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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Solitude Devotional

My church, Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara, asked me to write a study guide on the spiritual discipline of solitude for this month - July 2011.

I've mentioned this to a few friends I know and they have asked me for a copy, so I've decided to post it here. It will guide you through daily devotions for the entire month of July.

I'd be very curious to hear any feedback, should you choose to use it. The content came almost purely from my own pursuit of intimacy with God in these last 2 1/2 years or so. I've spent time studying Benedictine spirituality, reading authors like Henri Nouwen, Scot McKnight, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Parker Palmer, Kathleen Norris and Thomas Merton.

In terms of my own time today, this psalm came into my reading. It was a profound blessing that spoke directly to where I am right now. May your times with God this coming month be rich and real in new ways. Amen.

Psalm 4
1 Answer me when I call to you,
O God who declares me innocent.
Free me from my troubles.
Have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

2 How long will you people ruin my reputation?
How long will you make groundless accusations?
How long will you continue your lies?

3 You can be sure of this:
The Lord set apart the godly for himself.
The Lord will answer when I call to him.

4 Don’t sin by letting anger control you.
Think about it overnight and remain silent.

5 Offer sacrifices in the right spirit,
and trust the Lord.

6 Many people say, “Who will show us better times?”
Let your face smile on us, Lord.
7 You have given me greater joy
than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine.
8 In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Good Eats

Truth be told, my newest addiction has become the Food Network. Favorite show #1 is Chopped. Favorite show #2 is Cupcake Wars. Favorite show #3 is Iron Chef America (though the "Chairman" drives me batty). Favorite show #4 (and most relaxing to watch) is Diners, Drive-ins & Dives.

Strangely enough, these shows don't make me hungry. And I don't even aspire to cook the things I watch them make, even though I am awed by what they do. But these shows do make me itchy to cook the dishes I enjoy making.

So the combination of Food Network and the unspeakably gorgeous weather have got me in a great mood and going for it in the kitchen. In the last week I've pulled out these favorite recipes:
Good eats. Happy tummy. Great life.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Happy Birthday!

If you have ever been involved in a small group for Bible study or accountability, you have John Wesley to thank.

I mention that because he was born on this day in 1703. There are many admiring things I could mention about him, from his heart for the poor to his prophetic leadership vision to his passion for the lost to his profound focus on discipleship and growth. His energy for ministry was stunning. One of his biographers said he "rode 250,000 miles, gave away 30,000 pounds, ... and preached more than 40,000 sermons." The more I learn about him, the more I am impressed, humbled and grateful.

While much more could be said in celebration of his birth, I will simply end with these words from him:
Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can,
To all the people you can,
As long as ever you can.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Slow Work

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said,
“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We would like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet, it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability — ​and that it may take a very long time. Above all, trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.”

Sunday, June 26, 2011

True Power

I never tire of recognizing the dramatic contrast between the world's understanding of power ~ full of intimidation, abuse, ruthlessness and greed ~ with the truth of power in God's economy. For God, power is infinite, available to all, not given through fists or a battle of wills, but through the humiliation of the cross as suffered by Christ alone. Christ chose to pay the price for our sin in taking on the humiliation and profound suffering of crucifixion, thus demonstrating more power than we will ever see anywhere else in creation.

We sang this song this morning at church and I was reminded once again of the utter beauty of real transformation that is offered solely through the gospel. How can anyone turn this down? May we be dogged in sharing such lovely, good news.

by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend

Oh to see the dawn of the darkest day
Christ on the road to calvary
Tried by sinful men, torn and beaten then
Nailed to a cross of wood

This the pow’r of the cross
Christ became sin for us
Took the blame, bore the wrath
We stand forgiven at the cross

Oh to see the pain written on Your face
Bearing the awesome weight of sin
Ev’ry bitter thought, ev’ry evil deed
Crowning Your bloodstained brow

Now the daylight flees, now the ground beneath
Quakes as its maker bows his head
Curtain torn in two, dead are raised to life
‘Finished!’ the vict’ry cry.

Oh to see my name written in the wound
For through Your suf‘fring I am free
Death is crushed to death, life is mine to live
Won through Your selfless love

This the pow’r of the cross
Son of God slain for us
What a life, what a cost
We stand forgiven at the cross

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hear My Cry

So many beloved are on my heart. But my prayers for them feel small... almost boring. Instead, I simply lift up their names to God, who knows what they need far better than I ever will, and then pray scripture from that day's reading over them.

Here is the psalm that came up today in my reading. For those I love dearly ~ either at camp this week, on a mission in Thailand, returning to service in Guatemala, sorting out life after graduation... or just plain living another week... hear my cry, Lord.

1 In times of trouble, may the Lord answer your cry.
May the name of the God of Jacob keep you safe from all harm.
2 May he send you help from his sanctuary
and strengthen you from Jerusalem.
3 May he remember all your gifts
and look favorably on your burnt offerings.

4 May he grant your heart’s desires
and make all your plans succeed.
5 May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory
and raise a victory banner in the name of our God.
May the Lord answer all your prayers.

6 Now I know that the Lord rescues his anointed king.
He will answer him from his holy heaven
and rescue him by his great power.
7 Some nations boast of their chariots and horses,
but we boast in the name of the Lord our God.

8 Those nations will fall down and collapse,
but we will rise up and stand firm.

9 Give victory to our king, O Lord!
Answer our cry for help.

May my beloved students and friends gain "victory" in their efforts... and may they rely solely on you, and not their own strength.

Catherine of Genoa said, “All goodness is a participation in God and his love for his creatures.”

Sunday, June 19, 2011


Tonight I had one of those "O my heck, why haven't I done this before??" moments.

A few weeks ago, after two successful dinners of homemade pupusas, I started growing in my confidence that this white girl could perhaps make tortillas.

Keep in mind that I have taken students to Mexico and Central America I could not even count how many times on service trips in the last 3 decades... and once you have a few sweet 4'8" abuelitas make your group a grip of corn tortillas that are simply a taste of heaven on earth, you think you will never, EVER attempt to replicate them. It would just be embarrassing, right?

Perhaps it has been just long enough since I've gone on such a trip (I last went to Guatemala in July 08) or maybe my 4.4 lb bag of masa harina sitting in my pantry keeps calling my name... however it happened, one day I found myself at Santa Cruz Market in Old Town Goleta buying a tortilla press that looks exactly like the one pictured here. (Because let's be clear, I will never be able to slap the dough between my palms into perfectly flat little circles the way the abuelitas do... I know my limits.)

So I pulled out cast iron skillet one night last week and simply followed the directions on the bag. I'm not gonna lie -- they were the bomb.com, especially with a little butter. (For those of you reading this who are rolling your eyes at me and saying, "OH PLEASE! Quit acting like you invented tortillas you idiot!" I say "Agreed.")

So tonight my housemate and I took it to another level. I made a skillet of refried black beans, and she roasted a jalapeño she grew in her garden, along with an onion, 3 cloves of garlic and two large tomatoes for some roasted salsa. We made tacos with refried black beans, grilled onions, avocado, sour cream and homemade roasted salsa. I am sick with pleasure, so stuffed and happy am I. This is a fantastic meal to make with friends, and is just so easy. Stop it some more, I say!

To make this meal, mix the tortilla dough about an hour before you plan on eating. Follow the directions on the bag. I added an extra tablespoon of water to get my tortillas soft and thin.

Pre-heat the oven broiler to prepare to roast the vegetables for salsa. Then start the beans.

Serves 2

1 can black or pinto beans (or 1 pound of dried beans, soaked overnight, then cooked all day in a crock pot with 8 cups of water or boiled till the skins fall off -- this will make enough beans to feed 6-8 people)

jar of crushed garlic

vegetable oil

favorite hot sauce

garlic salt

This is really a fake-it-till-you-make-it recipe because it is entirely based on personal preferences. It's all about how smooth or chunky you like your beans, whether you want them low fat or super salty or full of garlic or really fried. So get ready to experiment. It will taste great, regardless.

Basic Directions
1. Heat 1-3 tablespoons of oil in a heavy skillet (cast iron is best) on medium heat. Spoon in some crushed garlic. As Doña Ofelia told me in Guatemala, when I asked her how much garlic she puts in her beans, she smiled at me, her black eyes twinkling as she said, "¡Mucho ajo!" Is it possible to have too much garlic? I don't think so. But I put in a good tablespoon for one can of beans.

2. Keep an eye on the garlic and oil. Flick drops of water in the oil periodically until the drops sizzle. Then the oil is ready. Push around the garlic till it gets a little brown.

3. Pour in the beans. If you are using canned beans, pour in the water from the can too. If you're using beans you have cooked, ladle in enough water till... it looks right (sorry to be vague, you just have to feel your way through it).

4. Smash the beans with a potato masher or the flat of a sturdy spatula or wooden spatula. Again, we're talking preferences here. Keep the beans in enough liquid that they keep frying and cooking. The liquid is key to having your beans be thick. Shake some garlic salt over them. I put in a few drops of Picamás green hot sauce too. A can of diced green chiles taste just fine as well.

5. Keep turning, smashing, scraping the beans in the pan, turning down the heat to low once they are done. If you were in Guatemala you would puree the beans until they are black and smooth. I just make mine smashed, but still chunky. Again, personal preferences.

Meanwhile... place two large tomatoes, 3 cloves of garlic, an onion cut in half and a jalapeño chile cut in half and seeded on a rimmed broiler pan. Place them in the broiler for 6-8 minutes, turning them frequently. Keep an eye on the garlic, which you may remove a bit earlier.

Remove them when the skin has blistered on the tomatoes. Peel off the skins of the garlic, onions and tomatoes, place in a food processor with at least one squeezed lime. Pulse the mixture a few times. Salt to taste and stir in some cilantro.

At the same time... someone else should be cooking up the tortillas. Pay attention to the directions on the bag regarding the "use thick plastic wrap with the tortilla press." It really works. I am finding that you want the heat a little high to cook them with a light crust on the outside but still soft. Keep cooked tortillas in the oven (turned off after you broiled the vegetables) or at 250 in a toaster oven.

Then spread it all out on the table, with whatever other ingredients you want to include... sour cream, avocado, grated cheese, taco meat, chopped lettuce, diced tomatoes, roasted corn... the list is endless. Have a taco feast, and finish an evening with a glorious food hangover. ¡Buen provecho!

Friday, June 17, 2011

O To Grace

Occasionally I use the lyrics of a hymn to guide my time of contemplation and prayer. Today I used Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, and feel full to overflowing with a deep sense of God's powerful presence and persistence in my life.

Spend time lingering on each sentence, using the words as a guide to conversation with God and reflection on His relentless goodness and grace.

by Robert Robinson, 1757

1. Come Thou Fount of every blessing
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I'm fixed upon it,
Mount of God's unchanging love.

2. Here I raise my Ebenezer;
(remember that an "ebenezer" is a stone of help, the place where Samuel erected a monument, in grateful remembrance of the divine help, given in answer to prayer, in a great battle with the Philistines. The same place had before witnessed the defeat of Israel and the capture of the ark, 1 Samuel 4:1; 5:1; 7:5-12. Think about times when God has been a great provider, and build a stone of remembrance in your prayers...)
Hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

3. O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let that grace now like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Small Things

I "hear" God in all of these words this morning:

Only those who try to live near God and have formed the habit of faithfulness to Him in the small things of our daily life, can hope in times of need for that special light which shows us our path. To do as well as we can the job immediately before us, is the way to learn what we ought to do next.

... Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941)

When you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6)

Prayer is in many ways the criterion of Christian life. Prayer requires that we stand in God's presence with open hands, naked and vulnerable, proclaiming to ourselves and to others that without God we can do nothing. (Henri Nouwen)

1 O my people, listen to my instructions.
Open your ears to what I am saying,
2 for I will speak to you in a parable.
I will teach you hidden lessons from our past—
3 stories we have heard and known,
stories our ancestors handed down to us.
4 We will not hide these truths from our children;
we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the Lord,
about his power and his mighty wonders.
Psalm 78:1-4

My days are often a great jumble of many conversations, emails, projects, relationships and decisions... Often I am meeting with people who are at significant crossroads ~ pastors looking for jobs, parents needing support, students making life decisions, friends pressing through hard times or trying to figure out next steps, church leaders seeking to guide their congregations through change and growth...

More than anything, I want to listen well, and when asked, be able to provide some sort of insight or direction. Even more, I want those words to come from the source of wisdom, the Spirit of Christ, and not from my own biases and experience.

Yet is that even possible?

How I pray it is. I do know that my only hope in providing that sort of intuition and sensitivity is by following the counsel found in Underhill's words: living near God on a daily basis, forming habits of faithfulness in small things. Also, as Nouwen says, to pray with open hands, knowing I can do nothing on my own power.

You are my dwelling place, a safe and secure home, Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


As you start your day:
Your unfailing love, O Lord, is as vast as the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,
your justice like the ocean depths.
You care for people and animals alike, O Lord.
How precious is your unfailing love, O God!
All humanity finds shelter
in the shadow of your wings.
You feed them from the abundance of your own house,
letting them drink from your river of delights.
For you are the fountain of life,
the light by which we see.

Pour out your unfailing love on those who love you;
give justice to those with honest hearts. (Psalm 36:5-10, NLT)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Summer Feast

School ended at Providence Hall on Friday with a fantastic graduation ceremony that was even featured on the front page of the Santa Barbara News-Press. It was difficult to say goodbye to a fantastic senior class... but I cannot deny that I am excited for the start of summer.

To celebrate I made a great meal tonight... Mahi Mahi marinated in teriyaki (here's the gluten-free teriyaki recipe I posted a couple of years ago) with baked sweet potato fries. Absolutely, splendiferously great.

Serves 2

  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled or unpeeled, cut into 4-inch long and 1/4 to 1/2-inch thick fries
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, or more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • Coarse ground rock salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set aside.

Place the sweet potatoes in a large bowl and toss with olive oil until the sweet potatoes are coated. Add the paprika, chili powder, coriander, salt, and pepper; toss to distribute evenly.

Arrange the coated fries in a single layer on the prepared pan. Bake for 20 minutes on the lower rack until the sweet potatoes soften. Transfer the pan to the upper rack of the oven and bake 10 minutes longer, until fries are crispy.

I dipped mine in ranch dressing.