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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Nations Right in Front of Me

I have a skill—proficiency in English—that’s useful to some people, so I signed up to teach in my church’s English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program. Two things prompted me to get involved: first, because I love, love, love teaching; and second, because from those who have received much, much is expected.
God has blessed me with a surfeit of time and resources that I can and should use to bless others. And, having once lived in a country whose language was largely a mystery, I know what it’s like to stand in the grocery store, holding a bag of something that could be sugar, or could be salt, but you have no way to sort out which because you don’t have adequate language skills to read the writing on the bag or to ask somebody for help.
It’s painful, humbling, and exhausting to navigate a world in which you’re functionally illiterate.
After two semesters teaching the beginners’ ESOL class, I can wholeheartedly profess that the blessing has been entirely mine.
God brings the nations to us, and we get to meet them in the ESOL classrooms. My group alone represents speakers of Vietnamese, Chinese, Uigar, Arabic, German, Persian, Nubian, Spanish, Urdu, and Turkish.
In some of their home countries Christian evangelism is forbidden. But here it is not.
Before Christmas I showed the class a video of Pentatonix singing Mary, Did You Know?, and gave my students lyrics sheets to fill in. Over and over again they asked to watch the song, and by the fourth time two sang along with it. Then five students joined in. Then all of them. I watched the United Nations, in my classroom, singing about the birth of Jesus.
I wept.
At our church’s Christmas party my eight-year-old daughter had an emotional breakdown—I’d prefer not to share why, as the depth of her despair reveals either her entitlement issues, or her father’s and my poor parenting, or both. Three ESOL students—two Middle Eastern men and one African man—gathered around to cheer her up. Ali and Shalaly kissed her cheeks and tried to make her laugh. Omar said, “Don’t cry, little girl! I will give you the best present ever!” and gave her the gifts he received at the party.
Who is blessing who?
One evening mid-way through the semester Truyen interrupted class to say something he could keep inside no longer. “I just love you all!” he announced to the entire room. The class fell silent for a few moments.
“We love you, too,” we told him.
We told each other.
Yes. The blessing of teaching these wonderful people is mine.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Peanut Butter Date Poppers: Almost a Candy Bar

Hi. My name is Maria, and I have a problem with sugar.
You know it’s getting bad when you sit down to a meal and think about nothing but what’s for dessert.
Good grief, I love chocolate.
My go-to is a bag of fun-size candy bars. Or a tub of Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Cups. Or a steamy mug of Silly Cow Farms Hot Chocolate. Or, heck, a couple of handfuls of chocolate chips.
I’m a mess who possesses almost zero self-control over my sugar intake.
But in my ongoing quest to eat more conscientiously, I have recently devised what I believe to be the best snack idea since candy impulse-racks at the check-out stand:
Peanut Butter Date Poppers
Let the angel choirs rejoice.
A while back I found an online recipe for Fake Larabars, and they’re awesome. But I’m lazy about food. Really lazy. Like, your-unemployed-stoner-cousin-who-lies-on-the-couch-playing-Grand-Theft-Auto-for-days-at-a-time lazy. Breaking out the Cuisinart and lining a pan with parchment paper and scraping dough out of a bowl—then cleaning it all up—has time and again proven a bridge too far for me.
So I found an easier way. A lazier way. You’ll thank me when it takes you ten minutes or less to gin up a tub of these good-for-you bad boys.
Here’s how you do it:
1. Get a box of dried dates. If they have pits, slice each one open on one side and remove the stone.

 2. Grab some natural peanut butter. Smear half a teaspoon or so inside both halves of the hollowed-out date. 

3. Insert 2-3 chocolate chips in the peanut butter. 

4. Close up the date. The peanut butter will seal it. 

5. Return your Peanut Butter Date Poppers to their original box and stick them in the fridge. 

6. Snack at will, guilt-free.
When you’re jonesing for a sweet, chewy, gooey, chocolately treat, grab one or two. They’re GOOD FOR YOU, and have only the tiniest bit of refined sugar in the chocolate chips. And I swear, they’re not far off from a fun-size candy bar.
Hi, I’m Maria. And I might be turning into a flaky-crunchy-organic-granola Mom…

Peanut Butter Date Poppers
1 Box of Dried Dates (I’ve used Medjool and Deglet Noor)
Natural Peanut Butter (Creamy or Crunchy, as you prefer)
Chocolate Chips (Milk, Semi-Sweet, whatever)
If the dates have pits, slice each one open on one side and remove the stone. Smear half a teaspoon or so (depending on the size of the date) of peanut butter inside the hollowed-out date. Insert 2-3 chocolate chips in the peanut butter. Close up the date; the peanut butter will seal it.
Put your Peanut Butter Date Poppers back in their original box, close it up, and stick it in the fridge.
Bon Appétit.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A Lenten Healing: 40 Graces for Forgiveness (Day 40: Resurrection)

The beginning is the end is the beginning. Here we are at Day 40 of this journey toward forgiveness, and we’ve reached Christ’s resurrection. Without this eternity-shaking event forgiveness would not be possible for us, and would be that much harder (and less imperative) for us to extend to others.
When Jesus appeared during the 40 days (what is it with the number 40?) between his resurrection and ascension, he granted his disciples the right to forgive people’s sins.
This perplexes me, honestly.
Again, remembering that disciples are supposed to do what their master does/did, and recognizing that Jesus also gave his disciples tongues and healing and every other Holy Spirit gift, it seems that we, as believers, are permitted to forgive or not forgive. Is it ever godly to not forgive, though? We saw earlier that if we don’t forgive others’ trespasses against us, God will not forgive our trespasses against him. Scary stuff, that.
I feel like Jesus gave the disciples way more authority than they deserved, or to that point had shown themselves capable of handling. (Remember, “Which of us is the greatest?!?” and “Should we call down fire to destroy them?!?) I personally don’t want the authority to decide whether someone else gets God’s forgiveness or not, because I’m totally still asking those two petty and childish questions. Keep the authority over forgiveness, Jesus. That one’s all yours. You earned it on the cross.
But, wow. Jesus shared with us everything he won on the cross, didn’t he? Eternal life. Re-connection with the I Am. Total and perfect freedom from Satan and his kingdom. He didn’t hold anything back. Not even the right to withhold forgiveness, apparently.
And yet.
He tells me to be perfect as he is perfect. Christ’s character encompasses both perfect justice and perfect mercy. Perfect submission and perfect authority. Perfect words and perfect silences.
I cannot help but see that I am unworthy to tie his sandals. Still, he calls me his sister. And he says that everything he has is mine.
Therefore I will choose, through the humility of recognizing how unfit I am to claim anything of God apart from his grace to me through Jesus, from now on and with the ongoing help of my Christ, to forgive each and every offense that comes against me.
This is the end of the matter.

* * *
“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” – John 20:22-23

* * *

(Big sigh.) God, this has been a surprising and mind-churning journey for me. Thank you for prompting me to undertake it. Thank you for meeting me in it. I’m sorry for the ways I haven’t done the subject justice. I’m sure I missed some things, shot outside some of the marks, and probably could’ve spent twice as long here and still not have arrived at the place you really want me to be. But I pray more than anything that I didn’t lead astray anyone who followed along. If I said anything you didn’t want said, or omitted anything you wanted included, in your sovereign grace and wisdom, please correct my errors for whomever needs it.
I love you, Lord, and it is my joy to follow you and be your disciple. Keep me on this path of forgiveness. Please don’t let this journey become just something I did one time. Perhaps second only to humility, I think forgiveness in my own life is the most visibly lacking attribute of a believer. I want to be more like you, ever more all the time, so I don’t misrepresent you and your kingdom to a watching world.
Please bless anyone who chose to take this journey with me. I ask your healing and your wisdom to flow in the lives of those who seek you. For the person who is reading this right now I ask great grace and peace, and that you would be so real in this very moment that your love and delight cover and spill over your beloved like oil over the head and beard of Aaron.
Make us all more like you, Jesus.

40 Graces for Forgiveness: a Healing Journey is now available in print. With questions for personal meditation and space for journaling, this 40-day devotional series offers a deeper look at Christ's command that we forgive. For a personal pilgrimage, or as a resource for group Bible study, 40 Graces for Forgiveness: a Healing Journey invites seekers of forgiveness and healing to the path on which God longs to meet us all. Find out more about 40 Graces for Forgiveness: a Healing Journey.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Lenten Healing: 40 Graces for Forgiveness (Day 39: The Dark Night of the Soul)

For three days Jesus was gone. However, all four gospels skip straight from his burial to the morning the women found the tomb empty. I wish they hadn’t passed over that time. I’d like to see what the depths of despair and disillusionment looked like on the disciples.
Maybe the writers left it out because it was so ugly to witness.
I occasionally sink into melancholy. After more than four decades of living with myself, when the darkness slips over me I can usually recognize what’s happening. Sometimes it’s cyclical in nature—“let the reader understand”—but other times there doesn’t seem to be any reason for it. My psyche simply goes under and there’s no way I’ve found to get past it except to go through it. Fortunately it normally takes just a day or two of wallowing into and back out of the gloom and dejection. But if you read my psycho-chicken-scrawled journal entries on those days you’d swear I was about to off myself.
But even at my lowest, most despondent and disconsolate moments, I know that I have hope and a future, even if I can’t feel it. Because I know who Jesus is.
But the disciples weren’t sure they did. They heard their Lord cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then they watched him die right in front of them. All of their hopes that the Christ had come were obliterated.
They must’ve been angry. And humiliated. They’d put their faith in Jesus, believed him when he said he was the Son of God, and gave up their livelihoods for him.
Then he died on them.
I suspect that despair has at its root some amount of indignation toward or dissatisfaction with God. When I am in a dark night of the soul, it can’t be that God has removed the light from me; he promises that he will never leave nor forsake me. If I am in the darkness, it must be because I have removed myself from God. I don’t understand why things are the way they are, so I blame God (consciously or unconsciously) for not satisfying my expectations.
This is not a case of needing to forgive God, however. God has never wronged me. Jesus did not wrong his disciples. He never asked forgiveness for having died on them. On the contrary, his death accomplished the work for their forgiveness.
They should’ve asked Jesus’s forgiveness for their days of despair.
So should I.
* * *

“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” – Psalm 22:1

* * *

God, I suspect that my recurring bouts of depression need some kind of meditative journey of their own. I know that’s not the way you designed me to be. Thank you for never leaving me, even when I can’t feel your presence. Forgive me for doubting your goodness. Help me recognize that I don’t need to doubt you when I don’t understand what you’re doing. Teach me greater humility, to be at peace with you and with myself and with those around me.

40 Graces for Forgiveness: a Healing Journey is now available in print. $6.49 at

With questions for personal meditation and space for journaling, this 40-day devotional series offers a deeper look at Christ's command that we forgive. For a personal pilgrimage, or as a resource for group Bible study,40 Graces for Forgiveness: a Healing Journey invites seekers of forgiveness and healing to the path on which God longs to meet us all. $6.49 at Find out more about 40 Graces for Forgiveness: a Healing Journey.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Lenten Healing: 40 Graces for Forgiveness (Day 38: Death)

My first child, a son, was born in September. That December I was asked to read at the ladies’ Advent evening at my church. The poem they gave me was written from the voice of Mary, about experiencing the birth, life, and crucifixion of her firstborn.
I was weeping before I whispered the first word of it, and choking back sobs by the end. Still awash in pregnancy hormones, and overcome with unimaginable love for my little boy, I could hardly take the thought of ever watching his death.
Apparently my performance was poignant; I only remember suffering both unutterable despair and profound embarrassment.
I cannot imagine losing a child, but even less losing one at the hands of another person. I have no wisdom or insight into this, and I pray I never will. If you do, my heart breaks for you. I’m so sorry.
God knows about it, though. His perfect, cherished son suffered and died a bodily death at the derisive, hate-filled hands of the very people for whom he went to the cross and refused to come down off of it till he could say, “It is finished.”
Do you know what “it” is? Death. In all its evil forms. Death was never God’s plan for mankind. Mankind chose it when we chose disobedience.
God offered his own child as a sacrifice to Satan on our behalf. Satan took it—Did Satan not realize before it was too late what that sacrifice would mean to his own kingdom?—and was forced to release his previously legitimate hold on us, when we call on Christ’s name as our propitiatory sacrifice.
I wonder, did Mary know all of this as she watched her son’s life ebb away? Could she, along with Jesus, say, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do”?
Could I?

* * *

“There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph…” – Matthew 27:55

* * *

God, I can’t even wrap my head around what happened on the cross that first Good Friday. It’s too terrible to understand. How did you do what you did? How did Mary survive it? Why do you think we’re worth such a price? All I can do is thank you for your love and sacrifice and forgiveness. Every sin I’ve ever committed—including each act of unforgiveness—helped nail Jesus to that wood. Make it real to me, God. Show me, even today, what it means for my life, and the forgiveness that should flow from me like Christ’s blood flowed from him.

40 Graces for Forgiveness: a Healing Journey is now available in print. $6.49 at

With questions for personal meditation and space for journaling, this 40-day devotional series offers a deeper look at Christ's command that we forgive. For a personal pilgrimage, or as a resource for group Bible study,40 Graces for Forgiveness: a Healing Journey invites seekers of forgiveness and healing to the path on which God longs to meet us all. $6.49 at Find out more about 40 Graces for Forgiveness: a Healing Journey.

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