Food Fight

I’ve become one of those people who posts pictures of food.

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I don’t know how this happened, except maybe that food (and dinner in particular) has been such a nightmare for us for so  long.

But last week, the kids liked every meal we made.

(I’m going to leave that as a stand alone line, because it’s a MIRACLE.)

This is my way of declaring victory (read: dominion) over the horror that is mandatory  family dinner. (You know that it’s mandatory right? Because experts. Sigh.) I’ll post the recipes below, in case you’re fighting a similar battle.

A bit of background: Food for me is like exercise: best when it’s completed and I don’t have to think about it again for a while. I know this is strange, and it’s embarrassing to admit in our culture that venerates eating. Suffice to say I’m not someone who sources my ingredients. If you ask me if I eat local, I’ll nod yes with confidence: Market Basket is 3.7 miles from my house, and I buy pretty much everything there.

As I’ve shared before, I was just getting a handle on nightly dinners for two when the Cherubs moved in with us. They HATED our food. (They even complained to their social worker, “All they feed us is STEAK…”) This is common with kids who have spent time in foster care. Most didn’t eat particularly well (if at all) in their original homes, and not every foster home feeds kids enough food, let alone good food.

We had nights where things got so bad, I’d just leave the table after dinner and go up to my room to fume & regroup, because they were Just.So.Nasty.

Normally, I wouldn’t care all that much what they ate. I was raised in the 70s on beverages made from space age powders (Tang, Kool-Aid, instant ice tea, instant coffee, even powdered milk) and I turned out okay. But I HAD to get them on healthier food: I had one child who looked 8 when he was actually 12, and another who had “risk of diabetes from childhood obesity” written all over her medical records. So it wasn’t an option to just sort of play along, feed them Spaghetti-o’s & Hamburger Helper, and hoped things somehow worked out.

Okay, that’s the problem. Now let me tell you what we tried, and what worked.

Step 1: Keep the fridge full.

Our kids are hyper-alert to food availability. I can’t tell you how many times when I’ve had a busy week and just haven’t made it to the store yet, #2 Cherub asks, “Are we having money trouble?” This came up this weekend simply because we opened our last stick of butter. We weren’t even out…we just didn’t have extra.  Almost two years in, and they’re still looking for signs that Steve & I might lose our capacity to serve as the adults.

So I do my best to keep the fridge, pantry, and fruit bowl FULL. There’s not much junk there. But there is lots of food.

Step 2: Stop the complaining. 

After months of trying to figure out this dinner thing, I realized that the kids were kind of getting off on antagonizing me. It was a battle, and they were winning. Power struggles are part of parenting anyway, but they’re particularly part of adoption. On the verge of losing my sh*t about all of this, one night (after a really unpleasant fight the night before) I fixed them a special, just-for-you dinner: plain chicken, plain rice, plain green beans. I filled their milk glasses right to the top, and I told them, “From now on, this is your next dinner after you complain.”

It hasn’t been a problem since. (See pick your battles, win the ones you pick.)

Step 2:  Add Glop

Our kids love condiments. BBQ sauce, ketchup, salad dressing, soy sauce, salt, pepper, hot flakes, butter… Their favorite meals are things they can make gloppy. So look for versions of these that don’t have high-fructose corn syrup, and let them have at it.

Surprisingly, this also provided the best behavior modification option in our parenting repertoire. (See pick your battles, above)

Step 3: Wait

It took time for their palates to change. At a basic level, we were dealing with addiction – sugar in various forms, chemical additives, etc. Detox takes time, and then it takes more time for new habits to form. I did my best to provide variety, try new things, and find as many gloppy meals as I could feed them.

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Finally, last week, this all paid off.  Here’s some of what we ate that we all liked.  (And when I mention specific ingredients, I will link you right to Amazon. Because if there’s one thing I wish we’d done differently, it was to have some of our groceries delivered during our transition. If you’re in the process of adopting? Let me just set you free and say, you can worry about your carbon footprint NEXT YEAR. The rest of us will cover for you while you save a life or two. And if you have a friend who is fostering or adopting? Sign them up for a delivery service like Peapod or Amazon Fresh, and maybe crowd source a big ole’ gift card from amongst your friends or colleagues. Your friend who’s adopting won’t have the brain space to thank you for about 18 months, so I’ll just say it for them now, because I know they mean it: THANK YOU!)

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Turkey Kebabs

Anything on the grill is better, particularly because our kids like their meat well done (read: burnt into little hunks of blackened char). We learned with the first run of this that bacon doesn’t work at all on kebabs because the fat catches the whole kebab on fire but leaves everything raw inside (sad face), but with turkey & veggies (even sausage) it’s fantastic.

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Honey Mustard Pork Chops 

The kids like pork, but the highlight of this meal is that I slice a head of cauliflower into “steaks,” spray them with olive oil, add Jane’s salt, and broil them on a cookie sheet. Microwave frozen peas or green beans and call it a night.  I make the honey mustard glaze with hot mustard that is scrumptious. (see Add Glop, above)

My Mom’s Meatloaf (aka the meal of many life lessons)

Really, is there any food concept grosser than a “loaf” of meat? But I loved this as a kid and my kids do, too. I learned the hard way that I need to use 85% lean ground beef or I end up with a giant meatball swimming in grease. I add Italian bread crumbs, chopped onion, egg, and ketchup. I also learned to take my rings off before mixing. (AGGGH)  My mom’s secret was to cut a slice into the center of the loaf and hide cheese in there. That’s some good melty wonderfulness. Finally, I learned that baked potatoes take approximately nine hours and need to be started before you do anything else.

Chili (aka giant vat of glop)

I first made this on one of those awesome nights where we were all happy and having fun together, when it felt like our family life was a miracle and I just wanted to make the kids something they would truly love. So I made chili, even though it sort of grosses me out. It turned out to be a good choice, because this is chili even I can eat.

It’s nothing fancy: browned ground beef or turkey, smushed tomatoes (I can never remember if they should be crushed or diced, so that’s always a wild card depending one which can I grabbed at the store). Red beans & black beans (I get the low sodium ones in the can. Don’t even talk to me about soaking the dried ones. I’m not there yet.) I toss in a jar of salsa (because I’ll mooch Paul Newman’s efforts to advance my cause), frozen corn, and approximately 4x the amount of hot chili powder as I think is way too much. We serve this with that fake shredded cheese no cow would recognize, and the tortilla chips they sell near the counter at the beer & wine store. Just keeping it real, folks.

Chicken & Chick Peas

My friend Laura gave me this recipe a few years ago when I was doing a Lenten fast that only allowed certain grains.  I always use meat that’s already cooked (either from a rotisserie I grab at the store or leftover chicken breasts) so I don’t have to worry about food poisoning. Cook up about a cup of couscous. Take a moment to love that it only takes 5 minutes. Vow to eat less rice because it’s just too demanding. Sauté a chopped onion, along with some orange & yellow diced peppers. Add cooked couscous, a can of drained chick peas, some frozen peas & a bit of chicken broth. Mix together with cumin & that other yellow spice that also starts with C (Curry! that’s it!). Add corn if one of your Cherubs says, “I haven’t gone to the bathroom in awhile…. Spinach if someone is being punished. Let it heat through. Serve in bowls and marvel that they’re eating it. Go upstairs and write in your journal, Have found proof that God is real…

Family Chicken 

I have no idea how #2 Cherub came to claim this as our unique concoction, as it actually came from one of those index card recipes that show up in the mail sometimes. But apparently, it’s our very own now, and when they ask for “Family Chicken,” this is what they mean. It might be the only thing I make with no ingredients from a can, so it’s FANCY.

You dip chicken breasts in egg  while you struggle not to think too much about what’s happening. Coat in a mixture of bread crumbs, grated romano cheese, and Montreal Chicken Seasoning (MCS has solved more “I won’t eat that!” food fights in our family than I can possible describe. It’s cousin, Montreal Steak? Single handedly ended the, “They feed us nothing but steak!” war.) Broil until the edges of the chicken catch fire, because you got a bit distracted and the Cherubs like their meat killed twice. Serve with whatever vegetable you have and whichever starch you have time to boil.

And finally…

Life Group Food

I add this last item because if you’re in the thick of food issues with new kids, I want to reassure you: it won’t always be this hard, you won’t always have to do dinner like a military drill, and at some point, you’ll see breakthroughs in your kids’ tastes and places you can give a little without having all your hard work collapse.

At least once a week, we’re back out the door at night so fast that there’s no time to cook. So I’ve caved to boxed food, and let me tell you, it makes our kids MUCH more amenable to whatever the night’s obligations entail.

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They love chicken pot pie (because glop), and Newman’s Frozen Pizzas. Mac & cheese with hot dogs. Pasta with pesto and a pile of grated cheese (after which I chase them around with a spoonful of peanut butter, giving my 500th lecture on PROTEIN).

Here’s the cool thing:

#1 Cherub has grown about 8 inches and lost a bunch of those baby teeth. #2 Cherub is healthy, fit, happy with her body, and energetic. Both of them now monitor their own eating in a way that supports their personal needs. And while dinner time still isn’t anyone’s favorite part of the day, we get through those ten minutes together. I’m not sure it bonds us the way the experts promise. But it’s a hill we’ve conquered as a family, and shared victories count for more than you’d guess in this process.

Here’s the best book I found to help me think through this challenging season.
To those of you who are longtime readers: THANK YOU for your laughter, support & prayers as I’ve wrestled with this part of our lives. It’s nice to report some victory. And for those of you who are new? And maybe considering adopting from foster care? Forget you ever read this! But maybe bookmark it (I have a whole folder of “adoption blogs that save my sanity”) for the days you need to know that things will get better.

Middle School Musicals & Blending Families: A Praise Report

This weekend we watched #2 Cherub sing and dance in Oompa Loompa splendor in her middle school musical. It was SPLENDID. The show was hilarious and fun (thankfully less creepy than the Tim Burton movie) and there were some astonishingly good moments for us as a family that I want to capture and remember.

Willy Wonka 1 Willy Wonka 2First, different members of the Cherubs’ original family came for all three performances. Friday, Saturday & Sunday, they each drove long distances to a school they were unfamiliar with. They brought hugs and flowers and loud cheers for #2, and bought #1 more candy than he could possibly scoff down during intermission. They are so for the kids.

It’s not easy, what they’re doing. I don’t think this always how it goes in these situations (this was not at all our experience when we had Princess Peach) – and so I’m astonished and grateful that it’s possible. It’s good for the kids (and for us) to have so many people on their team.

Lest I paint TOO romantic a picture here, let me also say that the kids have no idea what to do with all of this familial blending – first they were terrified that we wouldn’t like each other, now they’re like, “Wait, you guys LIKE each other?” They find it awkward. But as one of their uncles pointed out, when you’re 14 & 12, EVERYTHING is awkward. If this is our awkward, we’ll take it.

Second, as we drove home after opening night, I heard #1 say to his sister in a low voice, “You did a good job.

I was like, “WAIT! was that a sweet moment between my children???”

They laughed and said, “Yeah, it was…”

For all the truth about how much #1 & #2 have helped each other through difficult times, they are also just like every other set of sibling kids I know: they bicker constantly, the one-upsmanship is endless, and they agree on nothing if they can possibly help it. It gets so bad some mornings I’ve threatened to make them walk to school if they don’t cut it out. (This was highly effective the week it was 9 degrees. I think it will lose its power as the temps warm up.)  There aren’t many moments when they say something genuinely nice to one another that isn’t prompted by a grown up.  But this was unprompted and genuine. #1 was right – she did do a good job. He knew how hard she’d worked, and (I think) how much his big brother praise would mean to her. It was precious.

Then we got home and she tripped over something and he made fun of her, so we were back to normal. But still, I think it’s the “good job” she’ll remember.

By the end of the weekend, we were all EXHAUSTED. It’s noon on a snow day right now, and we’re all still in our pajamas. I think big events take a bit more out of you when you’re a new family, because you’re not sure how things will go and there are so many emotions and hopes and relationships at play. But when it all works out? You need to WRITE IT DOWN and remember it, and let it set the new standard for how things can be.

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Dinner, both nights of the show. I would have been such a good 1970s parent!

Road to Adoption: Checking in after one Year

 

We went on vacation last week :)

IMG_4185 This was our first as a family. (Because no, I’m not counting that time we took our Black kids to the White Mountains.)

We went to Syracuse NY for the Vineyard East Regional Conference, a gathering of Vineyard Church leaders from Maine to Pennsylvania. The difference in these two experiences was a good reminder of how far we’ve come.

Last year at this time, the kids had just moved in with us. They were stressed and overwhelmed, struggling mightily to make the best of a situation they never asked for. They called us Steve & Trish, they submitted to hugs but didn’t reciprocate, they had no trouble expressing the many and varied ways we sucked. The list of things they hated included meeting new people, having new experiences, and my cooking. In other words, most parts of most days. Don’t even get me started about running errands or driving anywhere in the car. There were times they both just pulled blankets over their heads in the back seat just to get some space to process their fury.  I moved my toothbrush out of the downstairs bathroom after finding it coated with soap.

I think what saved us in those early days was what we’d learned from other foster & adoptive parents: to IGNORE the part of us that wanted to say, “Oh honey, I know you’re hurting…what will make better???”  Because the truth is, they didn’t know. They were in new territory, and needed us to help them map the land. So we doubled down on high structure & high nurture.

Steve and I gave endless hugs and words of appreciation and affirmation. We complimented toenail growth and praised deodorant application. We ate dinner together every night, even though it was quiet and angry and awkward. We kept the refrigerator STOCKED. They may not have liked all the food, there was a lot of it.

At the same time, the kids were expected to look good when they got dressed, not wear clothes with stains or rips, brush their teeth & shower daily, make their beds, and do the few chores we could dream up with excellence and without complaining. We gave them a script to follow for when they meet people (because people happen), and just ignored their “Oh it’s going to be AWFUL/I don’t want to go!” complaints when we left the house until they more or less learned that if something was planned, it wasn’t getting un-planned. They detoxed from high-fructose corn syrup and the dream that we’d swing through 7-ll to pick up dinner. They had early bedtimes, almost no tv, and quickly learned that there was just no way either of them was going to play songs in our car or our kitchen about what some girl was going to do to some boy after they left the club.

These were not the boundaries I would have predicted if you’d asked me about my parenting before The  Cherubs arrived. I’m not against TV or music or even junk food. But we learned that these were the boundaries our kids needed, and so we build these rules like scaffolding around them to give them something secure to hold onto.

I don’t think I realized until this vacation how much this scaffolding WORKED.

I am in awe.

This year, our kids have just started calling us Dad & Mom. They hug us back and ask for affection. We have family jokes and things we laugh about. They’re still nervous about meeting new people, but have learned that meeting new people is ALWAYS awkward, no matter who you are, so they don’t take personally. They more or less tolerate my cooking. (Honestly I think we now just eat a bunch of healthy-ish food none of us really like, but we’re doing so much better than before that it seems like a win).

And in the days leading up to our vacation, they DIDN’T obsess about going to a big conference filled with people they don’t know. Instead, they chose a couple of good things to focus on: that we’d promised them McDonalds the first time we did a really long car ride, and that Auntie Gwen & their friends Grace & Sam would be there at the conference, too. They repeated these two things again and again, creating a narrative of excitement instead of fear. It was amazing.

When we arrived, the hotel had a pool…and a basketball court (GOD BLESS YOU Residence IMG_4172Inn Syracuse for that basketball court!!!)  At the conference, there was a teen/youth track the kids could follow so they weren’t with the grown ups the whole time (GOD BLESS YOU Syracuse Vineyard for the teen/youth/get-away-from-your-parents-and-have-your-own-experience-track!!!).  By the end of the first night, they asked, “Can we come again next year?” And by the end of the week they didn’t want to leave.

It was one of the best weeks we’ve had as a family.

I’m sharing this because Jen Hatmaker shared a similar then vs. now story on her blog last year that saved my sanity when I was deep in the trenches and feeling like I didn’t have what it takes. It’s been taken down, so I thought I’d post my own version to pay it forward, to cheer on all of you who are in this situation right now, or considering foster care/adoption.

You should consider foster care/adoption. I’m not sure anything in my life has gone on such a speedy track of growth and transformation. These kids are amazing. It has taken more than Steve & I thought we had, and there have been some white knuckled nights and long, frustrated days. I’ll admit that there was a season where the checkout guy at our local beer & wine store knew us REALLY well, because we were there A LOT.

But this kind of transformation in just over a year? It’s worth it. Some adoptions take longer to find the sweet spot; this isn’t a one-timeline-fits-all endeavor. But the wins are pretty huge when they come.

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Our traveling tribe from Greenhouse Mission Vineyard Church.

Wing-It Wings: A Recipe

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this here before, but I am a culinary rock star.

What? I haven’t told you this? Well let me tell you now!

UnknownSunday after church I decided to make chicken wings. I thawed the chicken, pulled out the crock pot, then went online to look for a recipe. Which is when I discovered that our line was not on. We had no cable, no internet, and thus no recipes.

Steve called Verizon while I tried not to panic. I looked through the kitchen for anything that seemed vaguely wing-ish.

I remembered an old recipe that called for mixing grape jelly and ketchup, but we had no grape jelly and I wasn’t sure one could substitute Strawberry images-1Polaner All-Fruit and live to tell the tale. Undaunted, I squirted a half gallon of ketchup in the crock pot, put in the wings, then covered them with brown sugar and honey. That didn’t seem liquid-y enough, so more ketchup. I set it for 4 hours on high, said a prayer for God’s mercy over this sad little meal, and escaped into a book.

An hour later, Steve and the fine people at Verizon solved our connection crisis, and he turned on the Pats game. He said, “Wow, I thought I was going to have to head down to [the bar a few blocks away] and order up some wings to watch the game!”

“But I’m making wings!” I said, pouting (but of course still exuding my usual calm and gracious maturity.)

“Um…chicken and ketchup?” Steve asked skeptically. I had to admit, the kitchen smelled a little gross. “We need some pineapple or something,” he mused, “with soy sauce…”

“WE HAVE THOSE THINGS!” I exclaimed, then sprinted to the kitchen.  You see, Steve’s mom bought me some Unknown-2canned pineapple to use with our Easter ham…back in April… which I forgot all about…and shoved to the back of the pantry to hide my shame. Maybe it could save the day!

I tossed the yellow chunks into the bubbling cauldron of ketchup with unrestrained glee, then doused it all with a soaking of soy sauce. (The basis of my cooking philosophy is that salt makes everything better.  And soy sauce = healthy salt, right?) I let this new mixture churn for 3 more hours, then served my “wing-it wings” over rice.

Those. Wings. Were. DELICIOUS! It was like homemade sweet & sour sauce, without all the nasty additives. I will totally make these again, only I’ll bake them so the skin gets nice and crunchy.  Another strange recipe in our collection of favorites, another set of protein parts saved from the brink of disaster!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I am (for this moment at least) a culinary rock star.

I am so excited

celebrateJazz hands. Leaping awkward dance moves. High fives with myself (which ends up looking kind of like a jumping jack). That’s the kind of day I’m having. And I get to share it with you, which is one of the true joys about having a blog.

I’ve hit milestones on TWO major projects.  One was a deadline I expected to hit, the other came out of the blue like a rocket.   I’m having a little trouble breathing because I am JUST SO EXCITED TO BE A WRITER TODAY. Some days it totally bites lemons. But today is not that day. (And if you don’t believe me about the jazz hands, ask my neighbors. I just walked THIS DOG around the block in the rain singing and not-so-subtly dancing to an old No Doubt song. To Bergie’s credit, she seemed to enjoy it. She has very little rhythm, but was utterly unashamed.)

Not the actual cover (not even the right subtitle). Just a mock-up to show that this is the story of how everything shifted after we said our "I do's."

Not the actual cover (not even the right subtitle). Just a mock-up to show that this is the story of how everything shifted after we said our “I do’s.”

The first project is a complete re-write of my second memoir, A Maze of Grace. The original was lovely, but it came along at kind of a strange time in the publishing world and never shaped up to be what I’d hoped. So over the last year my awesome agent did what needed to happen to get the rights to the book reverted back to me so I could re-write it and put out a new edition.

I spent this summer slashing through those essay/blog-ish chapters. I threw some out and retooled the rest into an actual story–with a beginning, middle, and end. Part of what made the first edition so choppy was that many of the story lines hadn’t played out when it went to press–even I didn’t know what would happen. So I compensated by filling in the blank spaces with commentary (“What do I think Jesus would say if he met Rosie O’Donnell???”) Which was fine in a  certain sort of way. But it was not at all the point of the book.

With this rewrite, I added a narrative arc. I wrote new scenes that covered about 2 or 3 additional years, and got real candid about all sorts of things that happened and how Steve and I figured out how to respond to them…and how these experiences challenged and shaped both our faith and our marriage. Probably 50% of the book is new writing. The book has a new subtitle: Encouragement from the Trenches of Wedded Bliss. I wanted to really make it a book about chasing happily ever after with God, because I believe it’s possible, and I think it’s worth the effort.

I have a lot of hope for this book. I hope it will be out by the end of this year. I hope you will buy a copy for yourself, and for everyone you know who could use some encouragement. I hope it will start a huge, quiet wave of people praying for their own happily ever afters, and then sharing stories of the surprising ways God came through.

So I was excited about that…and also a little fatigued the way you are when you’ve been looking at something for too long and are itching to move on to a new project. Just for kicks, I pulled up the folder of material for The Courage to Ask, a book I was writing last year about praying for a husband that I ditched in December.  I remembered it as a yard sale of disconnected ideas strewn about cover_courage_trish_ryanin a bunch of half-baked paragraphs, and feeling like a failure because no matter what I tried, I could not pull together this project that mattered so much to me.

This morning, I spent about three hours mucking around in all those words. I was stunned to discover that some of them are really good. It makes sense, the ideas hang together. It’s still being very first/second draft-ish. But there’s real stuff there to work with. I suspect that the problem with this book wasn’t my writing, but my head. I needed to spend some time getting reconnected to the God who answers prayers before I could encourage anyone else to take that kind of risk. Now, I kind of can’t believe it. It feels like God took this project I killed and resurrected it. I could not be more excited.

(To those of you who read the excerpt from The Courage To Ask in the new edition of He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not and emailed to say, “let me know when it comes out!” THANK YOU. I can’t tell you how much you encouraged me to keep going back to those pages, believing that God will bring something beautiful out of those ashes.)

I’d hoped to have this book out in February 2013…and then 2014. This year is the first time that seems possible. Pray for me! And maybe do an embarrassing little dance right where you are, just to spread the happy. Thanks for celebrating with me :)

Thank God THAT’S Not True…

images-1I’m driving a lot this week, which means I’ve had the chance to listen to some different podcasts. One sermon in particular caught my attention yesterday. The speaker claimed that the overarching theme of the Bible is that we need to treat other people better. He claimed that this is THE choice Jesus offers us, and that when we’re nicer to others, this is what allows God to bless us and set us free from whatever problems we feel stuck in.

My first response was, Huh?

Then a few minutes later, when the speaker re-iterated his point and it was clear no nuance or additional perspective was coming, I pulled up to a stoplight and said out loud, “Oh, THANK GOD that’s not true!”

Don’t get me wrong – It’s a fine thing when we make the effort to treat other people well. It makes for a more pleasant day. But it doesn’t bring the transformation I’m looking for when I’m on my face in the mud, hoping against hope that God can help.

Nice doesn’t break the grip of depression, or heal multiple sclerosis, or help an addict say no to one more drink.  Good manners don’t heal family dysfunction, inspire people stuck in a dead end to set out on a new course, or create deep, honest relationships that last.  And while resisting the urge to swear in Boston traffic might build character, it doesn’t make a dent in racism or classism or narcissism or terrorism. It can’t make forgiveness real.  It doesn’t take old dead things and make them new.

Nice is, well…nice. It’s a small player in a much larger spiritual landscape.  Treating other people well is sometimes the result of our spiritual quest, but it’s not the message Jesus came to bring. It’s not the Good News.

The interaction between our earthly lives and our Father in heaven is a mystery. The role Jesus images-4plays as intermediary between these realms is confounding and awe-inspiring. Death. Resurrection. Salvation. New Life. We don’t get it. We’ve spent centuries trying. And yet the more deeply I come to “understand” what this all means for me, the less able I am to describe it…and the less apt I am to try to simplify it for others. All I can do is invite you in. The mystery of Jesus–his death, resurrection, the hopes and miracles and promises we’re told to reach for as the result–is much more profound than a nursery school lesson about trying to be a better person.

How could something be the full message of God if we came up with it on our own?

I don’t normally critique other people’s take on Christian faith. But the world feels especially insane right now.  Ferguson. James Foley. ISIS. Ebola. Not to mention ALS and a million buckets of ice water dumped over heads around the world. It makes it hard to breathe.  In this time of utter chaos, I want to say that if you’re someone who heard that sermon (or one like it) this week…that is not the whole story. That’s not even a rough approximation of the Story, or what Jesus offers. God is more than an “a ha” moment about how we treat one another. We don’t get to understand the whole thing yet. But when you see it in real life? You know it’s true and bristle at the suggestion that we should settle for less.

If there’s one are of life where we should reach for more, it’s what we expect from God.  I leave you with this, from C.S. Lewis:

“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

May today be a day where we are less easily pleased…enough so that we wrest our eyes off of ourselves and each other, and lift them them instead to God.

 

A Wedding, A Funeral

1996-2014-WeddingKissOn Saturday, Super-G & I had front row seats as our friend re-married her husband. They’d been divorced for enough years that this qualified as a miracle. It was a break-out-the-tissues moment, and I spent the entire ceremony trying to pick my jaw up out of my lap. Because even though I knew they were re-marrying each other–we flew down specifically for this event–the reality of it caught me off-guard.

It is an incredible thing to decide that the past does not define your present.  For two people to reach this place at the same time? Then dare to dream together for the future? That left me slack jawed.

It’s God. Obviously. But perhaps I’ve grown so used to believing for more “everyday” sorts of miracles (city parking spaces, an outfit at a good price for an important event, a THIS DOG we’d love as much as we loved THAT DOG) I lost touch with the possibility of believing for something that matters this much. The new & improved Mr. & Mrs. Maney SCHOOLED me about faith on Saturday. Thank you to the fine couple for such a gift.

(Speaking of unexpected gifts…the day before the wedding, the Bride, her mother & her two sons introduced us to Hobby 10500393_10203187526383711_7176283082732736580_nLobby.  Holy tchochke decor fun! All political posturing aside: this place is awesome. I love being a Northerner, but one thing that might lure me south is this schmorgasbord of whimsical chickenry! *The Bride coined this fine phrase – isn’t it perfect? I’m imagining an HGTV special built around this theme!)

We took a late flight home and landed back in Boston a little before midnight. THIS DOG wagged all 90 pounds of her spectacular self when Steve and I got home, and I spent almost an hour petting her and telling Steve in excited (over-caffinated) blurts all about our trip.

16704_20140814.jpgxThe next morning was our friend George’s funeral. It was an excellent funeral. You wouldn’t think there could be such a thing, but there is: it’s when your thoughts bounce back and forth between how much you’ll miss the person who died…but yet realize what an incredible job he did with the years he had.  That’s the dream, right? To die having loved others well, with people in your life who love you? Easier said than done. As I blogged last week, George pulled it off.

I know there’s some deep theological point I should draw from being at these two events (each of which seemed unlikely not all that long before they happened) one right after another.  All I can come up with is this: Follow God. Life is unpredictable, control is a lie. Having Jesus in your line of vision as you navigate increases the chance that you’ll end up in a place you want to be.

Now if I could only find that engraved on a whimsical chicken… :)

Bergie!

photo copy 8We have a new dog!

Her name is Bergie (after Boston Bruins star Patrice Bergeron photo). She is a delightful, enormous (85 lbs) bundle of fur and love and mellow happiness.  And in keeping with the tradition carried by THAT DOG (may she rest in peace), Bergie is a complete genetic mystery. I’ve been goggling “dogs with spots” trying to piece together a guess (foxhound/Irish setter/lab maybe?) but I don’t think we’ll never know.

Here’s what we do know: She’s somewhere around 3 years old.  She was rescued in Tennessee along with another dog (possibly her daughter) after someone threw her out of a van and drove off. She ran after the van.

Doesn’t that make your stomach hurt? Horrible.

photo copy 7But an awesome organization – Angels Among Us Animal Rescue – found a foster home for her, treated her until she was well, and then sent her to a foster home in New England in the hope that she’d be adopted.  She’s been up here for about six months, with her picture on various websites & going to adoption events, but with no takers. I guess it’s a hard sell when you’re a big dog and not a puppy.  But that’s exactly what we were looking for, and I am SO thankful no one else fell in love with her before we did.

The process was so much easier than I expected. The folks at Angels Among Us were AMAZING…and fast!  I emailed to inquire about her Wednesday night after dinner. By Thursday they’d followed up with me and set up a call with her foster provider so I could ask questions about her, Friday they contacted our references (3 friends & our vet) and came out to look at our house to make sure we had some capacity to house/care for/exercise a dog. Saturday morning we drove down to meet her! What I was afraid would be a drawn out process was astonishingly easy. And their attitude was so helpful: if at any point we’d felt like she was not the dog for us, no problem – we could look at other dogs that might be a better fit. So there was no pressure at all to take her, which helped us make sure we were 100% sure.

Which, to be honest, was pretty easy.

Bergie is SUCH a sweetheart! She’s the easiest dog I’ve ever had. She is house Bergie comes hometrained, quick to obey if we let her know what want her to do, and her temperament is calm and even without the frantic ups & downs you get with a puppy. Of course, there are still transitional challenges (she had no idea how to walk on a leash and almost pulled my arm out of the socket on day #1…but a front-lead harness is helping her get the hang of it), and we’ll take her to obedience classes to make sure we’re all speaking the same language. We figure it will take about a month for her to figure out her new world and settle in.

If you’re thinking about getting a dog, consider meeting one of the awesome non-puppy dogs out there. They come in all shapes, sizes and energy levels. You can find a bunch to consider at Petfinder.com, and Angels Among Us has a great Facebook page where they post new dogs that come into their care.

An older dog is So. Much. Easier. I feel like I just got back the six months of my life I’d planned to spend training and picking up after a puppy…not to mention the rugs and furniture that aren’t chewed up.

It feels good to be part of her happily ever after. I’m into that :)

 

 

Big Hopeful Thoughts From Our Trip to Hawaii!

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I am way behind where I thought I’d be in sharing with you about our trip to Hawaii! We’ve been home for a week now, and each day I sort of wander around and do what needs to be done, but allthewhile I’m lost in kind of a reverie, thinking about God.

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Our friend Jordan preaching last Sunday. He and his wife Sonya (they used to live in Cambridge, which is how we’re connected to them) founded Bluewater Mission.

Okay, that sounds creepy. But it’s not. It’s filled with surreal joy.  These thoughts aren’t dreamy or delusional. They’re the outcropping of the incredible, concrete things we heard and saw and got to be part of in the Bluewater Mission faith community over the ten days we were on Oahu. (When you click on the link & see the slide show of pictures on the home page, imagine me & Steve under that basketball hoop, looking VERY untanned and New England-y, doing church with these awesome people – most of whom hugged us at one point or another. There is much hugging in Hawaii!)

photo copyAmidst all the hugging and warm welcome, we got to hear peoples’ STORIES. We got know men and women who not long ago were homeless, or victims of human trafficking, or strung out on drugs, who are now clear-eyed and excited, working really hard and getting real help – not just prayers and pep talks (although there are lots of those) but also a place to live, friends to love and do life with, a restaurant called Seed in which to work to earn money and learn skills.  Home, friends, a job, hope for the future. That sounds like the recipe for a new life, doesn’t it? I mean, who DOESN’T need these things?

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Shopping for baskets for Seed with our friend Robyn, another former Cantabridgian!

And it wasn’t just this sort of transformation. On a more behind-the-scenes level, we also got to witness the redemption God has brought to the leaders who are making this all happen: how Jesus has taken negative things that have been said to them or about them in regard to their personality/talents/dreams (“That will never work, stop suggesting it,” or “You’re not the person I think of when I consider a project like that…”) and turned the world upside down to create space for them to live into these dreams and THRIVE.  Of course, it’s practically killing them. They’re exhausted and beyond themselves and in water so deep they have no hope of finding land anytime soon, or perhaps ever. But they are swimming. And experiencing, minute-by-minute, that miraculous thing where God breathes air into your desperate lungs and keeps you afloat in the midst of impossible situations, giving you a front-row seat as He rescues people.

I tear up every time I think of it. This is why I’m walking around in a happy daze talking to God, asking Him what this means for us here in New England. Getting excited about transformation and redemption and seeing in real time Jesus’ promise that what is impossible with men is possible with God.  I am so excited about this, I’m having a little trouble functioning like a normal person again. But that’s okay. Being a normal person was never my strong suit :)

If you’d have told me years ago that one day, friends would send my husband and me on a 10-day trip to Hawaii, pay for our flights and hotels (I mean, WHO DOES THAT? Jesus’ people.

That’s who!),  and that the highlights of swimming in turquoise blue surf in late-February

Painting trim at Seed!

Painting trim at Seed!

and drinking mai-tais on the beach at sunset would be more than matched by the wonder of painting trim and washing dishes and shopping for 20 lbs of onions and 25 packages of shabu-shabu beef at a grocery store hidden behind a concrete wall (our credit card balked at this – apparently guests of the Royal Hawaiian don’t often find their way inland to make bulk purchases of beef & produce. Which  is a shame. They should!) for a new restaurant founded to bring justice to a community we’d never heard of and could barely pronounce…I’m not sure what I would have said. It’s all unbelievable, and yet it’s true.

Such is life in the Kingdom of God.

Let’s Get to Work

images-1I am rereading this book, watching as our kitchen is transformed from worn and broken to new and fully functional, and inspired by a friend who reminded us how God makes everything beautiful in time.   In every area of life, we can’t fathom God, and yet we have these hints of what He wants to do here on earth. We get to be part of how He makes all things new.

In keeping with this, this coming Sunday morning, we’re going to use our Faith Gathering time to pray for healing for anyone who would like prayer.  Jesus says that praying for people who need healing and seeing them healed is part of being a believer, so it seems like a wise investment of time to take God up on His fine offer :)

You’re welcome to join us if you’re new to this idea or this has been part of your faith for awhile; whether you’re looking for a new group to explore faith with or you have a wonderful church you’re already part of. Wherever you are, whoever you are, if you’d like prayer for Jesus to heal you, we’d love to pray for you this Sunday morning.

images-2Praying for healing makes me think of the the 70s TV show, the Six Million Dollar Man: After Steve Austin, Astronaut, was left close to dead after a terrible accident, the man in charge did not give up on him. Instead, he said to the rest of the team: “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him! We have the technology. He will be the world’s first Bionic Man: Better. Stronger. Faster.”

That’s kind of what God says when He looks at us with our wounds and ailments: People, I can rebuild you! I have the technology!  Here’s to believing that the promise of better/stronger/faster comes through grace and God’s love for us, and not just robotics.

If you think you might join us Sunday, email me and I’ll send directions.

And if you don’t live nearby, but would like to explore this idea of how God works in us and through us here on earth, I have a copy of my favorite book on the subject, Miracle Work, to give away! If you’re interested, drop a line in the comments here or on FB/Twitter to say that you’re ready to get to work. I’ll pick a winner at random later this week.