Some recent improvements.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It's finally Spring in Chicago! That doesn't mean that much, actually, just that the temperature exceeds 50 degrees more days than not. And I am happy about that! I've had a case of Spring cleaning fever and have been doing some fun little things to our apartment to make it the coziest, happiest place possible.

First, meet our herb garden! These pots have sat empty since my birthday in February and are finally holding these adorable, very useful little plants. From left to right: mint, lavender, oregano, lemon balm, and basil. They like water and gazing at the city through the window. I hope I can keep them alive!

This was my latest find at Salvation Army. I went to drop off a bag of clothes and couldn't help but look through their dishes. I found this one for $3! Shawn says it looks noble.

For now, it is proudly holding a single bruised apple on our kitchen table. Hopefully we can find more noble purposes for it in the future. :)

Speaking of our kitchen table, this might be my favorite spot in our entire apartment. We love making meals special and this little breakfast nook is the perfect place to do it.

Meet our other new plant addition: our coffee table succulent. This green glass bowl is also a thrift store find and it all just looks so happy to me!

This is our new bed! We got most of our bedding as wedding gifts, but didn't register for any throw pillows or shams. So it just didn't look finished for the longest time, and it was embarrassing ever having people look at our bedroom and saying, "Oh, don't mind that." The king-sized giant of a bed with no pillows. Well, we now have pillows! It's not really "there" yet in my opinion, but looks 100% more inviting and finished than before.

This picture is just proof that we have finally gotten some wedding pictures printed! After 4 months, we thought it might be about time. :) It's fun to see the best day of our lives in photos all over the apartment!

Last but not least... our cedar chest. This was a gift from my grandparents who have had it since their first Christmas that they were married. It was a gift from my Grandpa to my Grandma and still has a plaque inscribed with "To Janet, from Dick" inside. Precious. They gave it to me for my 10th birthday (or something like that) and I remember being so excited when it arrived in the back of their car from Ohio. What amazing grandparents to give a 10 year old heirloom furniture! I'm a lucky granddaughter. :) The cedar chest now holds various treasures like my engagement ring box, our marriage license, my teeth (ok, maybe those are not really treasures... but I can't throw them away!). I have always loved it and my grandparents actually recovered it when I was in middle school, but I thought it needed a little updating to match our current style.

Shawn and I chose this fabric by Amy Butler... one of my favorites.

Then I stripped the poor thing.

And voila! My staple gun and I had a great time this morning transforming this into what it is now. I really like the result! We may even find some new blue knobs to go with it.

And here it is in all its glory, perched under our wedding gift from Shannon and Erik. New York City is quite a special place to us (for obvious reasons) so we love seeing it every day!

Hope you enjoyed the tour! We can't wait for our parents, who are ALL coming to visit in May, to be here and see this in person! :)


Friday, April 24, 2009

Shawn and I just returned last night from a few days in Atlanta. We were at the annual Christian Leadership Alliance Conference where Mom and Dad asked us to help lead worship! We had a wonderful time and I wanted to include a few highlights...

Highlight #1: seeing this guy!

Michael and Shawn have been good friends since they were little boys and it was great to catch up with him! We met for pizza at Mellow Mushroom. He and his band, Holiday Parade, will be touring soon and we hope to see him again in Chicago in a few days!

Highlight #2: Dave the Horn Guy. This guy was unbelievable. He has this custom suit that's covered with bulb horns that he plays as a musical instrument. Dave started out 4 years ago when he played "Jingle Bells" at his church's Christmas program and 3 weeks later, was on Leno! Here's a longer sample of what he does. Dad, Shawn, Michael, and I went to his "concert" and were amazed. Dad and Shawn even got to try it out. :)

Highlight #3: Gary Haugen from International Justice Mission
Gary was the speaker for Wednesday evening's banquet and it was such a privilege to hear from him. In case you haven't heard, International Justice Mission works to secure justice for victims of modern-day slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression. They literally have lawyers and advocates all over the world who are going in the trenches, finding slaves, pulling them out of their situation, and bringing their masters to justice. Incredible. As I just typed that, I was reminded of this passage in Job that is so appropriate to what they are doing:
"I was a father to the needy;
I took up the case of a stranger.
I broke the fangs of the wicked
and snatched the victims from their teeth."
- Job 29:16-17
That's exactly what they're doing! It is so from God and He is blessing their ministry with rapid growth and success. As you can probably tell, I've been a fan of IJM's work for a while now and was able to tell Gary about Brighter Day, my online jewelry shop that donates 10% of everything to IJM. He was excited and gave me his newest book and signed it!

The only bummer of our time in Atlanta was that we missed Shannon and Erik, who happened to be in Texas while we were there! Hope to see you guys soon!

Overall, we had such a refreshing few days and are so thankful for the break. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for inviting us! We'll do it again anytime!!

PS - As an update, I did board two planes that both took off in bad weather - and I did ok. I wouldn't say I did great and was still pretty nervous during turbulence (especially on one flight when the pilot asked the flight attendants to sit down... ugh). But I am praying that God would miraculously take away my fear. I've never feared flying and I know that this new fear is not from Him. I'll fly again in June and between now and then, I'm going to read up on flying - hopefully education and prayer will put all of this to rest!

Disarming power.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

It was a cold day here in Chicago, especially for April. I found myself riding on the #36 bus longing for warmth, not only from the weather, but also from people.

Whenever anyone asks what I miss most about living in the South, I always reply, "Southern hospitality." They usually act offended by that, further proving my point. :) I should follow up by saying, "Come with me to the land of sprawling front porches, sweet tea, and smiling people and you'll see what I mean." I'm not quite that bold, but it's what I'm thinking.

I have to remind myself that God really loves these people: the postal worker that laughs sarcastically when she lost your package, the bus driver who just grunts when you ask a question, or the homeless man who curses when you pass by without tossing a coin in his cup. God loves them so much He died for them. Yes, even them. It's tough to remember that when all I want is a smile from someone - anyone! Smiles are sometimes hard to come by in this city, but it's all the more reason to continue smiling just the same.

On a completely different note, this week as I've recovered from the harrowing airplane experience has been difficult to say the least. The more I've prayed about all of it, the more I'm realizing it is purely a spiritual attack. I don't know why (do we ever know why?), but Satan has chosen to attack my mind and body to the point that I've had trouble eating all week and have experienced overwhelming waves of panic. This is so unlike me.

The comfort I have is that Christ is always victorious. The devil and his angels have already been defeated and no weapon formed against me shall prosper. I've heard it said (most recently by Chip Ingram) that we fight from victory, not for victory. It's so true. There is nothing the devil can do to harm me because I am a child of God.

I've never extensively researched spiritual warfare, but am interested now that I am experiencing it more than I ever have. When I spent two weeks in Viet Nam a couple years ago, we talked about it quite a bit because of the darkness that can be felt there. We clung to this verse:

"For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil." 1 John 3:8

We also studied Colossians 2, which became a favorite of mine while I was there.

"For in Christ all the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." Colossians 2:9-10, 13-15

Amen! The way Jay, our leader in Viet Nam, explained it was that when Jesus "disarmed" the powers and authorities, they no longer have any power whatsoever, but are holding toy guns and aiming them, inciting fear but having no power. Praise the Lord that an evil spirit cannot dwell in a believer because the Holy Spirit is within us. And He is mighty to save!

Please do pray that I would feel peace that passes all understanding as I board a flight to Nashville on Saturday and again back to Chicago next Thursday. Needless to say, I'm dreading these trips with my whole heart. I even begged Shawn to let us drive there and back. But I have to face this fear at some point and trust that my victorious God will pull me through. I couldn't possibly do it alone and I'm thankful I don't have to.

Paws and Tales

Saturday, April 11, 2009

If this isn't a God thing, I don't know what is.

After reading the Good Friday post below, my mom headed out to run some errands this morning. When she got in her car, she turned on the radio to put a CD in, and heard my voice. She heard me singing, as a little girl, the verse and the chorus of a song she couldn't quite put her finger on. And then she heard her own voice singing and recognized the song she and my dad wrote many years ago. It was for an Easter radio program for "Paws and Tales," a kids' radio show by Insight for Living (Chuck Swindoll's ministry).

The words of the song just echoed the sentiment of yesterday's post:
May I not forget
All You've done for me
Dying for my sin on a hill called Calvary
May I not forget
The story ever true
Help my heart to remember
May I not forget You
His timing could not have been more perfect - had she turned it on 5 minutes later, she would've missed the whole thing. We certainly will not forget the true meaning of Easter this year. What a sweet surprise.

If you want to hear the song, click here and then click on "Listen to this week's episode." Scroll to where there is about 5:15 left in the broadcast and you'll hear the song. :)

A Surprisingly Good Friday

Sitting in the Nashville airport today, I waited for my flight to Chicago and worked on a blog I planned on posting later today. Those plans changed as soon as the plane took off.

From the very beginning of the flight was turbulence like I've never experienced on a commercial flight. In fact, "turbulent" doesn't do it justice. It felt more like a roller coaster in the sky. Tornadoes touched down in middle Tennessee today, and the high winds tossed the plane up and down and from side to side for the entire duration of the hour-and-a-half trip to Chicago.

Having flown frequently since I was a little girl, I'd say I'm a pretty good passenger overall. I understand that turbulence is just like bumps on a road and sometimes, I don't even think about it. This was way different. Every time a wing dipped down severely, there were a couple of shrieks of surprise heard in the cabin and fear was written all over my fellow passengers' faces. The older man two seats down from me chomped on his nails until I was convinced he was eating his fingers. My heart pounded in my throat and my hands stayed cold and clammy. I heard at least one person behind me throwing up. I think you get the picture - this was no walk in the park.

As soon as I realized what a difficult flight this was going to be, I frantically found my Bible and turned to Psalm 121, mouthing the words of the last two verses over and over:
The Lord will keep you from all harm -
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
I begged the Lord to keep this promise. I begged him for a lot of things: for wisdom for the pilots, for smoother skies, for an announcement. The announcement came, but it wasn't good news. The pilot's words went something like this: "Please make sure your seat belts are fastened for the duration of the flight. These are some challenging skies. Flight attendants will not be doing drink service today." Challenging?! Not exactly good bedside manners if you ask me. I just knew he'd come back on and say, "Brace for impact."

Trying to pass the time and feel any sort of peace, I turned on my iPod and the first song that came on was my friend Jason, singing these appropriate words: "Hold on, hold on. When the current pulls you under and your heart beats like thunder, just give me your hand. Hold on, hold on until the storm is over, and I'll be fighting for you. Just give me your hand and hold on." Peace washed over me for a brief moment and I looked out the window at my first glimpse of the horizon. I was comforted that the earth hadn't moved. God hadn't changed. I felt so small so high in the sky, but pictured our plane cradled in the hands of God. There could be no safer place.

One thing that really struck me was a kid - about 10 years old - sitting next to me in the middle seat. Within 10 minutes of take-off, he fell asleep for the rest of the flight. I was utterly amazed (and envious) of his childlike faith that instinctively knew he had no control of the situation and he relaxed enough to sleep peacefully. Truly thinking we may crash, I debated waking him up to tell him about Jesus, but I let him sleep, figuring I was acting out of fear. I prayed for him instead.

Finally, after a tortuous hour and a half, the miracle of landing came. Cheering broke out as the wheels touched down and skidded down the runway.

I left the airport as soon as I could to see my sweet husband at work. Being safely on the ground and in his embrace allowed me to breathe easier. We headed home for a few minutes, then to a Good Friday service at our church where Shawn was doing much of the Scripture reading. It was a beautiful, meditative service, but I fought the entire time from being gripped by fear when thinking about my horrible flight. And then I focused on Jesus. As I had dreaded what I thought would be ensuing pain if we crashed, it was hardly a fraction of the dread my Savior must have felt 2,000 years ago on this dark Friday. He must have dreaded the physical pain that he knew was coming (he was fully human, after all) - and few things could be more painful than crucifixion. But even more than physical pain, he dreaded separation from his Father. He asked if there was any other way, but knew that only by dying could there be life for those he loved. From the cross, he cried out the now familiar lament, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" But he knew the answer. We were that answer. It's astounding that he deemed us worthy of such agony.

After the service, Shawn and I headed home and as soon as we walked in the door, nausea overtook my body. I felt as if I was going to throw up and, at the same time, began to shake with the chills. I thought I was getting sick fast, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I paced around the room as Shawn and I prayed out loud and asked for swift healing for whatever this was. We called my parents, asking them to pray, too. I took a bath, hoping to stop what I thought were chills, and I was able to calm down a bit. But the one thing that was very different from when I've been sick like this before was my pounding heart. It beat as though I had just finished a road race.

Shawn plugged in my symptoms on the internet and quickly found the most obvious diagnosis: an anxiety attack, a first for me. Almost every symptom listed lined up precisely with what I was experiencing. The flight had shaken me more than I even realized. We think now that adrenaline kept me going through the flight, but the stress manifested itself physically hours later.

Because the cure for this kind of thing is listed as "will power" I tried everything that was suggested. I tensed my major muscle groups then let them relax. I breathed in slow and deep and let it out. I thought about the beach (ha). Not much seemed to help. Clearly, my will power was not enough; only Jesus' power could calm me down. The most surprising thing about this was that I could not control a bit of it. With every bit of will power I had, I could not make the shaking or pounding heart calm down.

So I laid in my bed, calling out to Jesus, for the next 3 hours. The tremors finally subsided, my heart slowed down to a normal rhythm, and the nausea disappeared. And in the meantime, I found Jesus to be enough. I pictured him reaching out his hands and touching my helpless, shaking limbs. He brought many Scriptures about himself to my mind: He is near to the broken hearted (or the racing heart, as I found) and saves those who are crushed in spirit. I can do all things through him who gives me strength. Draw near to him and he will draw near to me. As I write this now, I am past the debilitating attack (praise the Lord!). And I can't think of a more appropriate way to spend this Good Friday than remembering the suffering of my Jesus as I suffered. And as I did, I reached out and found him so near he must have brushed my cheek. He not only healed my body tonight, but he healed my soul on this night 2,000 years ago. May my life be worthy of such a sacrifice.

Lemon Blueberry Scones

Saturday, April 4, 2009

We have a new favorite... as of tonight. :)

I just love the lemon-blueberry combo and I love scones, so to put them together just seemed perfect. This recipe comes from an incredible cookbook that every newlywed should own: The New Best Recipe. It has 1000 pages of recipes and cooking tips! Heaven! [Thanks, Mom.]

Lemon Blueberry Scones
2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, preferably a lower-protein brand, such as Gold Medal or Pillsbury*
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 teaspoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
1/2 cup fresh or frozen (not thawed) blueberries

1. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Place flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl and whisk together.
3. Use your fingertips to quickly cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal with a few slightly larger butter lumps.
4. Mix in lemon zest.
5. Stir in the heavy cream with a rubber spatula or fork until the dough begins to form, about 30 seconds.
6. Transfer the dough and all dry flour bits to a countertop and knead the dough by hand just until it comes together into a rough, slightly sticky ball, 5 to 10 seconds.
7. Cut the scones into 8 wedges. [I tend to like keeping the wedges together in the oven, then cutting all the way through once baked. It leaves the edges softer.]
8. Bake until the scone tops are light brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

*My sweet husband thought he was helping by combining the all-purpose flour with the bread flour into one container. Oops. So I used the mixture and it still turned out fine. A little on the dense side (it rose less this time) but still delicious.

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