Friday, May 28, 2010

"Go and Sin No More"

One of the things that absolutely amazes me about God's love is His amazing, wonderful grace.

A few months ago this song came out by Jason Michael Carroll called "Hurry Home".

The first time I heard it my thoughts immediately went to how God loves us. To God - it doesn't matter where we've been, we CAN still come home. When we go astray and walk away from Him, he just waits for us to come back. Through Jesus' death on the cross we are forgiven for the sins we've done, the sins we're doing now, and the sins we're going to do - all of them. Thanks to Jesus - we can come home. Every. Single. Time.

The line in that song that resonates the most with me is "...she was scared he wouldn't want her." How many times have we sinned or strayed from God's ways only to think we're not good enough to come back? But God wants us - we are His. He always wants us to come home.

We talked about this last night with the students in the youth group. I drew a neat diagram with "X's" representing our mistakes, a stick figure representing us, a cross where God intervened, checkmarks to show us walking with Him, another "X" to demonstrate when we slip, and then... another cross. Steve used a balancing soccer ball to further demonstrate the point. God's grace... Jesus' death on the cross...

I am in awe.

If you haven't listened to that song yet and thought about it in terms of God's wonderful grace - I highly recommend that you do. It's a great way to think about how He loves us.

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 

Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said. 

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” 
(John 8:1-11)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Life moves pretty fast..."

Those of you who know us personally know that we've been looking for a house for a while. We had almost purchased one back in 2008 but that ended up falling through - for the better. At the time, we could see God's fingerprint was all over the downfall of that sale. Scripture tells us that the Lord will protect us - and it wasn't more evident to us as when we saw that living in that house would have been dangerous for us over the long term. As things fell into place, we praised God for delivering us from that situation with minimal losses.

Since then we have been on a search for the "perfect" house. One that would not put our health in danger but that also met our special, detailed list of criteria for what we wanted in a house. We led ourselves to believe that a house would solve all of our problems - space, peace, nervousness, anxiety, etc. We let the search for a house consume us and who we were for almost 2 consecutive years. Numerous offers were written up for houses we thought would have been great only to have them fail for lots of reasons - including our own stubbornness. We felt like we knew what was best for us - forgetting what we learned from our first attempt at buying a house.

That lesson: At the end of the day, God knows what is best for us and will either provide it or protect us when we're wrong. He will help us through the tough times, He will help us to grow, and He will be the one who ultimately can make us happy. A house will not provide us with happiness - it is only a box. Stepping out in faith and trusting Him is what will provide joy in the long term.

After a lot of prayer and a lot of discussion - we stopped looking for perfect. We reminded ourselves about what was important - and that it didn't matter if it took us another 3 years to find a house. We have each other, we have our faith, we have love, we have friends, we have family, we have God. Those are the things that will help us through the tough times - those are the things that will help us to grow. It was almost like we stopped looking for ourselves and let God look for us.

Then it happened. Within a few days of these realizations - we found one.

While this house isn't 100% perfect - it's as close as one can get to a "perfect" house while still allowing room for God to challenge, mold, and grow us as individuals and as a couple. We've been praying that if this house is not to be the one for us - that God block this, or that, or maybe this. To date - nothing has been blocked and in fact our heart has been filled with excitement and motivation and anticipation for this house to become our home. Those feelings were not there with the first house we almost purchased - it felt like more of a milestone or something to check off of our "things we're supposed to do" list. We close in just under a month - and we are looking forward to settling down and continuing our life's journey.

What we didn't know as we began to get excited was that this house was not all that God was planning to put in our path.

Things at both of our jobs have started to ramp up to a new level of intensity - especially Steve's. Anyone who works... which is most of us... knows what that can do to a person's stress level. We've learned that because of how we both navigate through stressful times, we need to be extra careful to let God work on our hearts during these times to make sure we don't hurt each other inadvertently.

Work + New House Purchase = Pretty darn stressful, right? Let's add one more thing just for fun.

Work + New House Purchase + Grams' Condo Finally Selling = Lots of Stress!

God never ceases to amaze. Just when we thought we might have been at max capacity, there was one more thing thrown into our little whirlpool. So what happened?

It turns out that the last 2 weeks we've been at pretty close to our best. We've become more solidified as "Team Athanas", we've been relying on God for a lot more than we have in the past in terms of trusting him to use us and those around us to get things done. There have been minimal adverse stress reactions and we've been able to enjoy our moments of down-time with smiles and high-fives.

I've been excited daily. Not just because we're buying a house or because Grams' condo sold or because work's crazy levels are presenting opportunity for job stability; I've been excited for something bigger than that.

I've been excited about the level at which I've felt God's presence guiding our decisions, molding our hearts, and using His love to grow us and help move us forward. I find that it's absolutely amazing what can happen when you place everything in God's hands to do with what He will. It always ends up being bigger than you could have ever dreamed. I can't wait to see how what He's doing right now in our lives works out in the end.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Morning News

I was checking the local news and weather this morning and noticed that these two articles were in the top news stories on

This first one I actually saw on the news last night after American Idol. A local Catholic school has denied admission to a student because his parents are a lesbian couple. They had made their way through most of the process, ordered his uniforms, attended open houses, and when it seemed like everything was in order - the school called and advised they would not be allowing him to attend and told them why. Read about the situation by clicking here.

The second story I saw this morning. This story is about an evangelical minister who was gay and struggled balancing that with his faith. Now married to a woman and having a family with 2 biological and 2 adopted children, he has started a nationwide ministry movement in an attempt to change how churches react and accept homosexual Christians. Read more about this man and his ministry by clicking here.

I'm not going to get into anything other than throwing that interesting pair of news stories out there. I found it incredibly striking that they were both listed in the top stories this morning.

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." - Matthew 22:36-40

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Book Review - "The Vertical Self" by Mark Sayers

I recently read the book The Vertical Self by Mark Sayers. The basic gist of the book is that there are two ways to focus on how we view ourselves: "Horizontally" (meaning that we look at the world around us to base how we view ourselves) and "Vertically" (meaning that we look to God as our creator who made us in His image to base how we view ourselves). Sayers uses that base to launch into a full examination of how we view ourselves and how we can pull away from "The Horizontal Self" to head towards our "Vertical Self".

I must say that I had a very hard time putting this book down. I loved how Sayers was able to very clearly lay out his concepts of the Vertical and Horizontal self in a way that made it easy to understand for his readers. He also used very clear examples of how we use the messages society has placed in our brain-stores to present ourselves to others. One example that he uses is an encounter he has with two young women who have dressed in a provocative way that are clearly trying to get guys to "check them out" as a means for validation. Sayers' overall point that he dives into very deeply in the book is that this is the wrong idea; rather than looking to society's stereotypes of "Sexy, Cool, and Glam" - we should be looking up (or vertically) to God for guidance on how to present ourselves. It really made me take a look at myself, where my insecurities come from, and put a perspective on how I really am wired/created. The most powerful chapter in the book is also the longest and is summed up in the title of the chapter: "Meeting Your Future Self". Through this chapter, Sayers gives us a pathway to finding what he calls our "True Self" - or ourselves in God's eyes.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is struggling with self-image, insecurities, pride, or any other skewing of how they see themselves. This book is a strong reminder about how we are really made, created, and grown - in the image of God. This is a reminder that we should never lose sight of as we journey through life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Café Madrid

Last week Steve and I decided that we had lots of things to celebrate in our life, so we decided to try the dinner options at Yazmin's Café Madrid in Chelmsford. We both have been there for breakfast - Steve a good number of times - and were already aware that their first meal of the day was pretty darn good. Their French Toast is pretty famous in the area.

The waitress immediately brought bread to our table. It was nice and warm, was soft on the inside with a nice crust on the outside, and came with a dipper of olive oil and spices. Admittedly, we have a bread problem at restaurants and this particular bread did not do anything to help us out in breaking from that - it was so good! We asked for seconds so that we could partake in a bit more of the oil.

To start off the meal, we had their soup of the day which had a few different types of meat (beef, chicken, and pork), plantains, and vegetables. It was spiced with a Spanish flair (oddly enough) and was a great light way to start the meal. We did decide though that next time we would either sample off of their tapas menu to start OR save room for the amazing looking desserts. The soup was good, but with so many other cool things to try - opening up the space in the tummy for something more adventurous will be required.

Our entrees came with a "Spanish-style salad" which intrigued me a bit when I saw it on the menu. It was a shared salad so it came out in a big bowl with a set of tongs (which were a bit difficult to operate, but we managed) and their house dressing. The salad was a bed or romaine lettuce loaded up with roasted red peppers, red onions, sliced mushrooms, olives, and tomatoes. While the salad was different from most garden salads you'll get at a restaurant, it was the dressing that really made it. It was made up of balsamic vinegar, oil, honey, and a variety of spices (the waitress said "...and some spices, I'm not really sure what kinds they put in there"). It was a great compliment to the variety of vegetables in the salad.

Then came the main course: dinner! Having seen some other tables' food come out while we were listening to the live music and having dinner conversation, I was looking forward to the delivery of the meal. I had ordered the Pollo Loco, which is described as "Pan seared chicken medallions and large shrimp mixed in a Manchego and goat cheese sauce, served with yellow rice". The smell when this thing hit the table was extremely appetizing. I first took a bite of one of the vegetables to get a flavor of the sauce; the spices were perfectly balanced and the broth had picked up the flavor of the shrimp. The cheeses were subtle and seemed like they were mostly there to make it a creamy sauce, but it was definitely the sauce that made the dish. The chicken and shrimp were perfectly cooked, and the rice was pretty ordinary - but not at all dry, which makes a huge difference!

Steve ordered the Premium Mambo which the menu says is "Cuban roasted pork or chicken served with white rice, black beans, and sweet plantains". He decided on this one with the pork after asking the waitress what he should get between that or the Gambas Tropicana, her recommendation to get it with the pork, and also because it came with sweet plantains. He's kind of a sucker for those tasty little slices of yum. He said it was pretty good, and I did manage to get a taste of his pork in exchange for a shrimp from my meal. The waitress had said it was slow roasted; what she didn't mention were the spices that were rubbed on it. When I took a bite the first thing that happened was an explosion of spice heaven in my mouth, and then I realized that the pork was nice and moist - the slow roasting had not at all dried it out. I decided next time we go I might try that dish with the chicken.

Unfortunately because our meals were so good we cleaned our plates and had no room for dessert. Fortunately their dessert menu was extensive and attractive enough that we may put this place on the list of places we could just go for dessert and coffee sometime. I was glad to see that the dinner menu did not disappoint; we would definitely go back here for a date night if the occasion arose. If you're in the Chelmsford area - be sure to swing by and give this place a chance to fill your appetite. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

**Photos by Steve Athanas and his iPhone. Decent quality for a phone camera, huh?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Mission Cookbook: An Indian Meal

Steve is about to head out to Minneapolis, Minnesota for a conference. Whenever he goes on these trips, I always like to make sure that the night before he leaves he gets a home-cooked meal to fill him up. He headed to the bookshelf and chose the Everything Indian Cookbook; this was not at all a big surprise to me. Yesterday afternoon while Steve was helping friends get their new place ready to  move in, I went to Panera for some lunch, chose recipes for our meal, and hit the road to pick up the ingredients I needed to make everything.

First stop was an Indian grocery store on Drum Hill in Chelmsford. This was the second time I went into Palika Bazaar and while it didn't look like anything exciting I was amazed at what I walked away with for less than $10. Not only that, but the gentleman that was working there didn't charge me for the serrano chiles and gave me a couple of tips for what I was cooking that night.

The haul from Palika Bazaar

The recipes I chose for last night's dinner were Mixed Vegetables with Coconut Sauce, Stir-fry Peas with Rice, and Fried Onions (which the peas & rice called for as a garnish). While I was at Trader Joe's, I had picked up some garlic naan bread as well. 

I tried to cook in shifts, making the rice first and then while the rice was cooking I cut up the vegetables and made the coconut "paste" for the veggie dish. The naan I wrapped in foil and kept in the oven (heated at "warm") the whole time I was cooking to get it nice and toasty warm for dinner. I cooked all of the dishes to recipe with a slight exception of the rice & peas. The tip I got from the man at the Indian grocery was to add tumeric for flavor & color so I did that once I added the water for absorbtion. It made the rice a beautiful yellow color.

I forgot to take a picture of the vegetables after I got them all mixed up, but there were carrots, potatoes, green beans, and plantains in the batch. The "sauce" ended up being not very saucy at all and more of a coating. If I were to make this again, I might increase the amount of yogurt to a full cup instead of the half-cup it called for to make it a bit more "saucy". That said - the flavors on the vegetables were wonderful.

Rice on the left, veggies on the right, fried onions to garnish

Overall the meal was quite good. The fried onions made a great garnish and added just the right amount of extra flavor. We did need to add salt to bring out some of the flavors of the dish (the recipe said "table salt to taste" - which was about right!). Steve went back for seconds and thirds which is usually a good indicator of how good it is. Also - it made a ton of food, so I have leftovers which isn't a bad thing. It was a great experience to cook these dishes, and I'm looking forward to trying to cook more things out of this book!