Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Love


As I lay in bed this morning, I remembered Christmases as a kid. Memories of getting up, gathering around the tree opening our stockings while our parents had their morning coffee flooded through my mind.

I remember the laughter, helping my siblings with their stocking stuffers, coloring in our coloring books, eating sweet breads together for breakfast while sipping on milk & juice. I remember watching the pile of presents under the tree for the ones that I had wrapped weeks before to surface so that I could watch people open what I had given them. Memories of smiles, laughter, tears of heartfelt thanks from gifts we gave each other that showed each other love.

I couldn't tell you half - or more - of what I wrote on my obligatory "Santa Lists" as a kid. The only thing I exactly remember getting for Christmas from a list I wrote was my 10-speed bike when I was 11... and that was because I have fond memories of the many bike rides I took on it in the years until my friends got cars. I remember in college I got the board game "Guesstures", and that night while playing with my siblings I have an amazing memory of my mother laughing hysterically when we had to act out "Nose Droppings" before the time ran out.

Christmas - for me - has never been about the stuff. It's been about family, it's been about making each other smile, it's been about laughter and joy.

This Christmas I woke up to the feeling of little tiny feet and hands poking me from the inside and a husband who rolled over and put his arm around me while he got his last few moments of sleep. A light snow has been falling around my house all morning creating the perfect atmosphere for a calm, peaceful Christmas. I enjoyed pastry and a stocking exchange with Steve while listening to Christmas music... just like I did on Christmas morning as a kid. I am waiting patiently for my in-laws to arrive for Christmas dinner, looking around thinking of what Christmas will be like next year with our 7-month old(ish) son.

Christmas is not about the material stuff. It's about the heart stuff... it's about the gifts that God has given us. Remember - this holiday started with the most wonderful Gift that He has ever provided: His son... the "dawn of redeeming grace"... the promise of redemption that we may have a relationship with God.

As you go into the days after Christmas, I encourage each of you out there to avoid the question "What did you get for Christmas?" or "What did Santa bring you?" when you see your friends and family. Ask them instead how their Christmas was, what memory will they cherish the most from this Christmas, what did they appreciate most about their holiday. If anyone asks you what you got, respond with the intangibles. The memories, the love, the blessings that you find throughout your day.

Keep those things close to your heart, remember that God loves you and the gifts of love - starting with the gift He gave us on the original Christmas day of His son, Jesus - are the most beautiful gifts you will receive this year.

Merry Christmas.


That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
  
Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.

After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them. (Luke 2:8-20)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Top Five: Christmas Songs for 2011

Every Christmas, I find that there are a handful of songs that I could listen to over and over again. "Dominic the Christmas Donkey" is NEVER one of those songs, but over the years tunes like "Last Christmas", "All I Want for Christmas is You", "Jingle Bell Rock", and "Holly Jolly Christmas" have crossed the list. This year, there are - as always - a few songs that I find I can't get enough of. Some of them are repeats from previous years, others are new to the addiction list this year. I thought that this year I would share my favorite Christmas songs of the season with you.

Danielle's Top 5 Christmas Songs for 2011


"White Christmas" - The Drifters: AAAAAAAH!!! That might be something that comes to mind for a lot of you when you hear this song. Why? Because it was made famous in the original "Home Alone" film, and ended with Kevin (Macaulay Culkin) smacking aftershave on his face and screaming into the mirror. With all the versions of "White Christmas" that are out there, this has always been one that every year gets me dancing around while I put up the Christmas ornaments.


"Believe" - Josh Groban: Confession - I am infatuated with Josh Groban's voice. There. I said it. Don't you feel better knowing that I have openly put that out there? I do. Phew! Anyways... this song found during the end credits of The Polar Express is a beautiful, beautiful one - especially during the Christmas season when there is so much to turn our hearts towards and believe in. The spirit of the season can arguably be summed up when one listens to the lyrics of this song closely, "You've got everything you need if you just believe..." (OK... so really that's applicable at MORE than Christmas... but still...)


"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" - Barenaked Ladies ft. Sarah McLachlan: I'm not sure if it's true or not, but I heard once that this super fun recording of this song was a fluke. The story that I heard was that BNL and Sarah were hanging out at Christmas time, decided to jam and record it, and this song was the end result. Whether or not that's true - I have no idea. What I do know is that the end result of this collaboration is a fun version of this song that is fantastic for Christmas car driving singing, dancing around the house, and Christmas cookie baking.




"O Holy Night" - Tracy Chapman: This is another song that has a lot of versions out there, and I actually spent a good amount of time in the car the other day debating with myself whether I liked Tracy Chapman's or Josh Groban's version of this song better. I landed on Tracy's version for a couple of reasons. The first is that I feel like her voice is incredibly calming which lends an air of serenity to the song that's appropriate - I think - to the holy birth of a babe in a stable. The second is that I love the simplicity of the guitar in this version. It compliments Tracy's voice perfectly.


"Little Drummer Boy" - Bob Seger: Steve LOVES the "Little Drummer Boy" in just about every version, though his favorite is the one by Jars of Clay. Me? I like the song generally speaking, but my favorite is the version sung by Bob Seger. I think it's a combination of the strong percussion in the song with the rock edge of the overall music with Seger's rough voice that draw me to this song. It FEELS like a song about a drummer to me more than other versions (for example: a choir version doesn't really scream "drummer boy" to me). 


There are lots of other songs out there that I enjoy, but these 5 are ones that will get my hand reaching to turn up the volume on the radio when they come on (if not dancing and singing along). Christmas music is such a huge part of the atmosphere during this time of year that it's tough not to have a few favorites. 

What songs help to get you in the Christmas Spirit? 
What makes you rock around the Christmas Tree or belt a few lines out in the car or shower?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Seek, Listen, Rely

Every so often in the midst of the hustle of the day, I will come across something that gives me pause. Rarely does it happen twice... and so when it does, I really like to make sure I pause and reflect.

Today I was spending some time during lunch catching up on one of my favorite blogs - Fit This Girl - and I was excited to see her reference one of my favorite verses, Jeremiah 29:11.

"For I know the plans I have for you", says the LORD. "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope."

However... unlike almost every other time I've seen or referenced that verse, Mary went on to cite the next two verses. Reading the three verses together for some reason struck me, and I have not been able to stop thinking of them as one entity since:

"For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me." (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NLT)

God has a GOOD plan. God wants to hear us. God wants us to find Him.

Let's play with that arrangement a bit: God wants us to find Him. He has a GOOD plan for us. He wants to hear us. 

Let's take this one step further: God wants ME to find Him. He has a GOOD plan for ME. He wants to hear ME. 



He loves each and every one of us, He wants us to know that He wants nothing but the best - the VERY BEST - for each of us. His plans for us ARE those very best. But He wants to hear the deepest desires of our souls; maybe those stirrings we are feeling are ones that He has placed here. Maybe they are ones He wants us to push past so that we can see the even BETTER things that He has in store. Maybe - because He has given us free will - what's on our hearts fits into His plan and He hadn't considered it yet. God changes His mind sometimes, so we need to talk to Him.

He has told us that He will listen - right there, in Jeremiah 29:12.

But... He cannot listen if we do not seek Him out. With all of our heart. ALL of our heart.

Not that fraction of our heart that we set aside for Him to hear during desperate prayers. Not that portion of ourselves that we give in to worship during Sunday mornings in the church rows.

ALL of our heart. In the good times. In the indifferent times. In order for Him to hear us, we need to find Him. We need to seek Him out with ALL of our heart, ALL of the time. 

So what gets in the way? If He has GOOD plans for us, if He wants to hear us - what stops us from seeking out God?

Fast forward to a couple of hours later. Max Lucado offered this bit of insight via Twitter:

Big EGO= Edging God Out. Small EGO= Exalting God Only.

Thanks, Max, for offering some insight into the answer to my question.

What stops us from seeking out God? Our lack of willingness to rely on Him. 

If we seek out God with all of our hearts, it's admitting that we cannot do it alone. In a world and a culture where self-reliance is not only the norm but is encouraged as a strong character trait, admitting that we cannot achieve greatness on our own - admitting that greatness is not necessarily ours for the establishing, but rather is part of God's plans for us - can be seen as a sign of weakness.

I argue that it takes more courage to step forward and admit that you need help or cannot do something alone than it does to stay in your place and try to do everything yourself.

If we shrink our egos - we will open ourselves up to allow someone to help.

If we shrink our egos - we will become more willing to admit that God's plan is better than our own.

If we shrink our egos - we will find more room for the courage to seek Him out.

When we seek Him out wholeheartedly - He will listen. He will guide. And His plan for our lives will be played out in big, giant, amazing ways that we never could have imagined on our own.

If only we would take the step to shrink our egos and let in the courage to see Him - imagine what He could do with each of our lives in this crazy, broken world.

Let's take the steps to work to shrink our egos.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's Time to Play the Music...

**Disclaimer: I'm going to try not to issue any spoilers in this post, but just in case I slip you are officially warned that there MAY BE a spoiler in the words below.**

Steve and I are incredibly picky about what movies we will or won't fork over the admission price of a ticket for. The reality is that we have a decent home theater system, a Blu-Ray player and a Netflix subscription - so there's really not a ton of need for us to be putting money into the price of a movie ticket. Having said that, once in a while a movie will come out that will get one or both of us incredibly jazzed to see on the big screen. Usually these movies will be one of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films or a highly anticipated comic book flick (you should see Steve's eyes light up when he sees the preview for "The Dark Knight Rises" that's coming out in May 2012). It has to be something that will really sound and look fantastic in the theater in order for us to fork over the ticket cost - and we are rarely disappointed.

Such was the case last night when we headed to Chunky's Cinema & Pub to catch "The Muppets". When we first heard that the movie was coming out, as big fans of Muppet movies we knew we would try to make an effort to get to the theater to see it; when Steve found out that it had a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes - an extreme rarity, and now down to a 97% rating since its debut - that changed it from "try" to "do - there is no try" to get to the theater for it.

We arrived at Chunky's, ordered our food, enjoyed conversation over our dinner, ordered some popcorn, and then settled in as the lights dimmed for previews and the highly anticipated feature. It starts off with an opening number in Smalltown, USA complete with dancing, Muppets, singing, and happiness. Is it campy? Sure. Would you expect less from a Muppet movie? Absolutely not; the opening definitely helped the viewer to get reacquainted with the Muppet franchise and to establish a sense of nostalgia essential to getting the full enjoyment of the film. When the main characters Walter, Gary, and Mary head to LA and find themselves appealing to Kermit to "get the gang back together", you know that awesomeness is on its way. This is only confirmed when, after being asked how they'll accomplish getting everyone together, Kermit looks at the camera and says "Didn't you see the first movie? We drive!". 

With celebrity cameos from Jack Black, Jon Krasinski, Whoopi Goldberg, Neil Patrick Harris, and many others - this movie holds true to the original "Muppet Show" concept and Muppet movie genre as any successful re-birthing of a franchise should. Fozzie's bad jokes make you cringe, the geezers in the balcony are still at it picking on the Muppet crew, and Kermit's eternal optimism inspires not only the characters in the film but those in the audience as well. At different points of the movie I found myself laughing, tapping my toes, and invariably smiling. If you enjoyed any of the Muppet movies - especially the first one - I highly recommend making the effort to get out and see this movie. The sense of nostalgia that it invokes is worth spending the money on a ticket and the time in the theater.

Before I close... I should make a confession. There is a point in the movie where the original Muppet Show theme song is performed. I not only sang it... I danced in my chair. I chair danced. There, I said it.

"It's the most sensational, inspirational, celebrational, Muppetational..."

Anyways... if you've got a soft spot in your heart for the Muppets, see this movie. You won't regret it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Book Review: "Sabbath"

When I say the word "Sabbath" to you, what do you think of?

I know growing up, when I thought of people who celebrated the Sabbath I thought of stuffy families who got all dressed up and went to Mass (I grew up in a heavily Catholic area). After Mass they would go for a drive or sit at home and read, have a family dinner, pray together for AT LEAST an hour, and go to bed. It didn't seem terribly celebratory to me, so my Sundays (when I thought people took Sabbath) were spent watching football, spending time with family, sometimes going to a Color Guard practice or hanging out with friends.

I spent my Sundays doing things that I took joy in doing.

In Dan Allender's book "Sabbath", he takes the idea of a boring old Sabbath and turns it on its head. The Sabbath - as the Lord designed it for us to be - is a gift to us that we are to enjoy, savor, and cherish. In the midst of our hustle & bustle, overachieving world, we are given this beautiful gift of a Sabbath to relax and take joy in the wonderful blessings we have in our lives. It is to be a day of delight, play, enjoyment, and a taking in of the beauty in our worlds. Through the pages, Allender explains that the Sabbath looks different for every person but that at its core it should be composed of the things that bring us joy and delight.

Reading this book really helped me to understand not only the purpose of the Sabbath, but also assisted in helping me realize how incredibly wonderful the day can be for each of us. Because "Sabbath rest is not an option, it is a commandment", it is important that we understand and really put into practice the things that go into our lives & weeks to make up this day. God has provided me with so many wonderful resources and things that it is wrong for me to allow the business and busyness of my life to get in the way of this wonderful gift. What are the things that bring me joy? What can I do to take pieces of the other six days and get ready to prepare for the Sabbath? How can I inspire my family and friends to do the same? What is God doing in my life right now... and yesterday... and the day before... and coming up... that gives cause for joy and celebration?

I appreciate the words in Allender's book more than I thought I would when I got it and cracked it open to dive in. I think that this book is worth a second read, the next time with a highlighter and a pen to take notes and write reminders to myself. There are so many ways that God has blessed me in my life, it is a shame that I am not properly and consistently taking a gift that is so important He made it a commandment and giving it the attention and respect that it needs. The Sabbath is a day that deserves - no, needs - me to devote more time & effort in preparing and partaking in it.

If you've ever wondered WHAT the Sabbath is and HOW you can incorporate it into your life - this is definitely a book you should get your hands on. In fact, if you do get your hands on it and want to discuss it with me - let me know that too. I would love to hear your thoughts and the efforts you put forward to hold the Sabbath holy in your own life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> 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 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Annual Post of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and while this year I have found myself just generally more grateful for the blessings in my life - Thanksgiving is definitely a time to be intentional about that gratitude. After all, giving thanks for the abundance and blessing in our lives is the whole reason that the holiday was established in the first place (even though our culture would have us believe that it's about turkey & football).



"But Thanksgiving is more than eating, Chuck. You heard what Linus was saying out there. Those early Pilgrims were thankful for what had happened to them, and we should be thankful, too. We should just be thankful for being together. I think that's what they mean by 'Thanksgiving,' Charlie Brown." - Marcie from the Peanuts gang
 
So... what are some of the things that I am thankful for in 2011?

I am thankful for grace... When you allow grace to become a driving force in your life, it is amazing what can happen in your relationships with others. For example, a little while ago Steve came to me to talk about something that he knew would bother me but that had to be addressed. Under normal circumstances, I would have freaked out and let my emotions get the better of me. How dare I not be taken into consideration! How dare he not put me first! But I looked at Steve and saw someone who was humbling himself and coming to his wife in a step of healing and hope. Selfishness and anger would have just damaged our marriage if I had reacted so poorly; to react without grace would have made Steve think that he could not come to me to discuss things that need to be discussed. I intentionally allowed grace to rule my actions... and the result was understanding, discussion, healing, and love. That is just one example of how I have seen grace transform a situation from something potentially awful to something potentially beautiful. I am thankful for grace.

I am thankful for access to great healthcare... I think that in the US, decent healthcare is something that we can easily take for granted. However, being pregnant has given me a renewed gratitude for the level of healthcare that we have in our country. At nine weeks, I called our OB and left a message with the nurse because of some symptoms we were having. After a brief conversation, they brought me in for an emergency appointment, examined me, discussed what they saw, answered our questions, and issued instructions. Things were fine - but any time I've had a question or concern I can just call up and they are there to respond. There are so many countries in this world that do not have this easy access to good healthcare... and we should not take it for granted. Not for one second. And if able, I would encourage you to find an organization that provides healthcare to less fortunate regions of the world and support them with financial resources, supplies, or your time.

I am thankful for my wonderful husband...  The other night after getting back from signing our will/health care proxy/power of attorney papers and then finishing the update on our family finances, Steve looked at me and said "See? Didn't I tell you I would take care of you?". I looked back at him and said "I married you because I knew you would". Let me make this clear - it's not just our finances where he takes care of me. Steve is there every time I have a success to cheer me on, a failure to help me see how to improve, a bandaid when I cut myself (usually cutting veggies...), and to catch me when I fall (usually quite literally). He listens to me talk through things, holds me when I cry, laughs at my stupid jokes, is willing to work through both of our shortcomings, and tries to protect me from things he knows will hurt. Now... he's not perfect, and neither am I. There's no such thing as a perfect person. But he's pretty darn good to have as a husband and best friend; we could lose all of our "stuff" and money tomorrow... and we'd still have each other, and he would still take care of me. I am grateful for him every day.

I am thankful for our Little Person... As of today, I am 16 weeks and 5 days pregnant. Not a day passes that I am not incredibly grateful that God has blessed us with a child and that I pray for our child to continue to grow and be healthy. It is absolutely insane to think that Steve and I are going to be parents, and it's crazier to think that God is trusting US with the duties of parenting. I am so thankful for the opportunity to love on this Little Person, help them to learn the ways of the world, and just grow our little family. I love the moments when Steve gets close to my growing little bump and starts talking to him/her... "Hi, Baby!". It is such an amazing time for us right now, and I am cherishing every moment of it.

Those are just some of the highlights of the things that I'm grateful for this year. There are others, of course, but I only have so much room in a blog post.  

What about you? What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving? Make sure to take the time and reflect on the blessings in your life this weekend!!!

"Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus." - 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NLT)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

It's Been a While...

I realized this morning in the shower that it has been quite a while since I posted on my primary blog.

Why is that?

Well... it certainly wasn't that I didn't have anything to say. In fact, I had quite a bit to say. It's just that I wasn't saying much of it out loud. And it was hard to do that. So I just avoided it all together.

You see... the thing is: We're pregnant! Last week we released the information publicly as any modern-day couple would by posting the ultrasound picture on Facebook. It certainly was an easy way to get the word out and an exciting way to get lots of encouragement at once. In fact, even as an outside observer to other people's lives on Facebook, I love celebratory announcements. Pregnancies, engagements, promotions, weddings... if it's worth celebrating, I love when people are bold enough to put it out there and invite others to cheer alongside them.

Celebration is good.

At any rate, as of today I am 14 weeks, 5 days pregnant with our Little Person and I wanted to share with you a few of the things that pregnancy has taught me (so far... I have a long way to go and much more to learn). Some of these things I knew and pregnancy just made real, others I'm learning as I go.

Little Person at 9 weeks, 3 days old.
You can't tell from the picture, but he/she was a tiny dancer the day this was taken too.


Grace is Essential: When people find out that you're pregnant, they immediately get excited. When are you due, how are you feeling (with dirty looks or "you're so lucky") when you haven't gotten sick, are you finding out the gender... all sorts of typical questions. At that point in the conversation once the basics have been reported and excitement has been established, either the conversation continues in a normal fashion or some sort of borderline inappropriate behavior happens. Sometimes this takes the form of an unwelcomed stomach rub, uninvited pregnancy advice (that doesn't apply to your pregnancy), or an order about what you should or should not be doing.

Here's the thing - people do these things because they care. Responding in a face-ripping manner cuts their heart. If something that someone does in their care and excitement bothers me, then I need to have grace with them. I need to calmly explain why it bothers me, politely ask them not to do it again, and express my gratitude for their excitement.

Confession here is that this is totally against my sarcastic nature, but I recognize that and am working towards the graceful response rather than the snarky, cutting response. Pray for me.

Patience is Required: I want to meet my baby NOW. I want to feel his or her soft skin and fuzzy baby hair and yes - even change the first diaper. However, God has designed us so that the miracle of life takes up to 40 weeks to happen. This means that I do not get to meet my baby now - if I do, the baby is not in a good place and of course I do not want that to happen. And so, I must be patient. I wait patiently for the first kick, the next doctor's appointment, and that magical moment when I give birth to our Little Person sometime next spring. I rest in God's plan for pregnancy and know He designed it this way for a reason. Besides, if I can't be patient now - how am I ever going to manage parenting?

Husbands are Amazing: Not that I didn't already appreciate Steve, but there's something about having his wife pregnant that has transformed something in him. Maybe it's because I'm carrying our child, but he is really shining as a partner in the marriage since we found out we're pregnant. In listening to other wives talk about how their husbands were, I know that this is not a unique thing to just Steve. Husbands are wonderful; they are strength when we fall apart, they are a hand to squeeze when things hurt, and above all they want the absolute best for you and the child you are carrying. Steve has been to every doctor's appointment we've had (even relatively inconsequential ones), has jumped at opportunities to do every small thing related to baby, serves me at any opportunity, watches out to make sure I'm taking care of myself, and even took the initiative in getting us pregnancy books. He is my partner, lover, best friend, companion... he is amazing.

BFFs - Jamaica 2011


Reliance on God: Nothing in my life has taught me about the importance of relying on God the way that pregnancy has. I can fool myself in all sorts of areas that I can solely rely on me; financial success, reaching goals, and gaining knowledge and wisdom are just a few of the areas where I can make myself believe that I am completely in control. In those areas I can think that I earn my money (rather than God blessing me with resources), that I create my own destiny (rather than trusting in God's plan for my life), and that I can seek and gain wisdom & knowledge (with any guidance from the Holy Spirit) all by my onesies. However - only God can grow, develop, and perfect the little miracle that is growing inside of me right now. Are there things I can do to assist because the folks that God has gifted with medical knowledge have done the research and know the "right things" for pregnant ladies to do? Sure. But at the end of the day, Little Person is in the hands of God right now. He is knitting our Little Person as I type this (Psalm 139:13-16).

I know I have a long way to go before Little Person arrives and several milestones to hit, but I feel incredibly blessed with the lessons that I have already taken from this experience. Before we became pregnant, I was just excited to have our first child. But now that we are - I am excited at the experiences and growth that come along with being a parent, start to finish.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Scents of Fall

Last year I talked a bit about what I love about the fall in a general sense, but this year I want to tell you a bit about one of the other things I love about the fall - and those are the beautiful smells that start to abound this time of year. Every season has its share of odors, and fall is one that has some of the most distinct and memory-invoking.

Cinnamon & Spice: Whether it's in cider, pumpkin spice lattes, or warm apple crisps - one of the things that happens in the fall is that the smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, and other similar spices can be met in many of the kitchens or restaurants you walk into. There's something about looking out over the changing trees, holding a cup of warm mulled cider in your hands, and letting the scents of cinnamon mixed with apple blanket you in comfort.

Leaves: Remember when you were a kid and you'd waddle through a pile of leaves? First of all - I have no idea why we did this as kids, as the pass-time seems a bit silly at this point. I can't tell you how many pairs of tights I ruined trudging through leaf piles. Either way - even to this day there's something pleasant that I find about the smell that is kicked up when a pile of leaves is rustled. It's like nature's own fall scratch-n-sniff sticker.



Apples: This is the time of year when people who live in an area that has access to it begin to flock to the apple orchards and pick their own apples. If you go to a GOOD orchard, they let you eat the apples as you pick them so you know if you want to gather more from that area of the orchard or not. As people pluck the apples and take a few bites - they end up on the ground around the bases of the trees. When this happens, what you get is a general scent of apple throughout the area... not that you wouldn't anyways because, you know, it's an orchard - but that adds to it for sure.

Friday Night: Popcorn, Hot Chocolate & Sweat Trifecta: Go to a high school football game and you'll know what I mean by this bizarre mix of scents. I haven't experienced this in many years, but just thinking of it reminds me of going to games both as a regular student and as a member of the marching band all 4 years of high school. Some Fridays, there's not much I can think of that would be more enjoyable than heading back to Nicholson Field in Methuen and catching a game... just for old time's sake.

Thanksgiving: Turkey in the oven, cornbread stuffing with sage, simmering fresh cranberry sauce, cider in the Crockpot... there are few more comforting things I can think of than the way a home smells the day of Thanksgiving. Thinking of the crisp chill in the air every year with the warmth of food and family inside our home is a beautiful picture on my heart. In fact, right now I'm thinking about it and I just want to pop a turkey in the oven over the weekend for the sake of having this smell in my house.

Now for the ulterior motive to this post... to tell you about a GIVEAWAY I heard about... one of the blogs I follow - Fashion Meets Food - is having a giveaway of 2 sets of Bath & Body Works candles in their fall scent line up! Since fall is one of my favorite seasons... ok, definitely my favorite season... I had to a) enter this contest myself and b) share it with my few readers out there so that you could try to get these candles as well.


To enter - just leave a comment on the post (link below) telling the author which set you would prefer and what your favorite part about the fall is. For extra entries, you can follow her blog and/or tweet/blog/post about her giveaway on Facebook. Super easy to enter this contest to get some fantastic fall smells for your home!

Friday, September 9, 2011

On Love & Freeze Pops

I remember being young, running around in the hot summer heat, and finding respite in a tube of frozen flavored sugar water. My mom would cut the top off with a pair of scissors and hand it to me. I would sit in front of a fan or the window and enjoy my freeze-pop. I would chomp on the ice, suck the cold "juice" from the tube when it was gone, and appreciate every second of coolness that the frozen tube of goodness would provide.

We didn't have air conditioning... this was how we found a bit of a cool breeze on a hot summer day.

One day last week I was driving to work and needed a break from the baseball talk that was on the radio, so I switched over to NPR. There I heard David Boeri reporting on the hot conditions of a Cambridge jail. The jail - which is designed to hold 160 - is currently home to over 400 inmates who are waiting for trial to find out what their fate will be. The jails in the state of Massachusetts are notoriously falling apart and overcrowded, and as anyone knows when you get too many people crammed into one place - it is rare that anything good comes from that.

Add to that a lack of air conditioning during some of the hottest days of the year, as well as the presumed short-fuses that many criminals tend to have - and what you have on your hands is a potential for disaster.

Unless... unless you remember that these are human beings being kept within the overcrowded walls of the jail. Human beings who are overheating and anxious as they have no idea what the fate of the next months or years of their lives will be. Human beings with families that they are likely stressed about whether or not they'll ever see again. Human beings that may be living with the guilt of their crimes.

Human beings who, at their core, want nothing more than compassion and love just like the rest of us.


So when you come to this realization, what do you do with it? Do you ignore it and write these people off as mere criminals who should rot in the cells and suffer with their emotions & heat? If you are one of the officers of this facility, do you ignore it... or do you listen to the strings being pulled on your heart and offer an ounce of compassion?

In this case... they chose compassion.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 
 Matthew 25:35-40



If you've never had a freeze pop, it really is a quick way to boost your sugar level and cool off for a few minutes when you're drained in hot, disgusting weather. And they are incredibly inexpensive - as the folks in the story mention, they are about $0.03/each. These little tubes of sugar water can be incredibly refreshing when you think that the heat will never end. I don't know what it was that inspired the prison worker who's idea this was to hand these out, but whatever the inspiration it clearly was one with heart behind it. I don't know the prison worker's religious standing, but we can certainly look at his simple actions as an act of what Jesus has called us to... compassion, love for one another, and a heart for those in our society who have been outcast - in this case because of their actions.

But all 400-odd prisoners are God's children. They may have strayed, but they still belong to Him and in each of them - He is there.

I think back to those sweat-drenching summer days, trying to find the article of clothing that would best keep me cool to wear that day and hoping there were freeze pops on-hand someplace to give me a bit of respite. I would like to think that maybe the worker's inspiration came from a memory similar to mine, and maybe in those few moments while they're chomping on sugar ice for a bit of a cool down the inmates can close their eyes and have similar nostalgic moments. I picture a group of 5 or 6 inmates, sitting near a fan or window, eyes closed, freeze pop tube to their lips, finding those brief moments of respite from the heat.

And maybe for the first time in a long time feeling like someone cares enough about them to notice how they're feeling. Cares enough to reach out and even with a simple gesture acknowledge that even though they are caged... they are still God's children, they are still loved.

In the simple act of a freeze-pop, these inmates are able to experience a bit of love & heaven in an otherwise hellish atmosphere.

“...it’s a nice gesture — it says that ‘We care that you’re hot, cool you down for a few minutes,’ you know, they don’t have to do this. They treat you good here. They treat you like human beings.” - Robert Asarian, prisoner - one year away from trial

Click here to read the whole story - At the Middlesex Jail, Simple Gestures Help Keep the Peace

Friday, August 26, 2011

Hard Work?

Three years ago this month, I weighed 225.6 lbs and felt terrible. I was lethargic, didn't enjoy physical activity (but was reminiscent of when I did as a kid), and ate too much food - too much of which was poor quality.

Three years ago this month, Steve and I made a commitment to change our health & our lifestyle. I now reside in the 145-149 range, 75-80 lbs lighter than I used to be. I ran in a 5K last year and hope to do at least one more this fall. My blood sugar levels have stabilized and neither Steve nor I have any cholesterol issues any longer. I dropped from a size 20 in denial (I wore an 18 out of protest) to a size 10, sometimes an 8 depending on the article of clothing. Three years later - I'm still not at the ideal weight that my doctors would like to see me at ultimately, but I keep working at it even though I am at a plateau and my doctors are generally pleased with where my health is at. Steve and I feel fantastic.

A question we're commonly asked: What's your secret? How did you do it?

In the age of the obesity epidemic & millions of quick-fix/short-cuts to losing weight, we decided to give it a whirl the old-fashioned way and see if doctors were full of crap or not. We changed our diet habits and started to exercise. As the pounds started to melt off, we celebrated small milestones (200! 175! 150! Holy crap I weigh less and look better than I did in high school!) and kept plugging along. We've been through periods of counting every. single. calorie that has gone into our bodies and now know the secrets to resetting our bodies after a vacation. We go to the gym 5 days/week at least and just recently bought bikes to get out and ride after work and on the weekends. Through commitment and hard work, our lifestyle has completely changed - completely for the better.

So why am I telling you this? 

Recently our good friend John gave his first sermon and in it he talked about faith. I was pumped for him; he serves in the youth ministry alongside us and I knew his energy would lend for a great message that morning. In the middle of his sermon, he started talking about today's Western Culture looking for immediate fixes and how when people want to lose weight there are those who will work for it with diet & exercise, and then there are those who will sit on the couch watching TV using one of those contraptions that are supposed to give you a six-pack while you do nothing.



Then he said this statement that has stuck with me since Sunday:

"Jesus is NOT an 'Ab Zapper'!"

This has stuck with me all week because it felt like God had grabbed my head and pointed it up at John at that exact moment. I realized with that statement that too often I approach my relationship with Jesus much as our culture tends to approach dieting. I have my salvation, I rest in that... but maybe too comfortably. I don't always follow the spiritual disciplines the way I should... sometimes I forget to rely on Jesus as the leader in my life and instead trust myself. Sometimes I am not good at communicating with Him through prayer, and I'm going to openly admit here and now that I am terrible about keeping up with my scripture readings.

I need to be approaching my relationship with Jesus with the same drive, desire, and discipline as I approached weight loss. Until I have the same habit-changes in my spiritual life that I now have with my weight change lifestyle, I need to be engaging in habit-changing behaviors that point me on the path that gets me closer to Jesus. And like I was able to have Steve as a partner when things got tough in weight loss, I look to him to encourage me in my spiritual disciplines as well - and vice versa. At the end of the day, I will not see the kind of deep relationship with Jesus that I know in my heart that I long for if I do not chase after it hard all the time.

At the end of the day, I have no good answer to the question "why haven't I been as disciplined in my spiritual journey as I was in my weight loss journey?". I have only myself to blame for that, I know what it takes to have hard work & perseverance pay off in a big way. I need to stop facing my relationship with Jesus like most of America faces the prospect of attaining a healthy lifestyle. After all, spiritual health is a big part of total health - arguably THE biggest.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Respite

I'm not sure if any of you have heard - but President Obama is going on vacation next week. He'll be taking what seems to be becoming an annual summer stay on Martha's Vineyard with his wife and kids.

And if you've heard about that, you've probably also heard about the folks who are all up in arms because the President is taking a vacation while the economy is in the tank and markets are in flux and unemployment is high.

Now... I normally try to avoid teetering on politics on the blog, and really what I'm about to say isn't all that political. It's a bit more pragmatic than it is political.

I'll touch briefly on the economy before I get to my real point. A couple of weeks ago Steve and I went to a baseball game wearing non-descript T-shirts and jeans. If you didn't hear us cheering, you never would have known that we were there to see the Red Sox play. So after some deliberation, we decided to go ahead and get ourselves Red Sox caps (queue Kenny Chesney music...) to the tune of $50 total. Steve posted a picture on Facebook & Twitter of us in our new caps with a comment of why the heck did we just spend $50 on Red Sox caps.

Doing our part for the economy and Red Sox Nation.

Within minutes he received a comment from a friend of ours reminding us that we're Americans and the economy needs us to spend money in order to be stimulated. Economies are stimulated when money - real money, not lots of credit card usage - is spent by those who are able to spend it. President Obama (like all presidents before him) makes a substantial salary for running one of the most powerful nations in the world; if he wants to spend $50,000 of his money to rent a beach house - please, by all means - let the man stimulate the economy.

Now... onto the bigger point I want to make. This one goes out to all those critics who are saying that President Obama shouldn't be taking a vacation "right now, when everything is a mess". All due respect - you're wrong.

Yesterday I was waiting for my coffee to be dispensed out of the company Keurig when I noticed that the President was speaking on TV. The first thing I noticed is that he - like other Presidents before him - seems to have aged during his time in office. He looked tired and his hair had greyed. Being the President of the United States of America is one of the hardest, most taxing jobs in the world. Personal politics and beliefs aside - whoever is in this position is looking into the face of at least 4 years of some of the hardest work they're ever going to have to do. Looking at Barack Obama's face yesterday and seeing that gray hair, I could tell that the job is starting to take its toll on him just like it had on those who came before.

And yes... I've heard the reports of how much this is going to cost taxpayers in Secret Service costs and blah blah blah.  I get it. That's partially my money too - so to that I say please, spend the money to give Mr. President a break and let him recharge his batteries, read books on leadership or whatever, spend time with his family, and rest. The reality is that he's not going to solve all the world's (or country's) economy problems overnight AND if this new committee whose focus is to come up with solutions comes up with something amazing - I'm sure the President will set up an office to review what they come up with and either comment back or sign it or whatever. When you're the "Leader of the Free World", even vacation doesn't mean you get to completely disconnect.

And let's not forget that tourists will buy anything - which means that Obama's vacation will further put money into the economy in apparent T-Shirt sales.


This morning I read a commentary about this whole thing and wanted to share this one excerpt with you that I think sums up and helps to drive home what I'm getting at:

But former Clinton spokesman Mike McCurry says that every president needs a break from the confines of the White House.


"We do need to let these guys have vacations and do some reading and thinking outside the box," he said.

What's more, keeping a sizeable crew of aides nearby is critical, he said. "Remember Clinton's trip to Martha's Vineyard in August 1998 when we ended up trying to decapitate bin Laden with a cruise missile strike? That's why the 'entourage' has to accommodate all aspects of the presidency, even on vacation. You never know what might happen..."

There is one other thing... taking a break is so important to how we're wired and how we're created that God requires it of us. Let me explain briefly.

When God created the heavens and the earth, the fish in the sea, the birds on the land, and then capped the whole thing off by creating man & woman - He took a break. All of that creation was a lot of hard work to have to accomplish, and He had a lot more work to do so he took a step back and recharged His batteries. We are created in His image... when we have done a lot of work and have a lot more to do, it's important for us to take a step back and recharge our batteries too. He has designed us to need to do this periodically, and so I appreciate that Mr. Obama is willing to make a point to take a vacation every year. It's setting a positive example for our country - step back, recharge, enjoy the blessings you have in your family and in your life. Do you need to go to the Vineyard - no. You can go in your own backyard with a grill and some suntan lotion. You can take a day at the beach. But for crying out loud - take a break. Your brain, your body, your outlook needs it. You are designed that way by God as a child of His created in His image.

So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:3, ESV)

And let's not forget that He even gave it to Moses as part of the 10 Commandments - you know, incase His example of taking a break wasn't enough that He had to put it in writing for us.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11) 

You were designed by God to workworkworkworkwork and then REST. And so was President Obama. He's one of God's children too. Let him be and let him do what God designed him and requires us to do.

Mr. President - enjoy your vacation. If you can, try to get over to Back Door Donuts and have a fritter for me.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

On Letting God

There's a problem that I face every time a loved one's personal crisis bubbles to the surface: I want to fix it.

It is in the very nature of who I am as a person. Some people are people pleasers, some are peace keepers, some are instigators. Me... I'm a fixer. When there's a problem I want everyone to see what their part in the issue is and fix it for themselves and the people they're affecting.

Over the years I have learned that this isn't necessarily the healthiest of traits to have. It can lead to a lot of undue personal stress, codependency issues, conflict, and butt-in-ski syndrome. When I discovered the person I am in Christ and began to uncover the path that God has set for me, I realized that this isn't something to be ignored either. I can use this desire to fix to be an encouragement or soundboard for reasonable advice when requested.

So where is the balance?

Recently I confided in a friend about some issues that have bubbled to the surface in our family. This is one of those friends who, when you're in her presence, you just FEEL Jesus. You know that God has in her plan to be an encourager, a reminder of Him, and an ambassador of His love within five minutes of being in her presence. So it was no surprise to me that when I confided in her that her almost immediate response boiled down to a reminder of the things that were important for me to remember.

Encourage, don't enable. Support, set up boundaries. Love, don't try to change.

The balance on the tightrope of a sticky situation is tricky for someone who is a fixer, this is something I have learned over the years. I have learned to listen to God in the midst of the chaos to be that voice of reason to guide me and coach me through the balancing act.


"You cannot change them, leave that to Me..." with a gentle nudge on my elbow to come back to the center.


"You cannot be in the middle, it won't leave room for Me..." with an encouraging pull back to the balance of the rope.


If I do not listen to God, if I do not slow down and let Him do His work... I can fracture relationships, compromise my own health (both mental and physical), and downplay or neglect the importance of His role in the chaos.

I cannot fix everything. He can. And let's not forget that just because I want something fixed does not mean that it is necessarily in God's plan. If it is - I still cannot fix it. There are two things that I cannot ever control: God and others.

Why not?

Because He gave us free will. And He is in ultimate control. I can pray for people to feel His presence, to listen to His guidance, to know that He loves them, for Him to move in their lives and bring them to a positive place.

But I cannot control them, I cannot control Him. I can only control myself, my actions, and the degree to which I turn down the volume of the chaos around me and listen for His voice. We've all heard the saying that we need to "let go and let God": for me this is much easier said than done. But I know that when I do... when I step aside and pass the tools to God and let Him do the fixing... things always work out better in the end because they work out according to His plan and not mine.

And in the long run, it's His plan that's the better one anyways and His handiwork that can do amazing things in people's hearts to heal, nurture, and grow.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Tale of Love and Chefs

"So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” 
(John 13:34-35, NLT)


Hi. My name is Danielle and I love competitive cooking shows on Food Network. 


No, really. My favorite is the show "Chopped" hosted by Ted Allen. If you've never seen it, the basic premise is that 4 chefs who are fantastic at what they do compete to win $10,000 by cooking 3 dishes (appetizer, entree, dessert) using mystery ingredients and the pantry & fridge that are in the kitchen. The producers do a fantastic job of making sure you get a good picture of the personalities of the chefs, which is great so that you can make a good decision of who to cheer for. 


Steve and I's all-time favorite "Chopped" champion was Madison Cowan, who actually ended up winning $50,000 on a massive "Chopped Champions" tournament. He's a Jamaican/British/American dude with a fantastic attitude towards food - he feels like it needs to speak to and come from your soul - and an amazing story of overcoming odds to do amazing things for himself and his young daughter. When he won the first time before progressing on to "Chopped Champions", he beat a Christian fellow named Lance who is the head chef for "Camp in the Woods" - a Christian camp in New York State. 


Madison Cowan in his first appearance on "Chopped". Start at about 6:00 to see his dessert battle with Chef Lance.


Chef Lance has also turned out to be another one of Steve & I's favorite chefs to have appeared on "Chopped" since we've been watching it because of his super-positive attitude and his boldness in professing his faith on a nationally televised cable program. This week we pulled up the latest & greatest episode of "Chopped" on our DVR to find ourselves greeted with a special edition of the show: "Chopped: Redemption". 


Food Network brought back some of their almost-winners to compete for a second chance at becoming a "Chopped" champion for one episode. As soon as I saw the lead-in bumper (is that the right phrase?), I said to Steve: "Oh! It's that Christian camp guy!"... and we knew immediately who we were cheering for to win (especially after one of the other dudes had a huge attitude problem... he got cut immediately). 

As the show progressed, the clips that highlighted Chef Lance always showed him talking about his faith. How he tries to show grace in everything he does because he's been given such beautiful, undeserved grace by God. How he used to be a huge jerk before he found his faith. How he draws on God for strength & inspiration in the kitchen. And in the last round - it came down to Chef Lance and Chef Yoanne; a sweet, French chef who was hoping to win the money to be able to go to France and spend some time with her grandmother who had basically raised her, taught her to cook, and was an important part of her life.

The two chefs whipped up their desserts and presented them to the judges for the final decision on the grand prize. Here's the end result:




I'll admit, I shed a couple of tears at this moving ending to a relatively ordinary cooking game show. It was so awesome to see genuine care and love in action... and there are two things that you don't see in this clip that make this even more moving:


1. Earlier in the show, Chef Lance comments to her about how he was moved to hear the story of how her grandmother had taken care of her.
2. During the second round, Chef Yoanne had slipped, fell, and dropped a pan of scalding hot potatoes on both her legs and one hand. This meant that she pushed through the dessert round in a lot of pain, but with a deep determination to push through and try to win so she could see her grandmother.


To be honest - even though Chef Lance was the guy we were cheering for, we were certain that he didn't win. But in the end - he not only won, but was able to publicly display unsolicited love and generosity towards this woman he had just met that day to help her get to see her grandmother. To not only do it, but to be bold enough to do it in a way that made it known that he was working so hard to live out his life in a way that honors the way that God calls us to live... it was an amazing, rare thing to see. 

Thank you, Chef Lance, for showing us that not all reality TV has to be terrible... sometimes it can show us the amazing hearts that God has designed us to have.

Friday, July 15, 2011

12 New Things - Sushi

Those of you who read my blog regularly might remember that I had joined the 12 New Things challenge last year and checked three things off of my list (covering chairs, making my own black bean burgers, and snorkeling). Those of you who are good at math are thinking right now that three does not equal twelve.

You're right - it equals three. Good job.

Anyways, in full disclosure the challenge fizzled out across the board. The originator openly admitted her life was incredibly crazy and she couldn't keep up; truth be told, I just lost track. So now my "12 New Things" list is still in action, it's just significantly slower going than was originally intended.

Now that the confessions are out of the way... I am pleased to announce that I can finally check one off the list (that I had actually been putting off for a lot longer than the existence of the list): I tried sushi.

When Steve and I went to Martha's Vineyard, we had originally wanted to have dinner our first night at the Offshore Ale Company because the idea of a fun, pub dinner appealed to us. We arrived, discovered they had a 45-minute wait, put our name in - and looked elsewhere to see if we could find something else. After a check on Yelp, we decided to walk a couple of blocks over to the Lookout Tavern. They got great reviews... including rave reviews about their sushi.

I looked at Steve. We agreed. It was time for me to try the raw slimy stuff.

To start, I have to say that I loved the atmosphere of Lookout Tavern. It's seat yourself, super laid back, has a chill bar-ish atmosphere without being loud & obnoxious. The place breeds friendly, social contact among its patrons; we sat next to a group of women who were out for dinner & drinks that were pleasant to talk with. Not only that - but the waitstaff were fantastic. Our waiter was personable, offered up great suggestions, was prompt and attentive. We really enjoyed our visit and all the food was great. Plus, they served Magner's Hard Cider which is an automatic win in my book.


Mmmmm... Magners...
But enough about that. I know you're chomping at the bit, wondering about my first foray into the world of sushi.

After perusing their relatively extensive sushi menu and resisting the temptation to fall back upon tempura (which is fried and therefore not entirely sushi in my opinion), we decided to get two rolls to share. We ordered a spicy tuna roll and a yellowfin crunchy roll; somewhere in the back of my head I heard an old college friend's voice telling me that tuna was probably the right way to go when I finally did try sushi, so that was part of what drove the decision. It came out quickly, I took a deep breath, and followed the soy-sauce dipping instructions of my handsome companion. Without further delay... I popped the first spicy tuna roll in my mouth and took my first taste of raw-fish sushi.

Open wide! And don't mock my terrible chopsticks technique.

What happened next was almost like a scene out of a 1980's Life cereal commercial with me as the Mikey character: I liked it! Danielle liked it!

I really, really enjoyed every bite of the sushi that we got. The spicy tuna was quite good, but the yellowfin crunchy roll was my favorite. What made it crunchy were breadcrumbs around the outside and a small bite of apple rolled in with the fish & avocado. The flavors were so good that I had to resist the temptation to steal some of Steve's 4 pieces that he had for himself. The most impressive part in my opinion? I was enjoying the sushi so much that I didn't want to taint the taste of it with anymore soy sauce. I ate it in its raw, naked state until the last piece of my share of the sushi was gone.

And I wanted more... but we had a chicken sandwich coming that we were going to share and we also had our excursion to Back Door Donuts to take into consideration. Alas, no more sushi for me that night. The good news though - especially for Steve who loves food adventures - is that I've opened up a whole new level of the game of food for myself. With so many friends that love to go out for sushi, I no longer have to be the wet blanket who whines and says "waaah... but I don't liiiike sushi..."

Because I do. I like sushi, and want to try more of it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dentists...

"Dentists tell you not to pick at your teeth with any sharp, metal objects. Then you sit in their chair... and the first thing they pick up is a sharp, metal hook." - Bill Cosby

I once heard a statistic that among professions, the highest suicide rate was with those who are dentists. Now, I have no idea how true that is - but I suppose it makes some sense when you think about it. How many other professions do people say they have to go to an appointment for with such audible groans, heavy complaints, and verbal hatred? There are very few; even a major mechanical issue with your car or an emergency doctor's visit produces an eye roll or heavy sigh at worst with most people.

Me? There are definitely places I'd rather be than in the dentist's chair. At least until something happened to my perspective and thinking yesterday.

When I went to my intake appointment at our new dentist, my stomach sank when she told me that I had 13 surfaces that needed to be filled or watched. My last dentist had already done 9, and so these were either repeat offenders or new ones. I'm a known case of needing either high-dosage novocaine or multiple shots of the stuff, so not only would the drilling need to commence but so would the hours of facial numbness.

Lovely.

After my first round of fillings I fought the urge to put off making the second appointment for the next round. I was a good girl and went ahead to make it. Besides, there was a spot in between two teeth that was bothering me when I flossed that my dentist promised would be involved in the next round of fillings.

A few weeks passed, and the time came for me to head in for round two of the drill and fill. I left work at 3:45 and for the first time in a while didn't feel anywhere near as nervous as I had in the past. When I arrived at the dentist and the secretary told me that my secondary insurance (through Steve's work) had covered the balance of my last round of fillings, my nervousness completely dissipated. As I sat in the waiting room staring at the news before it was my turn in the chair, I pondered on where that well-known nervousness had gone.

As I watched on the news about a car fire that happened on my route home not long after I had driven by (which would have made me late for my appointment), God spoke to my heart: "I took it. You don't need that nervousness, you are blessed with this opportunity."

Now... I know what you're thinking. Blessed with the opportunity to go to the dentist and get drills and needles stuck into my face? Yeah, right.


But just think about this for a moment: there are people all over the world who have no means to prevent cavities, gingivitis, or other oral ailments. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, tongue scrapers are all foreign objects to hundreds of thousands of people in developing countries. When their teeth inevitably begin to decay there aren't any means of treatment readily accessible to them which means that either the teeth they have will rot and fall out of their head OR they could develop an infection that if it spread or went untreated could become lethal.


Can you imagine getting a simple cavity that could kill you?

Our students just got back on Saturday from a 6-day missions trip to Nassau, Bahamas where they served alongside 35-ish other students & leaders from other area churches to help fix-up an HIV/AIDS residential camp. While they were able to use the gifts of their health, strength, resources, and abilities to help rebuild this camp for the residents, they received a wonderful gift from God of being able to see what true, unabashed faith in Him really looks like. One of our leaders and a dear friend of mine Elyse who went on the trip has been posting a daily journal of their experience, and she put it this way:

All of the residents have a unbreakable faith and a spiritual wealth amidst their conditions, maybe even because of their conditions. And I fear I will never know it. The worst part is, I wouldn’t trade what I have for what they have, and it makes me feel like I am missing the mark. In many ways they have a richness that I will never know.

Let me just tell you that even though I did not go on the trip and very likely was not even close to affected by the trip as the way those who DID go were, I can tell you that hearing the stories of how people were moved by God's work there has been a forceful perspective and great inspiration for me over the last few days. This dental business has been just one of those ways that I've seen this take shape.

I am a woman in a country where I can basically do and be whatever I want to do and be. I live in a part of the world where I can work hard, draw a paycheck, receive access to incredible medical care AND insurance where I actually pay for very little of it. I can have access to food whenever I want it - and oh, by the way, I pay to belong to a part of a farm where someone else does all the work and I reap the benefits. I don't need to walk for miles to get water that I only HOPE is clean - I merely have to turn on my faucet.

Forget what my paycheck says - I am ridiculously blessed just by virtue of being an American citizen with all the opportunity that comes along with that.

Blessings are gifts from God because He loves us and none of the resources that I have are mine because I deserve them: they are mine because they are a gift. Dental Insurance is a GIFT. Access to clean dental care to prevent rot & infection is a GIFT. Everything that God has provided me with is a gift - if I don't use it with a joyful heart and make the best of it... that probably breaks his heart knowing that there are other children of His who do not have what I have who would not take any of it for granted.

And so, yesterday as the numbness wore off in my face and I began to feel a dull ache in the three back teeth where I had been drilled, filled, and sent on my way - my heart became chock-full of gratefulness. For God has blessed me with more than I ever could have asked for and definitely more than I can ever possibly need... and for some reason, He decided that a gentle reminder about going to the dentist was going to be how He reminded me of this.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Go 'Round Back

Steve and I are planners by nature, so of course when we knew we had a weekend coming up in Martha's Vineyard we needed to make sure we mapped out places we were going to eat. While looking through Yelp and a couple of travel books for recommended places, Steve stumbled upon this place called "Back Door Donuts".

Before I go any further, if you don't know then you should know that my husband has a weakness for baked goods. Delicious warm cookies or donuts are a huge temptation for him, and that weakness is multiplied exponentially when the words "apple fritter" or "cannoli" are involved.

So imagine the reaction when, while looking through Yelp reviews of "Back Door Donuts", that Steve had when more than one reviewer left comments that the apple fritters served at this establishment were "orgasmic". I do believe there was eye-popping and excited pointing at my laptop that had I not immediately typed furiously onto the keyboard and added it to the list we were compiling, I'm pretty sure Steve might have exploded like the old Starburst commercials. Needless to say - we were going to Back Door Donuts.

After a shared dinner at The Lookout in Oak Bluffs, we made our way over to BDD. We had checked at the front counter earlier in the day (the store is actually called "Martha's Vineyard Gourmet Bakery") and knew 7:30 PM was the magical time that they started to serve donuts & pastries. What we didn't know was where to find them; we could smell them, but didn't know where to go to get them. The nice lady at the counter told us to follow the building and head around to the back - and that we'd know where to go from there. She wasn't kidding - when we got to the back of the building, there was quite a line already formed waiting for the deliciousness.

Steve stepped out of line to snap this. You can see me across from the lady in the white t-shirt. I'm wearing a blue sweatshirt, glasses, and have a lighter blue purse handle.
I will say this about standing in a line like this: there's a feeling that comes along with. A feeling of coolness, a feeling of being in the "in-club", those who KNOW things. This isn't the kind of place that you stumble on while walking through downtown Oak Bluffs; you won't see the line while strolling by shops and restaurants because the back door is nestled between the back of a small mom & pop grocer and the small strip of shops the bakery's front is in. Basically - in order to find this place you have to KNOW about it before getting to it somehow.

After about a 10-minute wait in line, we were at the window. We ordered an apple-fritter each and shared a glazed donut. After hearing me order an apple fritter, Steve pointed at a monstrosity and commented that I should have gotten the cinnamon bun... what he didn't realize that we soon discovered is that the plate-sized object he pointed at was the famed apple fritter itself. It was seriously the size of a salad plate, was warm and gooey (but not TOO gooey), and had a smattering of fresh cinnamon apples across the top. Frankly, it looked closer to a loaf of apple monkey bread than an apple fritter... and also looked delicious, which made us excited to dig in.

Fritter sitting on Steve's lap waiting to be eaten. It's freaking huge.
We got about halfway through this beast before we had to take a break; thankfully, Steve had run into the front of the bakery and got us some waters to help wash it down. It was SO good. It was warm, sticky without making you filthy and gross feeling, had what could be the perfect amount of cinnamon, wasn't greasy but yet almost melted in your mouth. What I loved about this fritter over others is that instead of that jellied apple goo, they actually put fresh chopped apples tossed in cinnamon sugar on top. It was the perfect "garnish" to this giant, delicious fried cake. Needless to say that even after sharing dinner and purposely leaving room for this puppy, we were both incredibly full.

But the question is: was it worth it? Absolutely. We made sure that others who were walking by smelling our delicious fritters knew exactly where they could get them. One couple saw us eating them, assumed we got them from the bakery, and when the wife went inside I told the husband to get her out of there and go around to the back. He ran in after her and off they went. It was awesome helping others to be "in the know", spreading the word about the amazingness that is Back Door Donuts.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sounds of the Vineyard

Last weekend, Steve and I took a 3-day trip down to Martha's Vineyard as a late anniversary weekend. We had lots of good food, saw a lot of cool things, made an inventory of what we would want to do if we came again. One of the things we want to make sure we set time aside to see if we go to the Vineyard again I just had to share with you in the event you're planning to head down there at all this summer.

Friday night as we were recovering from our food hangover from Back Door Donuts (which will have its own post dedicated to it soon), we were walking back to our hotel past St. Andrew's Church in Edgartown when Steve paused and commented that he thought it was weird to have church services so late. There was music and lights coming through the stained glass windows and it sounded GOOD. We wandered over to the wide-open doors of the church because we wanted to see for ourselves what was going on - and we found something we wished we'd known about sooner.

In the front of the room were 8 or 10 college-aged young men singing A-Capella for a crowd of about 30-50 people. They were snapping their fingers, smiling, and as only would be seen on the Vineyard were dressed in untucked blue button-down shirts, solid colored ties (each guy had a different color), khaki shorts, and no shoes. That's right - a preppy A-Capella group which we found out were appropriately named The Vineyard Sound.

We happened to come at just the right time for the end of the song "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" and let me tell you - the guy singing lead on that had so much energy and soul that you could not help but get energized with him as each word passed out of his lungs. Outside the church sanctuary stood a simple folding table with a cash box open for accepting cash and a few stacks of CD's letting everyone know that the beautiful voices coming out of the church were those of the Vineyard Sound.

Vineyard Sound is exactly what it looks like - a group of college-aged young men who sing A-Capella on Martha's Vineyard. They arrive on the island in early June, practice heavily all summer and perform around the island in various venues. If you are on the Vineyard at all this summer, make sure to check their performance schedule ahead of time and plan on stopping in to one of their shows. I know that we wish we had known about them sooner - trust me, you won't regret it. Steve and I both agree that these guys could easily be in the same league as Straight No Chaser.

Here are some YouTube videos of their performances... kind of a "Try Before You Buy" so you don't just have to take my word for it.

The 2011 Vineyard Sound performing "Southern Cross".

The 2008 Vineyard Sound performing "Signed, Sealed, Delivered". The 2011 VS are the guys we saw sing this - they were just as good, and better live.