2017 February

Haitian Rice & Beans: Savoring Time Around the Table

Posted by | culture, Recipes | No Comments

This weekend our agenda was to have no agenda. After a harried and hurried month of February – full of Valentine’s Day festivities, Monday holidays, birthday parties, meetings and more – we needed a break. On Saturday, we slept in, made a late brunch of pumpkin pancakes and chicken sausage. We wore our jammies until noon. I can’t remember the last time I did that. It was glorious!

Saturday evening we invited our Haitian friend, Gerby, to dinner. He has been in town throughout the last six months for chemo and radiation treatments for cancer. Miraculously, he is growing stronger each day and his scans have been clear. Having him in our home was a fresh reminder that each day is precious and time together around the table is to be savored.

Gerby helped us make some of our favorite Haitian foods, while I wrote down and tinkered with the recipes. We made a huge pot of Soup Joumou (Pumpkin & Beef Soup). This recipe is part of a children’s writing project I’m working on. (I’ll have to share that one another time.)

We also cooked up a pot of my girls’ favorite – Haitian Rice & Beans. After living in and traveling to Haiti many times over the last decade, our family has come to love this staple in Haitian cuisine. It sounds simple but the flavors have a surprising depth with a mix of garlic, cloves and peppers to season the rice. When rice and beans are combined they have a certain synergy that makes them a “complete protein.” This also serves as a hearty main dish if you’re on a budget. We were all scraping the pot at the end for the last spoonful of “diri ak pwa!”

Haitian Rice & Beans

Ingredients:
3 cloves garlic
1 cup dried red kidney beans or pinto beans
2 teaspoons salt, divided
6 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups rice
2 tablespoons salted butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon green pepper, minced
½  teaspoon thyme
¼ teaspoon cloves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 quart organic chicken broth

Directions:

1.  Add 6 cups of water to a pot. Rinse beans and add to water with 1 teaspoon salt and 3 whole cloves of garlic.

2. Boil the beans for 45 minutes to 1 hour until they are just soft. (You can test the beans by cooling one and pressing it together with your fingers. You do not want to overcook them because they will be heated again with the rice.)

3. Add 1 teaspoon salt & pepper. Set beans aside.

4. Dice green pepper.

5. In a large pot, brown butter. Add garlic, salt, thyme, cloves, and green pepper to saute for a few minutes.

6. Add olive oil and rice. Coat rice with oil and spices.

7. While rice begins to cook, strain beans.

8. Add 1 quart organic chicken broth and cook for 15 minutes on medium-high or until liquid evaporates.

9. Add beans to rice and cook an additional 10 minutes or until rice and beans are fully cooked.

 

Makes approximately 12 servings.

When your morning feels stressful, start with music {and a free playlist!}

Posted by | discipline, fear, inspirational, rest, self-care, Stories, worship | One Comment

 

About a year ago I was struggling with how to spend my time in the morning. I got in this rhythm where the first thing I did was reach for my phone and start scrolling through social media. One thing would lead to the next. I would read an article here, a post there. I would start a conversation with a friend about that cute kid picture she posted on Instagram or my heart would get all worked up about that political meme I saw on Facebook.

Before I knew it, more than an hour had passed and little people were crawling into my room. The day was sucking me in. I felt crabby because I didn’t have any time to quiet my soul, to read my Bible, to connect with God. I knew I had to make a change. I was squandering my time, and it was affecting my attitude.

That’s when I decided to create a Morning Worship playlist. I longed for a new rhythm, a new way to start my day. I wanted to get back to seeing God’s glory from the moment I woke up.

I am that girl who had a different sound track for every season of life. If I hear U2 or Sade or Amy Grant or Miles Davis, I can conjure up memories of another place and another time in my life. I grew up making those mix tapes on my little boom box in the ‘80s and burning CDs in the ‘90s. I was always working to assemble that just-right blend of tunes.

In 2014, I discovered Spotify. If you’ve never used Spotify before, it’s a free music app or site where you can make your own music playlists or listen to what others have compiled. Yes, this is the 2017 version of those mix tapes I used to make. I fell in love. (I even splurge for the premium account now so I don’t have to listen to commercials.)

I needed music in 2014 more than any other year. I remember those days vividly. Each morning before school, I urged my three girls to kiss their daddy one more time. We would pile in the family Highlander with our usual mess of backpacks, coats and lunches. I often choked back the tears, wondering if this would be their last goodbye. As the cancer continued to spread through his body, I had to juggle “normal” mama duties and being his caretaker.

The only thing that would lift me from the horror of each day was worship music.

On the drive back to our house from school drop offs, I would blast my music. The lyrics washed over me, lifting me, guiding me home. I poured my heart out to God in song. And He met me there.

I learned to redefine worship in that season. Music was not just playing in the background. It was my guide taking me to God in the darkest moments.

One of my favorite examples of how God uses music to bring healing in the Bible is in 1 Samuel 16. King Saul was tormented by an evil spirit that filled him with fear. His servants suggested looking for someone to play the lyre. They understood the power of music to calm the soul. They recruited a young man named David.

I Samuel 16:23 says, “And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him” (ESV).

I recently read an article that talked about the neuroscience behind listening to music. The article said a single song can reduce anxiety up to 65 percent. Music has the power to calm our nervous system.

In this age of unprecedented stress in our jobs, swirling politics, chaos in our country, tension online between friends and in communities, we need to develop habits to start our day with our Creator who holds all things in His hands.

My challenge to myself and to you in 2017 is to start each morning with music. I’ve curated a FREE music playlist for my readers to get started. Try listening to just two worship songs each morning. Meditate on the words. Let them lead you into prayer or Bible study.

***

I hear the alarm ring out in the darkness. I lean over to turn it off and press play on my Morning Worship playlist. As my body and my mind are still waking up, the music dances through my room. I take in the truths of the lyrics. I pray. I open my Bible.

It’s a habit now.

This is the way I pivot toward God each morning instead of being sucked into the chaos of social media and the to-do list. This is the way I center myself. When dawn’s light slips into my bedroom window, I am ready for a new day.

Cover yourself with grace and join me.

 

Ready to start a new morning rhythm and start your day with music? I’d love to send you my specially-curated FREE Morning Worship playlist. You can try it out and then create your own!

Photo by Leio McLaren from Unsplash

Pressing into the bittersweet {and a love letter to my widow friends}

Posted by | behold, community, compassion, cooking, courage, flourishing, food stories, friendship, grief, hope, Stories | 6 Comments

 

My love language is food, and I love sharing it with my people.  This past Sunday night I hosted a dinner party at my house. In the afternoon, my girls helped me roll meatballs, frost mini bundt cakes and dip chocolate strawberries. We scrubbed toilets and pulled out extra chairs so we could fit all the guests around the table. While my oldest prepared activities for the kids, I lit a mess of candles and arranged flowers all over the house.

The goal: to make our friends feel loved and cherished.

After all, it’s Valentine’s week, and we needed to celebrate. As the guests began to spill in the door, the pasta water began to boil. Everyone gathered in the entryway exchanging hugs and catching up. The kids found their way to our office/playroom with no trouble and started up a game of heart bingo.

The party had officially commenced.

A few friends helped me in the kitchen and we served up steaming platters of pumpkin ravioli with alfredo sauce and beef tortellini with tomato-meat ragu. We passed an antipasto salad and crusty bread with softened butter around the table. The volume rose with little clusters of friends all around the room chatting and telling stories.

You might not be able to tell it from the outside, but we all had one thing in common. We were all widows.

To be honest, this is not the kind of gathering I ever expected to have at my house. This certainly was never the story I would have written for myself. When I read my wedding vows to my beloved Ericlee, the thought never crossed my mind that I would be widowed before the age of 40. I never thought about navigating grief with my three daughters all under the age of 8 when their daddy graduated to heaven. Prior to his cancer diagnosis, all our dinner parties were with family and couples and friends with kids.

As I gazed around the table Sunday night, I experienced something surprisingly bittersweet.

Author Shauna Niequist illuminates this poignantly: “Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a sliver of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich when it contains a splinter of sadness.”

As my widow friends told stories, rich laughter rang out around the table. It was contagious. One story led to the next and to the next. An evening that could have been somber, that could have been spent home alone on the couch, was suddenly dripping with bittersweet like those strawberries dipped in dark chocolate.

We savored every bite.

I know Valentine’s Day can be hard when you are missing someone you love. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but we were all surprised by joy and a few tears as we each remembered what we loved most about our husbands. Each one talked about husbands who had made them feel loved and cherished, who were their cheerleaders, their best friends, their spiritual leaders and the faithful fathers of their children.

I saw courageous mothers around that table. I saw women digging deep to rise above the ashes. I saw widows who were not willing to be defined by pity, but instead held fast to faith. Their strength buoyed mine.

We sent each of the women home that night with a bouquet of roses. As they drove away, I was struck by how, despite life’s thorns, God cultivates resilience in us through community. The blessing Sunday night was all mine.

 

***

 

Dear Widow Friend,

Today I know may feel bittersweet. I know the very thought of Valentine’s Day may prick your heart and trigger your memories. I know you will be scrolling through social media and see all the pictures of couples, and you will miss him.

You will stop and wonder how this came to be. You will ask yourself why you have to endure this holiday without your beloved. Again. I urge you to press in. Give yourself permission to grieve. Allow yourself to step into those memories. Don’t try to shut it down.

Remind yourself what you loved most about your man. Jot down some of those special things he did or the words he would gift to you on a day like today. Tell your kids about that silly gift he brought you that one year or the way he always showed up with flowers.

It’s ok to be a little sad on Valentine’s Day. It’s alright to shed a few tears – or even a deluge of tears if you have to – as you look at his pictures, as you remember the curve of his jaw and the tenor of his laughter.

I don’t want you to forget that you are still cherished. You are still loved.

I can’t help thinking about women in the Bible like Hagar who wandered in the wilderness with her child. God found her there. “Where have you come from and where are you going?” He asked her. He cared about her story. He saw her in her brokenness and leaned in close to see her, to listen to her.

Our God who sees is bending close to see you today.

I can’t help thinking about the widow, Ruth, who lost her husband and all the providers in her life. She followed her mother-in-law to a foreign land. She trusted God even in her grief. And He provided for her in Bethlehem. She was given food and shelter – and eventually a husband who brought new value to her life. A kinsman redeemer.

Widow friend, He provides for us in Bethlehem too.

I don’t pretend to know where or when or how God will provide for you, but I know He will. He is always, always, always working underground on your behalf. He may give you the gift of community. He may speak to you in a sunset. He may sing to you through the radio or the tune of a bird. Look for Him today. Listen for his love notes.

On this Valentine’s Day, I am extending my hands to you. I wish you courage and kindness and grace. And I wish you love.

Dorina

A Book Review: Nothing to Prove by Jennie Allen

Posted by | book reviews, community, margin, Stories, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

 

I am a recovering achiever. I was raised in a family of Filipino-Italian immigrants of the pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps variety. I attended a college prep school from elementary through high school. As I was growing up, I raced from piano lessons to dance lessons to theater productions to year-round sports events. I was the editor of the yearbook in high school and the newspaper in college. In short, my schedule was always packed, my homework list long, and my dreams and goals list was even longer.

This was my foundation.

None of these things is bad, of course. In fact, I am thankful for my family, my education and the way God wired me. I am also a person who thrives on words of encouragement and affirmation. Today I recognize that this combination of life experiences and personality traits can be dangerous. All that striving. All that reaching can be a perfect storm for breakdown.

In recent years, my brokenness covered by God’s amazing grace has far outweighed my appetite for achieving but I still have to be cautious about a natural tendency to strive. When I opened the pages of Jennie Allen’s newly-released book, Nothing to Prove: Why We can Stop Trying So Hard, I felt like she was speaking right into my recovering achiever’s heart.

“My prayer is for you to start enjoying the freedom that comes when we quit trying to prove ourselves, when we surrender what is out of control to the One who is control,” she writes. “We strive to be seen, to be known, to matter….We are not enough. We are not God.”

Nothing to Prove is written for the weary traveler, the woman who is overwhelmed by expectations and pressures, as well as the hidden belief that she is not good enough, talented enough or spiritual enough. Jennie shares real-life stories of her own struggle with inadequacy and insecurity, and then invites readers into a more spacious, grace-filled place.

The book is divided into two parts. Part One tells Jennie’s story of striving and invites readers “to start enjoying the freedom that comes when we quit trying to prove ourselves, when we surrender what is out of control to the One who is in control.”

Part Two focuses on the following feelings and insecurities that plague women: thirsty, lonely, tired, passive, afraid, ashamed and empty. Jennie unpacks how God is enough for each one of us in those places. Jennie uniquely starts each chapter with the retelling of a Bible story in first person. Her words make these familiar stories come alive in a new way.

I especially resonated with her retelling of one of my favorite passages, John 11, when Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that their brother Lazarus is deathly ill. Jennie writes from Mary’s perspective running through all the doubts and emotions she must have felt as she waited for Jesus to come. I’ve studied and even taught this story many times but Jennie helped me see it with new eyes.

What I appreciate is that Jennie writes the way she speaks. I have had the privilege of hearing Jennie speak live several times at conferences. I have also joined her at the dinner table with a small group of leaders. In real life and her book, I love her vulnerability, authenticity and passion. She is at once an honest storyteller and a passionate preacher.

This weekend she will be leading the IF:Gathering in Austin, Texas while thousands around the globe will watch through simulcast. I have the privilege of helping host our own IF:Fresno gathering here in Fresno, California at The Bridge Church starting at 5:30 p.m. today and 9a.m.-4:30  p.m. Saturday. This event brings women leaders and preachers from all over the globe to gather and share with an eager audience of women. I’m grateful for Jennie’s vision to disciple a generation of women.

Jennie always challenges me and calls me up as a leader. She writes, “The degree to which we believe and embrace our identity as a Spirit-filled child of God will be the degree to which His light shines through us. We are God’s and He is ours. He is in us and through us and with us. That is our identity and it changes everything.”

The lesson is not lost on me: If I am secure in my identity in Christ, I have nothing to prove.