macaroni & cheese

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cast of characters:

2 cups elbow macaroni (7 ounces)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground mustard
Pinch of paprika, thyme, cayenne pepper
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 ¾ (or more) cups milk
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
4 oz cream cheese
Italian seasoned bread crumbs

the plan:

1. Heat oven to 350.
2. Cook macaroni as directed on package
3. While macaroni is cooking, melt butter in a 3 quart saucepan over low heat. Stir in flour, salt, pepper, Worcestershire, garlic, and spices, to taste. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Stir in milk and heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir one minute. Remove from heat. Stir in cheese and cream cheese until melted.
4. Add cheese sauce to drained macaroni. Pour into an ungreased 2 quart casserole. Sprinkle seasoned bread crumbs over the top. Bake uncovered 20 to 25 minutes or until bubbly.
5. Enjoy!

resting with full assurance // heb. 10:22

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It seems like forever ago since I started my blog.

I remember struggling and hoping that, maybe, if I wrote to the world, if God willed it, my words would help soothe a worn, cold soul desperate for the same truth and warmth God had given me.

For the past few weeks, I have been looking on some of those difficult seasons with almost fondness, knowing that, because of it I was refined by fire — and I still am, forever growing, ever changing as I go through this up-down, curving, twisting thing called life.

In light of those times, I feel that I am finally emerging from one of the greatest struggles I’ve ever had — and that is what this post is about. Realizations, things I wished someone had walked up to me and just told me. I’ve been working on this post for some months now. Editing, perfecting, striving, fumbling for the right words, stumbling in articulating utterances of the soul, where no one goes. I pray that maybe you can make sense of the messiness I can’t convey.

~*~

Today I grabbed a dusty dictionary from a wood bookshelf while the skies cried and the sun said hello to look up the word, grace – unmerited divine favor.

Excellence, not perfection, I whisper to myself,

My feelings are not reality.

I am very much an introspective person. Taking a shower, laying in bed, peeking at the stars, I evaluate how “I did today”. Was I good? Was I kind? Was I worthy? I have a checklist in my mind …

———————————————————————————————————————–

Good: told the girl at the bagel place she had nice hair – check.

Good: opened the door for the elderly gentlemen in the wheelchair – check.

Good: smiled and laughed and didn’t show how much it hurt when she said my legs looked fat-check.

Good: didn’t talk about how cold I was so people wouldn’t think I was seeking attention (or something) – check.

Good: didn’t ask for help when I needed it so I wouldn’t bother him or make anyone feel obligated to go out of their way for me –check

Bad: accidentally snapped at someone because I was tired

Bad: said something today that could’ve been taken the wrong way

Bad: forgot someone’s name

Bad: didn’t read my Bible

Bad: my quiet time with the Lord was too short in comparison to the time I spent watching a movie

———————————————————————————————————————-

There are times I think about the ways that I fall short of the Glory of God, which are ever far and wide and numerous. But I think I get some of them confused with the things that fall short of the Glory of Rachel.

Time and time again I find myself caught between the sweet grace of God and the corruption of my sinful soul.

 Sometimes I feel more like a “true” Christian when I am convicted of something and motivated to change. And if I’m not convicted of anything in particular, then I think that I am falling away from God, which could be true sometimes. But that’s not what “being a Christian”means.

Being a Christian isn’t finding more and more ways to feel convicted so you change. It’s resting in the work of Christ on the cross, and obeying God’s commandments out of love and gratitude for what He has done. We are called to, yes, repent of our sins and turn away from them – but nowhere in the Bible does it say we’re called to self-condemnation. We are not called to purposeful, self-inflicted pain in remorse where there is none necessary. Christ took on that pain for us, and in wallowing in our own guilt we are losing sight of what is important – placing more focus on our fallen condition than we are the saving, redeeming love of our Savior. This is where my tendency towards introspection leads me down a path I don’t belong.


 

But His mercies are made new each morning.

How comforting it is to know that, I, yes, am a sinful heart and will bend towards the ways and stresses of the world, and yet, no matter how much I fail, how far I fall, how far I have to reach the mark, and yet God does not love me any less. And that I don’t need to read my Bible every day to be good enough. I don’t have to go to church to be worthy. I don’t have to do Christian things in order to have value in the eyes of God. In fact, really, I don’t have to do anything to be a child of God (John 1:12). That title is not based on my performance, but on the blood of Christ on my behalf. And I try to do those things not so God will love me more, but because my heart rests in the work of Christ and desires to please Him. A woman shouldn’t serve her husband so that he may love her, but because she loves him. Right?

Christians, I’m looking at you. Let’s not be check box Christians. We don’t have to do or be a list of things to deserve His love. We can’t put limits on God’s grace – that’s what the Pharisees tried to do. Saying that grace is only reserved for those who deserve it, genuinely, but it can’t be for the adulteress, the tax collector, the prostitute, or the unclean is presumptuous. We shouldn’t be motivating each other by guilt, but by grace.

Learn the difference between conviction of the Holy Spirit and self-condemnation. If from the Holy Spirit, we are driven to turn away from our sin and towards freedom and restoration in God. Self-condemnation is turning away from God in shame and agony, and continuing in the dangerous path we’re on because we believe we deserve no better.

“There is a simple test to see if you are experiencing condemnation by the enemy or gentle conviction by the Holy Spirit. Guilt and/or shame will draw you further away from the Lord deeper into sin. Conviction is the Holy Spirit nudging us to confess and turn from the sin as He provides the power to overcome.”

{Robin Samson of Heart of Wisdom.com}

 

More often than not, I catch myself thinking that my sinful nature is too chasmal, too wide, too dark to be covered by something as beautiful as God’s grace. And maybe I was forgivable last time around, but I fell again and His grace is running out of the hourglass. How can God keep on loving me when I’m so undeserving? Why would He continue to put up with me and my mess?

But I remind myself: His Grace is like a relentless river — it cannot be controlled by man no matter our efforts. It doesn’t hesitate. It doesn’t even blind itself from our sin. It looks right at us, as we’re sitting in the mire, the slough of despond, and it pulls us out. Of course, grace is not an unlimited free pass to sin whenever we want and get away with it, but it’s the enabling power of God not to sin, and unmerited favor in His sight. Whether we stand tall or stumble, we are just as beautiful and pleasing to Him as ever. (Is. 43:4, S.o.S. 4:7)

Don’t let your remorse and heartache determine your theology. There are times that my doubt gets the better of me, and I have to remind myself that I am a Christian regardless whether or not I “feel” like one. He has assigned us far more worth than we could possibly develop or accumulate on our own. And the Bible never says, “Well done, good and successful servant”. He says ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. He doesn’t call us to be perfect, but to be faithful in the hard and holy places.


 

Oh, how I am caught in His grace and His loving-kindness.

“But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

{romans 8:38}

There is no choice I make that will change that. Nothing I say or do that will make me disinherit Gods love. Neither my fears for today, worries about tomorrow, nor the anxious concerns of my past – not even the dark, fuming powers of hell determined to sever my relationship with God – can separate me from His love.

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”

{hebrews 10:19-23}

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

{hebrews 4:16}

I stand in awe.

 

 

and every breath is a hallelujah.

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I like to understand things. I want to understand why these things happen, to know the reason, have some kind of explanation, and put it in its Sunday best, smooth out the wrinkles and straighten the starched collar, and fit it inside a box, make sense of it all.

But I suppose there are some things that go well beyond my meager comprehension.

Honestly, it’s so much easier to hear about shootings in other states, in the papers, on facebook, or on the news. It’s distant. It’s very saddening for sure, but it’s not here, it’s not personal. I’m safe here. We’re safe here.

The only thing I can compare it to is like being inside your house, where you’re comfortable and warm, and staring out the window at the lightening storm outside. It’s happening for sure, but we’re inside, we’re safe. We have nothing to worry about. And then, suddenly, all of that is ripped away — and now you’re standing outside, in the storm, now exposed to the wind and the rain, afraid, with nowhere to hide, nowhere to be safe. And at times you cry out to God and all you can hear is your voice echoing in these empty walls?

This is my hometown. I knew some of the students, some of those who were in the rooms next door, the buildings nearby. The familiarity, peace, and security of my small community has been breached.

I just hardly know what to think anymore.

It’s easy enough to stifle the questions threatening to slip from the corners of my eyes and roll down my cheeks, but the pain … the pain is something that demands to be felt. I may not have been directly impacted, but my body is numb and my mind feels everything. It’s like I’m walking in a trance, like I’m just moving my arms and legs here and there, completing every-day tasks that need to be done, but I’m not here. I’m not sure exactly where I am — caught somewhere in-between reality and emotion.

I know I am just rambling, but I hardly know how to put it in words. My thoughts are as unstructured and messy as my writing. I suppose there really are no words for this.

It’s important that we remember that we are all part of the Story. We are in that Story, and everything, big or small, finds its meaning and significance in the grand scheme of things. The basic story line is this: God created the world, man sinned, God redeemed man through Jesus Christ, and there will be a final consummation when God judges, conquers, and restores all things. You see, as humans, we can’t see the forest for the trees. We are living within the moment, and our knowledge is limited by our perspective, but God sees (and is in control of) the bigger picture. He knows what will happen because He is in control of what will happen.

I have heard people say that Christianity is just some crutch we use, an illusion, a fictitious hope that there is a reason for everything — a fairy tale for grown-ups. Why would God, so Omnipotent and perfectly Good, allow all this to happen anyway? Why did He create Evil if He hates it so much? Where is justice or mercy in that? Because – after all – if He could have stopped it, He would, right?

This did not take God by surprise, nor was He wringing His hands or pulling at His collar trying to come up with Plan B. We know that God is not the author of evil (James 1:13).  But if He is indeed in charge of everything, why does He allow the wicked to flourish (Ps. 92:5-7)? This shouldn’t discourage us, it should give us hope (Rom. 8:19-25). We can take comfort — evildoers will not last forever (Prov. 16:4; Ps. 37:1-2 7, 9-10, 12-15, 28; Job 14:2), and there is nothing God does not rule over (Dan. 4:35). The wicked — though they will to do wrong or harm — are merely instruments that God uses to demonstrate the fullness of His glory (Ps. 76:10, Rom. 9:22-23, Is. 10).

“Are you a Christian?” — are words echoing in my mind, in a steady rhythm, like a pendulum, sometimes loud, sometimes soft. I cannot tell you how much it floors me, the bravery these fellow believers had to stand up and say, “Yes”. In the heat of the moment, when adrenaline is pounding in your veins, and you are shaking, staring into the end of a gun’s barrel and the hateful eyes of a calloused heart, would your first response be to stand in the name of Christ?

Although we see this as a tragedy (which it certainly is), really, and truly, what more honorable way to die, than for our Lord and Savior? For the One who poured out His life for us? To live out the words: “to live is Christ; to die is gain”? Everything we suffer here on earth will not even be able to compare to the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18). They are now Home, celebrating and being rewarded for their bravery and their devotion to Christ.

So despite my fears and waves of emotion, I know the One who is in control of it all. I look to the heavens and remember, gratefully, even in rain, there is Someone greater than ourselves, Someone beyond the unfathomable.

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You yourself are the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”

— C.S. Lewis

Be still, my heart. Selah.

living in a world with wickams & willoughbys: watch the signs

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Men can be deceiving. They can say all the right lines, and a girl is swept off her feet. He is good at his games, and knows how to act and how to treat you in order to gain your affections.

Now, NOT all men are like this. But, unfortunately, we live in an age where this seems to be happening more and more frequently. Boy meets Girl. Boy likes Girl. Girl is flattered. Boy pursues, wins, and uses Girl (physically or emotionally). Then leaves.

Now, I’m no psychologist, but the occasions I’ve witnessed, I could see what was happening. But that’s because my dad has taught me what signs to watch out for, and has warned me time and time again of the dangers lurking, even in our Christian circles. There are so many young men out there who are just … SO convincing, and seem very trustworthy and noble, and equally too many young women ready to trust and fall in love at the drop of a hat with any guy who shows her attention.

Another thing: I think God has gifted us women with intuition. If we tap into that, we can usually make good judgements about people. For example, if there’s someone that you just have a BAD feeling about, even though you have little “proof” for it, chances are … you might be right.

Here are the signs to watch out for.

#1  The “Christian” Guy

There are a multitude of young men who will play church long enough to win the girl — and have no real foundation or authentic devotion for the Word of God. He may be able to quote John 3:16, but is made of rocky and thorny ground and will only “believe” while it is convenient. He’s probably even a nice guy. To him, Jesus is just the Nice Guy Upstairs who is not judgmental of anyone, and is even worth wearing a cool “Jesus Freak” shirt for.

Also, just because he can play with kids does not mean he will make a good dad. And just because he wears a purity ring does not guarantee he will be a good, faithful husband. Character goes beyond good deeds. A guy who simply professes Christ is not the same as one who lives out Christ.

#2  Mr. Wandering-Eye

Sometimes you can just tell what kind of man a guy is just by watching him. Now don’t stalk him, or stare at him, but just kind of … *notice* how Mr. Guy treats women in general. And, yes, men — even good, solid, Christian men — struggle with lust. However, I’m talking about those guys who “discreetly” look women up-and-down, and very frequently, and pretty much gawk at any woman that passes by. The ones who don’t look at your face when you’re talking to them. (You know the kind of guys I’m talking about.)

They’re pretty easy to spot. Stay away from them. No — stay clear away from them, like, as far as the east is from the west. They’re bad apples.

#3  Sir Flirt

Now I must be careful how I word this, so I don’t step on anyone’s toes. There are a lot of young men  I see who display a lot of unnecessary or inappropriate physical contact with young women. Not just the occasional side-hug, but constant, every-day touching, playing with hair, flirtatious contact, or full-on-pushing-the-limits-frontal hugs. To me, I can’t help but interpret this as the young man (possibly) having less-than-honorable intentions. This may not always be the case, but there are some impostors out to push the boundaries as far as they can get away with. Titus 2 says that young men should treat young women “with all purity, as sisters”.

(That isn’t to say that hugs with the opposite gender are inherently wrong, but they can be abused, and I am just recommending caution. I know a lot of wonderful, affectionate people who clearly have no intentions of harm, and that’s fine. In fact, I often receive hugs from people I know have no ill motives, and they are sincere and gentlemanly, but it just takes discernment and discretion as situation calls for.)

And consider these questions: Is his “secret life” no secret? Does his life really demonstrate the kind of Christ-like behavior that can only be gained from a strong relationship with the Lord? Does he come across as a guy who is desperate to find a girl? Does he notice and take care of the least? Or is he always gravitating to where all the cute girls are? Does he give of himself to others, for the glory of God, and not for reputation or admiration?

Remember — no man is perfect! We are all in desperate need of the grace of God (Rom. 3:23). This shouldn’t be a way that we hold men to impossible or idealistic expectations. But his fruit should show out of not only an outward display of his faith, but also a private one.

Young women, be not deceived.

(** Just to clarify, I have never had a romantic encounter (?) with an impostor. But I have personally seen this happen to people I know, and have heard countless stories of young women having to go through this. It makes me so sad to see and hear about these things happening, and so I was inspired to write a post about it.)

(Sequel-Post Coming!)