Cuban Sandwich Salad

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Growing up in Florida, I’ve savored Cuban sandwiches ever since I can remember. Cubans can be enjoyed hot or cold, and whether served in school cafeterias, packed for lunches on the beach, or grab & go from the deli, Cubans have been a part of every season of my life. Mmmm….

So I thought I’d try my hand at transforming this delicious sandwich into a decadent salad!

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Keeping this salad true to the original Cuban sandwich, the ingredients are especially important. A “real” Cuban does not have mayo, fancy mustards, tomatoes, or any type of cheese other than Swiss; nor is it served on a hoagie. If a Cuban sandwich comes your way with any of these, it’s a fraud. ūüėČ

An authentic Cuban simply has butter, yellow mustard, roasted or barbequed pork, ham, Italian salami, Swiss cheese, dill pickles and Cuban bread. That’s it!

I used these ingredients (and their proportions to the sandwich) to keep this salad true to form. The dressing has real butter and yellow mustard. Italian seasoning compliments the salami’s spices. Rice vinegar and shallots are the mildest flavors of vinegars and onions so as to give this dressing personality but not dominate the salad or change the Cuban’s original flavor. And the vinegar also compliments the vinegar-soaked pickles; an awesome combination.

The point of the dressing is to get mustard and butter into this dish (like on the sandwich) and lightly coat the lettuce so it is still a proper salad yet with all of the authentic flavors of a Cuban sandwich.

IMG_E2337[1]Don’t skimp on the pickles! A true Cuban has bity dill pickles that deliver a crunch. Please skip the shelved, limp pickles and get the fresh, refrigerated pickles. Their crisp crunch and fresh taste is light years beyond any non-refrigerated pickle. Trust me on this! Good pickles are the ingredient that pulls this entire dish together. They are the crowning jewel of this salad; use at least 2 cups but add more if you’d like.

The mixed soft greens of spring, kale and watercress are given texture with crunchy cabbage and Brussel sprouts which do not add flavor, but do add texture and nutrition with the Brussels.

We prefer hard salami to Genoa, but either works. The roast pork is a cheat that I buy precooked from the deli. It’s definitely a time-saver, and since it’s part of the entree and not the main course I’m totally fine buying a pre-cooked portion of pork versus roasting an entire tenderloin – though leftovers are never a bad thing.

Lastly, serve with Cuban bread on the side or skip it for a gluten-free option.

My family kept saying that they couldn’t believe how much this salad tasted like a Cuban sandwich, woohoo!!

Enjoy Cuban sandwich flavors on top of a zesty, high-protein salad that, when paired together, you have a new, uncompromised version of the Cuban we all know and love.

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(Serves 4 to 6)

Salad:

4oz                         Spring mix lettuce

4oz                         Baby Kale

4oz                         Watercress

4oz                        Angel hair plain Coleslaw cabbage

4c                           Brussel sprouts; thinly sliced & ends cut off

3/4#                       Ham; diced (you can buy it pre-diced)

3/4#                       Roast pork; diced (pre-cooked from the deli)

1/2#                       Italian hard salami; diced (buy one thick piece from the deli then dice it)

3/4#                       Swiss cheese; diced

2c                           Dill pickles; chopped (use the refrigerated kind like Claussen dill)

1                             Cuban bread; optional- leave soft or toast and cut into cubes as croutons

Dressing:

4T                          Butter; unsalted & melted

1/4c                       Grapeseed or vegetable oil

2                            Shallots; peeled, ends cut off and then cut shallots in half

2t                           Italian herb seasoning

3/4c                       Plain/natural rice vinegar

4T                          Yellow mustard

2t                           Fresh minced garlic

4t                           Sugar

1/2t                        Salt

1/8t                        Black pepper

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Directions:

  1. Make the dressing by melting butter in the microwave or on the stovetop, then blend all dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor.

 

  1. If saving for later, pour dressing into a bottle, bowl or measuring cup that can be microwaved to keep butter melted if it cools and thickens. Otherwise simply set it aside. Dressing should be room temperature when served.

 

  1. In a large bowl, toss spring lettuce, baby kale, watercress, cabbage and Brussels with the dressing until evenly coated. Divide evenly among 4-6 serving plates.

 

  1. Plate salads by dividing remaining ingredients evenly and layering them on top of the dressed greens in the order listed above beginning with ham and ending with pickles.

 

5. Garnish with Cuban bread, optional. Serve immediately.

Summer Garden Salad with Crabcakes

Summer Garden Salad with Crab Cakes

I’m a firm believer in working smart, not harder, in the kitchen. This salad requires minimum prep and I buy our favorite crab cakes from the market. We prefer Charleston-style crab cakes versus Maryland crab cakes, but both work with this entree salad. If you’re feeling it, make your own crab cakes. More power to ya! Bought or made, they are a perfect compliment to this dish.

There are several different tastes and textures layered in this meal. Sweet, savory and salty work cohesively to give this salad a big, flavorful personality. There is also plenty of crunch in the carrots, Brussels, pepper, sugar snap peas, walnuts and pepitas which contrast this salad’s softer side of tomatoes, pickled onion, cucumbers and blue cheese.

Added proteins of nuts, pepitas and blue cheese elevate this meal from filling to downright hearty.

The dressing is my bruschetta dressing. Super light and summery but full of flavor. Works great as a dip for veggies, or don’t blend it and voila! You have bruschetta ready for a sliced baguette.

Enjoy the fresh flavors of the season with this summer dish!

Ingredients:

Crab cakes –

8                             store bought or homemade crab cakes

2T                           grapeseed oil

1                              lemon; juiced

Salad –

5oz                         baby kale

5oz                         spring mix lettuce

¬Ĺ#                          Brussel sprouts; thinly sliced

1                             cucumber; quartered and chopped

8oz                        fresh sugar snap peas; chopped

1c                           pickled red onion; thinly sliced

1                             yellow female* pepper; diced

1pint                      grape or cherry tomatoes; halved

1c                           carrots; thinly sliced (I like rainbow carrots for color)

1c                           walnuts; pieces

1c                            pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

4oz                         blue cheese crumbles

1c                           cranberries (50% less sugar)

Dressing ‚Äď

4 cloves garlic; minced

6 Roma tomatoes; diced

1 large bunch fresh basil; chopped

1/4c balsamic vinegar

1/4c extra virgin olive oil

1/2t salt

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Directions:

1. Prepare dressing by adding all dressing ingredients in a blender or food processor. Blend until thoroughly combined. Chill until ready to use.

2. In a skillet on medium heat, heat grapeseed oil. Add crab cakes and pour lemon juice on top. Flip halfway through cooking (according to package directions or recipe). Or air fry at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, flipping halfway through.

3. While the crab cakes are cooking, plate salads by dividing prepped ingredients into fourths and layering them in order listed above.  

4. Drizzle dressing over salad. Top with crab cakes. Serve immediately.

*Note ‚Äď use a female pepper because they are sweeter and better for eating raw. Male peppers are better for cooking. Female peppers have 4 bumps on the bottom. Male peppers have 3 bumps. You can taste the difference! ūüėä

Lemon Chicken with Lemon Basil Salad

As temperatures climb, we crave the light, fresh flavors of summer. Lemon and basil are two of those addictive tastes and are key ingredients to making this dish pop!

Packing this salad with extra proteins, like pepitas and nutritional yeast, makes this meal satisfying, even as its taste leaves us wanting more. Mmmmm!

Lemon Chicken with Lemon Basil Salad

Ingredients: serves 4

Chicken –                                                                    

4                             chicken breasts; halved longwise

1 1/4c                    Panko plain breadcrumbs

3T                            nutritional yeast (for parmesan flavor and additional protein & vitamin Bs)

3                              lemons‚Äô zest (zest 3 lemons, then juice them for the dressing)

1                              lemon; juiced (zest first, then save zest for dressing)

2t                            Herbs de Provence

2T                           oil (olive or avocado)

                               salt/pepper to taste (use black pepper generously)

                               pump, not aerosol, spray oil (Pam cooking spray with coconut oil)

Salad ‚Äď                                                                     

5oz                          baby kale                                                              

5oz                          arugula lettuce                                                                 

1 ¬Ĺ c                       fresh basil; finely chopped                               

¬Ĺ#                           fresh Brussel sprouts; thinly sliced                 

1c                            green onion; diced                                             

1                              female red pepper; diced                                               

1 pint                      cherry or grape tomatoes; halved                   

1c                            carrots; thinly sliced (I like rainbow carrots for color)

1c                            pepitas (a.k.a. pumpkin seeds)

Lemon Dressing –

1/3c                        plain (unseasoned) rice vinegar

1/2c                        fresh lemon juice (about 3)

1/3c                        canola or vegetable oil

1/4c                        sugar

1/2t                        salt

1                             garlic clove; minced

1                             lemon zest

Directions:

1. Trim chicken and place halves in a gallon Ziploc bag with all chicken ingredients. Massage until well coated. Place on greased cooking tray and spray pump oil top to top help crisp the breadcrumbs.

2. Bake at 350 for 20 min or until cooked through. Or air fry at 400 for 20min (flipping halfway through). Or pan fry in extra oil on medium heat until cooked through.

3. Prepare dressing – combine all ingredients in a bottle/bowl with lid & shake well until sugar dissolves or blend in food processor/blender.

4. Divide salad ingredients in fourths. Plate the salad in order from bottom up: lettuce, basil, Brussels, onion, pepper, tomatoes, carrots, pepitas. Drizzle dressing over salad. Place chicken on top and drizzle dressing over chicken. Serve immediately.

Cooking note – use a female pepper because they are sweeter and better for eating raw. Male peppers are better for cooking. Female peppers have 4 bumps on the bottom. Male peppers have 3 bumps. You can taste the difference! ūüėä

Rebuilding – lessons learned from change

In the past week, I’ve had two friends lose their fathers and one friend lose her mother. I’ve congratulated a dear friend on his engagement and received news of a friend’s health concerns. I’ve sent our oldest child to college, and feel like I’ve sent a dozen more young¬†friends off to begin their freshmen years. Our other two teens prepare to change schools while my husband and I seek new employment options. So much change! Thought I’d repost this as an encouragement to all who are going through change… ~ Kristi

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Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. ~ Matthew 10:29-31

A year ago, spring brought us the most delightful surprise. A pair of birds decided to make their love nest in the beams of our front porch. We watched them toil for days making everything perfect. Their nest was strong Рand beautiful.

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Over time, tiny, extraordinary eggs appeared. We could not get close to them, because Papa and Mama birds would have none of it. This was private, and they were quite territorial over their precious little eggs.

Before we knew it, baby birds burst forth from their shells. Their sour, grumpy faces made us smile. They huddled together for safety and warmth. With eyes still shut, they were a lump of feathers and fuzz with bulging eye lids and pointed beaks. Truly, they had faces only a mother could love.

As they matured, we enjoyed their incessant chirping, which kept Mama and Papa quite busy trying to feed them. It reminded me of when our teenagers were babies and the constant attention they needed – so helpless and soft.

In no time at all, these baby birds quickly grew up, outgrew their nest…and flew away. It was time for their own journeys to begin.

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I loved this small, beautiful nest. As far as nests go, these birds had a great flare for decorating. It hardly looked real it was so picturesque. I had plans to photograph it against the brilliant backdrop of the changing seasons and was so honored our front porch was chosen.

Months later, we had our home pressure washed. I gave instructions to leave the nest intact, even if it meant the wood and paint surrounding the nest stayed messy with splattered clay from the hard work of the birds.

The crew agreed to my request.

However, the man who¬†came behind the crew to clean¬†any missed spots of mold or¬†dirt didn’t know about the nest – nor my desire to keep it.

Using his powerful pressure hose, he annihilated their love nest in a matter of seconds.

It was utterly and completely destroyed.

I stepped onto our front porch only to find small clumps of moss and pine straw lying wet and sad at my feet.

My heart broke.

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It was gone. The beautiful, nurtured nest was gone, and so was my hope to enjoy it every day.

Throughout the passing seasons, I looked up at the corner of pristine white walls and missed the splatter of mud and clay. I missed the fuzzy green moss and amber pine straw woven into a perfect circle.

It was something beautiful…and it was gone by way of a complete stranger.

A¬†year passed since the pressure-washing incident. This spring,¬†while working at my desk, I noticed more-than-usual activity outside my window. In addition to¬†the many greedy squirrels that steal the birdseed from our¬†“squirrel proof” bird feeders; the various songbirds birds that search our yard looking for hidden earthworms in their daily¬†treasure-hunting; and the flocks of predatory ravens that descend in droves (and honestly freak me out a little as they stare bold-faced back at me as I pass them), I noticed one bird quietly perched upon our flagpole.

It wasn’t just any bird. It was a bird with a mouthful of gorgeous green moss larger¬†than its head.

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It can’t be! I exclaimed to myself. I jumped up from my desk and hurried¬†to the front door. Peering through the glass, I saw the makings of a new nest!

A huge smile swept across my face as I pressed my hands on the glass to get a closer look – careful to not be noticed.

Indeed, a new nest had been lovingly, painstaking crafted in the exact same hidden corner of our porch. One piece of moss and pine straw. One tuft of fur. One patch of mud and clay at a time.

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What could make this sight even more beautiful? A few days later – eggs!

bird nest 2014 with eggs-001What could be better than two eggs? Five eggs!

birds nest april 24 2014-003What could be sweeter than five new eggs? To see Mama herself guarding them, keeping them safe and warm under her protective wings and ever-watchful eye.

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Checking on the eggs one day, we were greeted with the sweetest surprise…new life!

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Days passed and all of the baby birds hatched. Faint chirping strengthened with each new sunrise. Tufts of fuzzy heads could barely be seen peeking out above the rim of the nest. Five little lives were growing.

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We are blessed to live in what feels like a bird sanctuary. There are more species of birds in our neck of the woods than I can name or count. Most of them are welcomed by our family. The ravens – not so much. The owl that has been known to sit outside our windows and hoot deep into the night is super cool. But, there is one particular bird that stalks the skies whose presence is daunting…our resident hawk. He’s not afraid of people and stared without blinking at me when I took this photograph only feet away from him.

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He’s lived here for years. Once, in front of a neighboring family he swooped down, hooked its claws into their family pet – their beloved small¬†dog – and carried him away never to be seen again.

I’m not a fan of this hawk based on¬†that reason, and on our own experience…

My family was enjoying supper¬†on our back porch on a hot, summer afternoon. Amid rich conversation and a lazy ceiling fan slowly spinning above, we heard rustling in the overgrown bushes just a few feet away. We didn’t think much of it because squirrels, chipmunks and other woodland creatures are constantly up to something. However, the rustling grew louder and limbs and leaves began to vigorously shake. This mystery had our attention.

From of the dark shadows of the thick brush shot out this large hawk – and it wasn’t alone. In its beak was a baby bird. The hawk darted right toward us before jetting up into the sky at the last second. The baby bird cried for help. The father and mother birds were hot on the hawk’s trail. They also shot out of the brush squeaking and squawking and flying in frantic circles around the hawk. With silent, majestic wings the hawk continued on its steady path – laser-focused on the¬†destination and dead-set on sticking to¬†the plan.

For the small songbirds, it was a losing battle. They tried to fight. They risked their lives. They did everything they knew to do for their baby.

My family and I sat in horror as we helplessly watched these tragic seconds unfold that seemed to last forever.

As the hawk soared away in victory, the songbirds gave up and flew back to their nest. The last sound of this drama, which is forever recorded in my ears, is that of one last call for help from the baby bird. Then there was silence, and our half-eaten supper abruptly ended as we had suddenly lost our appetites.

Walking in our neighborhood the other day, I was content listening to my favorite music and being with my own thoughts. Suddenly I saw something ahead of me drop to the ground. It had fallen out of the clear, blue sky (literally). Weird! How odd for something to fall in the middle of the road. I couldn’t make it out so I moved toward it.

Ahead of me about fifteen feet sat a quiet, lonely miniature nest.

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Where in the world did it come from? I looked up at our tree-lined street, but leafy branches nowhere near extended over the road. Only¬†a vast, sapphire¬†sky above filled every inch of eyesight. I was totally bewildered. That’s when I heard it. Caws from a nearby raven – and boy was it mad!¬†The closer I got to the nest, the more it yelled at me. The raven¬†had stolen this adorable¬†nest and accidentally dropped mid-flight.

There was something about how helpless and vulnerable this tiny, dainty nest sat in the middle of the road that touched my heart. I thought about the bird that made it, and how it would respond to returning to the place where now only emptiness waits. As for the nest, it was only be a matter of time before a car unknowingly ran it over Рor the pirating raven would swoop down to retrieve his booty. I was compelled to save it.

Carefully, I picked it up and placed in my bag and took it home. No, the raven would not enjoy its plundering spoils that day. It was on¬†principle that I rescued this nest from the street… as well as from¬†the thieving raven.

Yesterday, I stepped outside to get our mail. Instantly, I had this eerie sense I was being watched. Looking up, there before me stood an enormous turkey buzzard in our front yard! I had interrupted its lunch Рa small, lifeless turtle. At some point in the morning, a car had proven to be faster than the turtle. The turkey buzzard was all too happy to help clean up. Eww. I grabbed my camera before it flew away.

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All the while, our beloved baby birds had hardly looked like birds at all. Alien in appearance, their pink, translucent skin sprouted static fuzz and a random feather. However, before we knew it their feathers filled in and everything came together. This nest was filled with restless, hungry birds Рnot so much babies anymore.

DSC_0019They now noticed my presence and with weak stares they chirped when I came near, mistaking me for their mom. I saw on their faces new journeys that would soon embark.

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On a quiet Sunday afternoon, they began to hop out of the nest and stand along the porch beams. We knew this would be the day they would leave us.

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On the same day, I stepped into our backyard and found a sweet surprise. A different bird was building a different nest. I stood and watched for a while and thought about these nests popping up in unexpected places on our property and what a joy they are to our family.

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Throughout these experiences with various birds, God is teaching me lessons about seasons and the changes that come with them:

1. There is a purpose for our lives. Starting at the beginning with the original love nest, we also were designed and crafted for a purpose (Psalm 138:8).

2. As diligently as Papa and Mama birds worked to create their nest, so our Heavenly Father is preparing us for the plans He has for us. He stays diligent and focused on the task until it is complete (Philippians 1:6).

3. Bad things happen to beautiful things. But no matter how bad, God can make anything beautiful again (Ephesians 3:20-21).

4. God is our Redeemer. What has been destroyed can be rebuilt by He who promises to never leave us (Job 19:25).

5. There is no death with God, only life through the power of Christ who overcame death. What has been taken away from us, opens opportunity for new life (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

6. God doesn’t forget about us. He sees. He knows. He cares. His work never ceases and He never grows weary (Psalm 121).

7. He sometimes¬†allows the last thing we want to happen – to happen. ¬†This does not change that He is good, even in the bad times. These are times that, despite unanswered questions and even prayers, we trust God that He is working and moving and is sovereign in the midst of they why’s (Proverbs 3:5-6).

8. As difficult as it can be to accept, sometimes a new season or purpose requires a new nest. Where once our old nest was right for a time and for its purpose, a new purpose may require a new nest (Hebrews 13:20-21).

9. God rebuilds our hearts to make room for His purposes. Just like the old nest was intended for those eggs and baby birds, a new nest holds new dreams and potential for a new season of growth (2 Corinthians 5:17).

10. God works in the same way and can use the same material in our lives for new purposes. What we think needs to be scrapped or re-designed, He can re-work it for the display of His splendor (Isaiah 61:1-3).

11. If we try to birth new dreams and plans out of an old heart, it won’t work. We can trust God to be gentle, even if life has been hard. He knows we are fragile. However, sometimes it’s in¬†brokenness that we are¬†made whole (Psalm 51:16-17).

12. Embrace the new season and let go of the old one. These birds came back to the same exact spot to do the same work, but for new babies. If we can’t release our dashed hopes, dreams and desires for what will no longer be, our hands will be too full of the past to filled with the future (Jeremiah 29:11).

13. It’s okay to mourn what is gone. There is a season of mourning and it is intended to help us heal so we can be strong for what is ahead (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

14. Embrace change. This one is so hard. It’s hard to believe anything could be as¬†beautiful as¬†what¬†we had. If we trust God, however, He can make something beautifully new (Lamentations 3;22-23).

15. Don’t confuse letting go of the old with the old not being valuable. I often think of Job, and how in the end of his testing he was given new sons and daughter. For years I struggled with the idea that people¬†can replace people. No. They can’t and that wasn’t God’s intent. Job’s¬†children were gone, but ¬†Job was still here. I believe God gave him new children – not to replace his past¬†– but to redeem his future. If we live walking backwards, looking only at what we’ve lost, we cannot appreciate, or even recognize, what God is giving to us in the here & now. Jesus came to give us abundant life, and we can trust God that He will help us have that with the days we are left to live on this planet¬†(John 10:10).

16. Let God get messy with our lives. May there be mud and clay from the Potter’s hands splattered all over us. This is a brilliant,¬†magnificent¬†sight. To the world His work in our lives¬†may not look appealing (and some may try¬†to help clean it up!), but He is diligently, purposefully crafting us so in the end we look more like His Son. There is nothing and no one more beautiful than our Savior (Isaiah 64:8).

17. When we let go of what was, and allow God to work something new in our lives, we can trust Him knowing that where His work is, His presence is. Like the baby birds, we can rest under the shelter and shadow of His wings (Psalm 91:4).

18. His watchful eye is always on those who love Him. He is seeking out His children who are desperate for encouragement, hope and a new filling of His joy to give them just what they need (2 Chronicles 16:9),

19. Good things. Beautiful things. Blessed things can be stolen from us. People. Memories. Holidays. Our sense of normal. Possessions. Homes. Cars. Trust. Safety. Security. Happiness. Traditions. Legacies. It can all be taken against our will in this broken world. God is the only One who can truly know and understand the depth of our loss. He is the only One who can truly pick up the pieces of our lives and give us hope for a future (Psalm 34:18).

20. Sometimes plans for our future unfolds in unexpected places. Like the hidden nest burrowed deep in my iron wall-planter, we sometimes can’t see a new opportunity until it’s fully ready to be seen. God can make a way both in the same place and in a new place. He can use the same materials or completely different ones to form our purpose. He can even bring a new plan by way of a totally different bird (Psalm 33:11).

Everyone has¬†fresh or scarred hopes and lives¬†that lay fallen on the side of the road of our journeys. Some lay barren, like an abandoned nest. Others, by our own doing or someone else’s, have been ruined¬†when¬†life was swept in the undertow of this broken world. Others were crushed, annihilated, destroyed, sabotaged, stolen or vandalized and it can¬†feel like life is more than happy to pick at the broken pieces.

One thing is true. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. However, God uses time to help us to:

* Distance ourselves from the point of crisis.

* Allow hearts and minds and bodies to do what we were born to do, survive – and dare I even say thrive.

* Soften the sharp, jagged edges of the memories, flashbacks, and feelings.

* At the right time, begin to show the new work, the redemption, that can come out of unwelcome or unexpected change.

* Reveal a new perspective.

* Show us strength, both God’s and ours, that we didn’t know was possible.

* Allow opportunity for a new work, a new purpose to begin.

* Most importantly, although time doesn’t heal all wounds, it reveals the One who is our Healer, our Jehovah Rapha. Nothing, nothing, nothing is beyond His reach; too broken to fix; too complicated to be understood; or too hurt to be healed.

Change¬†scares us. It’s not in our comfort zone and didn’t ask our permission to invade our lives. However, God can be found in change. His gifts can be found in change. Change does not have to kill, steal and destroy us. In fact, we can come out the other side stronger with His peace and joy in tact in our hearts until it¬†spills over into the lives of others.

Just as these adorable baby Carolina Wrens sat day-after-day with mouths open to be fed, may we render ourselves open to God. May we wait for His redemptive plans with confident expectation; plans which are already at work so they can take on a life of their own and give us wings to soar. (Psalm 103:1-5).
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The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them. ~Psalm 145:13-19

May God’s¬†deepest blessings be yours¬†today and always, Kristi

 

 

 

 

 

Rebuilding – lessons learned from change

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. ~ Matthew 10:29-31

A year ago, spring brought us the most delightful surprise. A pair of birds decided to make their love nest in the beams of our front porch. We watched them toil for days making everything perfect. Their nest was strong Рand beautiful.

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Over time, tiny, extraordinary eggs appeared. We could not get close to them, because Papa and Mama birds would have none of it. This was private, and they were quite territorial over their precious little eggs.

Before we knew it, baby birds burst forth from their shells. Their sour, grumpy faces made us smile. They huddled together for safety and warmth. With eyes still shut, they were a lump of feathers and fuzz with bulging eye lids and pointed beaks. Truly, they had faces only a mother could love.

As they matured, we enjoyed their incessant chirping, which kept Mama and Papa quite busy trying to feed them. It reminded me of when our teenagers were babies and the constant attention they needed – so helpless and soft.

In no time at all, these baby birds quickly grew up, outgrew their nest…and flew away. It was time for their own journeys to begin.

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I loved this small, beautiful nest. As far as nests go, these birds had a great flare for decorating. It hardly looked real it was so picturesque. I had plans to photograph it against the brilliant backdrop of the changing seasons and was so honored our front porch was chosen.

Months later, we had our home pressure washed. I gave instructions to leave the nest intact, even if it meant the wood and paint surrounding the nest stayed messy with splattered clay from the hard work of the birds.

The crew agreed to my request.

However, the man who¬†came behind the crew to clean¬†any missed spots of mold or¬†dirt didn’t know about the nest – nor my desire to keep it.

Using his powerful pressure hose, he annihilated their love nest in a matter of seconds.

It was utterly and completely destroyed.

I stepped onto our front porch only to find small clumps of moss and pine straw lying wet and sad at my feet.

My heart broke.

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It was gone. The beautiful, nurtured nest was gone, and so was my hope to enjoy it every day.

Throughout the passing seasons, I looked up at the corner of pristine white walls and missed the splatter of mud and clay. I missed the fuzzy green moss and amber pine straw woven into a perfect circle.

It was something beautiful…and it was gone by way of a complete stranger.

A¬†year passed since the pressure-washing incident. This spring,¬†while working at my desk, I noticed more-than-usual activity outside my window. In addition to¬†the many greedy squirrels that steal the birdseed from our¬†“squirrel proof” bird feeders; the various songbirds birds that search our yard looking for hidden earthworms in their daily¬†treasure-hunting; and the flocks of predatory ravens that descend in droves (and honestly freak me out a little as they stare bold-faced back at me as I pass them), I noticed one bird quietly perched upon our flagpole.

It wasn’t just any bird. It was a bird with a mouthful of gorgeous green moss larger¬†than its head.

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It can’t be! I exclaimed to myself. I jumped up from my desk and hurried¬†to the front door. Peering through the glass, I saw the makings of a new nest!

A huge smile swept across my face as I pressed my hands on the glass to get a closer look – careful to not be noticed.

Indeed, a new nest had been lovingly, painstaking crafted in the exact same hidden corner of our porch. One piece of moss and pine straw. One tuft of fur. One patch of mud and clay at a time.

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What could make this sight even more beautiful? A few days later – eggs!

bird nest 2014 with eggs-001What could be better than two eggs? Five eggs!

birds nest april 24 2014-003What could be sweeter than five new eggs? To see Mama herself guarding them, keeping them safe and warm under her protective wings and ever-watchful eye.

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Checking on the eggs one day, we were greeted with the sweetest surprise…new life!

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Days passed and all of the baby birds hatched. Faint chirping strengthened with each new sunrise. Tufts of fuzzy heads could barely be seen peeking out above the rim of the nest. Five little lives were growing.

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We are blessed to live in what feels like a bird sanctuary. There are more species of birds in our neck of the woods than I can name or count. Most of them are welcomed by our family. The ravens – not so much. The owl that has been known to sit outside our windows and hoot deep into the night is super cool. But, there is one particular bird that stalks the skies whose presence is daunting…our resident hawk. He’s not afraid of people and stared without blinking at me when I took this photograph only feet away from him.

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He’s lived here for years. Once, in front of a neighboring family he swooped down, hooked its claws into their family pet – their beloved small¬†dog – and carried him away never to be seen again.

I’m not a fan of this hawk based on¬†that reason, and on our own experience…

My family was enjoying supper¬†on our back porch on a hot, summer afternoon. Amid rich conversation and a lazy ceiling fan slowly spinning above, we heard rustling in the overgrown bushes just a few feet away. We didn’t think much of it because squirrels, chipmunks and other woodland creatures are constantly up to something. However, the rustling grew louder and limbs and leaves began to vigorously shake. This mystery had our attention.

From of the dark shadows of the thick brush shot out this large hawk – and it wasn’t alone. In its beak was a baby bird. The hawk darted right toward us before jetting up into the sky at the last second. The baby bird cried for help. The father and mother birds were hot on the hawk’s trail. They also shot out of the brush squeaking and squawking and flying in frantic circles around the hawk. With silent, majestic wings the hawk continued on its steady path – laser-focused on the¬†destination and dead-set on sticking to¬†the plan.

For the small songbirds, it was a losing battle. They tried to fight. They risked their lives. They did everything they knew to do for their baby.

My family and I sat in horror as we helplessly watched these tragic seconds unfold that seemed to last forever.

As the hawk soared away in victory, the songbirds gave up and flew back to their nest. The last sound of this drama, which is forever recorded in my ears, is that of one last call for help from the baby bird. Then there was silence, and our half-eaten supper abruptly ended as we had suddenly lost our appetites.

Walking in our neighborhood the other day, I was content listening to my favorite music and being with my own thoughts. Suddenly I saw something ahead of me drop to the ground. It had fallen out of the clear, blue sky (literally). Weird! How odd for something to fall in the middle of the road. I couldn’t make it out so I moved toward it.

Ahead of me about fifteen feet sat a quiet, lonely miniature nest.

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Where in the world did it come from? I looked up at our tree-lined street, but leafy branches nowhere near extended over the road. Only¬†a vast, sapphire¬†sky above filled every inch of eyesight. I was totally bewildered. That’s when I heard it. Caws from a nearby raven – and boy was it mad!¬†The closer I got to the nest, the more it yelled at me. The raven¬†had stolen this adorable¬†nest and accidentally dropped mid-flight.

There was something about how helpless and vulnerable this tiny, dainty nest sat in the middle of the road that touched my heart. I thought about the bird that made it, and how it would respond to returning to the place where now only emptiness waits. As for the nest, it was only be a matter of time before a car unknowingly ran it over Рor the pirating raven would swoop down to retrieve his booty. I was compelled to save it.

Carefully, I picked it up and placed in my bag and took it home. No, the raven would not enjoy its plundering spoils that day. It was on¬†principle that I rescued this nest from the street… as well as from¬†the thieving raven.

Yesterday, I stepped outside to get our mail. Instantly, I had this eerie sense I was being watched. Looking up, there before me stood an enormous turkey buzzard in our front yard! I had interrupted its lunch Рa small, lifeless turtle. At some point in the morning, a car had proven to be faster than the turtle. The turkey buzzard was all too happy to help clean up. Eww. I grabbed my camera before it flew away.

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All the while, our beloved baby birds had hardly looked like birds at all. Alien in appearance, their pink, translucent skin sprouted static fuzz and a random feather. However, before we knew it their feathers filled in and everything came together. This nest was filled with restless, hungry birds Рnot so much babies anymore.

DSC_0019They now noticed my presence and with weak stares they chirped when I came near, mistaking me for their mom. I saw on their faces new journeys that would soon embark.

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On a quiet Sunday afternoon, they began to hop out of the nest and stand along the porch beams. We knew this would be the day they would leave us.

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On the same day, I stepped into our backyard and found a sweet surprise. A different bird was building a different nest. I stood and watched for a while and thought about these nests popping up in unexpected places on our property and what a joy they are to our family.

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Throughout these experiences with various birds, God is teaching me lessons about seasons and the changes that come with them:

1. There is a purpose for our lives. Starting at the beginning with the original love nest, we also were designed and crafted for a purpose (Psalm 138:8).

2. As diligently as Papa and Mama birds worked to create their nest, so our Heavenly Father is preparing us for the plans He has for us. He stays diligent and focused on the task until it is complete (Philippians 1:6).

3. Bad things happen to beautiful things. But no matter how bad, God can make anything beautiful again (Ephesians 3:20-21).

4. God is our Redeemer. What has been destroyed can be rebuilt by He who promises to never leave us (Job 19:25).

5. There is no death with God, only life through the power of Christ who overcame death. What has been taken away from us, opens opportunity for new life (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

6. God doesn’t forget about us. He sees. He knows. He cares. His work never ceases and He never grows weary (Psalm 121).

7. He sometimes¬†allows the last thing we want to happen – to happen. ¬†This does not change that He is good, even in the bad times. These are times that, despite unanswered questions and even prayers, we trust God that He is working and moving and is sovereign in the midst of they why’s (Proverbs 3:5-6).

8. As difficult as it can be to accept, sometimes a new season or purpose requires a new nest. Where once our old nest was right for a time and for its purpose, a new purpose may require a new nest (Hebrews 13:20-21).

9. God rebuilds our hearts to make room for His purposes. Just like the old nest was intended for those eggs and baby birds, a new nest holds new dreams and potential for a new season of growth (2 Corinthians 5:17).

10. God works in the same way and can use the same material in our lives for new purposes. What we think needs to be scrapped or re-designed, He can re-work it for the display of His splendor (Isaiah 61:1-3).

11. If we try to birth new dreams and plans out of an old heart, it won’t work. We can trust God to be gentle, even if life has been hard. He knows we are fragile. However, sometimes it’s in¬†brokenness that we are¬†made whole (Psalm 51:16-17).

12. Embrace the new season and let go of the old one. These birds came back to the same exact spot to do the same work, but for new babies. If we can’t release our dashed hopes, dreams and desires for what will no longer be, our hands will be too full of the past to filled with the future (Jeremiah 29:11).

13. It’s okay to mourn what is gone. There is a season of mourning and it is intended to help us heal so we can be strong for what is ahead (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8).

14. Embrace change. This one is so hard. It’s hard to believe anything could be as¬†beautiful as¬†what¬†we had. If we trust God, however, He can make something beautifully new (Lamentations 3;22-23).

15. Don’t confuse letting go of the old with the old not being valuable. I often think of Job, and how in the end of his testing he was given new sons and daughter. For years I struggled with the idea that people¬†can replace people. No. They can’t and that wasn’t God’s intent. Job’s¬†children were gone, but ¬†Job was still here. I believe God gave him new children – not to replace his past¬†– but to redeem his future. If we live walking backwards, looking only at what we’ve lost, we cannot appreciate, or even recognize, what God is giving to us in the here & now. Jesus came to give us abundant life, and we can trust God that He will help us have that with the days we are left to live on this planet¬†(John 10:10).

16. Let God get messy with our lives. May there be mud and clay from the Potter’s hands splattered all over us. This is a brilliant,¬†magnificent¬†sight. To the world His work in our lives¬†may not look appealing (and some may try¬†to help clean it up!), but He is diligently, purposefully crafting us so in the end we look more like His Son. There is nothing and no one more beautiful than our Savior (Isaiah 64:8).

17. When we let go of what was, and allow God to work something new in our lives, we can trust Him knowing that where His work is, His presence is. Like the baby birds, we can rest under the shelter and shadow of His wings (Psalm 91:4).

18. His watchful eye is always on those who love Him. He is seeking out His children who are desperate for encouragement, hope and a new filling of His joy to give them just what they need (2 Chronicles 16:9),

19. Good things. Beautiful things. Blessed things can be stolen from us. People. Memories. Holidays. Our sense of normal. Possessions. Homes. Cars. Trust. Safety. Security. Happiness. Traditions. Legacies. It can all be taken against our will in this broken world. God is the only One who can truly know and understand the depth of our loss. He is the only One who can truly pick up the pieces of our lives and give us hope for a future (Psalm 34:18).

20. Sometimes plans for our future unfolds in unexpected places. Like the hidden nest burrowed deep in my iron wall-planter, we sometimes can’t see a new opportunity until it’s fully ready to be seen. God can make a way both in the same place and in a new place. He can use the same materials or completely different ones to form our purpose. He can even bring a new plan by way of a totally different bird (Psalm 33:11).

Everyone has¬†fresh or scarred hopes and lives¬†that lay fallen on the side of the road of our journeys. Some lay barren, like an abandoned nest. Others, by our own doing or someone else’s, have been ruined¬†when¬†life was swept in the undertow of this broken world. Others were crushed, annihilated, destroyed, sabotaged, stolen or vandalized and it can¬†feel like life is more than happy to pick at the broken pieces.

One thing is true. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. However, God uses time to help us to:

* Distance ourselves from the point of crisis.

* Allow hearts and minds and bodies to do what we were born to do, survive – and dare I even say thrive.

* Soften the sharp, jagged edges of the memories, flashbacks, and feelings.

* At the right time, begin to show the new work, the redemption, that can come out of unwelcome or unexpected change.

* Reveal a new perspective.

* Show us strength, both God’s and ours, that we didn’t know was possible.

* Allow opportunity for a new work, a new purpose to begin.

* Most importantly, although time doesn’t heal all wounds, it reveals the One who is our Healer, our Jehovah Rapha. Nothing, nothing, nothing is beyond His reach; too broken to fix; too complicated to be understood; or too hurt to be healed.

Change¬†scares us. It’s not in our comfort zone and didn’t ask our permission to invade our lives. However, God can be found in change. His gifts can be found in change. Change does not have to kill, steal and destroy us. In fact, we can come out the other side stronger with His peace and joy in tact in our hearts until it¬†spills over into the lives of others.

Just as these adorable baby Carolina Wrens sat day-after-day with mouths open to be fed, may we render ourselves open to God. May we wait for His redemptive plans with confident expectation; plans which are already at work so they can take on a life of their own and give us wings to soar. (Psalm 103:1-5).
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The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does.
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them. ~Psalm 145:13-19

May God’s¬†deepest blessings be yours¬†today and always, Kristi

 

 

 

 

 

What’s different about Easter this year?

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This year, Easter feels very different.

When I was a little girl, it was about fancy dresses and how much a of twirl they could spin. It was about The Bunny, coloring eggs and photographs my mom used to make us take in front of the best flowering bush in our yard.

It was about Jesus in a white robe, an empty tomb and angels on a flannel board.

It was about going to church, beautiful old-school corsages for Mom and Grandma, a huge ham dinner and the adults napping in the afternoon. I remember being bored out of my mind having to play “quietly” by myself so my mom (a hard-working, single parent) could take a much needed rest at our grandparents’ home.

Fast forward and I’m a young, married adult. Easter was still about a new dress, going to church, a huge ham dinner and a lazy afternoon basking in the fullness of the meal.

Over the next six years our three children were born and Easter reverted back to childhood traditions of colored eggs, Easter baskets, The Bunny, the huge ham dinner, a fancy dress with a twirly skirt for our baby girl and matching outfits for our boys.

It was the only day, apart from Christmas, that we could convince our oldest son to wear formal clothes.

Easter was about photographs taken in the prettiest spot in our yard, new recipes to try out for the big meal, and of course a backyard egg hunt.

We added more traditions to an already full plate: Resurrection Eggs, several picture books about the real meaning of Easter, making Resurrection cookies, and letting the kids have a ball decorating an Easter cake, which varied every year from an empty tomb to a head bust of The Bunny, Jello eggs, watching Passion of the Christ as a family and attending the Tenebrae service at our church on Good Friday.

As a mom, I confess, Easter became a scrap-booking event.

I was more caught up in the hoopla, bells and whistles of Easter than why we were really celebrating it.

One year, it happened…the worst thing EVER! It rained! The yard was too wet for photos and egg hunts. The house was dark from looming, full clouds. I remember thinking, “No! It can’t rain on Easter. You know, the empty tomb on a glorious morning. What about the pastel dresses and flowers posed for pictures? Easter is ruined.”

Wow.

I get it. As a mom who loves squeezing out every possible moment of holiday fun, I was devastated that so many plans had to change and I. Couldn’t. Control. It.

This year, however, the advent of Easter has been radically different for me. Why? We still can’t wait for our family to come visit. We still plan to¬†color eggs and have an egg hunt and enjoy a huge ham dinner. New yearly devotionals will be discovered in baskets for our teens.

Today, my girl and me will go buy her an Easter dress, even as an older teenager.

So what’s different?

The work God has done in my heart.

A heart that has lived through the highest of highs and lowest of lows in the past year. A heart that has been both tenderly held and drop-kicked to the ground. Love has been both celebrated and tested. Hope has shown up and has hid in the shadows. Joy has met us in the most unexpected places, but seemed nowhere to be found when I was searching desperately for it.

This past year, my faith has been put in a blender and what has poured out is one single thing that makes this Easter different than any other Easter I’ve lived –

Grace.

Grace has been the underdog that wins the battle for me.

Grace advocated for lost causes.

Grace believed in the impossible.

Grace strengthened the weak.

Grace fought for the voiceless.

Grace tended to wounds no one else can see.

Grace spoke sweet dreams over a restless body.

Grace talked a weary soul off the ledge.

Grace cared enough to speak the truth…in love.

Grace buffered my heart in the decisions and circumstances I didn’t want.

Grace held my hand in the decisions and circumstances that I wanted, but couldn’t have.

Grace has been the only thing to make sense in times when nothing else did.

Grace. Beautiful. Eternal. Grace.

When I have literally fought for loved ones to the gates of hell and back. When I have mourned and wept over loss. When I have felt like dying to myself in Christ was going to kill me. When I couldn’t come up with one stinkin’ reason to get out of bed. When I’ve been pummeled by anxiety over situations out of my control. When I’ve been so furious I could spit nails…

Grace reminded me the nails have already been used – on the cross.

Jesus, grace personified, willingly took everything life could throw at me, and everything I could throw back, and diffused the bomb of my ticking heart. He replaced all the ash of this past year with mercy and hope and love that this world cannot take away.

I continually stay in an attitude of awe at the daily miracles He is doing to redeem this life. He is making a way in the wilderness one step at a time. He is providing streams in the desert one drop at a time.

I am grateful.

Grace has become my oxygen, my sustenance, my hope for the future and my reality for the day.

I am also happy to let Costco help cook Easter dinner and to put down the camera and enjoy the thrill of the day that came by way of grace because of Jesus.

These days I burst into spontaneous tears of joy because of grace and the Creator of it. I say to myself, “EEK! I’m becoming more like my mom who cried so easily and my mother-in-law who still does.” But, smiling through the tears, I get it.

When a heart truly, fully understands the need for grace, and accepts this free gift wholly into itself, the overflow of tears are of gratitude and thankfulness and joy. Unspeakable joy.

This Easter, Kristi has put down the plans. Let go of the expectations. And disbarred the bar that must be reached and exceeded over last Easter.

Instead, I’m lifting up hands to He who has the whole world in His hands – the beautiful and the ugly and every single moment in between.

Only when we really know that it is by grace we live, move and have our being can we really live. Only when we begin to accept¬†how deep and wide Christ’s love for us is can we embrace it.

This Easter, join me in a new tradition – grace. Receive it and give it. Enjoy the beauty of it and behold the power of it.

It’s a free gift with purchase – our salvation¬†purchased with the payment of Jesus’ own blood.

Pretty eggs, baskets full of surprises, and delectable side dishes all sound good, but they don’t make or break Easter. Rain or shine, warm or cold, celebrating Easter is celebrating Jesus, God’s grace, and forgiveness that comes through salvation.

More than the momentary delight of matching outfits, finding the last egg, or colorful jelly beans, love, joy, peace, and grace are the sweetest gifts we get to experience on Easter and every day of the year.

God has saved us and called us to a holy life‚ÄĒnot because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. ~ 2 Timothy 1:9-10

 

 

 

 

Unexpected blooms

I do not have a green thumb whatsoever, but wish I did.

Every spring, my husband and children give me a potted Easter lily. In the beginning, I enjoyed them until they died from a lack of water (my bad) in the foil-lined plastic pot with a large ribbon tied around it. One year, thinking I had nothing to lose, I planted the lily. Five years later, I continue to plant my special gifts with fingers crossed.

Nearby, I wanted to spruce up a small corner of our yard so I planted Calalilies. Truly, if anything is going to live on our property it must be pretty much self-sufficient, drought-proof and frost-proof.

About this time every year, I am AMAZED when these little beauties pop up and show off their gorgeous colors and form.

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As I stood and stared at them today, I had a thought.

Is this what it’s like, God? Is this what happens when we put¬†just a little work into our hearts? It’s like You take our effort and multiple it beyond measure! When I forgive someone. Ask for forgiveness. Help someone. Seek You. Decide one more time not to quit the race. Love the unlovely. Bite my tongue. Give it all over to You. Ask for wisdom. Worship You.

Salvation is not earned by works. God doesn’t love me more or less depending on my actions and words. His grace is steady. Faithful. Unwavering.

But, like with the prodigal son who decided to return home, and¬†his father saw him far off and ran to him and prepared a banquet (Luke 15:11-31). The¬†widow’s son collected jars for the oil that kept flowing¬†and flowing¬†(2 Kings 4:1-7). Moses took the first step out of Egypt (Exodus 12:31-42). Abraham packed up and moved to a place he’d never been (Genesis 12:1-9). Mary believed the angel who told her the good news of great joy about the baby inside her virgin womb (Luke 1:26-38). Peter followed Jesus even after Peter¬†admitted his own inadequacy (Luke 5:1-11).

Just like the plants I planted in the ground, so God sees His children trying to follow Him. Our hearts, like my garden, are rich to receive Him. After all, they were made to be His temple.

A little effort in an area on our part and God runs with it to produce something beyond our wildest dreams. Our effort is our obedience.

Looking at these flowers every year, I am encouraged and challenged to keep pursuing God. To continue letting Him perform heart surgery on me, if you will, in the areas that have grown dry and hard. When I let Him til the soil, pull the weeds and cut back the overgrowth of sin, He has space to grow something beautiful that I could never imagine.

I write this today with a garden in bloom in my heart. Is my life perfect? Absolutely not. However, buds and blooms burst forth in shapes and fragrances I never knew it could by way of healed forgiveness, unexplained peace, raptured joy, and rest knowing God truly is love and is sovereign.

Some of these blooms have taken years to take root. They’ve taken A LOT of surrendering while God tilled and tilled and tilled the weeds and rocks out of my heart. It’s taken me holding my breath while He pours from heaven the grace and mercy I’ve needed for certain buds drink in to thrive.

I’ve learned, and continue to learn, that God really is trustworthy (2 Samuel 7:28). He really does work all things good for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). He really is looking over the world to see who He can encourage (2 Chronicles 16:9). He truly doesn’t forget us or our pain (Psalm 34:18). He is faithful when I’m not (Psalm 89:7-8). Loving when I can’t (Romans 5:8). Strong when I am weak (Psalm 18:2). He is good all the time – even in the midst of baddest bad (Psalm 86:15; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Just like the blooms that take me by surprise each year, so does the gardening that God continues to do in my heart. Although I’ve left the lilies to fend for themselves, God has never – will never – leave me or you (Deuteronomy 31:6).

So what’s the point of all this gardening He does in our hearts?

We will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor (Isaiah 61:3) in colors and fragrances and forms we have yet to imagine. When people look at our lives they will see the hand of the loving Gardener who makes us beautiful.

 

 

 

Hope blooms

Nature has risen from its slumber. ¬†Flowers are in bloom, trees burst¬†with¬†pride over their new leaves. ¬†The air is fresh. ¬†Crisp. ¬†That’s what I love about spring – everything is new. ¬†Our family enjoys watching the seasonal birds come to and fro – especially my husband. ¬†He takes very good care of his “woodland friends,” as he calls them, by keeping the bird feeders we have scattered across our yard well-stocked with unique mixtures of seed, thistle, corn, etc. ¬†One feeder, however, has a design flaw. ¬†It cannot keep squirrels away. ¬†Squirrels are a huge part of our naturescape, and they’ve spread the word among the squirrel kingdom about this feeder.

Any time of day, I can look out my window and see them scampering all over this feeder like a superhighway, hoarding the treats inside. ¬†The little thieves. ¬†They run the birds off, fight with each other, and make a mess in the process dropping both shells and whole seeds on the ground in my flowerbed. ¬†Ug. ¬†My dog loves these bushy-tailed critters because they are fun to chase…and anything on our property is fair game to this canine.

One morning, I went outside to check on things. ¬†I noticed a small, bright green bud poking up through the ground near the feeder. ¬†It didn’t look like the perennials I’ve planted before. ¬†It looked like a weed. ¬†Call me lazy, I did nothing about it. ¬†We watched this little bud grow bigger over time, but still couldn’t tell what it was. ¬†I kept telling myself, just pull it¬†up, but I was usually already doing something else and didn’t want to bother with it.

It was a hot afternoon, in the¬†sweltering¬†sun, when this mysterious plant made its debut. ¬†It was indeed, not a weed, rather – a sunflower! ¬†How in the world? ¬†In my flowerbed are black-eyed susans, daisies, and assorted flowers and foliage I planted by hand. ¬†I did not plant any sunflowers. ¬†It’s not the right place for them. ¬†They need lots of space and tons of sun. ¬†This little guy was wedged in between plants and only received partial sun. ¬†Nonetheless, there stood, in my flowerbed, a sunflower – perfect in every way. ¬†I laughed to myself when I realized what happened. ¬†At some point, a whole sunflower kernel had been knocked off the bird feeder (by a menacing squirrel, no doubt), and it germinated and produced a spectacular specimen. ¬†Wow.

I was amazed because I did¬†nothing¬†to it. ¬†I didn’t water it, nurture it, or help it in any way, because I figured whatever was growing was simply a weed. ¬†How wrong I was. ¬†What was presumed a worthless wonder was a wonderful treasure. ¬†A plan had taken root within the small, black seed and unveiled a¬†resplendent¬†result.

Life can be like that at times. ¬†Messy. ¬†Upheavaled. ¬†Unplanned. ¬†What we see as weeds, God sees as hidden potential. ¬†The old expression, bloom where you’re planted, is a¬†fine¬†message. ¬†But, I don’t know if it’s only the bloom that should receive an applause. ¬†Like the sunflower seed that fell off of our bird feeder, our lives have more fight in them than we may think when God’s hand is upon them. ¬†We weather the storms, survive the droughts, and¬†struggle¬†to find our place in the world. ¬†Why? ¬†Hope. ¬†This little word packs a big punch. ¬†Hope is hidden potential. ¬†Hidden potential is God’s plan for us. ¬†When the odds are stacked against us, we’re tired and weary, and we just don’t see how anything is possible, hope tells us that the impossible is possible. ¬†Hope is not logical, reasonable, or¬†conceivably¬†attainable. ¬†But, God sees such a different¬†perspective. ¬†He says…

Watch Me make a way when you don’t see one¬†(Isaiah 30:21). I have plans for your life (Philippians 1:6). ¬†Have hope (Psalm 62:5). ¬†Even if you give up, I’m not going to. ¬†Never (Isaiah 40:28-31). ¬†I created you, love you, and will never leave you (Psalm 17: 8; Psalm 139:13-14). ¬†I will plant you, water you, make you strong, and cheer you as you grow (Isaiah 61:3b). ¬†I will delight in your blooms and sing over you (Zephaniah 3:17). ¬†What the world meant for harm, I will work for your good (Romans 8:28). ¬†Everyone else may have given up and left you, but I have not and will not (Matthew 28:20; John 14:18). ¬†Seasons of life are continually changing¬†(Ecc. 3:1-8)¬†you need only to trust Me. ¬†Continue growing in Me, and wait for the bloom¬†(Psalm 130:5). You are beautiful now in the growing season; and will continue to be when My light is revealed through you and others see the work of My hand and praise Me (Matthew 5:16). ¬†Don’t be afraid to ask big of Me (Ephesians 3:20-21). ¬†I am the Good Father and you can trust Me¬†(Matthew 7:7-11).

When we feel like we’ve been discarded by life – forgotten and useless – where we are may be right where we need to be for a new beginning. ¬†Waiting is hard. ¬†We want results now, but we know good¬†things¬†are worth the wait. ¬†Sarah Young writes in Jesus Calling:

Waiting on Me means directing your attention to Me in hopeful anticipation of what I will do…I have promised many blessings to those who wait on Me: renewed strength, living above one’s circumstances,¬†resurgence¬†of hope, awareness of My continual presence.

We must give God time and space to work in our lives. ¬†When we can’t see what He is doing, we know He is working twice as hard beneath the surface to fulfill His purpose for us (Ps 33:11). ¬†Grow. ¬†Keep growing. ¬†Keep growing. ¬†Wait for the bloom – what a beautiful sight, like the sunflower, you will be.

Oh, as a follow-up, it was absolutely amazing to me when, as the sunflower continued to remind me every day of hope, God’s plan, and true beauty that can come ever so unexpectedly, one day I saw another bud appear. ¬†Another sunflower? ¬†I thought. ¬†Nope. ¬†Something even more of an¬†enigma. ¬†It grew to be, in fact, a 4 foot tall corn stalk! ¬†Yes! ¬†Right there, nestled between typical flowerbed foliage and the single, sparkling sunflower, was an actual stalk of corn – born out of a corn kernel discarded by the squirrels. ¬†Just when we think there is nothing good that can come from an experience, God does the remarkable with our leftovers and creates a work of art. ¬†When we doubt and say There is no way, God says, Just watch me. ¬†Never underestimate His power or plan for your life. ¬†You just never know when a miracle will pop up.

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