Lazarus.

Lazarus

I came across a passage in the New Testament the other day that I’ve never considered before. I must have read it at some point, but I guess I never stopped to ponder what God was saying.

“When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.” [John 11:9-11]

I knew the chief priests and Pharisees wanted to be rid of Jesus in the worst way, but I didn’t realize they had planned to kill Lazarus as well. What? Lazarus just got raised from the dead. And this was no ordinary miracle. Jesus took great pains to make sure that everyone who witnessed the event would know without a doubt that Jesus had authority that could not be explained away. When Jesus heard that His good friend Lazarus was gravely ill, He did not rush to his side. Instead, Jesus sent word to Lazarus’ sisters that their brother’s sickness would not lead to death. I’m sure Mary and Martha thought this meant Lazarus would not die.

But he did.

Not only that, but Jesus left them to flounder in their grief and confusion for four days. Sure, Jesus could have been there—but He chose to wait until Lazarus was good and smelly before showing His face. There would be no mistaking that Jesus truly brought a dead man to life.

God got the glory and Mary and Martha got their brother back. The story should end there, right?

But God mentions one additional thing about Lazarus. Apparently, the episode resulted in many people believing in Jesus. And they didn’t believe in Him merely as a man, but as the Son of God. This vexed the chief priests and the Pharisees, who had no theology for people being raised from the dead on this earth.

Enter the human condition.

When we can’t find a box in our established belief system for a new experience, our tendency is to eliminate the experience rather than re-evaluating our worldview. For the record, this is why we don’t see many people with Down’s Syndrome anymore. Incurable disabilities don’t fit our paradigm of a vibrant, glossy existence, so we just eliminate the offenders and go back to being shiny happy people holding hands.

So we can’t fully blame the Pharisees for wanting to eliminate the evidence of Jesus’ authority over life and death. To keep their doctrines and power intact, both Jesus and Lazarus would have to go. We know that Jesus was crucified shortly after this incident. What God doesn’t tell us is whether the plot to put Lazarus to death was also successful. Could it be that Lazarus got a new lease on life only to be murdered a few days later?

The prevailing Western theology dictates that all stories must end with happy closure. No loose ends. No continued wrestling with complex, seemingly conflicting ideas about the nature of God and the meaning of life. But the Lord throws in this unsettling bit about the plot against Lazarus to shake us up, just as He shook up the Pharisees. We have no assurance that Lazarus lived a long and prosperous life after his encounter with Jesus. The only thing we know for sure is that death is not the final word.

Ultimately, that has to be enough.

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everything who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” [John 11:25-26]

Advertisements

A first: banana chocolate chip gluten-free muffins.

I’ve blogged about a lot of things over the past few years, but I’ve never done or wanted to do a food post. It’s not that I don’t like cooking and baking. I do. I like watching DC Cupcakes and browsing Pinterest for high-res photos of DYI cuisine. But getting up and actually preparing meal? Not so much. Left to my own devices (and someone else’s bank account), I’d eat out every night except on those occasions when I wanted to entertain guests. In which case I’d order in. But the budget doesn’t have any margin for such extravagances these days. So I am going to make myself learn how to fix food. From scratch.thinkthinwc

My preferred diet consists of thinkThin white chocolate bars and coconut popsicles from Whole Foods, supplemented by almond chai lattes from this place. I only say this so you’ll note what a huge accomplishment it is for me to assemble real ingredients and take the time to prepare something that doesn’t entail peeling off a wrapper.

My biggest challenge is breakfast because there’s so much I can’t eat these days and I am not at all motivated to cook first thing in the morning, especially since I’ve had to eliminate coffee. I know…I’m practically a martyr. Anyway, I looked high and low for gluten-free muffin recipes and found this one in the NY Times, which means it’s legitimate. I made some modifications because I can get just a teensy bit obsessive at times. When the author of the recipe spent an entire paragraph on the benefits of a food scale, I knew I had to watch myself. The fact that I did not immediately run out to Williams Sonoma and purchase a scale accurate to within 1/1000th of a milligram tells me I am making progress conquering my inner perfectionista (or it tells me I’m broke, but let’s go with making progress). So, no scale. The author also recommends a meticulously calculated blend of gluten free flours and I just don’t have time for that. (Given that I’m currently unemployed, I actually would have time for that, but for the aforementioned reason…no.) I also wanted to be able to get all the ingredients from a single, reasonably-priced store and found some semblance of everything I needed at Trader Joe’s. So far, so good.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup flaxseed flour (The original recipe calls for buckwheat flour, but I won’t eat anything with the word “wheat” in it, no matter how many people tell me it’s g-free. Plus, TJ’s didn’t carry it.)
  • 3/4 cup almond flour (TJ’s has almond meal, which may be a bit more crunchy, but it works.)
  • 1 cup gluten-free flour mix (I used Bob’s Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten Free Baking Flour.)
  • 6 tablespoons dark cocoa powder (It’s supposed to be cacao, but I just used TJ’s unsweetened cocoa powder. Get thee behind me, Martha Stewart.)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (TJ’s carries the kind with no aluminum so you don’t end up with Alzheimer’s, which I find really considerate of them.)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup raw brown sugar or packed light brown sugar (TJ’s sells turbinado sugar that is fair trade. Because…you know.)
  • 2 eggs (While I splurged on the fair trade sugar, I couldn’t justify the price of free range eggs. And while we’re on the subject, I didn’t vote for enhanced cages for chickens in 2008 either. Sorry.)
  • 1/3 cup canola or grape seed oil (Grape seed oil? How many grape seeds do you need for a quart of oil? And do they at least make wine out of the grapes? I went with Canola oil. And then, because I just can’t help myself, I looked up “Canola oil” and found out it comes from rape seeds. What?)
  • 1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt or buttermilk (I used yogurt, but will try buttermilk next time just because I’m capricious like that.)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 medium mashed bananas
  • 2/3 cup chocolate chips (I didn’t think this would be enough. I mean, can you ever have too much chocolate? But the amount was just right.}

Directions (with my changes in red–and I eliminated some things to keep it simple):

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Oil or butter Line muffin tins with animal print baking cups. Sift Put the dry ingredients into a large bowl. FYI…sugar is not a “dry ingredient.” But you probably knew that.

Muffin tray

Dry mix

2. In another large bowl or in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whip attachment (i.e., a whisk attached to my hand) beat together the oil and sugar until creamy (hence the above note–I included the sugar with the dry ingredients (gasp) but it worked out just fine. See, I’ve already made all the mistakes for you, so you can just relax. Close your ears Martha Stewart, but I suspect if you just dumped all the ingredients in one bowl and mixed them together, the world would not come to an end–and you would still have edible muffins.) Beat in the eggs until incorporated (is this even a culinary term?), then beat in the yogurt or buttermilk, the vanilla and the mashed bananas. Add the dry ingredients and mix at low speed or whisk gently until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips.

Bananas

Mixed

3. Using a spoon or ice cream scoop, fill muffin cups to the top. Place in the oven and bake 30 minutes, until a muffin springs back lightly when touched. Personally, I like the “toothpick test“. Makes 16-ish muffins.

Viola!

Banana Chocolate Chip G-Free Muffins

[image source: moi]

Weakness is strength.

20130428-231329.jpg

Went to meet a couple of former colleagues for dinner. I wasn’t feeling well at all, but I was really missing these friends, so I decided to go anyway. On the way, I just cried out to God over the loss of my job and health insurance, constant pain, feeling sick and so much more. When I was done, I surrendered my life to God again, asking Him to use me. Then, as I pulled in to the parking lot, I felt I was to pray for someone.

I will just say right here that I am so stubborn and self-sufficient that I have to be gripping the end of my rope with my fingertips, flailing about with my legs and one free arm, before I will voluntarily turn over my life to Him. The rest of the time, I’m praying “equip me” prayers, which sound righteous, but they’re really just a cover for keeping God at arm’s length, essentially telling Him, “Don’t worry Lord, I’ve got this.” Now that I am broke, sick, destitute and unemployed, I have no other option but to give Him my “everything,” which in fact is nothing.

As I was touching up my makeup in the car so I could appear put together before my friends, I saw a couple make their way into the restaurant. The guy was on crutches and I wondered if he was the one I was supposed to pray for. Now this is always an awkward moment for me. Should I chase him down–wouldn’t be difficult–and ask if I can pray for him? If I do, would it be appropriate to “lay hands” on his injured foot? What if he looks at me like I’m crazy…or worse, what if his wife thinks thinks this is some kind of new pick up maneuver? And worst of all, what if I do pray for him and…Nothing. Whatsoever. Happens.

I was still wrestling through the proper prayer protocol when I heard a commotion outside my car. A man was clearly agitated, screaming after a woman who was trying to walk away from him. I wondered if I should go inside the restaurant to get reinforcements, but I wanted to make she was okay first. I opened my car door as the woman turned to look at the man. She uttered something I couldn’t hear. But the man heard it and it made him even madder. He got right in her face and by this time I was out of my car, cell phone in hand. The woman was hunched over, sobbing, and telling him to leave her alone. It looked like he was going to hit her, so I yelled at him to stop. He looked at me like I was crazy and yelled back that it was not my business. Somehow I stood my ground and said, “You just made it my business.”

I then approached the woman and asked her if she was alright…if she needed anything. I wondered if she would need a place to live, or some money, or groceries, but she just looked at me and said, “Can you pray with me?”

This was not at all what I expected.

So I put my arm around her and prayed for God’s protection…and for freedom. I can’t remember what was in the middle, but I hope it touched her in some way.

And then she turned and walked after the man. I saw them sit down outside for awhile and then they disappeared.

On my way home, I thanked God for this brief encounter. And I had to acknowledge that if I hadn’t been in such a raw and desperate place myself, I might have tuned out the yelling to go about my own business instead of allowing my life to intersect for a moment with hers.

God’s answer to my gratitude was silence. He didn’t download a list of ways I could have prayed more effectively or give me a seven-step strategy to start a restaurant parking lot ministry. Instead, I believe the corners of His mouth turned up a bit as He gave a slight nod in my direction.

And it was good.

[image source]

Orphan spirit.

sad child

God has been taking me to the end of myself and is starting to peel back some layers that I have ever so diligently been trying to keep intact.

Truth be told, I liked my layers. They protected me from the elements and they’re kind of cozy if you don’t mind snuggling in dysfunction, which apparently I didn’t.

But seasons change and now those layers that used to feel so comfy are choking me. There are days when I want to throw them all off at once, but God is patiently removing one layer at a time and clothing me in His truth. Today’s layer has to do with an orphan spirit. If you’ve been there, you know the feeling. You don’t belong anywhere, to anyone. You feel left out. Forgotten. Abandoned. It’s more than loneliness because it can actually be worse when you’re surrounded by people. They all seem to fit in with each other, but you…well, you don’t. You’re not one of them.

The orphan spirit can drive you to do all kinds of self-destructive things in a desperate attempt to find your tribe. Enough said.

My grandfather actually was an orphan and even though he married and had five children, he lived his life to the very end as a sad, fatherless child. God reminded me of this because the peeling process is painful (alliteration unintended). He wanted me to know that the hurt is a necessary alternative to a life of fruitless wandering.

As I was talking to Him about this orphan stuff and where it might have come from, I saw a picture of what the orphan spirit looked like. Just to be clear, I’m not saying I see spirits or demons. I’m just describing what popped into my mind as I was praying—a fat but sickly and shapeless overgrown baby. A big fat blob of a being that was attached to my side and feeding off me. As quickly as the image appeared, I wanted it gone. It was disgusting.

It hit me that this is a perversion of pregnancy, where you nurture the life within you for a time in order to ensure a healthy, whole, and separate human being. In contrast, you don’t give birth to this orphan spirit thing. It just continues to suck the life out of you, growing ever fatter, while you are diminished. You never deliver it. You get delivered from it.

What I saw was so grotesque that I immediately ran to Ephesians one and read aloud God’s declaration: He has chosen me from before the foundations of the world. I have been set apart and God sees me as His precious, unblemished child. Through Jesus I have been adopted as a daughter and, as such, share in His inheritance. I have a Father. A Brother. And a Tribe.

For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. | Romans 8:15-16

[image source]

Breakfast with a stranger.

20130407-215832.jpg

I dropped my car off at the shop for an oil change and tire rotation. An hour later, I got the dreaded phone call–apparently the little noise I asked the mechanic to check out was just one of a long litany of problems with my aging vehicle.

Because my car was going to be out of commission for several hours, I walked over to the Goodwill where I found a journal/workbook to keep me busy for awhile and then headed to a nearby diner for the duration. When I flipped through the pages of the journal at the store, it looked brand new–but now I could see that someone had filled in the first few pages.

So as I ate my eggs and bacon, I opened the book and started reading the reflections of the previous owner. It felt a little weird–a little wrong even–to be going through a stranger’s diary, but I couldn’t help myself. And it wasn’t really like I was snooping. After all, it was my journal now.

It was clear that she was struggling with some things–the same kinds of things I struggle with. She thought her life would be more together by now. She wondered how–or if–she would be able to accomplish all that was on her plate. And she too wrestled with pursuing her life purpose, which seemed to be far bigger than her available resources. I looked to see if she had written her name and phone number on the inside cover so I could call her, if only just to say, “Me too.”

She was at a crossroads. I am too. Wondering if I should continue my work, which feels like my calling, even though it no longer comes with a sufficient salary. The crazy thing is, even as my paycheck is reduced, I feel like God is giving me a bigger vision and asking me to expand my reach. His reach.

20130621-220614.jpg

[image source]

This is the way.

20130324-022146.jpg

I’ve been seeing this George Bernard Shaw quote splattered across Twitter and Pinterest and I just have to say NO. That is not what life is about. For the record, Shaw was a eugenist who also said “If we desire a certain type of civilization and culture we must exterminate the sort of people who do not fit into it.” So there’s that.

As for you–you have already been created. You don’t have to waste your time recreating what God has made (in His image no less) and called good. We are under the illusion that we have an infinite selection of paths upon which to walk, limited only by our imaginations, when the reality is that God prepared a way uniquely designed for you. And we stumble around aimlessly hoping for some cosmic compass, when God says if you veer off the path, listen for My voice and I’ll get you back on track.

It’s so simple.

But we’re just like the ancient Israelites. Their mandate was clear: Get out of Egypt and go take the Promised Land. Be strong and courageous. Fight for your freedom. Possess your birthright. I’ll be with you the whole way.

But when they saw the giants–the mountain of debt with no foreseeable way to pay it off or whatever your giant looks like–they panicked. A bunch of them decided the Promised Land was not really their thing and proceeded to create another version of themselves which they no doubt tweeted about endlessly. Their whole lives were spent railing against who God made them to be and desperately seeking some more reasonable and appealing reality.

“Woe to the obstinate children,” declares the Lord, “to those who carry out plans that are not mine. In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength,but you would have none of it.” Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” | Isaiah 30

[image source]

Reality check.

20130429-224414.jpg

Found out yesterday I am taking a 25% cut in pay, effective immediately. So much for three months. Spent all of last night confronting denial. I had been holding on to the hope of some kind of rescue from the inevitable, waiting for my fairy godmother or handsome prince or some other mythical being to sweep in at the eleventh hour and set things right.

It’s 12:01. Time to acknowledge that the only check I’m getting right now is a reality check.

My friend Arthur tells the story of facing a critical funding deadline for a project and praying desperately for the money to come in. When the usual pleas proved ineffective, Arthur tried a new tactic. He asked God to show him where he was in Scripture. As it turns out, he was behaving like the older brother of the prodigal son–you know, the bitter one. The one who was jealous of his formerly philandering younger sibling’s welcome home party. The one who whined about how his father never served him a decent steak. The thing is, the older son could have had fatted calf any or every day of the week. He owned the ranch. But he chose to obsess over his lack, disregarding the resources of his father’s estate at his disposal. He could not see the inherent potential in the raw materials available to him.

So here I am. Whining because the solution to my crisis is not appearing before me wrapped in pretty paper with a sparkly bow on top when the truth is I have been flat out lazy about developing the resources my Father has provided me. In fact, I’ve never even taken any kind of meaningful inventory of the raw materials He has placed within and around me. I’ve had my eye on a finished product when I have no idea whether the parts I’m working with even lend themselves to my idealized (fantasized) outcome.

[image source]

Pleasing God.

walkinfog“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

Thomas Merton

[image source]