Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Chili 101

1/4 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup chopped peppers, green, red, yellow, orange or combination (jalapenos work, too!)
1/4 cup chopped celery, optional
1/2 - 1 pound of hamburger, cook separately so it can be drained.

1-2 cans beans, kidney, black, red ~ any combination
1 can of beef or vegetable stock or 1 can of V-8 juice
1 can diced tomatoes
1 small can of tomato sauce

salt and pepper to taste
hot sauce, optional, to taste
1/2 - 1 Teaspoon of cumin, or to taste (the spice that makes chili taste like chili)
1/2 - 1 Teaspoon of chili powder, or to taste (the spice that gives a little kick to chili)

In a large saucepan, saute onions, celery and peppers in olive oil until tender.  Add drained beef. Add the broth, tomatoes, vegetables and seasonings*. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, until vegetables are tender. Yields about 4 servings.

Optional Additions: Experiment with adding carrots, potatoes, corn, hominy, mixed vegetables, or try some collard greens or kale. This makes a cross between vegetable soup and chili which will add some variety and fun to learning to cook.

Topping Ideas: Cheese, Chopped green onions, Chives, Cilantro (an excellent detoxifying herb)

*Make your chili thicker to serve in a tortilla, over cornbread or corn waffles, or in a salad of fresh greens. You may decide to eliminate or lessen the broth for a thicker chili. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Awake In Prison

photo by Steve Rotman
Loving women to Jesus inside prison walls is surreal, yet it's there that I am most awake.

My husband and I spend each Monday night in a women's prison. The room looks much the same as any chapel with a stage, instruments, a grand piano, a whiteboard and microphones. The women look much the same as any group of seekers, except they are dressed in khaki and gray.

Murder. Abuse. Rape. Greed. Prostitution. Neglect. Drugs. Behind each face is a story, a story that now includes me.

As years pass inside the prison walls, some of our regulars come week after week. We are their home, their family, their church, their soft place to heal.

In prison some women determine to stay alert, awake to their surroundings. Other women disappear behind a mask, walking in their sleep for years. Ordinary days sometimes find me walking in my sleep, too.

As a writer it is my job to notice things, but there are times when I seem to notice nothing at all. Times when every moment is concerned with daily routines and tasks, the business of survival.

Moments have a way of sliding past quickly whether they are noticed or not. Weariness keeps me from seeing a broken heart. Fear keeps me from loving a shattered soul. I sleepwalk through a world that is alive with opportunities to meet people, to celebrate nature, to experience history as it unfolds.

I step through the security gate of the prison, pick up my body alarm and walk into the air lock. The sound of the heavy metal doors slamming closed awakens me. Even the air seems charged with anticipation and excitement.

As I walk across the prison yard, greeting the guards and prisoners, my heart is wide awake. Every moment is an opportunity to be fully aware of the presence of God walking alongside me.

Every journey is an adventure. Every step is a step of faith. Not because I must carry a body alarm or because guards watch over my every move, but because the God of all creation said if I will go to the prison, He will go with me. He says if I follow where He leads, He will show me the way through the wilderness. If I die to self, I will be alive in Him.

The Bible is true. God is real. Jesus is alive. He is awake. Every day He is walking with me on my journey over uncharted paths. And I would choose to sleep through such an adventure?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Old Rose

My Valentine's Day flowers are perky with life. Fresh stems stand tall, blossoming flowers drink in moisture and gradually bloom. Buds are gently nestled, slowly awakening to purpose. The bright colors and aroma offer a colorful welcome to passers by.
Photo by Sandra

While arranging the flowers in a vase I discovered a small dying rose. It was wilted, broken, starting to decay. After the unexpected, unsettling find, I began to enjoy the old rose.

There is poignancy and power to beauty nearly spent. A remnant of what once was flourishing has a faded grandeur to it. The rose flowers with beauty and purpose, but it must go to seed and die to bloom again.

Life rises from death. Youth passes us by, but we are so often blind to what we are gaining. God offers beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, a mantle of praise for the spirit of heaviness.

One of my childhood friends left earth this week to live with Jesus. I have wrestled with the pain and disappointment her loss brings to the world. She shined brightly like the stars of the universe. Her faith walk made a difference in the lives around her.

We see death as an enemy, and so it is, but there is beauty in her victory. She leaves a blessing of grace as her legacy. She flourished in life, planting seeds of gentle reminders and loving people to Jesus. So also in death, she leaves seeds of gentle reminders and continues to love people to Jesus.

There is regal purpose in her victory. Beauty rises from ashes. Pain stirs memories and causes us to seek hope. Loss awakens determined endurance. Grief gives opportunity for growth and wisdom. God's comfort spurs us on to compassion.

Life rises from death. Beauty rises from ashes. Youth passes us by, but we are so often blind to what we are gaining. Open my eyes. Let faith arise.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Not Just a Number

"I don't remember what I like and what I don't like," Letisha whispered. "In prison," said the inmate, "I'm a number. Out in the world, I'm not sure I was even that."
Photo by Frej Leilund (

I had noticed a hummingbird tattoo on her arm and I smiled. "You like birds, Letisha, especially hummingbirds," I began. "You like writing things down. You like making your hair look pretty."

"Yeah," she agreed. "How did you know? You just met me!"

"You like being organized, neat and tidy. I noticed you like to sing. You especially like rock rhythms. You like bright colors and feminine clothes."

She laughed. "And jewelry. Oh, and lilacs. I had a teacher who kept some on her desk when I was a kid. Hadn't thought of that in ages!"

I smiled. Her face lit up with hope. Then I used the only few minutes I might ever have with her to say, "You're not just a number here in prison or out there, Letisha. You are created by God for big dreams and amazing adventures. God gave you unique gifts. You matter in the world. God made you unique for a reason."

"Is that in the Bible?" she asked, eyes widening, hugging her new Bible closer to her heart. "That God made me unique. Is that in the Bible?" I nodded yes, and through tears she asked, "Will you pray for me?"

I took her new Bible and placed a marker in it. Blue ink quickly circled Psalm 139. I wrote, "Letisha's Song" in the margin, then jotted several other scriptures in her note book.

I will probably never see Letisha again unless she comes back into the prison. I trust the God who is faithful to watch over His young ones. I trust God's people to draw Letisha into His Church, to walk alongside her as she takes the first wobbly steps in her newborn faith. God will know exactly how she's doing because He will grasp her hand through every step of her journey. No, she's not just a number to Him.

You're not just a number either. You are created by God for big dreams and amazing adventures. You have unique gifts. You matter in the world. God made you unique for a reason.

Friday, February 15, 2013

More Than Enough

Photo by Karen Cox (
"I've been working on my first budget," Lindsey tells me. "It's sort of fun deciding what to do with my paychecks. Maybe I should read Dave Ramsey's book about financial planning. I want to do this right!"

Lindsey wants to be a good steward of the money God provides because she and God have a big dream. God has called her to be an older woman teaching younger women who need a mentor, a servant-leader, a friend. A budget will keep her accountable in the finances God provides as they make their dream a reality.

Melissa and her husband wondered what had happened to their dream of loving people to Jesus in the neighborhood. They were exhausted and depressed because the house seemed too small. She and her husband were slaving over finances, fighting over issues that kept them from buying a bigger home. They began to pray over their finances, their marriage and their choices.

They gave five truck loads of possessions to the needy. Food was used rather than hoarded. For over a year they got rid of clutter and needless stress. Their home became welcoming and peaceful. Time, money and energy became much more readily available.

With a leap of faith, they began homeschooling the children, tutoring them in nursing home visitation as well as math. Friday night became a weekly celebration of hospitality for families from the local public school. Neighbor families were invited into their lives and into their home for a Bible study and prayer group.

"I have to keep getting rid of clutter this year!" Melissa confided recently. "My closet is full of clothes I never wear!" She was carrying a shopping bag from the mall while making this observation, and we had to smile at the sad coincidence.

She paused suddenly in the middle of the parking lot, grabbed my arm and said, "Come on. We're taking this scarf back to the store. If my closet is cleaned out there will be room for making cards.The nursing home residents would love that!"

Do you and God have a dream? Put Him first and there will be enough room, enough money, enough time and enough energy to make the dream a reality.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cultivate Friendships

Have a tea party with someone new.
Sow a word of praise today,
Plant a kindness-seed;
Listen to a troubled friend,
Help someone in need.

Compliment a weary soul
Too fatigued to try;
Shine forth rays of hope on all
Comfort those who cry.

Scatter deeds of love each day,
Plant each row with care;
Sprinkle joy along your way,
Soak each one in prayer.

Ask the Lord to bless each one,
And one day you'll reap
A harvestful of loving friends
To cherish and to keep.

Connie Hinnen

But this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly;
And he who sows bountifully will reap bountifully. ~II Corinthians 9:6

Friday, February 8, 2013

Never Give Up

"I'm almost done," the young bride says. "I've worked so hard. I am ready for my grand finale, the day of all days! My wedding day!"

She has forgotten weddings are a beginning, not an ending.

"He lived a long life," the widow says. "Everybody loved him. He was truly a servant of God."

She has forgotten funerals are a beginning, not an ending.

Your resolution for change was not the goal. It is the beginning, not an ending. We begin the year excited and hopeful, bouncing with energy at the start of the race. But, a race is full of determined people at the starting line. It's only the beginning.

God needs you to use your gift, whatever it is, and if you focus on that, no excuse prevails. He wants to change you from the inside out as you discipline for the purpose of godliness.

Don't be disqualified from the 2013 race. Set your face like flint and run to win in spite of detours, loss of focus and uphill climbs.  Endure to the finish line and achieve your prize.

Are you losing motivation? Momentum? Catch your breath and renew your commitment.

I remind my piano students that the only person I can't teach is the one who quits. Are you giving up smoking? Stop smoking again today. Did you need to lose weight? Eat healthy today. Are you cleaning up your house? Keep at it.

"The Lord blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first." -Job 42:12

We serve the God who is able to do more than we ask or imagine He can do. He will bless your life with fruitful change if you keep your eyes on Him and don't quit.

What is your passion? Submit to your life call. Keep doing the work it takes to change your world. Have faith that it will happen every day as you persevere. Don't give up and come December, you'll be a better version of yourself.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Swinging with Claire

Does the grass seem greener on the other side of the fence?
Photo by Mike Lietz

The grass is greener where it is watered the most, where it is nourished, where it has room to grow.  Grass flourishes in the sunshine where it is not trampled.

"Nana, let's go swing," Claire suggests. "You push me and I'll push you."

She climbs onto the tire and I begin to push. Claire soars into the sunshine, laughing. When I need a break from pushing, she lays back in the swing.

"Let's sing, Nana," she says. And we sing and rest, munching on sweet red apples between songs.

I climb onto the swing and she gives me a push. She dances between pushes and we laugh hard.  We are alive, awake in a glorious day.

Basking in the warm sunshine, grazing on lush, green grass, the horses on the other side of the fence live an enviable life. Claire shouts to them and the horses ramble over to the fence. They watch the swinging and dancing, listen to the songs and laughter.

I glance down as I push Claire up into the summer breeze. On our side of the fence, there is dirt, not green grass like the horses enjoy. Beneath the swing the green grass has been trampled so often that it has died. .

"Catch me, Nana!" shouts Claire. The horses awaken from their sleepiness and jump. They gallop wild and free over the lush green meadow, kicking dirt into the air as they go.

I catch Claire up when she jumps. We are laughing wildly as we free roll across the yard, awake to the wonderful moment.

"You're a mess, Nana," Claire pants, still laughing. "You have grass and dirt all over you."

The grass is green on both sides of the fence.

The dirt gets trampled on both sides of the fence.

Life is short on both sides of the fence. Stay awake for it.

See also: Liam, God and Me