didn't just casually fill the cisterns with water, they filled them TO THE BRIM!

Can we do that? Obey in that fashion? Lenya asked us to ponder what our "whatevers" are - when God prompts us to do things, "whatever" they may be, big or small. Are we willing to do it, and do it now without hesitation? She gave many personal examples and I've been really meditating on that. She asked us if we are living "TO THE BRIM" in our own lives. To "live to the brim" is to go out on a limb. Are we responding like that? Is our faith radical like that?

sigh. Sweet Bellas, my cup has been filled and it is overflowing! So much given to chew on and ponder as we read this encounter and strive to understand it's implications.

Just as the master replied that normally people put the good wine out first, but declared that they had clearly saved the best for last(John 2:10)...could it be that THE BEST IS YET TO COME for us (certainly this is true in what awaits us in Glory, but even in the right here right now)....I BELIEVE IT IS!

Taking a moment RIGHT NOW to pray for each of you who have taken a moment to stop by and read this post, I truly am delighted that I could share this "meal" with you.

And now...without further ado, the recipe for DOLMADES!!!! You can CLICK HERE to see Lenya give step by step video instructions and see just how simple it really is to make this wonderful dish. It was her first time making, as it was mine, and I can truly say it was both fun and delicious....and, super easy!

Prep time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 15 minutes

36-40 fresh or brine-packed grape leaves
1 1/2 cups cooked long-grain rice
Handful of finely chopped fennel leaves
5 fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 tsp cumin, ground and heated slightly in a dry pan to release it's aroma
A generous amount of freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of salt
1 onion, finely chopped
Juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp of lemon zest
1/4 cup of Greek olive oil

1. Combine the rice, fennel leaves, cumin, pepper, salt, lemon zest, and onions thoroughly and reserve.
2. Blanche the fresh fine leaves, or thoroughly rinse canned/jarred leaves in cold water. Drain on paper towels.
3. Place the glossy side of the leaf down on the palm of your hand with the stem toward you. Place a teaspoonful of the filling in the center on the leaf and fold over, first one side, then the other, then roll to make a cylindrical parcel. The glossy side of the leaf should be on the outside.
4. Repeat until all the leaves are filled; place them in a shallow pan which has been lined with a layer of grape leaves (to prevent burning).
5. Pour over them the juice of one lemon, enough water to come halfway up the stuffed leaves, and a little of the olive oil. Place a plate atop the dolmades to keep them flat (if necessary) and simmer them gently for 10 to 15 minutes. Place in serving dish. Pour over them the rest of the lemon juice and olive oil. Serve hot or cold!




Before I close, I want to extend a most heartfelt and sincere "thank you" to Lorraine Brown, Liz Berg, Gina Stanley, Jenni Mullinix and Donna Bardocz for your kindness, thoughtfulness, and generosity in reaching out to me the way that you did, and blessing my socks off. This heart is overwhelmed...tears! There simply are no words to adequately express the fullness of gratitude I feel. How ironic that the day after I posted my last post about how the Lord had prompted me to get out there and bless some people with a meal, no sooner when I arrived home were there packages waiting for me, from each of you, with gifts for our new baby literally are the hands and feet of GOD, and I will never forget that moment.....from the bottom of my heart, thank you sweet bellas!!!!


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