Sunday, January 31, 2016

Taking Advantage of Opportunities to Do Good

For my 31st birthday, I decided to write down 31 of my favorite proverbs, or wise sayings from the Bible that I had been studying.  This year, I am hoping to take a deeper dive into each of them and share some thoughts on them with you here.


The picture above is from a Mission Trip that Tom and I went on to Honduras in 2008. The picture is of teenagers at an "orphanage". I put it in quotes because it is nothing like what comes to mind when I think of the word "orphanage". It was a dorm-style home built by one woman -- I believe a former nurse from overseas -- for those without families or with families unable to care for them. But it's not a sad place. It is a place of hope. In fact, the orphanage is called "Renacer" -- which means "rebirth". It was a new beginning for the kids there and when I asked one of the teenagers how he liked living there, he replied "me encanta" -- "I love it."  This orphanage is a very large undertaking, but is a huge example of providing good from those who are deserving and those who are most on the heart of God: orphans.  The whole trip served to remind me of how I should be. I hope I was able to help the people in the communities we served in some small way, but I feel like I had some big missed opportunities even on this trip.

For that reason and others, this is a proverb that really hit home with me. I don't think of myself as someone who intentionally tries to harm or hurt people. Neither do I think of myself as someone who intentionally withholds good from people out of selfishness, greed, or spite. However, I think I do it out of carelessness and improper thinking all the time. I may have a "reason" or excuse not to stop and help somebody, or I may just be too busy and pass by a need without even noticing or without a second thought -- at least, until it's too late.

I am a "rules" girl and I like to do things by the book, so a lot of unhealthy behaviors and actions I am able to successfully avoid. But not doing "bad" things is only half the battle. We were not only meant to avoid destructive behavior, but we are called to do constructive things to encourage, assist and uplift other.
 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
I feel like God lays a path of people and situations that we can attend to, and that he has prepared specifically for each of us -- but it is up to us to act on those opportunities. If we know this, and fail to do those things, that's a sin -- and I think in some cases it's a more serious sin than the sins of "commission".
If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. --James 4:17
When I first read that verse in the book of James, it really made me pause. I think about it often, and yet I'm still notorious for passing up opportunities to help someone in need -- sometimes in very simple ways. Indeed, some of the things that haunt me most from my past are not my actions, by my inaction. Does that reveal an apathetic heart? A heart that is more concerned with my own convenience? A lack of attention paid to those around me? I envy those who seem to have an intuition as to what people need. Smack me over the head with it, and it still might not sink in.

That's one of the reasons I wanted to focus on Just One Person for Christmas. Starting small, I think I can train myself to open my eyes and find joy in meeting the needs of those around me. It is often in my power to act, and when it is, I need to do it. Not put it off. Not make an excuse. Not brush it aside. This year, I am going to continue to challenge myself to simply pay attention. Sometime it's subtle clues that someone could use cheering up and other times it's an in-your-face situation where you have the opportunity to help or walk away and ignore. So I challenge you, too, to look around you, and be impulsive when acting on behalf of the good of others. It's not only good for others, it's good for your own soul, too.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

4th Annual Rheumatoid Awareness Day: The Real RD


February 2nd marks the 4th annual Rheumatoid Awareness Day -- established in 2013 by the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation (RPF) to educate the public about the truth of Rheumatoid Disease (RD). This year, RPF has selected seven key facts to show "The Real RD" and challenged bloggers to select one fact to focus on in a blog post relating to their own experiences with RD.

If you want to know what rheumatoid disease or a rheumatoid patient looks like - this is it.
Want to know what it feels like? No, you don't.

You can find all Rheumatoid Disease seven of the facts below, but I've chosen to focus on the first one:


I've posted on similar topics before because RD is often known as "Rheumatoid Arthritis" which leads people to believe that RD is a type of arthritis. That's what I thought when I was diagnosed and I think it's one of the most common misconceptions with this disease. What is arthritis? Arthritis is inflammation of the joints. Do I have arthritis? You bet I do. But that's just a part of RD. The ugly truth is that RD is a systemic disease that can affect any part of the body -- including the heart, lungs, eyes, skin, etc.

Although arthritis is often the most prominent symptom, I've known others with RD who have had other symptoms as their primary or even first symptom. For me, Raynaud's may have been my first symptom -- not joint swelling -- although no connection was made until after the joint symptoms started. Lately, my joints have been pretty happy. Hallelujah! But, RD has been cropping up in some other ways. Even with an overall low disease activity, my skin and eyes have started to revolt much like my joints did in the past. This has come out in the development of dermatitis, eczema, Sjögren's syndrome, and blepharitis. 

Fortunately, for now these symptoms have been more of a nuisance for me than a serious problem -- but they serve as a reminder that RD is still there, even on my good days. And they go to show that "arthritis" doesn't cover even what a textbook patient (i.e. someone like me who responds well to treatments and has maintained low disease activity for an extended period of time) experiences. For many others, complications and systemic manifestations of RD can be very severe or even deadly -- as we were so recently reminded by the tragic death of Glenn Frey. It's a sobering thought. Even though my disease activity is low right now, it won't necessarily stay that way forever. That's why for all of us, continued education and research are needed. Not just for better treatments, but for a cure. Today, please join me in sharing some facts about The Real RD and help destroy the misconceptions that are detrimental to so many patients:








Sunday, January 17, 2016

No Fear





Remember that clothing brand that was popular in the '90s: No Fear. That's what came to mind as I read through this proverb -- and I think it works as a slogan or mantra for life in Christ. It's easier said than done, though, isn't it? How easy is it for us to fixate on the bad and worry about the maybes of life? But before going further, let's take a step back.

What is fear? Is fear a bad thing? When we are afraid of something, there's often a good reason for it. I'm afraid to touch a fire, because it will burn me and hurt. I'm afraid to get too near to the edge of a cliff lest I lose my footing and plummet to my death. I think fear in instances like that is a helpful and healthy emotional response that we feel in order to maintain our own well being. But, like anything else, the good can be twisted very easily into something bad. What happens when we obsess over a fear? A legitimate fear of touching fire is different than an irrational fear of anything that has a flame. It's the irrational fears or even legitimate fears that we become fixated on -- and the anxiety and paralysis that often come with it -- that I think we are to get rid of.

Notice what the proverb calls out in particular -- have no fear of "sudden disaster". This is fear of a maybe, fear of a potential situation, the type of fear that can make you anxious and keep you up at night. The kind of fear that we don't need to have in our lives because God is with us.
"Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared." --Proverbs 3:26

No Fear logo.pngBut does that mean that just because we have God in our lives that nothing bad will ever happen to us? How come when I look around the world, that doesn't seem to be the case?  I think the truth really hit home with me when I came across this verse in the Psalms, talking about the righteous (those who strive to do what is right).

"They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord."  --Psalm 112:7
The epiphany I had was that it said they will have no fear of bad news. It never says that bad news won't come. Only that we need not fear it. If our hearts are secure in the Lord, then nothing can shake us. Bad news may indeed come -- it does for all of us at one time or another. In a broken world, bad things happen to all of us -- maybe for a season, maybe to stay for the rest of our lives. But how you respond to it reveals your heart. Is your heart steadfast in times of trouble?  I know mine often isn't. So how do we make that transition from understanding something intellectually (that God is our strength and our confidence and we need not fear anything but Him) to actually believing it in our hearts and living it out?

Again, I turned to God's word, and found this passage that was very familiar to me:
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." -- Philippains 4:6-7
Now, this gives us a couple of practical things to "do". I'm someone who is prone to worry and anxiety, and I often need the gentle reminder from my husband that that reaction to a situation does not reveal trust in God. In many ways fear really is the antithesis of trust, isn't it? I was reminded of this during -- you guessed it -- a Doctor Who episode where Danny Pink said it simply: "Fear a little bit less. Trust a bit more."


Trusting in God means turning that anxiety into a prayer, a petition, a request -- and a moment to focus on what we can be thankful for. There is always something to be thankful for, even in the midst of the worst. Take the time to find just one thing that you can thank God for. He promises his peace which transcends all understanding and it acts as a shield to protect our hearts and minds.  I have been familiar with that passage for a long time and always thought that was the end of it. But oftentimes, I found fear and anxiety creeping back in. Frustrated by this, I had my second epiphany when I read on to the very next sentence and discovered what I consider to be part two of what we can do.
"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." --Ephesians 4:8
If fixating on a problem or situation causes fear and anxiety, then fixating on what is good seems like a reasonable cure. Instead of worrying about what might happen, focus on the good that is right in front of you. If you fill your mind with what is true and right and lovely, you will leave no room for what is scary, bad and ugly. Bad habits need to be replaced with good ones. My challenge to myself is pause whenever I find myself in that state of fear or anxiety and go through steps one and two -- offering a prayer request, with thanksgiving, and finding something good and something true to focus my heart and mind on instead.

Living in fear is crippling. Living in faith is freeing. Faith means trusting in the goodness of God, even when the world is falling apart, and any good is hard to see. It is a steadfast heart in the midst of a storm. It is no fear.

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For my 31st birthday, I decided to write down 31 of my favorite proverbs, or wise sayings from the Bible that I had been studying.  This year, I am hoping to take a deeper dive into each of them and share some thoughts on them with you here.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Pizza Cutter Reivew and BBQ Chicken / Pizza Recipe


*Note: I received this Pizza Cutter at a heavy discount in exchange for an honest review with my own personal opinions.

I just tried out this Tip n Toss Pizza Cutter (and beyond!) for the first time tonight, and it works like a charm! For those who know me, you know I make homemade pizza all the time. For years, I had this old jenky pizza cutter I had gotten from a garage sale for about $.50 just prior to getting my first apartment. Needless to say, it never worked great. Years later, I decided to "upgrade" to a newer pizza wheel, only to discover that it really didn't work that great, either. It was sharper and cut better, but not great. Plus, with my Rheumatoid Disease and LAWs (little arthritic wrists), I always had a hard time cutting through the pizza crust. Not to mention that the toppings would slide everywhere and I'd be left with a mess of cheese and whatnot that I had to try to place back on the proper piece. None of those things are problems with the TipNToss Pizza Cutter! I am happy to report that this pizza cutter actually works - just a few times rocking it back and forth (making sure to press down on the edge of the crust -- my thin crust tends to get pretty crispy) and it cuts all the way through without messing up the toppings. And, it was easy on my wrists! Bonus! It's nice to find a rheum-friendly kitchen utensil. The handle is easy to grasp, and being a two-handed device makes it that much simpler for the fragile-jointed. This thing will definitely be getting a lot of use, and I'll be trying it out to chop veggies and herbs, as well.

Tonight I made a thin crust Chicken BBQ Pizza to test out this cutter. You can see below, it's really the perfect size for the pizzas that I make. It also fits perfectly in my knife drawer -- or you can hang with with a hook through the little hole on one side.


Just rock back and forth a few times and you get a nice clean cut. I've never sliced up a pizza so quickly in my life! And now I might not have to get Tom's help every time I go to serve up pizza.

Voila!
This Pizza Cutter retails for $35.75 on Amazon, but it's on sale right now for $15.55 -- which seems like a great deal for something that's both functional and nice looking!

Now, I am going to give you the recipe for the pizza I made tonight, but before that, we have to go back another day to Friday night's dinner. Friday I decided to do dinner mostly in the Crock Pot. I have an overload of chicken due to my double bulk purchase of fresh chicken breast through Zaycon Fresh. It is good chicken, but my stockpile will be lasting us for a loong time!  To use some up, I wanted to make pulled chicken barbecue sandwiches for dinner.  I had some leftover bread dough in my fridge, so I made that up with a little salt and pepper and garlic on the crust - yum! After looking at a few recipes, I decided to make up my own based on ingredients on hand.  Here it is for your cooking and eating pleasure.

Slow-Cooker BBQ Chicken Sandwich

easy slow cooker crock pot chicken bbq sandwiches with bourbon and apricot preserves

Ingredients:
  • 1 - 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 1/4 cup apricot preserves
  • 1/4 cup bourbon
  • 1 cup BBQ sauce (use whatever is your favorite - I usually like KC Masterpiece Original, but had a smoked variety this time around)
  • Garlic and pepper to taste
  • White cheddar cheese
Directions:
Simply place all ingredients in the crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours (mine cooked for about 10 hours because I was at work all-day, and it was definitely a little overcooked, but still tasted good). Shred chicken apart with a fork and mix in extra BBQ sauce, if desired. Serve on your bread or bun of choice -- mine was a salt & pepper crusty boule. We each ended up with like half a loaf of bread, but it was good! For some extra deliciousness, take your bun bottoms or half your bread slices and top with a few slices of white cheddar cheese. Toast in the oven at 400 degrees until cheese is melted. The cheese goes great with the barbecue and adds some extra interest to the sandwich (extra interest that isn't cole slaw!). This could make for a really easy mid-week dinner. I just served it with some cut up apple slices and all of the flavors paired well together.  You could make quite a few sandwiches with that. I had a bunch of meat leftover, which led me to tonight's dinner...

BBQ Chicken Pizza

homemade barbecue bbq chicken thin crust pizza with shredded chicken, onion, green pepper and cilantro

Ingredients:
  • Leftover shredded BBQ Chicken (recipe above)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 3/4 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp. yeast
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 small green pepper, diced
  • 1/2 small red onion, diced
  • A handful of fresh cilantro
  • Extra BBQ sauce to taste
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and garlic
Instructions:

Make pizza according to my directions here. After the dough is rolled out, spread some olive oil out over the top. Sprinkle the edges with salt and garlic. Spread BBQ sauce over top of pizza and top with green pepper, red onion and shredded chicken. Per my original directions, do not put cheese on the pizza until the final 3 minutes of baking. Once out of the oven, sprinkle with fresh cilantro. Then, of course, slice it up with your new TipNToss pizza cutter!

Fresh out of the oven!



Book Review: The Watchers - Knight of Light

*Note: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a honest review with my own personal opinions.

Knight of Light is the first book in The Watchers series by Deirdra Eden.  The story is set in the middle ages in England and follows the life of a young woman named Auriella (pronounced yurr-ee-ella) after she is orphaned and forced to flee her village as she is accused of being a witch. A witch she certainly is not, but she does encounter one -- along with a pixie and a dwarf, fairies, Shadow Lords and Shadow wolves. A mix of earth, fantasy and the spiritual world meld together in this novel that is full of excitement, action and suspense.

The story is fast paced -- actually to the point where I wished it slowed down at some points. Auriella moves from setting to setting as she uncovers her true identity. The story definitely kept my interest, but sometimes it seemed to jump ahead to the next thing too quickly, without much detail as to what happened during the gap in time or what happened to the other characters.  The main character is well developed, but I would have liked to see more character development on some of the supporting characters -- the story seemed to forget about them from time to time. 

That being said, it was still a good story and it was a quick and easy read. I think it would be a great novel for young adults, especially pre-teen and early teenage girls. While I wasn't much of a fantasy reader at that age, I think I would have enjoyed this book. The quicker pace and the frequent change of settings is probably better suited for a younger audience anyways, lest they get bored :)  It definitely has a fairy tale feel to it, and I think Auriella is a character that most girls can relate to on one level or another.

It looks like this will be the first of a six part series with Book Three coming out sometime this year. Knight of Light definitely leaves open lots of questions and leaves the reader intrigued as to what's to come.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Lessons from Gollum: The Paths of Ill-Gotten Gain



For my 31st birthday, I decided to write down 31 of my favorite proverbs, or wise sayings from the Bible that I had been studying.  This year, I am hoping to take a deeper dive into each of them and share some thoughts on them with you here.

The first proverb I listed was this:

"Such are the paths of all who go after ill-gotten gain; it takes away the life of those who get it. (Proverbs 1:19)"
When re-reading this, the first thing I thought of was the creature Gollum from J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings stories. Gollum was once a small man or Hobbit, I think one of the river folk, and he went by the name of Smeagol. However, a fierce and consuming jealousy took hold of him when his friend found and beheld the Ring of power -- to the point that Smeagol committed murder so that the Ring could be his -- his "Precious", as he called it. Ill-gotten gain, to be sure. And what was the result? He had the Ring, yet it whittled away at his life, while still keeping him alive, until he was nothing more than a miserable creature, tormented by his own self and his desire for the Ring.

Left to wander the earth in torment, Smeagol turned
into the miserable creature, Gollum
Now, that's an extreme example with a very visible degradation of Smeagol's life into Gollum. For us, it may start off as an internal destruction, which may or may not lead to visible consequences. If you lie and cheat your way into whatever it is you want -- a position at work, a social status, a public image -- you may indeed get the initial gain you sought. But, like the Ring, it's really a slow poison to the soul. Lies are a slippery slope -- the more you do it, the easier it is to do the next time, and before you know it, it may come "naturally" without a second thought or hesitation. It's often greed or idolatry -- whatever is most "precious" to you -- that will tempt you to sin in order to gain. But is that who you really wanted to be? Is the degradation of your character worth the supposed gain?
"What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?" --Mark 8:36
Is not who you truly are more important that your wealth or personal gain? Jesus himself warned us against greed:
“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” --Luke 12:15
Check out what Matthew Henry has to say in his commentary on this proverb:
"Who could think that it should be a pleasure to one man to destroy another! See their idea of worldly wealth; but it is neither substance, nor precious. It is the ruinous mistake of thousands, that they overvalue the wealth of this world. Men promise themselves in vain that sin will turn to their advantage. The way of sin is down-hill; men cannot stop themselves. Would young people shun temporal and eternal ruin, let them refuse to take one step in these destructive paths. Men's greediness of gain hurries them upon practices which will not suffer them or others to live out half their days. What is a man profited, though he gain the world, if he lose his life? much less if he lose his soul?" (emphasis added)
So what is it that is most precious to you? Are you placing your value on the right things?  The new year is a great opportunity to examine your priorities and do a sort of heart and soul check.
"For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." -- Luke 12:34

Product Review: The PhatMat

*Note: I received this product for free in exchange for an honest review with my own personal opinions.



I jumped at the chance to review this product because it's something I've been wanting to try for a long time. The PhatMat is a food-grade silicone baking mat made to replace parchment paper or to use in place of oils and sprays on baking sheets. It retails for $39.99 on Amazon (currently on sale for $24.99) and comes in a nice storage tube with two silicone baking mats and one grill mat -- perfect for grilling smaller items that you don't want falling through the crack or just as a barrier between your food and the grill grate. It cleans up easily with water and soap. It says that you can put it in the dishwasher, but you have to be careful about it. Probably best to quickly hand wash.

I tried out the baking mats tonight while I made these (amazing) Red Velvet Chocolate Chip Cookies from Sally's Baking Addiction.  I must say, I am truly impressed with these baking mats. They are about the size of a half sheet pan, but worked okay on my slightly smaller cookie sheet, too. It truly is a no-mess way to bake.



When I took the cookies out of the oven, I tried lifting up one of the cookies right away, and it just slid off the bottom with zero stick. And, yes, the cookies are delicious! Thanks, PhatMat, for encouraging me to bake!


I'm really excited to give these mats a try with some other baked goods and to get the grill mat going. If only it weren't the middle of winter... oh well, there's always pulling the grill right against the slider door!

The other thing I like about the PhatMat is that it  helps keep your cooking sheets from getting gross. You know what I mean? Eventually, mine always tarnish or get something baked on that just will not come off -- to the point that they look nasty and I have to kind of wonder about baking on them.

Plus, stuff does still stick to a plain baking sheet sometimes, even when greased. Parchment paper I tend to use most for bread or pizza, but this could even replace that, I think -- it's at least big enough for my thin crust pizzas when I make two smaller ones. And, the grill mat would work for grilled pizza and might not require the oil I normally use (which tends to flare up the fire below...).

I may have more PhatMat adventures soon and more feedback to share, but from my first experience, I am giving this product two thumbs up! Who knows, perhaps I'll start baking more now!