Monday, June 23, 2014

Maple Balsamic Pork Tenderloin

This is yet another recipe from Shauna Niequist's book Bread & Wine.  On a side note, many of my current favorite recipes are from that book, they are all simple, yet sophisticated.  If you haven't read the book, you should!  This pork was delicious, in fact, Jeremy and I both thought it was one of our top few favorite dinners ever.  I served it with an easy baked "risotto" and they were a perfect pair.  The only thing that I changed from Shauna's recipe was that after searing my pork on all sides it wasn't cooked through enough so I finished it in the over until it reached 145.

Maple Balsamic Pork Tenderloin

-2 pork tenderloins
-1 cup maple syrup
-1 cup balsamic vinegar
-1 heaping  Tbsp Dijon mustard
-1/2 cup beer or white wine

Whisk together maple syrup, balsamic vinegar, and Dijon. Add 1/2 cup of the maple balsamic mixture to the beer or white wine to create a marinade. Save the rest of the maple balsamic mixture to make the glaze. Several hours before serving, salt and pepper the tenderloins, then pour the marinade over them. Cover tightly and refrigerate. Just before serving, cook on the grill or on the stove. On medium-high heat, cook for 4 minutes on each of the four sides until a meat thermometer reads 145 degrees. Cover with foil and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing. We did ours on the grill and cooked them over medium-high heat until the internal temperature reached 145 degrees. While the pork is cooking and then resting, pour the remaining maple balsamic mixture in to a small saucepan and boil gently until reduced by half, about 15 minutes, creating a thick glaze. After the tenderloin has rested, slice it diagonal one-inch slices. Pour the glaze over the sliced meat, or put it in a little pitcher and let people pour it on their own slices.

Monday, June 16, 2014

My Testimony

Psalm 96:2-3 Sing to the Lord; praise his name. Each day proclaim the good news that he saves. Publish his glorious deeds among the nations. Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.

I share because there is power in a testimony to defeat the works of the enemy.  I share so that upon hearing how God has pursued, redeemed and blessed me that you may believe that He can and will do the same for you.  I share to proclaim the great things that He has done for me and praise His holy name, loving heart and mighty hand...

I haven't always had a thriving relationship with God, or known Him, or even believed in Him.  In fact, I spent the majority of my thirty {plus} years completely denying Him.

As a kid I had no desire whatsoever for anything spiritual in nature.  From time to time I was exposed to a small taste of various spiritual beliefs and paths, but I was very put off by them and wanted nothing to do with any of it.  Other than a few scattered experiences I didn't grow up in any particular church or beliefs.

We celebrated Easter and Christmas in my home, but we were not Christians.  In fact, I really had no idea at all that those holidays were about anything other than a bunny and Santa Clause.  My only memory of having any exposure to the name of Jesus prior to the time I was 24 was seeing the movie Dogma and the big Jesus statue in it.

Although I didn't know Jesus, or even have a taste for spiritual things, I grew up always having a hunger and need to feel loved.  I was created to be in relationship with my Maker, and until I found Him I spent my life always searching, always trying new things to fill the void that I felt inside of me.  Trying to dull the ache in my heart and find satisfaction for my life, but always coming out empty handed.

I tried drugs.  Lots of them.  Almost all of them.  I used them a lot from 8th grade until I graduated high school.

I tried self mutilation.  I cut my arms with razor blades, almost daily, for a large part of middle and high school.  Really it was just a cry for attention.  I just wanted someone to tell me and show me that they cared.  That they loved me.  That I mattered.  That I was special.

I tried boys, and physical contact.

Yet none of these things satisfied me.

In my early twenties I was still feeling the ache in my soul.

I tried finding my worth by pursuing a career.

I tried buying things to give me pleasure.  22 pairs of shoes alone in 1 year.  Racking up LOTS of debt.

I still tried boys.

I tried regular binge drinking and bar hopping, always seeking attention, dancing on bars, flirting with everyone.

I tried my image.  I got in shape.  Bought/ wore nice clothes.  Got my hair and nails done regularly and wore lots of makeup.

Still aching.  Still lonely.  Still searching for love, satisfaction and purpose in all of the wrong places.  Still feeling empty.

At the age of 24 I was invited to a church for the first time.  I don't really know why I decided to go other than that God was working in my heart, drawing me to Him, and His Spirit was nudging me to take this small, first step.

So I agreed to meet this friend at church.  I didn't really know what to expect to happen at church, in fact, the only two things that I knew about church were that I was supposed to dress up, and that I was supposed to give money.  When I was running late that Sunday morning I remember realizing that I didn't have any cash in my wallet and told my friend that I would be late so I could go to the ATM and pick up money.  To which she assured me that it would be fine if I did not give any money, but I decided to be late and make the stop anyway.  (In hindsight, I find it very interesting that the only two things I knew about church were dressing up and giving money... just a glimpse of the perspective I had).

So I went to church.  And I started going regularly.  Every Thursday evening to a young adult service, and every Sunday morning.  I learned a lot.  I listened to the entire sermon each week and ate it up like food for my soul.  I learned about God creating the world, and the fall and sin entering the world.  I learned about God sending His son, Jesus, to earth in the form of a child.  I learned about Jesus' life and earthly ministry.  I learned about His death, burial, resurrection and ascension.  I learned about the disciples and their lives.  And I learned about the promises for what is to come.  And I believed it.  Every.  Single.  Bit.  It resonated with something inside of me and I believed it all, instantly.

Despite the fact that I believed all that I was learning about God my life still looked very different from most church goers.  I lived with my boyfriend, cussed a lot, smoked cigarettes, and went out and got wasted (to the point of vomiting) several times a week.  As I mentioned earlier, my life wasn't really making me feel happy or fulfilled, but it was all I knew.  I was scared of change.  So I carried on in what may have been a double life for a few months.  Then I hit what I believed to be rock bottom.

There had been a certain behavior that I had labeled as what "bad" people did and became irritated with people who would do such a thing.  Although a very low standard, it was the moral bar I had told myself I was above.  And then I did it.  That exact behavior that I had found so disgusting in others.  And through that I hurt several people who were really important to me.  It was then that I was finally willing to accept that on my own I wasn't the "good" person I thought I was.  That I had royally made a mess of my life and didn't like the direction things were going.  And all the truth that I had been hearing about God, His redemption, His grace and forgiveness, His salvation, and His transforming work in the lives of His people began to beckon to me.  At that point I completely surrendered my life to Jesus.  Decided to follow Him and live for Him, regardless of what that meant.

He was the most important person in my life.  I spent almost all of the time that I wasn't at work with Him, reading His word, wanting to know Him more.  I would call my friend up with questions like "Do I need to quit smoking?", "Do I need to move out from living with my boyfriend" and so on.  And she would gently nudge me not to go out and make a bunch of quick lifestyle changes because that's what I was supposed to do, but to let God lead me and guide me.  And He did.  One step at a time.

I was a poster child for Hebrews 11:6, that God rewards those who diligently seek Him.  I sought Him and He revealed Himself, and He changed me... completely.  I was (and am) a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17).  I was (and am) so passionate about Jesus.  I felt like the woman from the Bible who had been forgiven of much sin and was therefore extremely grateful of the pardon she had been given.

I spent the next several years pouring myself into pursuing God, studying His word, and serving those around me.  Constantly growing in my understanding of Him and the Christian life.

And then a few years ago I had an awakening of sorts.  God became alive and real to me in a much deeper way than He ever had been.  He challenged a lot of my beliefs, theology, practices etc {like speaking in tongues}.  He showed me a bunch of legalism and rule following I'd been living in.  He taught me about grace, freedom and wholeness.  He taught me about my identity in Him, my oneness with Him, the finished work of the cross.  He taught me about rest and ceasing to strive, not trying to please Him or earn anything from Him, but how to just be, receive, and let Him naturally flow out of me.  I became intimately acquainted with Him... we went from just acquaintances to friends, and then to something much deeper than that.  I began to hear Him speak, see Him in everything and everyone around me, and began to believe for and experience Him in supernatural ways that I had always had a theology for, but that were never what I had seen or known.

All the loneliness, emptiness and discontentment disappeared as I got to know my Maker, and started fulfilling the purpose and destiny for which He had created me.

His transformation in my life really has been miraculous.  I know that people tell you that once you are an addict and/ or alcoholic that you are always one.  But I can honestly say that my old self is gone, the sinful desires and habits of drug abuse, alcohol abuse etc. no longer have a hold on me.  The former dysfunctional behaviors are completely gone.  The emotional wounds from physical violations, experiences, and ties have been completely healed.  Now that I know my identity in Christ I no longer seek to find it through attention from others, through what I do or a career, through my looks and image.

I have found a love so much greater then I ever could have imagined.  A sense of purpose and wholeness too good to be true.  I have found forgiveness and redemption... salvation and freedom... I have found the life I was intended to live.

And here I am now... constantly having my mind-rewed, challenged, and blown by my God who is so much better, and so much more intimate and personal then I ever had imagined.  Each day with Him is never boring, never dull, never monotonous.  Each day is a special adventure with my Maker, getting to know Him, enjoying Him and experiencing Him through the world around me.

There's a lot more detail I could have added in here and a lot more specifics, but some of those are stories for a different day {like the time He blew my mind with provision, or the time He gave me insight into my calling}.  He's constantly teaching me things, giving me revelation and crazy experiences and this is just a very basic framework for how He has and is continuing to work in my life.  This story isn't over, it's an ongoing, ever changing journey with new aspects, insights, and dimensions being added daily.

I hope this inspires you to remember your story... to remember the ways He has worked in your life.  To praise His mighty deeds and loving heart.  And to see His fingerprints as you go about each day, each moment, enthralled by His presence.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Macaroni and Cheese

Macaroni and Cheese

I have a more healthy mac and cheese, with pureed squash in the sauce that I like to serve for a healthy dinner.  It is not bad for you at all.  But, it never satisfies a true mac and cheese craving for me.  So here is a less nutritious, but still lightened up version of mac and cheese that does satisfy my comfort food cravings.

-1 box whole wheat shells, elbows or desired pasta shape, cooked al dente
-2 Tbsp butter
-2 Tbsp flour
-2 c milk
-1 lb cheddar cheese, shredded
-1/2 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp pepper
-1/4 tsp cayenne
-1 Tbsp dijon mustard

Melt butter in large pot, over medium-low heat.  Add flour, cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add milk, cook 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add dijon mustard, 3/4 of the cheese, salt, pepper, and cayenne.  Stir until cheese melts.  (At this point you could stop and serve as a stove top mac and cheese, but for a chewy crust and soft center continue on into the oven.)  Pour into a greased 2 quart casserole dish.  Top with remaining cheese.  Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Case for Living in Community

My definition of community is slightly different from most of the definitions I can find from dictionaries. Most of them define community either by a group of people with common interests, or a group of people living in a certain area. I think both of those can be aspects of community, but to me community is broader then geographic location or personal interests/ preferences. To me, community is a group of people united together, committed to each other, looking to and caring for each others interests.

Since Jeremy and I have been married we have always been a part of a community group. Each of these groups have been associated with one church or another and have all been pretty similar in format or structure. Each group had it's own unique strengths and opportunities for improvement. Each group has been special to me and shaped me in different ways.
Lately it has been standing out to me that there are so many people that are not part of a church for various reasons (not having religious beliefs, not finding a place that aligns with their beliefs, and more...). Although these people aren't a part of church (maybe for this season, or maybe never have been or will be) I am hearing a very common desire from them. Most people, regardless of religious affiliation (or lack thereof) seem to have a desire for community, as I defined it above. They seem to have a desire to have a group of people whom they see regularly, who know each other, who enjoy doing fun things together, who help each other out when needed, to celebrate accomplishments with, discuss ideas with and more.

I believe that this is not an accident. That each and every person was created in the image of a relational, 3 beings in 1, God. I believe that one of the greatest truths about God is that He is to the core a relational being. And since we humans were created in His image, we are to our core relational beings also. We were each created to be in relationship with God, and to be in relationship with others, and if those 2 purposes are not met, we will feel a longing deep within our soul that we are missing out on part of our intended purpose.

At a time when our culture is getting exceedingly further away from living in community with others we as a people are crying out and longing to live our lives inter-twined with others. This is becoming counter-cultural due to the growing individualistic nature of our society. Conversation, a key ingredient to living in community, is becoming a lost art in a culture of being busy, of emails, text messages and social media. People are not connecting like they used to, like they were created to.

Living in community can be messy. People can make mistakes, hurt each other, have miscommunications and so on. But this is where the real beauty is found. The beauty of real love... 1 Corinthians 13 love... "God is love" love... selfless love, forgiveness and grace. This is worth fighting for. Worth putting ourselves out there for. Worth extending and receiving grace and forgiveness for... in our mistakes, and in the mistakes of others. Worth sticking it out through the ups and downs, twists and turns, good times and bad. This type of love is what life is all about. It's the greatest truth there is. We were made to love, worship, enjoy and relate with God, and part of how we do that is by loving, enjoying, and relating with others.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Skinny Chocolate Chocolate Chip Muffins

I made these Chocolate Chocolate Chip muffins.  Normally I'm not a fan of "skinny" baked goods, I tend to think that baked goods need a little butter or oil but I was so impressed by the moisture and flavor of these muffins and love that they have at least a little nutritional value from the applesauce, whole wheat flour, and some protein from the yogurt.  Plus, I'm always for a guiltless way to eat chocolate for breakfast.  Jeremy even said they are better than some (full fat, non-nutritous) chocolate cakes I've made.  These are simple to make, guilt free and delicious, especially fresh out of the oven with warm gooey chocolate chip pockets.