The Lord is at Hand

I love the passage in Philippians about rejoicing always and not be anxious about everything and the peace which passes all understanding guarding my heart and mind.  It is such a beautiful picture!

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand;

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

People tend to cross stitch “Rejoice in the Lord always” on pillows.  We see greeting cards reminding us not to “be anxious about anything, but in everything … give thanks.” And condolences during grief or challenging times often repeat the phrase, “the peace which surpasses all understanding….”

Yet, sometimes the commands to rejoice and not be anxious seem harsh and burdensome.

There is a little phrase in the middle of these verses we leave off of the marketing materials.  It’s right there between rejoice and don’t be anxious:

The Lord is at hand.

Why doesn’t that make the pillows, t-shirts, greeting cards, and calendars?

The only way we can rejoice in all circumstances, be reasonable, abandon anxiety, and give thanks as we make our requests known to God is to live in the knowledge that the Lord is at hand.  The only way to experience the peace that passes all understanding is to pursue the presence of God.  And the only way we have the power to live according to his design is to recognize his presence in our mundane moments.

When we strip the comfort and confidence of knowing the Lord is at hand from the instructions on how to live, we forfeit the peace that passes understanding – the very thing he promises.  We accept a burden we were never meant to bear.

Rejoicing and freedom from anxiety aren’t so much rules to be obeyed, as they are the natural result of living under the hand of the Lord.

I’ve seen a new trend in t-shirts lately.  “I play soccer.  What’s your super power?” or “I’m a Girl Scout Leader.  What’s your super power?”  I’d love to see a shirt following this trend that says, “The Lord is at hand.  What’s your super power?”

The Lord is at Hand

Honestly, how would it change your day today if you simply remembered the verse (or part of verse) “The Lord is at hand”?

Right Tool, Right Job

I built a bookshelf yesterday.  Actually, it would be more accurate to say I assembled the bookshelf – it came pre-made and ready to assemble.

On the first page of the assembly instructions, there was a list of tools required to do the job right.  I needed a hammer, two screw drivers, an allen wrench, and a level.

A few days earlier, I started some bread to bake.  For that job I needed a mixing bowl, measuring spoons, a measuring cup and a rubber scraper.  Oh, and I needed a dutch oven and some parchment paper, too.

How well do you think my shelves would’ve turned out if I’d brought the tools from my bread making venture?  What would the bread be like if I’d chosen a hammer and some screw drivers instead of measuring cups and spoons?

Better still, what would either project look like if I failed to use any tools?  Think about making bread for a minute: without any tools, I’d have to get the water, without a faucet or cup, add it to a flour, yeast, sugar, and salt on the counter (or is the counter a tool) and mix it together without a bowl.  Then I’d need to get it hot enough to initiate the chemical reaction which turns ingredients into a product without an oven.

It is a losing proposition.

God made us for a specific purpose and he gave instructions on how to build our lives and listed the tools necessary to put it together right.  On that list of tools are relationships.  We were created for relationships that help us to fulfill God’s calling.

And no one is called to be the Lone Ranger.

We were created for good works:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.   – Ephesians 2:10

We were called for a purpose:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.   – Romans 8:28

We are supposed to work together:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.   – Hebrews 10:24-25

Our friendships are vital to our ability to do what God has called us to do.  Our friendships were given by God to help us to do what he has asked us to do.  We were created for relationships that direct us to God and help us to fulfill God’s calling.

Are you using the right tool for the right job?  Or are you trying to build shelves with a wooden spoon?

Friendships are a gift.  Friendships are a calling.  Friendships are necessary to accomplish God’s work.

C’mon!  Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. 🙂

Lone Ranger and Tonto

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The Lone Ranger and Tonto by ABC Television [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Behind Closed Doors

When we remodeled our kitchen a few years ago, I considered open shelving to replace the upper cabinets.  Since it would also have cost a lot less, I almost convinced my husband it was a good idea.  Then he pointed out it could negatively affect our resale value if we ever go to sell the house.

Have you ever seen those kitchens in magazines with open shelving instead of upper cabinets?

Shelves vs. Cabinet with DoorsThe reason those pictures look so refreshing and open is because the contents of the shelves are neatly arranged.  In reality, many kitchens need the cabinet doors to keep chocolate chip bags from tumbling out onto the counter or to hide the disorganized stacks of dishes mixed with canned goods, school supplies, paper products and appliances.

We decided on traditional cabinets with doors we could close.

But that doesn’t mean I have to hide a disorganized mess or trap falling chocolate (just eat it already, right?) behind closed doors.

I feed at least nine people three times per day.  We require a lot of dishes.  We require large cookware.  We need lots of place mats, flatware, cups, and food.

How do I organize my kitchen for efficiency and house the size and quantity of items I need?

  1. I am ruthless about what we keep.  If it’s not pulling its weight in the kitchen its gone.  For me this meant getting rid of the microwave.  It took up precious counter space and we only used it to melt butter, sterilize sponges, and make popcorn.  {What about leftovers, you ask? Leftovers for nine people take longer to heat up in the microwave than doing it in the oven or on the stove.  Whether you do it plate by plate or multiple dishes at a time, the microwave loses the contest when you have a lot of people for whom you are re-heating.}
  2. I am careful about where I store the things we keep.

In our house there are eight people who can put things away, and a ninth who can wreak havoc on a cabinet at lightning speed.

In addition to being creative with chemicals to keep them out of reach of the havoc-wreaker, I have organized our kitchen for ease of use for the people who most often use the various kitchen-y items.  There’s nothing amazing about our kitchen or what we use in it, but sometimes its nice to see alternative ways to organize or store things.

Our quirky kitchen would not work for some families, but for us, for now, it’s working well.

Here are some of the little things we’ve done in our kitchen:

Base Cabinets

Dinnerware (plates and bowls of various sizes) is stored in base cabinets.  This allows me to load them up with 27 place settings (dinner plates, salad plates, bread-and-butter plates, cups, saucers, bowls) without fear of the cabinet falling off the wall.  It also means my five-year old can unload the dishwasher independently.  We keep our paper plates and plastic/melamine plates with the dinner plates, so there is one place to go for plates when it is time to set the table.

We have a lower cabinet directly behind the sink in our island.  It contains storage containers – glass and plastic.  Above it is a drawer with baggies, and on the door is a rack to hold foil, plastic wrap, waxed paper, etc.  Everything we need to handle leftovers is together.  And after the food is packed away, we can just turn around and set the dishes on the “dirty side” of the sink.

Foods my children regularly get on their own or serve for the family are stored in a pair of base cabinets.  This includes things like chips and crackers and fixin’s for s’mores, as well as breakfast foods like pop-tarts and cereal.  Each child also has a small “candy bin” and one pull-out shelf is dedicated to these.

Baking supplies (mixing bowls, hand mixers, measuring devices) and small appliances all have homes in lower cabinets as well.  My kids can easily reach a mixing bowl to pick strawberries or whip up a batch of cookies.  Since we regularly cook for a crowd, I have a couple of sets of mixing bowls, several liquid measuring cups, half a dozen sets of measuring spoons, and a couple of sets of measuring cups.

Next to the baking supplies cabinet, also down low, is a cabinet housing pie plates stacked by size and bread pans.

One lower cabinet is a pull-out drawer with two trash cans: one for recycle, one for trash.  We have this neat system where my recycling expert (a.k.a. 9-year old) takes the recyle and sorts it every morning.  While he’s gone, my waste management expert (a.k.a. 11-year old) takes out the trash.  When the recycling expert returns with the empty bag, he lines the trash can with it.  Then he uses a new trash bag for the recycle can.  In this way we get to reuse our recycle bags for rubbish.

Under the sink I have a plastic drawer that holds rags, drying mats, and extra towels.  On top of this drawer we keep a small strainer and a large colander.  Next to this I have upright separators to hold my cutting and carving boards.  And in the middle, I keep a roll of trash bags.

Another base cabinet holds small appliances – blender, food chopper, waffle irons, electric skillet, juicer, cotton candy machine (confession: I LOVE cotton candy!), air popper for popcorn, ice cream maker, bread machine, etc.

One lower cabinet holds our pots and pot lids.  Pans with handles hang from a rack near the cook-top.

Another lower cabinet has separator racks to hold cookie sheets, jelly roll pans, pizza pans, and muffin pans upright.

We have a small base cabinet that holds cookie cutters, decorative sugars, birthday candles, muffin-cup liners, and other fun food-project items.

We also have one lower cabinet, on the table side of the island, which houses play dough and school supplies (usually the lab kit for science goes here, though occasionally the chemicals needed are stored separately in the chemical cabinet near the sink.)

Drawers

We have a drawer under our double oven where we store placemats.  Since it’s a the floor level, even the two-year old can help with setting the table.

I keep parchment paper, rolling pins, thermometers, and oven mitts/hot pads in a drawer between the oven and the cook-top.

Just to the right of the cook top is a small drawer where I keep spoons and forks that don’t match anything.  These are handy for tasting foods while cooking.

One drawer near the cook top is dedicated to serving utensils – large forks, slotted spoons, tongs.  You get the idea.

And I have a drawer for specialty utensils like pizza cutters, cheese grater and cheese slicer, egg slicer, micro planer, basting brushes, etc.  This drawer is in the island and can be reached from the island (where we do a lot of food prep), cook-top, and sink.

One drawer is dedicated to scoops and metal whisks (plastic ones used in non-stick pans are in a crock near the stove).  I have a cookie scoop, mini-muffin scoop, and a muffin scoop stored here.  And I keep two balloon whisks, a flat whisk, and a ring whisk laid neatly in this drawer.

We use one drawer for our kitchen towels and twist ties, rubber bands, and chip clips.  I keep two towels for each day of the week – and they are actually embroidered with the name of the day of the week so we can tell if we’ve changed them.  Since there is a max of 12 towels in the drawer at any given time, it doesn’t take a huge drawer.

Yes, I have the proverbial “junk drawer.”  It has a multi-compartment organizer in it to sort broken toys from clothes pins from glue and tape, etc.  Nothing startling here!

We keep silverware in a drawer on the table side of the island.  It’s pretty far from the dishwasher, but we decided it was more handy to have silverware near the table for table setting and to grab something quickly while eating than to have the drawer near the dishwasher.  The dishwasher silverware tray lifts out and can be carried to the drawer for easy unloading.

I also keep trivets and coasters in a drawer near the table for the same reason.

Upper Cabinets

I have a cabinet over the ovens (we have a double wall oven) full of casserole dishes, bundt and tube pans, and cake pans of various sizes and shapes.  I also store my cupcake safe up there because it’s the only place large enough. 🙂

Serving dishes are in upper cabinets near the stove.  It makes it easy to grab a dish and serve right from where I’m cooking.  Most of the kids who cook are tall enough to reach the serving dishes, so they don’t need my help to get dinner from cook top to table.  Since several of our serving dishes are special gifts from others, I like having them out of reach of the two-year old.

I have another upper cabinet that holds open packages of paper napkins, special party plates/supplies for the next birthday or special event, and sometimes I put potatoes in this cabinet to keep them happy until I’m ready to use them.

In the kitchen, we store only the chemicals and cleaners we need in the kitchen.  Open bottles are kept on the top shelf of an upper cabinet.  If we buy in bulk, unopened bottles stay downstairs in our “Market” until we need to put them to use.

I also store all medicines in the kitchen.  Most of the time someone needs water to take it anyway, so the kitchen is a handy place.  Our medicines stay on a medium-high shelf in the same cabinet with chemicals.  My older kids can reach them if necessary, but my two-year old can’t, even if he climbs onto the counter.

We do keep glasses and coffee cups in an upper cabinet between the sink and the refrigerator.  The coffee pot lives nearby as well.  And one drawer, under the coffee pot, is dedicated to an extra set of spoons and ice cream scoops to make drink preparation easy.

I have an upper cabinet with pitchers and vases so kool-aid and fresh picked flowers can be quickly dispatched.

I only keep one upper cabinet for food.  Food that stays in the kitchen is food that will be used in the upcoming week.  By shopping day, it is essentially empty.  I say essentially because I also keep honey, soy butter (we have a peanut allergy), ketchup, tea bags, and kool-aid in this cabinet and they don’t get used up every week.

Oh!  And I do have this awesome piece of furniture my step-dad made for me years ago.  It has served as a bookshelf, closet, tool chest, and pantry over its many years.  But right now it acts as a baker’s pantry.  This cabinet sits next to the refrigerator and holds all the ingredients needed for baking – flour, sugars, chocolate chips, oatmeal, salt, baking soda and powder….  It also holds my cake decorating supplies and cookbooks.  Since I store all these products in plastic bins (we buy 25# bags of sugar and 50# bags of flour), it takes a large cabinet.  This one is 7ft tall, 3 ft wide, and 1 ft deep.   Spices for cooking (not baking) are stored near the stove in racks attached to the wall.

Out of the Kitchen

Most of our food lives in the “Market” downstairs.  The Market is a small room with the water heater and air conditioner/heater units.  But it is large enough to hold our chest freezer, a second refrigerator, and long shelves of non-perishable food.  I buy commonly used foods (for us) in bulk when it is less expensive and we store it all in the Market.  {My kids LOVE to “run down to the market and grab some green beans, a loaf of bread, and a gallon of milk.” “)} I also store little-used items in the market: canning supplies, roasting pans, coolers, buckets for brining turkey, baskets for picking fruit, and 20qt and larger stock pots.  These are all items I actually use, but not very often.  I don’t want them cluttering my kitchen, but I need them someplace clean and convenient. Cooler bags are stored in the back of our van.  This keeps them right where I need them when we head to Sam’s Club or if it’s hot when I shop for groceries.  It also keeps them out of the house. 🙂

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Photo Credit:
Open Shelving by Brian Stansberry (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Stumble on Joy

Mike & Julia's Wedding

My husband and I celebrated our 15th anniversary in May.  The next day I read an article posted on Facebook that talked about what the person we deserve should be like.

The author (I don’t know if she’s single or married) started with the awesome truth that we should look for someone who “wants to be there and won’t run away when times get tough.”  She also hints at important things like faithfulness, service, compassion, forgiveness, trust, security, inspiration, and love for a lifetime.

The trouble I have is her predominant focus on things we deserve, like butterflies in your stomach when you see his/her smile, laughter at your jokes, just-because flowers, hugs that “feel like home,” moments where they have hurt you, yet hold you until you are ready to forgive, tingly skin at the touch of their hand, eyes that only see you in the room, unconditional attendance on all your adventures, kisses while you vomit, responses to all texts… and the list goes on.

Maybe I’m jaded, but life just doesn’t look like that.

I am so glad my husband doesn’t hold me to this impossible, romantic standard when he decides to come home at the end of every day.

As awesome as it is for your skin to tingle at the touch of that special someone – there will be days as a mommy when you are all touched out and it is a choice to grow together which inspires intimacy more than the brush of the hand.  And when it comes down to it, I find it far more romantic (and helpful) when Mike presses a cold cloth to my forehead when I am losing my lunch than kisses.

There are still moments when his smile causes butterflies in my stomach, but not every smile.  Sometimes butterflies come when his back is turned to me as he cooks breakfast.

There are still some mornings when I don’t want to let go of the hug goodbye, but other mornings I am preoccupied with the child smearing I-don’t-know-what-and-I’m-not-sure-I-want-to on the wall down the hall.

Mostly I object to her idea of “deserving” something from someone.  What I really deserve is Hell.  Plain and simple:  I sinned, I deserve hell and nothing more or less.

Deserve undermines the desire to serve – and isn’t that the life to which we were called (Mark 10:42-45; 1 Peter 2:21, 1 Peter 4:10; Galatians 5:13; Romans 12:10, John 13:14; Ephesians 5:25, and the list goes on…)?  If I base my commitment on getting what I deserve, I leave open the option to leave if my spouse doesn’t deliver.  There is simply no biblical precedent for leaving a marriage because I am not getting what I deserve – to the contrary, 1 Corinthians asks, “Why not rather be wronged?” before taking our troubles into the courtroom.

Does that mean I should marry someone who treats me poorly?  Absolutely not!  But it’s not because I deserve more, it’s because I was created for more.

So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:27

That image of God in me (and every other human being who has ever walked the face of the earth) requires respect, awe, and special care.  Not because I deserve it, but because God does.

All the tingly-skin moments, the security and faithfulness, the flowers-for-no-reason, and the hold-me-while-I-cry-even-though-it’s-your-fault moments are grace – in essence, undeserved.

And while I want to serve my husband in so many of the ways this article suggests he “deserves” (because if I deserve it, consistency demands he does too, right?), I sure don’t want to be measured by my performance.  Which means I can’t measure him, or our relationship, by these standards either.

Fifteen years ago we vowed to do life together before God, to raise any children God gave us in the fear and admonition of the Lord, and to fight to stay together.

In God’s providence in the intervening years we have born the heartbreak of losing parents, babies, and dear friends.  We have had our hearts broken by the betrayal of others, grieved in ministry together, and wearied in parenting side by side. We have hurt each other a gazillion times and sometimes my heart burned in anger rather than with passion for this amazing man with whom I still choose to do life.

In God’s providence and with great intentionality we have also grown into private jokes, silly traditions, sweet affection, looks, and a richness we would never experienced if we gave up when we weren’t getting what we “deserved.” And after 15 years, Mike knows I’d trade fleeting butterflies in my stomach for a nice, juicy steak any day.  (The great part is Mike + steak often generates butterflies.)

I know I’ve *only* been married for 15 years and I have a lot to learn in the years to come.  I’m looking forward to it!

One thing I do know, we didn’t make it to 15 years by focussing on what we deserve.  Most of our fights have arisen from that focus.  And though focusing on getting what we deserve promises joy, it lies.  But when I focus on where I can serve more than on what I deserve, I stumble on joy.  It’s right there – impossible to pursue – but easy to find.

The Path from Creation to Cuisine

Give ThanksWhen our family sits down to the table to eat, we pray.  We start every meal by thanking God for our food.  In most cases, it’s the food we just made.  There are people who think it is a bit odd.  For people who don’t know God, it must seem quite strange… why would you thank God for something you just made yourself?

Of course, we know he provided the ingredients, intelligence, and technology to cook a meal.  Yes, I could say I “own” the ingredients – my husband worked for the money to buy the ingredients and the kitchen in which I cooked it.  I studied to learn to cook and I spent my time and energy to make the food.  But if you look far enough back, you still get to God.  He created the water, caused the sun and rain for the wheat to grow, hid the fungus in the dark that would eventually cause my bread to rise, and so on.  So when we thank him for the food, I am thanking him for all he has down to bring us to the point of eating this meal together.

Okay.  It’s pretty easy for most Christians to see the path from creation to cuisine.  Food is one of those things that direct our hearts to God in thankfulness.

Other things can be harder to recognize.

It is sometimes hard to remember God created me with the gifts, intelligence, and drive to succeed in my field of expertise.  I tend to accept praise as if I’d arrived at this place by the sweat of my brow.  In reality, the need for the sweat of my brow is my only real contribution.  I was made for an un-fallen world.  My sin broke things and now it is hard to do what I was made to do.

God created me for a purpose, I added the difficulty to accomplishing it.

I sometimes blame him for the trials I encounter as I seek to answer his call, but how often do I thank him for how he uniquely created me and for the privilege of being part of his plan for redemption?

What about friends?  Do I give God the glory and turn to him in thankfulness for my relationships?  God is all about relationship.  Before the existence of the universe, he was in perfect relationship within the God-head: Father, Son, and Spirit in perfect, unbroken unity.  Then he created man – in his own image – for relationship.  He invited us into the sweet, eternal communion with Father, Son, and Spirit.  And he created other people for relationship, too.

All our relationships were designed to direct us toward God.  Sometimes I think certain relationships direct me toward God because they are so difficult they drive me to my knees, but that’s not really what I’m talking about here. 🙂

You know, when we pray and give thanks before a meal when we are in public, sometimes people wonder a little bit about our family.  In a good way.  What would it be like if people saw us regularly giving thanks for our abilities – properly assigning credit and praise?  What would it say to a watching world if we took time to pause and thank God, regularly, for our relationships?  The good, the bad, and the ugly?

We were created with gifts and for relationships that direct us to God.  What would it do to our hearts if we consistently thanked God, praised him, and gave him the credit/glory for who we are and who we know?

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Give Thanks by Albrecht Dürer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons